Monday, February 21, 2005

The "real" face of Jesus?

A few years ago I came across a picture in Popular Mechanics that I have never been able to get out of my mind. In fact, whenever I think about what Jesus most likely looked like, I think of this image...even after watching The Passion of the Christ. The depiction below is a digital, 3-D reconstruction of an average Semitic, adult male might look like around the time and place that Jesus walked the earth.

Here's an excerpt from Popular Mechanics :

The Real Face Of Jesus

Advances in forensic science reveal the most famous face in history.

From the first time Christian children settle into Sunday school classrooms, an image of Jesus Christ is etched into their minds. In North America he is most often depicted as being taller than his disciples, lean, with long, flowing, light brown hair, fair skin and light-colored eyes. Familiar though this image may be, it is inherently flawed. A person with these features and physical bearing would have looked very different from everyone else in the region where Jesus lived and ministered. Surely the authors of the Bible would have mentioned so stark a contrast. On the contrary, according to the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane before the Crucifixion, Judas Iscariot had to indicate to the soldiers whom Jesus was because they could not tell him apart from his disciples. Further clouding the question of what Jesus looked like is the simple fact that nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus described, nor have any drawings of him ever been uncovered. There is the additional problem of having neither a skeleton nor other bodily remains to probe for DNA. In the absence of evidence, our images of Jesus have been left to the imagination of artists. The influences of the artists' cultures and traditions can be profound, observes Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi, associate professor of world Christianity at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta. "While Western imagery is dominant, in other parts of the world he is often shown as black, Arab or Hispanic." And so the fundamental question remains: What did Jesus look like?

An answer has emerged from an exciting new field of science: forensic anthropology. Using methods similar to those police have developed to solve crimes, British scientists, assisted by Israeli archeologists, have re-created what they believe is the most accurate image (above) of the most famous face in human history...

For those accustomed to traditional Sunday school portraits of Jesus, the sculpture of the dark and swarthy Middle Eastern man that emerges from Neave's laboratory is a reminder of the roots of their faith. "The fact that he probably looked a great deal more like a darker-skinned Semite than westerners are used to seeing him pictured is a reminder of his universality," says Charles D. Hackett, director of Episcopal studies at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. "And [it is] a reminder of our tendency to sinfully appropriate him in the service of our cultural values."


John Borgquist said...

Thanks for sharing that article Josh. The picture of the historical Jesus has long been an interest of mine, since I have always firmly held to his semetic appearance. I think it is the most appropriate way to picture him, and I believe that a faithfulness to these details gives the best physical representation of the Son of God. After all, the fact that Jesus was a Jew is not accident: God had chosen the Jews from the beginning. We must accept this decision and embrace it, and not try to rip the Christ over to our own particular race. It would be a very Roman thing to do...

Josh said...

Glad you enjoyed the article. As good as the evidence is, I think it'll take quite some time before this image of Jesus replaces the historic icons and the lovely flannel-grafs we've all come to love!