Why do people think the Hebrews were "Black"?

I’m so sick of hearing people talk about “black Hebrews” and “black Jesus.” The Hebrews might not have looked like the English or the Dutch but they were a Semitic people which means they were caucasian, along with the Egyptians, Persians and other middle-eastern races. They were not negroid. They just weren’t. Human racial anthropology might be an invitation to controversy and accusations of bias, but so are African-American suggestions that they have anything in common with the Hebrews of ancient times besides their unfortunate enslavement.

Why is it, therefore, that so many people I run into seem to have this idea? On a college campus, no less, where you expect them to be educated?

“African-American suggestions”? I don’t think the only people who believe the idea that Jesus was black are black themselves, much less African-American. (For instance, I’m pretty sure one of my old college roommates, who was white, believed this.) Obviously the idea must have a certain appeal to some black Christians.

As far as where this idea comes from, I have no idea. I have no knowledge of “racial anthropology”, but I would have guessed the ancient Hebrews would look a lot like modern day Arabs.

Probably for the same reason wackos beleive that the ten lost tribes of Isreal became the Germanic tribes and the people who are Jewish today are not historical Hebrews at all. Basically they are nutjobs, and wearing tinfoil hats is what they do.

[Fred Sanford]Ain’t no man gonna wander around the desert for 30 years without a hat and still stay white[/Fred Sanford]

What happens is that modern day Americans are retrofitting our hypodescent or “one drop rule” to ancient civilizations. Since we in the modern day United States generally define anyone of known sub-Saharan African ancestry as “black”, we figure that this applies to all people in all times. Since some of these Semites do have connections with East African peoples, they probably had some scattered black ancestry. I would bet that some of the Ancient Hebrews had black features, just as some Arabs of the region have today. But does that make them black? All humans have subsaharan African ancestry if you go back far enough.

Anyway, it is impossible to say what a specific person looked like…Jesus probably was olive skinned with wavy dark hair and eyes. But he may have had reddish hair, or he may have had African features. To say for sure he looked “white”, “black”, or anything else is total speculation.

I’ve always heard much simpler reasoning from folks, just quoting the verses that had physical descriptions like ‘hair like lambs wool, copper colored skin’.
Of course, most of the folks I hear debating this wouldn’t be able to pronounce ‘racial anthropology’ if it bit them.

My favorite was a man in Tokyo who claimed that Japan was founded by one of the lost tribes of Israel and the Ark is being stored in Mt. Fuji. I like to believe that it is being protected by an ancient order of ninjews.

This will probably push it over to a great debate, but I think the reason this belief is held on college campuses is it makes “White Christians” uncomfortable - regardless of its truthfulness.

The Bible mentions that we are all made in Gods image (Genesis 1, verses 26 & 27) so blacks, whites, Irish - they’re all in God’s image, so the ethnicity of Jesus is unimportant. On another subject, the powerfulness of “We are all made in God’s image,” IIRC from public HS American History is what freed the slaves. People of good conscience couldn’t say Blacks were less human/inferior to themselves. My memory of HS History is sketchy, so bear with me - I’m still haunted by the specter of my History teacher dragged off to the gulag after mentioning religion flatteringly.

I have no problem with portraits of a Black Jesus - fine by me. But when people start claiming the rights to his ethnicity, and want to argue about it, that gets silly. It kind of, oh, I don’t know, misses the point of his existence.

Bottom line: People who argue about the ethnicity of Christ are giving college nut jobs exactly what they want, whatever that is…

King David was described as a good looking red head (I Sam 17:42), and Moses was castigated by Miriam and Aaron for marrying a “Cushite” woman (Cush is the ancient Hebrew word for Ethiopia). So, the prototypical Israelite (David) was red head, and Cush seems to be thought of as ethnically “other” enough for it to warrant mention.

The mentioning of blacks Africans in rabbinic literature (Midrash, Mishnah, Talmud, etc.) shows pretty clearly that black people are considered ethnically other.

On the other hand, we know now that there has been a long existing black Jewish community in Ethiopa.

Ethiopian Jews say they are descended from King Solomon, through the queen of Shebe. In addition, it is quite likely that many Jews fled to Ethiopa during the Babylonian conquest.

It is important to know that “Semite” refers more to a language system than regular ethnic features. Any basic history of ancient middle east will show that there was always mass migrations up and down and across the region.

When I have traveled in Israel and Palestine, I never cease to wonder at the ethnic mix. I remember seeing a person with very pronounced Asian features, and I struck up a conversation with him. His Hebrew was fluent and accentless: his Jewish family had come from Tashkent – about 300 miles from China.

In Palestine, I met flaming red heads whom I thought were fellow Americans – nope – Arab Palestinians. Both were “Semites”, though.

In Israel, it can really be extreme: thousands of Russian immigrants, alongside of thousands of Ethiopian immigrants. Both would call themselves “Semites” . As far as we can tell, these kind of immigration patterns are not limited to modern world.

Well, the only time I’ve even heard of this, it was from a black person who debated that “Jesus had olive colored skin. You don’t ever see anyone with green skin, like green olives, so it must have been black like black olives.”

:rolleyes: :dubious: :confused:

No, he was not. The verse cited says (in the KJV)

From this, a few people (in very recent years) have begun claiming that David was a redhead. The verse says no such thing. The English word ruddy is a fair translation of the Hebrew text, but ruddy never meant “read head” until a few desperate people began making that claim (some time in the 1990s, from what I can tell).

Ruddy means, and has meant throughout its usage in English, reddish skin attributed to a healthy, active, lifestyle. It has nothing whatsoever to do with hair color.

IIRC, the most often quoted verses are from near the beginning of the Revelation of John at Patmos (Rev 1:14-15. Note that the KJV and NAB specifiy the color of wool, not the texture.). This I don’t take to have any bearing on the Jesus of the Gospels, since this is a symbolic vision revealed to John and not necessarily an accurate image of the human Jesus.

Tenure, dammit! GIMME TENURE!

I think the trend towards a “black Jesus” is simply another in the long-line of historically false Afrocentric claims – the Africans pretty much invented everything good about Western Civilization but then the Greeks and Jews stole it and we’ve been covering it up ever since (e.g., Napoleon’s troops shot off the Sphinx’s nose because it was Negroid). The main feature of Afrocentrism is its total lack of an historical basis, so it’s not strange to see some start making other ridiculous claims like Jesus is black. Whatever. They’ve been trying for years to convince people that the ancient Egyptians were black, too.


I believe you are mistaken, both in your understanding of English etymology, but certainly in your assumption about the Hebrew.

Merriam-Webster online dictionary clearly associates “ruddy” with “red”, as does every other dictionary I checked


The Hebrew phrase used is:

“na’ar ve-admoni im y’feh mareh” “Admoni” is from “adom” meaning “red”.

In my opinion, “black” is a cultural term that has little to do with how you look or where your ancestors came from. Some racists use “black” as a put-down, and some use “black” to claim that they have something in common with someone (e.g. Jesus, the Egyptians, etc.). My friend’s mother, who is from Georgia, was considered “black” growing up, but she’s as white as I am. It’s pointless to argue whether someone is “really black” or not. If someone wants to identify themselves as “black” then that’s fine for cultural reasons, but there’s no objective measurement that says whether or not someone is “black.”

Yes. Read tom’s post again.

One can just as easily be ruddy and have blonde, black, red or brown hair.

I am disagreeing with this statement of Tom’s:

Ruddy means, and has meant throughout its usage in English, reddish skin attributed to a healthy, active, lifestyle. It has nothing whatsoever to do with hair color.

I think he is overstating it. Ruddy can mean what he is saying, but it can also mean “red complexion” – a red haired, freckle faced person. Ruddy connotes reddishness.

The Hebrew is more clear: admoni means “red” as an adjective

I’d WAG based on the funerary paintings of about that time that Jesus looked something like this:


What he wasn’t was a light-skinned, blonde, blue-eyed Scandinavian fellow, which is how he’s ubiquitously depicted in the US. If it annoys you to have people suggest that he was “black,” perhaps you might consider how inaccurate and annoying it is to see him constantly depicted as lily-white. Are you willing to protest that depiction as well?

It’s been discussed here countless times before, but I will note that though Middle Easterners are called “Caucasian,” many Arabs, Jews, Indians, Pakistanis, and others are not treated like “white” people. Indeed, our Crusader friends slaughtered a large number of Mediterranean Christians because they would not be persuaded that these were not infidels. Or to put it as one gas station attendant said to me last time I drove across the heartland of Americs, “What are you, some kind of n*****? Keep driving.” Which I did, apparently, like Jesus, not being white after all.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Jesus portrayed as blonde and blue-eyed. It certainly isn’t a “ubiquitous” depiction here. Maybe it’s a regional thing where you are.