Jesus was a racist who adhered to the Jewish and Roman male supremacy despite claim that he was for the people. In some ways while he was a man of the people , he was also a man of the empire . A man of his culture.
I would like to qualified this statement by saying that I am a Christian, I believe in Christ, that he died and was risen. I believe in the miracle stories of Jesus healing the sick. I believe that he was there for the poor, the needy, the widows, the orphans and the oppressed. However I also believed that while Christ was on earth, there was this side to him that many of us Christians have overlooked, that while Jesus was there for the oppressed, there are some things that he did according to the Gospel writers that are questionable.
Racism according to Zeba Blay “ is a system in which a dominant race benefits off the oppression of others whether they want to or not” (Blay 2015). It can be assumed that racism is not a biological or genetic construct but a social construct. Michael Bamshad and Steve E. Olson have said that scientists and social scientists ( biologists, anthropologists sociologists etc) have rejected the idea of human beings divided into races and instead they apply geography, culture and ethnicity in how people are grouped. ( Bamshad, Olson 2003 78-79) There is lack of evidence of a genetic reason for race according to Ari Patrinos. ( Patrinos 2004). However even though racism and race is a social construct, it still affects strongly and negatively the perpetuater and the victim.
Matthew Clair and Jeffery Denis expresses that many scientists agree that race is a social construct and that a person’s different skin color has nothing that is genetically and biologically wrong. ( Clair , Denis 2015 857). Clair and Denis express that “the term race was first used to describe peoples and societies in the way we now understand ethnicity or national identity.” ( Clair Denis 2015 857). Since according to Clair and Denis that race was used to describe what is now ethnicity, this totally applies to Jesus who called the Canaanite woman or Syro-Phoenician woman if you read Mark a bitch for coming to him for health care.
Racism may be a modern concept but ethnocentrism has gone as far back as to the period of Alexander the Great specifically to Alexander the Great’s teacher Aristotle . Mark Lawrence McPhail states that ethnocentrism goes way back to Aristotle although he names it racism. He expresses this point by stating “ it is faith in the Aristotelian system of knowledge that legitimates the discourse of power that under-girds the social construction of race. Aristotle’s doctrine was thus of major significance for patterns of racial relations maintained by force”. ( McPhail 2002 26) Dante A. Puzzo disagrees although he writes at a earlier date and states in the context of the ancient world Aristotle was using ethnocentrism not racism . Puzzo expresses that there is a clear distinction between ethnocentrism and racism. Puzzo states “ To prevent misunderstanding a clear distinction must be made between racism and ethnocentrism … The Ancient Hebrews, in referring to all who were not Hebrews as Gentiles, were indulging in ethnocentrism, not in racism. … So it was with the Hellenes who denominated all non-Hellenes—whether the wild Scythians or the Egyptians whom they acknowledged as their mentors in the arts of civilization—Barbarians, the term denoting that which was strange or foreign.” ( Puzzo 1964 579)
I personally do not see much difference between ethnocentrism and racism, most racists see those who they oppressed and hate as strange and foreign and when the Romans or the Greeks or anyone for that matter practiced and described the other as barbarians or strange or foreign , it was not a positive connotation . Thus Jesus calling the Greek Syro-Phoenician woman a dog was a slur if you believe the Gospel of Mark. if you believe the Gospel of Matthew and the woman is a Canaanite then maybe Jesus is not being a racist, but then he would have practiced another type of discrimination religious. Religious discrimination in the sense that the Canaanite woman did not worship the same “god” as him and if the woman was Greek, then she has two strikes against her, she was of another ethnicity and she practiced another religion.
Hisako Kinukawa expresses that the story of Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman in the Gospel of Mark takes place at Tyre. She states that “. .. the story revolves around a tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea. This island was the affluent trading center of Jesus’time” ( Kinukwa 2015 136) Kinukwa also expresses that when Mark used the term region of Tyre, he was making a distinct between the city and the region of Tyre He has also stated that Galilee and Tyre were intersected and that there was no clear boundaries, hence Jesus may have not went into the city of Tyre. ( Kinukwa 2015 136) .
According to both Mark and Mathew Jesus goes into Tyre when the woman comes to him. Louise J Lawrence states that Matthew has redacted Mark. ( Lawrence 2009 267) Lawrence expresses that the Greek Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark becomes Matthew’s Canaanite woman. The Canaanites were formerly the inhabitants of the Palestine who were displaced by the the ancestors of the Jews c.f Book of Joshua. Jesus who is male, Jewish and a social class or two above this woman had the power to practiced racism on this woman. Jane E.Hicks conveys ” In Mark Jesus is described as the son of a carpenter . Carpentry in the Greco-Roman world unlike our modern conception of middle strata, skilled labor , would have indicated lower class status.” ( Hicks 2005 45) Jesus may have been in the lower classes but he was a class above the gentile woman because she comes out alone with no husband desperate for Jesus to heal her daughter . ( Hicks 2015 48) Thus because of this woman has three strikes against her.
This gentile woman whether she was Syro-Phoenician or Canaanite strongly implies religious , racial or ethnic and cultural differences between her and Jesus. When Matthew who has redacted Mark changes to Canaanite Elizabeth T Vasko expresses that it ” further stresses these differences… With this label the author presents her not only as a foreigner but as an enemy of Jesus” ( Vasko 2015 163) Matthew according to Vasko was likely a written to Jewish audience ” evoke imagery in the Old Testament of ” polytheism, sacred proposition and ethnicity beyond pale” ( Vasko 2015 163)
He felt superior to her when he says in Mark 7:27 “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” or in Matthew 15:26 “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Let us discuss the term dog as used in ancient Greece and surrounding areas. The insult of dog have been used as far as back ancient Greece and Rome. Historian Geoffrey Hughes implies that calling someone a dog is connection to the Greco-Roman Goddess Artemis/Diana who was the goddess of the hunt and use to turn into a dog herself. In Ancient Greece and Rome the comparison was a sexist slur equating women to dogs in heat,sexually depraved beasts who grovel and beg for men. ( Hughes 2006 23-24) Dogs were also used as insult for women, thieves, greedy people, people who were irritating.. The Greek word for dog kyon was an insult. ( Franco 2014 7) The Greek term that Jesus used to call this woman a dog in the text as was kynaria which really means “puppies” or “little dogs”.
In the ancient world dog was given to those who were set apart or an enemy of Israel. According to Michael Wilkins, it was a derogatory term given to those who were different than the Israelite. ( Wilkins 127 2015 ) dog was used as insult to classify someone to the lowest of the social class. Jews in particular hated dogs because they were among the few domesticated human animals who ate decaying human bodies. ( Wilkins 128 2015 ) Because of this I believe that Jesus was racist. If we know the definition of racism and apply it to Jesus we will see that Christ was being oppressive to this woman . Jesus has power over her, he is an upcoming leader, with a large following and was performing miracles such as healing. This woman of another ethnicity or race and probably practicing other religion was at the mercy of Jesus who at first denies her of medical care because of what her race was and also probably her religion. This woman’ helped Jesus learned from his prejudices and racism because she refused to leave empty handed without medical care for her daughter. This woman made him listen to her when she said in Matthew 15:27 “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. The woman made him listen and look within himself. If he was going God’s mediator on his earth. He was going to listen to this marginalized woman who was in need so much that she would come to a man who hates her because of her ethnicity, her sex and most probably her religion to help her. Jesus surprise by her persistence and her bravery to not only come to him for help but confront him on his prejudices, learns something and relents and heals her daughter Matthew 15:28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” Jesus has overcome his prejudices.
Earlier I made the comment that he also adhered to Roman supremacy. I argue that he adhered to Roman supremacy based on Matthew 8:5-13 where he heals the Roman centurion slave. This episode takes place according to where its placed in the Gospel of Matthew 7 chapters before the Syro- Phoenician woman’s incident. Jesus goes into Capernaum, also note he goes into Tyre. He goes into the woman’s country and crosses the border and plays he don’t want to help someone anyways I digress. He goes into Capernaum when a Roman centurion comes to him. Now this story is not in Mark but it is in Luke 7:1-10 In Matthew and Luke he goes into Capernaum This story is different than the story of the Gentile woman. He does not call the Roman centurion a dog for coming to him even though, the Roman centurion was most likely a different religion than him, a different race than him and a Roman who was helping to oppress people like Jesus and the Canaanite woman but according to Kinukwa Syro-Phoenicia was part of the Roman Empire ( Kinukwa 2015 137). In the story of the centurion ‘s servant, Jesus is not the one who is telling the Roman that he is unworthy like he did the woman. It was the centurion who says that he is unworthy.( MT 8:5-8, Luke 7:6-8 ) .
Jesus doesn’t go into that he does not give the food of the children to the dogs , in fact Jesus responds almost immediately to the centurion than he did to the woman even though like the woman, he was of another ethnicity, culture and most probably religion. Musa Dube agrees with my sentiments “Jesus is not concerned about the uncleanness of the centurion’s home. The story is featured in a section that history-of-salvation scholars have designated as a period in which Jesus’ ministry was exclusively for Israel. Yet there is no hesitation in meeting the request of the centurion.” ( Dube 2000 131). Two different reactions to two different healing miracles . Jesus was trying to please the empire or at least look good to them.
The author of Matthew seems to try to make Jesus and his movement positively to the Roman imperial forces, because like Dube says “If it were only a case of welcoming outsiders, then the open and positive reception would have applied to the Canaanite woman as well” ( Dube 2000 131-132) Here Jesus was adhering to the empire. Jesus also doesn’t call out the centurion for having a slave. If Jesus was looking out for all the oppressed, there would have been the need to call out slavery while still healing the centurion’s slave. Dube believes that Jesus’actions in this perciope is the author of Matthew trying to make the Romans the good guys. ( Dube 2000 132) She implies and I am inclined to agree that Jesus actions or the writer of Matthew is implying that colonialism, oppression and imperialism is holy and good. ( Dube 2000 132).
Jesus’s actions in Matthew 8 and Matthew 15 are questionable and needs to be taken seriously and to be addressed. If he was all for the oppressed and not a Jewish male nationalist or racist or supremacist why not call out the Roman centurion for slavery and why call the woman a dog? With much hesitation he healed the woman’s daughter.
As i conclude I am not sure if the reason Jesus healed the woman is because he heard her or that she persisted. Whatever it was if we are to believe the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, we know something changed as by the time we get to the Gospel of John 4, Jesus interaction with the Samaritan woman, Jesus had no problem with women or foreigners but then John is a whole different Gospel than Mark and Matthew. However it is interesting to note that in John 4:46-52, a similar story like of Matthew 8 and Luke 7 shows up. I am also curious as to why Luke and to a lesser extent John didn’t redact the story of the Gentile woman.
Jesus being racist or a nationalist or prejudice doesn’t change his purpose to me. He still died, he still rose and he stilled helped people, but he was human and imperfect and i like him just like that. Perfection is overrated even for the Son of God.
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By Princess O’Nika Auguste