How Did Jesus Get to be So Hot? The Fascinating History of (Wildly Unrealistic) Depictions of the Savior

Lyrics for the rap song, B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth), include [3] the following line: “The white image, of Christ, is really Cesare Borgia [4].” The idea that our modern image of Jesus could be based on a ruthless power-hungry illegitimate son of a 15th century Pope (and star of the bloody mini-series Borgia [5]) is startling and farfetched. But it is no more bizarre or fanciful than many other ideas about who Jesus was [6] or what he looked like. And it does have an interesting tale behind it.

To understand the Borgia story requires a bit of context.

It’s All Guesswork

In contrast to what many people believe, we have no authentic physical artifacts [7] confirming the gospel stories, nor [8] descriptions of Jesus from any of his contemporaries. Even the gospels themselves never claim to be eyewitness accounts. Scholars now believe that the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry that have been handed down to us—both within the Bible and outside–were written decades (or more) after [9] Jesus would have lived, by unknown authors [10]. This means that Christians have been free for almost two millennia to depict Jesus in a form that best suits their own culture and purposes, and they have.

Not long ago a picture of a cherubic golden-haired Jesus circled Facebook with the following caption, “Mommy, why are we the only white people in the Middle East?” The answer, obviously, lies more in the psychology of human racism than in any likely historical reality.

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