Recently forensic anthropologists have posited that Jesus was likely of normal height for his time – that is to say, 5’1”. They deduced this from examining the skeletal remains of Semite contemporaries of Jesus and the fact that, when the soldiers asked Judas in the garden of Gethsemane which one was Jesus, he didn’t reply, “The tall dude bathed in celestial light.”
All but the most ahistorical of us (and, alas, they are legion) have figured out by now that Jesus probably more closely resembled that swarthy cab driver you don’t trust not to be a terrorist than the fair-haired, blue eyed, tall guy with the flowing locks depicted in most Western art — some sanitized hybrid of a metrosexual and a Norse god with clean fingernails and lots of hair product. We get it: Jesus looked like somebody on the No-Fly List. Adjust cultural lenses accordingly.
But then I thought: 5’1”. That’s short. That’s really short. Not Danny DiVito short, but only by an inch. I’m short and I’ve got three inches on Jesus. Not to mention that, at 125 pounds, I probably outweigh him by a good 15 pounds.
Which gives one pause.
If Jesus was of normal height and normal height was 5’1”, then all the rest of those guys were short as well. The disciples were short. The three Kings were short. Mary was practically a pygmy. Everyone was shorter than we imagine. And what about animals — the ass, for example, that bore Jesus on Palm Sunday? Was it smaller as well?
My mother had a friend who had a vast and fabulous period doll house decades before such things were popular and furniture and trappings for them readily available. She and her daughter – an only child, adopted and dearly loved — were true collectors, traveling throughout Europe every summer to forage in antique and curiosity and junk shops to discover the perfect tiny copper kettle here and the miniature quilt the size of a coaster there. . . . The dollhouse, which was set in the Victorian era and featured a Madame Alexandra doll, suitably costumed, in each room, grew and grew until it eventually took up an entire wall of their capacious living room. My mother’s friend hosted a New Year’s Eve party every year to which children were invited, parties I would spend, transfixed, before this dollhouse, eating way too much party mix. (My mother’s friend lost her daughter when she was very young – in her twenties – to pneumonia. Heartbroken, she donated the dollhouse to a local museum.)
Everything in that perfect dollhouse had to be to scale: one foot to a half an inch. And so, I realize now, must my imaginings of events in the First Century of the Christian Era. Remember the immortal scene in the Christopher Guest mockumentary Spinal Tap when an error in measurement on the part of Guest’s character leaves the band with no option but to perform their song Stonehenge on stage with dwarfs dancing around a scaled-down version of the Druid stone circle?
And, yes, I know. There are those coats of armor, the ones that you see all over Europe, the ones worn by actual knights, who themselves appear to have been on the pint-er size. And, yes I know. People are getting bigger. Witness my twins, who tower over me and refer to me – affectionately – as Mouse Woman.