Speaking in a historical context, perhaps it is time to ask what Jesus Christ really looked like? What color was his skin? Why is Jesus portrayed as having long hair, beard and white skin? Was the representation of Jesus always like that? Or has it changed over time? The answer may surprise you.

Classical representation of Jesus. Credit: Digeman

Most historians and biblical scholars strongly agree that Jesus of Nazareth was born in what is now the capital and largest city in northern Israel. In the New Testament, the city is described as the home of Jesus’ childhood, and as such, a Christian pilgrimage centre, with many sanctuaries commemorating biblical events. However, there is no scientific agreement on the appearance of Jesus; over the centuries he has been represented in many ways, giving free rein to artists.

But, despite its presumably Middle Eastern appearance, the subject was much controversial by many experts that Jesus was a white man. Also, and what does not help, in historical documents, we do not find a clear physical description, and turns more towards his divinity and power, rather than precisely describing his “mortal”appearance.

Most experts agree that in order to understand what Jesus might really have looked like, we should turn to the area where he was born and therefore it is believed that the ancient Jews were very much like their Middle Eastern neighbours, characterized by dark skin and hair. It is interesting to note that many of the early representations of Christ are illustrated in this way, where the artist emphasizes the origins of the Near East of Jesus Christ. However, over the years this has changed and the way Jesus was illustrated has changed radically.

Richard Neave, a scientist from the University of Manchester, spent much of his time trying to reconstruct the face of Jesus of Nazareth through forensic anthropology, one of the sub-disciplines of physical anthropology. This is not the first time that the professor has done this kind of work, he had already reconstructed the faces of other very popular historical figures, such as Philip II of Macedonia (father of Alexander the Great) and King Midas.

To make the image of Jesus more suitable to reality, the scientist relied on three well-preserved skulls from the first century of Israel. Neave used computed tomography (3d) to try to get every detail. This image was proposed in 2001 by British researchers as the true face of Jesus. Forensic anthropology admits that it is the most accurate to date.

Image proposed in 2001 by British researchers

We are used to seeing representations of Jesus of Nazareth showing him with brown hair, white skin, light eyes and a beard. But science now displays a very Caucasian aspect and claims that his skin color was black, he had a bigger nose and also, a much more corpulent appearance. As explained in the American magazine Popular Mechanics, scientists believe that this re-creation of Jesus could be the most accurate that has been done so far.

According to Alison Galloway, professor of anthropology at the University of California;

“It is probably more true for reality than the work of many great paint masters”.

So, if we know that Jesus was not white, why do we still portray him as a white man with brown hair and beard?

When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and religion spread throughout the Roman Empire, the classical representation of Jesus of Nazareth began to change: Roman artists then began to depict Jesus with long brown hair, beard and white, only to emphasize his connection with the peoples of the Roman Empire and Europe. Over the centuries, this tendency has spread throughout the continent and the world, where Jesus looked more like a man from Central Europe than a person born in Nazareth.

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Pière J. Robin
Creator of Hellystar, I am here to help you discover many exciting, extraordinary and sometimes very strange subjects.
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