Yeshua of Nazareth:
What did he look like?
Which image looks more like Jesus?
In recent portrayals by Caucasian Christian artists, Yeshua of Nazareth
(a.k.a. Jesus Christ) has typically been shown with a light skin, a long
"Presbyterian" nose, very long hair, and a height probably in excess of six feet.
The face of Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus in the movie "The Passion of the
Christ," is similar to many modern-day images of Jesus. He is shown in the right
Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi, associate professor of world Christianity at
Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA, commented: "While Western
imagery is dominant, in other parts of the world he is often shown as black,
Arab or Hispanic." 3 However, these have been based on
pure speculation by the artists.
There have been at least two recent attempts at predicting what
Yeshua actually looked like:
The center portrait above is based on the image on
the Shroud of Turin, which is believed by some Christians to
be the burial shroud of Jesus. It is of a man estimated to be 5' 11?" to 6' 2" tall.
Starting with the assumption that Jesus resembled a typical
peasant from 1st century CE Galilee, Richard Neave, a medical artist retired from the
University of Manchester in
England, and a team of researchers:
"... started with an Israeli skull dating back to the 1st century. They then used computer programs, clay, simulated skin and
their knowledge about the Jewish people of the time to determine the shape of
the face, and color of eyes and skin." 2
Mike Fillon followed the research and wrote an article about the portrait in "Popular Mechanics" magazine. 3
He said during a CNN interview that:
"There are very strong rabbinical laws
in Israel that you cannot tamper with a skull or any bones, so they needed to
reconstruct the skull. Using a cat scan, which is very common in hospitals, they
were able to recreate the skull precisely and make a cast of it. Then they put
small wooden pegs, based on anthropological data, to figure out what the muscle
structure and the skin would look like, and so they layered that on using
clay-like substances." 4
The result is
shown in the left portrait above: a person with abroad peasant's face, dark olive skin, short curly hair and a
prominent nose. His height would have been on the order of 5' 1"; he would have
weighed about 110 pounds. Alison Galloway, professor of anthropology at the
University of California in Santa Cruz , said that: "This [portrait] is
probably a lot closer to the truth than the work of many great masters."
Jean Claude Gragard,
used the left image in his documentary "Son of God," which was
broadcast by the British Broadcasting Commission in 2001. He said:
"Using archaeological and anatomical science rather than artistic interpretation
makes this the most accurate likeness ever created. It isn't the face of Jesus,
because we're not working with the skull of Jesus, but it is the departure point
for considering what Jesus would have looked like."
They guessed at the
length of Jesus' hair on the basis of the reference by Paul that "If a man has long
hair, it is a disgrace to him." They speculate that Paul would not have
written this if Jesus Christ had had long hair. However, that might not be a
valid assumption. Jesus was referred to often in the Bible as "Rabbi." If he was
an actual rabbi, he would definitely have followed Jewish law which forbade men
from clipping the sides of their hair and their beards. Besides, there is no
indication in the Bible that Paul actually met or saw Jesus.
Mike Fillon told CNN that:
"There is no way that we are saying this is the skull of Jesus...Christians believe...that Jesus' entire
body was resurrected, so there would never be any bones or skull or DNA evidence of
Jesus. Plus, his ministry was very, very short. So it would be hard to find a lot of evidence."
Some liberal theologians assume that Jesus was not resurrected. They assume that
the Romans threw his body on a garbage heap to be eaten by scavengers. This was
a near-universal practice for the victims of execution. Either way, the chances
of finding any evidence is essentially nil.
Which image is more likely?
Christians differ in their beliefs about Jesus' conception
Conservative Christians generally believe in the
inerrancy of the Bible. They accept the
statements in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that
Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. That is, Jesus' conception
did not involve male sperm, This would imply that God either:
Created an living embryo with a unique human DNA in one
of Mary's fallopian tubes.
Created special DNA which fertilized an ovum produced by
Thus, Jesus would have had DNA that was either 50% or 100%
created uniquely by God. If so, then Jesus could have had any height, hair
color, eye color, skin hue, style of nose, etc. He may or may not have
resembled a typical Palestinian from 1st Century CE.
Most liberal Christians assume that the virgin birth
stories in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) are myths, and that
Jesus was conceived as a result of normal sexual intercourse between a man
and woman -- probably by Mary and Joseph. Thus, they would expect Jesus to
have resembled a typical male of that era.
In his Popular Mechanics article, Mike Fillon argues that
Jesus height, weight and facial features were probably close to the left
portrait above. He wrote:
"In North America he is most often depicted as
being taller than his disciples, lean, with long, flowing, light brown hair,
fair skin and 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. Surely the authors of the Bible would have mentioned
so stark a contrast. On the contrary, according to the Gospel of Matthew,
when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane before the Crucifixion,
Judas Iscariot had to indicate to the soldiers whom Jesus was because they
could not tell him apart from his disciples."
"Tracts For Jesus," The Table of the Remnant, at:
Jeordan Legon, "From science and computers, a new face of Jesus," CNN,
Mike Fillon, "The Real Face of Jesus," Popular Mechanics,
2002-DEC. Online at:
Paula Zahn, "Interview with Mike Fillon," CNN American Morning,
Copyright © 2002 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2012-APR-23
Author: B.A. Robinson