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  • Daniel Vargas

Stoicism and Bearded Religions

“It is in your own power to maintain the beauty of your soul or to be a decent human being” - Marcus Aurelius

Something that I found so interesting recently is the philosophy of religion and depiction of Gods that have influenced humanity. With today’s blog, I thought it would be interesting to have a look into what makes religion so impactful from the time of its creation to modern day. This is not to judge or critique religion as is, but simply to view its impact and how it can become impactful.

Let's start with what the stoics believed. As noted by Zeno, the creator of Stoicism, previously known as Zenonians, Stoics don't necessarily believe in a particular God. They more so believed in the law of the universe. What can be seen and understood, things that are within the bounds of logic and reason.

They did also understand that there are many things outside of our control and outside of our knowledge, this unknown nature was noted by some stoics as a form of God. In short, some stoics didn't believe in God while others noted that anything we cannot understand would be God.

Another way to look at their thought process would be Logos, Seneca wrote that logos is God, as it was written in the bible in Psalms that the universe moves to God’s law. This law being physics, things that we are bound to, like nature, universal reason, logos.

At the time of Stoicism rising in popularity, the religious climate had been boiling as many religions were fighting for power over one another. Each claiming to be the one true religion. Rome around the time of 300 AD was being challenged by Christianity and Catholicism. Many religions and philosophies being practiced were thrown to the wayside as many were deemed wrong or immoral. The power of the Catholic church was just too much for philosophical schools to bear at the time.

But there is something interesting that I noticed. Has anyone noticed how every religious figure has a beard? Have you wondered if religious figures would have been taken seriously if they didn't have a beard? Well it certainly represented wisdom and while it's definitely not true in today’s standards, we have to go back to the ancient times to understand the psychology of beards.

You see, old age more often than not represented wisdom because those men have lived a relatively long life, and living was not a cushy thing back then either. The type of physical labor, countless wars, I mean, they probably didn't have strong safety policies. Now, I’m sure they did, not trying to say they were less intelligent, but the technology was very limited. So accident prone deaths were crazy high. Not only that but illness took out a large majority of the population at the younger ages, and so on and so forth. I can talk about this forever but let's get back to why this represents wisdom.

Wisdom came from life experience, life experience is represented in beards, more wisdom is defined by the grey/white beard. If we look at the most popular religions, they all have beards. Odin from Nors mythology, Jesus from Christianity, Mohamad of Islam, the Greek and Roman Gods. Even the peoples that can’t grow full beards, they are still represented as having long goatees, mustaches, and long hair, sometimes dreaded, and sometimes long straight form. Overall, the length of the hair and beards represented a lot.

The religion that I found most interesting was Catholicism/Christianity, more specifically, Jesus. I bring up Jesus because he was one of the few people who were said to be the son of God, and a historical figure. You see, in the bible Jesus was not described as having a beard but he is portrayed this way in art. The earliest known drawings of Jesus were dated 200-300 after his death. The oldest painting being 235 C.E., this painting depicted him with a beard, but what about the oldest drawings?

Researchers and archeologists found drawings of Jesus on the walls of caves around in 2011 and oddly enough, Jesus did not have a beard. There is a drawing of Jesus depicting the story of him bringing back a man from the dead, and he had no beard. One could say, “well maybe that wasn't him?”, and while I’d also initially say that, but who else, in that region, around that time period was bringing people back from the dead? There is another drawing with him tending to the flock of sheep, this depiction specifically showing how Jesus went on to carry the sheep that was falling behind. This is a clear image of Jesus being a shepherd as the archetype would become an integral part of Christianity. Another image is a drawing of him walking on water! Again with no beard. From these images, we now can theorize that he had to be well into his 20s.

So where does the beard come into play? Well let's look at that time period after his death. The catholic church had spent many years trying to solidify the importance of Jesus as king of kings. The other existing religions around that time were that of Greek and Roman mythology being the most prevalent. So we have to think a bit, how would you get your God to topple the other Gods representing wisdom, power, and be known as the one true God?

Well, there would be a lot of political play, along with story telling, fear, wise words, and finally depictions. A picture is worth a thousand words so the image of Jesus needed to be able to compete with that of Greek and Roman Pantheon. Even after 200 years after his death, there were no clear depictions or clear writings of how Jesus looked. Finally, we can’t forget the culture in Greece and Rome, which was filled with Philosophers who were revered as some of the wisest people around. This is super important, but let's start with the Gods.

Picture Zeus, I’d imagine you thought of a large man who with a lightning bolt, probably ripped, and with white or grey hair. Some of the other Gods were depicted this way, in some iterations they didn't have a beard, like Ares or Hades. But Zeus is pretty standard. Zeus is also the leader and most powerful of the Olympians. If a growing religion would want to establish their religion, you have to appease to the masses as well. If we think of a culture that worships the Gods like Zeus, and someone brings up another God, Jesus, with no beard, modest and unknown, how likely would your God be accepted in that society?

Now picture the wisest people in this society, the Philosophers. I’d imagine you think of a modest man wearing a white tunic and cloak with a beard. So the society already had an idea of what was powerful to worship and what wisdom looked like. The Christians needed to get Jesus to essentially compete with their Gods to gain political power.

This is not my statement, many historians and archeologists theorize this. So with the existing image of the current Gods, historians believe the leaders of the Christin church drew up a new version of Jesus, having the beard as we know it today, olive skin like the Romans, wearing a tunic or cloak like the philosophers and the cherry on top, sitting on a throne like the Gods.

Now this last part is important because the Roman emperors were never depicted as sitting on thrones. Roman Emperors believed the only people worthy of sitting on a throne were the Gods themselves. If you look at ancient depictions of emperors, they are sitting on a sort of stool, it sort of looks like an ‘X’ shape.

With this new image of Jesus they were able to take up their large and growing following to Emperor Constantine to be granted state-level religious tolerance.Many events took place after Jesus was accepted by the masses and even by the emperors, to the point where advice was taken from the Christian church on political tactics.

Now I won’t go any deeper into the history after Jesus was granted acceptance into Roman culture, but it's interesting to see how impactful the image of a God really is and how this image has shaped society. It's almost respectable in terms of political tactics, and we are still seeing this personified today in modern media, modern culture and still accept it to be true when we look back at history.

This is ingrained in our minds, almost reminds me of the Stanford science experiment where students played the part of police officers and prisoners and they believed themselves to be this character because of what the uniforms represented. Our perception, however, should indeed be shaped not just by the image but more so by the wisdom and actions taken by an individual.

The final thing I would like to say is, when we look back to history in this way, questioning what we know today, It’s not rational to think that they thought like us, how our ancestors thought and why they thought are not entirely the same. This is not to compare intelligence levels but this understanding is important because they were born in a different time and much like we today will manipulate for power, they too did the same. History at the end of the day rhymes.

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