Short, bald … and full of grace

Statue of Saint Paul, on Saint Peter Square Ro...

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St. Paul – can’t you just imagine him? Intense, purposeful. A deep thinker. Single-minded. Matter-of-fact rather than jocular.At times touching and tearful, at times testy and defensive.

The apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla describes him as short, bald, bow-legged, with a large nose. Sounds rather prosaic to us, but some scholars argue the description was a compliment, indicating someone of character, someone of commanding presence.

I found two different translations of Thecla 1:7, which describes Paul, and it does seem to be an admiring portrait.

  • At length they saw a man coming (namely Paul), of a low stature, bald (or shaved) on the head, crooked thighs, handsome legs, hollow-eyed; had a crooked nose; full of grace; for sometimes he appeared as a man, sometimes he had the countenance of an angel.
  • At length they saw a man coming (namely Paul), of a small stature with meeting eyebrows, bald [or shaved] head, bow-legged, strongly built, hollow-eyed, with a large crooked nose; he was full of grace, for sometimes he appeared as a man, sometimes he had the countenance of an angel.

Here’s a link to an interesting research paper that addresses the subject. Start at page 161. https://beardocs.baylor.edu/bitstream/2104/5058/3/Chad_Hartsock_phd.pdf

The author suggests Thecla’s description is almost heroic. Bowed legs can be a sign of strength, particularly in the general or warrior.”To have curved legs shows that one is firmly planted on a strong foundation, demonstrating the desirable quality of one who is fearless and willing to stand his ground. Paul is certainly that.” (Page 169)

I wonder how he’d be described today. Type A personality? An Alpha male?

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One response to “Short, bald … and full of grace

  1. Could Paul have been a wrestler in his young, school days? Sounds like he had the build for that sport more than for track. Too bad football wasn’t around; the coliseum would have been a much happier place.

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