What Did Jesus Look Like?

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What Did Jesus Look Like?

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The title proclaims "The Real Face of Jesus" followed by "Advances in forensic science reveal the most famous face in history." This article, challenging the popular view of Jesus, didn't appear in a religious magazine, but was the lead story in the December 2002 issue of Popular Mechanics.

The article begins: "From the time Christian children settle into Sunday school classrooms, an image of Jesus Christ is etched into their minds. In North America he is most often depicted as being taller than his disciples, lean, with flowing, light brown hair, fair skin with light-colored eyes.

"Familiar though this image may be, it is inherently flawed. A person with these features and physical bearing would have looked very different from everyone else in the region where Jesus lived and ministered."

Can we know what Jesus really looked like? Classical European painters usually portray Him as tall and thin and with delicate, almost effeminate features. The Original African Heritage Edition of the King James Bible has a picture of Jesus looking like a man from Central Africa.

The image of Jesus in Popular Mechanics was based on information gathered by experts in forensic anthropology. Author Mike Fillon writes: "Using methods similar to those police have developed to solve crimes, British scientists, assisted by Israeli archeologists, have re-created what they believe is the most accurate image of the most famous face in history."

The summary of these men of science surprised many religious people. They concluded: "From 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 110 pounds. Since Jesus worked outdoors as a carpenter until he was about 30 years old, it is reasonable to assume he was more muscular and physically fit than westernized portraits suggest."

The Gospel writers record an account when Jesus avoided violence by an angry mob simply by mingling with the crowd. Judas had to identify Him with a kiss of betrayal. Obviously, these incidents show us that Jesus looked like any other Jew of His day.

Jesus and long hair

The scientists quoted in Popular Mechanics assert that the prevalent view of Jesus with flowing locks is also an inaccurate portrayal. It's also hard to understand why the apostle Paul would write in 1 Corinthians 11:14 that it's a shame for a man to have long hair if His Savior wore His hair long. Where did the idea of Jesus with long hair originate?

For centuries some have believed that Jesus was under a Nazirite vow. According to Numbers 6:1-6 the person taking a Nazirite vow pledged to abstain from wine and grapes, to avoid touching a dead body and to not cut his or her hair until the end of the vow's duration, when the hair had to be cut. But the Gospels record occasions when Jesus drank wine, which means He would have broken a Nazirite vow had He been under one.

The misconception is based in part on scriptures where He is called Jesus of Nazareth or a Nazarene. Nazareth is a region in Galilee where Jesus spent time as a child. We find an account of Jesus' early life recorded in Matthew 2:23: "And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, 'He shall be called a Nazarene.'" Jesus was a Nazarene, not a Nazirite. He was never under a vow to abstain from wine or to wear His hair long.

The scientists and archaeologists who created the portrait of Jesus that appeared in Popular Mechanics may have been right in some details, but no one really knows the exact physical features of Jesus. The New Testament emphasizes His sinless life and moral teachings, but has almost nothing to say about what He looked like.

The apostle John was given a vision of what Jesus looks like today in His glorified form. In Revelation 1 Jesus is said to have hair "white like wool," "eyes like a flame of fire" and to appear "like the sun shining in its strength" (Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:16).

What did Jesus teach?

We find Jesus portrayed by Europeans as European, by Africans as African, by Hispanics as Hispanic and by Asians as Asian. Does it really matter how a person visualizes Jesus? Does how you perceive Him affect the way you interpret His gospel?

Just as it is a proclivity of people to create Jesus in their own image, they tend to interpret His teachings by the standards of their culture. Statements like "take up your cross and follow Me" had penetrating impact on an audience of first-century Jews who often saw prisoners carrying crosses to their place of execution. Many of Jesus' teachings become profoundly clear when read in the context of the Jewish culture of almost 2,000 years ago.

Some people say that Jesus came to erase the law of God. Did you know that Jesus said, "... till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled"? (Matthew 5:18).

Others claim that all you have to do is accept Jesus as Savior to receive salvation. Yet Jesus taught, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:21-23).

By creating Jesus in our own image, have we misinterpreted what He taught? Do you really know the truth of Jesus' message, or has it become a caricature like the pictures in our Bibles based more on the appearance of the people making the picture or errant tradition than on Jesus Himself? And does He even want us to have representations of Himself anyway (Exodus 20:4-6)?

Maybe it's time to dust off the Gospels and discover the real Jesus.

You may find that not only did Jesus look different than many have believed, but His gospel contains truths from God most have never heard.

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