There’s plenty of evidence that Jesus of Nazareth—the Son of God—existed. Few sensible people doubt that. But there’s no biblical record or known drawings of what Jesus actually looked like. Most depictions have Christ as a tall, fine-featured, white man with blue eyes, a beard, and light colored, long flowing hair.
But is this accurate?
This week the internet was abuzz with a republished Popular Mechanics article, The Real Face of Jesus, reporting on a team of Forensic Anthropologists who did a serious study of what Jesus probably looked like. Their conclusion is a far cry from the picture Christian churches painted for two thousand years.
Richard Neave is a now-retired medical artist and forensic facial reconstruction expert from the University of Manchester who has a history of remarkably accurate work in recreating historical faces. He worked with Israeli archaeologists in a study of what a typical thirty-year-old Semite male from the Galilee region circa 30 A.D. would have looked like.
Realizing there’s no New Testament description of how Jesus physically appeared—and certainly no known remains to extract DNA from—Neave reached to the Bible for generalities of people’s looks from that time.
He considered the Gospel of Matthew which reported Jesus and the disciples were so similar in appearance that when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas Iscariot had to point out which one was Jesus—hence the “Judas Kiss”.
The Israelis loaned Neave three typical male skulls known to be from the Jerusalem region and the Roman era. Neave applied a computerized tomography process and created 3-D images or “cross-sectioned slices” of them. He then built a cast model of an averaged skull based on the images and applied the well-accepted method of clay modeling, using software developed measurements of what facial muscle tissue and skin would most likely be.
Two missing key pieces were the hair type and skin color Jesus had. The researchers relied on biblical scriptures and archaeological drawings found in Israel to determine that probability. They also concluded that Jesus had dark eyes and was bearded, following Jewish traditions.
The image that emerged was a dark-skinned, brown-eyed man with a wide nose, thick lips, and short, curly dark hair. From archaeological studies of average male skeletons of the time, they also concluded that Jesus was probably about 5’ 1” and weighed about 110 pounds. Given that Jesus was a carpenter and worked outdoors, they considered that his face would be weathered and appear slightly older than his reported thirty years.
Richard Neave cautions that his recreation is simply that of an adult man who lived in the same place and time as Jesus.
Alison Galloway, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is a critic. She points out that artistic license was taken in the model, particularly around the mouth, nose, and eyelids.
Despite this reservation, Galloway reached one conclusion that’s inescapable to most everyone who’s seen Neave’s Jesus. “This is probably a lot closer to the truth than the work of many of the great masters like Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper and Diego Velazquez’s Cristo Crucificado.”
So it seems the real Jesus was a little brown guy from the Middle East, single and around thirty years old, with a rebellious religious fanaticism—exactly the profile Donald Trump would ban from entering the United States.