Although Jesus is often depicted as a light-skinned man with long hair and a beard, the true face of the Son of God was likely very different.
The Bible says very little about the physical features of Jesus Christ. And for centuries after his death, possibly due to concerns about idolatry, artists did not create depictions of the Son of God. So what did Jesus look like?
According to famous Renaissance artists, the Christian Messiah had flowing hair and a long beard. He also had pale skin, as seen in Leonardo da Vinci The last supper or Michelangelo The last judgement.
But these iconic artistic depictions of Jesus bear no resemblance to a typical first-century Jewish man in the Roman province of Judea. Although we have no solid evidence of what Jesus’ real face looked like, it probably did not look like the paintings that hang in most Western churches today.
How Jesus Came to Be Depicted as a White Man
Generations of Western artists have depicted Jesus as a pale-skinned man with long brown hair and a beard. Some, like Warner Sallman in his painting “Head of Christ”, even depicted Jesus as a blond man with blue eyes. But the Son of God has not always been illustrated in this way.
The representation of Jesus has changed a lot over the centuries. The artists of the early paintings of Christ were not concerned with historical accuracy, but rather with symbolism. They wanted to portray his role as a savior, and they simply modeled him on the typical styles of the time.
An example of this is the facial hair of Jesus. Prior to the fourth century, images showed a clean-shaven Jesus. Then, around AD 400, artistic depictions of Jesus began to include a beard. Was the historical Jesus bearded or beardless? The oldest image of Christ does not enlighten much.
Only discovered in the 20th century, the fresco dates back to 235 CE Known as “The Healing of the Paralytic”, the image shows Jesus with short hair and no beard. But even this first depiction was created around 200 years after his death, making it difficult to confirm the accuracy of his appearance.
As seen in paintings dated after AD 400, Christian artists around the world then began to depict Jesus in their own image. In Ethiopia, depictions of Jesus had African features, while Indian Christians drew Jesus with South Asian features. Meanwhile, European artists continued this tradition, imagining Christ as a light-skinned man with European features.
And as European colonialism spread across the world, the European version of Jesus followed – and emerged in many countries. But according to most scientists and anthropologists, that’s not really what Jesus looked like.
How Modern Research Has Revealed a More Accurate Depiction of Jesus
New developments in forensic anthropology have given researchers a better idea of what Jesus really looked like. In 2001, Richard Neave, a British expert in forensic facial reconstruction, used modern science to recreate the face of a first-century Judean like Jesus.
Using a first-century Israeli skull, Neave and his team used computer programs, clay, and their knowledge of Jewish and Middle Eastern historical features to create a face that could hypothetically belong to a neighbor of Jesus – or perhaps even to Jesus. himself.
Neave’s work appeared in the BBC documentary series God’s Son, which chronicles the life of Jesus using scientific and historical evidence. Jean-Claude Bragard, the series’ producer, said of the recreation, “The use of archaeological and anatomical science rather than artistic interpretation makes this the most accurate likeness ever created.”
He continued, “It’s not the face of Jesus, because we’re not working with the skull of Jesus, but it’s the starting point for considering what Jesus would have looked like.”
Forensic reconstruction is nothing like the Jesus depicted in European art. Instead, it shows a man with tanned, olive skin. He has black, curly hair cut close to the head and a short beard.
While most men in the first century Levant shaved their faces, it is possible that Jesus had a beard. After all, he spent much of his time as a wandering preacher, which probably left him little time to groom himself. Still, the beard would likely have been short, as seen in Neave’s facial reconstruction. So where did the image of long, flowing locks come from?
In ancient times, many artists in Europe depicted Greek and Roman gods with long hair and beards. So when Christianity became the official religion of Rome, artists may have borrowed from these older historical artworks to show Jesus with long silky hair and a beard.
What did Jesus really look like?
In 2018, Joan Taylor, Professor of Early Christianity and Second Temple Judaism at King’s College London, published What did Jesus look like?, a historical study of the appearance of Christ. Drawing on textual and archaeological sources, Taylor suggests that Jesus was about 5 feet 5 inches tall – the average height seen in male skeletons from the same time and place.
Like others in Judea and Egypt, where Jesus briefly lived, the historical Jesus likely had black hair, tan skin, and brown eyes. (This image matches Neave’s forensic reconstruction.) As for his clothing, he would likely have worn a woolen tunic, probably with a cape, and sandals.
“I think what you would recognize as Jesus was just really someone who looked very poor,” Taylor explains.
Overall, most modern scholars agree that he would have looked like a first-century Jewish man. After all, the Letter to the Hebrews states: “It is clear that our Lord is descended from Judah.
Interestingly, historical texts from the era of Jesus record that the Egyptians could not visually identify the Jews. This strongly suggests that most Jewish men, including Jesus, did not look so radically different from Egyptians and Levantine men at this time.
Some experts also say Jesus probably wasn’t a particularly handsome man. The Bible emphasizes the “beautiful appearance” of figures like David and Moses. From this, Taylor concludes that if Jesus had been handsome, the gospel writers would have noted his appearance in the same way.
Taylor writes that Jesus, however, probably had a lean and muscular appearance thanks to his work as a carpenter and all the walking he did.
“Jesus was a physical man in terms of the work he came from,” Taylor said. Live Science. “He shouldn’t be portrayed as… someone who had a sweet life, and sometimes that’s the kind of image we get.”
We will probably never know exactly what Jesus looked like. But modern reconstructions based on forensic anthropology, archeology and historical texts are probably much closer than any artistic interpretation.
After learning the true face of Jesus Christ, read the true name of Jesus. Next, take a look at Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus.