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« ’Them Jews aren’t going to let him’ | Main | ’A Devastating Blow’ »

June 11, 2009

Seeing Jesus Afresh

Jesus Mafa Years ago, when I was going regularly to Russia and Belarus on short-term missions, I invested in a series of A Beka posters depicting Bible stories. The posters were beautifully rendered and were a great teaching aid, whether I was working with children or adults. The posters, of course, depicted Jesus as either white or olive-skinned.

However, once I started going to Africa, I wanted a set of Bible story pictures that would resonate with Africans, from both an ethnic and cultural standpoint. A couple of years ago, I discovered this wonderful resource -- Jesus Mafa -- and ordered a set of their posters, which show a black-skinned Jesus in settings that look like a typical African village.

If you are a white American, take a look at these images and tell me what you think (click here and go through the seven links to see images from Christ's life). Do they change your perception of Christ? Do they give you a greater appreciation for the passages in Revelation which talk about how heaven will be populated with people from every nation, tribe, race, and language? If you are non-white, do these pictures make you feel more at home with Jesus? Why or why not?

(Image © Jesus Mafa)

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Dan Gill

I think it would be more accurate and better to portray Jesus as he was: Jewish. Certainly there is no greater reason to portray him as a north European than there is to portray him as African.

Much of our religious imagery is so wildly inaccurate as to make it laughable. Example: A friend of mine illustrated a children's bible, and portrayed David's slingshot. Not a sling, but a forked stick with a piece of innertube tied to it.

Jason Taylor

Not really. My perception of Christ is as a rather Meditteranean-looking figure, looking rather like my old school principal the Dreaded Mr. Rhodes(who looks just like a Spaniard). Of course that was because he played Jesus several years in a row in the Easter play. When a more Anglo-saxon looking Jesus played it seemed almost sacrilegeous.

The fact that Africans make Jesus black disturbs me no more then the fact that Euros made him white. I find it more irritating when African-American activists do so because of a suspicion of using Jesus to score a political point. But in Africa they would only be putting Jesus in their frame of reference, which in so far as He was also a man is appropriate. In other words they would only be doing what my ancestors did when they made Jesus white.

Even there that may be exagerrated. Can anyone think of a Medieval painting in which Jesus actually looks Nordic? Nazi-front Churches might have done so but can anyone think of an old Catholic painting in which that was done?


Jesus is kinda like the U.S. Supreme Court, where many people only ascribe legitimacy if their ethnicity is represented. So we need Asian Jesus, Hispanic Jesus, Indian Jesus, Nordic (blonde/blue) Jesus,...

Several preachers, including Max Lucado and my beloved Gayle Erwin, have commented that Jesus apparently looked very ordinary - particularly based on the surprise expressed by Pilate, Herod and others - "*THIS* is the supposed king?!?" So whenever I'm with a Jewish friend who doesn't happen to be overwhelmingly handsome, I think "Jesus probably looks like that, much more likely than he'd look like Jim Caviezel".

If Denzel Washington wants to portray Jesus, I'll buy a ticket. It's not the outside of a man that matters, but the inside.


I used to work for a Christian sunday school publisher. They were gradually integrating more multiracial pictures in their curriculum.

But one summer (in the early 1980s) we still were surrounded by Scandinavian Jesus. It was---many boxes of the new curriculum...with a large pic of "Norwegian" Jesus.

The Vacation Bible School curriculum had Jesus with fair skin, sandy brown hair and looked remarkably like my 100% Norwegian ancestry father (who has sandy brown hair---once blonde---beard---and fair skin).

I think that African Jesus---might be btetter for some to start with than---Northern European pics...but...why not just have pics of Jesus looking like other persons from the Middleeast?

Then---one never need go thru a culture shock at all---
except if one (like me) is getting used to Him portrayed as from the Middleeast and not from the southwest Austevoll area of Norway.


Jesus was Jewish, of Middle Eastern descent. He probably look more like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than anyone else. I think it is misleading to try to represent him differently. I don't think it's spiritually healthy to try to make people 'comfortable' with Jesus according to their cultural norms.

Diane Singer

The Jesus Mafa website offers this explanation for why they use an African Jesus: http://www.jesusmafa.com/anglais/accueil.htm (Note: you'll have to click on the link at the bottom of the page. For some reason, it won't copy here)

I would add my own experience in West Africa, where Christianity is often viewed as a "white man's religion." These posters help us "sneak past the watchful dragons" (as C.S. Lewis would say it) so the gospel can get a fair hearing. The Holy Spirit takes care of the rest, as individuals -- regardless of ethnic or cultural background -- come to Christ in faith.

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