econintersect.com
       
  

FREE NEWSLETTER: Econintersect sends a nightly newsletter highlighting news events of the day, and providing a summary of new articles posted on the website. Econintersect will not sell or pass your email address to others per our privacy policy. You can cancel this subscription at any time by selecting the unsubscribing link in the footer of each email.



posted on 25 December 2015

What Did Jesus Really Look Like?

from The Conversation

-- this post authored by Meredith J C Warren, University of Sheffield

Currently making the news is a report on a reconstruction of what is being called Jesus's face. The reconstruction, by British anatomical artist Richard Neave, is actually more than a decade old, but it recently has started doing the rounds again - fitting given the time of year. Rather than intending to show precisely what Jesus might have looked like, the project sought to demonstrate what an average Judean in the first century of the Common Era might have looked like.

While this impression, of a dark-haired, brown-skinned, and brown-eyed man whose face appears weathered from a career of physical labour outside, is probably not identical to the appearance of the historical Jesus, it is likely a closer approximation than many of those that frequently appear in popular culture.

Jesus Christ Superstar's lead, Ted Neely, is a good example of the typical Western Jesus: long, blondish hair, pale, wrinkle-free skin, and a placid expression. But what evidence do we have to support any reconstruction of what the historical Jesus actually looked like?

An elusive face

A contemporary icon Christian Cable/flickr, CC BY

The question of what Jesus looked like is complicated by the absence of any description of his physical qualities in early Christian texts. This isn't because appearance in general wasn't important in antiquity; indeed, we have a description of the apostle Paul in a third century narrative about his work.

Acts of Paul and Thecla (2.3), an apocryphal story of Paul's influence on a virgin woman named Thecla, says that Paul was "a man little of stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining, and nose somewhat hooked, full of grace: for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel".

Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro Phil Whitehouse/flickr, CC BY

When Jesus does appear in literature, people seem not to be able to recognise him, even in the New Testament. The Gospel of John includes two examples. First, Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener when she goes looking for Jesus's body after his crucifixion; it is only when she hears his voice that she realises the man is Jesus.

Then, after his resurrection, Jesus meets his disciples as they are fishing. Again, they don't recognise him when they see him. One of the characteristics of Jesus in later Christian literature is that he appears to his followers in many different forms, for example in Acts of Peter (3.21), one of the first apocryphal Acts of the Apostles.

Have you seen this man?

The earliest pictures we have of Jesus come from frescoes painted on the walls of catacombs and carvings made to decorate stone coffins. These pictures generally come from the third century, about 200 years after Jesus's death, so none of them could have been done by an eyewitness to the living Jesus.

Church at Dura Europos, ca. 235 CE; depiction of Jesus healing the paralytic. Marsyas

This fresco, painted on the wall of a third-century church in Dura Europus, Syria, shows the story of Jesus healing the paralytic. While it is difficult to see facial details, this Jesus has short hair and is clean-shaven.

Jesus's appearance reveals quite a lot about how portraits of him begin to function in early Christian communities. Jesus is wearing a garment typical of Roman men: a tunic with pallium. Jesus is usually depicted, regardless of his facial features, as conforming to Roman expectations about how virtuous men appear.

Jennifer Awes Freeman writes more about how imperial iconography might be at play in the earliest depictions of Jesus in her article: "The Good Shepherd and the Enthroned Ruler: A Reconsideration of Imperial Iconography in the Early Church."

As the Christian churches grew and expanded, people began creating icons, images of holy men and women. These icons were not just decorations but were objects of veneration. The oldest surviving icon depicting Jesus comes from the sixth century CE (below). We can clearly see the emerging tradition of depicting Jesus as longer haired, pale-skinned, and bearded. Here he is also wearing the dark brown garment typically associated with monastic communities, illustrating the shifting values imbued in depictions of Jesus.

Christ the Saviour (Pantokrator), a sixth-century encaustic icon from Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai.

One of the main things we can take away from these early images of Jesus is that from the very earliest images, Jesus's appearance is imagined as matching up with societal expectations of what people ought to look like.

Normalising the extraordinary

It is no surprise that many contemporary depictions of Jesus show him as representing what is upheld by Western standards of "normative" (that is, culturally imposed and valued) male beauty. This goes equally for formal portraits displayed in places of worship and for the phenomenon of pareidolia, images of Christ (or other revered figures) that people claim "spontaneously appear" on everything from Marmite to tortillas and windows.

Our images of Jesus, then, say more about us as a society than about his historical appearance.

Is this him? James Shepard/flickr, CC BY

Will we ever know?

Finally, why do we keep asking the question, what did Jesus look like? As Michael Peppard notes in his article, "Was the Presence of Christ in Statues? The Challenge of Divine Media for a Jewish Roman God", the desire to know what Jesus looked like is far from uniquely a post-modern quest; in the 19th century, Flaubert's The Temptation of Saint Anthony, imagines Anthony himself yearning to be able to visualise his saviour.

Today, our images of Jesus more often reflect the diversity that has always been a part of our world; in turn, the high value our culture gives to the careful process of scientific discovery is part of why this reconstructed image of a first-century Jew has caught our collective attention.

The ConversationMeredith J C Warren, Lecturer in Biblical and Religious Studies, University of Sheffield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

>>>>> Scroll down to view and make comments <<<<<<

Click here for Historical News Post Listing










Make a Comment

Econintersect wants your comments, data and opinion on the articles posted.  As the internet is a "war zone" of trolls, hackers and spammers - Econintersect must balance its defences against ease of commenting.  We have joined with Livefyre to manage our comment streams.

To comment, using Livefyre just click the "Sign In" button at the top-left corner of the comment box below. You can create a commenting account using your favorite social network such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or Open ID - or open a Livefyre account using your email address.



You can also comment using Facebook directly using he comment block below.





Econintersect Contributors


search_box

Print this page or create a PDF file of this page
Print Friendly and PDF


The growing use of ad blocking software is creating a shortfall in covering our fixed expenses. Please consider a donation to Econintersect to allow continuing output of quality and balanced financial and economic news and analysis.


Take a look at what is going on inside of Econintersect.com
Main Home
Analysis Blog
The Expected Effects of Petitions to Improve the Monetary System
Energy and Falling Productivity
News Blog
Why Mosquitoes Bite Some People
September 2016 Texas Manufacturing Survey Improves Further Into Expansion.
August 2016 New Home Sales Decline On Lower Median Sales Prices.
U.S. Real Wage Growth: Fast Out Of The Starting Blocks - Part 1 Of 2
Who Works More Hours Per Week: Rich Or Poor Countries?
Infographic Of The Day: How The World's Most Iconic Logos Evolve Over Time
Early Headlines: Asia Stocks Down, Fed Wants Banks' Commodity Limits, Treasuries Being Sold, EZ Business Output Softens, France Contraction, Saudi's Boost Banks, Canada Tightens Borders For Chinese And More
Most Read Articles Last Week Ending 24 September
How Britain Owes Its Immigrants A Debt Of Gratitude
Super Mario, The Timeless Bestseller
Explainer: The Nine Swing States That Will Decide The Next US President
How Long Does Apple Support Older IPhone Models
What We Read Today 25 September 2016
Investing Blog
Monday Morning Call 26 September
We're Back Here We Started
Opinion Blog
Heading For A Fall? With Summer Over, Europe Must Face Up To Its Mounting Crises
What If We're In A Depression But Don't Know It?
Precious Metals Blog
War On Cash Turns To $20, $50, And $100 Bills
Live Markets
26Sep2016 Market Update: US Stock Indexes Lower, May Reach One Percentage Lower Before Close, Indicators Bearish
Amazon Books & More






.... and keep up with economic news using our dynamic economic newspapers with the largest international coverage on the internet
Asia / Pacific
Europe
Middle East / Africa
Americas
USA Government



Crowdfunding ....






























 navigate econintersect.com

Blogs

Analysis Blog
News Blog
Investing Blog
Opinion Blog
Precious Metals Blog
Markets Blog
Video of the Day
Weather

Newspapers

Asia / Pacific
Europe
Middle East / Africa
Americas
USA Government
     

RSS Feeds / Social Media

Combined Econintersect Feed
Google+
Facebook
Twitter
Digg

Free Newsletter

Marketplace - Books & More

Economic Forecast

Content Contribution

Contact

About

  Top Economics Site

Investing.com Contributor TalkMarkets Contributor Finance Blogs Free PageRank Checker Active Search Results Google+

This Web Page by Steven Hansen ---- Copyright 2010 - 2016 Econintersect LLC - all rights reserved