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97 5 Short in Stature, Son of Abraham The Height of Hospitality in the Story of Zacchaeus The story of Zacchaeus is one of the best-known and best-loved biblical narratives.Many of us learned the story as children,and the little ditty that accompanied it:“Zacchaeus was a wee little man . . .” The children’s song derives, of course, from Luke 19:3, where Zacchaeus is described as “small in stature”(ἡλικίᾳ µικρός). This physical description is the third of three characteristics mentioned by the narrator: we are also told Zacchaeus’s occupation (chief tax collector) and his socioeconomic status (he is rich). Both of these social locators, of course, are commonplace ; we will return to them later in the chapter. . J. Rendel Harris, “On the Stature of Our Lord,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 10 (1926): 112–26,explores the various traditions that Jesus himself was short in statue.He begins with an eighthcentury anti-Nestorian manuscript, which refers to the “stature”of Christ as being smaller than that of the children of Jacob, and in turn takes up statements by Origen (Cels. 7.75), the Acts of John, the Acts of Thomas, and Ephrem the Syrian (Hymni de ecclesia et virginibus). In this light he considers whether the phrase “he was small in stature”might refer to Jesus rather than Zacchaeus, but concludes that this interpretation is “doubtful” (p. 123). Given that Zacchaeus is the subject of all the other verbs in this sentence and the fact that, if it were Jesus who was short, Zacchaeus would not be the only one having difficulty getting a glimpse of Jesus, it is best to understand the small stature to refer to Zacchaeus, not Jesus. Nonetheless, the noncanonical Christian texts discussed by Harris are fascinating. Parsons_LukeActs_JDE_djm.indd 97 9/15/06 1:27:32 PM 98 Body and Character in Luke and Acts Most commentators ignore or minimize the physical description of Zacchaeus. Joseph Fitzmyer, for example, argues that the reference is “a mere physical description of the man. We are not to conclude from the episode that Zacchaeus finds real ‘stature’through the welcome extended him by Jesus.The Greek ἡλικία nowhere bears the connotation that the English word has in that understanding.” John Nolland,on the contrary, makes a passing reference to Zacchaeus’s “   ‘littleness’in the eyes of others” as “more than physical.” Neither solution is particularly satisfying. As we shall see, contra Fitzmyer, it is µικρός and not ἡλικία that holds the potential clue to the phrase’s meaning, while Nolland’s intuition is, without some substantiation from Luke’s larger literary environment, nothing more than a modern gloss. “Short in Stature” and the Physiognomic Consciousness So why mention that Zacchaeus is “short in stature”? The simplest explanation is that the reference to his physical stature is necessary to explain his subsequent action of running ahead of the crowd and climbing a tree to see Jesus. It is also true that in Luke the crowds often serve as an obstacle to be overcome by one seeking an audience with Jesus. One need only think of the story of the paralytic (Luke 5:17–26), or of the blind man (18:35–43), which immediately precedes this pericope. But there seems to be more involved here. In the physiognomic way of thinking,shortness per se was not necessarily bad (provided the person were well proportioned),but neither was it a virtue. Short persons whom an author portrays positively are almost invariably also described as “well proportioned.” Recall the description of Paul in The Acts of Paul and Thecla: [Paul] a man small of stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body; with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked, full of friendliness; for now he appeared like a man, and now he had the face of an angel. (Acts Paul Thec. 3; my emphasis) Or consider Suetonius’s description of Augustus: . Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke, vol. 2, Luke X–XXIV, AB 28A (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985), 1223. . John Nolland, Luke 18:35–24:53, WBC 35C (Dallas,TX: Word, 1993), 905. Parsons_LukeActs_JDE_djm.indd 98 9/15/06 1:27:32 PM 99 Short in Stature, Son of Abraham His teeth were wide apart, small, and ill kept; his hair was slightly curly and inclined to golden; his eyebrows met.His ears were of moderate size, and his nose projected a little at the top and then bent slightly forward. His...


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