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Historicizing a Racialized Jesus: Case Studies in the "Black Christ," the "Mestizo Christ," and White Critique

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This article examines the interaction between the quest for the historical Jesus in modern biblical scholarship and contemporary theologies in which race and ethnicity play a major role. While ideologies of race have certainly been formative of modern biblical scholarship, such scholarship has in turn had an important influence on the construction of various modern Jesuses, where race becomes the determinative contemporary marker for articulating the continuing reality of the historical Jesus. This essay looks at how modern biblical scholarship has contributed to the historicizing and retrojection of a racialized Jesus. In particular, two case studies of such historicizing racialization are presented: Jesus as the "black Christ," and Jesus as the "mestizo Christ." The focus here is on the important work of James Cone and Virgilio Elizondo, with attention to how the historical Jesus is idealized with a "black" or "mestizo" identity. The essentializing character of historical Jesus studies provides a springboard for Cone's parallel essentializing of Jesus as "black" while Elizondo's Hegelianesque portrait of Jesus as the "mestizo" bridge between the borderlands of Jewish and Gentile territory relies on modern biblical scholarship's construction of the historical Jesus as somehow the synthesis of both Galilean peasant and urban Greek sophisticate. Finally, attention is devoted to the role of white privilege and "white critique" when it comes to racializing the historical Jesus.

Affiliations: 1: Loyola Marymount University


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