Do the ethnic depictions of biblical figures matter?  I had a discussion with someone regarding an allegedly “white-washed and racist” depiction of biblical figures in a recent movie. Putting aside Hollywood or possible racial agendas, do we really need to be concerned about what color Bible characters are depicted as? Or could history provide potential answers in this area?


I do not know the movie that is being criticized. Perhaps it is the upcoming movie about the Exodus. Because I do not know the issue, it is hard for me to respond. Is this person complaining that Moses should have been black? Is he/she claiming that he should have been white? It is hard to respond to an unstated criticism. Perhaps you can help me there by giving more specific details about the claim of racism. Racism against what race?

To me, the producers of a movie have every right to have their actors be from whatever race they like. Anyone demanding that an actor be from a certain race could probably be charged with being racist themselves.

Having said that, it is my personal opinion that those who produce such movies would be most wise if they would use actors who at least approximate the characters they represent. If Hollywood producers were to take my advice (an extremely unlikely thing) then they would have Moses or Abraham or Noah or Pharaoh be of Middle Eastern descent or at least someone who could be credibly seen as Middle Eastern. This person would not be black and he would also not be white (assuming that by white we mean of Western or Northern European origin. The actor would have dark hair, dark eyes and would have an a skin color which is sometimes described as olive-colored. Just picture a friend you know from Jordan, Iraq or Egypt and you would be more or less on the mark.

Some with a particular agenda have claimed that Pharaoh was black. It is not completely impossible that Pharaoh was black. There was some interaction with the Nubians in the history of Egypt and the Nubians tend to be black-skinned. However, it is quite unlikely that the particular Pharaoh during the time of Moses was black because the Nubian dynasty (the 25th dynasty) controlled Egypt from the eleventh to the seventh centuries BC. There was also some intermixing of Egyptians with the “Peoples of the Sea” (Greeks?). This happened before the time of Moses.  In any case, to insist that Pharaoh was black reflects a racist agenda, or more kindly, reflects a lack of good knowledge of history.

I already said that anyone who makes a movie ought to have the right to put an actor of any race they like into their movies. Who are we to tell them what to do? There would be nothing inherently racist about having an Asian or a black or a Native American Jesus or Moses and those who scream loudly about this open themselves to being seen as racist themselves in my opinion. Personally, I would not do this (have a black, white or Asian Jesus or Abraham or etc.) and would suggest using a person who fits the bill, which means of Near Eastern background. However, this should be a non-issue in my opinion. Here is the bottom line, (again,  in my opinion). No, we do not need to be concerned about what color Bible characters are depicted as.  God does not judge a person by the color of his/her skin and neither should we, even when we choose actors in a movie.

John Oakes

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