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Is it historically inaccurate that Jesus is usually portrayed as European looking, having certain facial and bodily features (muscular)?

Would most people follow Him if he did not look white or was heavy set? It almost seems like a trick sometimes to get certain people to believe.

Does the Bible say anything about his physical appearance and how we are to physically think of Him?

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vs.

(A special on PBS about scientists who put together a large study to determine what Jesus looked most like, and it is not how he was usually pictured.)

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6 Answers 6

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With regards to ethnicity and geography, the direct answer to this is a big Yes, it is wrong. Bethlehem is in Palestine, Asia. The borders of this nation is the red sea, Egypt, Lebanon Jordan, the Dead Sea and Syria, (varied with time). The closest picture we could estimate should be that of an Arab or middle eastern.

Theories that Jesus was European were forged, including those that claimed he was of black partly because Jesus lived as a small boy in Egypt.

"...the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and mother and flee into Egypt...that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son." (Matthew 2:13-15).

But, these claims do not have any concrete scientific bases and are purely subjective.

Nowhere in the bible is was Jesus physically described apart from the transfiguration. We are only told of his descent Solomon and David, all from Israel and over14 generations afterwards.

"And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa;....And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." (Matthew 1:6-16)

The names couldn't be European either.

Another possible answer also by logic is that God could not give him any look different from the people around him.

Let's assume that Christ was born in Eastern or West Africa where you can find the darkest people on earth. For Him to live an exemplary life so that people wouldn't find it a big deal doing what he did, he must have had the looks of blacks, not white to look strange for his black society to think it takes something supernatural to live a righteous life.

Remember that the society could not doubt him as the son of Joseph, the carpenter.

"Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?" (Matthew 13:55).

Remember Jesus hungered, slept, wept and got angry to prove his earthly being. The best assumption is that, in the Middle-east, he would be born Middle-eastern as some sort of placebo to win friends and followers.

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There are pockets of varying degrees of racial traits in those geographies. West of the nile valley are the Berber people for instance, which are generally lighter in complexion. –  LessQuesar Apr 16 at 22:24
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The Bible gives no physical description of Jesus in the sense of describing his skin tone, hair style, etc. I am not aware of any description in other ancient documents. (If anyone knows of one, please tell us. I'd love to hear about it.)

Jesus' mother was Jewish and his father was the Holy Spirit. As the implication is that he indeed inherited genetic material from his mother, it seems he would have looked at least half Jewish.

One story opponents spread about him was that his birth was the result of an affair between Mary and a Roman soldier named Pantera. Whether anyone considered whether his physical appearance was consistant with being the son of an Italian I don't know.

This is very speculative, but it seems to me that if he looked distinctly non-Jewish, like if he had been black or looked Chinese, that this would have been surprising and people would have talked about it and there would have been some record.

I didn't see the PBS special you refer to. Did they have any actual evidence to back up this picture? What more could they know than "probably looked Jewish"? It's a long way from there to a mocked-up photo.

Medieval and Rennaissance European art often portrays people from ancient history looking like Europeans, not only in skin color and facial features, but sometimes even wearing contemporary (to the artist) European clothes. As they did this with both heros and villians, I doubt it came from any racial antipathy. Perhaps it was ignorance: they didn't know how people back then looked. Perhaps it was the opposite of racism: They didn't know or care what color somebody was. Perhaps it was simple practicality: They were living in Europe, the available models to pose for a painting were all Europeans, so that's what they worked from.

As Shredder says, if someone draws Jesus looking non-Jewish because he hates Jews, that's racism and surely a sin. (And rather silly: if Jesus really had looked like a member of a racial or ethnic group you disliked, drawing him inaccurately wouldn't change that fact. It would make more sense for it to lead you to reconsider your prejudices.) If someone draws Jesus inaccurately because he doesn't know better, I can't imagine that God would hold that against him.

As we have no physical description of Jesus, ANY picture will surely be inaccurate. Barring divince inspiration to the artist, he's just guessing. What are the chances that someone who had never seen you or seen a picture of you, going just by vague knowledge of your ethnic background and a capsule biography, could draw a picture that people would recognize as you? Pretty close to zero, I think.

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very good points. –  Greg McNulty Apr 6 '12 at 16:20
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Yes it is wrong, in this day and age where everyone is on the internet and information is readily available, there is no excuse for ignorance. With just a few searches anyone can find out about the groups of people living in the Roman controlled Greek Kingdom of Judea. Jesus' mother was not 'jewish' as a lot of what westerners consider jewish are actually european jews whos families fled europe during WWII. His mother would have been closer to Israeli. He would not have looked arab or saharan. Believe it or not, semetic peoples are actually caucasian as caucasian does not mean 'white people' but white is part of caucasian as are afgani, persian, arab, india-indian and turkish peoples, (cauc-asian, asia is the greek word for the reigion we now know as turkey as asia means land where the sun rises and when you are standing in greece, the sun rises in turkey. On a similar note 'orient' is latin for where the sun rises). I digress, Jesus would have been tan with dark hair and a thick beard, not light skinned, anglo-german with light brown hair and a trimmed stylish beard. Look at the early paintings and mosaics of saints and apostles, they are all tan with dark hair. During the crusades there was a demonization of middle eastern peoples and the portrayals of early church figures where changed to look more european. Then the renaissance brought the mannerist and Raphael who furthered the european Jesus style.

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If the person imaging (or obtaining an image of) Jesus is deriving his image from any kind of discriminating view in their heart, then I think it is wrong/sinful, in that sense. For example, having a Caucasian Jesus with blue eyes because those two attributes are "better" (in their minds) than the alternative and more likely attributes (which I would think are Jewish/Israeli).
If the person is truly imaging without any kind of intent like that then I don't think God will judge them negatively.

All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits (the thoughts and intents of the heart).
Proverbs 16:2 (Amp.)

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It is probably inaccurate to portray Christ as caucasian as he was a middle easterner. Further, it was said of him, "There was nothing to draw us to him" (Isa.) and that he appeared as "the carpenter's son." Both of these imply that he was not remarkably different from his compatriots.

On the other hand, some would point out that the Shroud of Turin does have a good deal more "European" appearance than the one those who have created an amalgamation have portrayed.

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This phrase in Isaiah 53:2 (which Christians interpret to be referring to Jesus) says that he simply was not an attractive man: לא־תאר לו ולא הדר ונראהו ולא־מראה ונחמדהו.

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