As is too often the case in modern times, the run up to Christmas has prompted an attack on the Christian gospels from those determined to tarnish the relevance and value of its message. The usual questions concerning its moral relevance in today’s world have again been raised. Even the entertainment industry has seen fit to get in on the anti-Christian act, with comedy shows and movies of questionable taste.
In amongst the melee have been a swathe of articles currently disputing the stereotypical view of its figurehead Jesus. Was he in truth the long haired, pale skinned beauty of tradition, or did he look like a mundane and somehow more acceptably typical Jew? The Christian figurehead it seems is not majestic or splendid enough for modern politically correct sensibilities. A new graven image has to be created, cast from the decaying bones of Israel’s soil. An image more realistic, less impressive and even, it might be added, positively frightening in its aspect.
In this, however, it does not seem to matter that Christ’s philosophical message becomes eclipsed by more mundane concerns focused on the largely irrelevant hue of Jesus’ skin. The modern, somewhat sceptical mind, must be a veritable Doubting Thomas and seek only the historical reality. It should be satisfied only with empirical proof based on the “forensic” archaeological evidence. We can leave the message of Christ, his sublime Beatitudes and profound parables aside, therefore, and meditate only on the less compelling and less fantastic truth of his earthly physical aspect. Indeed we are encouraged to focus only on the fact of his dark and suggestively sinister visage, irrespective of whether this makes him less appealing, or even positively repellent. Any that find this objectionable are suspect and any criticism might even call into question their own racially biased prejudices in turn.
This then is the departure point from which Richard Neave has taken his work, accepting with good faith the evidence presented to him by Israeli archeologists. Scientists that seek to dispel the “myth” that the traditionally portrayed image is no more than a misconception, or worse an artistic fraud and a hoax, which must forever by dispelled if we are to be clear about the truth of Jesus’ real appearance and his darker more Judeo-semitic origins.
This concern for the truth, however, is neither impartial nor objective, but appears based on some comments to be driven itself by a degree of unwanted and rather unwelcomed prejudice in turn.
Here is a statement by one of the original researchers that Neave’s work was based on, that explains the justification for the project.
“In reconstructing this head, we are not claiming that this is exactly Jesus’ face, but we are trying to counteract all of those bad images of blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesuses running around in Hollywood productions.”
Joe Zias, Israeli archaeologist.
Since when was someone with such features “bad”? Why should any man with blond hair and blue eyes be considered any worse than one with dark eyes and a swarthy complexion? Besides the fact the Hellenised Good Shepherd should hardly be an object less worthy of veneration, even if historically he had the aspect of a darker haired heavy set brute, why is it necessary to discount out of turn the very real possibility that Jesus himself might indeed have resembled his more typically Hellenic portraits? After all, the Jesus in movies, artistic images and iconography is a traditional image passed down in an unbroken stream of artistic representation that spans two millennia. Why should this simply be discounted as bad, when it might indeed contain some semblance of the truth? A truth perhaps even passed down through the generations by word of mouth initially. It provides in any case an archetypal imago dei in its Christ figure replete with aesthetic persuasion fit for religious contemplation. Certainly the historical, so called racially accurate representation, does not provide or sustain any image of beauty that might facilitate or awaken the spark of religious faith, or awaken veneration in any potential wandering lambs that might first behold his face. Indeed it provokes quite the opposite reaction.
What then can we ascertain based on deductive reasoning and not simply from the so called “authentic” archaeological evidence of the three skulls used for this reconstruction? Semitic skulls chosen in an area that just so happened to be in the general vicinity of Jesus’ circumstantial place of birth?
First, the value of this evidence used in the reconstruction, provides only a very general profiling based on the various racial demographics in the region of Judea, a southern province of Palestine, at that time. Furthermore, it fails to consider Jesus’ possibly unorthodox parentage and the effect this might have had on his looks in turn, something in truth that can never been known without the actual skeletal remains.
Certainly we do not know more specifically which race exactly these sample skulls belonged to. The Roman protectorate of Judea, which incorporated Galilee in 44 BC, was a multicultural and multi racial kingdom inhabited by a not insubstantial number of different races and tribes including Romans, Judahites, Edomites, Cuthians, Sephervaim, Arabs and Nabateans. In this the impression given by Neave and others is that these skulls were of “Semitic” origin, although newspaper reports do not categorically state this and speak only of the geographic region. This then appears to be a claim that they were “Judean” in a more general Semitic sense, but even that claim does not necessarily mean they were specifically of Jewish origin, let alone Judean in the tribal sense just because the skulls were located in the geographic region of Judea. This more general claim, then, simply widens the scope of racial profiling to make the enterprise rather worthless. In any case, even if we are here dealing with specifically Judaeo-Semitic Jewish evidence, something that is never made clear, for the profiling of typicality to be more persuasive one feels a larger number of skulls would have been needed, and certainly more than three.
An alternative racial profiling can be assembled however based on a number of historical texts and sheer deduction as opposed to “authentic” archaeological evidence that cannot really be racially specific in any case, although again none of this provides a definitive picture of the actual physical appearance of Jesus itself. What then are the details?
According to the Christian testimony at least, Jesus was considered a Jew. Divine impregnation might well have had some undetermined influence on his physical aspect, but it would not really effect his Jewishness per se, as this was passed from his mother Mary’s side. Of his tribal lineage however more is specifically said, as he was considered to have been born of the House of David, and therefore of the tribe of Judah. But tribal affiliation in this respect is supposed to have been traced from the father’s side. For this to hold then, Joseph or some other man of the tribe of Judah, would have had to have been Jesus’ father to fulfil the scriptures. We can place to one side the Christian perspective that suggests here that God as the prime cause is the originator of all Judaic lineage.
Concerning Joseph, the gospels of Matthew and Luke both contain a genealogy of Jesus showing ancestry from King David via Joseph, but through different sons. Matthew follows the major royal line from Solomon, while Luke traces another line back to Nathan, another son of David and Bathsheba. Consequently all the names between David and Joseph are different in the two accounts, but both are of the same House. According to Matthew 1:16, “Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary”, while according to Luke 3:23, Joseph is said to be “[the son] of Heli”.
Considering Mary we can be certain she had some influence on the physical characteristics of Jesus. We certainly know she was Jewish. Her family lineage, however, offers two possibilities as to her tribe being either of Levite or Judah. We know Mary’s mother was a Levite, the sister of Elizabeth’s father, her cousin, was also a Levite. But whatever the tribal relationship between the mothers of Mary and Elizabeth, that would not necessarily make Mary a Levite, if tribal affiliation was traced through the male line. Since Mary’s father was of the tribe of Judah, however, Mary was also considered of this tribe.
The Levite distinction in respect to Jesus is pertinent only in respect to the claim that the physical characteristics of each tribe may well have been sufficiently preserved at that time to have distinguished his mother’s physical characteristics, dependent on which side of the family she favoured. The details, extent and specifics of this however cannot be known.
Generally then, based on these details, we can assume little more than what Neave, Zias, et al. apparently have: namely that racially Jesus was “Semitic” or more specifically Judaeo-Semitic. If we accept Joseph as his father we can make the further claim that his lineage was of the tribe of Judah. This tribal lineage being further strengthened not just in respect to his adopted “father’s” side, but in respect to his mother’s blood line also.
This tribal profile however proves little in respect to Jesus’ actual physical characteristics, other than that it can be more strongly assumed Jesus was Judaeo-Semitic. Little more can be learned from his tribal lineage without knowing the variety of physical distinctions and facial characteristics of the various tribes now diffuse. Furthermore, any influence on Jesus would have to accept that his adopted father was an actual parent, or some other father of the tribe of Judah was, but this evidence too is by no means clear cut.
These vagaries aside, the region of the selection for the skulls is fraught with weakness. For Jesus wasn’t simply conceived in Judea, he was more precisely conceived in Galilee. Neither was he just the offspring of Mary and Joseph. This broad claim can be made based on all the writings, circumstantial evidence and faith based beliefs, irrespective of their differing claims as to his true father, but it also leaves open the possibility that Jesus may have been sired, if not by the Holy Spirit, then at least by one of any possible number of “outside” races that inhabited the region of Galilee.
Even Galilean Jews were thought of as “outsiders” during Jesus’ time, in a distinct northern geographic region that yet came under Roman jurisdiction.** The demographic population of Galilee (like the southern province of Judea) was again composed of distinct and diverse elements: Aramaean, Iturean, Phoenician, Samaritan, Greek and of course Roman. Galilean Jews, furthermore, did not adhere to the stricter orthodoxy characteristic of the southern Jewish “Judeans”. Their differences were accentuated too in respect to their speech. A trait which distinguished them from their typically more sophisticated Jerusalem centred Judean brethren in the South, who regarded Galilee and the Galilean Jews generally with a certain aloof contempt.
What we can deduce is that this Galilean was not claimed to be conceived according to his Mother, or by his disciples and apostles, in wedlock, or out of wedlock, to Joseph of Nazareth, the Galileean Jew of the Tribe of Judah. Indeed, gIven the racial diversity of Galilee then, of which Nazareth was a part, any one of a number of different ethnicities could have fathered Jesus. Logically then, one need not necessarily presume that Jesus was a typical Judean Jew. Indeed, putting divine impregnation aside, considering the mixed races in the region, Jesus might even have favoured the features of a Roman, Greek, Phoenician, etc, or some other non Jewish racial mix characteristic of his real biological father that inhabited the region of Galilee at that time. Whilst Mary’s Jewish Judean or Levite lineage, dependent on which tribe she too favoured (either on her father’s or mother’s side) also provided an influence.
The Talmud provides an alternative, albeit contrary account to the Gospels, of Jesus’ possible parentage. The text is divided into two parts, the Mishna and the Gemara. The first discusses such subjects as festivals and sacred things. The Gemara provides a commentary on these subjects. When the Talmud was written is not known precisely. Some authorities suggest a date of 150-160, around the same time the Christian Gospels began to emerge, while others say 450.
Whilst references to Jesus might not be historical, but written in an attempt to disparage the growing cult of Christianity, Jesus’ name is still referred to twenty times. So too it quite specifically documents that he was born an illegitimate son of a Roman soldier called Pantera, nicknamed the “Panther”. The existence of Pantera, or at least the use of the name, was confirmed by the discovery of a mysterious tombstone at Bingerbrück in Germany. The engraving etched in the headstone read:
“Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera from Sidon, aged 62 years served 40 years, former standard bearer of the first cohort of archers lies here.”
Pantera’s tombstone tells us that he was from Sidonia, now called Sidon, which is slightly north of Judea, which makes it feasible for him to have had sex with Mary or Miriam as she might have been known. His tombstone further tells us that he was a member of the First Cohort of Archers, which were originally based in Palestine at the necessary time in question. In 6 CE they moved to Dalmatia, and then to the Rhine in 9 CE. Since Jesus’ conception occurred roughly around 6 BCE, Pantera was in the right region at the right time. The likelihood of it being this specific Pantera , however, is lessened by it being a commonly used name amongst Romans of a certain class. However the likelihood of Roman parentage by another Pantera, and therefore non Judeo-Semitic parent, is not really lessened due to this.
Clearly based on the Talmudic account, Jesus was not even Judean in the tribal sense, but an illegitimate child born in sin out of wedlock. His physical characteristics therefore may have been Roman if he had favoured his father, or Judean or Levite if he had favoured his mother in physical appearance, or some aspect incorporating both.***
Whilst the Talmudic claims may be false and designed to slur and repress a growing unorthodox and seemingly blasphemous cult, it provides a rich source and loosely matches the time period of the Gospels. Can any information in the New Testament dispel these charges?
Certainly the Gospels concern is to emphasise Jesus’ Judean lineage as belonging to the House of David, tracing the lineage to Joseph, whilst contrarily they do not dispel the story of divine impregnation. This is a well known claim. So too, Jesus’ physical appearance is not specifically stated to support any notion of a divine characteristic effecting his physical appearance generally in a way that would mark him out as miraculous, divine or celestial in origin, let alone quintessentially Judean as befitting his tribe. However neither can it be discounted, and a number of apocryphal, but nevertheless interesting historical sources, give some descriptions that do suggest he may not have been entirely of purely Judean or more broadly Jewish (let alone Semitic) origin. At the least his appearance in these sources is conveyed as not being typically Judaeo-Semitic.
The strength of such testimony provides a surprisingly consistent picture of Jesus’ appearance. It also provides evidence that the portrayal of Jesus’ as a tall, pale eyed, fair skinned, long haired, noble figure need not necessarily be viewed simply as the prejudices of European ethnocentricism. Graven images and accounts of Jesus in Egypt, Jordan and the Indian sub continent have also portrayed many of these physical features throughout the centuries. The Hassan Saida book perhaps representing the earliest image of Jesus.
Publius Lentullus, Governor of Judea a Roman Consul during the reign of Augustus (27 BC-14 AD), supposedly wrote the following epistle to the Senate concerning the Nazarene called Jesus; although stylistic discrepancies mark it out as apocryphal and not of the kind required to be written by Roman officials under the jurisdiction of either Tiberius or Augustus during Jesus’ time.
“There appeared in these our days a man, of the Jewish Nation, of great virtue, named Yeshua [Jesus], who is yet living among us, and of the Gentiles is accepted for a Prophet of truth, but His own disciples call Him the Son of God- He raiseth the dead and cureth all manner of diseases. A man of stature somewhat tall, and comely, with very reverent countenance, such as the beholders may both love and fear, his hair of (the colour of) the chestnut, full ripe, plain to His ears, whence downwards it is more orient and curling and wavering about His shoulders. In the midst of His head is a seam or partition in His hair, after the manner of the Nazarenes. His forehead plain and very delicate; His face without spot or wrinkle, beautified with a lovely red; His nose and mouth so formed as nothing can be reprehended; His beard thickish, in colour like His hair, not very long, but forked; His look innocent and mature; His eyes grey, clear, and quick- In reproving hypocrisy He is terrible; in admonishing, courteous and fair spoken; pleasant in conversation, mixed with gravity. It cannot be remembered that any have seen Him Laugh, but many have seen Him Weep. In proportion of body, most excellent; His hands and arms delicate to behold. In speaking, very temperate, modest, and wise. A man, for His singular beauty, surpassing the children of men.”
Another letter from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar, describing the physical appearance of Jesus, also gives information. Copies are in the Congressional Library in Washington, D.C.
“TO TIBERIUS CAESAR:
A young man appeared in Galilee preaching with humble unction, a new law in the Name of the God that had sent Him. At first I was apprehensive that His design was to stir up the people against the Romans, but my fears were soon dispelled. Jesus of Nazareth spoke rather as a friend of the Romans than of the Jews. One day I observed in the midst of a group of people a young man who was leaning against a tree, calmly addressing the multitude. I was told it was Jesus. This I could easily have suspected so great was the difference between Him and those who were listening to Him. His golden colored hair and beard gave to his appearance a celestial aspect. He appeared to be about 30 years of age. Never have I seen a sweeter or more serene countenance. What a contrast between Him and His bearers with their black beards and tawny complexions! Unwilling to interrupt Him by my presence, I continued my walk but signified to my secretary to join the group and listen. Later, my secretary reported that never had he seen in the works of all the philosophers anything that compared to the teachings of Jesus. He told me that Jesus was neither seditious nor rebellious, so we extended to Him our protection. He was at liberty to act, to speak, to assemble and to address the people. This unlimited freedom provoked the Jews — not the poor but the rich and powerful.
Later, I wrote to Jesus requesting an interview with Him at the Praetorium. He came. When the Nazarene made His appearance I was having my morning walk and as I faced Him my feet seemed fastened with an iron hand to the marble pavement and I trembled in every limb as a guilty culprit, though he was calm. For some time I stood admiring this extraordinary Man. There was nothing in Him that was repelling, nor in His character, yet I felt awed in His presence…”
Old Testament references about a coming Messiah (whom Christians believe to be Jesus) have been projected forward to form conjectures about the appearance of Jesus on theological, rather than historical or archaeo-forensic grounds. In Isaiah 53:2 for example the scourged Messiah appears to be a man with “no beauty that we should desire him”, whilst Psalm 45:2-3 describes him as “fairer than the children of men”. Lamentation 4:7 speaks of a contrary mix of physical attributes hardly less conclusive:
“Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more swarthy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire: Their visage is blacker than coal;” as referring to facial skin color. Whilst 1 Samuel 16:12 describes David, the ancestor of Jesus, as having “beautiful eyes” or “fair countenance.”
None of these prophecies of the future Messiah however relate to Jesus as far as Orthodox Jews are concerned and neither do they provide proof or evidence of Jesus’ physical attributes as they were in actuality. However, he might have needed, or have been expected to have fulfilled the requirements of at least some of these contrary attributes nevertheless, should the claim of Messiah have been taken seriously. The descriptions however are so broad or vague in their requirements that any one of any number of individuals could have successfully staked a claim to have been the Messiah and invariably did.
Quranic and Hadith traditions such as Sahih Bukhari, as well as Tafsir, have given an oral depiction of what Jesus looked like, although some small details in the accounts don’t match. Such as the claim that Jesus had both curly and straight-hair. The Hadith refer to Muhammad’s account of the Night Journey, when he was supposedly taken up to heaven by the angel Gabriel and witnessed Jesus as a Prophet who “…had curly hair and a reddish complexion”. Others say his face was flushed “a reddish man with many freckles on his face as if he had just come from a bath”.
It should be noted here that the Greeks called the Edomites the “Idumea” or “red” people. Esau of Edom was described as having a red skin tone in Genesis 25:25. He was also described as hairy.Esau was the name of at least two Edomite rulers. In this genealogy Isaac’s sons were not Jews, but Horites like their father and grandfather Abraham. That is why Esau the Elder married into the line associated with Seir the Horite (Gen. 36) and why Jacob married into the Horite line of Na-Hor. Edomites were at least one race which inhabited Judea during Jesus’ time.
In another account (from Bukhari) Jesus is seen in a dream near the Kaaba, as “a man of a wheatish complexion with straight hair. I asked who it was. They said: This is the Messiah, son of Mary” However, other narrations give variations in the color. Salim ibn Abd-Allah reported that the prophet “did not say that Jesus was of red complexion”, rather he was “a man of brown complexion and lank hair”. In contrast Abd Allah ibn Abbas asserted that Jesus was of “moderate complexion inclined to the red and white colors and of lank hair.”
Such disparities have been explained in various ways to emphasise the different assertions about race. For example, Ana Echevarría notes that medieval Spanish writer Jimenez de Rada in his Historia Arabum chose a particular version to highlight a belief that Jesus was whiter than Muhammad, quoting the Ibn Abbas version: “I saw Jesus, a man of medium height and moderate complexion inclined to the red and white colours and of lank hair”. Echevarría comments that “Moses and Jesus are portrayed as specimens of a completely different ‘ethnic type’, fair and blond; ‘ethnic’ or ‘racial’ differences between them and Muhammad are thus highlighted.”
Whatever the prejudices and various emphases on his physical appearance to score points, or create a more persuasive and appealing figure for new converts complementary to their own races, what is clear is the consistency of a description where the dark, swarthy, short haired, rotund figure that Zias, Neave, et al. suppose is not one that need be necessarily presumed. Even by their own admission the facial characteristics can never be known, and their reconstruction only attempts to provide a picture in characteristically general Judaeo-Semitic terms; something Jesus might not have even been, at least on his father’s side. So too, for this to be taken seriously, any number of skulls would have had to be reconstructed to gain a more accurate picture of characteristic typicality. However enough evidence can be provided to dispute even the basis of the premises on which such archaeological evidence was selectively justified based on deductive reasoning and historical testimony. This is not to discount the excellent work of artistic reconstruction that Neave did. It simply need not necessarily be considered indicative of the racial characteristics of a man, who at least by some accounts, might not necessarily have even been typically Judaeo-Semitic or even Semitic, let alone from Judea.
Next, a number of arguments need to be considered concerning the claim Jesus’ might have had long hair. In our traditional view of Jesus he is invariable portrayed as having long hair and a beard.****
Many have claimed Jesus had long hair because he was a “Nazarite.” The argument rests on a number of passages appealing to the Nazarene Vow such as:
“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord: (3) He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. (4) All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk. (5) All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.”
“All the days that he separateth himself unto the Lord he shall come at no dead body. (7) He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die: because the consecration of his God is upon his head. (8) All the days of his separation he is holy unto the Lord. (18) And the Nazarite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings.”
Here is a summary of the Vow:
- The drinking of wine or liquor of grapes or any products made from grapes was prohibited.
- During the separation time, you were not allowed to cut your hair. This was for a sign of humiliation before the people and God.
- You were not allowed to come in contact with any dead body.
- At the end of the Vow you were to shave your head to end the humiliation and shamefulness before God.
If Jesus of Nazareth was under the Nazarene Vow, he would have broken this vow by his acts as given in Matthew 9:25 “But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose.” This would make Jesus a liar and a vow breaker to touch a dead body.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem not Nazareth. Whilst he was raised by Judeans in Nazareth in Galilee, there is never any mention of Jesus taking this vow. But furthermore if Jesus had worn his hair long, he would have been devalued in the eyes of his own followers, disobeying the instruction as given in 1 Corinthians 11:14:
“Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?”
History shows that short hair on men has been prevalent throughout recorded history. During the time Jesus lived, it was thought to have been the accepted and general custom and today it is still recognised as such in respect to the Romans and adult Greek males of that time period, with the Jews being typically portrayed as hairier. Busts and statues of famous Greeks and Romans of Christ’s time support the representation. In every case, the men are portrayed with short hair similar to what we find in most men today.
The busts of Roman leaders, such as Augustus, Pompey, and one believed to be Herod, display each with short hair. In addition all carvings and statues of the Roman legionnaires depict them with short hair. This is why Roman and biblical epics concerned with this time period always portray these men like this. It would have been quite an oddity for a Roman man to wear his hair long and in any case would have been considered unhygienic, uncivilised and impractical in combat. The reality is that before, during and after the time of Christ, every Roman emperor depicted on coins and in busts and friezes from Julius Caesar to Trajan had short hair. Often it was the emperor who set the pattern in style and mode of dress for the entire empire. Just as the kings and queens of England often did in Tudor and Elizabethan times and even do to this day.
The Hellenistic Greek culture dominated the Eastern Mediterranean area, influencing Judea before the Romans came on the scene. Quite a large segment of the Jewish population spoke the Greek language and had a Hellenistic influence in their views in the time of Jesus. (John 12:20, Acts 6:1.)
The style of hair for men of this culture was to wear it short. In Cornfeld’s Daniel to Paul (p.146) for example, a picture showing a:
“marble statuette of an unidentified man of the Hellenistic period, a time of close contact between the Jewish and Hellenistic civilisations in thought, art, and everyday life illustrates this tendency. Whether Jewish or Gentile, he evokes his age and environment.”
The man depicted in this statuette had short hair. From the comment made by the author, however, a scholar of classical history and archaeologist, it is clear that he could not tell if the man was a Jew or a Gentile. The reason for this being because throughout the Near-Eastern region, the style of wearing short hair on most of these different races was more or less the same.
Some argue that those Jews who did not have a Hellenistic view may have worn their hair long. Jesus they claim being a Judean from Galilee, rather than a Hellenised Galilean, would not have observed this trend. However, in the anti-Hellenistic Jewish Talmud the instruction that every thirty days, all the priests should cut their hair undermines such an argument. The priests observed Ezekiel 44:20 : “Neither shall they shave their heads, nor suffer their locks to grow long.”
God intended that the priests set the example for the rest of the community. Malachi 2:7. Further examination of the Talmud reveals that the hairstyle was “Julian,” or what would be called “a Caesar cut” (Sanhedrin 22b).
Jesus drank wine in Matthew 11:19 and, on occasion, touched a dead body (9:25). Had He been under the Nazarite vow, he would not have done either of these things. In any case when the time of the vow was over, the person under the vow was obliged to shave his head ending this shameful period: see I Corinthians (11:14). There is no account of Jesus doing this.
Jesus then quite simply would not have worn his hair long throughout the course of his ministry or generally before this time. To do so would have contradicted and lessened his status in the eyes of Orthodoxy and later when he preached unorthodox views even amongst his followers. As it was Jesus himself who inspired the Bible and the prohibition in Corinthians to refrain from wearing long hair for men, he would have had to have been true to his word and acted as the perfect example.
Final Comments and Conclusion
The vast majority of artistic renderings portray Jesus with long hair, fair though not feminine in features, bearing a sentimental, kindly, or sanctimonious look, with searching, fathomless eyes. The historical testimony that does offer details, largely suggests he was remarkable in appearance and very handsome. These claims bear no similarity in any way to what Neaves et al study proposes he probably looked like, based on archeological and supposed racial profiling of “typical” Judeans.
We can however assume like Neave and Zias, et al. that he had short hair, like any respectable Judean and Galilean of his time. In his non remarkable aspects he appeared to be able to blend into a crowd. Perhaps this was because he looked just like everyone else (Luke 4 30; John 8:59; 10:39). If Jesus had looked extraordinary in this respect, wearing long hair (contrary to the accepted style of the time) he would have been more noticeable, particularly if he had been tall. Neither would it have been necessary for Judas to use the special sign of a kiss to point him out to his enemies in the Sanhedrin, some of whom had spoken with him on occasion and observed him, albeit from a discreet distance, for sometime. If he had been remarkable of aspect he would have stood out from the crowd even on a dark night in the Garden of Gethsemane. His general unremarkable appearance is further strengthened by the fact that even some of his followers were not always sure of his appearance; as the problem of recognition on the Road to Emmaeus in Luke (24:13-35) recounts.
“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him….”
The recognition was only realised on the act of breaking the bread:
“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight.”
His remarkable aspect however might simply not have been readily recognised due to the oft presented portrayal of Jesus as simply wearing some kind of head covering as per custom and convention. During the time of Jesus, Jewish teachers would always have their heads covered in public, as a sign of righteous reverence. They often wore the “sudarium” (white linen cloth), wound round the head as a turban, with the ends of it falling down over the neck. Common people sometimes wore a cloth with a band, or just a band in warm months.
Today religious Jews wear the Yarmulke (“kippa” in Hebrew), because it is believed that by covering the head during prayer, one shows respect for God.
“And their nobles have sent their little ones to the waters: they came to the pits, and found no water; they returned with their vessels empty; they were ashamed and confounded, and covered their heads. Because the ground is chapt, for there was no rain in the earth, the plowmen were ashamed, they covered their heads.” Jeremiah 14:3-4.
Other evidence concerning his appearance comes from further Apocryphal evidence in the Gospel of Thomas, that even suggests he had a twin brother. This book opens with the lines:
“These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and the twin, Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down.”
This raises all kinds of questions concerning whether Jesus had a twin. A view supported by Quranic testament that claims a twin took Jesus’ place at the crucifixion. Actually the name Thomas Didymos is Hebrew for Thomas the twin. Didymos being the Greek for twin. The implication then is that there was indeed, on this apocryphal texts’ claim, a twin brother.
The family name Barsabas is attributed in the Acts to both a Joseph and a Judas. There is evidence pointing to the fact that Judas Barsabas could be Thaddeus, who is also Judas the “twin brother” of Jesus (Thaddeus is a contraction of “Judas Thomas”, that in turn means Judas the brother). The Gospel of Mark 6:3 and the Gospel of Matthew 13:55-56 also state that James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon were the brothers of Jesus, the son of Mary. The same verses also mention unnamed sisters of Jesus. All these brothers and sisters could either have been the offspring of Joseph from a previous marriage (the belief of the Roman Catholic Church) or later children parented by Joseph and Mary in wedlock.
Whatever the case of the conflicting evidence and arguments for racial lineage and parentage, or the consistency of the claims as to his physical appearance, the actual face of Jesus will never be known without skeletal remains. Nor has it been a deficiency not to know. For it is only the inspiration he provides for Christians, his moral message, philosophy and how he lived his life which guides as an example the way they should seek to live their own lives. In this it is Jesus as the Christ that provides the template of the “truth, the way and the light” for believers and has since his birth and resurrection. This inspiration transcends physicality and originates moral inspiration provided by God through the active power of the Holy Spirit. In this context, the apostle John described Christ’s appearance in visionary terms, but it is one knowable as a man in a purified and transcendent form, Thus Christ possessed the following perceptible attributes translated as they were into knowable physical terms as Jesus the perfect man:
“His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire” (Revelation 1: 14).
It is this perfected figure of Christ that seeks to communicate the transcendent aspect of Jesus the man through the power of John’s words. As an imago dei, moreover, the Church has venerably communicated the archetype through its sacred tradition of iconography. It has successfully created an intimate portal for personal and collective contemplation throughout the history and evolution of its artistic depictions. This portal through which the artistic representation communicates the presence of God in the figure of a man is one that need not be limited or restricted by a merely rational concern for scientific, historic or racial authenticity. The Christ is the Everyman and in Christ, for Christians, all believers are one.
*As reported in the Spectator “The first step for Neave and his research team was to acquire skulls from near Jerusalem. Semite skulls of this type had previously been found by Israeli experts, who shared them with Neave. With three well-preserved specimens from the time of Jesus, Neave used computerised tomography to create X-ray “slices” of the skulls, thus revealing minute details about each one’s structure. This evaluation is based on racial profiling from an area where Jesus was born, but not sired. Further it rather implies Jesus’origins to be Judean, in contradiction to such claims or possibilities made in the Talmud and New Testament. The premises of the “reams of information about known measurements of the thickness of soft tissue at key areas on human faces” to “re-create the muscles and skin overlying a representative Semite skull” assumes if not Judaeo-Semitic then more broadly Semitic origins that might not have even been pertinent in Jesus’ particular case and therefore have only an approximate bearing on the truth of his physical appearance.
Jesus of course can be claimed to be Jewish by virtue of Jewishness being passed down via his Mother’s side. This is substantiated irrespective of whether it was Joseph the Judean, a Gentile, or the Holy Spirit that fathered Jesus. The question of pure Semitic physical characteristics however is too readily assumed considering both the possibility of divine impregnation, or more rationally, mixed racial parentage and geographic location with varying racial demographics at this time. He was, in any case, only born in the province of Judea and was most likely sired in Galilee.
**Galilee, a beautiful and very fertile country, is justly praised by Josephus (“B. J.” iii. 3, § 2). According to his statement, it included a number of cities and many villages, the smallest of which had not fewer than 15,000 inhabitants. This is probably an exaggeration, though the density of the population is beyond question. As early as Old Testament times the population of this region was greatly mixed; and it became more so after the downfall of the Ephraimitic kingdom. During the Maccabean struggle, however, the Jews of Galilee constituted such a small number that they could all be brought to Jerusalem (I Macc. v. 23).
*** Celsus, a second century, anti-Christian Greek Philosopher, also wrote that Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier named Pantera. But his anti Christian views suggest again his testimony is prejudiced and used quite possibly as a literary device. The claim of the Roman parentage of Jesus might have held an association derived from the unpleasant memory of Roman military operations suppressing a revolt at Sepphoris near Nazareth around the time of Jesus’ birth. Although Mary could even have fallen victim to unwanted attentions during this time. The “common legionary name” Pantera could have arisen from a satirical connection between “Panther” and the Greek word “Parthenos” meaning virgin. Pan-terra also has connotations of a ruler or god over all the world, or an earth god.
That Jesus was the son of a man named Pantera appears to have been well known to Jews in the Talmud who used this claim to discredit the faith of Christianity and its figurehead generally. Here Jesus is widely understood to be the figure referred to as “Ben Stada”:
“It is taught that Rabbi Eliezer said to the Wise, “Did not Ben Stada bring spells from Egypt in a cut in his flesh?” They said to him, “He was a fool, and they do not bring evidence from a fool.” Ben Stada is Ben Pantera. Rabbi Hisda said, “The husband was Stada, the lover was Pantera.” The husband was “actually” Pappos ben Judah, the mother was Stada. The mother was Miriam “Mary” the dresser of women’s hair. As we say in Pumbeditha, “She has been false to “satath da” her husband.” (b. Shabbat 104b)”
Peter Schaffer explains this as a commentary designed to clarify the multiple names of the historic Jesus, concluding the explanation that he was the son of his mother’s lover “Pantera”, but was known as “son of Stada”, because this name was given to his mother, being “an epithet which derives from the Hebrew/Aramaic root sat.ah/sete’ (‘to deviate from the right path, to go astray, to be unfaithful’). In other words, his mother was also called ‘Stada’ because she was a sotah, a woman suspected, or rather convicted, of adultery.” A few of the references explicitly name Jesus (“Yeshu”) as the “son of Pandera”: these explicit connections are found in the Tosefta, the Qohelet Rabbah and the Jerusalem Talmud, but not in the Babylonian Talmud. The question as to their validity or truthfulness is of course open to debate.
A contemporaneous Gospel passage that might reflect accusations of Jesus’ illegitimacy is Mark 6: 3, where the people of Nazareth refer to Jesus as “the son of Mary.” This might be an insinuation that his father is unknown, or that Jesus was the son of a widow. We just don’t know whether “son of Mary” as opposed to “son of Joseph” would have been derogatory in first-century usage.
In an especially heated exchange however in John (8:41) , “the Jews” retort to Jesus, “We’re not bastards!” “Bastards” captures the insulting tone better than the more polite “illegitimate.” The syntax of the assertion puts the emphasis on the “we,” and thus implies, “We’re not bastards—you are.” This does not necessarily indicate that John was reporting that Jesus was known to be illegitimate. For example, later in the argument, Jesus calls “the Jews” “children of the devil,” and they call him a Samaritan. Neither of these insults are meant literally, and so we have less reason to think that the insinuation voiced actual disparaging rumors about Jesus’ unorthodox parentage.
The notion that Jesus was illegitimate is supported by historical evidence, but isn’t indubitable. While it cannot be viewed as conclusive, the geographic region of his being conceived adds to the possibility of mixed racial parentage. At least it seems highly likely that Jesus was fathered by someone other than Joseph, based on his shifting attitude on learning of the news of Mary’s pregnancy. If he had indeed been the father why not simply fulfil the vow of marriage he had recently taken out? Joseph however displays initial reluctance to take on the responsibility of a marriage he had presumably hereto been keen to fulfil and consumate. Luke’s story of the virgin birth of course answers the question of parentage differently. Stories about miraculous births announced by angels would be deemed inadmissible here on scientific grounds. Historically, therefore, and in the context of Joseph being persuaded to become the adopted “father”, we should accept the possibility that Jesus was sired by another (quite possibly non Judean) “father” during the betrothal period and Joseph eventually decided to accept the responsibility to save Mary’s reputation, or even her life. None of these possible historical events impair the message of Christ’s ministry however. They simply influence his possible appearance in contradiction to Neave et al’s reconstruction premise.
It seems likely that the conception if accepted historically was by force. This could be claimed even theologically, but we can omit the prospect of divine impregnation in terms of rape as being unworthy of consideration. The likelihood was that at that time both Joseph and Mary were betrothed, and being observant Judeans, had not yet consummated the marriage. Hence when Joseph became aware of Mary’s pregnancy the consternation on his part led him to consider divorce as a first plan.
“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19).
The passage suggests both were already engaged at the time, but if so why the use of the term “husband”? Jewish custom allowed that they be considered as husband and wife, even though no official contract had been signed or ceremony enacted. Such a ceremony usually happened after a year and during the interim fidelity was expected and observed. Clearly then (as reported in the Gospels) both were surprised at the pregnancy, as the marriage had not yet been consummated. Their attitude clearly changed later. The key point here, however, is that Joseph and Mary (at that point) had experienced no sexual contact with each other, as verse 18 “before they came together”, points out. Joseph then was in a quandary. Jewish law provided that his betrothed, because of her “unfaithfulness”, could be placed before the elders for judgment and death. But he was thinking to just put her away quietly without public knowledge if at all possible. The fact that he should even consider this, rather than simply go through with the ceremony if he had been the true father himself, discounts him as the real father. It also befits his religious sensibilities. The problem becomes clearer when it is understood that even marriage “engagements” in those times were binding and could only be terminated by an official divorce decree if some transgression had occurred. Joseph then could not simply walk away and move on to another more suitable potential bride befitting his religious sensibilities. Only a divorce and then a new betrothal would have been acceptable. The grounds for such a divorce would have most likely led to difficult questions being asked that could have jeopardised Mary’s reputation, or even her life. Clearly the fact he was even prepared to consider divorcing Mary however strongly suggests he was not the father and the situation was serious in his mind.
Luke 2:1-7 confirms the idea that Joseph and Mary, although only engaged, were considered as husband and wife by Jewish custom even though the actual ceremony had not yet been fully enacted. Such ceremonies, as has been stated, generally took place after a year, although a dowry was usually exchanged and a contract prepared beforehand. Such a contract was immediately deemed binding, with the couple considered effectively married even though the actual ceremony and then consummation of the marriage would not have occurred until later. The interim time was clearly a sort of testing of fidelity, with the couple having little, if any contact with each other. At the point of Mary’s pregnancy then, Joseph, if he had been observant, was not the father of Jesus. His eventual acceptance was, according to the Gospels, due to being instructed of Jesus’ divine parentage by an angel. Considered only historically however he might simply have accepted that Mary, a woman he clearly was committed to, should be viewed as blameless if she had been the victim of unwanted sexual attentions. by say a Roman soldier.
**** I take for granted that Jesus existed. Inscriptions on tombs at Dominus Flevit, ‘The Report of Pilate to the Emperor Claudius’, as well as mention by Tacitus, Thallus, Phlegon Olympiads and the Babylonian Sanhedrin all make the likelihood of Jesus being a historical person rather indisputable for all but sceptics like Freke, Grandy and Zindler. Additionally the claim by paphrologists that the Rawlings manuscript of Matthew dates prior to 50 AD and the claim that Jesus is referenced in the 7Q5 manuscript at Dead Sea cannot be easily dismissed. Additionally Josephus’ mention of Jesus as the brother of James and the controversial Testimonium Flavianum (scoffed at because a Pharisee would not likely have endorsed his Messianic claims, but now seeming to have been a quote from a previous manuscript) should provide additional problems for the sceptic.
Besides all this, the notion that twelve men should give up their work and homes and families simply to dream up a concocted myth; raise the ire of the Romans and Sanhedrin generally against converted believers and risk their own lives, all in the name of a non existent person, is too ludicrous to accept seriously. Jesus existed. His physical appearance is unknown and uncertain, but his archetypal image as the Christ has endured and continues to inspire millions.