Ever notice that when you see a picture in a church or some place of what Jesus supposedly looked like, he is almost always portrayed as white? According to the Bible, Jesus' parents were from Nazareth, which is in modern day Israel. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which is also in modern day Israel. Shortly after his birth, his parents fled with him to Egypt where they lived for a few years, and then returned to Israel. Given the climate of these locales, and judging by the appearance of modern day citizens of these countries, and also considering that people 2000 years ago were probably out in the sun a lot more than modern day citizens, it is safe to assume with near certainty that Jesus was not white.

In the movie Dogma, Chris Rock plays the character Rufus, the thirteenth apostle who was left out of the Bible because he was black. Rufus alleged that Jesus was black, but over the years he was portrayed as white due to racism or something, which also resulted in Rufus' exclusion from the Bible. Even though Dogma (and Rufus) is total fabrication, this theory might not be to far from the truth. While it is doubtful that Jesus was black like Africans are black, he most likely had dark skin. The Catholic church, which controlled most Christianity for hundreds of years, was predominantly ruled by (and continues to be ruled by) white Europeans. It is not doubtful that when commissioning an artist to paint a portrayal of Jesus that they told the artist to make Jesus have a more white appearance. After hundreds of years of this going on, I think it simply stuck and became traditional. Sometimes you will see a poster with the creed "Jesus Was a Black Man" printed on it. This probably isn't true, but is closer to the truth than the church's portrayal. What the poster should say is something like "Jesus ain't no Whitey"

For someone who spent his life espousing peace, kindness and goodwill, discussing and portraying Jesus tends to raise a great deal of contention. What Would Jesus Do?/Drive/Drink/Put in His Bong. Cutting onions makes the Baby Jesus cry. The Last Temptation of Christ.

Christians everywhere view Jesus as "their own"; he did die for mankind's sins, afterall. If God made man in his image, and if Jesus was the earthly embodiment of God, then theoretically Jesus should appear to be the perfect man, right?

Here comes the tricky part. The fact remains that human vanity and sloth drive people to remake God in their own material image, rather than remake themselves in God's spiritual image. For the first millennia of Christianity, all was good. Byzantine representations of Jesus looked vaguely Greek, Roman depictions looked Italian and one can only assume that Ethiopian depictions of Jesus were suitably black. But then politics intervenes...

As the Rome grew more powerful, Jesus began looking more Italian (in the Western World, at least). And then the Crusades came about. For the better part of 700 years between 1097 and the late 1600s, Catholic Christians waged a series of holy wars against Islam. (And the Jews. And Eastern Orthodox Christians. And "heretic" splinter sects of Catholicism. But those are different stories...) The Vatican couldn't have the son of God looking like an Arab, could they? Nope. So what does (the Westernized version of) perfect look like? With some exceptions, most modern representations of Jesus make him look like Skeet Ulrich, albeit with better personal hygiene.

Granted, in some regions pictures of Jesus deliberately have him resemble the inhabitants of that particular area. Latino Jesuses crop up in Mexico and pictures of Black Jesus adorn Southern Baptist church walls. But who is right? What does Jesus look like? What does God look like*?


The cover story of December 2002 issue of Popular Mechanics endeavours to reveal the "Real Face of Jesus" to the world. The article, written by Mike Fillon, details the efforts of a group of British and Israeli researchers (mostly archaeologists and forensic scientists) to reconstruct the face of Christ**.

The reasoning is simple: Jesus may have been divine, but he was born to a human mother. And Scripture does tell that Jesus' appearance was not physically remarkable in comparison to his apostles (Matthew 26: 48-49). Thus, reasoned American forensic anthropologist A. Midori Albert and British medical artist Richard Neave, the same techniques used by forensic scientists to reconstruct facial tissue from skeletal remains could be used to reconstruct the face of a 1st Century AD Semite. It's obvious that Jesus' skull isn't readily available for medical research -- whether it ascended to Heaven, was stolen away by his followers or enemies, or lies in a secret vault in the Vatican will never be known -- so a few skulls from people who lived in the vicinity of Jerusalem during or near the lifetime of Jesus were employed.

X-rays were used to make 3D digital models of the skulls. Then, the depth and position of tendon scars left on the bone helped approximate muscle size and placement. This data gives us an idea of the general shape of Jesus' face, but more information is needed.

Other less-scientific details were used to "flesh out" the missing features. Although there are no Biblical descriptions of Jesus Christ, it may be concluded that he had short- or medium-length hair, medium- to muscular build and somewhat weatherbeaten features. Other details, like eye color, complexion, height and hair color can be approximated using contemporary descriptions of the Israelites.

So what does Jesus look like? Well, certainly not like the Shroud of Turin. Not like Willem Dafoe. And certainly not like Michael Vick. If Albert and Neave are to be believed, the Messiah was short (5'0" to 5'3"), stocky, with dark brown eyes, a dark olive complexion and short, black, curly hair (with mustache and full beard). Think Mahir Cagri, but without the Speedo***. For a better idea, visit the link below and stare into the eyes of your God.

Of course, the techniques used are hardly perfect. Not having Jesus' remains adds a large degree of error, as does the complete lack of a Biblical description of him. It is, I'm sure, more accurate than the Skeet-like representations to which we've grown accustomed.


*As a child, I used to envision God as a giant, benevolent crocodile clad in a white toga. I think I was influenced by the literature of the day.
**Somewhere, a former high-ranking official in Afghanistan's Buddha-bustin' Taliban regime is having fits about this, but I digress.
***Albert Herring suggests Manuel from Fawlty Towers (Andrew Sachs), but I'm afraid the hair, eyes and skin color aren't quite right.


Sources:
Popular Mechanics, "The Real Face Of Jesus" - http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/research/2002/12/real_face_jesus/

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