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Imposter! Hiding who you really are (Joanna)

Joanna feels divided, disheartened, and desperate. In the novel Forgotten Followers, I imagine Joanna as a character hiding her mixed heritage in a Hebrew society that hates Greeks. She struggles to find acceptance and hope. Born to a Greek father and a Hebrew mother, she is raised in the culture and religion of a Hebrew. Her physical traits allow her to pass as belonging to the Hebrew race and enjoy the privileges of education, travel, and an upper-class social life. In the same way, in a white-dominant culture, a person who passes as white may have an advantage in education or employment but pays the price of lost authenticity to their true self. This is a fictional portrayal to allow readers to explore how a person of mixed race may feel hiding who they really are, and also so that readers might see Jesus showing us how to reach out, accept, and love people regardless of race or heritage. There is no indication of mixed heritage is in the Bible, and the historical Joanna was likely a Hebrew.

Why is she feeling disheartened?

She has divided loyalties and feels like an imposter who does not belong in either Hebrew or Greek culture. Joanna hides her Greek side because the dominant culture resents the Greeks for conquering their nation in 330s BC. Many Jews of the day used the word Greek as a derogatory term for anyone who did not believe in the God of Israel. When the Greeks invaded, they encouraged assimilation, and those who adopted Greek culture, religion, language, and identity were said to be Hellenized. Cultural assimilation is the process in which a minority group or culture comes to resemble the values, behaviours, and beliefs of the majority group. Those who do not assimilate may be segregated or marginalized.

Just as people of today realize that marrying someone of a different religion may reduce the faithful observance of your religion, Jews of the day discouraged intermarriage with non-Jews, considering it a threat to the nation and to the succession of faith to the children. As a minority group through the centuries, Jewish groups have been under pressure to assimilate. Jewish identity is passed via the mother so that if one's mother is a Jew, the law considers you Jewish and entitled to all the rights and privileges of that status. If a Jewish woman marries a non-Jewish man, the child is Jewish but some Jews would consider the marriage illegitimate. In my novel, Joanna's father is not recognized as the father and he is ostracized.

Imposter Syndrome: This is the experience of feeling like a phony, like not belonging where you are, fearing discovery as a fraud. Those with imposter syndrome doubt their own abilities and are unable to recognize their own competencies. They may downplay their performance, sabotage their personal success, deny compliments, or attribute success to luck instead of skill. It is most often found in high-achieving women, and especially multiracial people. The term imposter phenomenon was first used by psychologists Imes and Clance in 1978 and the focus has been on teaching women having it to get over it.

In 2020, Talisa Lavarry, author of Confessions From Your Token Black Colleague” wrote imposter syndrome is not solved by a focus on the victim getting over it, but by a focus on the systems causing it. She said it was not self-doubt that held her back; it was facing frequent micro-aggressions, subtle bullying, colleagues not acknowledging her proposals, questioning her decisions, and asking for confirmation from her peers. In short, it was systemic racism and sexist bias that reinforced imposter syndrome.

Racial Imposter Syndrome: This term describes feelings of insecurity and doubt that arise when an individual’s sense of their racial or ethnic identity doesn’t fit with how others perceive them. Lacking a stable sense of belonging, you end up feeling like an “imposter” trying to be part of a community that doesn’t fully accept you. The term was coined by the podcast Code Switch in 2018.

In the case of Joanna in my fiction, she feels like she is only a partial Hebrew or a partial Greek. She feels loyalty to her Hebrew heritage requires a betrayal of her Greek heritage, and that tears her up inside. Code Switch has explored the feeling of race betrayal, being judged or criticized for being "not Black enough", "too white", "not acting like a _____", or "only part ______". Food names have become shorthand for race betrayal. For example, a 'banana' implies an Asian person has betrayed their race or culture by being yellow on the outside and white on the inside. An 'oreo' is a nickname for a Black person who has adopted internal attitudes, values and behaviours of white society, possibly at the expense of their own heritage, and 'coconut' is a term for anyone brown on the outside, and white on the inside.

Betraying part of your race, or hiding your heritage, results when those in the dominant culture have an advantage due to heritage or appearance. I have posted other articles on the effects of racism, the harm of Canada's attempts to assimilate various cultures, and Canadian Black history. Joanna is a character of mixed heritage, including the ethnicity of a minority that was despised in the day. Readers who sometimes feel they don't belong might see themselves in her. Readers of the dominant culture may see how they can model Jesus in reaching out and showing acceptance and love to all people.

Who is Joanna?

Facts: Joanna was healed and became a financial patron of Jesus’s work (Luke 8:1-5). Joanna is the wife of Chuza, the Chief of Staff for Tetrarch Herod Antipas. As a person in Herod Antipas’s court, it is possible Joanna was Luke's source for the events in Antipas's court. Joanna would have known Manaen, a foster brother of Herod Antipas. Manaen became a teacher in the church in Syrian Antioch (Acts 13:1). Joanna was one of the women who took spices to anoint the body on the morning Jesus rose and who returned to announce the resurrection to the apostles (Luke 24:10). Joanna is considered one of the ‘many women’ at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:55, Mark 15:41, Luke 23:49), at the burial (Luke 23:55), and the upper room and at Pentecost (Acts 1:14).

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Fiction: It is completely fictional that Joanna is biracial and suffers from racial imposter syndrome. It is fictional that her mother died in childbirth, her father Zander was Greek, and her grandfather ostracized the Greek father and raised her as his own. I imagine Joanna was born in Alexandria, presented to Jerusalem society at fifteen, married at sixteen and is almost 20 when she becomes a disciple of Jesus. The novel portrays Jesus's healing of Joanna and her son. It is fictional that their illness was Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease common in the Mediterranean. It causes scars, abdominal pain, chronic fatigue, fever, and anemia and can be passed from mother to child at birth and can be fatal. The novel shows that while she is healed of Leishmaniasis, scars remain, and she is left infertile. In AD 36, she is 28 and Adnan is 11.

Who is Chuza?

Some writers identify Chuza as the nobleman who begs Jesus to heal his son (John 4:46-54). The novel shows that Chuza believed in Jesus after Jesus healed his son and wife. Chuza is a Nabatean name and he is traditionally thought to be from Nabatea.

Who is Theophilus?

The novel follows the tradition that Joanna is the granddaughter of Theophilus, a prominent teacher of the law, based on an ossuary (urn holding remains) near Jerusalem bearing the inscription 'Joanna, daughter of John, son of Theophilus, the high priest'. Historically, Theophilus ben Ananus replaced his brother Jonathan ben Ananus as the high priest in AD 37. Luke addresses his gospel to Theophilus with the honorific title of the high priest. Luke addresses the book of Acts to Theophilus without the honorific title, likely after Theophilus finishes his term as high priest in AD 41.

Who is Junia?

Some theologians identify Joanna (Hebrew name) with Junia (Latin name), the female apostle named in Romans 16:7. Junia was outstanding among the apostles, Paul's co-worker and co-prisoner, a relative of Paul's, and she knew Christ before Paul. Some scholars erased this female apostle, along with other women apostles, but today’s scholars agree that Junia was both an apostle and a female. Just as Saul uses his Hebrew name in Jewish areas and his Latin name, Paul, in Roman areas, the novel shows that when Joanna leaves Jewish areas and travels in Roman provinces, she uses the Latin version of her name: Junia.

Click here for details on Facts vs. Fiction of the women of the Bible in my novels.


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