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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.

The Moon is still dark…

The moon is still dark and for a good reason. 1968. Bill Anders, the rookie astronaut of the three onboard Apollo 8, orbiting our moon, his principle duty was to photograph sites of scientific interest on the lunar surface. They had traversed the dark side of the moon, so-called not because it’s dark but unseen from an Earth’s perspective, a result of its mass relative to Earth’s, and the distance and forces between the two bodies: the moon is large enough to partner the Earth in a cosmic waltz around the Sun, face to face for eternity.

It was a disappointing voyage across the dark side, craters, ridges, plains – the usual stuff. And then it happened. As they approached the end, they saw out of their window the Earth rising out of the Moon’s horizon. A beautiful blue-green jewel gliding skywards in the black firmament. Can you imagine the emotion?

Anders camera was filled with monochrome film, and almost all frames exposed. He took a photo of the Earth emerging from the stark lunar landscape with the remaining frame, then asked for a roll of colour film. With this loaded, he took the image which easily surpassed all of those he’d taken of the moon, the real purpose of the mission, and gave the Earth not only the defining moment of the voyage but a profound sense of the glorious nature of Planet Home.

Had the Moon not been dark, had it been slightly brighter, more colourful and vibrant, the emotional response would have been much less, possibly unremarkable. But it was dark, and the Earth shone brilliantly. And the moon is dark still.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge – Week #62 – “The Moon is still dark…”

Earthrise (1968)

There was some controversy about which of the three astronauts – Frank Borman, Bill Anders, and Jim Lovell – had taken the defining image. While it was Anders’ job to take specific pictures of scientific interest to a set programme, Borman adamantly remembers taking that particular photo himself. He had used the camera at another time to take an unscheduled “tourist” snap and the fallibility of memory under the force of emotion probably had him mixed up. Even Lovell jokingly got in on the act by joshing everyone how he took the photo. But it was more likely Anders, as mission control voice recordings suggest.