(In observance of the season, I reprint one of my earliest posts -- written at a time when this blog had few readers.)
Today, let us turn from the realm of politics. Let us consider the origins of Christianity.
Most people think that we have no physical description of Jesus. What if that common presumption is wrong?
The gospels do not describe him. Neither do the epistles. Neither do the non-canonical gospels. Neither do we find a description of Jesus in the works of the ancient Jewish historian Josephus -- at least, not in any manuscript of Josephus that has come down to us.
In fact, Josephus (in the standard version of his works) never refers to Jesus at all -- even though he describes many less-important figures, and even though at least one early church father reports that Josephus did
discuss the founder of Christianity. If those passages ever existed, they have gone missing.However...
In the eighth century, the archbishop of Crete, one Andreas Hierosolymitanus, quoted a description of Jesus Christ which (he said) could be found in a version of Josephus extant at that time. Andreas' report is startling. Jesus, he said, was a dark-skinned hobbit-sized hunchback with a big nose, thinning hair, a patchy beard, and eyebrows that joined in the center in a monstrous fashion.Yes,
I hear you asking, but did he have any distinguishing characteristics?
Other early Christian writers -- Tertullian, for example -- make reference to Jesus being disfigured and un-handsome. The weight of what little evidence we possess suggests that Jesus was...well, ugly.
Let us suppose that Andreas had the straight skinny. Would widespread distribution of this information have impacted the attractiveness of the new religion? Would Christianity have spread so rapidly and so widely if the world understood that the faith's central figure was dark, short, unattractive and "differently abled"?
Such considerations shouldn't
make a difference. Nearly everyone will agree on that point. But that's not the question I'm asking. Would Christianity have gained fewer converts if everyone knew that Jesus looked like Quasimodo?
Happy Easter!Added note from 2007:
At this point, we may never know just which text Andreas Hierosolymitanus was looking at, but we do know that Josephus almost always shunned physical descriptions. Incidentally, the Andreas thing seems unrelated to the so-called "Slavonic Josephus" -- which is a whole 'nother
There are two alleged
contemporary physical descriptions of Jesus here
(also see here
), but the sources are dubious. Blue eyes and wavy fair hair? Nahhh!
The letter ascribed to "Publius Lentulus" must be false, for the simple reason that no such person ever existed
. The "Pilate" letter appears to be an anti-Semitic forgery, or fantasy, allegedly found "in the Achoko Volume in the Congressional Library in Washington, D.C." Is that a reference to the Library of Congress? If such a volume actually existed, it would be mentioned on non
-wacko web sites.
I still kind of like the big-nosed hunchbacked short-guy image. The "unibrow" detail is, if I recall correctly, reflected in some early Christian art. As I may have mentioned before, chances are awfully good that Jesus wore a turban -- a fact you should point out to the next pseudo-Christian bigot who refers to Muslims as "rag-heads."
Some people think that he may have been clean-shaven, since other young Jewish fellows of that day had taken up Roman style. The earliest known painting of Jesus (reproduced here
), from 235 or thereabouts, depicts him as beardless, with short hair and dark skin.