What did Jesus look like?

You’re not the only one who is curious about how Jesus looked like. And when someone tells about an encounter with Jesus in a dream, often the first question is: ‘and how did He look like?’ Wouldn’t it be nice to have an idea how the man Jesus looked like?

Google search for Jesus

A quick search on Google is not very helpful since you’ll find often a tall, white guy with long, blondish hair and a stylish beard.

Google Image search results for Jesus
Google Image search results for Jesus

Art History

And in Art History, there is also a variety of ideas about this. Often the Jesus that is depicted looks like someone from your own geographical and cultural area. And from the classical period in art, it's a known phenomena painters actually used self-portraits or used important persons as the model to depict Jesus.

Portraits of Christ from the Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn
Portraits of Christ from the Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn

Depictions Of Jesus Around The World

It's interesting to see how different the depictions of Jesus Christ differ for different cultures. The recognizable image of a fully bearded Jesus with long hair emerged around 300 AD. But that depiction became only established later, somewhere around the 6th century in Eastern Christianity, and much later in the West.

 

Click on the pictures below to enlarge them en see the details...

Early Jesus depictions

In church depictions of Jesus are used already for centuries. These depictions also influenced the idea we have of what Jesus looked like. The earliest depictions of Jesus date to at least two centuries after he died, but this doesn’t make this image credible for when you’re trying to figure out how He actually looked like.

An image of Christ seated on a throne surrounded by his apostles can be seen in a burial chamber in the catacombs of St. Domitilla in Italy.
An image of Christ seated on a throne surrounded by his apostles can be seen in a burial chamber in the catacombs of St. Domitilla in Italy.

In the Bible is not much information about what Jesus may have looked like, where there is mentioned for instance that King David was a quite handsome man and also Moses, the man who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, is described as beautiful.

Mural painting from the catacomb of Commodilla. One of the first bearded images of Jesus, late 4th century

Mural painting from the catacomb of Commodilla (Rome). One of the first bearded images of Jesus, late 4th century

There are letters sent in the earliest days of the church where people are writing to Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is having an important role in the early years of the church. In one of the letters, the writers are expressing they want to meet with James, the leader in the church of Jerusalem. This James is the brother of Jesus and people say that his appearance is quite the same as the appearance was of Jesus.

Can we actually know how He looked like?

Not fully, but we have an idea of what an average Middle-Eastern man looked like in the period 2000 years ago. Lately, there’s research done in order to find an answer to the question of what Jesus could have looked like. Professor Joan Taylor, professor of Christin Origins and Second Temple Judaism (King’s College London) wrote a book about exactly this theme: ‘What Did Jesus Look Like’ (2018).

In the research Professor Taylor has done she has concluded the average man in the time of Jesus was around 1.70 meters tall. People in Israel and Egypt tended to have brown eyes, black hair, and olive-brown skin. This she concluded out of archeological remains, historical texts and depictions of people from that period of time.

A habit of people in Judea, Israel, was that people tended to their hair and beards reasonably short and well-combed, probably to keep the risk low of getting lice, which was quite an issue in that time. So, Taylor concluded, Jesus likely did the same.

Jesus is also described as a carpenter (which you can read in Matthew 13:55) and based on that you can imagine he would also have the muscular statue of a workman. Don't expect him to have a soft physique as a result of a soft life.

Painting by Cathy Fisher, showing shorter clothing and hair for Jesus, in accordance with the results from the research of Professor Taylor.
Painting by Cathy Fisher, showing shorter clothing and hair for Jesus, in accordance with the results from the research of Professor Taylor.

Galilean Man

For the BBC documentary ‘Son of God', forensic anthropologist Richard Neave created in 2001 a model of an average Galilean man.

This was done on the basis of an actual skull found in the region. Good to know he did not claim it was Jesus's face. It was simply meant to prompt people to consider Jesus as being a man of his time and place since we are never told he looked distinctive.

Does it matter?

It's a good question to ask if it does matter what Jesus looked like. The answer depends. Some people say you don't have to depict Jesus at all. They base that on the rule you can find in the Bible where it is forbidden to make an image of God.

Maybe this page helps you to get rid of preprogrammed ideas in your head. We all have our ideas, also about what Jesus looked like, but we're not always aware of where these ideas come from.

Enjoy the variety of ideas people have when they make an image of Jesus. There's beauty in the fact people try to depict him often in a way they see themselves or in the culture they understand.

In this way, you can connect with the man Jesus. And that's great. You know why? It's hard to understand who God is. The Bible tells that God sent his Son into the world. Jesus was one of us. And when one time the friends of Jesus ask him if he can show God, Jesus replies: 'Whoever has seen me has seen the Father' (John 14:9) where 'Father' is his way of talking about God.

So... Jesus is enough. He was one of us. He looked like us. But at the same time, He was so much more.

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