What did Jesus look like?

You are not the only one who is curious about what Jesus looked like. When someone talks about an encounter with Jesus in a dream, often the first question is, ‘What did He look like?’ It’s interesting how inclined we are to want a vivid picture of something in our minds to solidify it’s reality. “Seeing is believing” is a common expression. In the Bible we have recorded that Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen (me) and yet have believed.” (John 20:29 ESV) We are actually blessed when we believe in Jesus without seeing him! But that doesn’t mean we can’t picture him in our minds, it is only natural to use our God given imaginations. So where to start?

Google search for Jesus

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

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

Art history

In Art History, there is also a variety of ideas about this. Often the Jesus that is depicted looks like someone from the artists own geographical and cultural area. From the classical period in art, it’s a known phenomena painters actually used self-portraits or used important persons as the model to portray Jesus. So clearly that is not the best source to form our mental picture of him.

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

Images of Jesus around the world

It’s interesting to see how the depictions of Jesus Christ vary from culture to culture. The recognizable image of a fully bearded Jesus with long hair emerged around 300 AD. But that portrayal didn’t become fully established until later, somewhere around the 6th century in Eastern Christianity, and much later in the West.

Early Jesus Likenesses

In church, images of Jesus have been used for centuries. These have strongly influenced the idea we have of what Jesus looked like, whether or not we realize it. The earliest depictions of Jesus date to at least two centuries after he died, but this doesn’t make this images credible for when you’re trying to figure out what 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, there is not much information about what Jesus may have looked like. Where as, for instance, King David is described as quite a handsome man and also Moses. The man who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and wrote the first five books of the bible, was described as beautiful. The only thing we know is from a prophecy about Jesus that is in the book of Isaiah. We are told, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. ” Isaiah 53:2 (ESV)

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

Did Jesus look like His brother?

There are letters sent in the earliest days of the church where people are writing to Mary, the mother of Jesus, who has an important role in the early years of the church. In one of the letters, the writers express 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 was quite the same as the appearance of Jesus.

Can we actually know what Jesus looked like?

Not fully, but we have an idea of what an average Middle-Eastern man looked like in the period 2,000 years ago. Recently, research was 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 by Professor Taylor she concludes the average man in the time of Jesus was around 1.70 meters tall (or 5’6″). 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.

We know what customarily in Judea, Israel, men tended to keep their hair and beards reasonably short and well-combed, probably to lower the risk 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. He would have had a healthy mediterranean style diet, walked everywhere and was likely quite active in general.

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. He did not claim it was Jesus’ 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. This is helpful for us to strip away ideas we’ve inadvertently collected based on art, movie and even pop-culture caricatures and imagine Jesus based on historical and geographical context instead.

Model of a Galilean man by Richard Neave
Model of a Galilean man by Richard Neave

Does it Matter?

It’s a good question to ask if it does matter what Jesus looked like. Some people would argue that you shouldn’t try to create an image of Jesus at all. They base that on the rule you can find in the Bible where it is forbidden to make images of God.

Hopefully this page helps you to get rid of unintentionally assumed ideas in your head. We all have them when it comes to what Jesus looked like, but we’re not always aware of where these ideas come from.

We hope you enjoy wide variety of ideas people have when they try to capture the likeness of Jesus. There’s beauty in the fact people of often depict him in a way that 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 us that God sent his Son into the world. Jesus was one of us. When one of Jesus friends asked 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 is that all there is to Jesus? He was one of us. He looked like us. But at the same time, He was so much more.

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