What did Jesus really look like?

I know in the end it doesn’t matter, and He’s still the Son of God no matter what, but I’m a curious person. How accurate are all the portraits? Of course, I’m sure he didn’t have a light complexion, light hair, and light eyes, but are they at least similar? I also have the same question about the Virgin Mary…how accurate is she portrayed? Are there any very early portraits that would be the most accurate? Thanks.

The Holy Family were Jewish so they looked about the same as Jews today do.

You can find a 3D model of the face found on the Shroud of Turin. That face also looks very similar to the face found in paintings in a lot of early churches, and eerily similar to the “classic” Jesus look. Google it!

There was an excellent documentary on some time ago (I don’t recall the channel - maybe History ?) where they took the image of the shroud of Turin, did a three dimensional scan of it and from that image did a complete facial reconstruction - it was quite painstaking and took, as I remember, quite some time to do. The program was about two (maybe three) hours long and went through the process by which it was done and using the people who did it.

I’m sure it’s probably on demand but as I mentioned, I don’t recall the name of the program nor what network it was on. You may be able to google it.

If you believe the image of the individual on the shroud was the historical Jesus, then the result of the reconstruction will show you exactly (in every minor detail) what that individual looked like. Amazing - I believe they also did something similar with a several known busts of Julius Caesar, Washington, and Lincoln.

Amazing results!

He was a Galilean Semite with olive skin. He would look more similar to a Palestinian of today than a European Jew.

Jesus probably had short curly dark hair. St Paul wrote that it was considered disgraceful for a man to have long hair. He knew members of Jesus family, so highly unlikely he would have written that if Jesus had long hair.

And yet St Faustina Divine Mercy portrait below of the Jesus that visited her numerous times is different again.


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That’s right. They were Jews, so they must have looked like the average Jew today.

Isaiah described Jesus’ appearance as having “no form nor comeliness… no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2).

The actual answer is we don’t know and we have no way of knowing. Jesus’ appearance is not mentioned anywhere so there is no way to know. Now, ad mentioned above, there is an image of Jesus’ face made out of the shroud of Turin. If you believe that the shroud is Tue actual burial cloth then you can take a look at that image.

The Shroud of Tarin and the original Divine Mercy image have the same face. St. Faustina had the face changed 11 times to try to match the visions of which Jesus came to her. This may be the closest we may know here on earth, that isn’t important. The message is important. Mercy pours out from Jesus and that we need to remember, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

This verse is controversial, though many believe it refers to His appearance during His passion, battered, bleeding, broken-nosed and unimpressive.

Then again, the shroud of Turin (again) shows a face that looks better dead than some folks look alive!

We have no real reference for His appearance or bodybuild apart from the shroud of Turin. Whether one believes in that is of course a personal matter. However, the Pantocrator icon, painted near Athens in the 600s, matches the face on the shroud at 650(!) data points.


The image of the Shroud of Turin shows someone with a long ponytail as was common amongst Jewish men of the time. When you speak of St. Paul’s message you always have to recall the context of what was and wasn’t considered “long hair” for a man of that time period and culture. IIRC, St. Paul was referring to hair far longer then a normal ponytail, somewhere around waist or hip length like many women’s hair was kept in those days, thus being a feminine length in mimicry of some effeminate men’s hairstyles in other cultures. I am sure others here have a better memory of the other specifics concerning this, but the main point is that long hair by our standards was more the norm then for men.


There were no barber shops in Roman Israel and no vogue to imitate the crew cuts of their Roman persecutors.

Neck-length hair would have been worn to keep the Mideastern sun off the back of their neck.


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Well, part of the problem is that in the early centuries, you basically had no agreement in how to portray Jesus. You have depictions which portray Him as a clean-shaven young man (either with short or long hair). Then you also have depictions showing Jesus having a close-cropped, curly hair and a short beard, and those which showed Him with long, flowing hair and a long, pointed beard. The third type - the one we are all familiar with - did not become the definitive way of portraying Jesus until the 9th century (in the East; it took a bit longer in the West).

‘Young’ Jesus

‘Frizzy short hair’ Jesus

‘Long-hair’ Jesus

The Semitic-looking Jesus with short, frizzy hair (which somewhat appropriately enough, could be traced to Syria and Palestine) was the main competitor for the depiction of Christ with long hair during the early Byzantine period. There was in fact this anecdote from the time when St. Gennadius was patriarch of Constantinople (458-471) about a painter whose hand withered when he painted Jesus “in the likeness of Zeus” (i.e. with the long hair and beard):

At the time of Gennadius was withered the hand of a painter who dared to paint the Saviour in the likeness of Zeus. Gennadius healed him by means of a prayer. The author [Theodorus Lector] says that the other form of Christ, viz. the one with short, frizzy hair, is the more authentic.

Theodore the historian of Constantinople, from his History of the Church, about Gennadius, archbishop of Constantinople:

[INDENT]I shall set down other things about him full of amazement. A certain painter, while painting an icon of Christ our Master, found that his hand shriveled up. And it was said that, as the work of the icon had been ordered by a certain pagan, in the adornment of the name of the Savior he had depicted his hair divided on his forehead, so that his eyes were not covered—for in such a way the children of the pagans depict Zeus—so that those who saw it would think that they were assigning veneration to the Savior.

  • Theodorus Lector as quoted by St. John of Damascus, Three Treatises on the Divine Images (720s-30s), Treatise 3, 130[/INDENT]

Part of the problem is that much of early Christian art is really symbolic in nature: at first, they weren’t really concerned to portray things realistically, ‘as they were’. It was only later, during the Iconoclastic controversies, that people began to look at icons to ascertain what Jesus or Mary really looked like and to use said icons which purportedly depict Jesus or Mary as they were in life to justify the veneration of images. (Really, the only people in Christian iconography who doesn’t look ‘generic’ and who look pretty much the same across different images are Sts. Peter and Paul. :D)

You also have to remember that there’s really no distinctive ‘Jewish’ physical features. The Jews in Palestine in the 1st century apparently looked and pretty much dressed the same as their non-Jewish neighbors*, which was also the case in the Diaspora. At least the Romans (who often noted how foreign peoples looked different from themselves) never said anything about Jews looking different from them or from any other eastern Mediterraneans. Really, the only description of a ‘distinctive’ characteristic of Jews we have was a comment by the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd century, who described Palestinian Jews as “smelly and rebellious.” So the only distinctive characteristics noticed by the Romans were that Jewish males were circumcised and that they stank (wearing old sweaty clothes in the hot sun out of modesty may have something to do with that). :stuck_out_tongue: :shrug:

  • The Arab-style flowing robes we see in movies like The Passion of the Christ are actually carryovers from the 19th-20th century, when artists often simply portrayed Jews wearing the clothes 19th-20th Palestinians wore. (This itself is a common technique since medieval art: since there was still no concept of ‘historical accuracy’, artists just depicted ancient personages dressed in contemporary fashion, if they did not depict them using the stylized robe-tunic combination from traditional Christian art.) In fact, Jewish clothing at the 1st-2nd century wasn’t really different from that of their neighbors.

Divine Mercy and Shroud of Turin

I am inclined to go with the Divine mercy image - I am a big believer in the Divine Mercy Revelation - its on my desk top - I see it everytime I look at my computer and try to say Jesus I trust in you - everytime I see it.

If your interested read her diary.


I will add I began my Chaplet of Mercy novena on Good Friday and will be going to the Divine Mercy mass this weekend at 3pm Sunday - I can’t wait.

Which is also the same day as the canonization of John Paul who made Sister Faustina Kowalska a saint - brought in Divine mercy Suday and also died on that day - is that a coincidence?

**The Face of Jesus, True face of Jesus - Manoppello-vilnius, supraposition **

I don’t think we know what an “average Jew” looks like today, and certainly don’t know what one looked like 2000 years ago.

Americans THINK they know “what a Jew looks like” because most Jews in America are Ashkenazi from Eastern Europe; different from Sephardim from western Europe. There is a substantial body of opinion that Ashkenazim are actually descended from Turkic Khazars, not from the Jews of ancient Israel.

Nor can we say what a “Palestinian” looks like, because they are very mixed.

Seems to me the various peoples’ depiction of Jesus as resembling themselves is just fine.

I mostly agree with you except the part about the Ashkenazim. I know Wikipedia isn’t the best source, but (cf. also this):

The theory that the majority of Ashkenazi Jews are mainly the descendants of the non-Semitic converted Khazars or Europeans was proposed in 1883 by Ernest Renan, and was developed as a book-length thesis by Hugo von Kutschera. Since then, it has enjoyed mixed fortunes. In Israeli scholarship it gained support from A.N. Poliak, whose exposition found support in Salo Wittmayer Baron and Ben-Zion Dinur. D.M. Dunlop (1954) thought the argument went beyond what the scant evidence allowed. It caught the public eye with the publication of Arthur Koestler’s The Thirteenth Tribe in 1976. Bernard Lewis wrote that the idea was not based on any evidence, and lacked serious scholarly endorsement.[137]

Though often encountered in fringe antisemitic circles, it has played a minor role in the history of antisemitism.[138][139][140] A 2013 study of Ashkenazi mitochondrial DNA found no significant evidence of Khazar contribution to the Ashkenazi Jewish DNA, as would be predicted by the Khazar hypothesis.[141] A 2013 conference of the American Society of Human Genetics with more than 10 scientists participating concluded that there was “no indication of Khazar genetic ancestry among Ashkenazi Jews”.[142] Although there is no historical or DNA evidence to support the Khazar Theory, this theory is still popular in Arab states.[143]

I once dug up this information on Middle-Eastern skin color (from a 1951 book Caravan - The Story of the Middle East by anthropologist Carleton S. Coon):

Our area, from Morocco to Afghanistan, is the homeland and cradle of the Mediterranean race. Mediterraneans are found also in Spain, Portugal, most of Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean islands, and in all these places, as in the Middle East, they form the major genetic element in the local populations. In a dark-skinned and finer-boned form they are also found as the major population element in Pakistan and northern India.

The Sumerians were Mediterraneans skeletally. So were the ancient Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Children of Israel, and the Arabs of the early Islamic period whose skeletons I had the privilege of measuring at Nippur. A Mediterranean is a white man of variable stature - as whites go, usually short to medium; his bones are light, but strongly marked for muscle attachments if these muscles have been well developed through use. His legs are relatively long compared to his trunk, and his hands and feet rather small. His chest is relatively flat, his neck of medium length, his head of medium size, long-oval in shape with parallel sides; his face is small and delicate, with only slight bony ridges over the eyes. The upper part of his face is large in proportion to the lower part, so that when he is old his nose looks large for his jaw. Of all human being the Mediterranean has the most human, the most highly evolved, masticatory apparatus. His teeth are small, and so are the muscles that operate his jaw. His face is narrow, and his nose consequently is often prominent when compared to the lower-bridged and flatter noses of wider or longer-jawed races in Europe and other parts of Africa and Asia. The Mediterranean man is a relatively hairy fellow. His head is covered with a heavy growth of straight, wavy, or ringleted hair, usually fine in texture; rarely does the true Mediterranean go bald. His eyebrows are full, often meeting over the nose. His beard develops throughout adult life. While it is not the heaviest beard of all mankind, it is often a close runner-up. His body hair also increases throughout life and individually varies greatly in quantity.

As a rule his skin is some shade of white, from pink or peaches-and-cream to a light brown. Skin color should always be taken on some unexposed part of the body. Among Middle Easterners this is simple, because they cover as much of the body as is consistent with their work. The exposed skin color may be a dark brown, while the skin of the underarm is ten shades lighter. (The sun shines brightly in the Middle East.) While fair-skinned people are to be seen, they live chiefly in shaded bazaars and government offices, whence they rarely emerge into the dazzling light of day.

The Mediterranean’s hair is usually black or dark brown, while his whiskers may reveal a few strands of red or even blond. Blond hair may be seen, but it is the exception. Its presence does not requite some invasion of Goths or Scyths or the miscegenation of Crusaders. One of the characteristics of the Mediterranean race is a minority tendency toward blondism. This is seen much more frequently in the eyes, since blond hair, which appears in infants, usually darkens as the hair coarsens with age.

Among Mediterraneans every shade of eye color appears. Coal black is exceptional, a dark or medium brown most common. Nearly a fourth of any sample, however, will have blue, gray, or green eyes, usually mixed with brown in the iris pattern. Eyes do not darken with age; hence the greater prevalence of light eyes rather than blond hair among the adult. Like pink skin, blue eyes and blond hair appear most often among people whose work or social status keeps them indoors. Descendants of the Prophet [Muhammad], courtiers, and wealthy merchants are more often blond than farmers or camel drivers. In my opinion this does not mean that blonds are in any way superior to brunets, in the Middle East or elsewhere. It rather indicates that in a hot, brightly illuminated environment blonds are at a disadvantage when out of doors. Those who can manage it gravitate toward work in shaded quarters; furthermore the natural selection that may operate against them in the field and desert would fail to limit their increase in the shade. Middle Eastern urban civilization may thus have produced artificially an environment comparable to the Baltic fog, where the Nordic emerged.

Who, then, are these Mediterraneans? Nearly all the Arabs, practically all the oriental Jews, most of the inhabitants of Egypt whatever their religion, most of the Berbers, most of the Persians proper, many of the Kurds, most of the Baluchis, a large number of the Afghans and many of the Turks of Anatolia and Azerbaijan. Nearly 80% of the individuals living in the Middle East and participating in its civilization (excluding Europeans) are Mediterraneans of one variety or another; of the other twenty per cent at least half probably show an increment of Mediterranean genes. The Mediterranean race, then, is indigenous to, and the principal element in, the Middle East, and the greatest concentration of a highly evolved Mediterranean type falls among two of the most ancient Semitic-speaking peoples, notably the Arabs and the Jews. (Although it may please neither party, this is the truth.)

The Mediterraneans occupy the center of the stage; their areas of greatest concentration are precisely those where civilization is the oldest. This is to be expected, since it was they who produced it and it, in a sense, that produced them.

I don’t know that this is a certainty. There were all sorts of people in the Levant, of varied ethnicities, going way back. The first Syrian I ever met had blonde hair and blue eyes. That’s not to say Jesus had that coloration, but the fact is we just don’t know.

I don’t know that early portraits would tell us either. Greeks would likely have portrayed him as Greek; Romans as Roman, Gauls as Celtic, just as people do today.

I took the trouble of making a collage of some depictions of Jesus up to the 7th-8th century, arranged in roughly chronological order (starting from the 2nd-3rd century at the top). This is intended to demonstrate what I said in an earlier post - that there was basically no agreement among early Christians in how to portray Jesus.

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