Ethnically authentic nativity set

I would really like to have a nativity that looks like what we know people of that time and placed looked like…IOW, Middle Eastern Jews! But I cannot find anything like that. Why are all the nativity sets so…white?

I’m not looking for the “special” sets that are Native American, or African. But ones that truly look how we know Mary, Joseph and Jesus looked. With Middle Eastern Jewish features, hair color, etc. Not just dark hair and a pug nose!

Please give me a link if you know where I can buy this nativity set! It’s been on my mind for a few years now.

I was wondering the same thing myself. But even the “ethnic” sets I’ve seen just seem to be variations of coloration: None of the natives I know have little pug noses, including me!

For what it’s worth, I’ve even seen a picture of Blessed Kateri Tekawitha that makes her look decidedly Italian. That’s a hoot. She was Algonquin and Mohawk–while our coloration is about the same as some Italians, the very curly hair isn’t. And as a young single woman, she would have worn twin braids, or a tied-in-several-places ponytail.

It would be nice to see more artwork, not just nativity sets, depicting all Biblical characters (including the Holy Family) as looking more semitic. When I was a kid, it was pretty glaring to me that it seemed that in order to be considered “holy,” one had to be a blue-eyed blonde! There weren’t too many of them on the reservation!

Mmm, while it is unlikely the Holy family were blue-eyed blonds, Esau and David are described in the Bible as red-haired (some argue that only their complexion was red) , and natural blond hair is seen in the Levant, specially in western Syria, parts of Iran and Iraq. People with blue or green eyes are also seen there.
I do imagine the Holy Family to have a Mediterranean appearance but what that is, can be a bit difficult.

1Samuel 16:12 And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.

17:42 And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.

Anyway, I haven’t found stereotypical middle-eastern nativity set figurines either although I did spend a lot of time trying to find figures with dark (black) hair a few years back.


What exactly did a 1st century Jew look like anyway? Do we even know?

A common complaint, but without much basis in reality. Google “Jesus” and look at the images that come up (click on images). Whether they are drawings, paintings, or stills of an actor, almost all of them depict Jesus with brown eyes and dark hair, and this has always been the case. There are a few famous historical pieces which depict him with bluish eyes and much lighter hair, but they are the exception.

There is no credible description of Jesus, or at least none that I know of. There are, however, many examples of blonde or red and blue/green/grey-eyed Semitic people. I imagine Jesus looked exceptional in stature, demeaner, and possibly hair and eye color. A lot of short, black-eyed Asians would fit this requirement. I don’t see what difference it makes to anyone how he is depicted, but I suspect that no one actually told you, or even implied, that you must be a blue-eyed blonde to be considered holy. Kids infer all kinds of weird things, and it is impossible for adults to create an environment that is going to make all kids free of wrong inferences. If it makes you feel better, Our Lady of Guadalupe is decidely Mestizo looking, and it doesn’t bother me a bit that she doesn’t look Semitic. Take a look at Colonel Sanders in Okinawa: You can’t really see his eyes here, but they are also famously Asian looking. :whacky:

Just yesterday I stumbled onto a site dedicated to female Arabic celebrities, and I was positively shocked to see how many fair skinned and light haired Middle Eastern women there are. If we still have quite a few people looking like that in the 21st century, I could easily imagine the distinct possibility of a fair skinned Holy Family 2000 years ago.

No, we don’t. Israel was, for millenia, the crossroads of empires, and all kinds of peoples were there; some Semitic, some Indo-European, some Turkic. Abraham was said to have been from Ur of the Chaldees. Scholars don’t agree on where that was. The ancient land of Ur, at least, was Sumerian for a time. Sumerians were not semitic people, though they were ultimately conquered by Semetic peoples.

Quite possibly we, in the U.S., erroneously expect Jews of the biblical period to look like Jews of our experience here. Most Jews in the U.S. are Ashkenazi from Eastern Europe, and there is a fairly respectable body of opinion that they are descended from a Turkic tribe called the Khazars that converted to Judaism after the Diaspora. Sephardic Jews from northwestern Europe, on the other hand, are pretty Indo-European looking. But that doesn’t tell us what biblical era Jews looked like either.

Therefore, in trying to put together an “authentic” looking creche, we might inadvertently end up causing the figures to look like something they didn’t look like at all. Imagine the irony if we caused Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus to look like Turks when perhaps they most closely resembled modern Syrians, many of whom are blonde or red-haired and blue-eyed, or modern Sicilians, many of whose ancestors originated in the Levant.

Virtually all peoples idealize statues or paintings of Jesus, Mary and the saints, and do so according to their then-ideas of what is beautiful or stately or noble in appearance. Personally, in the absence of having any idea at all what any of them really looked like, I see no harm in peoples’ doing so. Interesting that the Son of God would have come to earth before photography existed. Perhaps our present lack of really knowing what He looked like was intentional on God’s part.

I was thinking Syrian, yes. Middle-Eastern Jewish-looking.

Jesus was not distinctive-looking though, or why would Judas have needed to give him a kiss to distinguish him from his apostles?

I think we could get a lot closer to what Jesus, Mary and Joseph looked like…Maybe not perfect but not Anglo-Saxon either.

But we don’t know that He didn’t look Anglo-Saxon. We really don’t. Many, many, many Syrians do not look like what we in this country tend to think they look like, and for good reason. They’re a very mixed bunch. The very first Syrian native I ever met was blonde and blue-eyed. Saladin, the hero of Palestinians, was Kurdish and is described by some as having red hair. And lots of Sephardic Jews in England, Ireland and some few in the U.S. really do look Anglo-Saxon, possibly because there has been ethnic mixing going on that nobody has admitted to, but just as possibly because biblical Jews themselves were very mixed. And there is no such thing as a typical “Anglo-Saxon” look, either.

Maybe English Jews who look for all the world like Englishmen look more like the Jews of Jesus’ time than do the Jews prevalent in some neighborhoods of NYC. We don’t know. There aren’t a lot of Jews in this part of the country, but of those I have known, some look Ashkenazi with olive skins and dark eyes and hair, and some look west European Sephardic, complete with red, blonde or light brown hair and blue eyes.

In Israel, Jews range from very “semitic-looking” to vaguely Turkic, to entirely western European looking, to very Slavic looking.

What I think is perhaps more important in imagery is that when we don’t really know what some sacred or holy character looked like, to be tolerant of those expressions of their appearance that people adopt because they want them to look familiar or fit some other criteria they have for reverence. So, if Japanese, for instance, want their Christmas creches full of very oriental appearing people, that’s fine. If Africans want them to be black, that’s fine too. But in seeking “authenticity” of appearance, we’re simply imposing our own preconceptions on the Holy Family. I guess that’s okay too. If we want them to look like Arabs, we can make them look like Arabs (understanding that Arabs can vary widely in their appearance, and do) or what we think Arabs are supposed to look like. But we can’t assume it’s more “authentic”.

Yes, but that’s the point several people have been trying to make. Syrians, and all others from the Levant, vary greatly in appearance from fair hair and blue eyes, to brown haired with green eyes, to brown hair with hazel eyes to black hair with brown eyes. Skin colour will have the same range from pale skinned with freckles to olive skinned to darker. One is not more Syrian than the other! You will find the same all over the Middle East,but especially in the Levant which has been the meeting place of peoples, empires, civilizations for thousands of years. I have relatives in Syria and most of them have light brown to brown hair with green, hazel or brown eyes but one cousin has auburn hair (can appear even more red hair depending on the light) with grey eyes.

Matthew 26:31 – Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

Matthew 26:56 – But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Jesus was seized at dusk or after dusk following prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and following the Passover meal. Judas kissed him to identify him in the twilight or darkness of evening.

The Bible has NO physical description of Jesus, Mary or Joseph so please don’t tell us you know what they looked like!!

Oh, trust me, I’m long since “over” the blue-eyed blonde thing, it was just odd when I was a little kid! I really was just agreeing with the OP, it would be interesting to see a nativity set that wasn’t so reminiscent of the image and likeness of the artist of European background. Obviously, we don’t know what Jesus really looked like, since He walked this earth long before the invention of the camera. I certainly wouldn’t want this to degenerate into some sort of racial statement. Still, I think that a nativity set that looks more middle Eastern would be interesting looking.

My own nativity set, by the way, is a very stylized silver colored Nambe set, and since it took me years to put it together, I don’t think it’s going to be pre-empted anytime soon!