Tabula Reza: FOX’s Megyn Kelly Insists Jesus Was a White Guy; Reza Aslan Responds December 12, 2013

Tabula Reza: FOX’s Megyn Kelly Insists Jesus Was a White Guy; Reza Aslan Responds

I don’t think Megyn Kelly, on her show yesterday, did Christianity any favors by jumping from the topic of Santa to the subject of Jesus. You have to wonder how that even worked in her mind. “And speaking of feelgood fictional characters, let’s look at Jesus” — something like that? Is she a closet atheist?

Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure. That’s a verifiable fact — as is Santa.”

(I think she meant that Santa and Jesus are both white, not that they’re both historical figures. But you never know with Fox News employees.)

Watch, starting at 1:45:

Jesus was, by most accounts, a Galilean Semite, a Middle Eastern Jew who probably — no one knows for sure — had olive-colored, somewhat swarthy skin.

Efforts to whiten him over time (the cultural opposite of what Time magazine, incredibly enough, pulled here) culminated in this rancid phenomenon:

By the 19th century, theories that Jesus was Aryan race, and in particular Aryan, were developed and later appealed to those who wanted nothing Jewish about Jesus, e.g. Nazi theologians. Madison Grant for example claimed Jesus was of the Indo-European race. Houston Stewart Chamberlain claimed that Jesus was of Amorite-Germanic extraction.

It may be tempting to lump Megyn Kelly in with that crowd, but that wouldn’t be right either. The venerated Christ (as opposed to Jesus the man) is spectacularly malleable, shapeshifting into whatever the beholder prefers to see. Reza Aslan explains:

“Christian communities from all over the world [were asked] to paint a depiction of Jesus and his mother Mary…, and when you look at, for instance, the painting from the United States, what you see is a blonde and blue-eyed Jesus. When you look at the painting from Guatemala, what you see are Jesus and Mary as migrant farm workers. I don’t mean they look like migrant farm workers — I mean they are migrant farm workers.

When you look at the painting from China, Jesus and Mary are Chinese, literally Chinese. When you look at the painting from Thailand, Jesus and Mary are blue, as though they are Hindu gods. So, it’s a much more interesting issue that arises from her statement: Megyn Kelly is right. Her Christ is white. … If you’re a blond, blue-eyed, white suburbanite woman, then God is a blond, blue-eyed suburbanite. …

And that is precisely why [Christianity] is now the largest religion in the world, because it has the ability to be whatever a worshipful community wants it to be.”

Aslan makes a worthwhile case. Even if his central point is true, though, it still means that believers ought to have enough humility to refrain from declaring that their version of Christ is the only valid one.

Unfortunately, that isn’t something Megyn Kelly can be bothered to understand.

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  • kickinitincrik

    Mr. Neko,
    Genuinely curious after skimming your comments. You seem to have a decent and reasonable grasp on the Biblical era – a Jewish atheist perhaps? What’s your take on Jesus and the events that transpired around him? What author/scholar represents your position?

  • diogeneslamp0

    @Neko: “If there is one ancient text that asserts Jesus was crucified under anyone but Pontius Pilate, I’m not aware of it.”

    In all versions of the Ascension of Isaiah, Isaiah goes to space and sees Jesus travelling down from space through the spheres toward Earth. In each Heaven, that is between each pair of concentric spheres, he dons the appearance of a different angel. But in the earliest versions of the text, Jesus never reaches Earth, but is crucified and resurrected in outer space, not in Jerusalem and not by Pontius Pilate.

    That does, in fact, satisfy your standard of evidence.

  • diogeneslamp0

    @Neko: “wouldn’t classics scholars have piped up about it?”

    Carrier is a historian specializing in the classics. Ehrman is a NT specialist, technically not a historian, though as he points out he works as one.

  • WTF? There’s tons of skepticism of all of it and more published every year.

  • I live in Texas. I was thinking of voting in the GOP primary next year because we have open primaries (you don’t register for a party, you can pick one the day of the election) because it’s the only way I will have any say in who becomes governor, Senator, Congressman and state reps here. The Democrats put no one up for the local elections here in 2012. But if my choice is between Cornyn, who imho is a right wing nutjob, and someone even further to the left, there’s not much in that for me. I was hoping for a sensible GOP candidate. A Kay Bailey Hutchison type who I might disagree with but who isn’t looking to run the country off the cliff rather than compromise on an absurd ideology. But it looks like it’s going to be dumb and dumber in all the races. *sigh* I deserve better than this, even if I am living for a few years in deep Teabagistan.

  • Neko

    Doherty may date the Ascension of Isaiah to the 1st century, but Vermes and others speculate the 2nd. Too late for Doherty’s crucifixion in the sky to have impressed Paul. IIRC even Carrier thinks that’s dubious, but I may misremember.

    You’re right, though, it is an ancient text, and I’d forgotten all about it.

  • Neko

    Yes, I’m aware of that, thank you. One recently minted PhD does not an insurgency make.

    There may be many other classics scholars who take a dim view of the consensus on Jesus. Who knows; not me.

  • Neko

    Really? Who? I can think of two books on the myth theory that came out in the past year, and one of them, Richard Carrier’s, was more concerned with historical methodology than the theory itself (not that I read it). What am I missing?! It’s true I haven’t been paying attention.

    By the way, internet self-styled experts don’t count.

  • Neko

    Who called Richard Carrier a “fundamentalist”? I’ve never heard that one.

  • Neko

    Matthew didn’t have to be all that literate to be a tax collector. Certainly not literate enough to write a gospel. In Greek.

    we’ve found inscriptions to Pilate

    Besides the Pilate Stone, what are these other inscriptions? Pilate was governor of Judaea for ten whole years, and the Stone is the only reference (besides the Christian texts) to have survived from the first century. Why, then, would you expect anything at all about Jesus? Like what, for instance?

  • My field is music. I am not up to date on the latest journal articles in Biblical scholarship. Is there some new manuscript discovery? Why would there be a flurry of new writings unless there’s something new to write about? These doubts about authenticity are quite old after all.

    BTW, you are the one who linked to internet sources, not me. My only argument is that from what I can see there is not enough evidence to support any claims about historical authenticity before several hundred years after the time of Jesus. You haven’t answered that with any concrete confirmation that he existed. I haven’t claimed he didn’t. I have a hypothesis but I don’t claim that there’s much to support it (or any other hypothesis). I’d want more evidence to claim to be sure and that evidence doesn’t appear to exist. The fact that lots of people believed something doesn’t make it true. Even today there are millions of people who believe things that I don’t accept as true. What about all the people who believe Joseph Smith’s story about the plates? I don’t believe that either. (Although there IS evidence at least that Joseph Smith existed, I find his story implausible to say the least.) Do I have to accept it because people believe it? That’s the kind of argument I hear you making. And you also ignore that there are many noncanonical gospels that were not accepted by the church and suppressed. How on earth would I know which are actually true and which not. Shouldn’t there be more agreement upon an actual historical person. In fact early Christians didn’t even agree on whether Jesus had been a physical being or a spirit. That’s fairly significant for someone who was supposedly an actual historical person.

  • Neko

    I said right from the beginning that as a layman I agreed that the evidence seems inconclusive. The scholarly consensus, however, is that Jesus existed. I’ve been arguing their position, because they’re the experts, and I can’t even make out the Greek letters on a fraternity house.

    Interesting remarks, Feminerd! If you’re perfectly comfortable saying you don’t know and never will know, you did a good imitation otherwise.

    You keep repeating yourself with this business about how useless Paul is historically. Since you’ve tossed about quite a few baseless assertions thus far, your expertise on the matter appears dubious. Historians consider all evidence, and they think the letters of Paul are great pieces of evidence, so again, your opinion about this is irrelevant.

    You are calling Jesus’s existence a historical fact, though, and it’s clearly not.

    Well, I’m persuaded that Jesus probably existed. I wouldn’t personally offer that Jesus’s existence is a historical fact, because I’m in no position to do so, but I do accept what the scholars say (for now). And by the way, I don’t read apologists. Nor does it matter to me one way or the other whether Jesus existed, except that I’m very interested to know what happened.

  • Neko

    WTF? There’s tons of skepticism of all of it and more published every year.

    Your wrote this, and now you complain that you’re a musician and why should you have any idea what’s new in the field. You made this claim; back it up!

    BTW, you are the one who linked to internet sources, not me.

    What!! I also listed book citations at your request. I linked to Ian’s blog because he’s a very smart man who is very well versed in these matters. Also, he’s an atheist, so nobody could whine that he was too compromised by faith to be a scholar (though I don’t think he considers himself a Biblical scholar; he has a theology degree). Also, he even appeared right here in this thread. Why didn’t you ask him about the scholarly consensus you seem to think I pulled out of thin air?

    You haven’t answered that with any concrete confirmation that he existed.

    Amazing. If I had “concrete confirmation” (Jesus’s super secret personal diary, maybe?) I’d be sipping rum drinks in the Bahamas right now. If you want the case for the historical Jesus go to the people whose entire profession it is to figure this stuff out.

    Do I have to accept it because people believe it? That’s the kind of argument I hear you making.

    It isn’t. It’s the argument you want me to be making so you can more easily dismiss it.

    And why would I ignore the extracanonical gospels? You’re just raving.

  • Neko

    What do you mean, the “known interpolation”? I think there’s more than one line interpolated; yes, forged.

  • Well enough of going in circles. There’s no contemporary evidence to support the existence of Jesus. Later people believe that he did (although they believe different things about him which confuses more than clarifies) which doesn’t prove anything. The evidence just isn’t there to know anything with any certainty. You still haven’t come up with anything I haven’t heard before. “But look something from the 4th century that is supposedly a copy of a copy of a copy of…several more times of something from 50 AD says….” *rolls eyes* You pretty much admit that the evidence to substantiate the claim of a historical Jesus is nonexistent, so what are we actually arguing about?

  • Neko

    I haven’t admitted any such thing! Wow. Kindly do not put words into my mouth.

    Keep telling yourself there’s no contemporary evidence to support the existence of Jesus. It seems to make you feel better.

  • Neko

    Well, I’m not a mister, and I was a cradle Catholic who lapsed when very young.

    I think Jesus probably existed, and that the portrait in Mark may be most suggestive of what he was like. That is, an apocalyptic prophet who may have thought of himself as the Messiah but certainly not as God. He was obviously a tragic and moving figure.

    I’m not that well read in this subject. I mentioned Vermes and Sanders above because they are such lucid writers; a pleasure to read. Ehrman also writes very clearly and well; I haven’t gotten around to reading his Apocalyptic Prophet in the New Millenium. Neither have I read Crossan’s books on the historical Jesus, which downplay the Markan doomsdayer in favor of the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mound. I could’ve probably finished a few in the time I’ve spent sniping on this thread.

  • Neko

    “A lot of people”?

  • But you haven’t provided me with any. The closest you have gotten is a letter from someone who admits he never actually met Jesus in physical form supposedly from about 52 AD (1 Thessalonians…although acceptance of authenticity is not universal) but for which no copy is known to exist before c. 175 (and that’s the earliest estimate). I don’t know how you can claim such evidence is “contemporary. (As manuscripts go, no copies of the epistles date from before 175 and no gospels from before 125. So again, I’m stating that you admit that no contemporary evidence exists. If you disagree with that statement, please provide some.

  • Neko

    If by “contemporary” you mean during the lifetime of Jesus, there’s nothing. If by “contemporary” you mean during Jesus’s generation, there are Paul’s letters. If you, a musician, who by your own admission hasn’t read a single book on this subject, think you know more about estimating the original composition of manuscripts than the professionals, well, get out of town.

  • Neko

    I never got around to responding to you as I said I would. (I’m not all that anxious to open up another can of worms.) Citations are forthcoming, but the first thing to consider is how often Paul refers to Jesus as “Christ,” that is, “Messiah.” Paul believed Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, who would be a descendent of David. A descendent of David would be a man.

    The most disputed allusion to the life of Jesus might be Paul’s casual mention of having met “James, the brother of the Lord” (Gal 1:19) during a visit to Jerusalem (the occasion the author of Luke/Acts turned into the lovefest known as the “Council of Jerusalem”). Most scholars think “James, the brother of the Lord” refers to James, the brother of Jesus. This is allegedly the same James who went on to lead the Jerusalem Jesus movement and who, according to Josephus, would himself (“the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”) be executed by the Romans.

    The problem for skeptics is that there are a lot of Jameses in the NT; they argue that “the brother of the Lord” doesn’t necessarily refer to a biological brother but could mean simply a follower of Jesus. Then the question arises why James in particular would be identified this way. A James who was the brother of the Lord is “multiply attested,” so that’s a factor in its favor.

  • Again, Paul never met Jesus, so that’s a problem right there.

    As for authentication, I’m well aware as a trained musician the difficulty of dating and authenticating works from before about 1800. (Among other things most composers didn’t bother preserving a manuscript copy for future generations because it didn’t occur to them that anyone would give a crap after they died just as they didn’t care much about music from 100 years ago when they were alive.) Authenticification of Haydn’s works, for example, are problematic because it was common for publishers to put out things with his name on them that he had nothing to do with. This is a problem with at least half of the epistles atttributed to Paul. I don’t know how you can claim with any authority anything more than “this set of letters appears to be written by the same person based on their use of the Greek language.” I looked up the books and every one of them is questioned in reviews for ignoring all evidence that contradicts their theses. I’m not interested in reading apologist propaganda. In fact I’m not that interested in trying to prove this one way or the other since no one can do so anyway. Perhaps it’s time to ask the question I should have asked at the beginning:

    What do you believe and why do you believe it?

    I’m an atheist (hence my commenting on an atheist blog) because I find no compelling evidence of supernatural beings.

  • Castilliano

    -As for Jesus being the Messiah (and thus of David), you’d have to find Paul tying those two together, especially since there were several takes on what the Messiah would be, or even was with all the other Messiahs of the time.
    One recurring aspect of the myth argument is that, to Paul, Christ existed in Heaven, following Platonic thought, he was in the perfect place as the perfect sacrifice, the epitome of “Christness” that most Christians hold. But in Heaven.
    And any visits of Jesus could be mirrors of how Paul was visited by Jesus, as a vision or spirit.

    -Galatians is messy, but as you note, it could just mean a peer, a brother in the Lord, as is used often throughout the NT. James, being a leader, may get it it more strongly or consistently stated.
    It actually doesn’t matter which James from gospel that it is because the gospels aren’t evidence of Paul’s usage (and could have been adjusted to account for Paul’s words or to boost James.)

    What’s odd is the number of times Paul could have referenced Jesus’ gospel words or events in arguments he’s making with other Christians, but doesn’t.
    Anyway, good searching.
    Cheers.

  • Neko

    “I’m an atheist.” So am I. So what?

    I’m not interested in reading apologist propaganda.

    So you’ve determined on the basis of amazon reviews that these scholars produce nothing better than “apologist propaganda.” No wonder you’re such a philistine when it comes to the historical Jesus.

    Out of curiosity I read the 1 and 2 star reviews of Vermes’s Jesus the Jew. The lengthiest and most detailed was written by an individual who prefers the views of N.T. Wright, a scholar who is an apologist. The other was a perfunctory gripe by some guy who concluded “See my book.” The third was by a Christian who disapproved of Vermes because his account doesn’t conform with the gospels. Unimpressive.

    From what I remember, when Vermes is dismissive of something or other, he’s reflecting the literature, or perspectives with scholarly support. I did notice this tendency but recognized his positions from other credible sources.

    I don’t know how you can claim with any authority anything more than “this set of letters appears to be written by the same person based on their use of the Greek language.”

    As I keep pointing out, I’m not claiming anything with any authority. I rely on what (little) I’ve read. Scholars have determined what they think are the authentic letters of Paul. All such assertions are provisional because the nature of intellectual inquiry is openness to new evidence and challenges to the status quo. Bart Ehrman has admitted changing his mind on a number of issues. So I wish you would respect the distinction I keep making between myself and scholars.

    Paul never met Jesus, but he mentions in passing that he met people who knew Jesus (like, for example, James, the purported brother of Jesus). Still, why you think this matters so much is curious. Paul wasn’t interested in Jesus’s life, in part because Jesus was of a type not uncommon in Second Temple Judaism, but foremost because Paul was in competition with the apostles who presumably had known Jesus during his lifetime. For Paul, the crucifixion and resurrection were what really mattered.

  • And so all we are going on with Paul is second-hand knowledge based on the experience of people who told him they had met Jesus. None of that would hold up on court. It should be viewed with skepticism. No one would consider such evidence for any other claim as substantial. The historical Jesus may or may not have existed and may or may not have done or said the things attributed to him. And all that assumes that Paul was a real person and wrote the letters attributed to him.

  • Godlesspanther

    I have not come to a personal conclusion on the historical Jesus bit. Richard Carrier has some good information against, Bart Erhman has some good arguments for. There is some obviously bad information against like Zeitgeist and xtian apologists spew some really bad information for.

    I don’t consider it to be a closed case in either direction.

    But Fox News is clearly vile and offensive dishonest bullshit — that is a closed case.

  • Neko

    I had to do a doubletake on your response. Aside from his constant references to Jesus as the Messiah, Paul explicitly describes the lineage from David; it’s essential to his theology.

    Rom 1:3-4

    the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord

    Gal 4:4

    But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law

    (Did I misunderstand you?)

    Doherty’s celestial Jesus is notable for being an eccentric and novel interpretation of Paul. But Paul says that Jesus was born of a woman, under the law, descended from David according to the flesh and resurrected from the dead. Clearly Paul believes that Jesus had been a man on Earth.

    I can’t remember if the gospel citations of James are counted by scholars as at least one independent attestation, but I think they are.

    What’s odd is the number of times Paul could have referenced Jesus’ gospel words or events in arguments he’s making with other Christians, but doesn’t.

    Paul does allude to the teaching of the Last Supper (1Cor 11-24), divorce (1Cor 7) and the payment of missionaries (1Cor 9:14; bonus: a reference to “the brothers of the lord” as distinct from other apostles and Cephas).

    I don’t have an opinion on the mythicist argument from silence. Haven’t done the work.

  • Neko

    None of that would hold up on court.

    Chuckle. Not sure how much of the historical evidence of antiquity would “hold up in court.”

    The historical Jesus may or may not have existed and may or may not have done or said the things attributed to him.

    I agree.

    And all that assumes that Paul was a real person and wrote the letters attributed to him.

    A real person as opposed to what?

  • And in those cases I would presume that scholars would have to admit that we cannot be certain that these people actually existed or that the stories recorded are in any way accurate representations of history. Anything else would be dishonest.

    As for Paul, as opposed to those letters being written by someone else later for some purpose. If we can accept that some of the letters were written by someone else, why not the others too. Just by one someone else rather than many others.

  • Neko

    Yet most scholars have not come to your preferred conclusion. By your measure they must all be “dishonest.”

    I think we’re come to the end of the road. Thanks for the discussion!

  • The only place Josephus talks about Jesus is a known interpolation.

  • Castilliano

    You didn’t misunderstand me.
    You’re walking me through this argument.
    Thanks. 🙂

    So, then yes, being of the lineage of David is evidence, Paul did mention it, and as one wouldn’t think a platonic/in heaven only version could fulfill that requirement, Paul likely thought Jesus existed on Earth.

    And the next section of good examples for Paul knowing of earthly Jesus too, I had only be given examples of where he should have gone to Jesus’ words to rectify an argument with other Christians, but didn’t.

    That does still leave the mythicist version, which does have strong arguments, but in that case it’s easier to imagine the Christ (Greek, etc.) myths being attached to an earthly Jesus (like other influential figures had done to them.)
    Cheers.

  • Neko

    Cheers!

  • a_hick_in_hixville

    But Kelly did not express it culturally. She did not say, Jesus is “white” to many people. She said, Jesus was “white.” I doubt highly she believes Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s (son in law of Richard Wagner and godfather of Nazi Aryan mythology) racist image of Jesus as fact, and unless she is a Mormon (which I understand she is not), she probably does not believe that native Americans are descendants of the House of Israel either.

    She was simply giving the fringe FOX viewer what they expected to hear her say. Reinforcing cultural prejudice, not explaining it. She opened the issue, and now must deal with the debate she engendered. Maybe not such a bad thing.

  • a_hick_in_hixville

    Yes Santa Claus was a Germanic myth, and was white. He was not a historical figure (despite the ABC claymation classic “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” notwithstanding). He is not St. Nicholas, who was of Hellenistic Greek extraction, but the origins of the Santa myth probably involved some borrowing from the story of Nicholas.

    The problem here relates to her comments about Jesus, and has nothing to do with actual ethnicity, please appreciate that. When anyone says “Jesus is white” the historical implication is that they mean is that any historical figure Jesus Christ is based on was not Jewish, but “northern European.” It is racist code language, due to the “semitic’ vs. “aryan” or “Indo European” dichotomy, and the theories advanced in the 19th century to deny the Jewishness of Jesus.

    The actual DNA of Jesus will always likely remain a mystery. Clearly, if you believe any of the historical written record, at least his mother was of Jewish extraction. His father was either God (non human), Joseph (another Jew), or some unknown male who could have been (likely given the geography) Arab, Samaritan, Greek, Roman, or a mixture of any of those.