Wednesday, October 27, 2004

So what color was Rabbi Akiva?

Everyone knows that each generation likes to depict its religious leaders in its own image; hence, the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea in big black hats -- and, lehavdil, the pictures of Mary and Jesus looking like 16th century Europeans.
Now, the New Nation newspaper has named Jesus as the top black icon.
Not so fast, say the experts.
[T]he earliest depictions of Jews, which date from the 3rd Century, are - as far as can be determined - dark-skinned.
"We do seem to have a relatively dark skinned Jesus. In contemporary parlance I think the safest thing is to talk about Jesus as 'a man of colour'." This probably means olive-coloured, [New Testament scholar Dr Mark Goodacre, of the University of Birmingham] says.
Professor Vincent Wimbush, of California's Claremont Graduate University, who is an expert on ethnic interpretations of the Bible, says the matter of the historical colour of Jesus seems to him a "flat, dead-end issue".
"He's of Mediterranean stock, and it's quite clear what that means. We see people like that in the world today, and that should end the matter."
Of-course this makes perfect sense, and I'm sure intellectually we all know that we're from 'Mediterranean stock.' But when we picture them, how many of us really think of all the high priests, Bar Kokhba, the rabbis of the Mishna, etc. etc. etc., as 'olive skinned' (and that doesn't mean, 'with a good tan')? I bet not many.

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