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How tall was Jesus?
July 15, 2006 11:59 AM   Subscribe

How tall was Jesus?

The mark on the Shroud of Turin apparently was left by some guy who was at least 5'9", but that strikes me as extremely unlikely to be Jesus's height. He would've been like the tallest Jew around in the first century After Himself, and surely that would have popped up in the Bible somewhere if it were true. Any thoughts, conjectures, research, invectives?
posted by ibmcginty to Religion & Philosophy (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
He would've been like the tallest Jew around in the first century After Himself

Heck, he would have been one of the tallest male Jews around in the twenty-first century! I speak from experience as a tall woman who refers to her college misfires as "Attack of the 5'2" Jewish Boys", which rather conveniently for them put them all at boob-height.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:04 PM on July 15, 2006


There is no evidence to give us the answer to your question.
posted by HuronBob at 12:05 PM on July 15, 2006


"He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him." (Isaiah 53)

So Jesus was probably short and dumpy.
posted by Zozo at 12:09 PM on July 15, 2006


There's a 2002 Popular Mechanics article about a group of forensic anthropologists who tried to determine (approximately) what Jesus might have looked like. From the article: "From an analysis of skeletal remains, archeologists had firmly established that the average build of a Semite male at the time of Jesus was 5 ft. 1 in., with an average weight of about 110 pounds."
posted by amro at 12:15 PM on July 15, 2006


"He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him." (Isaiah 53)

So Jesus was probably short and dumpy.


Or he wasn't the messiah.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:42 PM on July 15, 2006


Yeah, Isaiah is OT, so, that's of limited utility, I think. Thanks, amro and all others.

If he didn't exist, then why are there so many differences among NT accounts? How come only some books mention, say, the virgin birth? A pretty poorly orchestrated conspiracy/construction of a make-believe fairy tale, if that's the case. That just doesn't seem likely to me. It seems more likely that the NT consists of various people's remembrances of stuff that one real person did.
posted by ibmcginty at 12:48 PM on July 15, 2006


Yeah, Isaiah is OT, so, that's of limited utility, I think.

Blasphemous! No seriously, you know, prophesy and all that.
posted by muddgirl at 12:50 PM on July 15, 2006


What does NT mean? New Testament?
posted by joaniemcchicken at 12:51 PM on July 15, 2006


Yes, Ms. McChicken, you have it.

Re: OT prophecy, the thing is that, like Duff Man, the Old Testament says a lot of things. Jesus didn't fufill everything in the OT, like the smiting of Babylonians and whatnot. So you can't just grab any OT line describing what the messiah will be like and say that it gives specific information about Jesus.
posted by ibmcginty at 12:55 PM on July 15, 2006


It doesn't matter.

Titus 3:9 (Amplified Bible)
But avoid stupid and foolish controversies and genealogies and dissensions and wrangling about the Law, for they are unprofitable and futile.
posted by honorguy7 at 1:01 PM on July 15, 2006


Maybe, honorguy7, but I was actually moved to ask the question by reflecting upon John Lennon's comparison of his band to Jesus. Maybe, if interpreted as a statement about physical size rather than popularity, it was actually factually accurate. Except for Ringo.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:05 PM on July 15, 2006


ibmcginty,

There are two sources for the gospels. Two is variation, not conspiracy.
posted by TheRaven at 1:21 PM on July 15, 2006


There is a great book that gives compelling reasons to believe that there never was a historical Jesus: Jezus de Nazareeer by P. Krijbolder. Unfortunately it is in Dutch and out of print, but if you are interested, I am sure there are good English resources as well. Of course there is no conspiracy. The gospels were written in a totally different time when stories meant different things than they mean now (think Zeus and Athena, for example). According to Krijbolder Jesus was a sort of fictional first ideal Christian (It is difficult for me to translate the concept in English, and I read the book more than ten years ago).

I understand it doesn't seem likely to you, but I hope you also understand that there are intelligent people who researched this and have valid arguments when they claim he did not exist.
posted by davar at 2:03 PM on July 15, 2006


Of course, there is no evidence that even existed at all.
Except, of course, for the overwhelming evidence that he existed. Unfortuntately, it's almost impossible to determine anything else about him other than that he existed. Least of all something like his height.

But here's the more pressing question. Does it really matter how tall he was?
posted by magodesky at 2:06 PM on July 15, 2006


Just in case a Dutch interested person happens to stumble upon this thread: the title is actually: Jezus de Nazoreeer : een studie over de historiciteit van Jezus en de oorsprong van het christendom by Pierre Krijbolder.
posted by davar at 2:14 PM on July 15, 2006


Sorry that I'm not actually helping with the question (I'm not sure there's anybody in the world that could answer it properly anyway), but this is all far too reminiscent of the work of Jim Pinoski, who thinks humans have been shrinking since the time of Adam, who apparently was 15 ft. tall.

He also has Noah on there, who was only 12 ft. tall, but surprisingly no Jesus. But, if the decrease in height is linear with time, that would have made Jesus about 9 ft. tall, having lived around 2,000 years ago.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 2:16 PM on July 15, 2006


Isn't there some controversy about the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin?
posted by necessitas at 3:24 PM on July 15, 2006


Uh, yeah. Lots.
posted by amro at 3:32 PM on July 15, 2006


Except, of course, for the overwhelming evidence that he existed.

And that would be what?

No contemporaries (Josephus, Philo of Alexandria) mentioned him. Earliest Gospels written nearly 60 years after his alleged death. First non-Christian/Jewish source to mention him about 100 years after his alleged death. That's overwhelming?
posted by TheRaven at 3:35 PM on July 15, 2006


TheRaven: You're trying to require only unnaturally exclusive sources. That's like saying, prove evolution is a legitimate concept, but don't use the fossil record or carbon dating. Prove to me that Abraham Lincoln ever actually had a beard using only the Chinese Zodiac and/or a toothpick.

I would say the fitty-le'em-teen-hunnerd people he interacted with and concur that he existed who gave the accounts that were complied to make up those early writings.
posted by vanoakenfold at 3:49 PM on July 15, 2006


TheRaven: Are you suggesting the entire mention of Jesus found in Josephus' Antiquities was a later addition? Because my copy does mention Jesus.
posted by leesh at 3:56 PM on July 15, 2006


Carbon dating has placed the Shroud of Turin at less than a thousand years old. The Catholic Church proper does not claim that it is a relic of Jesus.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:56 PM on July 15, 2006



I would say the fitty-le'em-teen-hunnerd people he interacted with and concur that he existed who gave the accounts that were complied to make up those early writings


And yet not a single contemporary account survives; only these allegedly accurate and truthful compilations. There are surviving contemporary accounts of other so-called Messiahs from that era, but none about Jesus. Interesting, that.
posted by solid-one-love at 4:06 PM on July 15, 2006


TheRaven: You're trying to require only unnaturally exclusive sources. That's like saying, prove evolution is a legitimate concept, but don't use the fossil record or carbon dating. Prove to me that Abraham Lincoln ever actually had a beard using only the Chinese Zodiac and/or a toothpick.
Well said, vanoakenfold. Also Raven, you're exaggerating the lack of source material. The first accounts of Jesus start to crop up between AD 50 and 70, only a few decades after Jesus' death and easily within the lifetime of his contemporaries. Within a century of Jesus' death, just including New Testament canon, we have 25-27 documents that mention Jesus. Now to us, living in the age of mass media and neatly kept records, this may not seem like much. But by the standards of ancient history, the amount of documentation suggesting that Jesus was an actual person is practically a goldmine of evidence. So if you doubt the existence of Jesus, you also have to call into question almost all of history prior to the 1700s.

The fact is that just about every expert in the field agrees that Jesus was a real person. The idea that the evidence for Jesus' existence is somehow lacking is pure fantasy dreamt up in the fevered imaginations of militant atheists.

That said, determining anything else about Jesus other than the simple fact that he existed becomes very difficult. Documentation is all we have to go on. Very little of this documentation goes into Jesus' physical appearance, and even if they did, you still have the problem that all of these documents are clearly biased. Now from physical evidence, we know that an average male in first century Palestine was about 5'1". But that's an average based on a wide range of heights. The average height for an American male is 5'9", but that's not necessarily even close to the height of any given American man you may happen to meet.

So the only real answer to the question "How tall was Jesus?" is that no one knows.
posted by magodesky at 4:27 PM on July 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


You're trying to require only unnaturally exclusive sources.

Absolutely not. As solid-one-love rightly points out not a single contemporary account survives. Contrary to what magodesky says, the earliest references are from Saint Paul, who was probably writing around 70 AD and certainly did not live at the time of Jesus' alleged death. The Gospel of Q may have been around in 50AD but we don't have a written version.

Within a century of Jesus' death, just including New Testament canon, we have 25-27 documents that mention Jesus.
But all by people who did not know him.

Are you suggesting the entire mention of Jesus found in Josephus' Antiquities was a later addition?
Yes, as do most scholars.

Let me stress that I am not saying that he did not exist, just that the evidence is frankly very thin and not, as magodesky says, a goldmine.

We do have independent evidence for his contemporaries (e.g. John the Baptist, Pontius Pilate) but not for him. Sorry if that upsets your religious beliefs which I am certainly not challenging but it is reality.

"The fact is that just about every expert in the field agrees that Jesus was a real person" is not true and leads me to conclude with You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
posted by TheRaven at 4:46 PM on July 15, 2006


BTW, I have done enough harm here so I will say no more. Flame away!
posted by TheRaven at 4:47 PM on July 15, 2006


Just to clarify, I'm Jewish, and don't really care whether or not Jesus existed. I was just pointing out that he is mentioned in the text, and I don't remember hearing that most scholars considered this a later interpolation (at least, not all of the passage) when I was studying this stuff in grad school. Of course, it's been a few years, and like I said, I don't really care, so I could have just forgotten.
posted by leesh at 4:52 PM on July 15, 2006


Right. My history class that covered the time of Jesus definitely did not suggest that Josephus' brief mention of Jesus was a later addition, but that was 20 years ago. Has there been subsequent research leading to a new conclusion? Honestly, I'd like to know.
posted by carterk at 5:05 PM on July 15, 2006


There's a good summary of the arguments in Wikipedia.
posted by languagehat at 5:25 PM on July 15, 2006


Contrary to what magodesky says, the earliest references are from Saint Paul, who was probably writing around 70 AD and certainly did not live at the time of Jesus' alleged death.
Actually, the first Pauline epistles were written closer to AD 50. That's only about twenty years after Jesus supposedly died. So this is still within the lifetime of Jesus' contemporaries. In fact, Paul was supposed to have been born around AD 9, so he actually would have been in his twenties at the time of Jesus' death. By AD 70, Paul was dead. Also appearing in this AD 50-70 timeframe is the the Q Document, the Gospel of Mark, and very possibly the Gospel of Thomas.
But all by people who did not know him.
Much more relevant, though, is that they are all written independently. If I make up a story about a character named Theodore Gershwin Ignatius Cheesesmith the Cornmonger who travels around the world planting candy cane trees and preaching the importance of good hygiene, what are the odds that someone else who has had absolutley no contact with me will write another story about the exact same character and including the exact same details?

What we see in the documentation of Jesus doesn't seem to indicate that he was a made up character. It is, however, exactly what one would expect to see in cases where legends are built up around real, living people.
"The fact is that just about every expert in the field agrees that Jesus was a real person" is not true and leads me to conclude with You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
I'm not entirely sure what you mean by that last part, but if you doubt my claim, you should try reading a little more of what Biblical scholars have to say on the matter. Among academic circles, the "Jesus Myth" is treated with about the same amount of credibility as scientists treat the "theory" of intelligent design with. True, there are a handful of scholars who disagree. But they are very much in the minority.
BTW, I have done enough harm here so I will say no more. Flame away!
I don't know what "harm" you're referring to. It's not my intention to "flame" anyone. My only concern here is historical accuracy.
posted by magodesky at 5:37 PM on July 15, 2006


How come only some books mention, say, the virgin birth? A pretty poorly orchestrated conspiracy/construction of a make-believe fairy tale, if that's the case. That just doesn't seem likely to me. It seems more likely that the NT consists of various people's remembrances of stuff that one real person did.

Maybe I'm misinterpreting what you said, but how could you forget to include something like the virgin birth?

"Oops, damn, I forgot to include that god laid his body in the womb of a virgin. Oh, well, I'm already on page two."
posted by milarepa at 8:55 PM on July 15, 2006


We believe that Jesus' brother James was not a midget. Unfortunately the James Ossuary (forged or not) apparently lacks any bones that might help us estimate his actual height.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:07 PM on July 15, 2006


If I make up a story about a character named Theodore Gershwin Ignatius Cheesesmith the Cornmonger who travels around the world planting candy cane trees and preaching the importance of good hygiene, what are the odds that someone else who has had absolutely no contact with me will write another story about the exact same character and including the exact same details?

You all are wrong about the "making up" part of bible stories. There is lots of fiction in bible stories. As I said before, stories during that time had a different meaning to people than stories do now. This is also something that every good contemporary scholar agrees on. Even if Jesus existed, it is considered a fact that he did not magically turn water into literal wine. The story is meant to convey a meaning. So could the story of his existence. There is no making up, there is a real group of people (like there were many at that time) who wanted to change things, go back to the roots of religion, instead of just following stupid rules. Of course, they told each other stories of how to live, and why. Jesus was the protagonist of the stories of one those groups (the Essenes, Krijbolder argues, IIRC). Those stories, of course, evolved.

We do the same thing with Santa Claus and other childhood characters. I imagine someone in 10000 years, after archeologists found some remains of our current civilization, trying to convince someone that Santa Claus had to be a real physical person, because there are so many references to him in books, with some differences (some say he lives in Norway, others say he lives in Canada etc.). Why would you make up something like that in a big conspiracy to let the world believe in Santa Claus? Wouldn't you at least get your facts straight?
posted by davar at 1:10 AM on July 16, 2006


There is no making up, there is a real group of people (like there were many at that time) who wanted to change things, go back to the roots of religion, instead of just following stupid rules. Of course, they told each other stories of how to live, and why. Jesus was the protagonist of the stories of one those groups (the Essenes, Krijbolder argues, IIRC). Those stories, of course, evolved.
If Jesus is fictional, then somebody at some point still needs to come up with the idea of who the character is, though. Somebody has to "make up" the character before the idea can be passed on. So tell me. How is it that all of these people who have little to no contact with one another suddenly begin writing about the same person at around the same time? How exactly does that happen short of what would have been the most perfectly hidden mass conspiracy in all of history?
We do the same thing with Santa Claus and other childhood characters. I imagine someone in 10000 years, after archeologists found some remains of our current civilization, trying to convince someone that Santa Claus had to be a real physical person, because there are so many references to him in books, with some differences (some say he lives in Norway, others say he lives in Canada etc.).
um... I feel I should let you know that Santa Claus actually is based on a real person. So you've kind of just demonstrated exactly what I mean about building up legends around real people.
posted by magodesky at 6:18 AM on July 16, 2006


Well, one problem is that there are not that many people who did not know eachother who suddenly began writing about that person. Most people who wrote about Jesus were part of the group of Jesus-followers. The few exceptions write about the group of Jesus-followers (just like someone could write about followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster who believe FSM created the earth).

I am from a country where Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas are two very distinct persons. Children (after they learn they do not exist) know that Saint Nicholas was a good person a long time ago and that Santa Claus is just made up altogether. Wikipedia agrees here, it says that the story of Santa Claus is inspired by the story of Sinterklaas, the story of whom was inspired by Saint Nicholas, not that Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas. If someone were to ask "how tall is Santa Claus" I am sure the actual length of Saint Nicholas would not seem relevant. The story of Noah's Arc may have been inspired by the Greek story of Deucalion or the Gilgamesj story, but that does not mean that Noah==Deucalion==Utnapisjtim==a real historical figure.

I actually have no idea whether Christ existed or not, by the way. I just think most of Krijbolder's book is very interesting. Like many posters in this thread, I also assumed that the fact that Jesus existed was a given. I found it interesting to learn that we know much less about Christ's existence than I always assumed.
posted by davar at 11:39 AM on July 16, 2006


Well, one problem is that there are not that many people who did not know eachother who suddenly began writing about that person. Most people who wrote about Jesus were part of the group of Jesus-followers.
Of course, just because someone may have been a follower of Jesus doesn't mean that he had contact with every other follower of Jesus. And the Christian church of the first century was hardly the cohesive unit that it is today. Furthermore, there's very little evidence of collaboration amongst these authors. In fact, there are several points on which they clearly disagree with one another.

Also, legends that are completely fictional usually spread very gradually as the story is passed on, takes solid shape, and finds popularity among the general population. With Jesus, we see a flurry of stories appearing out of nowhere within a single generation. This is much more indicative of a real, historical figure.

And another point that I was reminded of earlier today is the content of the Gospels themselves. If Jesus was a fictional character that somebody merely invented, it is incredibly unlikely that the storyteller would have included any embarrassing information about him. Information like the crucifixion, which in first century Palestine would have been an enormous humilitation and a massive blow to the credibility of his followers. The only reason why this would have been included would be if the writers were talking about a real person who actually had been crucified.
I am from a country where Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas are two very distinct persons. Children (after they learn they do not exist) know that Saint Nicholas was a good person a long time ago and that Santa Claus is just made up altogether. Wikipedia agrees here, it says that the story of Santa Claus is inspired by the story of Sinterklaas, the story of whom was inspired by Saint Nicholas, not that Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas.
You're right, Santa Claus is not the same person as Saint Nicholas. Through centuries of stories and traditions, Santa Claus has changed into something entirely different from his historical predecessor. But this does not change the fact that Santa Claus was based on the historical figure of Saint Nicholas, not just "made up altogether."

In much the same way, King Arthur is believed to have been a real historical figure. But after centuries of stories about him, the legend of King Arthur grew into a person that has nothing at all to do with the historical King Arthur.

Your objection about the distinction between Saint Nick and Santa Claus is actually my point exactly. Legends are often built around real people, and the legendary figure may have little to nothing to do with the historical person. Almost all of the evidence we have suggests that this is what has happened in the case of Jesus.
If someone were to ask "how tall is Santa Claus" I am sure the actual length of Saint Nicholas would not seem relevant.
I think that's a little disingenuous. For one thing, in the case Santa Claus, we conveniently have two different names to distinguish between the historical figure and the legend. Yet that obviously doesn't change the fact that Santa Claus grew out of the historical Saint Nicholas. In the case of Jesus, we use the same name for both the man and the myth.

So if someone asks, "How tall is Santa Claus?" he is clearly referring to the legend of Santa Claus. However, if the question were phrased as, "How tall was Santa Claus?" then the real Saint Nicholas would seem relevant, as the person is apparently talking about the historical figure on which the legend is based.
posted by magodesky at 8:31 PM on July 16, 2006


Jesus fucking Christ. Can't you people read the "johnlenonfactcheck" tag? I wanted to know how tall Jesus was, to evaluate John Lennon's claim; enough with the ax grinding.
posted by ibmcginty at 6:31 AM on July 17, 2006


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