A new book explores the controversial theory that Jesus was no oil painting. Picture: Wikipedia
A new book explores the controversial theory that Jesus was no oil painting. Picture: Wikipedia

Was Jesus Christ disfigured?

AS THE most painted figure in Western art, Jesus is mostly depicted as a beautiful, towering man with luxurious long locks and dreamy, often blue, eyes.

While we know from research of the skeletal remains of men found in the area - known during Jesus' time as Judea - this image of him is likely false, we still prefer to believe his physical appearance matched his indisputable charisma.

But a new book by British historian Professor Joan Taylor titled What Did Jesus Look Like? explores the controversial theory that the Nazarene was less than blessed in the looks department and may have even been disfigured.

Professor Taylor, of King's College London, studied historical documents dating back to Christ's lifetime and concluded that the lack of descriptions of his face in the Bible compared to other figures such as Moses and David - whose looks are celebrated - spoke volumes.

In fact, the only physical description of Christ before his crucifixion is a line in the Book of Isaiah which reads: "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him."

The pale, blue-eyed Jesus popularised in Western culture. Picture: Supplied
The pale, blue-eyed Jesus popularised in Western culture. Picture: Supplied

She believes that Jesus was "probably around 166cm tall, somewhat slim and muscular, with olive-brown skin, dark brown to black hair, and brown eyes".

That tallies with the findings of forensic anthropologists who have placed Christ at between 155cm and 167cm in height and weighing roughly 58kg - 64kg.

Professor Taylor's conclusions are drawn from both the skeletal remains of men buried in the region and from residents of Judea and those who lived in Egypt.

"In terms of a colour palette then, think dark brown to black hair, deep brown eyes, olive-brown skin," she wrote in a piece for the Irish Times. "Jesus would have been a man of Middle Eastern appearance. What I have learned is that Judeans of this time were closest biologically to Iraqi Jews of the contemporary world."

Diogo Morgado, who played Jesus in the hit 2014 series The Bible, was so good looking viewers dubbed him ‘hot Jesus’. Picture: Supplied
Diogo Morgado, who played Jesus in the hit 2014 series The Bible, was so good looking viewers dubbed him ‘hot Jesus’. Picture: Supplied

 

While acknowledging the close ties between Judea, Europe, the Sudan and Ethiopia, Professor Taylor argues in her book that because Judeans tended to marry only among themselves, Jesus is more likely to have looked like the men depicted in Egyptian funerary art than those hailing from Europe or Ethiopia.

The author says that since Jesus worked outdoors as a carpenter until he was about 30 years old, it is reasonable to assume he was more muscular and physically fit than the willowy man featured in Westernised paintings.

His face likely had a leathery appearance from exposure to the elements, making him look older than he was.

One of the most controversial claims Professor Taylor makes in her book - besides challenging the notion that Jesus was handsome - is the probability he was in some way disfigured.

She points out that it was possible Jesus had scars from his work with wood because craftsmen of the time were susceptible to injury and bodily disfigurement would almost have been the norm.

Broken arms and limps would not have set properly and limps, as well as eye injuries, would have been commonplace.

A new book explores the controversial theory that Jesus was disfigured or ugly. Picture: Wikipedia
A new book explores the controversial theory that Jesus was disfigured or ugly. Picture: Wikipedia

A review of What Did Jesus Look Like? published by the Daily Beast on March 11 noted: "Taylor actually thinks that the silence about Jesus' looks says something about his appearance.

"She points out that certain Biblical figures, like Moses and David, were described in ancient literature in terms that gestured to their good looks and attractiveness. But the evangelists provide no such indications for Jesus.

"While his face is radiantly white at the Transfiguration (the moment in the story when Jesus goes up a mountain and converses with Moses and Elijah), we do not know anything else about his facial features. Taylor argues that the silence on the question of Jesus' appearance suggests that, contrary to cinematic tradition, he was not handsome."

It's not the first time a scholar has challenged the veracity of the pale-skinned, blue-eyed blonde Jesus depicted and popularised in later European culture.

In 2015, Richard Neave, a retired medical artist from the University of Manchester used forensic and archaeological evidence to reconstruct the face of Jesus.

The result was a stunning sculpture of a swarthy, Middle Eastern man that has been recognised by experts as the most accurate portrait yet of the Son of God.

 

A new book explores the controversial theory that Jesus was disfigured or ugly
A new book explores the controversial theory that Jesus was disfigured or ugly

Mr Neave and his research team used Semite skulls collected by Israeli archaeologists to create a computer generated reconstruction of what Jesus may have looked like.

He concluded that Jesus looked a lot like every other man of the times because the Bible states that just before the crucifixion, Judas Iscariot had to point Jesus out to his soldiers because they could not tell him apart from his disciples.

"I made a plaster cast of the skull which gives me something to work on," Mr Neave told the BBC.

"Then I put clay over it and, using soft tissue measurements, build up the anatomy of the face," he said. "Inevitably there are some areas where you have to speculate, particularly if parts of the skull are missing."

Mr Neave and his team concluded that Jesus likely had dark eyes, hair and skin, around 150cm tall, with short hair and bearded in the Jewish tradition.



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