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Yeshua of Nazareth:

What did he look like?

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Which image looks more like Jesus?

    

In recent portrayals by Caucasian Christian artists, Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) has typically been shown with a light skin, a long "Presbyterian" nose, very long hair, and a height probably in excess of six feet. The face of Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus in the movie "The Passion of the Christ," is similar to many modern-day images of Jesus. He is shown in the right picture above. Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi, associate professor of world Christianity at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA, commented: "While Western imagery is dominant, in other parts of the world he is often shown as black, Arab or Hispanic." 3 However, these have been based on pure speculation by the artists.

There have been at least two recent attempts at predicting what Yeshua actually looked like:

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The center portrait above is based on the image on the Shroud of Turin, which is believed by some Christians to be the burial shroud of Jesus. It is of a man estimated to be 5' 11?" to 6' 2" tall. 1


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Starting with the assumption that Jesus resembled a typical peasant from 1st century CE Galilee, Richard Neave, a medical artist retired from the University of Manchester in England, and a team of researchers:

"... started with an Israeli skull dating back to the 1st century. They then used computer programs, clay, simulated skin and their knowledge about the Jewish people of the time to determine the shape of the face, and color of eyes and skin." 2


Mike Fillon followed the research and wrote an article about the portrait in "Popular Mechanics" magazine. 3 He said during a CNN interview that:

"There are very strong rabbinical laws in Israel that you cannot tamper with a skull or any bones, so they needed to reconstruct the skull. Using a cat scan, which is very common in hospitals, they were able to recreate the skull precisely and make a cast of it. Then they put small wooden pegs, based on anthropological data, to figure out what the muscle structure and the skin would look like, and so they layered that on using clay-like substances." 4

The result is shown in the left portrait above: a person with abroad peasant's face, dark olive skin, short curly hair and a prominent nose. His height would have been on the order of 5' 1"; he would have weighed about 110 pounds. Alison Galloway, professor of anthropology at the University of California in Santa Cruz , said that: "This [portrait] is probably a lot closer to the truth than the work of many great masters."

Jean Claude Gragard, used the left image in his documentary "Son of God," which was broadcast by the British Broadcasting Commission in 2001. He said:

"Using archaeological and anatomical science rather than artistic interpretation makes this the most accurate likeness ever created. It isn't the face of Jesus, because we're not working with the skull of Jesus, but it is the departure point for considering what Jesus would have looked like."

They guessed at the length of Jesus' hair on the basis of the reference by Paul that "If a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him." They speculate that Paul would not have written this if Jesus Christ had had long hair. However, that might not be a valid assumption. Jesus was referred to often in the Bible as "Rabbi." If he was an actual rabbi, he would definitely have followed Jewish law which forbade men from clipping the sides of their hair and their beards. Besides, there is no indication in the Bible that Paul actually met or saw Jesus.

Mike Fillon told CNN that:

"There is no way that we are saying this is the skull of Jesus...Christians believe...that Jesus' entire body was resurrected, so there would never be any bones or skull or DNA evidence of Jesus. Plus, his ministry was very, very short. So it would be hard to find a lot of evidence."

Some liberal theologians assume that Jesus was not resurrected. They assume that the Romans threw his body on a garbage heap to be eaten by scavengers. This was a near-universal practice for the victims of execution. Either way, the chances of finding any evidence is essentially nil.

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Which image is more likely?

Christians differ in their beliefs about Jesus' conception and life:

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Conservative Christians generally believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. They accept the statements in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. That is, Jesus' conception did not involve male sperm, This would imply that God either:
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Created an living embryo with a unique human DNA in one of Mary's fallopian tubes.

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Created special DNA which fertilized an ovum produced by Mary's body.

Thus, Jesus would have had DNA that was either 50% or 100% created uniquely by God. If so, then Jesus could have had any height, hair color, eye color, skin hue, style of nose, etc. He may or may not have resembled a typical Palestinian from 1st Century CE.

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Most liberal Christians assume that the virgin birth stories in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) are myths, and that Jesus was conceived as a result of normal sexual intercourse between a man and woman -- probably by Mary and Joseph. Thus, they would expect Jesus to have resembled a typical male of that era.

In his Popular Mechanics article, Mike Fillon argues that Jesus height, weight and facial features were probably close to the left portrait above. He wrote:

"In North America he is most often depicted as being taller than his disciples, lean, with long, flowing, light brown hair, fair skin and light-colored eyes. Familiar though this image may be, it is inherently flawed. A person with these features and physical bearing would have looked very different from everyone else in the region where Jesus lived and ministered. Surely the authors of the Bible would have mentioned so stark a contrast. On the contrary, according to the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane before the Crucifixion, Judas Iscariot had to indicate to the soldiers whom Jesus was because they could not tell him apart from his disciples."

References:

  1. "Tracts For Jesus," The Table of the Remnant, at: http://www.angelfire.com/rnb/
  2. Jeordan Legon, "From science and computers, a new face of Jesus," CNN, 2002-DEC-26, at: http://www.cnn.com/2002/TECH/science
  3. Mike Fillon, "The Real Face of Jesus," Popular Mechanics, 2002-DEC. Online at: http://popularmechanics.com/science
  4. Paula Zahn, "Interview with Mike Fillon," CNN American Morning, 2002-DEC-25, at: http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0212/25/ltm.07.html

Site navigation: Home page > Christianity > Christian personalities > Jesus > here

Copyright © 2002 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2012-APR-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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