How tall was Zacchaeus?

    Zacchaeus the tax collector is introduced in the book of Luke, chapter 19: 

       "And entering in, He walked through Jericho.  And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, who was the chief of the publicans, and he was rich.  And he sought to see Jesus who He was, and he could not for the crowd, because he was low of stature.  And running before, he climed up into a sycamore tree, that he might see him; for he was to pass that way.  And when Jesus was come to the place, looking up, He saw him, and said to him: Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide in thy house." (Luke 19:1-5).  

    A few months ago, I was pondering the question of how tall was Zacchaeus?  Of course, it's not something we can ever know with any degree of certainty.  But on the other hand, it's not beyond all speculation.  

    The first thing to note is that Zacchaeus was noticeably short, so the question is, how short (or tall) does someone have to be for it to be notable?  This is largely a statistical question.  Height has been found to be normally distributed and in the normal distribution, the mean height is also the modal and the median height.  So, one way to phrase this question is, how much does someone's height have to deviate from the mean to be noticeable?

    In the present time, a man who is 6 ft (about 183 cm) tall is considered noticeably tall.  It is hard to find the average height worldwide, but at least in English-speaking countries, 6 ft is roughly three inches (7.62 cm) or one standard deviation above the mean height, i.e., at the 84th percentile.  So, likewise, we may say that one standard deviation below or 5 ft 6 inches (167.64 cm) is noticeably short in English-speaking countries in the present time.       

    So, then the question is, how tall were people in Palestine 2,000 years ago?  Probably shorter than people now because of generally worse nutrition.  There is an interesting blog post that discusses the height of Isaac Newton, based on an article by Milo Keynes called "The Personality of Isaac Newton".  The article estimates that Newton stood 5 ft 6 inches tall and also discusses Newton's speculation as to the height of the Ancient Egyptians: 

    "Newton is trying to calculate the dimensions of an ancient building, and concludes that the 'ordinary stature of men' was about the same 3,000 years ago as it was in Newton's time, namely 5 feet 6 inches, which is exactly the estimate I have given for Newtn's own height.  

    Here are the quotations from Newton himself: 

    'The measures of Feet and Cubits now far exceed the proportion of human members; and yet Mr. Greaves shews from the Aegyptian monuments, that the human stature was about the same above 3000 years ago, as it is now ...

    The stature of the human body, according to the Talmuidsts, contains about 3 Cubits from the feet to the head; and if the feet be raised, and the arms be lifted up, it will add one Cubit more, and contatin 4 Cubits.  Now the ordinary stature of men, when they are bare-foot, is greater than 5 Roman Feet, and less than 6 Roman Feet, and it may be best fix'd at 5 Feet and a half."

    Now, it is interesting that Newton mentions the Talmudists, by which I assume he mentions the compilers of the Talmud, which was finished around the year 500.  Also, I would not expect the height of the Ancient Egyptians to deviate so much from the citizens of Roman Palestine, so 5 ft 6 inches is a good estimate for the mean male height in the time of Jesus.  

    In doing some research for this post, I found some people who have speculated that Zacchaeus actually had dwarfism, which in the present time is defined as a height below 4 ft 8 inches (142.24 cm).  But I consider this unlikely.  

    If the standard deviation in the time of Jesus was the same as it is now in English speaking countries (which is an assumption; I am not sure whether this would be true in general), then we can estimate that Zacchaeus was less than 5 ft 3 inches (160 cm).  I will estimate that since Zacchaeus had to climb a tree, rather than just stand at the edge of the crowd that his height was less than one standard deviation below the mean, but since he is not described as having dwarfism, probably above 5 ft.  I will speculate that Zacchaeus was somewhere from 5ft to 5 ft 1 inches tall.      


  1. Stands to reason. Now how tall was King Saul?

    Of course, most people's response to such questions is "Who cares?" -- but I think it's always helpful to try to get as clear a picture of biblical figures and events as possible.

  2. "I think it's always helpful to try to get as clear a picture of biblical figures and events as possible."

    I agree.

    Here's what I found about Saul's height (; it estimates that he was 6 ft, 6 inches tall. If that is right, then correcting for people being shorter, I would estimate Saul's height as 6 ft 3 inches.


The real AI agenda

    On a post  by Wm Briggs, about artificial intelligence, a commenter with the monniker "ItsAllBullshit" writes:           "...