The Curt Jester blog, written as he tells it, “by Jeff Miller a former atheist who after spending forty years in the wilderness finds himself with both astonishment and joy a member of the Catholic Church,” points us to another blog, Aliens in This World, “which often has interesting historical tidbits regarding the Church.”:
From a thing that showed up in the very late Middle Ages, called the “Letter of Lentulus,” which was presented as being a report from a Roman official (with a known historical name) to Tiberius, about the appearance and habits of Jesus. The letter was taken as eyewitness testimony by many, and the letter in some versions described Jesus’ hair and beard as “fair” and his face as “the color of wheat.” (Although other versions described His hair and beard as “the color of a ripe hazelnut”, ie, those things on the Nutella jar that are light brown and not at all fair. They also described His complexion as “reddish,” which had the symbolic meaning of someone optimistic, energetic — and honest enough to be able to blush.) So it wasn’t racism, so much as popular scholarship and Biblical fanfic (aka “pseudoepigrapha”), that led to blonde Jesuses.
The appearance of blonde or white-haired Jesuses in previous Christian art had always represented the Jesus of the Book of Revelation, Apocalyptic Jesus, Whose hair represents Him as ancient and eternal, or transfigured in light, and Who is dressed for His office as the eternal High Priest. Also, scary and impressive. Either way, His Divinity becoming as visible as His Humanity, rather than how He looked in His life normally on earth.
Most Western art follows the tradition of a bearded, dark Jesus because that’s how the Mandylion of Edessa looked. Ditto the Shroud of Turin and the byssus veil thing. Pictures and relics should generally outweigh literary descriptions; but the Lentulus letter was popular in Germany, a fur piece over the mountains from the Shroud and the byssus veil.
Jeff then wraps it up
Now I know who to blame. I really dislike blonde Jesus’ that seem to be so prevalent. Give me a Jewish looking Jesus any day. Now I don’t mind inculturation where religious images are adapted. If Mary can appear as Our Lady of Guadalupe, who am I to complain. So maybe blonde Jesus’ would not annoy me as much if I was to visit Scandinavia.
Great blog. Have a look at Where the Blonde Jesus Thing Came From » The Curt Jester