The popular belief that Jesus was a white guy with facial hair dressed in a white or cream robe is common amongst most people today. We think this because all of us have seen paintings characterizing depicting him like this. But is this true? Joan Taylor who is a historian and holds a professorship at Kings College has announced that she is in possession of proof that this is most definitely not what the King of Kings looked like.
Why do painters throughout history depict him like this?
If Jesus did not look like this during his lifetime why have the majority of painters adopted this look for him? As it turns out, the painters centuries ago made their living painting many different gods and as time went on and the Messiah became the most well-known of them, his painters attributed the same visage to him.
Out of Place Accessories
Today, historical experts have also taken note of the fact that many of the accessories he wore as well as the items he is painted with are not appropriate for the time. Think of paintings of Jesus with a halo above his head or longing on a heavily embossed royal chair. None of these additions to the painting makes sense. The investigations conducted by Joan Taylor have revealed that Jesus would in all likelihood have been a modest man with simple tastes.
What is Written in the Good Book?
There are always religious debates where opposing debaters argue furiously about is and is not in the Bible to prove their points. What it boils down to as regards to the Good Shepard’s appearance is that the Bible often mentions what he looked like. The hints left for us as written, mention that he was a nondescript man who did not stand out in a crowd. He pretty much looked like everyone else.
The Look of the Day
Apart from these vague descriptions, we cannot glean any other specific details of Christ’s appearance. In previous centuries, artists have used poetic license as well as the painting styles of the day to create a portrait. In some time periods, artists did not even stick to portraits; they painted in the style of the day which was symbolic only.
A Modest Person
Allegorical painters may have drawn Jesus in a pasture with a flock of sheep. Their point being that the redeemer was “the good Shepherd” or the shepherd of his people. A shepherd was considered an appropriate image for his followers to identify with. It must be noted however that these paintings were from the ancient Roman age and many were found in Rome which is far away from the Messiah’s actual homeland.
The Image is Set in Stone
The idea of Jesus as a bearded Caucasian was universally accepted by the middle ages. The depiction of him as the good shepherd fell y the wayside and the more recently accepted robed and long-haired, and bearded version has remained as the most popular version since then.
The historical painters could not find descriptive passages in the bible to guide them when they painted Jesus so as artists do, they used their imaginations coupled with their own ideal of their Messiah and related that to previous artworks already on a show to the populace to generate similar works.
Copying Other Artists
Artists with a more intricate and detailed method of painting used ideas drawn from old paintings depicting gods from ancient mythology. All of these paintings were similar in the way they depicted the main subject and the new artist tended to follow their ideals.
A Good Illustration
To give you an idea of what we mean, the sculpture of Zeus was made to show the mythological god as having long locks and facial hair which sounds familiar! The effigy is as awe-inspiring to us today as it was to the complex painters in the past and they too wanted the people viewing their artwork to feel the same.
I Look the Same!
Of course, it was not only the complex, intricate artists who were impressed by the “Zeus” imagery. If you look at the effigies that were cast for the egotistical Roman Emperor Augustus can see at a glance that he wanted to be depicted as a Zeus clone and his effigies look nothing like him.
Sort of the Same
The vain emperor had wanted to instruct the sculptor to alter a few details otherwise no one would recognize him when they viewed the finished effigy. After all, he had short hair and was clean-shaven but the people of the day were only interested in the whole byzantine package so the depiction of his hair and bead remained as shown on the Zeus statue.
Sitting on a Throne by Default
Historian Joan Taylor points out that Jesus would not have been likely to have ever sat on a throne and even though this was a popular way to depict him, it is not at all factual. What it does do however is illustrate the esteem in which he is held amongst his followers.
The New Appearance
In studying these artworks, it becomes obvious to historians that certain aspects of the original works have been altered to fit an evangelical theme. Aspects of paintings and other artworks have been altered. For example, a sword is repainted as a Bible, the central figure is repainted to be seen to be offering absolution to others, and so on.
Settling on a ‘Look’
Over time, people began expecting depictions of Jesus to look the same. As well as his facial features, he began to appear in a white robe. Occasionally he would have a halo floating above his head. Jean says this was because the populace wanted to be able to see Jesus as evangelical.
Catching the Eye
The result of painting him like this was to show Jesus as hallowed or divine. If you think of modern-day superheroes and old Roman and Greek gods, long hair is depicted regularly as a sign of strength, and today this holds the same connotations. The overall image of Jesus has become an analogy of those characters.
Not the Same
It has been noted by authorities on the subject that keeping the savior’s image similar throughout history has made it easy to pick him out of a group scene. He can be easily identified or picked out of a crowd of people based on the accepted look that has been attributed to him.
Proof of What He Really Looked Like?
Many centuries ago, the shroud of Turin, said to be Christ’s burial shroud, was found to have the clear image of the body it shrouded, imprinted on its cloth. This along with several other artifacts could provide more clues as to the real image of Jesus.
Some Historians Doubt the Evidence
A history lecturer in America has doubts about the veracity of the shroud. He stated that scams occurred even in the middle ages and were perpetrated then for the same reasons they are today. Fraud such as this one would also have religious consequences and could afford great spiritual power to the scammers.
So what did He really look like
Instead of relying on the medieval paintings, Joan and her colleagues studied other ancient relics such as old papyrus scrolls from Egypt and even the remains found in burial sites to convey exactly how a person living at the same time would have looked. This would be the best way to determine how Jesus looked at the time he was alive.
He Would Not Have Worn a Robe!
She and her colleagues started initially by determining what the average man of modest means would have worn on an average day. In those days, a person swaddled in any kind of cloak would have looked very out of place. Members of the clergy or royals may occasionally be seen in such attire, but it was not a common sight. The bible does mention John the Baptist as have an eclectic taste in clothing but does not mention this about Jesus.
What Did He Wear?
By studying ancient Egyptian scrolls and artwork the historian was able to determine exactly what type of clothing was worn by the average person at the time Jesus was alive. This was an accurate depiction of the type of clothing worn in those days by the common man.
The Length of Tunics in that Time
As she soon discovered, in those days, the average man did wear a tunic but it was never full length. All men in those days wore knee-length tunics that enabled them to perform their work and get around with ease. Anything longer would have not been practical.
Who Wore Robes Down to the Ground?
Joan discovered that there we different classes of people in those days and the upper-class sometimes wore full-length clocks or robes to show-off the fact that they did not need to work for a living and could, therefore, afford to wear garments that restricted their movements. This is another clue that Jesus never wore long robes. He was a poor man.
The Colour is Off…
So, Jesus would have worn the same as any other man of modest means, a knee-length tunic. But would it have been white as his robes are usually depicted in artworks? In the time we are investigating, there was no method for whitening fabric. Most of the tunics worn were made from plain wool. In fact, the Bible says that His clothes only became white and shiny when He transformed into a celestial being.
Another detail that is seen over and over in art-works depicting Christ is a blueish cape or veil draped over the robe worn by Jesus. Why it is often a shade of blue, there seems to be no explanation for its presence or its color and probably never existed, to begin with.
Depicted Pieces of Clothing
There are many, many artworks and movies depicting the crucifixion and in all of them Jesus is wearing a short tunic and a cape that historians think was probably a type of prayer garment rather than a traditional mantle. This was also a garment the one would have expected him to wear to his crucifixion so it likely was.
More Than One
Jesus may have had more than a couple of prayer shawls. The Bible refers to at least on when Jesus removes it to bathe the feet of his devotees and again refers to the shawl being present during prayer with the Messiah.
Joan Taylor determined what type of shoes Jesus would have been likely to wear based on relics discovered in the area He was known to have lived and from the same time-frame. Pieces of hiding fabric had been found, tied together to form a type of sandal, and Joan surmised that this must have been what Jesus would have worn as well to protect his feet.
At the end of the day, all of us would love to know exactly how He looked. To be able to gaze upon His face and know we were seeing an accurate likeness. The mummified remains found in Jesus’ homeland had both Grecian and Egyptian facial attributes.
Ironically it is artwork, specifically painting, that leads us to our final determination of the redeemer’s facial features. The painting on the Egyptian mummies shows the facial features of the deceased and these are the people who lived and died at the same time as Christ. This painting is considered the most accurate comparison.
The Best Piece of Evidence
There is another way that we can best determine what He looked like by examining another piece of conserved evidence that can be found in a very ancient synagogue. The item that could finally prove what He looked like, is found preserved in this magnificent old place of worship.
Clues from Moses
The mystery item that could end this debate once and for all is ironically not a depiction of Jesus but of Moses. How could this be the key to unlock the puzzle for us?
Peas in a Pod
Joan says that the painting of Moses is meant to be a prime example of how people who lived at the same time as Jesus imagined prophesiers of the latter-day to look. Moses is even wearing the same garments that we have determined Jesus would have worn as well.
It may jump out at you immediately….. Moses appears to have shorter locks and is clean-shaven. This fact does tie-up with historical facts of the day, however. When this portrait was commissioned, having long, flowing locks were only attributed to the feminine or divine.
Kudos to the Complex Painters
In all of her investigation, Joan Taylor has determined that the long-ago intricate and complex painters were spots on about the facial hair. Jesus and his followers traveled all the time and were unlikely to come across many salons. This is further borne out by the fact that Moses also has a beard in his portrait.