Nearly eight years ago, I traveled to Israel to take some Old and New Testament courses under the aegis of the American Christian Trust in cooperation with Hebrew University. We met in Einstein’s bunker on the Mount Scopus campus, fifteen or so American Christians placed under the tutelage of various Orthodox professors there. Our syllabus listed “The Ancient Genealogies” as a topic and none of us were particularly excited.
The typical Christian approach to the genealogies is a pretty scientific one. Look up the biblical genealogies and you can see what I mean. Most theologians talk about them as historical evidence; others talk about how the ancient writers telescoped the genealogies, so using them as timelines are pointless. But in truth, most merely make a few jokes here and there about their unreadability and how everyone skips over them.
Christians struggle with what the genealogies are without much inquiry into WHY they are present.
When the day of the lecture dawned, discomfort settled around the room. This particular lecturer was as unfamiliar with a Christian audience as we were with the topic of genealogies. Sceptical of his primarily white Christian classroom, I also sensed some anxiety on his part. Hired to do this, he pulled up the large white board to the front of the room and gamely began his discussion. He mapped out the large areas of spreading territory that the genealogies represented. He mentioned the diverse people groups found in these lists. But then came his crowning statement.
“The genealogies,” he said, “represent the brotherhood of man. Many of the groups that God commanded the Israelites to wipe out were genocidal. They regularly stamped out surrounding peoples. The genealogies exist as a reminder to the Israelites and to mankind that we are all related by blood.”
As merely a list of who’s who in the Bible, the genealogies hold little thrall for me. As a philosophical statement and a subversive one at that, the lists of names lifts up a standard against racism from the very beginning of the Bible. This is far more interesting and important. And our Jewish professor was making a very pointed statement to his captive audience. In the end, we won him over with our enthusiasm for his lecture, and he left satisfied that he had won his argument.
Modern science has finally invented a way to prove the truth of this philosophy. My uncle recently sent a sample of his blood to 23 and Me, a company that will test your DNA to discover the origins of your ancestors. Most of the results were as expected. Mostly Irish and English. Our Choctaw origins were a little more of a percentage than we had previously calculated. Sub Saharan Africa, to our surprise, made a small appearance. More shocking and amusing was the presence of Neanderthal ancestry. I predict a lot of family jokes in the future over that entry.
I do not know any white supremacists. Well, I did know one. Sort of. I had a student once who suffered from a range of mental illnesses. Her parents belonged to the Nazi party in America, and she was in the process of separating from them and their ideology. Brainwashing takes some time to recover from so when we read Elie Wiesel’s Night, his book about his time in a German concentration camp, she felt I did not give Hitler a fair shake in class. I invited her to try to defend him in class, but she demurred, and I am not in the habit of defending the indefensible.
So those white supremacists who try to squeeze themselves under the banner of Christianity fail to recognize a number of truths. Not only are they on the wrong side of history, but they will lose their place in the genealogies.
Just as no more ancient Canaanites with their bloody and sexually violent practices roam the earth, just as Nazi Germany was razed to the ground, racists align themselves with the cosmic losers in the universe.
They ignorantly identify themselves with those that God was pleased to eradicate from the earth.
The Bible begins and ends with the idea of the brotherhood (and sisterhood!) of all people. The genealogies rest at one end and the wedding feast in Heaven in which people from every tribe and every nation join in rounds off this premise in the New Testament. God commanded the ancient Israelites to make room for the alien at one end of the Bible, and then gave Peter a vision three times, instructing him to go to the whole world with his message.
My time in Israel taught me more than I really know how to easily communicate. But one night on Ben Yehuda Street, a thoroughfare filled with Israeli nightlife, an old Holocaust survivor sat on a stone bench to one side. He held up a sign demanding that Christians leave Israel. They were Jew killers, his sign proclaimed. The pictures of the Holocaust glued to his poster acted as bitter windows into a too recent past. I stood awhile and just looked at him, sadly contemplating the justice of his poster, when a group of older Orthodox women surrounded him. Clearly they knew him.
“Moshe,” they said, “put down your sign. These days the Christians are for the Jews and the Jews are for the Christians.” He looked sour, but gradually put down his sign and went with this little crowd. Christian tourism is currently one of the back bones of Israel’s economy and ninety percent of Aliyah (Jewish emigration to Israel) is funded by Christian groups. America and its Christians are Israel’s greatest allies.
I don’t have much to say to the white supremacists. In my experience, zealots of any stripe listen far less than they shout. However, if I could say something and they had ears to hear, I would say, “Without those ancient genealogies filled with ancestors of every color, tribe, and nation, you would not be here. You forget who you are, and the God you claim to believe in caused the flags you raise to be trampled in utter defeat. Choose better. God and the universe are watching.”
And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation… Revelation 5:9