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What did Jesus look like?

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  • Robert M Schacht
    Initially, I sent this to Jim Crutchfield alone, but intended it to be sent to the list. He kindly pointed that out to me, so I copy my response to him below
    Message 1 of 2 , Apr 3, 2000
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      Initially, I sent this to Jim Crutchfield alone, but intended it to be
      sent to the list. He kindly pointed that out to me, so I copy my response
      to him below as my final contribution to this thread.

      On Sun, 02 Apr 2000 20:34:20 -0400 Jim Crutchfield <jdcrutch@...>
      writes:
      >
      >
      > "Robert M. Schacht" wrote:
      > > I quite agree with your conclusion. However, what Crutchfield was
      arguing
      > > went beyond this to make the claim that Jews (including Jesus) had a
      > > known physiognomic type that was readily distinguishable from other
      > > peoples, which is simply a racist absurdity. (I'm sorry for the
      strong
      > > language, but I think it is appropriate.)
      >
      > Mr. Schacht:
      >
      > You have publicly accused me of racism and misrepresented my argument
      in
      > order to support your false and offensive accusation. You owe me a
      public apology.
      >
      > Respectfully,
      >
      > James D. Crutchfield

      James,
      OK, in what I wrote that you quoted above, I was wrong, and I apologize.
      I should have re-checked your original message. It is clear that it is
      time for me, at least, to be more precise about terms and words. In your
      original message, what you wrote was:

      "Surely Political Correctness does not require us to
      pretend that there are no physiognomic markers for stable,
      geographically identifiable ethnic groups! Unless (as I think Prof.
      Smith archly suggested) he had some North-European or other
      non-Mediterranean genes pretty close to him on the family tree (i.e.,
      from a parent or grandparent), Jesus must certainly have shared the
      general physical features common to most of the peoples of the Eastern
      Mediterranean: a long head, light brown skin, dark brown hair, brownish
      eyes (most likely but not definitely), a thin, arched nose, etc. Those
      general characteristics are of course subject to endless variation and
      exception in individual cases, but over an entire (ethnically
      homogeneous) population one certainly can point to common features
      without committing the mortal sin of "stereotyping"."

      What started me into over-reaction was the first sentence quoted above.
      That sentence, along with certain other remarks of yours, and other
      remarks since on this list have made me realize that the profession of
      anthropology has been unsuccessful in expunging the ghost of race from
      academic discussion. Although you did not say it, some of the remarks
      above sounded to my ear too close to "we know what a Jew looks like,"
      which evoked for me extremely uncomfortable images of events in Hitler's
      Germany. But you did not say any such thing. I was guilty of reading too
      much into what you wrote.

      What you did say, was:
      "Jesus must certainly have shared the general physical features common to
      most of the peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean: a long head, light
      brown skin, dark brown hair, brownish eyes (most likely but not
      definitely), a thin, arched nose, etc."

      You wrote "most peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean," you did not write
      "Jews."

      However, this is still too close to the language of race, even though you
      did not use that term. I see in other posts on this thread that the
      language of race is still too convenient to let go of, even in this
      scholarly setting.

      I am willing to concede that, viewed as statistical norms, there may have
      been "general physical features common to most people of the Eastern
      Mediterranean," -- not just Jews, but Galileans, Gerasenes, Iturians,
      Idumeans, and many others, although you seem to feel much more confident
      about exactly what those features were than I am. (By the way, I wonder
      what your evidence is for this particular list of characteristics?) But
      these can only be statistical norms, even if the specific list you
      mention has some validity.

      I am also willing to concede that the physical features of Jesus were
      probably well within the range of variation for his region, and I welcome
      any depiction of Jesus that attempts to place his appearance within this
      range.

      But talk about race and racial stereotyping, and loose talk about
      physical features of geographical populations is not merely a matter of
      political correctness; it is a matter of utmost gravity. I stand by the
      following statement from the web pages of the American Anthropological
      Association (<http://www.aaanet.org/stmts/racepp.htm>):

      "In the United States both scholars and the general public have been
      conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions
      within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the
      vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has
      become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly
      demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of
      genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%,
      lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic "racial"
      groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This
      means that there is greater variation within "racial" groups than between
      them. ..."

      Please note especially the last sentence above. The statement continues:

      "Physical variations in any given trait tend to occur gradually rather
      than abruptly over geographic areas. And because physical traits are
      inherited independently of one another, knowing the range of one trait
      does not predict the presence of others. For example, skin color varies
      largely from light in the temperate areas in the north to dark in the
      tropical areas in the south; its intensity is not related to nose shape
      or hair texture. Dark skin may be associated with frizzy or kinky hair or
      curly or wavy or straight hair, all of which are found among different
      indigenous peoples in tropical regions. These facts render any attempt to
      establish lines of division among biological populations both arbitrary
      and subjective."

      Please note in the above that, for example, skin color is not, in
      general, related to nose shape. And please note especially the last
      sentence quoted above. The statement continues:

      "Historical research has shown that the idea of "race" has always carried
      more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations
      in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans
      put on them. ..."

      Although the statement continues, this last sentence is a fitting
      conclusion to my contributions to this thread.

      Bob
      Northern Arizona University
    • Robert M Schacht
      My last attempt to close what I hoped was my last contribution on this thread lost its end in cyberspace somewhere, or so it seems from the echo I
      Message 2 of 2 , Apr 3, 2000
      • 0 Attachment
        <Sigh> My last attempt to close what I hoped was my last contribution on
        this thread lost its end in cyberspace somewhere, or so it seems from the
        echo I received from XTalk. Consequently I am re-transmitting the
        message. Hopefully the ending will make it through this time. What I
        wrote was:

        Initially, I sent this to Jim Crutchfield alone, but intended it to be
        sent to the list. He kindly pointed that out to me, so I copy my response
        to him below as my final contribution to this thread.

        On Sun, 02 Apr 2000 20:34:20 -0400 Jim Crutchfield <jdcrutch@...>
        writes:
        >
        >
        > "Robert M. Schacht" wrote:
        > > I quite agree with your conclusion. However, what Crutchfield was
        arguing
        > > went beyond this to make the claim that Jews (including Jesus) had a
        > > known physiognomic type that was readily distinguishable from other
        > > peoples, which is simply a racist absurdity. (I'm sorry for the
        strong
        > > language, but I think it is appropriate.)
        >
        > Mr. Schacht:
        >
        > You have publicly accused me of racism and misrepresented my argument
        in
        > order to support your false and offensive accusation. You owe me a
        public apology.
        >
        > Respectfully,
        >
        > James D. Crutchfield

        James,
        OK, in what I wrote that you quoted above, I was wrong, and I apologize.
        I should have re-checked your original message. It is clear that it is
        time for me, at least, to be more precise about terms and words. In your
        original message, what you wrote was:

        "Surely Political Correctness does not require us to
        pretend that there are no physiognomic markers for stable,
        geographically identifiable ethnic groups! Unless (as I think Prof.
        Smith archly suggested) he had some North-European or other
        non-Mediterranean genes pretty close to him on the family tree (i.e.,
        from a parent or grandparent), Jesus must certainly have shared the
        general physical features common to most of the peoples of the Eastern
        Mediterranean: a long head, light brown skin, dark brown hair, brownish
        eyes (most likely but not definitely), a thin, arched nose, etc. Those
        general characteristics are of course subject to endless variation and
        exception in individual cases, but over an entire (ethnically
        homogeneous) population one certainly can point to common features
        without committing the mortal sin of "stereotyping"."

        What started me into over-reaction was the first sentence quoted above.
        That sentence, along with certain other remarks of yours, and other
        remarks since on this list have made me realize that the profession of
        anthropology has been unsuccessful in expunging the ghost of race from
        academic discussion. Although you did not say it, some of the remarks
        above sounded to my ear too close to "we know what a Jew looks like,"
        which evoked for me extremely uncomfortable images of events in Hitler's
        Germany. But you did not say any such thing. I was guilty of reading too
        much into what you wrote.

        What you did say, was:
        "Jesus must certainly have shared the general physical features common to
        most of the peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean: a long head, light
        brown skin, dark brown hair, brownish eyes (most likely but not
        definitely), a thin, arched nose, etc."

        You wrote "most peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean," you did not write
        "Jews."

        However, this is still too close to the language of race, even though you
        did not use that term. I see in other posts on this thread that the
        language of race is still too convenient to let go of, even in this
        scholarly setting.

        I am willing to concede that, viewed as statistical norms, there may have
        been "general physical features common to most people of the Eastern
        Mediterranean," -- not just Jews, but Galileans, Gerasenes, Iturians,
        Idumeans, and many others, although you seem to feel much more confident
        about exactly what those features were than I am. (By the way, I wonder
        what your evidence is for this particular list of characteristics?) But
        these can only be statistical norms, even if the specific list you
        mention has some validity.

        I am also willing to concede that the physical features of Jesus were
        probably well within the range of variation for his region, and I welcome
        any depiction of Jesus that attempts to place his appearance within this
        range.

        But talk about race and racial stereotyping, and loose talk about
        physical features of geographical populations is not merely a matter of
        political correctness; it is a matter of utmost gravity. I stand by the
        following statement from the web pages of the American Anthropological
        Association (<http://www.aaanet.org/stmts/racepp.htm>):

        "In the United States both scholars and the general public have been
        conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions
        within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the
        vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has
        become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly
        demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of
        genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%,
        lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic "racial"
        groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This
        means that there is greater variation within "racial" groups than between
        them. ..."

        Please note especially the last sentence above. The statement continues:

        "Physical variations in any given trait tend to occur gradually rather
        than abruptly over geographic areas. And because physical traits are
        inherited independently of one another, knowing the range of one trait
        does not predict the presence of others. For example, skin color varies
        largely from light in the temperate areas in the north to dark in the
        tropical areas in the south; its intensity is not related to nose shape
        or hair texture. Dark skin may be associated with frizzy or kinky hair or
        curly or wavy or straight hair, all of which are found among different
        indigenous peoples in tropical regions. These facts render any attempt to
        establish lines of division among biological populations both arbitrary
        and subjective."

        Please note in the above that, for example, skin color is not, in
        general, related to nose shape. And please note especially the last
        sentence quoted above. The statement continues:

        "Historical research has shown that the idea of "race" has always carried
        more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations
        in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans
        put on them. ..."

        Although the statement continues, this last sentence is a fitting
        conclusion to my contributions to this thread.

        Bob
        Northern Arizona University
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