Jesus was Black because he was a Jew

historical-jesusThere’s been plenty of responses to the ridiculous assertion by Fox News that “Jesus was White.”

But none of them go far enough. And if we wanted to go the furthest from the statement “Jesus was white” there’s nowhere else to go but to Dr. James Cone.

The following is an extended quote from James Cone, who asserts that Christ is black: not in the color of Christ’s skin, but in that Christ lived and is always on the side of the oppressed–which in America, for Cone, means to be Black.

And like one should do with all extended quotes from any academic theologian…there’s another quote explaining it. So if you get lost, you can read the next quote and be more on track.

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When the past and contemporary history of white theology is evaluated, it is not difficult to see that much of the present negative reaction of white theologians to the Black Christ is due almost exclusively to their whiteness, a cultural fact that determines their theological inquiry, thereby making it almost impossible for them to relate positively to anything black.

White theologians’ attitude toward black people in particular and the oppressed generally is hardly different from that of oppressors in any society. It is particularly similar to the religious leaders’ attitude toward Jesus in first-century Palestine when he freely associated with the poor and outcasts and declared that the Kingdom of God is for those called “sinners” and not for priests and theologians or any of the self-designated righteous people.

The difficulty of white theologians in recognizing their racial interest in this issue can be understood only in the light of the social context of theological discourse. They cannot see the christological validity of Christ’s blackness because their axiological grid blinds them to the truth of the biblical story. For example, the same white theologians who laughingly dismiss Albert Cleage’s “Black Messiah” say almost nothing about the European (white) images of Christ plastered all over American homes and churches. I perhaps would respect the integrity of their objections to the Black Christ on scholarly grounds, if they applied the same vigorous logic to Christ’s whiteness, especially in contexts where his blackness is not advocated.

For me, the substance of the Black Christ issue can be dealt with only on theological grounds, as defined by Christology’s source (Scripture, tradition, and social existence) and content (Jesus’ past, present, and future). I begin by asserting once more that Jesus was a Jew. It is on the basis of the soteriological meaning and particularity of his Jewishness that theology must affirm the christological significace of Jesus’ present blackness. He is black because he was a Jew. The affirmation of the Black Christ can be understood only when the significance of his past Jewishness is related dialectically to the significance of his present blackness.

James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1997, 1975), p. 123.
Read more: http://theconnexion.net/wp/?p=11023#ixzz2nQ9ErWr5
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Share Alike

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Interpretation and Reflection:

Although Cone uses the term “racial” for Jesus’ Jewish identity, the promises of God given to Israel–to be “a light to the nations” (Isa 42.6; quoted p. 124)–open up its Jewish particularity towards other peoples in a way beyond any racially conceived identity. The “divine freedom revealed in Israel’s history is now available to all” in Christ, and this does not negate “the divine election of Israel” but affirms it (124).

Israel’s own life unfolds within God’s commitment to liberate all creation from bondage. Christ is no figure trapped in the past but is present in and with the “little ones” struggling for freedom. His Jewishness allows other oppressed peoples–in America, people of color, and for Cone, Black people in particular–to articulate their own struggles within his covenantal life. Jesus’ Jewishness means that God stands in solidarity with the poor, or, in Cone’s words, “that black people are God’s poor people whom Christ has come to liberate” (125). Because Jesus is the Jew who has affirmed and fulfilled Israel’s covenantal calling, Jesus “really enters into our world where the poor, the despised, and the black are” (125). Jesus is at work in our world, identifying himself with the despised, bearing their burdens, and bringing them to the freedom of human life with God.

To say that Jesus is Black because Jesus is a Jew is to say that black life is the location–in America–in which the Jewish Savior is found. To say that Jesus is Black is to acknowledge that there is no knowledge of God, or Christ, apart from Christ’s present work in the actual struggles of oppressed people today. It is also to acknowledge that blackness has been opened up as a repetition of the covenantal openness of Jewish identity (to the point where Cone envisions the conversion of white people as their becoming black). God’s liberation of creation today–God’s gift of freedom and full, abundant life–occurs at the site and in the lives of black people affirming their full humanity in a racist society.

So, in short, if you struggle against the powerful of this world, then Christ is black. If you are an enabler or identify with the powerful, then little wonder that Fox News believes Christ is white.

Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. Thomas Coates says

    Thank you Jeremy,
    This is a very needed article, and fits within what I’ve learned my first semester of seminary (in both OT/Hebrew Bible and Social Context especially, but also Christian Heritage where one of my traditional Catholic professors stated that Christ became suffering on the cross and suffers with us as we “put on Christ” in the world today).
    Christ suffers with the oppressed, whether African-Americans, LGBTQ people, chronically homeless– in all manner of suffering. We must all be aware of our social location and privilege of one form or another. Conversations are not equal: Whether stating “this is America, anyone can make it” without understanding many people have much, much further to climb through no fault of their own, or regarding LGBTQ people who know suffering in the church (and because of the BoD’s inhumane statements, the tremendous risk LGBTQ/allies face for speaking up to lessen the pain), or the difference in power between viewing a white or black Jesus.

    I believe there’s benefit to seeing the Incarnate Christ as black (or any non-dominant race, class, or stigmatized group), as Jesus would not be hanging out with those in power– whether on capitol hill, or huge conservative lobbies trying to keep people out of the church (Focus on the Family-types). Jesus would be working on the margins, ministering with the poor, the black, the LGBTQ, the sex workers, the addicts, the homeless, those with HIV/AIDS without adequate healthcare, and you and me.

    • Paul Anthony Preussler says

      Our Lord does indeed suffer with homosexual persons such as Alexander Turing and Oscar Wilde, when they are treated brutally and without the mercy that He has commanded. However, in equal measure he also suffers from them, for His commandments preclude homosexuality, just as they prohibit adultery, fornication, and bestiality. In transgressing Christ’s commandments, as expressed through the Pauline epistles, and his own words against lasciviousness, we do harm Christ, repeating the original Sin of Adam, and participate in His crucifixion, and these sins are universal. Is there one person who has read this blog, who has not looked upon another human in lust, and thus committed adultery in their heart?

      It is by way of the sexual impulse that Satan frequently corrupts us to the most extreme extent, and it is here that we must zealously “gird up our loins,” committing ourselves either to Holy Celibacy, or to heterosexual marriage. We must resist the temptation to satisfy our homosexual desires, or for that matter, our inappropriate heterosexual desires, or other lascivious impulses, for when we fail to do so, we do cause Christ to suffer; but we can take solace in the fact that our God is long-suffering, and has suffered and died for our sins, so that death might be swallowed up in victory, and that we might eventually, through pursuit of holiness, and avoidance of all sin, including improper sexual temptation, fulfill the role He intended for us.

      • Thomas Coates says

        in equally measure? No way. I cannot yield that the brutal murder and torture of LGBTQ humanity, where Christ suffers with us, is in any way equal to a loving LGBTQ relationship, for love cannot be a sin, as all that is good is from God. However, you at least admit that Christ suffers with persecuted LGBTQ persons and there are many, many people who can’t even get this far– believing being an LGBTQ person is a choice, when it is not… you’d understand if you were LGBTQ.

        • Paul Anthony Preussler says

          In my teenage years, I experienced strong homosexual temptations in my life and I have learned to control and suppress them; I have sublimated them into a general love for the male gender, while at the same time I have been blessed to enter into heterosexual marriage. However, if my wife dies, I will become a monk, and forswear sex altogether.

          Christians are routinely subject to all forms of sexual temptation, not only for sexual relations with men and women, but also of other forms, including even for some, temptations to engage in those forms of sex that were tolerated in the Roman Empire, but are now held to be despicable, that being of course paedophilia and bestiality (the oldest extant novel, the Satyricon by Petronius, would be considered a work of child pornography if penned by a modern author). These temptations are continual, and come both from our own biological processes, and from the devil. When we yield to such temptation, we truly do cause Christ to suffer, as surely as we do if we stone an adulteress, or execute a homosexual man, which is horrifyingly common in certain Islamic countries that have succumbed to an extreme form of Islamic law (other forms of Islam, such that of the Alevis in Turkey, are loving religions, with values similar to those of Christianity).

          Since yielding to our passions sinfully harms Christ as well as ourselves, it is vital that we learn to control our passions. Now, in indulging homosexual inclination, this is no worse than having an adulterous relationship, or engaging in any other form of misconduct. Christians must learn to control all of their passions, not just their sexual passions; we must also fight avarice, vanity, narcissism, and especially pride; pride is a dangerous sin that is becoming increasingly common as our schools and civil society dangerously stress self-esteem, instead of humility.

          The process of fighting sin is often the process of fighting addiction. Homosexual Christians must learn to control their sexual inclinations and to avoid indulging their sexual desires, and at the same time, must also learn to redirect their love for persons in the same gender from the erotic form to the filial form, while ideally retaining the altruistic intensity. At the same time, they must learn to acquire a deeper appreciation and love for the opposite gender; the canons of the early church prohibit a man from becoming a monk, because he hates womankind. The choice then has to be made between holy celibacy and heterosexual matrimony.

          Now in the course of this journey, which, like any journey away from sin, can be extremely painful, a homosexual might relapse repeatedly. When this occurs, its imperative that, while swiftly repenting of the sin and seeking forgiveness, that those who are helping the homosexual Christian on their journey immediately forgive and love that individual, and the individual not be consumed with shame over it, but rather, simply understand that what they did was sinful, but that through the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, they have been forgiven, and the sin, blotted out. This, by the way, is a sacrament which the Methodist church has not properly carried over from Anglicanism, but which we must make a point of reviving in the face of the highly corrupt 21st century society (the corruption of which is partially our fault; our heretical views on alcohol and our stern moralism at the dawn of the 20th century triggered a backlash, and many of our own clergymen now devote themselves to affirming and celebrating the anomial, amoral, depraved world in which we live).

          Now, it is true that love cannot be a sin. If two men or two women love each other, this is in no way sinful. God is love, and all that is truly good is indeed from God; love can be understood as the divine energy of God. However, we must make a distinction between love and sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is not love; rather, it is a biological response created by God, for two reasons: in a general way, to facilitate the reproductive process of all animals, and in the specific case of humans, to tighten the matrimonial bond. Sexual pleasure, while it does strengthen the bonds of marriage, is not a prerequisite of love; I love many men, and have had sex with none of them (although in my teenage years, the temptation at least was there). We must understand that while the mechanism of pleasure is from God, and is thus good, all forms of pleasure can be perverted in an evil manner.

          Consider, as an example of how pleasure can be evil, and how an instrumentality created by God can be perverted for the service of the devil, the various vices of our modern world. The megalomania and narcissism of many world leaders, even of democratic nations, and for that matter of celebrities; doubtless this is a source of extreme pleasure, and it is also Satanic; in like manner, consider other forms of sexual pleasure. Bestiality doubtless provides pleasure, perhaps for the animal as well as the human, but it is obviously a detestable act; a horrifying transgression of God’s commandments, and represents a perversion of sexual pleasure in the service of sin, and ultimately, the devil. All sins are equal before God; from a societal standpoint, bestiality is somewhat more offensive than homosexual activity, for the obvious reason that an animal cannot give informed consent to sexual activity. However, homosexuality transgresses God’s law, as does bestiality, and thus, for in the same way that bestiality represents a perversion of the gift of sexual pleasure given us by God for the specific purpose of the matrimonial bond, so to does homosexual activity, in that both actions directly contravene God’s commandments. Now, both were rather severely punished according to the Levitical code; most Christians would not say that bestiality isn’t a sin, but to my knowledge, it was not specifically mentioned as still being prohibited within the New Testament; however, the Apostle Paul did expressly condemn homosexual activity in his Epistles. Thus there can simply be no doubt that when Christians do succumb to homosexual temptation, we do cause our lord Christ to suffer, but to no greater an extent than if we were to succumb to the temptation to engage in an adulterous affair. In such sins, we surrender control of our passions to lust, serving our own bodies, and indeed the devil, at the expense of our lord and savior.

          It could be said in a sense that when we work to cast off our passions, whether they be avarice, or lust, or gluttony, or vanity, or pride, for example, in the great fast of Lent, we ease the suffering of Christ; the temporary and transient discomfort we experience as we purify ourselves through asceticism is indeed suffering, but we might consider that we are suffering in this case on behalf of Christ. So if Christ suffers with us when we are persecuted, and suffers from us when we sin against his commandments, in like manner, when we discipline ourselves and fight against our passions, we suffer for Christ, and perhaps it might be said that in suffering for Christ, we are privileged to participate spiritually in His glorious resurrection; in this manner, we can attain the holiness valued by Wesley, the theosis described by the Eastern Christians, and experience personal transfiguration.

          Christian monks forego all of the pleasures so idealized, and indeed idolized, in our modern, depraved society: sex, money, even freedom of movement, and commit themselves to suffering for Christ, in the place of Christ; many Athonite monks have expressed a desire to forfeit their salvation at the day of judgment for the sake of someone else. In so doing, many of these monks become themselves transfigured. Among those living today, I personally see in figures such as Patriarchs Ignatius Zakka Iwas and John X Yazigi of Antioch, Father Lazarus of St. Anthony’s Monastery, Metropolitans Kallistos Ware of Diokleia, and Philip of North America, even Pope Benedict, living embodiments of Christ. Even among married Christians, the sanctity of older married clergy, especially of the WWII generation, in the Methodist church, is immediately apparent. This transfiguration is largely the result of ascetic self-denial and control of the passion; something that earlier generations practiced by instinct, but our present corrupt generation has largely lost, as a result of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and the general apostasy of our time.

          If we cannot regain the discipline needed to control our passions, and attain transfiguration, who will remain to pray for our children and grandchildren? Many people worry about climate change, others about the depletion of natural resources, but I myself am most concerned about the depletion of our spiritual resources. Our world is at risk of being destroyed by a catastrophic dichotomy, between societies that demands complete submission to false religions (Islam and Communism), viciously torturing and murdering anyone who transgresses their moral codes, and on the other hand, between societies of libertines, that regardless of whether they are conservative or liberal, are dominated by materialism, and largely populated by degenerate ex-Christians who have lost the ability to resist temptation, and have become slaves of their own passions. Both societies would entail slavery to the devil; in the former case, enforced slavery, through the complete suppression of the Christian faith, and in the latter case, voluntary slavery, through complete inability to discipline oneself. Our world still possesses many nuclear weapons, and the dichotomy thus presented is in fact far more extreme than that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union.

          So in closing, I would propose that you consider the possibility, as shocking as it may sound, that in sinning against Christ, and indulging your sexual appetite, you are in fact fueling the fire of man’s destruction, contributing directly to the onset of WWIII and the nuclear holocaust that was once so feared, yet is as possible today, as it was in the 1960s.

          • Zzyzx says

            Well, the important thing is that YOU know precisely how everyone else should act and precisely what everyone else should do.

        • Paul Anthony Preussler says

          Looks like I ctrl-X’d rather than ctrl-C’d a portion of my reply, so here it is again:

          In my teenage years, I experienced strong homosexual temptations in my life and I have learned to control and suppress them; I have sublimated them into a general love for the male gender, while at the same time I have been blessed to enter into heterosexual marriage. However, if my wife dies, I will become a monk, and forswear sex altogether.
          Christians are routinely subject to all forms of sexual temptation, not only for sexual relations with men and women, but also of other forms, including even for some, temptations to engage in those forms of sex that were tolerated in the Roman Empire, but are now held to be despicable, that being of course paedophilia and bestiality (the oldest extant novel, the Satyricon by Petronius, would be considered a work of child pornography if penned by a modern author). These temptations are continual, and come both from our own biological processes, and from the devil. When we yield to such temptation, we truly do cause Christ to suffer, as surely as we do if we stone an adulteress, or execute a homosexual man, which is horrifyingly common in certain Islamic countries that have succumbed to an extreme form of Islamic law (other forms of Islam, such that of the Alevis in Turkey, are loving religions, with values similar to those of Christianity).
          Since yielding to our passions sinfully harms Christ as well as ourselves, it is vital that we learn to control our passions. Now, in indulging homosexual inclination, this is no worse than having an adulterous relationship, or engaging in any other form of misconduct. Christians must learn to control all of their passions, not just their sexual passions; we must also fight avarice, vanity, narcissism, and especially pride; pride is a dangerous sin that is becoming increasingly common as our schools and civil society dangerously stress self-esteem, instead of humility.
          The process of fighting sin is often the process of fighting addiction. Homosexual Christians must learn to control their sexual inclinations and to avoid indulging their sexual desires, and at the same time, must also learn to redirect their love for persons in the same gender from the erotic form to the filial form, while ideally retaining the altruistic intensity. At the same time, they must learn to acquire a deeper appreciation and love for the opposite gender; the canons of the early church prohibit a man from becoming a monk, because he hates womankind. The choice then has to be made between holy celibacy and heterosexual matrimony.
          Now in the course of this journey, which, like any journey away from sin, can be extremely painful, a homosexual might relapse repeatedly. When this occurs, its imperative that, while swiftly repenting of the sin and seeking forgiveness, that those who are helping the homosexual Christian on their journey immediately forgive and love that individual, and the individual not be consumed with shame over it, but rather, simply understand that what they did was sinful, but that through the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, they have been forgiven, and the sin, blotted out. This, by the way, is a sacrament which the Methodist church has not properly carried over from Anglicanism, but which we must make a point of reviving in the face of the highly corrupt 21st century society (the corruption of which is partially our fault; our heretical views on alcohol and our stern moralism at the dawn of the 20th century triggered a backlash, and many of our own clergymen now devote themselves to affirming and celebrating the anomial, amoral, depraved world in which we live).
          Now, it is true that love cannot be a sin. If two men or two women love each other, this is in no way sinful. God is love, and all that is truly good is indeed from God; love can be understood as the divine energy of God. However, we must make a distinction between love and sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is not love; rather, it is a biological response created by God, for two reasons: in a general way, to facilitate the reproductive process of all animals, and in the specific case of humans, to tighten the matrimonial bond. Sexual pleasure, while it does strengthen the bonds of marriage, is not a prerequisite of love; I love many men, and have had sex with none of them (although in my teenage years, the temptation at least was there). We must understand that while the mechanism of pleasure is from God, and is thus good, all forms of pleasure can be perverted in an evil manner.
          Consider, as an example of how pleasure can be evil, and how an instrumentality created by God can be perverted for the service of the devil, the various vices of our modern world. The megalomania and narcissism of many world leaders, even of democratic nations, and for that matter of celebrities; doubtless this is a source of extreme pleasure, and it is also Satanic; in like manner, consider other forms of sexual pleasure. Bestiality doubtless provides pleasure, perhaps for the animal as well as the human, but it is obviously a detestable act; a horrifying transgression of God’s commandments, and represents a perversion of sexual pleasure in the service of sin, and ultimately, the devil. All sins are equal before God; from a societal standpoint, bestiality is somewhat more offensive than homosexual activity, for the obvious reason that an animal cannot give informed consent to sexual activity. However, homosexuality transgresses God’s law, as does bestiality, and thus, for in the same way that bestiality represents a perversion of the gift of sexual pleasure given us by God for the specific purpose of the matrimonial bond, so to does homosexual activity, in that both actions directly contravene God’s commandments. Now, both were rather severely punished according to the Levitical code; most Christians would not say that bestiality isn’t a sin, but to my knowledge, it was not specifically mentioned as still being prohibited within the New Testament; however, the Apostle Paul did expressly condemn homosexual activity in his Epistles. Thus there can simply be no doubt that when Christians do succumb to homosexual temptation, we do cause our lord Christ to suffer, but to no greater an extent than if we were to succumb to the temptation to engage in an adulterous affair. In such sins, we surrender control of our passions to lust, serving our own bodies, and indeed the devil, at the expense of our lord and savior.
          It could be said in a sense that when we work to cast off our passions, whether they be avarice, or lust, or gluttony, or vanity, or pride, for example, in the great fast of Lent, we ease the suffering of Christ; the temporary and transient discomfort we experience as we purify ourselves through asceticism is indeed suffering, but we might consider that we are suffering in this case on behalf of Christ. So if Christ suffers with us when we are persecuted, and suffers from us when we sin against his commandments, in like manner, when we discipline ourselves and fight against our passions, we suffer for Christ, and perhaps it might be said that in suffering for Christ, we are privileged to participate spiritually in His glorious resurrection; in this manner, we can attain the holiness valued by Wesley, the theosis described by the Eastern Christians, and experience personal transfiguration.
          Christian monks forego all of the pleasures so idealized, and indeed idolized, in our modern, depraved society: sex, money, even freedom of movement, and commit themselves to suffering for Christ, in the place of Christ; many Athonite monks have expressed a desire to forfeit their salvation at the day of judgment for the sake of someone else. In so doing, many of these monks become themselves transfigured. Among those living today, I personally see in figures such as Patriarchs Ignatius Zakka Iwas and John X Yazigi of Antioch, Father Lazarus of St. Anthony’s Monastery, Metropolitans Kallistos Ware of Diokleia, and Philip of North America, even Pope Benedict, living embodiments of Christ. Even among married Christians, the sanctity of older married clergy, especially of the WWII generation, in the Methodist church, is immediately apparent. This transfiguration is largely the result of ascetic self-denial and control of the passion; something that earlier generations practiced by instinct, but our present corrupt generation has largely lost, as a result of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and the general apostasy of our time.
          If we cannot regain the discipline needed to control our passions, and attain transfiguration, who will remain to pray for our children and grandchildren? Many people worry about climate change, others about the depletion of natural resources, but I myself am most concerned about the depletion of our spiritual resources. Our world is at risk of being destroyed by a catastrophic dichotomy, between societies that demands complete submission to false religions (Islam and Communism), viciously torturing and murdering anyone who transgresses their moral codes, and on the other hand, between societies of libertines, that regardless of whether they are conservative or liberal, are dominated by materialism, and largely populated by degenerate ex-Christians who have lost the ability to resist temptation, and have become slaves of their own passions. Both societies would entail slavery to the devil; in the former case, enforced slavery, through the complete suppression of the Christian faith, and in the latter case, voluntary slavery, through complete inability to discipline oneself. Our world still possesses many nuclear weapons, and the dichotomy thus presented is in fact far more extreme than that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union.
          So in closing, I would propose that you consider the possibility, as shocking as it may sound, that in sinning against Christ, and indulging your sexual appetite, you are in fact fueling the fire of man’s destruction, contributing directly to the onset of WWIII and the nuclear holocaust that was once so feared, yet is as possible today, as it was in the 1960s.

          • Paul Anthony Preussler says

            In response to zzyxz by the way, I’d also say is the most important thing is that we know how each of us should act. The worst of sinners is me; I know how I should act, and I know on many occasions that I’ve failed to act in that manner. I want the church to remind me of this fact and call me to repentance, and this includes in response to homosexuality, as that is one temptation that I did experience in my youth. I have lots of gay friends, and if it hadn’t been for the church, I probably would have pursued a sexual affair with them, rather than meeting my present life, that I’m very much in love with.

            My belief is actually that all humans are effectively bisexual in terms of the range of sexual temptation we experience, and then depending on the individual, we also randomly experience a range of other inappropriate temptations. Now, this may sound surprising given that I’m calling for the church to uphold its classical position on homosexuality, but I much enjoyed the British science fiction show Torchwood, in part, because I felt it depicted the natural state of human sexuality, or should I say the unnatural, degenerate state of human sexuality resulting from Original Sin. None of the major characters in it are either straight or gay, but rather, virtually all of them are sexually omnivorous. Thus, the primal human sex instinct, derived from Original Sin, I think, is basically for us to have sex with everything in sight, devour everything in sight, conquer everything in sight. The goal of the church is to teach us to control our passions and redirect them in line with God’s commandments. I say this as one who has often failed at this myself.

  2. David Winfrey says

    That makes much more sense than the Fox News version; it brings to mind the similar color/status equation proposed by the great theologians John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their song “Woman is the N***** of the World.”

  3. Paul Anthony Preussler says

    The racial identity of Jesus Christ in his humanity was Jewish, for the Jews were God’s chosen people. Some Jews were, and are, black: the Beta Israel, who have an ancient history; some believe they are descended from Dan. They share a genetic affinity with the rest of Israel, including the Samaritans, who are believed to be descended from the Northern Tribes, and the Jews descended from Judah and Benjamin, who together with the Samaritans, and various Gentiles, inhabited the Roman client state of Judea during the time of Christ. It is believed the Beta Israel’s origins can be traced to the Queen of Sheba, who presumably was of Ethiopian origin; Jewish merchants traded with the Ethiopians and doubtless intermarried with them, creating the Beta Israel community. It is from the Beta Israel that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church acquires much of its color and diversity, including the Old Testament “broad canon”, and a deeper respect for, and participation in, the Torah, than is found elsewhere in Christendom. Like in Synagogues (but also like in Coptic Churches, and historically, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was under the pastoral jurisdiction of the Coptic Pope of Alexandria), men and women in Ethiopian churches sit on separate sides.

    It is remotely possible that Jesus was dark-skinned, by way of the Beta Israel, but this is unlikely, given his lineage clearly indicates he was a male line descendant of Judah and not of Dan; however, it is possible that some of the Beta Israel were also so descended. In all probability, Jesus was “swarthy”, to use an old word without wishing any offense; his skin tone was probably somewhere between that of the Mexican Americans, Armenians and Coptics on the dark side, and that of the West Syriacs or Turks on the light side, or to use two Jewish extremes, he was most probably in a spectrum between the common appearance of a Sephardi and that of an Ashkenazi, although intermarriage with Northern Europeans to a large degree accounts for the ethnic appearance of Ashkenazi Jews, and in like manner, intermarriage with Iberians and Arabs accounts to some degree for the appearance of the Sephardi.

    I did once have the pleasure of beholding Christ in a dream; and in my dream; he resembled very much the stereotypical image of him we transmit, that seen in the Mandylion, and the Icon not Made by Hands, and that of Christ Pantocrator (albeit without the strangely offset right eye of the latter icon, which I suspect is the result of damage to the icon over time or a botched attempt at repair). My dream of Christ however is by no means an authoritative account of his appearance, but rather, a personal gift of the grace of the Holy Spirit. In my dream, Christ was driving a somewhat battered white toyota pick up; he entered my neighborhood in it, drove up behind my car, and rescued me, taking me to heaven. I know of another devout Christian who once dreamt of Christ walking down the street, wearing a light blue business suit. All of these images of Christ are beautiful. Returning again to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, they possess a beautiful iconography; their tradition, like that of the Copts, is highly stylized, and many of their icons tend to depict Christ, the angels, and the saints, in a manner resembling the ethnicity of their people. This is all in fact beautiful, for while Christ was a Jew, he was also, like Adam, a prototype of the Human Race, as the Son of Man, redeeming Jews and Gentiles alike, all people, of all ethnicities.

    It is wrong to say that Christ was white, for what defines whiteness? Many people who have African ethnicity have pale skin tones; the Melanesians are only distantly related to the Africans genetically, yet closely resemble them physically. The fact that Christ’s actual skin tone was in fact most likely neither very fair nor very dark, but rather, within the intermediate spectrum characteristic of many in that region (but not all, see the Circassians as an example of a very fair-skinned people living in Palestine), is useful, in that it prevents us from being able to say that Christ was definitely “black” or definitely “white”; in fact, he was somewhat in between. In like manner, Judea’s position between the Occident and the Orient prevents identification with Christ in that manner, and the uncanny but accidental similarity of appearance between many ethnic groups of that region with the Hispanic population of Latin America similarly defeats any attempt to associate Christ purely with the people of the Old World, at the expense of the New. There is not a human alive who is not related to Christ, by blood; in like manner, all humans are children of our Father in Heaven, although Christ is His only-begotten Son, who, as Athanasius said, became man, so that we might become god (not literally as members of the Trinity, or as cosmic deities as the Mormons do vainly suggest, but rather, deified through theosis, ascending to the true divinity God intended for us, that was lost with the corruption of the world through original sin).

    In like manner, it is equally wrong to say that Christ was black, even if ethnically, Christ is directly related by blood to both “black” people and “white” people. It is wrong to say this, on the basis of the persecution black people suffered through the dreadful slave trade, the manifestations of which I have witnessed firsthand in the slave trading castles of West Africa, and in the dungeons of Monticello, and other stately homes of the deep South, and the persecution the Jews likewise suffered in the holocaust, that Christ, because of the persecution of the Jews, is also Black, for Christ is identified with all humans. Christ has come to redeem all: the persecutor and the persecuted; the slave, and the master. For we have all transgressed God’s commandments.

    Our Lord has commanded us to be merciful; the Epistle of James the Just teaches us that a faith unaccompanied by good works is a dead faith. Martin Luther, who once exhorted us to “Sin boldly”, did try to redact this “epistle of straw” from the New Testament, and tucked it away near the end of his vernacular German Bible, but to his credit, later repented of this view. However, the problem with this form of liberation theology is that it attempts to appropriate Christ as the redeemer of the oppressed in this life, making him the God only of the marginalized.

    This however reduces promise of Salvation in Christ to something needlessly worldly and materialistic. The mission of Jesus Christ on this earth was to procure our eternal salvation; that after our bodily resurrection, we may, at the dreadful day of judgment, obtain salvation through His infinite mercy, and partake of his life-giving body, and his redeeming blood, the Cup of the New Testament, ascending to live in the continual presence of God; John, in Revelation, describes the New Jerusalem as a city illuminated purely by the light of God’s presence, and needing no temple, for God resides there directly in all His infinte majesty, and we are in direct contact with him. That was the reason for Christ’s incarnation.

    Christ is the savior of the Marginalized; he is their God, but he is every bit as much the God of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the God of Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, the God of Rush Limbaugh and of Jon Stewart. The most powerful and wealthy among us will have to answer before the dread judgment seat of Christ, as will the least among us, who are every bit as capable of sin. Some Christian saints have been nearly infinitely poor (St. Paul the Hermit comes to mind), nearly infinitely marginalized (St. Abanoub), or in other cases, extremely wealthy and powerful (St. Vladimir, St. Helena).

    Our Lord and Savior was not, as the Liberation Theologists and many liberal scholars on the quest for the “Historical Jesus” blasphemously suggest, a sort of 1st century Karl Marx or Che Guevara; one can find plenty of other persons of that century who would more accurately fit that description. The second century false Messiah, Simon Bar Kochba, whose actions led to the near complete destruction of Jerusalem, and the banishment of all Jews and Christians from the renamed Aelia Capitolina until the reign of Constantine I, would more accurately fit the revolutionary socialist God that Liberation theologists would like to worship. In like manner, however, the theologians of the South, who enthusiastically endorsed slavery as an institution ordained and beloved by God, equally sinned, appropriating Jesus Christ as the God of the wealthy and powerful, like Romulus of Rome or Athena of Athens, backing them in their subjugation and enslavement of the underprivileged.

  4. Paul Anthony Preussler says

    Lastly, does Jeremy Smith dare suggest that we, in seeking to correctly perceive Christ, the universal savior of all of God’s children, as a Jew, with Jewish ethnicity, that we are identifying ourselves with the rich and powerful? Does he seriously want to say that the Eastern Orthodox icons of Christ, which depict him according to traditions as to his appearance, as a Jew, in the traditional manner, which are painted by monks living on Mount Athos in extreme, self-inflicted poverty, who sleep three hours a day, eat two very meager meals per day, and stand in prayer, in church services, for eight hours a day, are identifying themselves with worldly concerns of money or political influence, against the oppressed? Does he dare to say that we must obscure the truth of the Gospel, and deny Christ’s Judaism, in favor of assigning him an African ethnic identity, for the sake of modern political sensibilities? If so, such an attitude is profoundly hateful, filled with racism, implicitly anti-Semitic, and a manifestation of the heresy of Iconoclasm, in its most vile and disgusting form, to such a degree that I would propose, if unrepented, would necessarily preclude his continuing ministry as a pastor in the Methodist church.

      • Paul Anthony Preussler says

        Just so were clear, unlike Torquemada, who was himself by virtue of cruelty a heretic, I would die before allowing someone to kill or torture you or Jeremy. I am here, humbly following in the footsteps of Ss Irenaeus, Athanasius and Augustine, whose intercession in blessing my work I pray for, that your souls might be saved, and the souls of many laity whose salvation is jeopardized by the apostasy of the clergy. And now, it’s time for Church! This is the day the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

  5. Brian says

    Thank you Paul for enlightening us all with your wisdom. I am so thankful that such an erudite interpreter of the Christian tradition has taken it upon himself to wipe this little corner of the internet clean of any thought that does not correspond to his own particular vision and understanding of the Christian faith. How wonderful that you have taken it upon yourself to be the exclusive holder and interpreter of truth. Let no one dare question the faith or seek to understand it in ways that open themselves to the continuing revelation of God in people’s lives. NO. Let us only live by the standard and writings set by men and women of earlier centuries who had no concept of the world in which we live today. Thank you sir. Thank you. We are all in your debt.

    • Paul Anthony Preussler says

      You would have a point Brian if Jeremy Smith were the pastor of a new denomination, but he, and other liberal clergymen on the one hand, and various heterodox conservative clergymen (of the sort who would insist Jesus is white) on the other hand, have taken it upon themselves to “reinvent” and “update” the existing church into which I was baptized. I have not only the right, but the responsibility, to defend the Apostolic faith of against their heretical depredations. The Unitarian Universalists provide a place where the faith may be openly questioned, and where the denomination is open to “continuing revelation”, but the United Methodist Church must return to being a church focused on the preservation of the Orthodox faith, the faith of the Apostles, the thousands of martyrs, the vast cloud of Christian witnesses, and the faith of John Wesley, and the faith of our forebears in this land. If you doubt the wisdom of this, you might take a look at the Episcopal Church, USA, or the Presbyterian Church USA, both of which have lost much more of their membership than have we, and are being rent apart by schism, on account of deciding to “open themselves to the continuining revelation of God in people’s lives”, rather than simply viewing themselves as guardians of the the Apostolic faith that they had been taught.

  6. Paul Anthony Preussler says

    One should also point out the immaturity of supporting such a modernist theology when it results in this sort of political ping-poing being played about the racial identity of Christ. The Apostolic faith offers us a way out of this ridiculous situation; Fox News said Jesus was white, a ridiculous and ugly thing to say. Jeremy Smith says, effectively, “No, you fools, he was black!” To which the Apostolic faith provides the answer: Christ is related by blood to all of us; he is neither black nor white; and interestingly, by virtue of His consubstantiality with the Father, and the fact that He is perfect in his humanity and His divinity, we can consider that our Lord relates to us on two levels, universally, that transcend race, on the level of a father, and as a brother.

    Thus I cannot indulge Jeremy Smith, nor Fox News for that matter, in reducing Jesus Christ to a sort of political tennis ball, to be knocked about in an endless match of ever-worsening intensity, between Democratic heretics on the left, and Republican heretics on the right. Indeed, only the Apostolic faith, and its dynamic reapplication within every element of American society, offers us an escape from the increasing polarization we are now experiencing between liberal and conservative sections of society.

  7. Zzyzx says

    Apropos to the topic at hand (“Jesus was Black because he was a Jew”) I just noticed the readings for December 29th in the lectionary. Jesus’ flight into Egypt. Perfect! There has been a local asylum-seekers home opened up near one of my churches. The Church Council (and broader leadership) wants to reach out and provide clothing, toys, etc. to the asylum seekers as well as to provide them a space in our church rooms for socializing and coffee, etc. We’ve had a lot of pushback from some of our members. Members who are worried about having poor and foreign people in the church. Worries that they’ll “steal” or start begging around the church.

    This pushback saddens me, especially as it is so contrary to the Gospel message of welcoming the foreigner and caring for those with nothing. So, this year the Lectionary is entirely apropos to the situation at hand. James Cone says “Jesus was Black because he was a Jew.” In our context, my sermon will deliver the message that “Jesus was an asylum-seeker.” Then we can ask ourselves: “Will we open our doors to Jesus in the persons of these asylum-seekers?”

    • Paul Anthony Preussler says

      Now, in this case, I actually find myself in general agreement with ZZyxz, at least in so far I’ve been working to acquire places of worship for two groups of asylum seekers themselves: Syriac Orthodox and Coptic Christians, who have been arriving in Southern California in droves due tot he SYrian war and the persecution of Copts in Egypt. It’s amazing how few ministers are willing to share their church buildings with these people so they can continue praying, and how little generosity or hospitality there is; in placing a Syriac or Coptic congregation I typically have to call every single church in town, and then ultimately have to place them with a Synagogue or a Masonic lodge or some non-church facility, because all the local pastors, whether liberal or conservative, are unwilling to accommodate them.

      Now this is a true story. The pastor of one of the three Lutheran churches in Victorville (and I can’t remember which one, which is convenient in that it reduces the risk of me slandering anyone) approved the application of the Syriac Orthodox to use their church at 1 PM in the afternoon. However, then he realized the Syriacs had also asked to use the social hall afterwards, and canceled the deal, making a racial slur regarding the Syriac people.

      Now at present, I only do this volunteer work for Syriac and Coptic Christians; the Antiochene diocese, which is equally being persecuted, has sufficient resources in North America to do this on its own, and for that matter, the Copts have a lot of money as well, they just need introductions, but then can pay their way into any facility that will have them. The Syriac Orthodox church on the other hand is exceedingly poor; they actually are probably the least well-off in that respect of any of the ancient churches with apostolic succession, so its a bit tricky helping them, because most of the newly arrived congregations have zilch to pay rental fees. I do pray for the Syriac Catholics, Coptic Catholics and Melkite Catholics, but its the responsibility of the Roman Catholic archdioceses to use their substantial resources to accommodate those refugees, whereas in the case of the Syriac and Coptic Christians that support network doesn’t exist.

      Now by the way, while we’re on the subject, I’d be equally willing to help non-Christian refugees from the Syriac emergency as well, including Yazidis, Mandeans, Druze, Alawis and Zoroastrians, as there are several who had fled into Syria, seeing it as a safe haven when the Iraq war began, but I have no contacts with those communities. Should UMJeremy hear of any requesting assistance though in Southern California though the grapevine, perhaps from Zzyzx, I’ll do anything I can to help them.

      • Zzyzx says

        I doubt I could help with anything in California. I don’t live in the US anymore, so I’m completely unfamiliar with the refugee situation there.

        Amazing that we can agree on SOMETHING though! ;)

        • Paul Anthony Preussler says

          Well, the current situation in the middle east means a steady supply of religious refugees practically everywhere around the globe. If you encounter any Syriac, Antiochian, Coptic or Assyrian Christians in need of help, or any members of the various Pakistani Christian communities, they are in dire need of assistance.

          In equal need of assistance are members of other persecuted religious minorities: non-Sunni Muslims, particularly Alevi, Alawi and Bektashi Sufis, who are particularly despised because unlike most Sufis, their beliefs are closer to Shia in terms of their reverence for Ali, also, of other religions, the Mandean Gnosticis, and the syncretic Yazidi, who are probably Gnostic, both of whom are probably sects that at one time practiced Christianity, and are related to the Sabians referred to in Islamic jurisprudence, are in dire need of assistance, as are to a large extent the Druze and Zoroastrians.

          One rather sad fact is the manner in which Karaite Jews have vanished from Egypt, and the Beta israel from Ethiopia; these communities migrated nearly in their entirety to israel and to a lesser degree the US. It just seems horrible to me the manner in which these religious communities are being forced to leave their homelands.

    • Paul Anthony Preussler says

      By the way zzyxz, if you want to see an example of the kind of hatred that does exist within Protestantism for other Christians abroad, look at this remark posted on 9Marks:

      “In this context, the word “Christian” can be particularly problematic. To much of the Muslim world, America, Europe, and Russia are “Christian” societies, and whatever is true for those countries is true of Christianity. Thus, when a Central Asian Muslim asks me if I am a Christian, what they mean by “Christian” is an alcohol-drinking, pornography-watching, sexually promiscuous, picture-worshipping Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic person who is part of the culture that has attempted to conquer and oppress them for centuries. Therefore, I never simply say yes. However, since Christian is a biblical word, neither do I say no. I define who I am in biblical terms apart from their historical experience.”

      This kind of hateful intolerance, which is both racist, and deeply offensive in light of the Syrian, Coptic and Pakistani Christians who are being slaughtered daily, I am opposed to in its entirety. So by the way, I should add, if we are going to say that Jesus is Black, we should also say that he’s Coptic, a Syrian Christian, and a Pakistani Christian, because those people are being really heavily persecuted right now. And amusingly enough, in the case of the Syriac Christians, they actually speak a modern form of the same language spoken by Jesus during his ministry, West Syriac, which is derived from Classical Aramaic, and their Bible, the Peshitta, is written in Classical Aramaic. Its highly probable that some Syrian Christians are distant descendants of Jewish Christians, so one could actually say with some level of accuracy that Jesus was a Syriac. I would be opposed to this, but you could say it. And when you see the pure vitriolic hatred of fundamentalist Christians like the 9Marks set for these middle Eastern Christians, its sickening.

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