A recent Trib op-ed dares to ask the question we've all been wondering about: "Did Christ use hair conditioner and styling mousse?"---
Actually, the editor who wrote that frivolous headline may have done the author a disservice: Nowhere in his column does R. Dennis Hansen mention hair products.
Still, it does pique the imagination. Ancient Egyptians used henna, kohl and other cosmetics; the Greeks included honey, beeswax and olive oil in their skin-care regimens. All human cultures have beauty ideals and adornment traditions. So the question of whether or not Hebrew tribesmen conditioned their hair is not so very absurd. Actually, in that dry, desert climate, it would be surprising if they hadn't found ways to moisturize.
Now, I like to think of Jesus as a down-to-earth fellow who didn't care much about appearances. But, by all accounts, he was something of a rock star with a great deal of charisma, so I'm probably being naive. It's not hard to imagine that, like Jim Morrison, Jesus paid at least a little attention to his appearance.
But that's all beside the point. The thing that's been puzzling me about Hansen's essay is his conviction that Carl Bloch's white "Scandinavian images of Christ" have somehow become the default portrayal of Jesus throughout the world.
Hansen recommends "a darker-skinned Christ" so that Christianity can become "a truly international religion."
But one of the things that made Christianity's ascent from a Middle Eastern cult to a worldwide religion was its ability to adapt itself to local cultures. Christianity is just as foreign to Europe as it is to Africa, Asia or America. The reason Hansen sees so many white-skinned Jesuses around is because he lives in Utah. The same is not true in other parts of the world.
Orthodox icons of Christ depict him in a highly stylized way; Mexican crucifixes feature brown-skinned saviors. Go to Old Saint Mary's Cathedral in Chinatown, San Francisco, and you will find statues of Jesus and Mary with distinctly Asian features.
Outside the Middle East, Christianity has disregarded the historical Jesus' racial characteristics for many centuries. Today, local religious depictions of Jesus suit his followers the same as do those of most other deities: People create god in their own image.
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