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How Did Jesus Become White?

Just how did we end up with a white Jesus? It’s a longer story than you’d think.

White Jesus

A white Jesus ascends to heaven. Image Source: Flickr

Jesus has been the object of veneration and worship in the West for nearly 2,000 years, to the point that his mildest utterances (correctly attributed or not) have occasionally formed the basis of whole religious movements. As Jesus’ following spread over time — sometimes via devoted missionary work and sometimes by comparatively less saintly methods — people across multiple societies have cast images of Jesus in their image.

Doing that is relatively easy since, believe it or not, the Bible contains no description of Jesus’ physical appearance. We do, however, know a thing or two about demographics, which means that if Jesus did exist where and when the Bible says he did, he certainly was not white. And yet today, we envision him as just that. Why?

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Moon Cakes, Graveyards & Cranberry Sauce: How The Rest Of The World Celebrates Thanksgiving

In many American elementary schools, kids are taught that Thanksgiving is a day to commemorate the moment when Native Americans and pilgrims came together to celebrate a bountiful, life-saving harvest. While this narrative generally neglects to mention the violent fates that awaited these natives, it’s still true that around the world, people unite—and eat a ton of great food—around harvest time. Here’s how people celebrate their equivalent to Thanksgiving in other countries:

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We Visited Kentucky’s Creation Museum. This Is What We Saw.

Creation Museum Man V God

The town of Petersburg, Kentucky sits quietly at the mouth of the Midwest. The Ohio River snakes around the borders of the scant, 620-person town, separating it from the state of Indiana immediately north, and Ohio slightly northeast. Streaks of smoke hang lazily among the clouds, stretching into the sky from the coal power plant just south. Ranch and split-level homes stand plain before acres of flat pasture. The silhouettes of lonesome billboards dotting the highway are as close as the town comes to a skyline. One gets the impression that a gaze out of a Petersburg window today would reveal the same landscape that existed one hundred years ago.

In 2001, however, the town saw something new. A non-profit, fundamentalist Christian apologetics ministry called Answers in Genesis (AiG) broke otherwise untroubled ground in Petersburg, in the construction of what the group would later call the Creation Museum:

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Creation Museum Raptor Girls Ready

A replica of a raptor and early human greet Creation Museum guests in the building's lobby.

Creation Museum Fossil Dig

When visitors first enter the exhibit, the museum makes it clear that creationists and scientists look at the same fossils and data, and yet arrive at different conclusions.

Creation Museum Fossil Age

Additional information is offered on the exhibits, presented in a way that makes it easier for children to digest.

Creation Museum Legends Copy

This sign also stands in the entrance. "The Bible is authoritative, without error and inspired by God."

Creation Museum Adam

Here we see Adam engaging with wildlife.

Creation Museum Adam Eve

Above are Adam and Eve, surrounded by lotus flowers in a moment of intimacy.

Creation Museum Lucy Ancestor

Museum visitors ponder an exhibit item which expresses doubt as to humankind's relationship with Lucy, a 3.2 million-year-old human ancestor whose bones were found in 1974.

Creation Museum Animals

The museum recently added a petting zoo, which houses animals that museum curators believe existed in the biblical era.

Creation Museum Petting Zoo

Children at the petting zoo feed goats, one of the several animal species living in the zoo.

Creation Museum Girl Grandma

A woman takes her granddaughter for a walk in the museum's botanical gardens. In addition to a three-acre lake, the complex features a hummingbird and butterfly garden, a rainforest and "carnivorous bog" garden, as well as a koi pond and swinging bridge.

Creation Museum Brook

A view of one of the gardens' many water features.

Creation Museum Whatever

As visitors inch deeper into the museum (the museum actually descends from the ground level entry), they approach the fearful world of a society that has abandoned scripture.

Creation Museum Scripture Modernity

A sign reads, "Scripture abandoned in the culture leads to relative morality, hopelessness and meaninglessness." Next to it are newspaper and magazine covers featuring violent minorities. Urban blight and crime appear as the consequence of a world without God.

Creation Museum Church Youth

As visitors venture into a collapsing suburbia — wherein women disrespect their husbands — they are met with this sign, which reads "Only 1 in 3 teens will continue to participate in church life once they are living on their own."

Creation Museum Unsafe World

As evidenced by this doorway, a world without God is a world unhinged.

Creation Museum School

And yet, as these mannequins suggest, there is a path to safety: it is by believing in the word of God. However, like the boy featured above says, this view is not one taught in school.

Creation Museum Specials

"Dangerous ideas threaten our families," which is why in the Creation Museum gift shop (known as the Dragon Hall Bookstore), dozens of books providing biblical answers on everything from abortion to climate change to assisted suicide are sold — and at a discount if bought in bulk.

Creation Museum Families

When we visited the museum, we noticed it was largely populated by families who were taking advantage of their tickets' two-day use.

Creation Museum Girls

A mother and daughter examine animal species toys — some of which include dragons.

Creation Museum Keychain

The "Seven C's" of God's eternal plan: creation, corruption, catastrophe, confusion, Christ, cross and consummation.

Creation Museum Ken Ham Copy

AiG president Ken Ham's Foundations series is a 360-minute look at the "alarming state of Christianity today," which uses modern events as the backdrop for the necessity of a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Creation Museum My Creator

This is just one of the T-shirts available at the museum gift shop.

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The multimillion-dollar testament to a seemingly invaluable faith did not come without a fight. AiG filed several suits in order to develop the plot of Boone County land the way that they wished, with the apparent strategy being to litigate until their opponents gave up.

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