Today marks Good Friday, the day when Christians all the world over mark the death of Jesus Christ. Holy Friday, as it is also known, is said to be the day when the son of God was crucified on the cross for all the world’s sins. Unlike in Islam, where pictures of the Prophet Muhammad are prohibited, images of Jesus feature in much of Western art. But an expert has claimed that his appearance looked quite different from the one we recognise today.
In European art, Jesus typically has fair skin, long light brown or blonde hair and a beard, and his eyes a piercing blue. Traditionally, he is dressed in a floor-length robe with long sleeves and a mantle which is usually blue.
However, historians and anthropologists have suggested that Jesus had “Jewish features”, was short and had a muscular build.
Some have suggested that his profession as a carpenter, a manual, labour-intensive job meant he likely had a muscly build and strong, rough hands.
The traditional image we know today comes from the Byzantine era, the 4th Century onwards, explained history Professor Joan Taylor who specialises in early Christianity and Second Temple Judaism.
Rather than being historically accurate, these images were symbolic and full of meaning.
Writing for the BBC in 2015, she explained: “They were based on the image of an enthroned emperor, as we see in the altar mosaic of the Santa Pudenziana church in Rome.”
Byzantine artists moulded Jesus’s image as akin to a younger version of Zeus, dressing him in a gold toga as the heavenly ruler of the world.
She continued: “[He is] familiar from the famous statue of long-haired and bearded Olympian Zeus on a throne – a statue so well-known that the Roman Emperor Augustus had a copy of himself made in the same style (without the godly long hair and beard).”
Professor Taylor, author of the 2018 book What Did Jesus Look Like?, used archaeological remains, historical texts and ancient Egyptian funerary art to decipher Jesus’s appearance.
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She said that like most people in Judea and Egypt around the time, Jesus most likely had brown eyes, dark brown to black hair, olive-brown skin and was probably around 5ft 5 inches tall — around the average height of a woman in the UK today.
It is likely that his beard would have been short like the men depicted on Judaea coinage and had “probably not very long” hair.
A man in Jesus’s world would have worn a mantle and a knee-length tunic with short sleeves likely to have been made from undyed wool rather than white, accompanied by sandals, made of thick pieces of leather, on his feet.
The author of The Essenes, the Scrolls and the Dead Sea said that Jesus’s facial features “were Jewish”.
She explained that the fact that Jesus was a Jew is “certain” as it is “found repeated in diverse literature”. In letters of Paul, such as the Letter to the Hebrews states, it reads: “It is clear that our Lord was descended from Judah.”
Additionally, in the New Testament Luke 4:30, Jesus managed to disappear into a crowd several times with Matthew 1:1-17 tracing the lineage of Jesus from Adam and Abraham down to his parents, Joseph and Mary.
Therefore, many have concluded that he looked similar to the other Jews living in Israel at the time.
Forensic anthropologist Richard Neave created a model for the BBC documentary Son of God, working from an actual Galilean man’s skill found in the region.
He did not claim that it was an exact replica of how Jesus had looked, instead, Mr Neave sought to encourage people to rethink how they imagine Jesus as a man from his time and place as the biblical text suggests he looked indistinctive.