Jesus the Shape-Shifter: Luke 4, verses 28-30

60272_489005514224_7948193_nThis may well be old news to some of you reading this, but I was nonetheless intrigued when I learned of the discovery in 2013 of an ancient Coptic text, written in the name of St Cyril of Jerusalem, that described Jesus as a shape-shifter. You can read the article on the Ancient Origins site for yourself, if you wish, but the text in question reads:

“Then the Jews said to Judas: How shall we arrest him [Jesus], for he does not have a single shape but his appearance changes. Sometimes he is ruddy, sometimes he is white, sometimes he is red, sometimes he is wheat coloured, sometimes he is pallid like ascetics, sometimes he is a youth, sometimes an old man …”

As I’ve only just learned of this matter, it stands to reason that I’ve not had time to look up any learned discussion of Jesus as a shape-shifter, if indeed any such exchange exists, but I would be surprised if anyone remotely familiar with the New Testament found anything out of the ordinary here, because three verses from the Gospel of Luke effectively spell out and bear witness to this curious ability:

“And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,

And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.

But he passing through the midst of them went his way…”

I looked into this episode in my 2009 book The Missing Years of Jesus, remarking that this ability sounded similar to the capacity of the ancient Druids to make their way unharmed through opposing armies, but wherever Jesus acquired this bizarre ability to transform his appearance, it’s interesting to see that it’s been remarked upon both inside and outside the canonical works of the New Testament.


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4 Responses to Jesus the Shape-Shifter: Luke 4, verses 28-30

  1. Dr Dan H. says:

    A better way to think of this may be to put the events into their historical context. At the time that Jesus lived, Judea had just been invaded by the Roman Empire working to their standard plan of turn up, defeat the existing rulers then reinstate any who will work with Roman rule, provided that everything stayed quiet. To assist the reinstated rulers in this, the Roman army would station a few legions plus a lot of auxiliary troops (who were NEVER local to that area) to impose military rule.

    As a result of this, local insurgencies rarely got going for long. What may have happened here is that a local insurgent going under the nom-de-guerre of “Jesus”, presumably an uncommon name at the time, gets started with acts of petty defiance. His followers join in, spreading tales of supernatural wonder and after a while, a lot of other petty insurgents join under the “I am Jesus!” banner, much as modern script kiddies operate under the umbrella organisation of Anonymous.

    Presumably the tales of the shape-shifting ability of Jesus are just down to the local Jewish rulers also resenting Roman rule and not particularly wanting to make life too easy for Roman rule. Hence the implied confusion about how this Jesus character can shape shift and disappear at will; this “explains” how the Judean authorities cannot pin him down and gives them a neat excuse for being spectacularly ineffective.

    Thus at the time the Jesus character was a sort of Scarlet Pimpernel, without much in the way of religious connotations, and at least towards the end of his reign of terror (well, splendid irritation would be a better way to put it) he wasn’t one man but a couple of dozen. The insurgency probably prompted the imposition of a curfew and a lot more military activity in that area, together with highly visible stamping-down of any group brave/stupid enough to defy Roman rule; examples including Masada, for instance. After a few instances where “Jesus” turns up and the legionaries promptly and destructively search the entire area for him, anyone who pops up and shouts “I am Jesus” likely gets thumped from behind and quietly given a tour of the nearest midden.

    Only much later did Jesus get turned into a religious figure. It has been said that much of his life is fictional; I am beginning now to think that this isn’t all true. At the time someone got Christianity going, a load of pseudo-mystical garbage got tacked onto the life of Jesus to make him sound holy, pre-destined and so on. A lot of the life of Jesus sounds very contrived indeed; tack his birth onto that tax gathering fiasco that everyone remembers as history, add in some ‘wise’ men journeying towards an astrological conjunction, add on a convenient reason for a lack of a body and so on.

    But, all this confabulation has to be built around something. There has to be a core of true events to it, and what better than the time some bright spark kicked off an insurgency where every leader was called Jesus? Plenty of legend there, plenty of documented evidence, but never a true Jesus in sight at any time, because by the time Jesus was a legend in his own lifetime the actual bloke had either scarpered, or fallen foul of the Roman Army, but not actually been identified as “Jesus”, because he was never actually properly named that at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • eternalidol says:

      That’s a very interesting, credible and well-argued idea, Dan, so the scenario you describe is perfectly possible. At the same time, I’ve read a lot of detailed material dealing with crime over the years and there’s no doubt that some individuals possessed a chameleon-like quality that they were aware of and which they exploited for their own aims. I have in mind some notorious French armed robber of recent times, whose name eludes me for the moment, while there is also Charles Manson, whose appearance was said to vary to a remarkable degree. However, the one for whom I have some firm persuasive evidence that I can quote [from his Wiki page] is Ted Bundy, so whether or not you consider that Jesus possessed similar abilities, I’m sure you’ll find this brief extract intriguing if you’re not already aware of it:

      “Other significant obstacles for law enforcement were Bundy’s generic, essentially anonymous physical features,[278] and a curious chameleon-like ability to change his appearance almost at will.[279] Early on, police complained of the futility of showing his photograph to witnesses; he looked different in virtually every photo ever taken of him.[280] In person, “… his expression would so change his whole appearance that there were moments that you weren’t even sure you were looking at the same person,” said Stewart Hanson, Jr., the judge in the DaRonch trial. “He [was] really a changeling.”[281] Bundy was well aware of this unusual quality and he exploited it, using subtle modifications of facial hair or hairstyle to significantly alter his appearance as necessary.[282] He concealed his one distinctive identifying mark, a dark mole on his neck, with turtleneck shirts and sweaters.[283] Even his Volkswagen Beetle proved difficult to pin down; its color was variously described by witnesses as metallic or non-metallic, tan or bronze, light brown or dark brown.[284]”


  2. corvusrouge says:

    The term “shape shifting”, in the context of those times, would not have been a descriptor that would have caused anything of a surprise to lots of cultures. Certain shamans were known to “possess” this skill and right up to recent history, some certain tribal traditions identified certain individuals who would have been recognised for their ability to take on the persona of the prey animal in a hunt.
    I don’t disagree with Dr Dan’s ideas, but I also don’t believe that in the minds of the peoples of those times, the defined boundary between rational and superstition that we have today would have been prevelant with them. So whereas our modern logic can make suggestions as to the “reality” behind these sorts of pieces, I don’t believe such a boundary was present in the minds of the writers. I personally believe that to some of these writers (and bear in mind, a lot of these classical writings were, at best, second hand) their descriptors were symbiotically connected between this world and the other worlds and were designed to be read as such.

    Liked by 1 person

    • eternalidol says:

      In my haste to compose and publish this post, as well as the subsequent replies, I had forgotten about the shamanic tradition, so thank you for reminding me of this. As for the classical material, Ovid devoted an entire book to this subject, his memorable and enchanting Metamorphoses.


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