Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke Comic Figure, Sinner, and Included “Other”

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2020), 14, (2), 225–240.

Abstract

The article explores the representation of Zaccheus in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 19.1–10). The literary character, who is described as “short of stature” is interpreted in light of ancient Greco-Roman discourses on dwarfs and dwarfism. The article shows that Luke draws on a number of cultural notions about non-normative bodies in general and short people in particular in this episode. Zaccheus is a tax collector (and thus a collaborator with the Roman occupying forces) who behaves in an undignified and comical manner, in his attempt to see Jesus in the crowd. The story draws on the ancient literary trope of the dwarf as a comic figure. In addition to the comic effect that Zaccheus’s height is intended to elicit, there is also a moral aspect to his stature. According to ancient physiognomic ideas, looks revealed a person’s morality. Hence, Zaccheus’s bad morality, suggested by his position as a tax collector, is undergirded by his height. However, Luke flips the readers’ expectations when he subverts the literary tropes in the ending: the ostracized person is included in the in-group, and the physiognomic logic is thus thwarted.

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Solevåg, Anna Rebecca