A 19th century painting depicting the Sermon on the Mount, by Carl Bloch

What Did Jesus Really Look Like?

Feb 12, 2018 by Alyssa Duvall

In her new book, Joan E. Taylor, professor of Christian origins and Second Temple Judaism at King's College in London, attempts to present what Jesus really looked like with inferences about his skin and hair color, height, and attire.

While Scripture does not give a physical description of Jesus, centuries of artistic images lead us to believe we think we know what he looks like, Taylor wrote for the Irish Times.

"The early depictions of Jesus that set the template for the way he continues to be depicted today were based on the image of an enthroned emperor and influenced by presentations of pagan gods. The long hair and beard are imported specifically from the iconography of the Graeco-Roman world. Some of the oldest surviving depictions of Jesus portray him as essentially a younger version of Jupiter, Neptune or Serapis."

She argues that these images were not meant to be literal representations of Christ and his actual physical appearance, "but to make theological points about who Jesus was as Christ (King, Judge) and divine Son," she adds.

Taylor consulted experts on ancient skeletons in Israel and learned that Judaeans of Jesus' time were closest biologically to today's Iraqi Jews: "In terms of a colour palette then, think dark-brown to black hair, deep brown eyes, olive-brown skin. Jesus would have been a man of Middle Eastern appearance. In terms of height, an average man of this time stood 166 cm (5 ft 5 in) tall."

As for what Jesus wore, an "extremely basic" tunic, called a chiton in Greek, would be the most likely item, she says in another article.

"Tunics were made of two pieces sewn at the shoulders and sides. One-piece tunics in first-century Judaea were normally thin undergarments or children's wear. We shouldn't think of contemporary underwear, but wearing a one-piece on its own was probably not good form."

"Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that Jesus was remembered as looking shabby by a scholar named Celsus, writing in the mid second century, in a treatise against the Christians. Celsus did his homework," Taylor added. "He interviewed people, and he – like us – was quite interested in what Jesus looked like."

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While forensic anthropologists have used various methods to attempt to create accurate renderings of Jesus, evangelist Billy Graham said that, one day, all Christians will know what their Lord looks like and urged them to avoid making images and idols in the meantime.

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