What Did Jesus Look Like? What Would Jesus Do?

| March 29, 2006 | 19 Replies

Unfortunately, no one took His photograph.  Had they done so, Jesus wouldn’t have had a prayer recruiting most of his potential followers.  It is hard to imagine western Europeans falling in love with a dark-skinned Savior from the Middle East, especially a Jewish one.

For many centuries, Western Europeans haven’t paid meaningful attention to dark-skinned writers, musicians, painters, architects, teachers, politicians or philosophers.  In fact, they’ve openly discriminated against anyone who didn’t look “European.”  Nor would Jesus have had much of a chance today (“Hey, isn’t he one of those guys who attacked us on 9/11?”). We certainly wouldn’t tolerate any dark-skinned man who told us to give up our extravagant (i.e., suburban) lifestyles.

Because there are no photographs, Believers have had much artistic license to imagine Jesus in comforting ways.  Jesus always resembles the people who believe in Him.  He likes the things they like.  He feels their pain when they don’t get asked out to the prom.  He cries for them when they don’t get that promotion.  He applauds if we finish assembling the best Christmas lighting display on the block (He shouts “Way to Go!” and gives us the thumbs-up.). 

But most strikingly, even though His Believers don’t resemble each other, Jesus physically looks like each of them.  That’s how He looks in their dreams and prayers, as well as in publicly displayed art.  Numerous artists have portrayed Jesus in varying ways.   This art typically proves that we have created Jesus in our own image and likeness.   Western Europeans have typically portrayed Jesus to look western European.  Africans have African Jesus.   Asians have an Asian Jesus.  Most of these paintings are false, of course.  If a man named Jesus walked the Earth, he could have looked like, at most, only one of these many representations.

For Believers, however, the total lack of evidence has never been a hurdle.  For Believers, comforting beliefs that cannot be proven true are nonetheless important.  What kind of claims get this evidentiary dispensation?  The things I want to believe, of course.  The many contradictions and gaps in the Bible record are simply no problem to those who want to believe them.  And Believers have an amazing ability to selectively be skeptical.  The God worshipped by everyone else’s religion is FALSE.  Tiny fossil gaps are much more troublesome than the total failure of Christian writers (and non-Christian) to acknowledge the life and miracles of a real life Jesus of Galilee, a startling gap of more than forty years from the alleged death of Jesus until writing of the earliest Gospels. 

Given this historical free rein to portray Jesus, I would propose that His American image for the 21st Century be redesigned and promulgated as follows:  The new Jesus is driving his high-powered SUV out of the tomb, wearing designer jeans and sunglasses, His blonde hair waving in the breeze.  He’s focused on getting a good parking spot at the stadium so as not to miss that first pitch.   He has box seats, of course, where he will be sitting next to you and you and . . . YOU.   What He wants to hear about more than anything else, is whatever is on YOUR mind (“Jesus, I’m trying to figure out the best airfare to get to Cancun”).

This account is not meant to be blasphemous.  Instead, it is an illustration that in modern American culture, whoever Jesus might have been, His image and message have been carefully honed, against all evidence, so as not to challenge or destroy the fantasies or lifestyle of most American Believers.  His image and wishes have been carefully crafted so as not to trample on our rampant materialist cravings. 

In modern America we don’t need to do much at all to have Jesus as our Buddy. All we need to do is to make that weekly visit to one of those many country clubs with steeples.  An hour of uncritical sycophantic swooning per week is one’s ticket to that eternal resort in the sky.  “I Believe” dispenses with any need to do real work to make the world a better place to live, including for those who are truly desperate. Jesus continues to smile whenever we choose to buy that new wide-screened TV, even though that $2,000 payments could have kept 20 children from literally starving to death.

“Aw, crap.  The poor and needy?” I just heard someone say.  “That’s such an old and tired issue! I don’t have time for it.  I’m too busy planning a ski trip with my Buddy Jesus.”

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Category: Psychology Cognition, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (19)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    It would be a fascinating anthropology experiment to see what would happen to attendance at any predominantly Caucasian surburban church, even an evangelical one, if the statue of Jesus on the cross that hangs above the altar, and that invariably features a Caucasian Jesus, were to be suddenly replaced with one that features a non-Caucasian Jesus. Imagine White Christian suburbanites happily walking into their familiar neighborhood church on Sunday morning, and suddenly finding themselves looking up at an African, Asian or (most likely accurate for a Nazarean) an olive-skinned Middle-Eastern Jesus hanging from the cross. I wonder how many loyal churchgoers would stand up and walk out. I wonder how many would return the following Sunday, even if they did stay through the entire service on the first day of the switch. I wonder how many would take the change in stride and be happy with it. Any takers out there want to try this experiment and report back?

  2. lisa w says:

    I have to say that I have always been a little curious to know what the 'man' Jesus would have looked like. I have also been studying my family tree and traced one side back to Adam and Eve. I was amazed when I traveled through history to see where my family once was. I traced it through the United States, England, Palestine, Egypt. It was amazing. I am absolutely sure that Christ was not white with blonde hair and blue eyes. I believe there is enough evidence to support this. Although, I grew up with this picture as the picture of Christ. I am white, so of course growing up, that made perfect sense to me. Truth be known, I am sure there are alot of us that are curious about what he looked like, it does NOT matter. We all have the same chance to be received by the Lord our God and be one of his children. But, if people insist on basing everything on the natural, then this realization alone should perusade everyone to end racism.

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    Whether Jesus was one man, or several, or even existed at all is an open question. Outside of the selected gospels collected and edited into the official New Testament, there is no corroborating evidence of an actual Jesus existing.

    Anyone browsing the Catholic Encyclopedia learns (for example) that St. Patrick, that relatively recent and well known Saint, is actually a composite of two Catholic Generals sequentially sent out to conquer the pagan kingdoms of Ireland (after great success exterminating heretics and pagans on the mainland).

    The Jesus written of by Paul may not have been the same individual as the Jesus of Mark. There are scant similarities between their stories. Either way, I'm betting on any of them being olive-skinned with a full black beard.

  4. grumpypilgrim says:

    "I am absolutely sure that Christ was not white with blonde hair and blue eyes. I believe there is enough evidence to support this."

    There is evidence in the Bible that Jesus, if he existed at all, might have had Ethiopian ancestors. I don't recall the citation, but there is a phrase in Revelations that mentions Jesus having curly hair and feet of bronze. Almost certainly he would not have had the Scandinavian features he is so often pictured to have had in European art…nor the Oriental features he is pictured to have had in Asian art. To the contrary, his appearance in artwork is carefully adjusted to appeal to local tastes.

  5. Terry Miller says:

    I was looking for an illustration about Jesus and found this website. WOW! Some very interesting views – most of which are not supported. Take for instance grumpypilgrim experiment – ahh… we don't have a cross up in our church – many don't – but go ahead and put up a middle-eastern dark skinned man to portray Jesus- nobody would say anything except, "Jesus probably looked closer to him than and Jesus film." Don Klarmann says there is no corroborating evidence of an actual Jesus existing. Are you kidding? How about Josephus for starters. I guess my point is, without rambling, we all have to have faith in something. We all have a belief system that takes leaps of faith to believe. The "church" has done a pretty horrible job of demonstrating who Jesus is and what He is all about. We have turned Him into a moral teacher instead of a Savior. We, (the church) have failed miserably. My apologies – truly. Jesus – a Jew from middle-east decent, came to demonstrate the great love of God, not self-righteousness. The church goes crazy over the stupidest stuff – Jesus loved people no matter where they were in life. He is the same today. There is a part of the church that cares a lot less whether you drink, smoke or gamble or…. but deeply cares and prays for people to come to the essential understanding of what Jesus said. This is the work of God – to believe in the One He sent (Jesus) and to love your neighbor as yourself. You can do the 2nd without the first fairly decently, but you can't avoid the 2nd one, if you do the 1st one. Sorry if you felt I was calling out a couple of "posters", just trying to catch your attention. If you don't believe, then challenge God to show himself to you.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Terry: You cite Josephus without mentioning that many scholars consider his reference to Jesus to be a forgery.

    Yes, we all believe in something. And I believe that all of us believe in things that we can't actually prove. But those of us who are careful and honest don't express certitude in FACTS for which there is not substantial evidence.

    I'm glad that it "works" for you, that the story of Jesus inspires you to be kind to others. Many writings on this site, however, demonstrate that one does not need to literally believe that Jesus existed in order to be kind to others.

    Furthermore, there is (in my view) compelling evidence that the Jesus of the Gospel did not live the life that is portrayed there and, perhaps, did not exist at all.

  7. grumpypilgrim says:

    Terry Miller writes: "We all have a belief system that takes leaps of faith to believe."

    I often hear that assertion from Christians. To me, it seems more a plea for validation — a hope that the believer will not be criticized for imagining-into-existence an invisible spirit world — than a statement that illuminates any universal truth. To my amazement, religious zealots often declare that their belief in invisible people and forces is somehow *superior* to the beliefs of non-believers — because, for them, believing without evidence is seen as a greater virtue than believing with evidence. To me, believing without evidence is merely a greater demonstration of social conformism: the greater the certainty someone expresses about their invisible spirit world, the more they are separating themselves from any demonstrable reality. To suggest that the "faith" of the religious zealot is comparable to "faith" in evidence is to suggest that fiction should be equated to non-fiction: it's absurd.

  8. Susan Jackson says:

    I can't believe Jesus looked very much different than any man of his time coming from where he lived. If he did look different he never would have been accepted at all, if only for 3 years.

  9. Karl says:

    The human mind as you well know prefers to work with the concrete. But the nature of the one true God is Spirit which is why everything discussed here at DI falls far short of understanding the basics about God.

    God did not make man in his physical image, As God’s nature is spirit, so is that part of man that is made in the image of God.

    Love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are aspects of the Spirit of the one true God that have no laws against them.

    These all humans have a God given right (by possessing God’s image) to display in ever higher degrees. Their opposites are what we are all aware cause direct human conflicts and wars.

    God doesn’t look like a specific person or image, humanly, God looks like someone who possesses these spiritual characteristics.

    Jesus consistently warned against worshipping him in the flesh. He tells us to eat the representation of his flesh in the the Eucharist so that we realize the futility of the physical side of life to understand spiritutal things.

    We shouldn't care a hill of beans about what Jesus looked like, what his personality and character traits are what he desires us to emphasize.

    It is these same character traits that we all have rights to possess.

  10. Karl says:

    It is the pursuit of these same character traits that brings meaning to human existence, without them the pursuit of happiness is no more than a physical joy ride.

  11. Marcia says:

    I found your site while searching "What did Jesus look like?" You're a curious bunch to wonder if he even lived. There's so much history to say yes, he did. Was He divine is the question. And that's another huge yes and again, there's history to prove it.

    What did he look like? Following are just two of the historical accounts from those who were contemporary to his day and even talked with him.

    Manuscript in the possession of Lord Kelly, and in his library, copied from an original letter of Publius Lentullus at Rome. It being the usual custom of Roman Governors to advertise the Senate and people of such material things as happened in their provinces in the days of Tiberius Caesar, Publius Lentullus, President of Judea, wrote the following epistle to the Senate concerning the Nazarene called Jesus.

    "There appeared in these our days a man, of the Jewish Nation, of great virtue, named Yeshua [Jesus], who is yet living among us, and of the Gentiles is accepted for a Prophet of truth, but His own disciples call Him the Son of God- He raiseth the dead and cureth all manner of diseases. A man of stature somewhat tall, and comely, with very reverent countenance, such as the beholders may both love and fear, his hair of (the colour of) the chestnut, full ripe, plain to His ears, whence downwards it is more orient and curling and wavering about His shoulders. In the midst of His head is a seam or partition in His hair, after the manner of the Nazarenes. His forehead plain and very delicate; His face without spot or wrinkle, beautified with a lovely red; His nose and mouth so formed as nothing can be reprehended; His beard thickish, in colour like His hair, not very long, but forked; His look innocent and mature; His eyes grey, clear, and quick- In reproving hypocrisy He is terrible; in admonishing, courteous and fair spoken; pleasant in conversation, mixed with gravity. It cannot be remembered that any have seen Him Laugh, but many have seen Him Weep. In proportion of body, most excellent; His hands and arms delicate to behold. In speaking, very temperate, modest, and wise. A man, for His singular beauty, surpassing the children of men"

    The letter from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar

    This is a reprinting of a letter from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar describing the physical appearance of Jesus. Copies are in the Congressional Library in Washington, D.C.

    TO TIBERIUS CAESAR:

    A young man appeared in Galilee preaching with humble unction, a new law in the Name of the God that had sent Him. At first I was apprehensive that His design was to stir up the people against the Romans, but my fears were soon dispelled. Jesus of Nazareth spoke rather as a friend of the Romans than of the Jews. One day I observed in the midst of a group of people a young man who was leaning against a tree, calmly addressing the multitude. I was told it was Jesus. This I could easily have suspected so great was the difference between Him and those who were listening to Him. His golden colored hair and beard gave to his appearance a celestial aspect. He appeared to be about 30 years of age. Never have I seen a sweeter or more serene countenance. What a contrast between Him and His bearers with their black beards and tawny complexions! Unwilling to interrupt Him by my presence, I continued my walk but signified to my secretary to join the group and listen. Later, my secretary reported that never had he seen in the works of all the philosophers anything that compared to the teachings of Jesus. He told me that Jesus was neither seditious nor rebellious, so we extended to Him our protection. He was at liberty to act, to speak, to assemble and to address the people. This unlimited freedom provoked the Jews — not the poor but the rich and powerful.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Marcia: I know that you are being sincere, but you failure to give citations is a HUGE red flag. No reputable bible scholar has ever claimed the existence of such first-person historical accounts. I suggest that you look much more carefully at the information you are relying on and report back with real citations. I suspect that we won't be hearing from you because you'll find that these "historical accounts" you've described are wholly concocted.

    • jov says:

      You mention Marcia's failure to give citations. The questionable documents are offered in The Archko Volume by W. D. Mahan, published in 1887. The work is disputed, though not disproven — just like the protestant bible. Which leads me to just this: In my research for truth, wherever it leads and in most case has led, I have found that almost no one can agree on anything, on either side of any biblical topic, but they all like to doll out the citations. What is a citation? A reference to an article or book that someone else has written with thier own views inferred or woven into it. To quote, or cite, to me is an attempt to bolster one's own opinion by showing that someone with presumably more credibility is on their side. Unfortunately, it's the way things are, yet ultimately, it's one's own conclusion of how they interpret the facts that they uncover; hopefully with an unbiased open mind. To the topics above, as it seems to always come down to skeptic vs. believer, I would suggest that believers follow where God leads them, and skeptics stop looking to micro discrepencies or even general issues that cannot be proven 100% by either side. A good resource would be read Lee Strobel's "CASE" series of books. Christ followers my be prompted to look into some thing for themselves. For skeptics, I assume they will still find enough nuances beyond any given total picture which will give them the satisfaction to go on with their personal belief that upon death the lights will just suddenly go out and they will not be accountable for their lives. I sometimes wish I weren't a follower of Christ, because that would be an easy and comfortable exitance, and I, like an athiest, would feel good about being my own man, who can make my own destiny and without consequence. However, though some portion of Christian living involves faith, the evidence in favor of biblical truth very much outweighs it. To be fair, sort of, those sitting on the evolution side of the fence have alot of credible evidence as well – though if it were proven, which is impossible, it wouldn't still be a theory. (I refer to the fact that carbon dating can only be verified to 6000 years, archeological finds and written language; again only can be verified to about 6000 years, even DNA has been traced back to to a single female who lived 6000 years ago according to Discover Magazine April 2009, etc. etc. etc.) Citations? Try looking each of these up on the internet … it easy to find articles and books that give "proof" enough to align with your own individual ideals regardless of which side of the coin is your favorite. Sorry to blather, but one more thing I hear the other day: "There will be no athiest's in Hell." Get it? I love the irony.

  12. charts.1 says:

    Most christian believers today are cradle believers and know little of their faith. Rushed of to be baptized by our parents at 3 months of age not to make the church happy but to become what our parents want us to become……just like them. Western culture democracies have been brainwashed into believing that jesus could look no other then the tall fair skinned blue eyed long brown hair guy that appears to be a surfer from Malibu beach. We like that. The catholic church would never want us to believe that jesus had a background of being jewish. The bible mentions a few times of jesus wearing tassels on his clothes like most orthodox jews of his time, but the catholic church has santized jesus appearance not to have him wearing jewish tassels, but to make jesus more like us, not more like him.

    Christianity is just another old recycled mythical faith taught mainly through family tradition not knowledgeble information. When I attended grade school during my early catholic years I believed all the repetitive jumbo our teachers taught us about our faith. Jesus born of a virgin, performed miracles, 12 apostles, resurrection WOW! I believed all this to be UNIQUE to the catholic faith. Not so! We now know of several mythical god men that came centuries before also born of virgins, performed miracles, had apostles and also resurrected. Characters in the stories are very similar to the bible stories just many of the names are different. I became my own individual breaking away from the lies I was taught.

    I do believe now that christianity is just a competitive business against each other christian faith. The main purpose is to increase membership to increase power amongst its followers.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      charts.1: I have also been amazed by the fact that all versions of Christianity are so similar to many of the other virgin-born earth-visiting savior who dies mythologies. Consider, for instance, the story of the Egyptian god Horus.

  13. charts.1 says:

    Erich: Please check out Osiris and Krishna. These two mythical gods that came centuries before have many of the same stories as jesus and the characters are the same but just different names.

    Archealogical excavations recently indicate that jewish men from the first century were about 5 feet tall. Roman men were about 5 feet 4. How many catholics today would accept the fact that jesus was not the tall long haired 1960s looking hippy that they want him to look like in the sacred heart of jesus picture. Don't believe there are many catholics that want jesus to be only 5 feet 0" tall. Just 2 inches taller then a dwarf. No offense to dwarfs.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      charts.1: Fascinating stuff about the height of people 2,000 years ago. If Jesus showed up today, he wouldn't get much respect for many reasons (I believe), and that now includes his lack of height.

      I just heard a story that Lyndon Johnson had a special chair that quietly lifted him a bit higher than the other people at the conference table.

      Question: Do that make sandals with 14" lifts? If Jesus showed up today, he'd need them.

    • charts.1 says:

      Many catholics today say that it doesn't matter what jesus looked like, its his message that they are interested in. I disagree with that. Many catholics have an image of jesus, just like we have an image of santa clause. If jesus didn't look like the image we have been indoctrinated to believe and was shown as 5 feet 0" and was balding, with a thick black uni-brow, catholics would be outraged and scream blasphmey!

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