One of my favorite Bible studies to lead every year is the “Imagining Jesus” series, where we look at historical, theological, and entertainment (movies, music videos, cartoons, etc.) depictions of Jesus. The ultimate point is to help the participant realize that we “imagine” Jesus’ appearance, demeanor, and personality based on a number of our cultural influences and personal ideas (and perhaps reading the Gospels and New Testament more closely can help us expand our preconceptions). As a Baptist, I heavily emphasize reading the Bible rather than taking someone else’s word for it.
When we get to the end, people often ask me, “ok, ok, this is all good… but what did Jesus really look like?”. To answer, I usually turn back to this explanation from my beloved Dura Europos and how the closest conception we can get to what Jesus might have looked like actually comes from a depiction of Moses in the Synagogue there (or Abraham / Nehemiah in the second image here… there’s still debate there).
Good read during this Christmas Season, nonetheless!
“For all that may be done with modelling on ancient bones, I think the closest correspondence to what Jesus really looked like is found in the depiction of Moses on the walls of the 3rd Century synagogue of Dura-Europos since it shows how a Jewish sage was imagined in the Graeco-Roman world. Moses is imagined in undyed clothing, and in fact, his one mantle is a tallith since in the Dura image of Moses parting the Red Sea, one can see tassels (tzitzit) at the corners. At any rate, this image is far more correct as a basis for imagining the historical Jesus than the adaptations of the Byzantine Jesus that have become standard: he’s short-haired and with a slight beard, and he’s wearing a short tunic, with short sleeves, and a himation.”