Physiognomy and the Divine Dignity of the Different

The short guy no longer gets the short end of the stick when he leaves the tree and hosts the Lord of hosts.

In “Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity” (Baker: 2006), Mikeal C. Parsons describes the Greek practice of physiognomy and similarities to physiognomy in Judaica and Christian writings and then addresses several instances of physiognomic abnormality in Luke-Acts along with a proposition that Luke sought to displace the prejudice of the prevailing culture.

Physiognomy is the practice of stereotyping the character of people based on the animal they resemble, the race/culture they are from, or the physical features they have. For example, a person who looks like a lion would be brave and noble while a fox is cunning and tricky. A person who is from Corinth is immoral and an Ethiopian cannot change their color. A broadshouldered man is brave while a short man is greedy.

The chapters in order examine:

Soul & Body react on each other: Body & Character in Greek & Roman Literature

The Movement of the body is the voice of the soul: Body & Character in Early Jewish & Christian Literature.

Your eye is the Lamp of the Body: Luke and the Body-Soul relationship.

Ought Not This Daughter of Abraham Be Set Free? Getting the story of the Bent Woman Straight (includes an excusus on the number 18 and Jesus as typical of the Life of God.

Short in Stature, Son of Abraham: The height of hospitality in the story of Zacchaeus.

His feet and ankles were made strong: signs of character in the man lame from birth.

What is to prevent me? Ambiguity, Acceptance, and the Ethiopian Eunuch. This includes a section on the purpose of Luke: to educate readers to look at those shaped differently different than the world looks at them. Luke has a redeeming purpose.

After an Epilogue dedicated to the author’s father (to whom the book is dedicated), the appendix consists of illustrations of physiognomy and its undermining in the schoolbook of Libanius.

The book is a quick and engaging read that looks at the Scriptures from a different perspective. I found it refreshing to see how the Lord redeems. While Zacchaeus was not made tall physically, his hospitality welcomed the Lord of Hosts and so entered him into the Lord’s army of saints who was generous, contrary to the short-taxcollector stereotype.  First he runs along, aping his way ahead, climbs into a tree and watches. Jesus humanizes the scene by calling Zacchaeus by name and going to his house. Jesus the Jew stays in the home of a servant of Rome. So the world is turned upside down and the tree is returned to its former purpose: shade for gathering the saints together to hear the message God sent Abraham: redemption for all.

A similar reversal from hopelessness to confidence takes place with the Ethiopian Eunuch, makde acceptable in Christ, as Isaiah’s suffering servant songs are explained and followed up by baptized. The shade of skin does not change, but joy and light fill his heart and eyes as he can now perceive what the Scripture is talking about: salvation in Jesus.

If you are willing to engage a serious book on the Bible, this one is an excellent resource that gives fresh perspective on those with physical problems. It is hopeful and reveals the dynamic and miraculous nature of salvation.

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