The tendency of Christians of all centuries has been to portrait Jesus as "one of them." As Christianity was predominantly a Mediterranean (and European) phenomenon, the image of Jesus as a "white male" became standard in Christian iconography. In the colonial context, such an image was "exported," first in the Americas and then in Africa and Asia, to affirm European cultural and racial superiority.
The growth of antisemitic attitudes in late 19th century increased self consciousness in defining Jesus' racial identity. The more historical research pointed at recovering the Jewish, middle Eastern origins of Jesus, the more the blue-eyed, blond Jesus appeared as an indispensable barrier against racial contamination.
Nazism brought this reactionary trend to the most extreme consequences by idealizing a non-Jewish, "Aryan Jesus" as champion of white supremacy. On the other hand, Jewish authors offered the first conscious depictions of Jesus as a Jew.
During the War, Hitler sponsored at Jena the activities of the Institut zur Erforschung und Beseitigung des jüdischen Einflusses auf das deutsche kirchliche Leben / Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life (1939-1945), directed by Walter Grundmann.
In spite of the tragic outcome of the Holocaust and the formal rejection of racial discrimination by mainstream Christianity, many of the traditional stereotypes of "Aryan Jesus" have survived in the contemporary imaginary of Jesus. No longer a self-conscious icon of ideological propaganda, the Aryan Jesus is facing the challenge of alternative views--either cultural (see Black Jesus, Asian Jesus, etc.) or historical (see Jesus the Jew).
Gabriele Boccaccini, University of Michigan
Major scholarly treatments of the subject include Racializing Jesus: Race, Ideology, and the Formation of Modern Biblical Scholarship (2002 Kelley), book, The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000 (2006 Kidd), book, and The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (2008 Heschel), book.
'Additional Bibliography (articles)
- When Jesus was an Aryan: the Protestant Church and antisemitic propaganda / Susannah Heschel / In: Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust, ed. Robert P. Ericksen and Susannah Heschel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999) / In: In God's Name: Genocide and Religion in the Twentieth Century, ed. Omer Bartov and Phyllis Mack (New York, NY: Berghahn Books, 2001)
- The Aryan Jesus / Sidney Kirkpatrick / In: Hitler's Holy Relics (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2010)