What Did Jesus Look Like?
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!
What a great topic Sr. Melannie! I smiled when I saw all the images of Jesus.
My favorite image is #4. It is the picture I use when I am doing my yoga. I was a bit surprised at the anthropological picture of Jesus but that one actually make sense. I think the image of Jesus that I chose says something more about my culture than what Jesus really looked like historically.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter what Jesus looks like. It matters how I live my life in light of the Gospel Jesus preached.
Great one! I think we white anglo saxon’s forget that Jesus was NOT white given the information you provided, and that he most likely looked like many from the middle east, i.e Iranian, Syrian, Jewish, etc. Image #1 brings back images of my grandparents home, which is where I first saw that. Image #3 looks like a “wimpy” Jesus, not a fan of that one! I really like #4, that’s probably the closest to what he may have actually looked like, and he looks normal.
Thanks Sr. Melannie, from your “old” high school student!!!!
I tend to like #4 the best because it was hanging on our living room wall growing up.
Have your read “Heaven is For Real?” about the little boy who went to heaven and tells his parents about it? His parents showed him pictures of Jesus and would ask “Is this what he looked like?” And he kept saying “No, no, not quite.” Finally one day they said they saw a program like 20/20 or Dateline where there was an interview of a young girl who would paint pictures of Jesus that she had in her mind (like visions I believe) and the little boy saw a picture she painted and he said “YES! That’s him!” I copied and pasted a website that shows the picture here http://riseagainstthemachine.com/2012/01/22/heaven-is-for-real/
All you have to do is Google “Heaven is for real Jesus Pic” and you’ll see it there too. 🙂
Thanks for another insightful reflection! We can get caught up in our view of the surface of a thing and miss the heart of the matter. Your reflection invites me to consider how I do this in so many areas of my life. As Kathleen writes above, the appearance of Jesus matters far less than how I live my life as his disciple. I’ll add that we need to strive to recognize Jesus in the many different ways he is present in our world today–and not just look for him in the places or forms or people where we expect to find him!
What an interesting topic. I have given this some thought, as a blue-eyed Jesus doesn’t make any sense. Who Jesus was/is, of course, is more important. Who hasn’t known someone who might not be the best-looking person around but becomes beautiful as you get to know that person.
One of my students one day made the comment in class, “Do you know that black people picture God as black?” I paused for a moment and responded, “Well, what do you think SHE looks like?” That left my student speechless and other students chuckling. God is reflected in each of us, right?
I am always bothered by depcitions of Mary. She is no beautiful young virgin to me, but a strong, older woman who bore the hardest of all exeriences in seeing her Son crucified. Teenagers are “game” for lots of strange experiences, but love is shown in the tough times.
We picture who we need our spirit guides and God to be. In the long run, I imagine that is just fine with them.
Thanks for the interesting topic, Melannie.
When I was a much younger artist, I tried many times to depict the face of the historical Jesus I thought I knew. After a while, I gave up, but I console myself with the thought that the Resurrected Jesus wasn’t recognizable even to some of his closest friends. I think now that Jesus has many different faces, depending on the time, culture and beliefs of the people who ask to see him.
For whatever reason, I am drawn to all of the images of Jesus. I don’t think that I look at the man, but what is in his heart. I try very hard to see all people in that capacity. The inner person is really what counts.
I love images 2 and 4. It really does not matter to me what Jesus looked like; I just hope I (my soul) looks good enough that I might see his beautiful face some day.
I like Image #4. It seems to be what I would picture Jesus to look like. He looks kind, and to be just a regular guy. I would not have a problem praying to that image of Jesus!
The first picture really took me back to my First Communion. I was given this picture as a holy card because the lighting on Jesus face forms a chalice on the side and a host on His forehead.
I am drawn to 2 because that smiling Jesus is how I picture him as Christ, my brother.
Thanks for your postings!
The Forensic Jesus, I’ve seen the image before but was not aware that this is what it is and why the image appears to be almost a sculpted bust and not a painting.
Interesting topic on how do you image Jesus. Just 2 days ago my daughter (majoring in English) and I were discussing character descriptions in books and then how they are illustrated in new genres like graphic novels, and also the choosing of actors for the character roles and how they are portrayed in movies.
When reading novels, it is nice to have a physical description of the character but not as important as the soul of that person that is unfolding in the story. Then I read today’s reflection and realize that I’ve never really tried to make a picture of Jesus (God & Mary too) in my mind because I know who he is in his heart. The spiritual/emotional connection is so much more important to me than what he visually looks like. And I have the hope of seeing him one day in Heaven!
Thank you for all your great reflections, Michelle
The forensic picture of Jesus startled me. He looked startled back. He did not look approachable either. So I go with #4 who looks approachable and dynamic although perhaps his hair was curlier and his skin was darker. Does it matter? How do we put skin to Jesus? You certainly raised a lot of questions about that. Thank you Sister Melannie.
Are you ever on the West Coast?
I have always been drawn to the image taken from the Shroud. I find the hesitancy of the Church to endorse the authenticity of the Shroud quite surprising. The amazing aspect of the Shroud is how the 3 dimensional image was cast upon it? A radiant burst of light consistent with the Resurrection seems a good explanation to me!
Long story short. When I first started looking at articles on the Web about the Shroud of Turin (Shroud of Christ) I ran across an article that had several pictures explaining how they had been made – starting with a picture of the original an then hoe the negative looked. Then after some computer work it was discovered that the image had certain 3D
capabilities and what it would look like cleaned up but still had the same image about it. Then I bought the book “Heaven Is For Real”. I looked at the picture named “Prince of Peace” that the little boy named Colton Burpo had picked out as the one picture that looked like Jesus who he was with in Heaven. I then later ran across a site that showed that the Shroud image and the painting “Prince of Peace” are the same person. See here:
If you combine the forensic picture with the inner beauty of the actual Christ, He would be not only approachable, but absolutely captivating. He would be mesmerizing, convicting, and fill you with a sense that the Divine is very near, unless you were closed to His power. It is much easier to paint a picture of a person’s physical features, than to capture the love in their eyes, the light of hope that shines in their smile, the power and authority of someone’s gait, the humility…. how can you capture this in a painting with pen and brush? Truly, only our imaginations can fully paint a picture in our hearts that comes close to what God in man could have looked like and capture His dynamic. Just as Mother Theresa was beautiful even in old age, I think Jesus was, is, and always will be beautiful regardless of His physical appearance, which was only a temporary body.
~At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.~1 Corinthians, 13:12
I LIKE IMAGE 2 AND 4. I THINK THEY LOOK MORE LIKE THE OUTDOOR LIFE THAT JESUS LIVED BUT YET THERE IS A GENTLENESS IN THE EYES. SINCE THE MIDDLEEAST IS SO MUCH ON THE NEWS WE SEE IMAGES OF THE MEN OVER THERE THAT LOOK LIKE THESE PICTURES. I NEVER CARED FOR THE MORE FEMININE IMAGES THAT YOU ALWAYS SEE OF JESUS.
I love the 4th image because it portrays Jesus as someone who is kind, who gives love and hope to everyone. To me it says Jesus is inviting not forcing us to love and serve him. This picture makes me feel at peace and it is telling me by his gentle look that God IS love, and therefore he is inside everyone who loves.
I firmly believe that the Shroud of Turin image and the painting by Akiane blends to a true “what does Jesus look like”.
I love image #1 and 2 Especially the forensic one. I don’t care what he looks like if you want to know the truth, the scar if ice he made for mankind is enough for me!