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Race and appearance of Jesus

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Subject: Jesus, Language of Jesus, Genealogy of Jesus, Jesuism, Jesus Christ in comparative mythology
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Race and appearance of Jesus

There is no scholarly agreement on the appearance of Jesus; over the centuries, he has been depicted in a multitude of ways.

The race and appearance of Jesus have been discussed on a number of grounds since early Christianity. Although the New Testament includes no description of the physical appearance of Jesus before his death, and its narrative is generally indifferent to racial appearances,[1] it is generally clear in the Christian scripture that Jesus was of Jewish descent, his genealogy being attested as of the Jewish patriarchs in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke.

Various theories about the

  • Glasgow, James (2010) [1872]. The Apocalypse Translated and Expounded.  
  • Mosley, William (1987). What Color Was Jesus? (1st ed.).  
  • Niehaus, Jeffrey Jay (1995). God at Sinai: Covenant and Theophany in the Bible and Ancient Near East. Studies in Old Testament Biblical Theology.  
  • Rodriguez, Clara E. (2000). Changing Race: Latinos, the Census, and the History of Ethnicity in the United States. Critical America (illustrated ed.).  
  • Wilson, Giles (2004). "So What Colour Was Jesus?".  

Further reading

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Robin M. Jensen "Jesus in Christian art", Chapter 29 of The Blackwell Companion to Jesus edited by Delbert Burkett 2010 ISBN 1-4051-9362-X page 477-502
  2. ^ a b The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined by David Friedrich Strauss 2010 ISBN 1-61640-309-8 pages 114-116
  3. ^ a b Racializing Jesus: Race, Ideology and the Formation of Modern Biblical Scholarship by Shawn Kelley 2002 ISBN 0-415-28373-6 pages 70-73
  4. ^ a b The Oxford companion to the Bible 1993 ISBN 0-19-504645-5 page 41
  5. ^ a b Making Sense of the New Testament by Craig L. Blomberg 2004 ISBN 0-8010-2747-0 pages 3-4
  6. ^ a b Pontius Pilate: portraits of a Roman governor by Warren Carter 2003 ISBN 0-8146-5113-5 pages 6-9
  7. ^ The forging of races: race and scripture in the Protestant Atlantic world by Colin Kidd 2006 ISBN 0-521-79324-6 pages 44-45 [3]
  8. ^ Arvidsson, Stefan (June 1999). "Aryan Mythology As Science and Ideology". Journal of the American Academy of Religion (Oxford University Press) 67 (2): 327–354.  
  9. ^ a b The forging of races: race and scripture in the Protestant Atlantic world by Colin Kidd 2006 ISBN 0-521-79324-6 page 18
  10. ^ a b c d e f Jesus: the complete guide by Leslie Houlden 2006 082648011X pages 63-100
  11. ^ a b c d The likeness of the king: a prehistory of portraiture in late medieval France by Stephen Perkinson 2009 ISBN 0-226-65879-1 page 30
  12. ^ a b Amy-Jill Levine in The Historical Jesus in Context edited by Amy-Jill Levine et al. Princeton Univ Press ISBN 978-0-691-00992-6 page 10
  13. ^ a b c The forging of races: race and scripture in the Protestant Atlantic world by Colin Kidd 2006 ISBN 0-521-79324-6 pages 48-51
  14. ^ The Cambridge companion to the Gospels by Stephen C. Barton ISBN pages 132-133
  15. ^ The Content and the Setting of the Gospel Tradition by Mark Harding, Alanna Nobbs 2010 ISBN 978-0-8028-3318-1 pages 281-282
  16. ^ Revelation by William C. Pender 1998 ISBN 0-664-22858-5 pages 14-16
  17. ^ Revelation 1-11 by John MacArthur, Jr. ISBN pages 37-39
  18. ^ The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott, Alister McGrath 2006 ISBN 0-8308-3320-X page 145
  19. ^ Christianity, art, and transformation by John W. De Gruchy 2001 ISBN 0-521-77205-2 page 122
  20. ^ Brother Jesus: the Nazarene through Jewish eyes by Schalom Ben-Chorin 2001 ISBN 0-8203-2256-3 page 111
  21. ^ Understanding early Christian art by Robin Margaret Jensen 2000 ISBN 0-415-20454-2 page 127
  22. ^ a b Biblehub, Clark's commentary
  23. ^ Tatum, W (2009). Jesus: A Brief History. p. 221. 
  24. ^ Neal Robinson, Christ in Islam and Christianity, SUNY Press, 1990, p.94.
  25. ^ F. E. Peters, Reader on Classical Islam, Princeton University Press, 1993, p.189.
  26. ^ Bukhari, Kitab al-Fitn, ch. 27.
  27. ^ Bukhari, Kitabul Ahadlth al-Anbiya, Hadith 3185.
  28. ^ Bukhari, Kitabul Bad' al-Khalq, Hadlth 3000.
  29. ^ Ana Echevarría, "Eschatology Or Biography? Alfonso X, Muhammad’s Ladder And A Jewish Go-Between", in Cynthia Robinson & Leyla Rouhi (eds), Under the Influence: Questioning the Comparative in Medieval Castile, Brill, Boston, 2005, p.140.
  30. ^ Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, Eerdmans Publishing, 2000, p.66.
  31. ^ Astell, Anne W. (2006). Eating Beauty: The Eucharist and the Spiritual Arts of the Middle Ages. Cornell University Press. p. 81. 
  32. ^ St. Augustin the Writings Against the Manicheans and Against the Donatists by St Augustine, Philip Schaff 2005 ISBN 0-7661-8394-7 page 29
  33. ^ Summa Theologica, Volume 4 (Part III, First Section) by St Thomas Aquinas 2007 ISBN 1-60206-560-8 pp. 2060-2062
  34. ^ Thomas Aquinas: theologian of the Christian life by Nicholas M. Healy 2003 ISBN 0-7546-1472-7 pages 98-101
  35. ^ The revelation of Elchasai by Gerard P. Luttikhuizen 1985 ISBN 3-16-144935-5 page 121
  36. ^ Jesus by Hartmut Miethe, Hilde Heyduck-Huth, ISBN 3-930180-21-9 Taylor & Francis page 168
  37. ^ a b The forging of races: race and scripture in the Protestant Atlantic world by Colin Kidd 2006 ISBN 0-521-79324-6 pages 43-50
  38. ^ Racializing Jesus: Race, Ideology and the Formation of Modern Biblical Scholarship by Shawn Kelley 2002 ISBN 0-415-28373-6 pages ii-xi
  39. ^ Stony the Road We Trod by Cain Hope Felder 1991 ISBN 0-8006-2501-3 page 139
  40. ^ [4] Hans Jonas, New York Review of Books, 1981
  41. ^ The Aryan Jesus: Christian theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany by Susannah Heschel 2008 ISBN 0-691-12531-7 page 32
  42. ^ Louis P. Masur The challenge of American history 1999, p. 319
  43. ^ The Symbolic Jesus: Historical Scholarship, Judaism and the Construction of Contemporary Identity by William Edward Arnal 2005 ISBN 1-84553-007-1 pages 46-47
  44. ^ Jesus and the origins of Christianity by Maurice Goguel, New York, Harper, 1960 page 255
  45. ^ Jan A. B. Jongeneel Jesus Christ in world history 2009, pp.202-203
  46. ^ a b c "The Black Christ" Chapter 25 of The Blackwell Companion to Jesus edited by Delbert Burkett 2010 ISBN 1-4051-9362-X pages 410-420
  47. ^ Christology from the margins by Thomas Bohache 2009 ISBN 0-334-04058-2 page 69
  48. ^ "Why do we think Christ was white?".  
  49. ^ Wilson, Giles (27 October 2004). "So what color was Jesus?".  
  50. ^ Selznick, Barbara J. (2007).  
  51. ^ Preston, John (8 April 2001). "The Dumbed Down Shall Be Raised Up".  
  52. ^ Bennett, Catherine (29 March 2001). "It's the greatest story ever told. Pity no one had a camera".  
  53. ^ Wells, Matt (March 27, 2001). "Is this the real face of Jesus Christ?".  
  54. ^ a b Legon, Jeordan (December 25, 2002). "From science and computers, a new face of Jesus".  
  55. ^ a b c Wilson, Giles (October 27, 2004). "So what color was Jesus?".  
  56. ^ "Experts Reconstruct Face Of Jesus".  
  57. ^ 1 Corinthians 11:14. King James Version: Oxford Standard (1769)
  58. ^ Michael Freze, 1993, Voices, Visions, and Apparitions, OSV Publishing ISBN 0-87973-454-X page 91
  59. ^ Arthur Barnes, 2003 Holy Shroud of Turin Kessinger Press ISBN 0-7661-3425-3 pages 2-9
  60. ^ William Meacham, The Authentication of the Turin Shroud:An Issue in Archaeological Epistemology, Current Anthropology, Volume 24, No 3, June 1983
  61. ^ Zenit, May 5, 2010
  62. ^ a b Catherine M. Odell, 1998, Faustina: Apostle of Divine Mercy OSV Press ISBN 978-0-87973-923-2 page 165
  63. ^ Am With You Always by Benedict Groeschel 2010 ISBN 978-1-58617-257-2 page 548
  64. ^ God's human face: the Christ-icon by Christoph Schoenborn 1994 ISBN 0-89870-514-2 page 154
  65. ^ Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine by John Galey 1986 ISBN 977-424-118-5 page 92
  66. ^ a b Teaching Christianity: a world religions approach by Clive Erricker 1987 ISBN 0-7188-2634-5 page 44
  67. ^ a b c d e The New Westminster Dictionary of Church History by Robert Benedetto 2006 ISBN 0-8264-8011-X pages 51-53
  68. ^ The image of God the Father in Orthodox theology and iconography by Steven Bigham 1995 ISBN 1-879038-15-3 pages 226-227
  69. ^ Archimandrite Vasileios of Stavronikita, "Icons as Liturgical Analogies" in Hymn of entry: liturgy and life in the Orthodox church 1997 ISBN 978-0-88141-026-6 pages 81-90
  70. ^ a b The image of St Francis by Rosalind B. Brooke 2006 ISBN 0-521-78291-0 pages 183-184
  71. ^ The tradition of Catholic prayer by Christian Raab, Harry Hagan, St. Meinrad Archabbey 2007 ISBN 0-8146-3184-3 pages 86-87
  72. ^ a b The vitality of the Christian tradition by George Finger Thomas 1944 ISBN 0-8369-2378-2 page 110-112
  73. ^ La vida sacra: contemporary Hispanic sacramental theology by James L. Empereur, Eduardo Fernández 2006 ISBN 0-7425-5157-1 pages 3-5
  74. ^ Philippines by Lily Rose R. Tope, Detch P. Nonan-Mercado 2005 ISBN 0-7614-1475-4 page 109
  75. ^ Experiencing Art Around Us by Thomas Buser 2005 ISBN 978-0-534-64114-6 pages 382-383
  76. ^ Leonardo da Vinci, the Last Supper: a Cosmic Drama and an Act of Redemption by Michael Ladwein 2006 pages 27 and 60
  77. ^  
  78. ^ The Challenge of the Silver Screen (Studies in Religion and the Arts) ISBN By Freek L. Bakker 2009 ISBN 90-04-16861-3 page 1
  79. ^ Encyclopedia of early cinema by Richard Abel2005 ISBN 0-415-23440-9 page 518
  80. ^ The Blackwell Companion to Jesus edited by Delbert Burkett 2010 ISBN 1-4051-9362-X page 526
  81. ^ Rickitt, Richard (2006). Designing Movie Creatures and Characters: Behind the Scenes With the Movie Masters (illustrated ed.).  
  82. ^ James Caviezel was given a prosthetic nose and a raised hairline. His blue eyes were digitally changed to brown on film.


See also

More recent artistic and cinematic portrayals have also made an effort to characterize Jesus as an ancient Middle Eastern resident. In the 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ, Jesus was portrayed by Jim Caviezel who wore a prosthetic nose during filming and had his blue eyes digitally changed to brown to give him a more Middle Eastern appearance. According to designer Miles Teves, who created the prosthesis: "Mel (Gibson) wanted to make the actor playing Jesus, James Caviezel, look more ethnically Middle Eastern, and it was decided that we could do it best by changing the shape of his nose."[82][83]

Objections to depictions of Jesus have appeared, e.g. in 1850 John Everett Millais was attacked for his painting Christ in the House of His Parents because it was "painful" to see "the youthful Saviour" depicted as "a red-headed Jew boy".[78] The first cinematic portrayal of Jesus was in the 1897 film La Passion du Christ produced in Paris, which lasted five minutes.[79][80] Thereafter cinematic portrayals have continued to show Jesus with a beard in the standard western depiction that resembles Renaissance images.[81]

The Renaissance brought forth a number of artistic masters who focused on the depictions of Jesus and after Giotto, Fra Angelico and others systematically developed uncluttered images that focused on the depiction of Jesus with an ideal human beauty.[10] Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper which is considered the first work of High Renaissance art due to its high level of harmony became well known for depicting Jesus surrounded by varying emotions of the individual apostles at the announcement of the betrayal.[76][77]

The 13th century witnessed a turning point in the portrayal of the powerful Kyrios image of Jesus as a wonder worker in the West, as the Franciscans began to emphasize the humility of Jesus both at his birth and his death via the Nativity scene as well as the crucifixion.[71][72][73] The Franciscans approached both ends of this spectrum of emotions and as the joys of the Nativity were added to the agony of crucifixion a whole new range of emotions were ushered in, with wide ranging cultural impact on the image of Jesus for centuries thereafter.[71][73][74][75]

The representation of the race of Jesus has been influenced by cultural settings.[10][67] A Chinese illustration, Beijing, 1879

The Byzantine Iconoclasm acted as a barrier to developments in the East, but by the 9th century art was again permitted.[10] The Transfiguration of Jesus was a major theme in the East and every Eastern Orthodox monk who took up iconography had to start his craft by producing the icon of the Transfiguration.[69] Whereas Western depictions aim for proportion, the abolition of perspective and alterations in the size and proportion of an image in Eastern icons aim to reach beyond man's earthly dwellings.[70]

By the 5th century depictions of the Passion began to appear, perhaps reflecting a change in the theological focus of the early Church.[68] The 6th century Rabbula Gospels include some of the earliest images of the crucifixion and resurrection.[68] By the 6th century the bearded depiction of Jesus had become standard, both in the East and the West.[1] These depictions with reddish brown hair parted in the middle and with almond shaped eyes showed consistency for several centuries.[1] At this time various legends were developed to attempt to validate the styles of depiction, e.g. the image of Edessa and later the Veil of Veronica.[1]

Although some images exist at the synagogue at Dura-Europos, and such images may have been common, Judaism in theory forbade images, and its influence on the depictions of Jesus remains unknown.[10] Christian depictions of the 3rd and 4th centuries typically focused on New Testament scenes of healings and other miracles.[68] Following the conversion of Constantine in the 4th century, Christian art found many wealthy donors and flourished.[68] In this period Jesus began to have more mature features, and was shown with a beard.[1] A new development at this time was the depiction of Jesus without a narrative context, but just as a figure by himself.[1]

Despite the lack of biblical references or historical records, for two millennia a wide range of depictions of Jesus have appeared, often influenced by cultural settings, political circumstances and theological contexts.[10][11][67] As in other Christian art, the earliest depictions date to the late second or early third century, and are primarily found in Rome.[68] In these early depictions, Jesus is usually shown as a youthful figure without a beard and with curly hair, sometimes with different features from the other men in the scenes, e.g. his disciples or the Romans.[1] However bearded depictions also appear from very early on, perhaps drawing on an existing stereotype from the Greek world of the appearance of the many itinerant charismatic philosophers.

The oldest surviving Christ Pantocrator icon, 6th century, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Egypt.[65][66]

Artistic portrayals

Another 20th century depiction of Jesus, namely the Divine Mercy image is based on Faustina Kowalska's reported vision, which she described in her diary as a pattern that was then painted by artists.[63] The depiction is now widely used among Catholics, and has over 100 million followers worldwide.[63][64]

By the 20th century, some reports of miraculous images of Jesus began to receive significant attention, e.g. Secondo Pia's photograph of the Shroud of Turin, one of the most controversial artifacts in history. During its May 2010 exposition the shroud and its photograph of what some authors consider the face of Jesus were visited by over 2 million people.[60][61][62]

A number of descriptions of Jesus have been reported by saints and mystics who claim they have seen Jesus in a vision. Reports of such visions are more common among Roman Catholics than other Christian denominations.[59]

During the Middle Ages, a number of legendary images of Jesus began to appear, at times perhaps constructed to validate the styles of depiction of that period, e.g. the image of Edessa.[1] The Veil of Veronica was accompanied by a narrative about the Passion of Jesus.[1]

Acheiropoieta and reported visions

Although not literally the face of Jesus,[54] the result of the study determined that Jesus's skin would have been more olive-colored than white,[55] and that he would have most likely probably looked like a typical Galilean Semite of his day.. Among the points made was that the Bible records that Jesus's disciple Judas had to point him out to those arresting him. The implied argument is that if Jesus's physical appearance had differed markedly from his disciples, then he would have been relatively easy to identify.[57]

Additional information about Jesus's skin color and hair was provided by Mark Goodacre, a senior lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham.[55] Using third-century images from a synagogue—the earliest pictures of Jewish people[56]—Goodacre proposed that Jesus's skin color would have been darker and swarthier than his traditional Western image. He also suggested that he would have had short, curly hair and a short cropped beard.[57] This is also confirmed in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, where Paul the Apostle states that it is "disgraceful" for a man to have long hair.[58] As Paul allegedly knew many of the disciples and members of Jesus's family, it is unlikely that he would have written such a thing had Jesus had long hair.[57]

It is most commonly argued that Jesus was probably of Middle Eastern descent because of the geographic location of the events described in the Gospels, and, among some modern Christian scholars, the genealogy ascribed to him. For this reason, he has been portrayed as an olive-skinned individual typical of the Levant region. In 2001, a new attempt was made to discover what the true race and face of Jesus might have been. The study, sponsored by the BBC, France 3 and Discovery Channel,[53] used one of three first-century Jewish skulls from a leading department of forensic science in Israel. A face was constructed using forensic anthropology by Richard Neave, a retired medical artist from the Unit of Art in Medicine at the University of Manchester.[54] The face that Neave constructed suggested that Jesus would have had a broad face and large nose, and differed significantly from the traditional depictions of Jesus in renaissance art.[55]

The CGI model created in 2001 suggested that Jesus's skin color would have been darker and more olive-colored than his traditional depictions in Western art.

In academic studies, beyond generally agreeing that "Jesus was Jewish", modern scholarship has not conclusively dealt with the question what "being Jewish" then meant.[12]

A study on the 2001 BBC series Son of God attempted to determine what Jesus's race and appearance may have been.[48] Assuming Jesus to be a Galilean Semite, the study concluded in conjunction with Mark Goodacre that his skin would have been "olive-coloured"[49] and "swarthy"[50]—these results were criticised by some media outlets for being "dismissive" and "dumbed down".[51][52] However, this type of analysis suggests, that even though broadly Caucasian, Jesus may not have fit into all modern definitions of whiteness in the Western world.

By the 20th century, theories had also been proposed that Jesus was black, but not necessarily of descendent of any specific black African ethnicity, e.g. based on the argument that the ancient Israelites, as a group, were in whole or part originally a black people.[37][46] Martin Luther King was a proponent of the "Black Christ" movement and identified the struggle of Jesus against the authorities of the time with the struggle of African Americans in the southern parts of the United States, as he questioned why the white church leaders did not voice concern for racial equality.[46] For some, this blackness was due to Jesus's identification with black people, not the color of his skin,[46] while others such as Albert Cleage argued that Jesus was ethnically black.[47]

The English writer Godfrey Higgins suggested in his book Anacalypsis (1836) that Jesus was a dark brown skinned Indo-Aryan from North India. In 1906 a German writer named Theodor Plange wrote a book titled Christ-an Indian? in which he argued that Jesus was an Indian and that the Christian gospel had originated in India.[45]

By the 19th century theories that Jesus was of the "Aryan" race, and in particular of Nordic appearance, were developed and later appealed to advocates of the new racial antisemitism, who wanted nothing Jewish about Jesus. Houston Stewart Chamberlain posited Jesus was of Amorite-Germanic extraction.[40] Madison Grant claimed Jesus for the Nordic race.[13][41][42] This found its most extreme form in the Nazi theology of Positive Christianity. Scholars supporting the radical Aryan view also argued that being a Jew by religion was distinguishable from being a Jew by "race" or ethnicity.[43] These theories usually also include the reasoning that Jesus was Aryan because Galilee was a supposedly a non-Jewish region speaking an unknown Indo-European language, but this has not gained scholarly acceptance (in fact, Galilee had a significant non-Jewish minority, but these spoke various local Semitic languages).[13][44]

A black Jesus with Nicodemus, by Tanner, 1899

In his book Racializing Jesus, Shawn Kelley states that the assignment of a specific race to Jesus has been a cultural phenomenon emanating from the higher levels of intellectual circles within societies, and he draws parallels between the seemingly different approaches within different settings.[38] Cain Hope Felder has argued that New Testament passages such as Galatians 3:28 express a universalism that goes beyond race, ethnicity or even religion.[39]

[37] Kidd reviews a number of theories about the race of Jesus, ranging from a white Aryan Jesus to a black African Jesus, illustrating that there is no general agreement among scholars on the race of Jesus.[9] In explaining the development of racial theories in the context of

Emergence of racial theories

A forged letter by Publius Lentulus, the Governor of Judea, to the Roman Senate dates to around the year 1300 and, according to most scholars, was composed to compensate for the lack of any physical description of Jesus in the Bible.[11] Also in the 14th century Nicephorus Callistus quoted an unnamed antique source that described Jesus as tall and beautiful with fair, wavy hair, but his account was most likely without basis and was inspired by the prevailing artistic images of Jesus.[36]

Around the 9th century, Epiphanius Monachus referred to a tall angelic figure, which has at times been interpreted as Christ, but scholars consider it an unlikely reference to Jesus.[35] Other spurious references include the Archko Volume and the letter of Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar, the descriptions in which were most likely composed in the Middle Ages.[4][5][6]

By the Middle Ages a number of documents, generally of unknown or questionable origin, had been composed and were circulating with details of the appearance of Jesus, as described below.

But, the more mainstream view, as expressed by Church Fathers Saint Jerome and Saint Augustine of Hippo, argued from a theological perspective that Jesus must have been ideally beautiful in face and body. For Augustine he was "beautiful as a child, beautiful on earth, beautiful in heaven".[32] These theological arguments were further extended in the 13th century by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae based on his analysis of the Perfection of Christ, reasoning that Christ must have embodied every possible human perfection.[33][34]

The focus of many early sources was on the relative physical beauty of Jesus. The second century anti-Christian philosopher Celsus wrote that Jesus was "ugly and small".[30] Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Ambrose actually considered lack of physical attractiveness in Jesus as fulfilling the Messianic prophecy "Suffering Servant" narrative of Isaiah 53.[31]

Justin Martyr argued for the genealogy of Jesus in the biological Davidic line from Mary, as well as from his non-biological father Joseph.[2] But this only implies a general Jewish ancestry, acknowledged generally by authors.

Despite the lack of direct biblical or historical references, from the second century onward various theories about the appearance of Jesus were advanced, but early on these focused more on his physical appearance than on race or ancestry. Larger arguments of this kind have been debated for centuries.[3]

Early Church to the Middle Ages

These variations have been explained in various ways, and have been co-opted to make assertions about race. For example, Ana Echevarría notes that medieval Spanish writer Jiménez de Rada in his Historia arabum chooses a version to emphasise that Jesus is whiter than Muhammad, quoting the Ibn Abbas version: "I saw Jesus, a man of medium height and moderate complexion inclined to the red and white colours and of lank hair". Echevarría comments that "Moses and Jesus are portrayed as specimens of a completely different 'ethnic type', fair and blond; 'ethnic' or 'racial' differences between them and Muhammad are thus highlighted."[29]

Quranic and hadith traditions such as Sahih Bukhari as well as tafsir have given an oral depiction of what Jesus looked like, although some accounts don't match, such as Jesus being both curly haired and straight-haired. The hadith refer to Muhammad's account of the Night Journey, when he is supposed to have been taken up to heaven by the angel Gabriel (Jibra'il), where he saw Jesus and other prophets. Most versions of this say that "Jesus had curly hair and a reddish complexion".[23] Others say his face was flushed as if he just had a bath ("a reddish man with many freckles on his face as if he had just come from a bath"[24][25]). In another account from Bukhari Jesus is seen in a dream near the Kaaba, as "a man of a wheatish complexion with straight hair. I asked who it was. They said: This is the Messiah, son of Mary".[26] However, other narrations give variations in the color. Salim ibn Abd-Allah reports from his father Abdullah ibn Umar that the prophet "did not say that Jesus was of red complexion", rather he was "a man of brown complexion and lank hair".[27] In contrast Abd Allah ibn Abbas says that Jesus was of "moderate complexion inclined to the red and white colors and of lank hair."[28]

Quranic and Muslim traditions

Old Testament references about a coming Messiah (whom Christians believe to be Jesus) have been projected forward to form conjectures about the appearance of Jesus on theological, rather than historical, grounds; e.g. Isaiah 53:2 which refers to the scourged Messiah with "no beauty that we should desire him" and Psalm 45:2-3 which describes him as "fairer than the children of men", often interpreted as his physical description.[18][19][20][21] Clarks' commentary accepts Lamentations 4:7 "Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more swarthy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire: Their visage is blacker than coal;" as referring to skin color.[22] 1 Samuel 16:12 describes David, the ancestor of Jesus, as having "beautiful eyes" or "fair countenance."[22]

The Book of Revelation includes John's vision of the Son of Man, which describes "...and his feet were like unto burnt brass, His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow;" [other translations: "burnished bronze"], as if they burned in a furnace..." in a vision (1:13-16), but this vision is usually considered to refer to Jesus in heavenly form, not necessarily his appearance during his earthly life.[16][17]

The Synoptic Gospels include the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus, during which he was glorified with "his face shining as the sun."[14][15]

The New Testament includes no descriptions of Jesus' everyday appearance before his death and the Gospel narratives are generally indifferent to people's racial appearance or features.[11][1][13]

Transfiguration by Alexandr Ivanov, 1824

Biblical references


  • Biblical references 1
  • Quranic and Muslim traditions 2
  • Early Church to the Middle Ages 3
  • Emergence of racial theories 4
  • Acheiropoieta and reported visions 5
  • Artistic portrayals 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9

By the 19th century, theories that Jesus was non-Semitic, and in particular Aryan, were developed.[8] However, as in other cases of the assignment of race to Biblical individuals, these claims have been mostly subjective, based on cultural stereotypes and societal trends rather than on scientific analysis.[9] For two millennia a wide range of artistic depictions of Jesus have appeared, often influenced by cultural settings, political circumstances and theological contexts.[10][11] There is no major disagreement that he was ethnically Middle Eastern-Jewish. Though some question what exactly that looked like at that time, there is a general scholarly consensus that first-century Jews from Judea were Levantine Middle Easterners.[12]

[7] While many people have a fixed mental image of Jesus, drawn from his artistic depictions, these images often conform to ethnic-European stereotypes which are not grounded in any serious research on the historical Jesus, but are based on second- or third-hand interpretations of spurious sources.[6][5][4]

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