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The House Church Network: Dedicated to Kingdom Expansion
What Did Jesus Look Like?

This week's question comes from a youth Sunday school class. They asked, "What did Jesus look like?"

The only eyewitness accounts we have of Jesus are the gospels and they are strikingly silent about the physical characteristics of the man. This isn't particularly odd, however, since the writers weren't writing biographies, but gospels­accounts of the good news of Christ and his message. There is one account, written many years after Christ's pilgrimage on earth, that describes Jesus as rather common and average, but again, even this account is pure speculation.

Because of this, it is common for each culture to portray Jesus within their own cultural parameters. In Africa Jesus is often portrayed as Negroid. In the Orient, Jesus has lighter skin with Oriental characteristics. And in South/Central America Jesus is distinctively Latino.

And so most European-Americans believe Jesus looks much like the art that hangs in our churches. This European Jesus is portrayed as a thin, compassionate, emaciated, and even weak person with blue or light colored eyes, dishwater-blond hair, fair skin, long hair, and beard.

But that image isn't accurate­it's just a European portrayal.

So what did Jesus actually look like? Well, for one, Jesus wasn't a Caucasian. He wasn't European. Jesus was a Semite, a Jew. That means his skin was rather dark colored, especially when one considers the lifestyle he led. Jesus was out-of-doors the vast majority of his ministry in a hot desert-like climate. Therefore, the skin tones of Jesus would have quite dark, almost Negroid. As a Semite Jesus' eyes would have been very dark which would have complimented his nearly black hair.

As to the length of his hair, the popular coiffure was closely cropped (cf., the busts of Roman soldiers and emperors). However, as a rabbi, Jesus' hair would have been at least long enough to sport the traditional ringlets signifying his vocation.

Now, let us consider the emaciated and weak image of this man. The question is, what sort of physique would Jesus have? According to tradition he worked in his father's trade until he began his public ministry at age 30. Generally, we have been taught that Joseph was a carpenter, but the Greek indicates that Joseph was more in the lines of a building contractor.

If that's the case, we must consider the resources available for building in Nazareth. And what do we find? A dearth of wood and a plethora of limestone, so if Joseph (and Jesus) were builders it is most likely they were stone masons.

Have you ever seen a weak and emaciated stone cutter? Me neither. So, Jesus' upper body strength was probably, shall we say, above average? Then consider the number of miles this man walked during his brief ministry. Estimates put the distance traveled at over 2,000 miles over rather rough terrain. Therefore, Jesus' lower body strength was well developed as well.

Okay, we have a picture of a dark complected man with a rabbinical hair style and quite a muscular physique. So, does scripture support this image?

Of course. Remember Christ's trial and crucifixion? Before Jesus was crucified he was scourged with 39 lashes. For most people of that day, 39 lashes with a scourge (a short whip with multiple thongs with lead balls attached to the end) was a death penalty itself. But Jesus was strong enough to not only endure the lash, but to carry the patibelum (the horizontal bar of the cross) some distance up the hill towards Golgotha and still live several hours after having been nailed to the cross (most criminals were tied to the cross and died from exposure).

The compassionate paintings of a European Christ are culturally based and psychologically comforting, but they aren't particularly accurate. Instead, Jesus was a strong Jewish man whose characteristics, both morally and physically, should be the desire of everyone.

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