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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, May 18 2023

What did Jesus look like?

In the western world Jesus Christ is most often depicted as being taller than his disciples, lean, with flowing, light brown hair, fair skin with light-colored eyes. But can forensic scientists discover what Jesus looked like 2,000 years later?

by Gary Petty

Did Jesus Christ have long hair? Paul wrote it is shameful for a man to have long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14), and biblical evidence shows that Jesus looked like any other average Jewish man of His day. An article entitled “The Real Face Of Jesus” in the December 2002 issue of Popular Mechanics challenged this generally accepted idea of how Jesus looked."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."

Author Mike Fillon continues: "Using methods similar to those police have developed to solve crimes, British scientists, assisted by Israeli archeologists, have re-created what they believe is the most accurate image of the most famous face in history…." They concluded: "From analysis of skeletal remains, archeologists had firmly established that the average build of a Semite male at the time of Jesus was 5 ft. 1 in., with an average weight of 110 pounds.”

The Gospels indicate Jesus looked like any other Jew at that time. He was able to avoid an angry mob simply by mingling with the crowd, and Judas had to identify Him with a kiss. Also why would the Apostle Paul write it is shame for a man to have long hair if His Saviour wore His hair long? Where did the idea of Jesus with long hair originate?

For centuries some have believed that Jesus was under a Nazirite vow. According to Numbers 6:1-6 the person taking a Nazirite vow pledged to abstain from wine and grapes, to avoid touching a dead body and to not cut his or her hair until the end of the vow's duration. The Gospels record occasions when Jesus drank wine, which means He would have broken a Nazirite vow had He been under one. This misconception is based in part on scriptures calling Jesus a Nazarene, because He spent time in Nazareth, a region in Galilee, as a child (Matthew 2:23). Jesus was never under a Nazirite vow to abstain from wine or to wear His hair long.

The scientists and archaeologists who created the portrait of Jesus that appeared in Popular Mechanics may have been right in some details, but no one really knows the exact physical features of Jesus. The New Testament emphasizes His sinless life and moral teachings, but has almost nothing to say about what He looked like. The Apostle John was given a vision of what Jesus looks like today in His glorified form, describing Him as having hair "white like wool", "eyes like a flame of fire"  and to appear "like the sun shining in its strength" (Revelation 1:14 -16).

Just as we tend to create Jesus in our own image, we also tend to interpret His teachings by the standards of our own culture. Some people say that Jesus came to erase the law of God, although He plainly said, "... till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled"? (Matthew 5:18).

Others claim all you have to do is accept Jesus as Saviour to receive salvation. Yet Jesus taught, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:21-23).

Do we really understand what Jesus taught, or has it become a caricature like the pictures of Him in some Bibles based on errant tradition? Maybe it's time to dust off the Gospels and discover the real Jesus.