Today we’re going to explore a fun question: What did Jesus look like? I think it’s a fun question because nobody knows the answer. After all, we have no snapshots and no painted portraits of Jesus. We have no DNA evidence either. (More about that later). Even the Gospels give us few clues as to what Jesus looked like. (More about that later too). So let’s take a look at two major speculations.
Let’s start with the Shroud of Turin. As some of you know, the Shroud of Turin is a large linen cloth (14.3 ft. x 3.7 ft.) that bears the image of a man who appears to have been crucified. Many people believe the image is that of Jesus. But recent radiocarbon dating puts the shroud in the Medieval period. But believers claim that researchers tested only the outer fringe of the shroud which was “repair work” to the original shroud. (Just so you know, the Catholic Church has neither formally endorsed nor formally rejected the Shroud of Turin.) What does the Shroud say Jesus looked like? The Shroud shows a man with a beard, mustache, and shoulder length hair that is parted in the middle. He is tall—between 5′ 7″ and 6′ 2″. The Shroud is the basis for many traditional images of Jesus.
But there’s another path we can take to try to answer the question: What did Jesus look like? And that is forensic anthropology. We tend to associate this science with criminal investigations. But it is also being used to reconstruct famous faces. As I mentioned before, we have no DNA from Jesus himself, but forensic anthropology uses other factors to determine what someone looked like: cultural and archeological data, genetics, human osteology, nutrition data, dentistry, and even climate adaptation. What can we learn from them? First, forensic anthropologists say the average Semite male in first Century Palestine was 5′ 1″ tall and weighed 110 pounds. If Jesus was a carpenter like Joseph, then he probably was more muscular than 110 pounds. Now these facts might surprise or even shock you. The first time I heard them, I found myself saying, “You mean I’m taller than Jesus?! I weigh more than Jesus?!” But we must remember, over the centuries better nutrition has added inches to our height and more pounds to our weight. I remember visiting some Medieval castles in Europe and, although I am only 5′ 5″, I had to stoop to get through some of the doorways.
What about skin tone and hair color? Forensic anthropology says Jesus would have been darker skinned than most paintings depict him. As a carpenter, he would have worked outside, so his skin was probably weather-beaten. He probably would have had short, dark hair that was a little curly. He definitely would have had dark eyes and not blue eyes as some paintings show. If Jesus had been 5′ 8″ with fair skin and blue eyes he would have stood out among his contemporaries. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas would not have said to the Roman soldiers, “The one I kiss is Jesus.” Instead he would have said, “Jesus is the tall one…the pale one…the blue-eyed one…You can’t miss him!” No, Jesus blended in with the people around him. The Incarnation was really an incarnation! With this background information, here is what Jesus may have looked like:
Gaze upon the image for a few moments? What do you think? How does the image make you feel?
A note: the scientist who came up with this image says this is not necessarily Jesus, but it is a depiction of an average male in Jesus’ time and place. The truth is, we tend to make Jesus into images our particular culture finds acceptable or beautiful or good. By doing this, we can lose sight of what Jesus actually looked like. Also, it is also good to remind ourselves that Jesus’ teachings and life are far more important than his outward physical appearance. The gospels don’t tell us how tall he was, but they do tell us he was amazingly approachable. They don’t tell us how he wore his hair, but they do tell us he spoke of a loving and forgiving God. The Gospels don’t tell us how much he weighed, but they do tell us he challenged his disciples to forgive each other, to share their goods, and to trust in God.
“What Did Jesus Look Like?” Here are a few more images of Jesus. Again, look at each one for a few moments…
Which images (if any) are you drawn to? Which (if any) are you not drawn to? What does your preference say about you?
Do you have a favorite image of Jesus? Does it matter to you what Jesus looked like?
I’d love to hear from you!