On TV, a new Jesus comes into view

Story highlights

  • If you turned on the television this past Sunday, a new vision of Jesus came into view. Darker, in mood and skin tone. Earthy rather than ethereal.
  • According to the Apostle Paul, almost every depiction of Jesus so far has gotten at least one detail wrong.

(CNN)It's one of the most famous faces in history, even though no one really knows what he looked like.

Instead, every culture, every generation, remakes Jesus in its own image.
A blonde-haired, blue-eyed savior when America was mostly Anglo-Protestant, at least in Hollywood's eyes. An androgynous, meek-and-mild messiah during the anything-goes 1970s. A studly action-figure hero after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Flip through the gallery above, and you'll see what I mean.
    If you turned on the television this past Sunday, though, a new vision of Jesus came into view. Darker, in mood and skin tone. Earthy rather than ethereal. If not following all of history's clues -- Hollywood has yet to cast an actual Jew as Jesus -- then at least inching closer.
    Flipping through the channels on a day millions of Western Christians celebrated the resurrection of their savior, viewers could choose from "Killing Jesus," a NatGeo production rebroadcast Sunday on Fox. "A.D.," NBC's sequel to the blockbuster miniseries "The Bible," and "Finding Jesus," CNN's addition to the ever-burgeoning body of Christ-centered TV fare.
    What unites these disparate projects, besides a recognition that Jesus always draws an audience and the Good Book is good for business, is the type of men chosen to play Christ. They are brawny, with brown eyes and dark complexions. They look like men who could be carpenters, if not in Nazareth, than at least in the Mediterranean neighborhood.
    Haaz Sleiman, from "Killing Jesus," was born and raised in Lebanon. He's also Muslim, a fact that annoyed some Christians, who took to Twitter to voice their displeasure.
    Adam Bond, a British actor of mixed heritage, including Native American, portrays Jesus during the historical reenactments in "Finding Jesus."
    And Juan Pablo Di Pace -- a Argentinian named after the late St. Pope John Paul II -- takes a starring role in "A.D.," replacing Diogo Morgado, dubbed "hot Jesus," by some, "smarmy Jesus" by others.
    You could make the case that authenticity is the coin of our current entertainment realm, and that filmmakers are competing to make their work as historically accurate as possible. Contemporary viewers are too savvy to stomach the fake beards and odd accents that littered the camels-and-sandals epics of eras past.
    But there's another, deeper meaning behind our new, multicultural Jesuses, scholars say.
    "Filmmakers and networks are in touch with the fact that the complexion of America has changed," said Stephenson Humphries-Brooks, a religion scholar and author of "Cinematic Savior: Hollywood's Making of the American Christ."
    "A large number of Americans are people of color: Latinos and Middle Easterners and people from India," Humphries-Books continued. "That means the audience base is shifting in various and important ways."
    The audience base may be shifting, but it's also tuning in. Each of the Jesus shows drew big ratings, which means you'll likely be seeing more of Christ as you channel surf.
    But according to the Apostle Paul, almost every depiction of Jesus so far has gotten at least one detail wrong: his flowing locks. Real men don't wear long hair, said the New Testament scribe.