Does This 1,500-Year-Old Painting Show What Jesus Looked Like?

Does This 1,500-Year-Old Painting Show What Jesus Looked Like?

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In an extremely rare early painting found in an ancient Israeli church, Jesus looks completely different from the long-haired, bearded Western image of him.

Archaeologists from the University of Haifa in Israel discovered the previously unknown 1,500-year-old painting of Jesus in the ruins of a Byzantine-era farming village in the Negev desert of southern Israel.

WATCH: Jesus: His Life in HISTORY Vault

“I was there at the right time, at the right place with the right angle of light and, suddenly, I saw eyes," art historian Emma Maayan-Fanar, who first noticed the image on the wall of a church, recounted to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "It was the face of Jesus at his baptism, looking at us."

As the gospels never describe Jesus’ appearance, and no known contemporary description of him exists, every image of him we see is based on later artistic versions. In the early centuries of Christianity’s evolution, Maayan-Fanar told Haaretz, Christ was depicted various ways, both with short and long hair, bearded and clean-shaven. But by the sixth century, Western images consistently showed Jesus with long, flowing hair and (often) a beard.

Though exposure to the sun over centuries has reduced the image found in the ancient village of Shivta to little more than faint outlines and smudges of color, Maayan-Fanar and her colleagues argue that it depicts a young man with “short curly hair, a prolonged face, large eyes and an elongated nose.”

Writing of their discovery in the journal Antiquity, the researchers conclude that the image was painted in the sixth century A.D., and “belongs to the iconographic scheme of a short-haired Christ, which was especially widespread in Egypt and Syro-Palestine, but gone from later Byzantine art.”

The painting was once located above a Baptist font in the shape of a crucifix, leading the researchers to conclude it may have depicted the baptism of Christ, a common theme in early Christian and Byzantine art.

Though Christianity was born in the Holy Land, very little early Christian art survives there from this particular period. Beginning in the eighth century A.D., during the so-called “Iconoclastic Controversy,” many Christians in the Byzantine Empire considered creating religious images to be the equivalent of worshipping icons, which were outlawed by Emperor Leo III in 726 A.D. and remained so until the middle of the 9th century.

The newly discovered painting appears to be the first pre-iconoclastic scene of Christ’s baptism found in the Holy Land.

READ MORE: What Did Jesus Look Like?

Learn the story behind the Heaven is for Real painting seen in the Heaven is for Real Book & Movie. Was the real face of Jesus revealed to you?

Do you believe heaven is real? Well, according to Colton Burpo and the little Lithuanian girl who painted Jesus in the Heaven is for Real movie, it is! A child art prodigy, Akiane Kramarik began creating extraordinary, lifelike paintings of Jesus at a very young age according to her autobiography Akiane, Her Life, Her Art, Her Poetry. To date, her most significant artworks is “Prince of Peace,” an exquisite painting of Jesus was created when she was just 8 years old. This image of Jesus was identified by Colton Burpo as the Real Face of Jesus that he recognized from his heavenly experiences – told in a story that has reverberated around the world, thanks to the bestselling book and subsequent movie, Heaven is for Real.

How does Akiane know so much about Heaven? Where do her visions originate?

According To Science, This Is What Jesus Would Actually Look Like

When you picture Jesus Christ in your head, what do you see? A white man, long blonde hair, and blue eyes?

There have perhaps been more depictions of Christ than anyone else in history.

But just because everyone seems to insist that Jesus looked like a typical white male, that doesn't make it accurate.

Just ask forensic anthropologist Richard Neave.

Neave developed an image of the Christian figure that is pretty far removed from the face we're used to — but one that was informed by historical evidence and computerized tomography.

But before we get to his images, we have to wonder how we came about our current depiction of Jesus.

His appearance isn't described in great detail in the bible. It only mentions that Jesus "had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." Not too specific.

It's thought this description of Jesus was intentionally vague so it could appeal to members of all ethnicities.

However, Jesus has been largely depicted as primarily Caucasian, until now.

Here's what Jesus really looked like, according to Neave:

He has a darker complexion, darker eyes and a more wide-set nose, and his hair and beard are more coarse as well. So how did he go about constructing this image?

He started by taking three skulls from Israeli archaeological sites near where Jesus was believed to have been born.

He was then able to use computerized x-ray and ultrasound techniques to construct a model of Jesus' face. Based on anthropological and genetic data, he came up with the image pictured above.

If you think about it, his depiction makes sense.

Jesus was born in the Middle East, so he would look like those around him — not the way he's so often portrayed in the West.

Yet a lot of people, including then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly, are convinced of Jesus' whiteness, along with that of Santa.

"Jesus was a white man, too," she said. "It's like we have, he's a historical figure that's a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?"

Her assessment is understandable, but flawed — especially bringing in Santa.

We tend to project ourselves onto the people we look up to, and without an understanding of the historical context, it can be easy to accept the image of Jesus that has been most commonly depicted throughout the centuries.

But remember that the bible itself says Jesus wasn't much to look at.

He most likely wasn't the handsome, glowing, muscular man we've become accustomed to. But in the end, does it really matter what he looked like? While we like to put a face with the name, if you're religious, his teachings should be what take priority. It is, however, certainly something to consider.

'Jesus' face' uncovered at ancient church in the Israeli desert

A previously-unknown 1,500-year-old painting of Christ's face, believed to date from the sixth century A.D., has been uncovered at a Byzantine church in Israel's Negev desert. In the painting, Christ is depicted next to a much larger figure, which is probably John the Baptist.

A previously unknown 1,500-year-old painting of Christ’s face has been uncovered at a Byzantine church in Israel’s Negev desert.

The discovery in the ancient Byzantine village of Shivta has thrilled archaeologists. Although the painting is fragmented, experts from Israel’s University of Haifa were able to make out the facial outline. Their research was published recently in the journal Antiquity.

The painting, which is believed to date from the sixth century, depicts Jesus as a short-haired youth.

“Christ’s face in this painting is an important discovery in itself,” they explained in their paper. “It belongs to the iconographic scheme of a short-haired Christ, which was especially widespread in Egypt and Syro-Palestine, but gone from later Byzantine art.”

The face of Christ with proposed reconstruction. (Photograph by Dror Maayan/Antiquity)

The painting was briefly noted in the 1920s, but has now undergone more analysis. In their study, the University of Haifa archaeologists explain that Christ is depicted next to a much larger figure, which is probably John the Baptist. “The location of the scene – above the [church’s] crucifix-shaped Baptist font – suggests its identification as the baptism of Christ,” said the study’s authors.

Experts describe the painting’s discovery as extremely important, noting that it predates the religious iconography used in the Orthodox Christian Church. “Thus far, it is the only in situ baptism-of-Christ scene to date confidently to the pre-iconoclastic Holy Land,” they said in the study. “Therefore, it can illuminate Byzantine Shivta’s Christian community and Early Christian art across the region.”

The painting is the latest fascinating archaeological discovery in Israel. Engravings of ships, for example, were recently found on an ancient water cistern discovered in a city in the Negev desert.

The Baptistry Chamber (on right) where the painting was found. (Photograph by Dror Maayan/Antiquity)

In a separate project, archaeologists recently confirmed the first full spelling of “Jerusalem” on an ancient stone inscription excavated in the area of Jerusalem’s International Convention Center, known as Binyanei Ha'Uma.

In another project, experts discovered a site that may offer fresh insight into the ancient biblical kingdom of David and Solomon. In a separate archaeological dig, a trove of bronze coins, the last remnants of an ancient Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire, were recently discovered near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

In February, archaeologists announced the discovery of a clay seal mark that may bear the signature of the biblical Prophet Isaiah.

Remnants of the baptism-of-Christ scene (indicated by white arrow) on the apse of the Baptistry chamber. (Photograph by Dror Maayan/Antiquity)

Other recent finds include the skeleton of a pregnant woman, dating back 3,200 years, in Israel’s Timna Valley, at a place once called King Solomon’s Mines.

At the site of an ancient city on the West Bank, archaeologists are also hunting for evidence of the tabernacle that once housed the Ark of the Covenant.

Some experts also believe they have found the lost Roman city of Julias, formerly the village of Bethsaida, which was the home of Jesus' apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip.

And what about Jesus's facial features? They were Jewish. That Jesus was a Jew (or Judaean) is certain in that it is found repeated in diverse literature, including in the letters of Paul. And, as the Letter to the Hebrews states: "It is clear that our Lord was descended from Judah." So how do we imagine a Jew at this time, a man "about 30 years of age when he began," according to Luke chapter 3?

In 2001 forensic anthropologist Richard Neave created a model of a Galilean man for a BBC documentary, Son of God, working on the basis of an actual skull found in the region. He did not claim it was Jesus's face. It was simply meant to prompt people to consider Jesus as being a man of his time and place, since we are never told he looked distinctive.

For all that may be done with modelling on ancient bones, I think the closest correspondence to what Jesus really looked like is found in the depiction of Moses on the walls of the 3rd Century synagogue of Dura-Europos, since it shows how a Jewish sage was imagined in the Graeco-Roman world. Moses is imagined in undyed clothing, and in fact his one mantle is a tallith, since in the Dura image of Moses parting the Red Sea one can see tassels (tzitzith) at the corners. At any rate, this image is far more correct as a basis for imagining the historical Jesus than the adaptations of the Byzantine Jesus that have become standard: he's short-haired and with a slight beard, and he's wearing a short tunic, with short sleeves, and a himation.

Joan Taylor is professor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism at King's College London and the author of The Essenes, the Scrolls and the Dead Sea.

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Jesus wasn’t white: he was a brown-skinned , Middle Eastern Jew. Here’s why that matters

I grew up in a Christian home, where a photo of Jesus hung on my bedroom wall. I still have it. It is schmaltzy and rather tacky in that 1970s kind of way, but as a little girl I loved it. In this picture, Jesus looks kind and gentle, he gazes down at me lovingly. He is also light-haired, blue-eyed, and very white.

The problem is, Jesus was not white. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you’ve ever entered a Western church or visited an art gallery. But while there is no physical description of him in the Bible, there is also no doubt that the historical Jesus, the man who was executed by the Roman State in the first century CE, was a brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew.

This is not controversial from a scholarly point of view, but somehow it is a forgotten detail for many of the millions of Christians who will gather to celebrate Easter this week.

On Good Friday, Christians attend churches to worship Jesus and, in particular, remember his death on a cross. In most of these churches, Jesus will be depicted as a white man, a guy that looks like Anglo-Australians, a guy easy for other Anglo-Australians to identify with.

Think for a moment of the rather dashing Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. He is an Irish-American actor. Or call to mind some of the most famous artworks of Jesus’ crucifixion – Ruben, Grunewald, Giotto – and again we see the European bias in depicting a white-skinned Jesus.

Does any of this matter? Yes, it really does. As a society, we are well aware of the power of representation and the importance of diverse role models.

After winning the 2013 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 12 Years a Slave, Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o shot to fame. In interviews since then, Nyong’o has repeatedly articulated her feelings of inferiority as a young woman because all the images of beauty she saw around her were of lighter-skinned women. It was only when she saw the fashion world embracing Sudanese model Alek Wek that she realised black could be beautiful too.

If we can recognise the importance of ethnically and physically diverse role models in our media, why can’t we do the same for faith? Why do we continue to allow images of a whitened Jesus to dominate?

Jim Caviezel in Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of the Christ. IMDB

Many churches and cultures do depict Jesus as a brown or black man. Orthodox Christians usually have a very different iconography to that of European art – if you enter a church in Africa, you’ll likely see an African Jesus on display.

But these are rarely the images we see in Australian Protestant and Catholic churches, and it is our loss. It allows the mainstream Christian community to separate their devotion to Jesus from compassionate regard for those who look different.

I would even go so far as to say it creates a cognitive disconnect, where one can feel deep affection for Jesus but little empathy for a Middle Eastern person. It likewise has implications for the theological claim that humans are made in God’s image. If God is always imaged as white, then the default human becomes white and such thinking undergirds racism.

Historically, the whitewashing of Jesus contributed to Christians being some of the worst perpetrators of anti-Semitism and it continues to manifest in the “othering” of non-Anglo Saxon Australians.

This Easter, I can’t help but wonder, what would our church and society look like if we just remembered that Jesus was brown? If we were confronted with the reality that the body hung on the cross was a brown body: one broken, tortured, and publicly executed by an oppressive regime.

How might it change our attitudes if we could see that the unjust imprisonment, abuse, and execution of the historical Jesus has more in common with the experience of Indigenous Australians or asylum seekers than it does with those who hold power in the church and usually represent Christ?

Perhaps most radical of all, I can’t help but wonder what might change if we were more mindful that the person Christians celebrate as God in the flesh and saviour of the entire world was not a white man, but a Middle Eastern Jew.

'The Precise Image of What Jesus Looked Like': 3-D Replica Created from Shroud of Turin

One of the most-well known relics in archeological history is leading researchers to believe that they know "the precise image of what Jesus looked like on this earth".

The Shroud of Turin is a 14-foot linen cloth that is believed to have wrapped the body of Jesus Christ after the crucifixion.

Researchers in Padua (Italy) have unveiled a 3-D carbon copy of what Jesus looked like based on the precise measurements of the cloth.

"Science is not able to define the name of the Man that was wrapped there, but the perfect correspondence of the Gospels and of the Bible in general with the Shroud leads [me] to think that that Man was just Jesus," Giulio Fanti, a professor of mechanical and thermal measurements at the University of Padua, told CBN News.

"For example, thousands of men were crucified by Romans, but one only, Jesus, was crowned with thorns. And the Shroud shows many wounds on the forehead, temples, and nape due to a crown of thorns. For me, even if science doesn't confirm the name of that Man, I have recognized Him from a more general point of view," he added.

Fanti has studied the Shroud for the last 20 years and led the research team that created the 3-D carbon model of Jesus.

Photos Courtesy of Guilio Fanti

He said the statue is a three-dimensional representation of the actual size of the Man on the Shroud.

"We believe that we have the precise image of what Jesus looked like on this earth," he said.

"We have studied for years using the most sophisticated 3D technologies the image left by the body on the sheet. And the statue is the final result," Fanti told Chi, an Italian publication.

"According to our studies, Jesus was a man of extraordinary beauty. Long-limbed, but very robust, he was nearly 5 ft. 10 in. tall, whereas the average height at the time was around 5 ft. 5 in. And he had a regal and majestic expression," he said.

Note: Height has been corrected from 5 ft. 11 inches to 5 ft. 10 inches.

The University of Padua and Padua Hospital worked in collaboration with sculptor Sergio Rodella to create the life-size image, according to Il Mattino di Padova, an Italian publication.

In August, researchers from the Institute of Crystallography found chemicals in the stains on the shroud, confirming that the stains were actual blood. Researchers also learned that the blood belonged to someone who suffered from extreme amounts of injury and pain.

"The blood serum tells us that before dying the person was suffering," Elvio Carlino, a researcher from the Institute of Crystallography, told CBN News. "This means that the Turin Shroud is not fake. It is certainly the funeral fabric that wrapped a tortured man."

Fanti used to research, the cloth, and the three-dimensional projection of the figure to confirm that the man sustained numerous wounds on his body before death.

"I counted 370 wounds from the flagellation, without taking into account the wounds on his sides, which the Shroud doesn't show because it only enveloped the back and front of the body," Fanti explained to Chi.

"We can, therefore, hypothesize a total of at least 600 blows," he continued. "In addition, the three-dimensional reconstruction has made it possible to discover that at the moment of his death, the man of the Shroud sagged down towards the right, because his right shoulder was dislocated so seriously as to injure the nerves."

Fanti told CBN News that many people have been moved by this depiction of Christ.

"A priest wanted this statue in his church for the Easter days. some non-believer(s) were moved too," he said.

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Beneath the bust

Underneath the painted stucco surface of the Nefertiti sculpture, the artist hid a gem that perhaps was never meant to be revealed. The sculptor Thutmose made a separate bust of Nefertiti underneath the stucco, and this one was made of limestone.


The CT scan revealed a face that was still very much beautiful, but revealed wrinkles on her cheeks and a bump on her nose. Nefertiti mothered six children in her time, and one of them became the mother of King Tut. What&rsquos far more unsettling is that King Tut&rsquos father is Nefertiti&rsquos husband, which would explain the deformities that plagued the boy king.

How an iconic painting of Jesus as a white man was distributed around the world

CHICAGO — The first time the Rev. Lettie Moses Carr saw Jesus depicted as black, she was in her 20s.

Until that moment, she had always thought Jesus was white.

At least that’s how he appeared when she was growing up. A copy of Warner E. Sallman’s “Head of Christ” painting hung in her home, depicting a gentle Jesus with blue eyes turned heavenward and dark blond hair cascading over his shoulders in waves.

The painting, which has been reproduced a billion times, came to define what the central figure of Christianity looked like for generations of Christians in the United States — and beyond.

For years, Sallman’s Jesus “represented the image of God,” said Carr, the director of ministry and administrative support staff at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Maryland.

When she grew up and began to study the Bible on her own, she started to wonder about that painting and the message it sent.

“It didn’t make sense that this picture was of this white guy,” she said.

Carr isn’t the first to question Sallman’s image of Jesus and the impact it’s had not only on theology but also on the wider culture. As protesters around the United States tear down statues of Confederate heroes and demand an accounting for the country’s long legacy of racism, some in the church are asking whether the time has come to cancel what is called white Jesus — including Sallman’s famed painting.

The “Head of Christ” has been called the “best-known American artwork of the 20th century.” The New York Times once labeled Sallman the “best-known artist” of the 20th century, although that few recognized his name.

“Sallman, who died in 1968, was a religious painter and illustrator whose most popular picture, ‘Head of Christ,’ achieved a mass popularity that makes Warhol’s soup can seem positively obscure,” William Grimes of the Times wrote in 1994.

The famed image began as a charcoal sketch for the first issue of the Covenant Companion, a youth magazine for a denomination known as the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant.

Sallman, who grew up in the denomination, which is now known as the Evangelical Covenant Church, was a Chicago-based commercial artist. Wanting to appeal to young adults, he gave his Jesus a “very similar feeling to an image of a school or professional photo of the time making it more accessible and familiar to the audience,” said Tai Lipan, gallery director at Indiana’s Anderson University, which has housed the Warner Sallman Collection since the 1980s.

Is it wrong to have pictures of Jesus?

When God first gave His Law to mankind, He began with a statement of who He is: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2) with a warning that Israel was to have no other God but Him. He immediately followed that by forbidding the making of any image of anything “in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4) for the purpose of worshiping or bowing down to it. The fascinating thing about the history of the Jewish people is that they disobeyed this commandment more than any other. Again and again, they made idols to represent gods and worshiped them beginning with the creation of the golden calf during the very time God was writing out the Ten Commandments for Moses (Exodus 32)! Idol worship not only drew the Israelites away from the true and living God, it led to all manner of other sins including temple prostitution, orgies, and even the sacrifice of children.

Of course, simply having a picture of Jesus hanging in a home or church does not mean people are practicing idolatry. It is possible that a portrait of Jesus or a crucifix can become an object of worship, in which case the worshiper is at fault. But there is nothing in the New Testament that would specifically forbid a Christian from having a picture of Jesus. Such an image could well be a reminder to pray, to refocus on the Lord, or to follow in Christ’s footsteps. But believers should know that the Lord cannot be reduced to a two-dimensional image and that prayer or adoration is not to be offered to a picture. A picture will never be a complete image of God or accurately display His glory, and should never be a substitute for how we view God or deepen our knowledge of Him. And, of course, even the most beautiful representation of Jesus Christ is nothing more than one artist’s conception of what the Lord looked like.

As it is, we don’t know what Jesus looked like. If the details of His physical appearance were important for us to know, Matthew, Peter, and John would certainly have given us an accurate description, as would Jesus’ own brothers, James and Jude. Yet these New Testament writers offer no details about Jesus’ physical attributes. We are left to our imaginations.

We certainly don’t need a picture to display the nature of our Lord and Savior. We have only to look at His creation, as we are reminded in Psalm 19:1–2: “The heavens declare the glory of God the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech night after night they display knowledge.” In addition, our very existence as the redeemed of the Lord, sanctified and made righteous by His blood shed on the cross, should have Him always before us.

The Bible, the very Word of God, is also filled with non-physical descriptions of Christ that capture our imaginations and thrill our souls. He is the light of the world (John 1:5) the bread of life (John 6:32–33) the living water that quenches the thirst of our souls (John 4:14) the high priest who intercedes for us with the Father (Hebrews 2:17) the good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep (John 10:11, 14) the spotless Lamb of God (Revelation 13:8) the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) the way, the truth, the life (John 14:6) and the very image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Such a Savior is more beautiful to us than any piece of paper hanging on the wall.

In her book Gold Cord, missionary Amy Carmichael tells of Preena, a young Indian girl who became a Christian and lived in Miss Carmichael’s orphanage. Preena had never seen a picture of Jesus instead, Miss Carmichael prayed for the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to each of the girls, “for who but the Divine can show the Divine?” One day, Preena was sent a package from abroad. She opened it eagerly and pulled out a picture of Jesus. Preena innocently asked who it was, and when she was told that it was Jesus, she burst into tears. “What’s wrong?” they asked. “Why are you crying?” Little Preena’s reply says it all: “I thought He was far more beautiful than that” (page 151).

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