Race and appearance of Jesus

A brief exchange in my previous post moves me to copy-and-paste the below paragraphs from a Wikipedia article with the same title of this entry.
 
Despite the lack of direct biblical or historical references, from the 2nd century onward various theories about the appearance of Jesus were advanced, but early on these focused more on his physical appearance than on race or ancestry. Larger arguments of this kind have been debated for centuries.
Justin Martyr argued for the genealogy of Jesus in the biological Davidic line from Mary, as well as from his non-biological father Joseph. But this only implies a general Jewish ancestry, acknowledged generally by authors.
The focus of many early sources was on Christ’s physical unattractiveness rather than his beauty. The 2nd century anti-Christian philosopher Celsus wrote that Jesus was ‘ugly and small’ and similar descriptions are presented in a number of other sources as discussed extensively by Eisler, who in turn often quotes from Dobschütz’ monumental Christusbilder. Tertullian states that Christ’s outward form was despised, that he had an ignoble appearance and the slander he suffered proved the ‘abject condition’ of his body.
According to Irenaeus he was a weak and inglorious man and in The Acts of Peter he is described as small and ugly to the ignorant. Andrew of Crete relates that Christ was bent or even crooked: and in The Acts of John he is described as bald-headed and small with no good looks.
As quoted by Eisler, both Hierosolymitanus and John of Damascus claim that ‘the Jew Josephus’ described Christ as having had connate eyebrows with goodly eyes and being long-faced, crooked and well-grown. In a letter of certain bishops to the Emperor Theophilus, Christ’s height is described as three cubits (four feet six), which was also the opinion of Ephrem Syrus (320–379 AD), ‘God took human form and appeared in the form of three human ells (cubits); he came down to us small of stature.’
Theodore of Mopsuhestia likewise claimed that the appearance of Christ was smaller than that of the children of Jacob (Israel). In the apocryphal Lentulus letter Christ is described as having had a reddish complexion, matching Muslim traditions in this respect. Christ’s prediction that he would be taunted ‘Physician, heal yourself’ may suggest that Christ was indeed physically deformed (‘crooked’ or hunch-backed) as claimed in the early Christian texts listed above. In fact, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Ambrose actually considered lack of physical attractiveness in Jesus as fulfilling the Messianic prophecy ‘Suffering Servant’ narrative of Isaiah 53.
A study on the 2001 BBC series Son of God attempted to determine what Jesus’ race and appearance may have been. Assuming Jesus to be a Galilean Semite, the study concluded in conjunction with Mark Goodacre that his skin would have been ‘olive-coloured’ and ‘swarthy’—these results were criticised by some media outlets for being ‘dismissive’ and ‘dumbed down’. However, this type of analysis suggests, that even though Caucasian, Jesus may not have fit into all modern definitions of whiteness in the Western world.
In academic studies, beyond generally agreeing that ‘Jesus was Jewish’, there are no contemporary depictions of Jesus that can be used to determine his appearance. It is argued that Jesus was of Middle Eastern descent because of the geographic location of the events described in the Gospels, and, among some modern Christian scholars, the genealogy ascribed to him.
For this reason, he has been portrayed as an olive-skinned individual typical of the Levant region. In 2001, a new attempt was made to discover what the true race and face of Jesus might have been. The study, sponsored by the BBC, France 3 and Discovery Channel, used one of three 1st-century Jewish skulls from a leading department of forensic science in Israel. A face was constructed using forensic anthropology by Richard Neave, a retired medical artist from the Unit of Art in Medicine at the University of Manchester.

The face that Neave constructed suggested that Jesus would have had a broad face and large nose, and differed significantly from the traditional depictions of Jesus in renaissance art. Additional information about Jesus’ skin colour and hair was provided by Mark Goodacre, a senior lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham. Using 3rd-century images from a synagogue—the earliest pictures of Jewish people—Goodacre proposed that Jesus’ skin colour would have been darker and swarthier than his traditional Western image.
He also suggested that he would have had short, curly hair and a short cropped beard. This is also confirmed in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, where Paul the Apostle states that it is ‘disgraceful’ for a man to have long hair. As Paul allegedly knew many of the disciples and members of Jesus’ family, it is unlikely that he would have written such a thing had Jesus had long hair.
Although not literally the face of Jesus, the result of the study determined that Jesus skin would have been more olive-coloured than white, and that he would have most likely looked like a typical Galilean Semite of his day. Among the points made was that the Bible records that Jesus’ disciple Judas had to point him out to those arresting him. The implied argument is that if Jesus’ physical appearance had differed markedly from his disciples, then he would have been relatively easy to identify. James H. Charlesworth states Jesus’ face was ‘most likely dark brown and sun-tanned’.

6 Replies on “Race and appearance of Jesus

  1. Artists suddenly depicting him as Aryan can either be because the Hellenic spirit had regained some vigour even among the Christians, or one could say that the artists were trying to appeal to this regained Hellenism.
    It could be that the statues of a very comely Virgin Mary and a quite handsome Jesus one occasionally finds in cathedrals were a sort of tactical move by the Vatican and other such scum to draw in millions of more Whites. This is known to work very well with children: Babies are said to spend a lot longer looking at a more masculine and handsome face than an unattractive one. That is how they draw in pre pubescent Whites towards their communions.

    1. Why do you assume such far-reaching malice? Wouldn’t it be more likely that they simply didn’t know and care what people of the Levant look like?
      Just like the Song of Roland mentions Saracen kings.
      P.S. Fun fact, the Song of Roland is taught in Ukrainian middle (aka high) school.
      @César This entry is absolutely brilliant! A bit unfortunate the Wikipedia page didn’t include the Richard Neave’s reconstruction attempt. I wonder why.

  2. It is as I wrote: “It’s funny how people who say they have seen Jesus can recognize him when no physical description of the man exists. No doubt they see a visage that looks something like this, but what are the chances?”
    Joseph was Jesus’ biological father. He was a Temple priest, so the idea of first century Christians was to remove his bloodline from the Temple’s oppositional hierarchy. This would have also shielded Joseph from Sanhedrin persecution. Remember, Jews go after not only their enemy, but the families as well.
    The clue is in the description of Joseph of Arimathea placing Jesus’ body in his family tomb. Joseph of Arimathea was described as a wealthy Temple priest, which is exactly what the case would have been by the end of Jesus’ life. Here is where knowledge of Jews and their first century religious culture is indispensable to understanding the Gospel story.
    First one must understand sepulchers were expensive to carve and own. The sepulcher was the mark of a wealthy Jew who could afford such luxuries. Of course most are well aware of the Jew’s niggardly nature.
    Next one must understand the clannish, in-group, nature of the Jews and the rigidity of their customs, especially their religious customs, well ingrained by the first century. Then there is the high regard Jews hold for sons, especially first born sons. Knowing these Jewish traits one can easily deduce there would have been no way a wealthy Temple priest would have buried a stranger in his expensive family tomb.
    As far as Jesus being an ugly, swarthy, hunch-backed dwarf. This is highly unlikely as Temple priests were noted for their physical stature. Like their sacrificial animals, priests had to be “unblemished” with no physical imperfections or unsightly appearances. A Temple priest would have had the pick of women, therefore there would have been no need to have an ugly wife or consort.
    My story has the Essene specifically choosing Mariam and grooming her to attract a Temple priest to ensure an indisputable bloodline for the priesthood. Jesus had to be a Temple priest to have the authority to question and rebuke Temple law not only among lay followers, but the kohanim as well.
    Now the club footed dwarf Goebbels might be another matter, or might Jews have lied about him as well?

    1. @ Arch Stanton,
      The above is a Wiki quote, not necessarily what I think.
      But what you think proves my point, and also the dictum among sceptical exegetes of the New Testament about anyone who writes a biography of Jesus: After reading ‘X Jesus Life’ we know more about the biographer’s cherished ideals than about the historical Jesus.
      In other words, you are still projecting noble ideals onto a figure whose historicity is uncertain. And if he existed, and was judged by Pilate, as he was Jewish you shouldn’t project Aryan ideals onto such a bloke.

      1. After all I have written about Jews, would one think I unjustly attribute such “noble ideas” to an “unworthy” Jew? One’s opinions do not alter facts. Note that Jesus had no interest in the “gentiles”, but was focused on Temple Jews. So where is the “nobility” in that? What I recognize and pay tribute to was Jesus taking on the legality of first century’s central bank known as the Temple and actually bringing it to the point of collapse. How many other historical characters can such an action be attributed to? The only one I can think of is Adolf Hitler. However, unlike Jesus, Hitler never came close to bringing down the Jews’ central bank, he merely threatened to expose its criminal nature.
        Here is an interesting fact. “Satan,” meaning “opposition,” and “Devil” or “Diablo” meaning “accuser/slanderer,” do not exist in the Old Testament. This is a late term creation of the Gospel writers. So why wasn’t there any oppositional slanderers in the Old Testament? Why was their no opposition to YHVH before the first century?
        The reason is because it was the Temple and its priests that became the opposition that accused and slandered Jesus. When one reads the story of the temptations of Jesus, it is obvious that the “Satan” in the story is a Temple priest trying to threaten, cajole and buy-off Jesus in the typical manner attributed to Jewish criminals.
        So where does Jesus wind up? At the top of the Temple! Then the scene seems to change, but in fact does not. The “mountain top” referred to in the story is in fact the location where the Temple was built. It is at this high point overlooking the “world,” which for first century Jews meant Jerusalem, where the priestly “Satan” offers Jesus everything the priests’ material world had to offer. However as it turns out, not every man has his price, as Jews are so fond of saying.