What did Jesus look like?
- <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
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@...>
> "Robert M. Schacht" wrote:
> > I quite agree with your conclusion. However, what Crutchfield was
> > went beyond this to make the claim that Jews (including Jesus) had astrong
> > known physiognomic type that was readily distinguishable from other
> > peoples, which is simply a racist absurdity. (I'm sorry for the
> > language, but I think it is appropriate.)in
> Mr. Schacht:
> You have publicly accused me of racism and misrepresented my argument
> order to support your false and offensive accusation. You owe me apublic apology.
> James D. Crutchfield
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
Northern Arizona University