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Saturday, April 07, 2007

An Easter message: What Jesus looked like

(In observance of the season, I reprint one of my earliest posts -- written at a time when this blog had few readers.)

Today, let us turn from the realm of politics. Let us consider the origins of Christianity.

Most people think that we have no physical description of Jesus. What if that common presumption is wrong?

The gospels do not describe him. Neither do the epistles. Neither do the non-canonical gospels. Neither do we find a description of Jesus in the works of the ancient Jewish historian Josephus -- at least, not in any manuscript of Josephus that has come down to us.

In fact, Josephus (in the standard version of his works) never refers to Jesus at all -- even though he describes many less-important figures, and even though at least one early church father reports that Josephus did discuss the founder of Christianity. If those passages ever existed, they have gone missing.


In the eighth century, the archbishop of Crete, one Andreas Hierosolymitanus, quoted a description of Jesus Christ which (he said) could be found in a version of Josephus extant at that time. Andreas' report is startling. Jesus, he said, was a dark-skinned hobbit-sized hunchback with a big nose, thinning hair, a patchy beard, and eyebrows that joined in the center in a monstrous fashion.

Yes, I hear you asking, but did he have any distinguishing characteristics?

Other early Christian writers -- Tertullian, for example -- make reference to Jesus being disfigured and un-handsome. The weight of what little evidence we possess suggests that Jesus was...well, ugly.

Let us suppose that Andreas had the straight skinny. Would widespread distribution of this information have impacted the attractiveness of the new religion? Would Christianity have spread so rapidly and so widely if the world understood that the faith's central figure was dark, short, unattractive and "differently abled"?

Such considerations shouldn't make a difference. Nearly everyone will agree on that point. But that's not the question I'm asking. Would Christianity have gained fewer converts if everyone knew that Jesus looked like Quasimodo?

I wonder.

Happy Easter!

Added note from 2007: At this point, we may never know just which text Andreas Hierosolymitanus was looking at, but we do know that Josephus almost always shunned physical descriptions. Incidentally, the Andreas thing seems unrelated to the so-called "Slavonic Josephus" -- which is a whole 'nother thing.

There are two alleged contemporary physical descriptions of Jesus here (also see here), but the sources are dubious. Blue eyes and wavy fair hair? Nahhh! The letter ascribed to "Publius Lentulus" must be false, for the simple reason that no such person ever existed. The "Pilate" letter appears to be an anti-Semitic forgery, or fantasy, allegedly found "in the Achoko Volume in the Congressional Library in Washington, D.C." Is that a reference to the Library of Congress? If such a volume actually existed, it would be mentioned on non-wacko web sites.

I still kind of like the big-nosed hunchbacked short-guy image. The "unibrow" detail is, if I recall correctly, reflected in some early Christian art. As I may have mentioned before, chances are awfully good that Jesus wore a turban -- a fact you should point out to the next pseudo-Christian bigot who refers to Muslims as "rag-heads."

Some people think that he may have been clean-shaven, since other young Jewish fellows of that day had taken up Roman style. The earliest known painting of Jesus (reproduced here), from 235 or thereabouts, depicts him as beardless, with short hair and dark skin.
Happy Easter to you Cannonfire. You have every right to your opinion but I believe in Jesus and I believe that he died to take away my sins and I believe he walked on earth as God. It's wierd that saying those few words to people is sometimes like fingernails scaping down a chalk board but that makes it all more real to me. When absolute hate seeths, things are usually very real. Anyway, bunnies aside, I believe another innocent man hung on a cross but the story did not end there. And this is just MY two cents worth. Thanks for allowing me to post it.
well, i'd like to give an answer to the question posed: "Would Christianity have gained fewer converts if everyone knew that Jesus looked like Quasimodo?"

i think the answer is no. look at dick cheney and george bush. or better yet, rush limbaugh or karl rove, for christ's sake - does that make a difference to rabid righters? not in the least. either their followers don't find them physically repulsive (as i do - honestly, i try to always avoid seeing pictures of them, which makes reading blogs and news articles tricky), or they don't care.

beauty is always in the eye of the beholder (some people think george bush, with his beady eyes too close together and his chimpy mouth, is HANDSOME, believe it or not - although i can't imagine anyone thinking karl rove is, he's PROBABLY got a mother). and there's also that phenomenon that makes people attractive if you are drawn to them by their personality (or message, i suppose).

christianity's spread was inevitable. it's about timing and energy.

my two cents.

interesting post.
i may wish i had left it at the previous post, but here goes...

i'd like to offer a different view to the first (and gracious) commenter.

with all due respect, having been born and raised in a christian home, i understand that many, if not most, christian people are good and well-intentioned people.

i don't believe jesus died for my sins or anyone else's. i think that is a misinterpretation, at best, of what happened. if the story of jesus is true, then he died because he posed a threat to the political/religious system in place at the time - that's very obvious from the accounts written.

to have died so that you might have everlasting life is different than dying for your sins. dying implies having lived, and in living, providing an example of a way of life.

i can believe that this jesus LIVED "to take away" people's sins, if we define "sin" as a separation from the divine, and not some perceived bad act or thought - that he tried to convey a message of a way of life that would reconnect one with the divine.

anyone doing that these days should be careful not to gather so many followers as to become a threat to the current political/religious powers, for they would meet a similar fate.

anyway....i agree: the story didn't end. the story never ends.
sofla said...

Rabbis have beards, and always have had them. Jesus is addressed as 'rabbi' in the scriptures, as translated in standard versions. Could it have been a figurative use, meaning instead 'teacher'? Perhaps, although those who believe in fundamentalism hold every word of scripture to be literally true. (Problem for THEM: rabbis are always married as well).

As to His physical appearance, it would likely have been transcended by God's Spirit in Him manifesting, among other ways as charisma (more or less the original meaning of that word), and his manifesting of miraculous powers, not the least of which, raising the dead, would have by itself inspired ardent followership.
What all religions have in common is - NO, not a belief in wholeness, or human dignity, or anything like that. What they have in common is that they are all hierarchical. Every darn last one of them. Their ideas are all mediated through hierarchical organization. Every religion is, in short, all about bloodsucking and mind-numbing, and YES SIR. However much illusion may detract from this, via spiritual exercises, meditation, mental development, and whatnot.

What happened to some guy in Roman Palestine 2000 years ago should be irrelevant.

For the record, though, whereas according to some he was sentenced to death by the Roman regime, according to others (writing in the Talmud) he was sentenced to death for heresy by the Jewish Sanhedrin. Who's right? Who cares? Both sides have got hierarchical axes to grind.

Judaic Jesusophobia should be talked about, up there with Christian anti-Semitism and secular-democratic Islamophobia. I mean, banning the international 'plus' symbol in mathematics classes in schools seems rather, er...fanatical.

Jesusophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia. Of course, we can add Clear-Thought-ophobia to the list. Every religion - and every State too - pushes THAT!

A 'figurative' meaning of 'rabbi'? Remember, the rabbinate was not such a congealed monopolistic dictatorial structure as it later became. When Jesus was called a rabbi, it's because he was a rabbi. No need to read complications into it.

On the other hand, the term didn't mean the same as what it meant later, so it didn't mean he was an official who had the right to whip lower-order Jews if they escaped rabbinical control, for instance.

I will be the Seventh to add to this discourse. The first comments are true..the other five are intellect running amuck or beating around the bush.
The bush was ignited so Moses said and that fire lives today.
Jesus looks "like the sun shine" now and on the Mount of transfiguration as witnessed by Peter. Jesus had to hush him up for being dazzled by His true nature..then again in the Book of Revelations His face is as the sun again where He can be seen today..if you squint cause His light is quite blinding to you all..except for that first person again who sees Him and has experienced His Grace.
It is sad indeed that the so called church has been so derelict in representing Him on earth but even that He predicted along with many statements falling into place today.
Then there is the Shroud of Turin to contemplate.our Templar holy burial garment we take as evidence of His highness..even if the nay sayers say nay nay neigh..or bray bray bray as donkeys are want to do.
So He has risen we say "He has risen indeed". If you have a problem or you have issues with the church or you just plain don't know for cerrtain..ask Him into your hearts to prove He is who we say He is.

The Good News is He loves you all very very much.
I remember taking a class in college on the Gnostic Gospels. In the first class the professor handed out one sheet of paper and stated that excluding the canonical writings of the church, these were the only known instances of Jesus being mentioned. If I recall correctly it was 5 or 6 mentions. One was Josephus, but that was widely viewed as entered after the fact.
Who really knows, I guess that what faith is all about.
About Josephus:

1. The version of Josephus' "The Antiquities" that has come down to us cotains a reference to Jesus which identifies him as the Messiah. This passage is largely (but not universally) felt to a spurious Christian interpolation. Josephus was not a Christian, so he isn't likely to have tossed around words like "Messiah" so readily. Separate passages refer to John the Baptist and James. These passages are largely felt to be authentic.

A lengthy description of the Jesus reference is here:

2. An early Christian father -- I can't recall which one, offhand (because I'm doing this from memory) -- said that Josephus did at one time mention Jesus, and that the passage was somewhat respectful but did not identify Jesus as the Messiah. So we have good reason to believe that Josephus' original passage was stricken and re-written.

3. In 1866, a ms of Josephus' "The Jewish War" (bearing an alternate title, "The Capture of Jerusalem") showed up in Russia. This version, called the Slavonic Josephus, contains an account of Jesus which does not identify him as the Messiah and which does not gibe with the Gospel story. Is this what Josephus actually wrote?

Make up your own mind:

4. Somewhere in the midst of all this, we have the testimony of Andreas Hierosolymitanus, who claims to have seen, many centuries ago, a version of Josephus which contains a Jesus passage totally incompatible with anything mentioned above. That's the JC-as-Frodo passage.

Which one is authentically the voice of Josephus? Don't know.
What does Jesus look like? It depends on the general physical attributes of whoever's wall his image is hanging on.
The whackos are out in force today!
“…chances are awfully good that Jesus wore a turban -- a fact you should point out to the next pseudo-Christian bigot who refers to Muslims as "rag-heads."” I’m sure that would have as little effect on current anti-Islamic hysteria in this country as the fact that Jesus was a devout Jew might have had on mitigating anti-Semitism.

Also, I was encouraged that wall painting, depicting the Healing of the Paralytic (235CE) would appear to prove that “Jesus warn’t like none o’ them no long-haired, bearded hippy-faggots.”

Re: The miracle of the stopping of the clock - or Jesus’ face was ugly enough to stop one dept. One highly revered figure, whose influence on western thought by far outshines even the attributed teachings of Jesus, was Socrates. We DO know what HE looked like. He would have given Jesus a run for his money in the ugly race. So much for appearances….
If we only get that missile shield up before the 2nd coming nobody has to see that ugly bastard.
In response to what Y'SHUA looked like, he said something to the effect of: Whatever you do unto the least of these, you have done it even unto me. He also said: Behold, I pour out my spirit upon all flesh. So, if those two are to be believed, it can be interpreted to say that all people hold the spirit of Y'SHUA inside themselves. They just haven't felt it. Interesting question, though. Does "all flesh" mean the animals, too? Think about that next time you bite into your hamburger.
Hey Joseph, do you have a cite for just where one could find the relevant Andreas and Tertullian passages? I'm not familiar with their works and Google turns up nothing useful.

This may be of interest to people and it includes a picture based upon ethnic characteristics:
"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."
Jesus, he said, was a dark-skinned hobbit-sized hunchback with a big nose, thinning hair, a patchy beard, and eyebrows that joined in the center in a monstrous fashion.

A chip off the old block!

And now you might ask, what if they sequence the whole genome from the Jesus bone box and find some genetic error for hunchbackedness?
the spiritual sickness that populates this web site is gargantuan..and in need of the great physician Himself.
It is very sad indeed that the "know it alls" seem to dominate political blogs. If they only knew what is in store for those of a hardened heart.
Tomorrow we remember the greatest event in human history..the resurrection.
Because of His willingness to submit Himself to that terrible death by crucifixion and the ensuing resurrection by His Father..He now is awaiting that awesome Day when He shall return to finally judge and execute judgment o the parsimonious, prideful, mentally corrupted, hardhearted, intellectually brain dead posers and mental midgets who reject Him in lieu of their pea brained intellectual hog trough slopping opinions.
(Whoa I said that?)
Slurp Slurp and be satisfied..mongrels and misfits..while we rejoice in His presence

Satn supports your wimpy anti Christ harangues and gag me with a spoon opinions
Way OT.

Joseph, just thought you would like to know, the "megaphonies have struck again
It is interesting that Socrates is also close to this description of a dark, small of stature and ugly person.

This did not diminish his followers, and he has remained as a great philosopher.
Some research on the possible ID of the fellow in question can be had by Googlesearching:

Jesinavarah Bar Marnohk
Anon 10.17,

we disagree on a lot, but I very much liked your phrase about the intellect running amuck, which I'll remember. This is exactly the same as what I would call free thought, or, better, free and active thought.

...which might also be called clear thought - not in the sense of success or correctness (these are truly screwed-up times, so no self-satisfied elite thinkerism from the temple of truth, please!), but in the sense of its being clear, or relatively clear, who is doing what. I.e. not having a huge 'policeman in the head', or an elephant in the drawing room.

A San Franciscan (not to be confused with a Franciscan!) writer said that theory is when you have ideas, and ideology is when ideas have you.

That's far too aphoristic, trite, and shiny for my liking, because 1) it ain't ideas that have someone, it's bosses and jailers; and 2) theory comes from proletarian reflection, so let's not ideologise the category of theory itself.

But, within the limits of the aphoristic form, there's a lot of sense in the observation.

Who CARES what he looked like? This pile of drama sounds like a teenaged bash fest on the "ugly" one at school. (Yes I live in LA).

Love not his physical countenance but the work that he does. If you discount or elevate him because of his looks then it isn't him that needs to be looked at: it's you.
anon, that's pretty much what I said. Everyone will agree that the way he looked SHOULD not matter. But I did not ask a "should" question, so your "should" answer is irrelevant.

I asked a "would" question: WOULD the belief system have spread so far and wide if everyone knew the founder of the faith was an ugmo? The answer to that depends on your faith in humanity. And before you declare such faith, consider:

One of the other bravely anonymous commenters spewed the following:

"Satn supports your wimpy anti Christ harangues and gag me with a spoon opinions"

Now look at the actual words I wrote. They differ from the words this guy THINKS I wrote. I don't see an anti-Christ harangue, whether wimpy or brave. I surely did not intend one.

I simply looked at all the historical evidence -- meager as it is -- regarding the way he looked. And I noted that indications are that he was small and odd-looking. And I asked whether that would have impeded the popularity of the faith.

My reader took those words as "anti-Christ" demagoguery, inspired by "Satn" himself.

See? On a subconscious level, looks DO matter -- at least to that one guy. And to a lot of others, methinks.

So what does that tell you about people in general?

A rather depressing thought, that. Happy Easter...
Thie description is correct.Even Paul/Saul in some passage said that "he was not someone to whom you would like to look at."
Additionaly he was the son of mariam and a high priest.She was serving in the temple.The high priests had the title "god"as well.
So he was the son of god after all.
He had a twin brother,Judas,known as Thomas=the twin.Thoma's gospel is banned by the dominant church.
Apart of the description which seems correct,Jesus did not get crusified for any other reason than his own schemes to become the king of jewdaia.There numerous references to that.He and some trusted friends,other than the members of his gang,except of Judas who was the most able and trusted of them,had organised very carefully that crusifiction.
It had to done in order to fulfill some prophesies and to be done on the 6th day of the week before the passover(which never happened according to the archaeologists and all logic)so the he would not have to stay on the cross for too long.He knew that the jews would not let anyone on a cross for the next day.No one was dieing within three hours.It was taking three to four days for someone to die on the cross.
It is the great plot the gretest DECEPTION.
What is wrong with Jesus having what essentially is kyphosis? I think that is a great role model!!!! Lots of people have scoliosis or kyhphoscoliosis and while it may have meant in the era that Jesus would have not have lived as long as most of his contemporaries (not that the lifespan then was too long to star with), I am rather intrigued and heartened to hear he was not perfect. I do question organized religion but think Jesus - if many of his alleged beliefs are correct - was not entirely wrong. It is just the current crop of leaders I have difficulty with, lol
This comment has been removed by the author.
This comment has been removed by the author.
If the believers knew the true image of Jesus,not many would accept him,especially the women.
All prefer a beautiful,imposing person.That was not the case.

In relation to his crusifiction which he engineered,he did not have to do it.
He did not have to be in jerusalem.
He did not have to go to the mount of olives to be found and arrested.
I would have expected him to desire to live as long as possible and tell us more about those wonderful things about which he did not mention at all.
He should have said something about the world we live in,something about the universe,is the earth flat or round,is the sun turning around the earth or the opposite,something about the earthquakes,the vulcanoes,the floods,the deseases and so many other matters.
I am very dissapointed on that negligence.He said nothing,may be because he did not know anything about them.But he should have known all those things and that we are very intrested in them.How sad.
What a god!!!
There may be extant illustrations of the hunchback figure that no one recognizes as being Jesus.
Your audience still seems to be a bit dull as to Jesus likeness..not that it matters since He is now in His transcendental state with His face shining as the al inhabitants of "The Kingdom of God" ie. angels, seraphs, archangels, cherubim, and no doubt countless other dignitaries, warriors, and principalities..all itching to cleanse this dubious habitation of barely human beings.
Hang on to you britches folks its gonna be a terrific ride.

In 1203, a Crusader Knight named Robert de Clari claims to have seen the cloth in Constantinople: "Where there was the Shroud in which our Lord had been wrapped, which every Friday raised itself upright so one could see the figure of our Lord on it." After the Fourth Crusade, in 1205, the following letter was sent by Theodore Angelos, a nephew of one of three Byzantine Emperors who were deposed during the Fourth Crusade, to Pope Innocent III protesting the attack on the capital. From the document, dated 1 August 1205: "The Venetians partitioned the treasures of gold, silver, and ivory while the French did the same with the relics of the saints and the most sacred of all, the linen in which our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped after his death and before the resurrection. We know that the sacred objects are preserved by their predators in Venice, in France, and in other places, the sacred linen in Athens." (Codex Chartularium Culisanense, fol. CXXVI (copia), National Library Palermo)

or this hyper analytical view of the Shroud contraversy from Wikipedia.

In any case "He has risen"..and Every head shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Ir;s just a matter of "time".
it's just a matter of time

typo in previous post
He was not born ugly.He had to work hard in his young years to support himself and his brothers and sisters after his stepfather died.Most of the responsibility fell on his older half brother Jacob/james but he too had to work hard.

In relation to his many pseudo-miracles,I wander why he was just curing the sick and was not removing the CAUSE of the sickness to save us for ever.After all he had so much power!!!
Has anyone seen an ambutee REGROWING the simplest limp???
That is the miracle I want to see happening.There are too many such people these days in particular.
A truer ikon of what jesus looked like can be seen in monasteries and churches of Aithiopeia.

The muslims say that the crusifiction and resurection are fabrications of the christians.Since the arabs are semitic people like the jews,the real ones,and since they had close contact with each other,may be they are right.

No roman historian has anything to say about some jesus.That period was well documented.
1923, as it happens, I read your comment while a copy of Tacitus rested on my desk (for reasons having nothing to do with this thread).

You, uh....well, you ought to read Tacitus one of these days. That's all I can say. (Go straight to the section on the burning of Rome.)
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