Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey are the authors of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.
From Blum's Q & A with Terry Gross on Fresh Air:
GROSS: Edward Blum, welcome to FRESH AIR. So knowing what you know about religious history, if you were painting a picture of Jesus Christ, what color would he be?--Marshal Zeringue
EDWARD BLUM: Well, the best American painting I've ever seen of Jesus is by Henry Ossawa Tanner, and what he does is he has a figure, a human figure veiled, where the colors are somewhat grayish and brownish colors are over the face. And so we can make out that there's a man there, and he has skin that seems a little darker and hair that seems a little darker, but we can't make out the actual skin tone. We can't make out the eye color.
And I would choose that for a couple reasons. One, because America was founded by a whole bunch of Puritans who didn't want to see Jesus. They thought it was a violation of the Second Commandment to have images of Christ. And when they had dreams, when sometimes Puritans would dream about seeing Jesus, he was described as behind a spider web, and I think that's a beautiful image.
Even Joseph Smith, when he claimed to see his - when he claimed to Jesus and God the Father, Joseph Smith the founder of Mormonism. His first description was that it was indescribable. And so I like the notion of behind a veil or behind a webbing, that there's something, someone there that we desperately want to see and get to but just quite can't.
GROSS: OK, so you've answered and avoided the question at the same time.
GROSS: So I'm going to ask it again because, I mean, you know, Christ was actually a man. You know, he starts as a man. And he was a man in a place at a time, and he was flesh and blood, and that flesh had a color. And our depictions, historical depictions of him have differed over the centuries, but he had a color when he was alive. So if you were - if you were painting a realistic image of what you think Jesus looked like in his time, what color would he be?
BLUM: So, for that I can say he definitely wouldn't be white, and you know, the Middle East that Jesus, the historical Jesus was a part of, was a crossroads of the world, of the known world at its time. And so I would probably paint him darkly complected, not pure black, more in a kind of light brownish.
I'd probably pay a lot more attention to his...[read on, or listen to the interview]