Reza Aslan: Megyn Kelly was right about Christ, but wrong about Jesus

Religious scholar Reza Aslan said Fox News host Megyn Kelly was partially right when she said Jesus Christ was white.

Kelly has been criticized and mocked for her insistence that Jesus and Santa Claus were white during Wednesday night’s “Kelly File” program on the conservative news channel, and she’s expected to address her remarks on Friday’s program.

Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth -- which has just been optioned as a possible feature film -- said historical Jesus was born in Galilee, which would have made him a Palestinian Jew.

“He would look the way that the average Palestinian would look today, so that would mean dark features, hairy, probably a longer nose, black hair. To put it in the simplest way possible, he would've looked like me,” said Aslan, an Iranian-American Muslim.

But he told the Washington Post’s Max Fisher in an interview published Thursday that the historic Jesus had become a separate entity from the religious Christ.

“What I just described is Jesus. What Megan Kelly described is the Christ -- and they're different people,” Aslan said. “In other words, the Christ can be whatever you want him to be.”

The distinction between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith may be strange to consider, he said, and makes some Christians uncomfortable, but he insists they’ve become separate characters.

“Religions are man-made – literally – man-made institutions that are built long after the death of the prophet for which they are named,” Aslan said. “So the reason that I, as a scholar, don't have a problem with that differentiation between Jesus and Christ – these are two different things, and you can go back and forth between them – is based precisely on that one fundamental fact. Which is that Jesus didn't create Christianity -- his followers created Christianity, and so, of course, Christ of Christianity is different from the Jesus of history. And that's okay.”

Aslan said depictions of Jesus Christ typically reflect the values and characteristics of each culture that worships him.

“When you look at, for instance, the painting from the United States, what you see is a blonde and blue-eyed Jesus,” he said. “When you look at the painting from Guatemala, what you see are Jesus and Mary as migrant farm workers. I don't mean they look like migrant farm workers; I mean they are migrant farm workers. When you look at the painting from China, Jesus and Mary are Chinese, literally Chinese. When you look at the painting from Thailand, Jesus and Mary are blue, as though they are Hindu gods.”

He said the teachings of Jesus were so malleable that they could be adapted by most any culture, and he said that’s what aided its rapid spread before the Romans adopted Christianity.

“As everybody knows, before Roman Orthodoxy, there were a thousand different kinds of Christianity,” Aslan said. “It could mean whatever you wanted it to mean. And that is precisely why it is now the largest religion in the world, because it has the ability to be whatever a worshipful community wants it to be.”

So while Kelly’s comments might have been historically inaccurate, Aslan said the Fox News host was likely making a personal cultural observation.

“Megyn Kelly is right,” he said. “Her Christ is white.”

In other words, Aslan said, the foundational metaphor of Christianity encouraged its followers to imagine God – who took human form in Jesus Christ – in whatever way they perceived humanity.

“If you're Chinese, then God is a Chinese man. If you're Middle Eastern, then God is a Middle Eastern man. If you're a blond, blue-eyed, white suburbanite woman, then God is a blond, blue-eyed suburbanite,” Aslan said.

Watch Kelly’s remarks on Santa Claus and Jesus Christ: