Facial reconstruction of a Galilean (BBC)
The traditional Western view of Jesus.
“Jesus Christ was born of the tribe of Judah,
and it was necessary that he be of the original pure racial strain,
even as Noah was.”
Herbert W. Armstrong, “Mystery of the Ages”, 1985, p. 173.
The Chimera of Racial Purity
Most races that we define today stem from a historical confluence of peoples. For example, Western Europeans, including the British, are known to consist of three quite diverse groups: early Hunters and Gathers, later Agriculturalists and recent Steppe Pastoralists. Each of these groups is represented by a different haplogroup. A technical measure called “genetic distance” may be used to create racial categories but then how distant do two groups of people need to be? And genetic distance does not always correspond to appearance, the measure that most people understand and use.
Was, then, Christ of a pure racial background? Christ was a member of the Haplogroup J people who lived in the Middle East. Haplogroup J people have identifiable Neanderthal ancestry in their genomes. Neanderthals are beyond being another race – they are a different hominid species. Genetic studies of Arabs (“Indigenous Arabs are Descendants of the Earliest Split from Ancient Eurasian Populations,” Genome Research, 2016 Feb; 26(2): 151–162), a typical Haplogroup J people, indicate that they are less Neanderthal than Europeans and Asians but more Neanderthal than Africans. The haplogroup J people of the Middle East were mixed with Neanderthal ancestry long before Christ was born. Genetics tells the truth. We cannot look at the Biblical genealogies and assert that Jesus was racially pure on that basis. Just as you cannot look at your own personal genealogy and claim racial purity. If you doubt the veracity of this, then have yourself tested using a genetic service that identifies Neanderthal ancestry.
The Theology of Race in Armstrongism
Herbert W. Armstrong wrote of the importance of race in his beliefs in his book entitled “The Mystery of the Ages (MOA).” He explains that one of the credentials of Israel as the Chosen People was racial purity, whatever the term “race” meant to him. He states the very choosing of Israel by god was likely because they were “of the White racial strain, unchanged since creation” (MOA, P. 166). And racial intermarriage was forbidden to them by god. They were not to intermarry among “the dark Canaanites” then in the land. In a previous Op Ed, I discussed the incontrovertible evidence that Canaanites were not Blacks but were of the same haplogroup as Jews and would be indistinguishable in appearance from Jews. To make it clear, Jews and Canaanites are of the same race and all the scriptures HWA quotes to support the prohibition of racial intermarriage were really scriptures about marrying outside of religion. Black people within Armstrongism have been done a great and harmful disservice by this false theology.
With this background, it is not difficult to see why HWA would stipulate racial purity for Jesus. It is understood that Christ was supposed to be a Lamb without blemish. And Jesus was without physical defect. HWA’s extension to include racial purity in the concept of being “without blemish” is not based on scripture but likely derived from the viewpoints prevalent in right-leaning American society at the time.
New Testament Theology
HWA’s views on Jesus’ racial purity are in contradiction to Pauline theology. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:4–8:
“If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews … But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ … and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ …”Here Paul does not classify his own indisputable racial purity (a Hebrew of Hebrews) as an important attribute in his imitation of Christ. Christians are to pattern themselves after Jesus, yet Paul is willing to discard his own fleshly racial purity and count it as a loss in pursuit of that spiritual pattern. If racial purity were essential to Christ and, hence, Christians as followers of Christ, would Paul dare class it as “rubbish”? Paul’s view is rather that his own racial purity is a personal attribute that could stand between him and Christ. Racial purity in Pauline theology is clearly not a special kind of spiritual credential for godliness and righteousness or a condition that would validate Christ as a sacrifice.
The Ethnocentric View of Christ as the Source of this Error
HWA is dead and cannot be asked about his motivations behind his heterodox belief about Jesus’ racial purity. A speculative answer is that HWA’s views have to do with the protection of the status of White people as pre-eminent above other people in Armstrongist beliefs. Armstrongists believe that god is racially White and that Adam was a White man who reflected the physical, bodily image of god. There is, perhaps, a fear that if Jesus is not White in his exemplary qualities, White privilege will be jeopardized. Jesus, in fact, was a Jew. He was not an Ashkenazi Jew. Ashkenazi Jews did not exist in Jesus’ day. Ashkenazi Jews are from 30% to 60% European and this shows in their appearance. Jesus was a first century Palestinian Jew. He was short, olive-skinned, brown eyed and had very curly hair. With this blatantly “Gentile” appearance, he probably would not have been admitted to Ambassador College and he probably would not have been appointed Spokesman Club President or Vice President. He might have even been compelled to attend the Spanish Fun Night at the Feast of Tabernacles.
I do not advocate racial intermarriage but it is clearly not a sin. I think that marriage, the challenging union of two disparate human wills, is difficult enough without the burdens that interracial marriage brings. For further reading on genetics try Dr. David Reich’s (geneticist at the Harvard School of Medicine) book entitled “Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past”. I have heard HWA lauded from the pulpit in Big Sandy for being racially pure like Noah. HWA was from 1% to 3% Neanderthal based on studies of Western Europeans. The momentum behind this is so great that those who deny it hold a highly exceptional and idiosyncratic view and must shoulder the burden of proof that it is not so. If HWA has enough living descendants and other relatives, a genetic test that measures Neanderthal ancestry might be used to deduce this with the help of a genetic consultant.