Bestselling author Reza Aslan, who wrote the controversial Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, has argued that the historical Jesus would have looked like an average Palestinian, countering arguments by Fox News host Megyn Kelly who declared on her Wednesday evening show that "Jesus was a white man."
"Well, what we know about him is that he was Galilean. As a Galilean, he would have been what is referred to as a Palestinian Jew. He would look the way that the average Palestinian would look today," Aslan said in a Washington Post article.
"So that would mean dark features, hairy, probably a longer nose, black hair."
Aslan insisted, however, that different cultures around the world see Christ in different ways and interpret what he looked like through their own eyes, meaning that in a sense Kelly would not be wrong to say that Christ was white.
"When you go to, for instance, the Church of the Annunciation at Nazareth, they have commissioned Christian communities from all over the world to paint a depiction of Jesus and his mother Mary. They've displayed all those paintings, and when you look at, for instance, the painting from the United States, what you see is a blonde and blue-eyed Jesus," he explained.
"When you look at the painting from Guatemala, what you see are Jesus and Mary as migrant farm workers. I don't mean they look like migrant farm workers I mean they are migrant farm workers. When you look at the painting from China, Jesus and Mary are Chinese, literally Chinese. When you look at the painting from Thailand, Jesus and Mary are blue, as though they are Hindu gods."
He added that in this sense, Kelly is right, and that "her Christ is white."
In her comments on Wednesday, Kelly was responding to a recent op-ed in Slate, which claimed that the image of Santa Claus as a white man needs to be abandoned.
"I kind of laughed and I said this is ridiculous. Yet another person claiming it's racist to have a white Santa," the Fox News host responded.
"Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure that's a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that."
In the WP article, Aslan argued that the reason Christianity spread so rapidly around the world and is the most popular religion today is because it was an "infinitely malleable idea," and that it allows different people to define what God in human form would look like.
"Christianity tells you God is man, and so man is the metaphor for what God is in Christianity, because God became a man in the form of Jesus," the author argued.
"What that does, however, is that by saying that God is man, God is a man, it allows you to then define what man is. If you're Chinese, then God is a Chinese man. If you're Middle Eastern, then God is a Middle Eastern man. If you're a blond, blue-eyed, white suburbanite woman, then God is a blond, blue-eyed suburbanite."
Aslan's book has stirred controversy because it does not rely on the Gospels for its characterizations of Christ. Instead, the author explores how Jesus would have lived in the historical environment of the time.
Zealot is set to be transformed into a feature film, after Lionsgate recently acquired the rights.