The Face of Jesus

Whose Jesus?” and “Which Jesus?” discussed the questions or problems one can encounter when people see Jesus differently. In both instances, the problem, as this writer saw it, was people seeking a persona in Jesus that they could accept or to which they could relate. A persona limited to the individual’s particular needs or concerns. Here, I want to focus on the burning question many seem to have, what did Jesus look like?

The question of Jesus’s physical appearance is nothing new. Anyone with a lick of sense knows it is unlikely Jesus was a fair-skinned, blue-eyed blond as some artists have imagined Him over the centuries. It is much more likely He was somewhat brown-skinned, dark-haired, and dark-eyed, but, in the words of a former Secretary of State and later presidential candidate, at this point, what difference does it make?

In reality, the exact physical appearance of Jesus is of less importance than what this writer ate for breakfast on my sixth birthday. Still, the question continues to be raised, with the most definitive answer in the minds of some coming from a picture created through the work of a medical artist.  This artist used forensic anthropology techniques to develop a likeness that some believe is “closer to the truth than the work of many great masters.”1

There is little doubt the picture developed through the use of forensic anthropology is a fair likeness of a Semite male from the time Jesus walked the earth. Yet, experts in the field acknowledge facial reconstruction is not an exact science. Sometimes, a reconstruction can resemble the deceased person very closely, and other times, it more closely resembles other work by that particular artist.

In this case, the reconstruction is based on some number of male skulls from the period. That means, the picture making the rounds allegedly depicting Jesus is simply a general representation of a man from that period, as interpreted by the artist. Therefore, it likely resembles Paul’s face, Peter’s face, John’s face, and possibly any number of Pharisees.

So, as stated earlier, what difference does it make? Does it really matter if Jesus was of average height for His time, around 5′ 1″ according to most sources, or nearer to 6′ as the Shroud of Turin seems to suggest. Does it really matter if He was dark complected with dark curly hair? The answer is still no. It does not matter in an eternal sense. What matters is why the questions continue to be raised.

This seems like such a strange little fixation in so many ways. One could write it off as simply the insatiable curiosity of humanity. Humans want to know things, and we want to know them so badly we will spend hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars, other people’s dollars in most cases, studying everything from the mating habits of garden snails to the possibility of cloning a Wooly Mammoth. Therefore, developing a more accurate picture of Jesus the man is simply another aspect of our curious nature. What if it’s not?

No! AnOldSinner is not heading off into the land of conspiracies. As the current political debacle in the United States clearly illustrates, it does not take a conspiracy to cause problems. When enough people believe something, feel something, or want something, conspiracies are unnecessary. Throw in social media, and conspiracies, in large part, become something in which our ancestors engaged.

Christianity has been under attack in many ways since the time of Jesus. Since the moment He stepped forward and proclaimed Himself to be one with the Father, His teachings have been under attack. Yes, in His time and in times since conspiracies have been involved in those attacks, but for the most part, the attacks were not conspiracies.2

Many Christians believe the opposition to Christianity is part of the war between good and evil. Others may believe it is simply man’s nature to question and rebel against authority. Still, others may believe there is no real opposition to Christianity, simply opposition to the way some people want to interpret Christianity. Whatever one believes about opposition to and persecution of Christianity, the debate over the physical appearance of Jesus is a concern at some level. It is a distraction at best. At worst, it is another way to attack Christianity.

Some might read those last two sentences and think they are a bit over the top. If that is how one feels, it is understandable, but possibly misguided. There are, according to a number of sources, in excess of 32,000 variations of Christianity in the world. Some sources claim there are 1,200 variations within the United States alone.

Each of those sects, denominations, orders, persuasions, whatever, started because someone questioned something about Christianity. In some cases, they questioned the understanding of what exactly Jesus was. In others, it might be the question of baptism. In others, it may be questions concerning who can lead the church, who can teach, who can be a member, who can serve as an elder, or when and how to take communion. And that is only a partial list of differences that have divided congregations, communities, and believers.

As anyone who has taken the time to read this blog in the past knows, I could go on, and on, and on. In this case, I’ll take a breath and get back to what I feel is the point of this piece. The question, what did Jesus look like, is not the problem. Certainly, people will be curious about His appearance. The problem is that it can play into the ongoing attack on the Bible and Christianity.

As a former skeptic, AnOldSinner knows how easy it is to attack the faith of many people. Simply using the rough statistics noted above gives one ammunition to challenge the faith of some people. Throwing in the argument that Christ was really a dark-skinned, short-haired guy instead of the majestic or tragic looking Caucasian portrayed in most Christian art opens the door to questioning other aspects of the faith.

After all, just how much did the Bible change during each of those translations, and manual reproductions of the Bible. Did Jesus really say, “I am the way?” Could it be possible He said, “I know the way,” and someone made a mistake or changed it to make Him more important?

The bottom line is this. What Jesus looked like is immaterial. What is important is who He was and is. After all, His body only existed for a few years. He has and will exist for eternity. Also, as the Bible teaches in more than one place, He could be recognizable or unrecognizable, as suited His purpose.

So, if someone brings up the question of Christ’s physical appearance on this earth, have your answer ready. Give him or her the only answer that makes sense, “At this point, what difference does it make?” Then, share what He means to you and His other followers, regardless of his height, weight, hair, eyes, or complexion.

1. Quote from a Popular Mechanics published in 2015.  A critique of the article is planned, but if you wish to see it earlier, search “The Real Face of Jesus.”
2. Admittedly, there were conspiracies within the opposition to Christ and Christianity, but the opposition to Christianity, and later between differing groups within the faith, were openly hostile.

© AnOldSinner – 2017

About S. Eric Jackson

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