What Did Jesus Look Like?
We live in an increasingly media-and graphic-filled culture. The recently released iphone has a feature that provides two-way video phone calls. Even the name of the popular social networking site, Facebook, carries the priority of visual association and identification. Digital cameras and computer photo organization software can automatically sort photos using face recognition. We live in a graphically-connected era.
In going through some files recently I found a Popular Mechanics magazine article (December 2003) by Mike Fillon titled, “The Real Face of Jesus.” Although I am sure that at the time of publication I was just as shocked as now that Popular Mechanics would pursue such a subject matter, I read the article with curiosity. The magazine’s interest was due to the forensic anthropology and technology used by scientists in an attempt to determine what the biblical character Jesus Christ may have looked like. The article reports that medical artist Richard Neave secured three ancient skulls from areas near Jerusalem and arrived at a computer-generated composite of what a first-century Jewish male may have looked like, and Jesus falls into that category. This Sunday the History Channel will air a documentary also titled, “The Real Face of Jesus” in which scientists examine the Shroud of Turin, which is of disputable authenticity, and use computer-speculation to attempt to determine the facial characteristics of Jesus Christ. The conclusion will be that even with first-century raw material and advanced modern technology, we really do not know what Jesus, the most famous and influential person in authentically documented history looked like.
From the biblical timeline we know that Jesus was in his early 30’s when he began his public ministry. He most likely had a beard which would have been customary for men. These two qualities are found in most modern depictions of Jesus Christ. Then, his skin would likely have been a dark olive color due to sun exposure and normal Mediterranean pigment. Many scholars believe His hair was shorter rather than longer due to the apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 11:13. Isaiah’s prophecy (53:2) of the coming Messiah is that he would not be strikingly attractive or handsome: “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” Fillon records that: “From an analysis of skeletal remains, archeologists had firmly established that the average build of a Semite male at the time of Jesus was 5 ft. 1 in., with an average weight of about 110 pounds.” It is interesting that most of the above descriptions simply do not coincide with that which some modern artists have portrayed of the physical attributes of Jesus: European in complexion, light-colored hair, blue eyes and taller than those around Him. Evidently, with few biblical details given, God did not think it necessary to focus attention on the physical but on the spiritual and character details of Jesus.
The Bible teaches that Jesus rose bodily-alive from the dead (proving His deity and demonstrating God’s acceptance of His payment for mankind’s sin) and then ascended bodily into heaven from which He will return to physically gather to heaven those, both living and dead, who have trusted Him as Savior. That said, it is actually proper to refer to His physical qualities in the present tense rather than in the past tense since He is alive. 1 Timothy 3:16 says, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” In our age of multiplied images, Christians are eager to see Jesus face to face.