Search SBL

SBL Forum Archive
<< Return to SBL Forum Archive What Did Jesus Look Like?

April is also the media world's favorite month toknock-those-Bible-belt-socks-off. This April is no exception with the shockingnews from the BBC/Discovery Channel that Jesus was not fair-skinned andblue-eyed, but dark-skinned and swarthy, typical of other Jewish men of his timeand place. Their program, "Jesus: The Complete Story" airs April 15thon the Discovery Channel.

All sass aside, the BBC has put together a documentary that—while it maynot rock the world of the Bible scholar—certainly sets on its head certainChristian assumptions about what Jesus looked like. More of interest toscholars, the series features "Gladiator"-style computer graphics thathelicopter over Caesarea Maritima and rebuild it stone by stone, orrecreate the jostling diversity of a first century street. The film crew drew onthe knowledge and expertise of SBL member James Charlesworth, of PrincetonTheological Seminary. He had this to say about work at the cultural frontlines:"I think it is exceedingly important for scholars to realize that it is notonly important to publish for each other, but for the person in the street.Otherwise the average person's questions about Christianity are usually goingto be answered by a non-scholar."

While some argue that mingling on the street downgrades scholarship,Charlesworth disagrees: "We do not need our jargon to communicate clearly;if we have to hide behind jargon, maybe we don't understand it clearly. Whenwe scholars publish a book, maybe 300 people will purchase it. If we work withthe BBC or Discovery Channel, we will reach over 30 million."

Tempted anyone? Charlesworth will participate in an online Q & A after the program airs. If any other SBL members are working atthe cultural nexus of the popular and the academic, do keep us informed.

Citation: , " What Did Jesus Look Like?," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited April 2004]. Online:


© 2021, Society of Biblical Literature. All Rights Reserved.