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The real face of Jesus - November 22, 2020

by Adam Jones

Matthew 26: 47 -54

As Mike Fillon writes: "according to the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane before the Crucifixion, Judas Iscariot had to indicate to the soldiers whom Jesus was because they could not tell him apart from his disciples. ... Matthew's description of the events in Gethsemane offers an obvious clue to the face of Jesus. It is clear that his features were typical of Galilean Semites of his era."

In other words, Judas couldn't just tell the Romans, "Arrest the tall, good-looking guy with the long golden hair."

SLIDES (watch the recording to see presentation)

  • The westernized Jesus, the Platonic ideal of the wise teacher (slides 2-6)

  • INRI (looks like an Eastern European woodsman, note also the weathered and somewhat aged look

  • Shroud of Turin

  • African and Indigenous-influenced depictions (slides 9-13)

Popular Mechanics

1 Corinthians: "In one chapter [Paul] mentions having seen Jesus -- then later describes long hair on a man as disgraceful. Would Paul have written 'If a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him' if Jesus Christ had had long hair?"

"The historic record also resolved the issue of Jesus's height. From an 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 about 110 pounds. Since Jesus worked outdoors as a carpenter until he was about 30 years old, it is reasonable to assume he was more muscular and physically fit than westernized portraits suggest. His face was probably weather-beaten, which would have made him appear older, as well."

How important is it to some Christians' understanding that Jesus be:

  • Tall?

  • Handsome?

  • Slender and aquiline?

  • Fair-complexioned, light-eyed?

  • Hair spilling over shoulders in golden locks?

A simple prayer I've used since I passed through a personal crisis last year is:

"Jesus, walk with me."

Since I came across the Popular Mechanics article, I've tried to imagine myself, a six-foot-three guy, walking alongside Jesus... and he comes up to my shoulder.

It's unsettling on some level; it runs counter to our unexamined conventions, our subconscious sense that there should be some reflection of spiritual grandeur in physical stature. But I feel I should work with that image, which is probably a lot more historically accurate, to avoid making Jesus the captive of my sentimental notions and prejudices.

Because surely, it is not the human face and physique of Jesus that is central to all of us, but his message and example, and the path that he shows us toward love and reconciliation and salvation.

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