A week ago, as I was coming home from Panera Bread Company, I stopped at one of the many red lights that sit between the bakery and my house. As I waited for the light to turn green, a car passed in front of me. I glanced at the driver – as one does – and had a strange thought float through my head.
“There goes ‘Jesus’ in a Toyota,’ I thought, surprising myself.
The man in the car had long, light brown hair and a wispy beard. Put him in a white robe and sandals and you have a Renaissance depiction of the Christ. . . which is utterly inaccurate as to what the real Jesus Christ looked like. Unfortunately, that is the only artistic depiction of him floating in the world’s paintings. Thanks to Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Rubens, the majority of the Christian world thinks of Jesus as a pale, wispy, frail man with long white hands, sloping shoulders, and melancholy eyes. Where did this universally accepted depiction come from?
I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble here, but, first of all, the halo he is embellished with is found nowhere in the Bible. The halo over Jesus’ head is an artistic embellishment (according to the reference work, Art Through the Ages) that originated with the pagan sun god of the old Mediterranean and Eastern religions.
A text to the Roman Senate written in the 13th-century by an obvious non-eyewitness gives a so-called ‘description’ of Jesus, claiming that he had hair “the hue of an unripe hazelnut” – (light brown to the rest of us without hazelnut trees) – “smooth almost down to his ears, but from the ears in curling locks somewhat darker and more shining, waving over his shoulders . . . a full beard the color of his hair . . . the eyes grey . . .” The New Catholic Encyclopedia says that “each period created the type of Christ it desired.”
So where does this leave the rest of us who desire accuracy?
Well, there are many clues in the Bible as to Jesus’ real appearance while he was on earth. First of all, by no means was Christ effeminately frail. This was a man who worked as a carpenter. The carpenters in Jesus’ day did not have Home Depot and chainsaws. These men took their muscle-powered, hand-operated saws, found trees, and felled them. They then carted them, or the hand-sawed pieces, back to their place of work. Since carpenters were of a generally poor class, they had only beasts of burden and a cart to accomplish this. A carpenter, then, does not evoke images of a frail, pale man with smooth, limp hands. At the very least, Jesus would look like 1) he had been out in the Middle-eastern sunshine, and 2) capable of moving trees.
Secondly, Jesus’ hair was not long, like the pictures depict. Only Nazarites – those who made special vows of service – were to have the long hair. Jesus was not a Nazarite. As a Jew of that time, he would keep his hair clipped short. Not too short, since that was the trademark of the then-detested, conquering Romans. He would also have a beard, since beardlessness was also a mark of a Roman . . . Besides, the Scriptures speak of his beard.
Thirdly, he would have the features and complexion common to the Semetic race at that time. He was by no means pale and light-haired with grey eyes.
And fourthly, we can forget the aesthetic white robe with the monkish rope belt. The Jewish garment, by Mosaic Law, had to have a fringe and a blue thread running around the bottom perimeter. Also, by custom, the outer garment, worn like a long, open vest, would be woven out of colored threads.
It looks like the only thing these ancient artists got right was the sandals.
So the next time you think of the figure Jesus cut while on earth, picture a cheerful, happy, well-built vigorous man with tanned skin, a clipped dark beard, clipped dark hair, and warm brown eyes.
. . . Alot more refreshing and appealing, as far as I’m concerned . . .