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The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America Hardcover – September 21, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* How did Jesus come to be portrayed as white? And why is he an inspiration for both white supremacists and slaves? Blum and Harvey trace the tangled history of religion and race in America, revealing how racial politics have affected religious practices and how religion has been used and misused in the practice of racial politics. Despite efforts by Puritans to escape depictions of Christ, Christianity in America evolved to rely on an image glorifying Europeans. Beyond the set image, slaves identified with a fellow sufferer, while masters identified with an image that reinforced notions of white superiority. New printing technology, industrialization, immigration, the rise of imperialism—all aided in the wide distribution of bibles with pictures of a white Jesus, reinforcing the notion of white superiority over darker-skinned people. Blum and Harvey explore how the image of Christ has been constantly remade to suit the social politics of individual nations, mostly blond-haired and blue-eyed but at times and places decidedly Middle Eastern, even Native American, black, and Hispanic, as believers have struggled to depict a savior in line with their deepest yearnings. Photographs and other images of Christ enhance this thoroughly fascinating book. --Vanessa Bush


A solid contribution to the conversation on religion and race in U.S. history. . . . The American Christian community remains trapped within a web of racial hierarchies, flawed theological assumptions and dangerous patriarchal precedents that continue to inform Christian doctrine and liturgy. The best way to treat an illness is to begin by discovering its root causes. The Color of Christ does just that.--Christian Century

Thoroughly fascinating.--Booklist Starred Review and 2013 Top 10 Black History Nonfiction

Blum and Harvey's book should be in the running for several awards, if nothing else for documenting a central dynamic in American religious experience. [It] serves as a good model for future research into messianism and American culture and politics.--Darren E. Grem, Journal of Southern Religion

With considerable skill, Edward Blum and Paul Harvey have closed a gap in the scholarship of race and American religion by crafting a sweeping narrative chronicling the ways that the physical image of Jesus has encoded various iterations of American racial imagination. . . . No scholar interested in the interplay of racial and religious imagination in American can afford to ignore [this book].--The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

The Color of Christ reveals tremendous complexity, multiplicity and ambiguity to the rich intercultural and interracial relationships and conflicts that have continually changed American culture. Blum and Harvey's latest work deserves to be widely read so that we may yet know how our past endures in the present.--America Magazine

[The Color of Christ is] an eye-opening look at how not just the image but also the idea of Christ has shifted within varying communities and schools of thought throughout American history.--Pop Matters

This model of academic inquiry and analysis is clearly written, deeply researched, socially engaged, ambitious in the intellectual scope of its questions about race and religion, and methodical in its answers.--A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2012

A tremendous resource for teachers seeking to educate students about the myriad movements in the U.S. that have taken Jesus' name and image, as well as general readers seeking a lively introduction to the topic.--Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, Journal of Southern Religion

An easy read.--Nova Religio

The writing itself is deft. . . . Without actually taking a clear political stance themselves, Blum and Harvey nonetheless map the habits of white racist sacralities in the face of a Jesus rendered increasingly rainbow. This is a thought-provoking book.--American Historical Review

An astute examination of the connection between culture and racialized understanding of Jesus within the American context. . . . Helpful for exploring a topic which is still controversial today.--Black Theology

A detailed engagement with contentious subject matter. Religion, politics, and race are often taboo conversation topics, especially in mixed company. But this work is neither shy nor pretentious about bringing all three subjects into conversation.--Reggie L. Williams, Journal of Southern Religion

This is a key work for students of American Christianity, but also a worthwhile read for undergraduates and general readers interested in the intersection of race, Christianity, and religion. It is an important acquisition for religion collections of all types. Essential. Lower-level undergraduates and above.--Choice

[A] compelling study. . . . This work will captivate readers of American religious and racial history.--Library Journal

Brings the story of religion and race in American history to life. . . . The Color of Christ is a valuable contribution to our understanding of race and religion and would be of value to anyone interested in the topic of religion and race.--The Tidings

An engaging and sympathetic piece of scholarship that will appeal to a wide audience. It will be a significant contribution to many literatures, including those that consider European and American Christianity, constructions of race, and race relations.--North Carolina Historical Review

The authors' breadth of research is impressive, and their incorporation of material culture is a model for future scholarship.--Journal of American History

A work that highlights Indian voices more effectively than almost any synthesizing work in the field.--Jennifer Graber. Journal of Southern Religion

A brilliant, original retelling of the story of religion and race in America.--Mormon Studies Review

Sweeping in scope. . . . A fascinating read for anyone interested in the power of sacred art to deform or transform society.--Sacred Art Pilgrim

Readers will definitely benefit from engaging the authors' discoveries and analyses for themselves.--Interpretation

We are indebted to Blum and Harvey for their effort to unearth and reveal this picture of American encounters with the images of Jesus. . . . This is an extremely powerful book. . . . A must read.--Ponderings on a Faith Journey Book of the Year 2012

A fascinating story that we cannot afford to ignore.--Books & Culture

A powerful and groundbreaking book. . . . [Blum and Harvey] masterfully probe how a sacred icon can be a tool at once of racial oppression and liberation. A must-read for those interested in American religious history, this book will forever change the way you look at images of Jesus.--Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Blum and Harvey have produced a rich and readable narrative that begins with the Puritans and concludes with Jesus in the age of Obama--Christian Century

An insightful, historical opus delivering a sobering message about how we all might have been harmed, physically, by the generally-accepted image of the Messiah.--Kam Williams


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1 edition (September 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807835722
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807835722
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #299,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Matthew S. Hedstrom on October 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book is a must-read for anyone who wants a scholarly but accessible treatment of the complicated relationship of religion and race in the United States. The book is so full of surprises and insights that I couldn't put it down. I was especially taken with the notion that a white Christ could be -- and has been -- used as a symbol to fight white supremacy, not just as a tool of white supremacy. This book draws on such a vast range of sources -- the arts, of course, but also social and political history -- and figures from many traditions, races, regions, and background, from across many centuries, yet manages to remain clear, concise, and on-point. Recommend!!
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Ben Sanders on October 15, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Christianity in the United States and its relationship to race, racism, and white supremacy. The imaging of Jesus plays an important role in the formation of U.S. Christianity, and "The Color of Christ" does a wonderful job of explaining why.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By sandra m on April 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
What color/race was Jesus? Looking to find a clue in Jesus' origins, I discovered some sources that said he was originally Osiris, the mythologized cultural hero of ancient Egypt. Other sources said that Jesus was a spiritual teacher who originated in another part of the middle east. Either way, the consensus seems to be that Christ came from the "zone of confluence", the area of the world where, according to Cheikh Anta Diop, white people from the north mated with black people from the south. THE COLOR OF CHRIST : The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America does not delve into those claims. Instead, this work shows how Americans' depictions of Christ were malleable, psychological barometers in the nation's turbulent race relations.
Authors Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey begin with the little known fact that the Puritans did not believe in religious imagery. In fact, they destroyed images of Christ, envisioning him as light. But, as whites grew in numbers and power, their Jesus became white to sanctify and justify Indian and black oppression. To Native Americans, this emerging white Christ "became a foil, a means to denounce white hypocrisy, a religious symbol to inspire resistance". Blacks in America fashioned white Jesus into a suffering white man who undermined white authority. With the end of slavery and mass migration to America of darker people from Europe and Asia, there was the rise of the Klan and the eugenics movement. White Jesus became a whiter, Nordic-looking figure. Black liberation theology took root in the 1920's and 1930's Harlem Renaissance as artists and writers rendered Jesus a lynched black southerner.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Snyder on February 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Color of Christ is a great book on the production, dissemination and use of images of Jesus Christ throughout American history. Written by Edward J. Blum, professor at San Diego State University, according to his profile, and Paul Harvey, professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, this investigation extends from the earliest days of European colonization in North America through to the present day. Through their investigation professors Blum and Harvey explore "the ways Americans gave physical forms to Jesus," found mainly in images at first (B&H, 7). They explore where Americans placed these representations of Jesus and how the representations of Jesus were remade so as to reflect the various religious, political and social aims of those desiring these representations. Framing their argument is the use of these representations with respect to power, especially with regards to the manner in which white people used the Son of God to support their claim of racial superiority.

In addition to the way in which white people in the United States used images of Jesus to support their claims to racial superiority, Blum and Harvey also chart "the places where Christ's whiteness was secretively transformed to undermine white power or to create experiences that mediated and challenged racial discrimination" (B&H, 8). One example is found in the way in which slaves in early America saw Jesus as a trickster of white people. As slaves were the downtrodden, the poor and weak, they viewed the teachings of Jesus as supporting them in their struggle for freedom and equality. From this view point, slaves were the last that would someday be first, while their white masters would someday be last.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Larry D on December 22, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For those interested in United States cultural history, this history of race in America, American religious history, the history of religious art; I recommend this book. Highly. I hated to put it down.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dennis on June 16, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I recently attended a graduate course on "The Contested Colors of Christ" taught by Dr. Blum.. The Color of Christ was the centerpiece text in the course. This book provides an essential balance of theology, history, and Christian ethics for readers and learners. As a preacher of the Gospel, The Color of Christ provides historical perpectives of the Church and those who minister through the church from the Pre-Colonial period in America through the postmodern period to date.

The Color of Christ is also an essential resource for the Pastor's professional library because it provides a rainbow of different perspectives of Christ that congregations and parishes need to grow spiritually and ethically in an accurate historical setting. As a Christian educator, The Color of Christ can be used as an excellent resource for a group study in a church setting for congregations that want to grow historically,spiritually and ethically with the wealth of information found in this book.The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America
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