WWJLL? (What Would Jesus Look Like?)

He could have looked like Josephus, a Jewish rebel of 70 AD who betrayed his fellows and joined Rome (and wrote a history of the war in which he changed sides). Josephus looks like lots of modern Greeks and Jews, etc.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the broadly and deeply eclectic Lebanese-American scholar who is best known to the public, perhaps, through his Black Swan, has an interesting blast against an ahistorical view of the peoples of the Levant and the Middle East, especially the Mediterranean ones.

How did Judeans and Galileans look like at the time of Christ? Not according to your politically driven classifications; and not according to some BS in a 2001 article in Scientific American (based on “scientific” reconstruction of facial features and skin tone from … bones). And don’t assume that Jesus would have voted for neocon hawks, Salafi regime promoters, rent seeking “educated” bureaucrats and state-worshipping IYIs (intellectual yet idiots) — simply, Jesus wanted a separation of the holy and the profane, (see my article here).

No, Jesus was not a “Middle Eastern”, that is like inhabitants of the olive-oil free swath of land from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan. Near East (Eastern Mediterranean) is not the nonMediterranean or antiMediterranean Middle East (I wonder which idiot made that classification; the correct heuristic is use of olive oil). Jesus looked like a typical Mediterranean, that is, just like a Southern European, and quite standard at that, as we will see below.

Olive oil? What is this guy thinking? (And, as we often find ourselves thinking when reading him, Can we keep up?) It turns out there are two generations of hard thinking analysis behind his claim. But first, let’s let him develop the WWJLL argument for another half graf (Taleb writes in complete thoughts and in long but clear paragraphs):

The inhabitants of the cities around the Mediterranean, by his time, were already quite similar in looks, even if they didn’t speak the same languages, and (as today, in many cases) much different from those that reside say, a hundred miles inside. And we know how Western Semites looked like, which is no different from today’s Western Syrians: like Southern Europeans; like generic Roman citizens (although most Jews were technically not citizens at the time of Jesus). Strikingly, Western Syrians (a.k.a. urban Syrians) still look the same today — in my experience they are usually indistinguishable from the Ionian Greeks, Cretans, or Cypriots who are in identity politics called “white”.

Or he could have looked like Emperor Caracalla, who was part Roman, part Syrian and part Punic. Most of us have known someone who looks like this guy.

OK, so his blast at identity politics that leads his post (we picked it up below that) stands on solid ground. Historians know that the whole Med at the time of Caesar, Cleopatra, and Christ was broadly Hellenistic. Taleb posits, and history and archaeology are on his side here, that Jesus Christ may have looked like our participant in yesterday’s history lesson, Hannibal, or like any of the Syrian Emperors, even Elgalabalus (eeeew. We hope not; he’s one of those guys that makes Caligula seem not so bad).

And that olive oil thing?

I have a heuristic. If people eat the same, they look the same and use similar body language. Western Turks eat the same as Levantines, Greeks and look the same. The Middle East, say Saudi Arabia has no ratatouille, tyme, oregano, olive oil, hummus, ouzo/raki/pastis/arak, pizza (lahmajun/manousheh) etc.

Reading Taleb reminds us, if we needed to be reminded, that “the Separation of Church and State” did not spring fully formed from the brow of Jefferson or Madison, but was, in fact, the project of Christ Himself, and it did not mean the State Atheism (or its milder French or Mexican shade, Anticlericalism) it has come to mean in the West nowadays. It is in His answer to the question, “Whose face is on the denarius?“, still a much-sermonized parable even in churches that reject the message!

30 thoughts on “WWJLL? (What Would Jesus Look Like?)

  1. Haxo Angmark

    no, NN Taleb. 90% of the Jews in today’s world are Ashkenaz…out of southwestern Asia via local conversion c. 700 AD (Khazaria; approx where Armenia is today)….who then took on some genetic camouflage during 1,300 years of wandering across eastern then western Europe and on to America. In general, semitic Jews (via the original, Roman-era middle east diaspora) and the Ashkenaz regard one another with hostility and contempt. In Israel today, the “white” Ashkenaz rule, the Judaic semites do the rough work (note the high proportion of IDF frontliners that are dark-complected, and look a lot like the Arab semites they fight), and the Palestinian semites get ground into the dirt.

    1. Haxo Angmark

      and I know what Jesus, the offspring of a Roman soldier and a promiscuous Jewess, looked like. It’s precisely that genetic bifurcation that turned him against the Jews of his time. Hitler – another false Messiah – was also a mischlinge.

        1. LCpl Martinez 29 Palms

          I always thought that in Christiandom (I’m a non-practicing Catholic by the way) that the Shroud of Turin was the image from which every other image of Jesus was based on.

          Which looks very similar to this guy, so it’s gotta be legit…

          http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/uncyclopedia/images/f/f4/Jesus_sitting_nra.jpg

          so why not just go with the Shroud of Turin image?

          (Though the Khazaria’s opting for Judaism whilst their Kievan Rus neighbors went with Greek Orthodoxy/Byzantine, while Tartar/Mongols went with Islam, is an interesting topic… Ruses liked to drink so they would NOT have done well as Muslims; for Tartar/Mongols Islam would’ve been the power religion to bet on at that time— though Mongols were into all sorts of religions— which paid off bit league,

          BUT why would a group favor a losing religion, I mean it’s not like the Khazarias knew the state of Israel would be around after WWII, with hot ass IDF chics to boot , so what was the calculus? hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…)

          1. LCPL Martinez USMC

            John M.

            True that. I’d add Hinduism too. But I’m not so sure how Buddhism/Zen helped Japan (ie. the Samurais to WWII), whether it was more Shinto than Buddhism. So I think Buddhisms rise was more related to Hinduism rise, piggy backing off a more powerful religion.

            There was a time when Buddhism was simply seen as a sect of Hinduism, hence all the Buddhist icons in Bali , Indonesia, but once Buddhism separated from Hinduism proper, I think it tamed more people than got them to calculate, hmmmmmm that’s gonna benefit me in the long term (the calculation i’m looking for among the Khazarias ;-) ).

            India’s Ashoka’s sending of Buddhist emissaries to “teach” the Greeks prior to the Romans rise in the Mediterranean, has been speculated as somehow connected to the Essenes in Palestine, which John the Baptist is supposedly directly or indirectly part of—–

            Pliny/Josephus documents the Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees, Herodians, Zealots, but the New Testament almost consciously redacts the Essenes, why?
            hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…

      1. LFMayor

        Things you ought not say, 1937 Munich edition: “Hitler has dirty blood”.

        Things you ought not say, 1964 Mississippi baptist church picnic edition: ” Jesus was a black dago rape baby”.

        I never know what I’ll read next here!

  2. Brian

    “Can we keep up?”
    A thought I’ve had several times reading Taleb. Excellent point about the “render unto Caesar” parable re separation of church and state. I’ve never heard it put quite that way; it makes sense.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I don’t think he’s ever said he’s a polymath. He says his father, who was a doctor, was a polymath… must have been a formidable dinner table to converse at.

  3. Fred

    Oh but Jefferson did understand the original text and left his mark well. For we have no Caesar. ‘The Congress (the people) shall coin the money’ is a purposeful act at the founding. This was not an accident; it was an assertion, an answer, in the positive to the truth of the scripture. Further evidence of which is that gold was our money and there were no personal income taxes to the federal treasury. The culmination of the reformation perhaps; ‘We don’t need you George III, we have our King and shall have no other’.

    But alas, we were once a free republic but by His grace followers are free even today.

    I am puzzled though, whose false profit was Hitler?

    1. LFMayor

      Well, Orson Wells once told me that Nostradamus had predicted ed three anti christs and he called one of them “hister “.

      That grave toned HBO documentary might be the source of the idea.

    2. LCPL Martinez USMC

      ***“Oh but Jefferson did understand the original text and left his mark well. For we have no Caesar. “***

      Between Spinoza and Locke , Jefferson was closer to Spinoza’s.

      1. Separation of State and Church (so the State can protect the individual from the Church, Spinoza’s)

      2. Separation of State and Church (so the Church is protected from the State, Locke’s)

      3. Separation of State and Church (so the individual is protected from both the State and Church, Jefferson’s)

      This is evidenced by the way Jefferson read his Bible, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_Bible only focusing on the Ethics of Jesus; and his close relationship with Thomas Paine (Rights of Man and Age of Reason), though Jefferson distanced himself from Paine after his Age of Reason, which read very much like Spinoza’s works.

  4. Vaarok

    In context, the Kingdom of Heaven constantly referenced in the New Testament was the Jewish goal of reestablishing an independent Jewish theocratic state. Read most of the sermons in the voice of Achmed The Dead Terrorist and it starts to sound much more vitriolic than the popularized interpretations.

    Remember, trying to start a riot with a whip of knotted cords on the steps of the capitol building of the capital city of a country under military occupation on the eve of the national high holiday was pretty much a call to riot and revolt.

    1. Steve M.

      “Remember, trying to start a riot with a whip of knotted cords on the steps of the capitol building of the capital city of a country under military occupation on the eve of the national high holiday was pretty much a call to riot and revolt.”

      You must have missed the whole part about the Jews turning the Temple, a house of prayer, into a “den of thieves” by allowing merchants to make money off of people trying to take part in the Passover.

      Mark 11:15-18 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.

      Nothing riotous there. Even if you believe that Jesus was only a man, the only people he angered were the religious elite who were abusing their positions within Jewry. Even then he called them to repentance not removal. Hardly a man looking to incite a riot.

      “Read most of the sermons in the voice of Achmed The Dead Terrorist and it starts to sound much more vitriolic”, or you could read them in a really high pitched voice and it would sound like something off of Alvin and the Chipmunks. The voice doesn’t change the context or meaning.

  5. KC

    This is my favorite bogus Jesus picture. We do tend to gain different insights when we read his teachings in a Jewish context. Amy Jill Levine (Vanderbilt) and Daniel Boyarin (u.c. Berkeley) are Orthodox Jews who teach New Testament. Look them up if interested.

  6. bloke_from_ohio

    A man must be given the choice to accept or reject their Creator. Simply put, the kind of open eyed acceptance of the gospel and Christ required of the Christian cannot be forced upon a would be believer. Coerced conversion is worthless for the sake of salvation if faith is the actual mechanism required for redemption. Therefore if the goal of church leaders is to convert people or save souls, they must avoid recruiting the state into that endeavor. While the state can attempt to convince people to do or not do something without overt coercion, all laws are backed up with the implicit threat of violence.

  7. Scott

    The whole kingdom thingy was is a huge subject, but suffice it to say that Jesus did not define it as His contemporaries…

    Jn 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

    There were many, many problems in that (and this) world, political varieties not the least, but evidently such were not *the* priority Jesus was there to address. At least on that particular visit.

    Accordingly, I find those ‘christians’ who wish to use the police power of the state to enforce their religious persuasion upon their fellow man to be ideologically indistinguishable from those who instead advocate sharia.

    When considering the issue of God and state, I find it instructive to look at the first rejection of God by the Jews… (apologies for the lengthly quote)

    1Sa 8:10 So Samuel spoke all the words of the Lord to the people who had asked of him a king. 11 He said, “This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. 12 “He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 “He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 “He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. 15 “He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. 16 “He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. 17 “He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. 18 “Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” 19 Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

    If you look at what they conditions were willing to accept to gain the ‘security’ of an earthly king (ironic) over how God was choosing to judge them, arguably one can conclude that the nature of the God that the people were rejecting was not a despotic one–but rather one that was too (if I may use a term from a modern political context) *libertarian* for their taste.

    So I think there might be a profound disconnect between how we / mankind defines ‘state’ and ‘kingdom’ and how God / Jesus does. I suspect those who entertain notions of compatibility between the christian religion and a powerful, centralized state may find the unfolding of the actual eschaton … surprising.

    In the mean time, however, I believe we are best left with:

    “In God we trust. All others require numerous checks and balances.”

    And it is in this context that I find, for example, the notion that any POTUS can ‘make American great again’ rather noxious. IMHO, no POTUS, whether he is ‘our messianic guy’, or ‘their messianic guy’, should ever pretend to wield such concentrated power to effect that goal. Nor should a liberty minded populace seriously entertain such notions. Even if it is our own preferred flavor of messianic deliverer.

    Carry on.

    1. Claypigeonshooter

      The Trump idolatry this year was disgusting and a major turnoff “How dare you question our mango messiah.”

  8. Nynemillameetuh

    Some random thoughts:

    1.) Khazarism is equine dung, full stop. It’s a lame theory that permits adherents of British Israelism to hold out hope they were “the real Hebrooz n sheeit.” Modern genetic testing shows Ashkenazim to be close cousins of their Arab neighbors with some European admixture from the Pale of Settlement thrown in.

    2.) There was a competing, non-Jewish, wandering sage that was as an alternative to potential converts at the time…Apollonius of Tyana. Miracle working, wisdom, it was all there. More was written about him (in the period) but less of it was read. Seemed like a cool guy.

    3.) Notice the relative absence of effort to deconstruct Jesus too much in East Asia or Africa. Especially East Asia. There are two factors at play here i.) interlopers might get vivisected by believers and ii.) they aren’t White, so they don’t have leftist original sin.

    1. Y.

      You only ever hear about the successful prophets. I recall reading that there were at least 7 prophets like Mohammed operating in Arabia around his time.

      1. Sommerbiwak

        Same for Judea at the time of Jesus. Life of Brian is actually quite realistically depicting life in these times with doom prophets and preachers at every street corner.

        Jesus at least had a positive message that all people should be nicer to each other. I think that is the key to its success.

        And a smart move of him to diverge mundane power (cesar at the time) and spiritual power (god). A step that most of Islam has not taken and still sees this as necessarily unified. See for example the islamic state implementing exactly this.

        1. LCPL Martinez USMC

          LOL! Life of Brian.

          ***“Jesus at least had a positive message that all people should be nicer to each other. I think that is the key to its success.”***

          Pliny and Josephus did document those other “prophets”, so…

          Maybe in the region , and around that time , but the whole notion of being nicer to each other is central in Buddhism as well, and greater so in Jainism—- 1/4 of the Mongols went with Tibetan Buddhism, hence Tibet and Mongolia are somewhat tied together (though no more visits by the Dalai Lama to Mongolia since Papa China’s thrown a fit recently, LOL!)

          But my point is that when it comes to personal philosophies or organized religions, you can only really go 3 ways, be nice (to a fault), be somewhere in the middle (apathy; looking out for number one), or dominate at every turn you get —- similar to theories after death, only 3 really, a better place; a worst place; or both/neither/nowhere.

          Now if you read the 4 Gospels, Jesus does fall more towards the Buddhist and even Jainist of that spectrum; compared to early Judaism’s and Greek Gods of Olympus and the Roman’s plagiarized versions of those Gods (basically Gods that command stuff like this… “totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” )

          But on closer reading of the 4 Gospels, there seems to be 3 types of salvations being espoused here, both of which can be exclusionary:

          1. Salvation by Works

          2. Salvation by Faith

          3. Salvation by Austerity

          The first is covered by Jesus in the Gospels, and the 2nd is mostly Paul’s thing. which I’d argue is the main reason Christianity spread, hey all you have to do is simply believe (like some Disney cartoon).

          But the 3rd, although folks like St. Francis, even as far as St. Origen (the I’d rather cut my balls off to be closer to God guy), makes it central to their practice, the 3rd isn’t touted as much (hence all the Joel Osteen books & TV)… but it’s there, starting with John the Baptist’s description of how he lived to Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples (just bring your staffs and sandals, nothing else), even after with the Ebionites.

          So 2. is the reason why Christianity spread initially, then when Constantine’s mom got into it, then it became the power religion. But the reason for the initial spread , I think is more on convenience (ie. all you have to do is believe to be saved) ; whereas

          Buddhism and Jainism (and also the Greek/Roman gods), it’s more on what you do, ie. vis-a-vis Karma. Though I ‘m sure most good Catholics and Christian groups stress both faith and works, hence all the missionary stuff in the 3rd world contributing to the Aid industry (which like the Welfare industry here is wreaking havoc out there too).

          Promotion of Salvation by Austerity would block televangelists, seed faith, and the likes of Osteen and his ilk. But so long as Faith alone is the central form of salvation, simony (buying into heaven) and Magus the Magician types will flourish. But the turn your other cheek can also be found in other philosophies and religions, Christianity does not have monopoly here.

  9. Kerry

    The question one ought ask himself is not what did He look like, but, in His words, “Who do men say that I am?”, and, speaking to Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”
    He is the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, God incarnate in human flesh.
    Benedictum sit nomen domini nostri Jesu Christi.
    Or, if you like, “Viva Christo Rey, y viva Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe!

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