Every now and again, and entirely without effort, Jesus comes to me. Some people would be ecstatic or dumbstruck by such a thing, and would call it a miracle. As a lifelong wholly unbaptized heathen, I tend to flesh it out and call it a story.
I was at a gathering with my in-laws, being all smiles and sweetness (as is my way), when my husband’s youngest aunt suddenly announced out of the blue that no one could be exactly six feet tall. People are always talking about height around my husband, because he is very tall, and I consider it a personal point of pride even though I know it was really the result of an army experiment. So I disregarded my instincts and encouraged her to continue, despite knowing full well that she is over 80 and hence has a lifetime of trickery up her sleeve.
“Well,” she continued, in a nonlibelous, paraphrased manner, “Jesus was six feet tall, so no one else can be. I measured my husband, because he thought he was six feet tall, but he was off by a millimeter.”
I sat stunned and smiling, waiting for the rest of the joke, as her husband now lived in a jar in her living room, functioning occasionally as a door prop, and always as someone she could talk to. I think that’s wonderful and have similar plans for my own husband, although I might change his jar according to the season. But she was relating a natural-truth fact, and so there was no more that needed to be told.
Now you don’t need to be a particular religion to know that a statement like this cannot simply be tossed out without further ado. It raised so many questions, like, “Really.” and “Really.” and “Really?” Not to mention, “Why six feet? What about cubits? Isn’t the average male height now 5'10"? Weren’t people smaller then? Nobody in the entire world can be six feet tall exactly? Really?!” And so ado I did.
How tall was Jesus? The Bible is silent on the topic, outside of mumbling about a humble appearance, which could mean anything. So I turned to the next best thing: my old friend the Internet.
I found an oft-repeated tale about a man whose son asked that very same question. The man told his son that number one, it didn’t matter, but number two, he knew that Jesus was very tall. This was because the man himself was tall, and Jesus was always “sticking out of him.” I paused over the imagery and moved on.
C. S. Lewis, the Christian writer, said that nobody knew for sure, but that everyone thought he (He?) was taller than they were. So far, my sources were jiving, but I needed something a little more concrete.
A few authorities evoked the Shroud of Turin, which they agreed was about eight feet long. Beyond that, however, a schism erupted. One source declared eight feet to be appropriate for a man of 5'11" to 6'2", which is indeed tall, were the Shroud keeping the proper sort of company. But another source countered with dazzling and authoritative detail, reporting that the Shroud depicted a bearded man with shoulder-length hair, in good health, about 5'9" to 5'11", 165 to 180 pounds, at about 30 to 45 years of age. This immediately became a cautionary note to self to wash my underwear. Clean laundry tells no tales.
Still and all, these figures indicate a Dane-sized man in times when most men were about 5'4". The Bible does speak of Giants roaming the Earth and having sex with all the lady humans, resulting in abominations. That is why we all got smited with the flood and all the unicorns drowned. So one would think that if Jesus were that tall, a literal giant among men, somebody would have said something. Although I suppose we could make an interpretation that the crucifixion is a smiting, and the tallness is thereby implied.
Fortunately, we have the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote at the end of the first century, and has our only eye-witness account. Some of his history has been challenged, because a Christian writer named William Whiston “translated” his work in 1737, in the style of the day, which was to fix all the things that didn’t get written down right the first time. For example, the Bible didn’t originally say you’re supposed to kill witches; that was done in the King James version. Previously it had taken a stiff line on the poisoning question, but it’s a lot easier to burn people based on their label than their actions, and so “witch” it became.
But anyway, back to Jesus. Well, actually I have another digression first. While I am not a Christian, some of my best friends are, and I was raised in the Bible Belt, and one whole slew of my family is fundamentalist travelling-minister types, and I’ve read the Bible cover to cover twice. So I get Jesus by association. But I will never forget the day I walked into my Mormon friend’s house, and she had an enormous picture of this smokin’ hot hottie guy, and I said, “WOW. Who is that?” And everybody thought that was funny, because it was the latest edition of Jesus. He wasn’t strung up and uncomfortable looking; he didn’t look like he was going to pet me on the head and tell me about lambs; he didn’t look like he was going to go crazy and trash the place. No, this Jesus had lustrous long sandy hair, the deepest soulful (light) brown eyes you ever did see, a gorgeous nose, and pouty pink lips. I ended up dating his doppelganger for a couple of years, a Jewish guy who everyone called “Jesus” on account of the resemblance. Or maybe because of all the stupid stuff he did. Regardless, I think he was about six feet tall if I remember correctly. Give or take a millimeter.
Sadly, with visions of Jesus in my head, all sexy and tall and sticking out of men, with all this saucy delight melanging pleasantly in my brain, Josephus (remember Josephus?) pulled the pot off the fire. Our only eye witness physical description of Jesus reads thusly, more or less: old looking, balding, stooped, beetle browed, and … short. Not remarkably short, but on the short end, for this was the Era of Five-Feet-Four. Depending on the cubit used, he was 4'6" but probably about 5'1". Basically, it was that guy named Mack in Customer Service, who I only went out with once, while I was fighting with the Jesus guy.
Part of me knew this. Part of me knew that Sexy Jesus’s sexiness would have been remarked upon, or Tall Jesus’s tallness would have been noteworthy, the way that Kind, Rabble-Rousing Jesus’s rabble-rousing kindness was the cause of such celebrity. Part of me would have looked for any angle to find Jesus, back when I was 15, and all the boys were born again. I would have cleaned up. But that’s OK. A sexy Jesus I might have messed around with, but in the end it isn’t the guy I married. I married a tall guy.
Copyright 2009, Denise Pace
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