It begins with a movie…

I was in the mood last night to watch a movie. Mary Magdalene is currently on All4 on-demand so I chose this; but it is one of these films were the director thought it was okay for the actors to mumble their lines during softly spoken moments. I find this irritating so I gave up on it after thirty minutes and switched to an old movie – Fear No More – which I found on Youtube. Even though this was a bit of a B-movie, and one of the principal actors had a distinct accent which suggested English wasn’t his first language, there was no lack of clarity in the dialogues.

Scientific Jesus – 5’ 5” in stockinged feet

This morning, my curiosity of Mary Magdalene had the better of me and I googled it to see how it had been received by critics. Across the board, it averaged 45-50% which is about right, though most criticism was concerned with its dullness, or “toothless” portrayals of the gospel narratives.

Reading further accounts of Mary herself, I hadn’t realised how important a figure she was in the Jesus story – the apostles’ apostle. Her name is written more times in scripture than those of most of his disciples. Later patriarchal christianity turned against her, conflating her character with that of another Mary, a fallen woman, a possible prostitute. This myth still carries weight in some quarters.

Contrary to her portrayal in the movie – as a simple working fisherwoman, seen on the beach, mending holes in nets – some accounts say she was likely a wealthy woman and had supported Jesus in his mission.

Jesus in the film is played by Joaquin Phoenix, so its Jesus looks a lot like Johnny Cash; in his hippy period, no doubt. He looked a lot older than his early thirties too, I thought. (Released in 2018, Phoenix would have been 43.) But it was the unkempt long hair and beard which was the problem. Had wardrobe not kept abreast of the news?

Not much is written about his appearance in the gospels but the prophecy of Isaiah has him as a disfigured man people would turn their face against. Of course, Christianity – a simple faith for simple minds to understand – wouldn’t understand that and so over the centuries, Jesus has been depicted not as an especially unhandsome dude, but looking a bit like you, or me.

Joaquin’s sun-blocked, ageing hippy Jesus

It’s quite a surprise – though not shocking – to see how science portrays the man based on all available evidence and assessments: a shortish, thick set man, dark olive skinned, and with short hair and a trimmed beard. Far from turning away from the sight of him, you’d probably not notice him at all in a crowd. If he was a wanted man, the authorities would need for someone who knew him to point him out amongst the rest. Hmm.

Here is a post in Medium about the visual depiction of Jesus which provided some material for this post.

I like the comments Medium readers leave; this one, I thought, was particularly funny,


“Respectfully, it should be pointed out that Christians believe that Jesus was the son of God. If we accept this premise, wouldn’t he have looked something like his father?”


It reminds me of a story my Mum tells us of a nativity play at some junior school in the 60s. The kids all had parts to play, the more confident and reliable ones play the parts with the most lines to memorise.

A boy – playing the principal shepherd, I think – was much more confident than his memory was reliable. Looking into the manger, he forgot his given line and no amount of off-stage whispered prompting from teacher could bring them to mind. So he improvised and said, in the clearest voice, what he must have heard adults say to new parents many a time,

“Ooh! Doesn’t he look like his father!”

He brought the house down.

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