The true face of who?

The true face of Santa Claus.
Face reconstructed from the saint’s skull, and five traditional icons (click to embiggen).
So, a Fox News person (Megyn Kelly) made the incredible claim, on a 10pm news show last week, that Santa Claus was white, and that African American children may feel uncomfortable with a white Santa, but the real Santa was white, because he was a Saint in Greece, just like Jesus was also a white man, and so people who write editorials about having Santa portrayed as a person of color need to just suck it up, because you can’t go changing historical facts because they make you uncomfortable.

If you go watch the video, you will see that I’ve actually made her argument slightly more coherently than she did.

Anyway, there are so, so many problems with that, and John Stewart on the Daily Show hit most of them in a far more funny and succinct way that I could. But there are some points John didn’t get to…

First, to cover some of the ground that has been explained elsewhere: St. Nicholas was a historical figure, he was the Bishop of Myra in the Fourth Century. While he is usually identified as Greek, in the Fourth Century in that part of the world, that was a political/cultural/citizenship designation, not a statement of ethnicity. Ethnically he was Turkish, and was not at all of lily white complexion. Traditional portraits of him, some dating quite far back, depicted him with dark skin.

In the 1950s the Vatican allowed experts to examine and make thousands of precise measurements of the bones of St. Nicholas, as they were one of the most complete set of relics in existence, and to verify as much as science could at the time, that they were probably the real bones of a person who lived in that part of the world at that time. More recently, that data was used by forensic experts to create a facial reconstruction.

So, the historical Nicholas was not white. That’s only one of many facts that Ms Kelly got wrong in her rant.

The really big one she got wrong is the claim that Jesus was a white man. I know why she thinks he was. Because of all those paintings made by European artists throughout the middle ages (and since) depicting him usually as a delicate featured, pale faced, often emo-looking guy. Plus, most of the modern Jewish people that she knows are Jewish Americans, who are descended from Jewish people who scattered across Europe for many centuries, occasionally intermarrying with their new European neighbors, before coming to America. Many American Jews are very light skinned. Unlike their ancestors living in Galilee back when Jesus was born.

There are people who claim not to be white supremacists who try to make the argument that Jesus, because he was born of a virgin the son of god, was not of Semitic ethnicity. I have several arguments against that. Turn to the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and recall that Joseph, upon learning that his fiance was pregnant was going to “put her away” because he assumed she’d been fooling around, right? Until an angel appeared to him in a dream and said go ahead, marry her, and raise the kid as your own, right?

And we know from other portions of the gospel, that everyone in Galilee knew that Jesus was the carpenter’s son. We also know from certain incidents toward the end, that just by looking at him, the Roman officials knew he was a Jew.

Mary and Joseph were certainly typical looking Galelean Jews of the time. They would have had olive complexions, dark hair–and it was probably thick and wiry hair–at that. If Mary had given birth to a pale-skinned boy with wavy blondish hair, no one would have believed he was Joseph’s son. And although one interpretation of Matthew 1:19 is that nobody but Mary and Joseph knew that Mary was pregnant when the angel came to him (because Joseph was going to send her away to spare her disgrace), but I don’t believe it. Even if no one was suspicious, if a baby who looked like he was of a different race than Mary and Joseph, tongues would have been wagging.

If nothing else, people back then knew how long a baby took, just as we do now. Joseph didn’t marry Mary until after the angel came to him, so it was less than 9 months after they married that the baby was born. Everyone in the community knew about the discrepancy, and because such “early babies” have never been uncommon (and engaged couples getting busy a little early has never been very uncommon, either), everyone was okay, because they were married by the time the baby arrived.

Is this the face of Jesus?
One attempt at reconstructing Jesus’s face based on ethno-archealogical knowledge of the region and the period.
They wouldn’t have been if the baby looked like he must have been fathered by a foreigner. So, while an omnipotent god could have made the child with any sets of DNA he wanted, evidence indicates he made his son to conform with the ethnicity of his earthly parents. And why not? If that complexion is adaptive for that region of the world, I bet Adam and Eve had it, too. And Adam and Eve were made in god’s image, right?

Ms Kelly asserted that we can’t alter facts just because they make us uncomfortable. But thinking of Jesus looking like a typical Galilean Jew of the first century makes people like Ms Kelly very uncomfortable, and can only be avoided if she alters facts. Because Ms Kelly and many generations of American and European Christians want their god and their legendary spirits of generosity to look like them. It makes them very uncomfortable to think that St. Nicholas or Jesus would look like people more likely to be placed on Homeland Security’s No-Fly List than like someone who would be a featured speaker at a Republican fundraiser.

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