What ethnicity was Jesus? It doesn’t matter

There has recently been an avalanche of material in the media, including a number of books and television specials, regarding the person of Jesus. The question revolves around who the historical Jesus actually was and what his life and work actually embodied. I’m reminded of a fictional theological summit in Rome where the profound question of Jesus’ ethnicity was contemplated and discussed in an ecclesiastical forum:

“One by one the scholars offered their evidence. First, there was the group that thought he was Mexican because his first name Jesus. He was bilingual and he was always being harassed by the authorities.

“But then there were other arguments that Jesus was black. He called everybody “brother.” He liked gospel and couldn’t get a fair trial.

“Then there were equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish. He went into his father’s business. He lived at home until he was 33. He was sure his mother was a virgin and his mother was sure he was God. But then there was an argument that he was Italian. He talked with his hands; he had wine with every meal; and he used olive oil.

“Somebody else argued that Jesus was a Californian. He never cut his hair. He walked around barefoot, and he started a new religion.

“But then there were arguments that he was Irish. He never got married, He was always telling stories, and he loved green pastures.

“And someone else contended that Jesus was a woman. He had to feed a crowd at a moment’s notice when there was no food. He kept trying to get the message across to a bunch of men who “didn’t get it.” Even when he was dead he had to get up because there was more work for him to do.”

On a more serious note, theologian Douglas John Hall notes: “The Jesus for perhaps the vast majority of Protestants in North America is a good, mild-mannered, sexless, kindly but serious, nonpolitical male of indeterminate age, who counsels devotion to God; evenness of temper; patient acceptance of difficult experiences; courtesy in one’s dealings with others; obedience to those in authority; and resignation with cheerfulness in the face of sickness and death.


This Jesus in short, looks much like a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, implicitly renouncing any Jewish traits, and who behaves in a way that is quite unlikely to throw into question any of the mores, taboos, and values governing mainstream culture.”

Hall goes on to say that for those who are willing to look at the real Jesus with some degree of honesty and open-heartedness, “Not only will Jesus be for us many things that we did not anticipate and would prefer not to encounter, but in seeing him, we – like the original disciples –will also discover needs that we did not know we had; needs that we have perhaps spent a lifetime erasing from our consciousness.” As a Christian, I feel compelled to continue to search out the “Jesus question” with brutal honesty. I fear that popular religion has subverted the historical and even spiritual Jesus so that many of his teachings have lost their real potency and impact at a personal, as well as social level.

The popular little expression, “W.W.J.D.” (What would Jesus Do), can only correctly be answered if we come to terms with the radical nature of this Mediterranean Jewish peasant who came to turn the world right-side up. He did things which were unheard of in his time: he talked to women in public; he ate with “sinners;” he touched the diseased; and he refused to retaliate or use violence even when justice seemed to demand such a response. This was truly a man of God and a man of the world who brought people of different nations, tribes, sexes, social classes and religions together in a movement of true compassion and human companionship. I think even a depraved Californian like myself might find him interesting to meet.