Jesus Christ is one of the most painted figures in Western art. But what do we really know about his appearance?
Visions of Jesus
Two friends have seen visions of Jesus, one during a coma, the other in an awakened state. Their descriptions indicate that Jesus was surrounded by a very bright light and had white shining hair and clothing. He was seen to smile and have compassionate eyes. One friend, Matthew, said Jesus was much like what is described in the book of Revelation with bronze feet and hands. You can watch his full testimony at
A Testimony – Witnessing Jesus Face to Face – YouTube.
A description of my friend Timothy’s vision is described in
India Pilgrimage Yields Vision of Jesus.
Although, most of us will not see Jesus until we enter the pearly gates, Sarah Pruitt shares with us how history and archeology portray Jesus.
For centuries, the most common Western image of Jesus has been that of a bearded, fair-skinned man with long, wavy, light brown or blond hair and (often) blue eyes. But the Bible doesn’t describe Jesus physically, and all the evidence we have indicates he probably looked very different from this portrayal.
What Does the Bible Say About Jesus’ appearance?
The Bible says little about Christ’s physical appearance. Most of what we know about Jesus comes from the first four books of the New Testament, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Because Jesus was a Jewish man born in Bethlehem and raised in the town of Nazareth during the first century A.D., we can assume that he looked like a Jewish Galilean of that time.
We know Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry (Luke 3:23), but the Bible tells us virtually nothing about what he looked like―except that he didn’t stand out in any particular way. When Jesus was apprehended in the garden of Gethsemane before the Crucifixion (Matthew 26:47-56), Judas Iscariot had to point him out to the arresting soldiers, as he was indistinguishable from the disciples―presumably because they all appeared similar to each other.
For some scholars, Revelation 1:14-15 offers a clue that Jesus’s skin was a darker hue and that his hair was woolly in texture. The hairs of his head, it says, “were white as white wool, white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace.”
How Have Depictions of Jesus Changed Over the Centuries?
Some of the earliest known artistic representations of Jesus date to the mid-third century A.D., more than two centuries after his death. These are the paintings in the ancient catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome, first discovered some 400 years ago. Reflecting one of the most common images of Jesus at the time, the paintings depict Jesus as the Good Shepherd, a young, short-haired, beardless man with a lamb around his shoulders.
Another early portrait of Jesus was discovered in 2018 on the walls of a ruined church in southern Israel. Painted in the sixth century A.D., it is the earliest known image of Christ found in Israel, Though exposure to the sun over centuries has reduced the image found in the ancient village of Shivta to little more than faint outlines and smudges of color, discoverer and art historian Maayan-Fanar describe the image as a young man with “short curly hair, a prolonged face, large eyes and an elongated nose.” a depiction that was common to the eastern region of the Byzantine empire―especially in Egypt and the Syria-Palestine region―but disappeared from later Byzantine art.
The long-haired, bearded image of Jesus that emerged beginning in the fourth century A.D. was influenced heavily by representations of Greek and Roman gods, particularly the all-powerful Greek god Zeus. At that point, Jesus started to appear in a long robe, seated on a throne (such as in the fifth-century mosaic on the altar of the Santa Pudenziana church in Rome), sometimes with a halo surrounding his head.
“The point of these images was never to show Jesus as a man, but to make theological points about who Jesus was as Christ (King, Judge) and divine Son,” Joan Taylor, professor of Christian origins and second temple Judaism at King’s College London, wrote in The Irish Times. “They have evolved over time to the standard ‘Jesus’ we recognize.”
Of course, not all images of Jesus conform to the dominant image of him portrayed in Western art. In fact, many different cultures around the world have depicted him, visually at least, as one of their own. “Cultures tend to portray prominent religious figures to look like the dominant racial identity,” explains Robert Cargill, assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review.
What Is the Shroud of Turin?
Of the many possible relics related to Jesus that have surfaced over the centuries, one of the most well-known is the Shroud of Turin, which surfaced in 1354. Believers argued that Jesus was wrapped in the piece of linen after he was crucified, and that the shroud bears the clear image of his face. But many experts have dismissed the shroud as a fake, and the Vatican itself refers to it as an “icon” rather than a relic.
“The Shroud of Turin has been debunked on a couple of occasions as a medieval forgery,” says Cargill, “It’s part of a larger phenomenon that has been around since Jesus himself, of attempting to acquire and, if they can’t be acquired, to produce, objects that are part of Jesus’ body, life and ministry—for the purposes of either legitimizing his existence and the claims made about him, or in some cases, harnessing his miraculous powers.”
What Research and Science Tell Us About What Jesus Looked Like
In 2001, the retired medical artist Richard Neave led a team of Israeli and British forensic anthropologists and computer programmers in creating a new image of Jesus, based on an Israeli skull dating to the first century A.D., computer modeling and their knowledge of what Jewish people looked like at the time. Though no one claims it’s an exact reconstruction of what Jesus himself actually looked like, scholars consider this image—around five feet tall, with darker skin, dark eyes, and shorter, curlier hair—to be more accurate than many artistic depictions of the son of God.
In her 2018 book What Did Jesus Look Like?, Taylor used archaeological remains, historical texts and ancient Egyptian funerary art to conclude that, like most people in Judea and Egypt around the time, Jesus most likely had brown eyes, dark brown to black hair and olive-brown skin. He may have stood about 5-ft.-5-in. (166 cm) tall, the average man’s height at the time.
While Cargill agrees that these more recent images of Jesus—including darker, perhaps curlier hair, darker skin and dark eyes—probably come closer to the truth, he stresses that we can never really know exactly what Jesus looked like.
“What did Jewish Galileans look like 2,000 years ago?” he asks. “That’s the question. They probably didn’t have blue eyes and blond hair.”
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The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. (Rev 1:14-15)
The Ongoing Mystery of Jesus’s Face by Sarah Pruitt What Did Jesus Look Like? – HISTORY