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Was Jesus literally a big man in his day?

Dear Cecil:

They taught us in grammar school that sightseers have to stoop for fear of braining themselves while exploring the Mayflower and other historical ships, because our forefathers apparently tended to be a lot shorter than we are today. A while back, I was glancing at Anthony Burgess's book Jesus of Nazareth; in it Christ is portrayed as a physically tall and powerful man. A special on the Shroud of Turin the other night described the spooky image as five feet, ten inches tall. If Jesus Christ were this height, would he have been literally a big man in his time?

Blair G., Phoenix

Cecil replies:

Dear Blair:

Yes, but it’s not like he would have been a first-round draft pick in the NBA. Based on the somewhat limited fossil evidence we have from the Middle East–mainly Egyptian mummies and the like–average height in Christ’s time was probably around five feet six. There were people who were quite a bit taller, though. Ramses III, pharaoh of Egypt from 1198 to 1166 BC, is said to have been around six feet even.

So far as can be determined, height didn’t start to increase significantly until well into the Industrial Revolution. The most dramatic increase has occurred within the last 50 years or so due to advances in nutrition. Keep eating those Wheaties.

Cecil Adams

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