Jesus: Forensische Forscher erstellen Phantombild
So hat er wirklich ausgesehen.
Die Bilder der Forscher zeigen Jesus ganz anders, als er in der westlichen Welt oft dargestellt wird. Ihre forensische Untersuchung hat ergeben: Jesus soll dunkelhäutig und nicht viel größer als 1,50 Meter gewesen sein.
Der Forensik-Experte Richard Neave von der Universität Manchester hat mithilfe wissenschaftlicher Methoden vor einiger Zeit das Abbild von Jesus Christus rekonstruiert. Ihm zufolge war Jesus keineswegs der blonde, langhaarige Mann, als der er oft dargestellt wird. Vielmehr sei er dunkelhäutig und dunkelhaarig gewesen – typisch für die Menschen, die damals in Galiläa, der Region im Norden von Israel, lebten. Das berichtet der "Mirror".
Normalerweise wird die Forensik zur Lösung von Verbrechen verwendet. Allerdings kann man die Methode auch anwenden, um wichtige archäologische Beweise zu erbringen. So hat Neave bereits Abbilder von Philipp II. von Makedonien, dem Vater von Alexander dem Großen, und König Midas von Phrygien rekonstruiert.
Dichte Locken und ein muskulöser Körper
Für die Rekonstruktion des Gesichts von Jesus Christus haben israelische Archäologen dem Forschungsteam um Neave Schädel aus Israel zur Verfügung gestellt. Das Team erstellte Röntgenbilder und untersuchte die Gesichtsform eines „typischen“ Juden aus Galiläa.
Das Ergebnis: Jesus war wohl bärtig und hatte kurze Haare - wahrscheinlich mit dichten Locken - im Einklang mit der jüdischen Tradition. Vermutlich war er auch nicht viel größer als 1,50 Meter und – weil er im Freien als Zimmermann arbeitete – auch muskulöser als in der westlichen Welt oft dargestellt.
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- Forensisches Phantombild: So sah Jesus wirklich aus
Forensik kann nicht nur Verbrechen aufklären, sondern auch wichtige archäologische Beweise erbringen. Mit Hilfe von zur Verfügung gestellten Schädeln hat Forensik-Experte Richard Neave von der Universität Manchester zusammen mit seinem Team nun die Gesichtsform eines “typischen” Juden aus Galiläa untersucht. Neuen Erkenntnissen zufolge war Jesus vermutlich nicht größer als 1,50 Meter mit kurzen, dichten Locken und einem Bart, dunkelhäutig und dunkelhaarig – also typisch für die Menschen, die damals in der Region im Norden Israels lebten. Durch seinen Beruf als Zimmermann war er vermutlich auch muskulöser als bislang vermutet. Dass Jesus sich nicht wesentlich von seinen Jüngern unterschied, entnimmt Neave der Bibel: Judas verriet Jesus vor der Kreuzigung mit einem Kuss, da die Soldaten nicht wussten, wen sie festzunehmen hatten.
Jesus ist übrigens nicht die erste historische Persönlichkeit, dessen Gesicht der Forensik-Experte rekonstruiert hat: Zuvor schuf er bereits Abbilder von Philipp II von Mazedonien und König Midas von Phrygien. Richard Neave zu der von ihm maßgeblich durchgeführten Arbeit: “Die Rekonstruktion anhand eines Schädels ist äußerst erfolgreich, weil der Schädel die Gesichtsform, einschließlich Augenbrauen, Nase und Kinn, vorgibt.” Für die katholische Kirche bleibt weiter unklar, wie Jesus nun ausgesehen hat, es gebe keine zeitgenössische, bildliche Darstellung von ihm. Über die Authentizität des so genannten Turiner Grabtuchs, das das Gesicht Jesu zeigen soll, herrscht bis heute unter Experten Uneinigkeit.
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- Optische Täuschungen
Optische Täuschung: Jesus
Wollen Sie, dass Jesus Ihnen erscheint? Dann betrachten Sie dieses magische Bild: fixieren Sie für ca. 30 Sekunden die vier Punkte in der Bildmitte, der Abstand zum Monitor sollte debei gleich bleiben. Schauen Sie anschließend auf eine weiße Fläche. Blinzeln Sie zwei- dreimal mit den Augen - Sie werden verblüfft sein. Es erscheint Ihnen Jesus.
< vorherige optische Täuschung nächste optische Täuschung >
Erklärung dieser optischen Täuschung
Es handelt sich um ein sogenanntes Nachbild oder auch "Phantombild". Wenn man etwas mit den Augen fixiert, das sich nicht verändert, dann ermüden nach einiger Zeit die Photorezeptoren auf der Netzhaut. Sie reagieren einfach nicht mehr auf den visuellen Reiz, der sich ja gar nicht verändert. Das ist ergonomisch und effektiv, und hat sich im Laufe der Jahrmillionen so entwickelt.
Wenn man nun auf eine weiße Fläche schaut, dann kehren sich die Hell-Dunkel-Werte um. Was hell war, erscheint als dunklere Fläche, und umgekehrt. Es dauert einige Sekunden, ehe die Photrezeptoren ihre Arbeit wieder aufnehmen. Mehr zum Vorgang: Wie funktioniert das Auge?
Video mit Jesus als optische Illusion
Der Witz an der sehr bekannten Optischen Täuschung mit Jesus ist, dass man nach dem Fixieren des Bildes ein Nachbild sieht, dass wie eine Erscheinung wirkt. " Ich habe Jesus gesehen " kann man dann sagen. Hier noch ein Video, dass das oben gezeigte Bild zeigt:
- Optische Täuschung Jesus bei Sehtestbilder.de
- Siehe auch: Jesus optische Täuschung bei coolol
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Digitales Phantombild: Junger Jesus hatte feminine Züge - DER SPIEGEL
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Digitales PhantombildJunger Jesus hatte feminine ZügePünktlich zur Weihnachtszeit legt die italienische Polizei ein Phantombild von Jesus als Teenager vor. Als Vorlage diente das berühmte Turiner Grabtuch. Das Resultat: Ein digitaler Lockenkopf mit ziemlich femininen Zügen.23.12.2004, 15.41 UhrZur Merkliste hinzufügen X.com Facebook E-Mail Messenger WhatsApp Link kopieren Weitere Optionen zum Teilen E-Mail Messenger WhatsApp Link kopieren
Phantombild: So sah Jesus vermutlich als Zwölfjähriger aus
Rom - Jesus hatte als Jugendlicher wahrscheinlich einen "heiteren Gesichtsausdruck" und leicht gelockte Haare - zumindest auf dem Phantombild, das die italienische Polizei jetzt erstellt hat. Polizeiexperten haben das Gesicht des Nazareners anhand des Abdrucks auf dem Turiner Grabtuch rekonstruiert.
Anschließend haben die Experten Jesus digital auf ein Alter von zwölf Jahren verjüngt, berichtet die Mailänder Zeitung "Corriere della Sera". Das Gesicht des jungen Jesus erinnere an Bilder von Dürer. "Wahrscheinlich hätte es auch Tizian gefallen", schreibt das Blatt.
Das über vier Meter lange und gut einen Meter breite Turiner Grabtuch zeigt der Überlieferung zufolge einen Abdruck vom Körper des gekreuzigten Jesu - inklusive Gesicht. Millionen Christen glauben, dass das Tuch echt ist. Allerdings wird über die Echtheit seit Jahrzehnten spekuliert. Eine Radiokarbon-Analyse ergab 1988, dass das Tuch aus dem Mittelalter stammt und damit eine Fälschung wäre.
Israelische Mikrobiologen kamen dagegen zu dem Schluss, dass das Gewebe des Tuches "fast sicher" aus der Zeit Christi stamme. Die Forscher hatten nach eigenen Angaben Pollen und Abdrücke von Pflanzen gefunden, die es nur im Nahen Osten zur Zeit Christi gegeben habe.
Ausgrabung an Wunderstätte
Zugleich berichten Archäologen von einer Ausgrabung am Jerusalemer Siloam-Becken, an dem Jesus der Bibel zufolge einem Blinden auf wundersame Weise das Augenlicht zurückgegeben haben soll. Wie die israelische Altertumsbehörde mitteilte, fanden die Forscher an dem Becken einen Versammlungsort mit einer Wasserzuleitung.
Zu Jesu Zeiten floss Wasser von der Gihonquelle in das bis heute erhaltene Siloam-Becken. Die Archäologen glauben nun, Hinweise darauf gefunden zu haben, dass das Becken eher für rituelle Zwecke als zur Wasserversorgung genutzt wurde.
"Wir haben es sehr genau anhand von Münzen datiert, die wir im Baumaterial des Beckens gefunden haben", sagte Roni Reich von der Universität von Haifa. Die ältesten Münzen stammten aus dem Jahrhundert vor Jesu Geburt. Zudem entdeckten die Forscher eine breite Treppe, die zum Versammlungsort hinunter führt. Ein enger Kanal soll Wasser durch den Fels geleitet haben.
Das Siloam-Becken, das seit dem 19. Jahrhundert archäologisch erforscht wird, kommt nicht nur im Neuen Testament, sondern auch in historischen Schriften des Judentums vor - als Quelle von Wasser, das zu rituellen Zwecken geeignet ist. Die Ausgrabungsstätte liegt in der Nähe der Altstadt Jerusalems.
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15 Famous and Influential Paintings of Jesus
Jesus Film Project
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Jesus Film Project ® understands the value of expressing Jesus’ story creatively. Today, we use film to communicate the gospel story visually, but there was a time when artists relied on paintings to share Jesus’ majesty with others.
We’ve collected 15 of the most famous and essential paintings of Jesus from many different artists and across many time periods. Let’s look at how artists have pictured Jesus within their cultural context.
1. Christ Pantocrator
Year: 537 AD
Location: Hagia Sophia, Istanbul The Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) Cathedral was at the heart of the Byzantine Empire. Emperor Justinian considered it the crown jewel of Constantinople. It housed antiquity’s largest enclosed space and a vast dome. The interior was decorated in intricately carved marble and beautiful mosaics, of which Christ Pantocrator is one. Typically translated as “almighty” or “all-powerful,” the word Pantocrator literally means “ruler of all.”
2. Ognissanti Madonna — Giotto di Bondone
Location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence
This altarpiece, painted for the Florentine Church of Ognissanti, had a profound impact on religious art. Older Byzantine styles were often two-dimensional and rigid. They didn’t make much of a connection to the viewer. Giotto di Bondone ushered in a form that was more human and less flat. Without Giotto’s work, we may have never had the Renaissance movement.
3. The Last Supper — Leonardo Da Vinci
Movement: High Renaissance
Location: Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan
Da Vinci’s The Last Supper is probably the most important mural painting in the history of the world. The Dominican monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie has been declared a World Heritage site as a “unique artistic achievement, of an exceptional universal value that transcends all historical contingencies.”
Da Vinci did scores of preparatory sketches before applying brush to the wall of the dining room of the Santa Maria delle Grazie. Using a nail and string, Da Vinci placed the vanishing point directly behind Jesus’ head so that the table ends, ceiling squares and all other parallel lines are geometrically aligned.
This painting is so familiar and famous that many have assumed that details of the painting include secrets or reveal clues to elaborate conspiracy theories. While they’re all incredibly off-base, these theories point to the everlasting cultural influence of this painting.
4. Salvator Mundi — Leonardo da Vinci
Location: Louvre, Abu Dhabi
In 2017, Salvator Mundi was sold by Christie’s in New York for $450.3 million, the most expensive painting ever sold at a public auction. Despite the fact that this painting sold for such a high price, there is quite a bit of controversy around its origin.
Purchased in 2005 by two art dealers in New Orleans, no one recognized the work as a da Vinci. Worms had infected the wood support; at one point, it had been inadequately restored and overpainted. The overpainting was stripped away, missing sections were restored, and the investors believed they had a da Vinci painting in their hands. After years of analysis and research, it was included as a lost original in a Leonardo da Vinci exhibit at London’s National Gallery in 2011—although some specialists still dispute that it is a da Vinci.
The painting depicts Jesus in Renaissance garb, holding His fingers in a benediction. In his other hand, He holds a crystal orb representing heaven’s celestial sphere, signifying that He is the Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World).
5. The Transfiguration — Raphael
Year : 1516–1520
Movement : High Renaissance
Location : Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican City
Known throughout the world as Raphael, Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino was an Italian High Renaissance artist. High Renaissance found its peak from 1490–1527, revolving around three primary figures: da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.
The painting was commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de Medici, who would later become Pope Clement VII. Raphael began work on the painting in 1516; the painting was finished in 1520, the same year of Raphael’s death. There is some speculation that two of Raphael’s students completed a couple of the figures in the painting’s lower right, but there is no conclusive evidence.
6. The Last Judgment — Michelangelo
Year : 1536–1541
Location : Sistine Chapel, Vatican City
Pope Julius II commissioned Michaelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Upon completing the ceiling, Michelangelo returned to create the large fresco, which would become The Last Judgment.
As the title suggests, this painting depicts the final judgment of humanity. Jesus is the centerpiece of this painting, arm raised, announcing His judgment. On His right are those destined for the kingdom, and on His left are the condemned.
When the piece was unveiled, it received a mixed response. The Roman agent of Cardinal Gonzaga of Mantua reported: “The work is of such beauty that your excellency can imagine that there is no lack of those who condemn it. . . . [T]o my mind it is a work unlike any other to be seen anywhere.” Others didn’t share this enthusiasm.
Many were scandalized by the painting’s nudity and the inclusion of mythological figures like Charon and Minos. Many argued that Michaelangelo was more interested in showing off his abilities than portraying simple, sacred truths. Other artists were hired to paint over some of the forms with drapery and fig leaves.
7. Christ Carrying the Cross — El Greco
Year : 1580
Movement : Mannerism
Location : Metropolitan Museum of Art
Toward the end of the High Renaissance, Mannerism became a movement throughout European art. Mannerism featured a flattening of the pictorial space, providing little depth or perspective and ambiguous space. Mannerism also distorted human figures, providing staged, awkward poses, and utilized a limited color palette. El Greco’s Christ Carrying the Cross includes no other characters or background images. It focuses on Jesus’ willingness to sacrifice Himself for humanity. He gently embraces the cross and looks resignedly toward heaven. You can see the impact of Mannerism in Jesus’ eyes, which are almost oversized to emphasize the tears and instill a feeling of drama.
8. Supper of Emmaus — Caravaggio
Year : 1601
Movement : Baroque
Location : National Gallery, London
Mannerism gave way to Baroque art which is full of dark backgrounds, deep colors, dramatic light and sharp shadows. All of these characteristics can be seen in Caravaggio’s Supper of Emmaus. The image depicts the moment that Jesus breaks the bread and the Emmaus travelers recognize Him as the resurrected Messiah (Luke 24:13–35).
Caravaggio’s use of dark colors instills the image with a powerful sense of drama. By placing the actors before a wall that seems to only be inches away from them, he distorts the viewer’s sense of distance and proportion, encouraging the viewer to see themselves in the same space.
9. Christ Crucified — Diego Velázquez
Year : 1632
Location : Museo del Prado, Madrid
Another remarkable example of the Baroque movement is Diego Velázquez’ Christ Crucified. In this Spanish painting, Jesus’ pale complexion is contrasted against a dark background. Velázquez doesn’t focus on the agony of the cross. Instead, He paints Jesus unadorned, the only thing giving away His divine identity is the halo around His head.
It is believed that this work was commissioned after Velázquez was cleared following an investigation by Inquisitors. The Spanish Inquisition was a result of a fear that the Jewish population was growing more powerful in Spain and marginalizing Christians. In 1478, a papal bull was decreed allowing Catholic monarchs to enforce religious conformity and expel Jews from Spain. Velázquez was accused of aligning with Jewish bankers over Genoese ones.
It’s believed that Jerónimo de Villanueva, the founder of the Convent of San Plácido, commissioned the work as a demonstration of Velázquez’ piety.
10. The Storm on the Sea of Galilee — Rembrandt
Year : 1633
Movement : Dutch Golden Age
Location : Whereabouts unknown since 1990
The Dutch Golden Age shares a lot with the Baroque period. Not only do they share the same time period, but they also share many characteristics, including the use of shadows and drama. The Dutch Golden Age is marked by richness, movement and tension.
On March 18, 1990, two thieves posing as police officers entered Boston’s Stewart Gardner Museum pretending to respond to a security threat. The museum staff was tied up, and the thieves made away with around $500 million worth of stolen art from the likes of Manet, Degas and Vermeer. Among them was Rembrandt’s work. Unfortunately, none of these works have been retrieved.
11. Head of Christ — Rembrandt
Year : 1640s
Location : Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
Up to this point, portraits of Jesus had strong religious qualities. The Lord was depicted as majestic and otherworldly. Many artists were afraid that portraying Christ in a way that was too human would make it difficult to receive church commissions.
It hardly seems revolutionary at this point, but Rembrandt’s focus on Jesus’ humanity was a huge game changer. Rembrandt’s Jesus is painted without a halo or other religious imagery. The Lord doesn’t look directly at the viewer, instead, He stares off pensively. The background features zero religious context. There are no symbols or imagery suggesting this comes from a biblical narrative. We’re left with an image of Jesus that’s full of both humanity and mystery.
12. Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri
Year : 1871
Movement : Italian Purism
Location : Gallery of Modern Art, Pitti Palace
Antonio Ciseri was an Italian painter born in Ronco, Switzerland. He was highly influenced by the Purismo movement, which rejected Neoclassicism and focused on artists like Raphael. You can see Raphael’s influence in Ciseri’s figures. But Ciseri’s paintings have an almost cinematic, photo-like realism.
In Ecce Homo (meaning “behold the man”), Pilate speaks to the crowds, finding no fault in Jesus. As one looks at the light, the draping fabric, and the movement and realism of the characters, it looks like a still from a movie. A lot of that effect is achieved through the choice to paint this scene from the back instead of straight on like many artists would choose to set up this shot, giving the viewer the feeling of being a silent spectator.
13. Sermon on the Mount — Carl Heinrich Bloch
Year : 1877
Location : Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle
Anyone raised in the Christian church is likely familiar with the work of Carl Bloch. His artwork has been used in Sunday School classes and children’s Bibles for decades. Although he is known for his biblically inspired paintings, he also painted many rural daily-life scenes. And unlike many artists, he became famous fairly early in his life.
14. The Yellow Christ — Paul Gauguin
Year : 1889
Movement : Symbolist
Location : Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
The symbolism movement sought to reflect emotions and ideas rather than reflect the natural world. This means that they used metaphors and symbols rather than realistic imagery to communicate with the viewer. Most Symbolists painted in wide strokes of unmodulated color to fashion flat and abstract figures and forms. With Le Christ Jaune (The Yellow Christ) Gauguin used a representation of a 17th-century painted crucifix that hung in the Trémalo Chapel. The subject of the painting was actually the peasants kneeling before the crucifix. Gauguin wanted to portray the isolation and piety of the local peasantry in Pont-Aven France where he was visiting.
15. Christ of Saint John of the Cross — Salvatore Dali
Year : 1951
Movement : Surrealism
Location : Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
Surrealism sought to revolutionize human experience by combining reality with the unexpected and bizarre, giving power to the unconscious mind, and completely disregarding conventional expectations. It featured things like dream-like imagery, visual puns, distorted figures and biomorphic shapes. Salvatore Dali’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross came out of a dream where he saw Christ’s crucifixion from God’s perspective. There are no wounds, thorns or agony present. The scene at the bottom of the image featuring a moored boat and still water adds to this image’s feeling of tranquility and peace. As God watches the crucifixion unfold, there is a sense of silence and wonder of God’s salvific handiwork being manifested.
Experience Jesus’ story in new ways
For many centuries, mosaics, frescos and paintings were the ideal way for creatives to visually communicate the wonder and power of Jesus’ story. Today films are a powerful tool for communicating the gospel in a compelling and visual way. People get to see a representation of Jesus’ ministry and hear the story told in their own heart language . If you’re interested in discovering how Jesus’ story is being told in film, check out our watch page . You’ll find a number of gospel-related films to help you re-experience the life of Jesus and start conversations with the people around you.
About the Author
What did Jesus really look like?
- Published 24 December 2015
Everyone knows what Jesus looks like. He is the most painted figure in all of Western art, recognised everywhere as having long hair and a beard, a long robe with long sleeves (often white) and a mantle (often blue).
Jesus is so familiar that he can be recognised on pancakes or pieces of toast.
But did he really look like this?
In fact this familiar image of Jesus actually comes from the Byzantine era, from the 4th Century onwards, and Byzantine representations of Jesus were symbolic - they were all about meaning, not historical accuracy.
They were based on the image of an enthroned emperor, as we see in the altar mosaic of the Santa Pudenziana church in Rome.
Jesus is dressed in a gold toga. He is the heavenly ruler of all the world, familiar from the famous statue of long-haired and bearded Olympian Zeus on a throne - a statue so well-known that the Roman Emperor Augustus had a copy of himself made in the same style (without the godly long hair and beard).
Byzantine artists, looking to show Christ's heavenly rule as cosmic King, invented him as a younger version of Zeus. What has happened over time is that this visualisation of heavenly Christ - today sometimes remade along hippie lines - has become our standard model of the early Jesus.
So what did Jesus really look like?
Let's go from head to toe.
1. Hair and beard
When early Christians were not showing Christ as heavenly ruler, they showed Jesus as an actual man like any other: beardless and short-haired.
But perhaps, as a kind of wandering sage, Jesus would have had a beard, for the simple reason that he did not go to barbers.
General scruffiness and a beard were thought to differentiate a philosopher (who was thinking of higher things) from everyone else. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus considered it "appropriate according to Nature".
Otherwise, in the 1st Century Graeco-Roman world, being clean-shaven and short-haired was considered absolutely essential. A great mane of luxuriant hair and a beard was a godly feature, not replicated in male fashion. Even a philosopher kept his hair fairly short.
A beard was not distinctive of being a Jew in antiquity. In fact, one of the problems for oppressors of Jews at different times was identifying them when they looked like everyone else (a point made in the book of Maccabees). However, images of Jewish men on Judaea Capta coins, issued by Rome after the capture of Jerusalem in 70AD, indicate captive men who are bearded.
So Jesus, as a philosopher with the "natural" look, might well have had a short beard, like the men depicted on Judaea Capta coinage, but his hair was probably not very long.
If he had had even slightly long hair, we would expect some reaction. Jewish men who had unkempt beards and were slightly long-haired were immediately identifiable as men who had taken a Nazirite vow. This meant they would dedicate themselves to God for a period of time, not drink wine or cut their hair - and at the end of this period they would shave their heads in a special ceremony in the temple in Jerusalem (as described in Acts chapter 21, verse 24).
But Jesus did not keep a Nazirite vow, because he is often found drinking wine - his critics accuse him of drinking far, far too much of it (Matthew chapter 11, verse 19). If he had had long hair, and looked like a Nazirite, we would expect some comment on the discrepancy between how he appeared and what he was doing - the problem would be that he was drinking wine at all.
At the time of Jesus, wealthy men donned long robes for special occasions, to show off their high status in public. In one of Jesus's teachings, he says, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes ( stolai ), and to have salutations in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets" (Mark chapter 12, verses 38-39).
The sayings of Jesus are generally considered the more accurate parts of the Gospels, so from this we can assume that Jesus really did not wear such robes.
Overall a man in Jesus's world would wear a knee-length tunic, a chiton , and a woman an ankle-length one, and if you swapped these around it was a statement. Thus, in the 2nd Century Acts of Paul and Thecla, when Thecla, a woman, dons a short (male) tunic it is a bit of a shock. These tunics would often have coloured bands running from the shoulder to the hem and could be woven as one piece.
On top of the tunic you would wear a mantle, a himation , and we know that Jesus wore one of these because this is what a woman touched when she wanted to be healed by him (see, for example, Mark chapter 5, verse 27). A mantle was a large piece of woollen material, though it was not very thick and for warmth you would want to wear two.
A himation, which could be worn in various ways, like a wrap, would hang down past the knees and could completely cover the short tunic. (Certain ascetic philosophers even wore a large himation without the tunic, leaving their upper right torso bare, but that is another story.)
Power and prestige were indicated by the quality, size and colour of these mantles. Purple and certain types of blue indicated grandeur and esteem. These were royal colours because the dyes used to make them were very rare and expensive.
But colours could also indicate something else. The historian Josephus describes the Zealots (a Jewish group who wanted to push the Romans out of Judaea) as a bunch of murderous transvestites who donned "dyed mantles" - chlanidia - indicating that they were women's wear. This suggests that real men, unless they were of the highest status, should wear undyed clothing.
Jesus did not wear white, however. This was distinctive, requiring bleaching or chalking, and in Judaea it was associated with a group called the Essenes - who followed a strict interpretation of Jewish law. The difference between Jesus's clothing and bright, white clothing, is described in Mark chapter 9, when three apostles accompany Jesus to a mountain to pray and he begins to radiate light. Mark recounts that Jesus's himatia (in the plural the word may mean "clothing" or "clothes" rather than specifically "mantles") began "glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them". Before his transfiguration, therefore, Jesus is presented by Mark as an ordinary man, wearing ordinary clothes, in this case undyed wool, the material you would send to a fuller.
We are told more about Jesus's clothing during his execution, when the Roman soldiers divide his himatia (in this case the word probably refers to two mantles) into four shares (see John chapter 19, verse 23). One of these was probably a tallith , or Jewish prayer shawl. This mantle with tassels ( tzitzith ) is specifically referred to by Jesus in Matthew chapter 23, verse 5. This was a lightweight himation, traditionally made of undyed creamy-coloured woollen material, and it probably had some kind of an indigo stripe or threading.
On his feet, Jesus would have worn sandals. Everyone wore sandals. In the desert caves close to the Dead Sea and Masada, sandals from the time of Jesus have come to light, so we can see exactly what they were like. They were very simple, with the soles made of thick pieces of leather sewn together, and the upper parts made of straps of leather going through the toes.
And what about Jesus's facial features? They were Jewish. That Jesus was a Jew (or Judaean) is certain in that it is found repeated in diverse literature, including in the letters of Paul. And, as the Letter to the Hebrews states: "It is clear that our Lord was descended from Judah." So how do we imagine a Jew at this time, a man "about 30 years of age when he began," according to Luke chapter 3?
In 2001 forensic anthropologist Richard Neave created a model of a Galilean man for a BBC documentary, Son of God, working on the basis of an actual skull found in the region. He did not claim it was Jesus's face. It was simply meant to prompt people to consider Jesus as being a man of his time and place, since we are never told he looked distinctive.
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 (tzitzith) 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.
Joan Taylor is professor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism at King's College London and the author of The Essenes, the Scrolls and the Dead Sea.
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What archaeology is telling us about the real Jesus
Believers call him the Son of God. Skeptics dismiss him as legend. Now, researchers digging in the Holy Land are sifting fact from fiction.
The office of Eugenio Alliata in Jerusalem looks like the home base of any archaeologist who’d rather be in the field dirtying his hands than indoors tidying things up. A tumble of dusty, defunct computer equipment sits in one corner, and excavation reports share crowded shelves with measuring reels and other tools of the trade. It feels like the office of every archaeologist I’ve met in the Middle East, except that Alliata is wearing the chocolate brown habit of a Franciscan friar and his headquarters are in the Monastery of the Flagellation. According to church tradition, the monastery marks the spot where Jesus Christ, condemned to death, was scourged by Roman soldiers and crowned with thorns.
“Tradition” is a word you hear a lot in this corner of the world, where throngs of tourists and pilgrims are drawn to dozens of sites that, according to tradition, are touchstones of the life of Christ—from his birthplace in Bethlehem to his burial place in Jerusalem.
For an archaeologist turned journalist like me, ever mindful that entire cultures rose and fell and left few traces of their time on Earth, searching an ancient landscape for shards of a single life feels like a fool’s errand, like chasing a ghost. And when that ghost is none other than Jesus Christ, believed by more than two billion of the world’s people to be the very Son of God, well, the assignment tempts one to seek divine guidance.
Which is why, in my repeated visits to Jerusalem, I keep coming back to the Monastery of the Flagellation, where Father Alliata always welcomes me and my questions with bemused patience. As a professor of Christian archaeology and director of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum’s museum, he’s part of a 700-year-old Franciscan mission to look after and protect ancient religious sites in the Holy Land—and, since the 19th century, to excavate them according to scientific principles.
As a man of faith, Father Alliata seems at peace with what archaeology can—and cannot—reveal about Christianity’s central figure. “It will be something rare, strange, to have archaeological proof for [a specific person] 2,000 years ago,” he concedes, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms over his vestments. “But you can’t say Jesus doesn’t have a trace in history.”
By far the most important—and possibly most debated—of those traces are the texts of the New Testament, especially the first four books: the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But how do those ancient texts, written in the second half of the first century, and the traditions they inspired, relate to the work of an archaeologist?
“Tradition gives more life to archaeology, and archaeology gives more life to tradition,” Father Alliata replies. “Sometimes they go together well, sometimes not,” he pauses, offering a small smile, “which is more interesting.”
And so with Father Alliata’s blessing, I set out to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, retracing his story as told by the Gospel writers and interpreted by generations of scholars. Along the way I hope to discover how Christian texts and traditions stack up against the discoveries of archaeologists who began sifting the sands of the Holy Land in earnest some 150 years ago.
But before I begin my pilgrimage, I need to probe an explosive question that lurks in the shadows of historical Jesus studies: Might it be possible that Jesus Christ never even existed, that the whole stained glass story is pure invention? It’s an assertion that’s championed by some outspoken skeptics—but not, I discovered, by scholars, particularly archaeologists, whose work tends to bring flights of fancy down to literal earth.
“I don’t know any mainstream scholar who doubts the historicity of Jesus,” said Eric Meyers, an archaeologist and emeritus professor in Judaic studies at Duke University. “The details have been debated for centuries, but no one who is serious doubts that he’s a historical figure.”
I heard much the same from Byron McCane, an archaeologist and history professor at Florida Atlantic University. “I can think of no other example who fits into their time and place so well but people say doesn’t exist,” he said.
Even John Dominic Crossan, a former priest and co-chair of the Jesus Seminar, a controversial scholarly forum, believes the radical skeptics go too far. Granted, stories of Christ’s miraculous deeds—healing the sick with his words, feeding a multitude with a few morsels of bread and fish, even restoring life to a corpse four days dead—are hard for modern minds to embrace. But that’s no reason to conclude that Jesus of Nazareth was a religious fable.
“Now, you can say he walks on water and nobody can do that, so therefore he doesn’t exist. Well, that’s something else,” Crossan told me when we spoke by phone. “The general fact that he did certain things in Galilee, that he did certain things in Jerusalem, that he got himself executed—all of that, I think, fits perfectly into a certain scenario.”
Scholars who study Jesus divide into two opposing camps separated by a very bright line: those who believe the wonder-working Jesus of the Gospels is the real Jesus, and those who think the real Jesus—the man who inspired the myth—hides below the surface of the Gospels and must be revealed by historical research and literary analysis. Both camps claim archaeology as their ally, leading to some fractious debates and strange bedfellows.
Whoever Jesus Christ was or is—God, man, or the greatest literary hoax in history—the diversity and devotion of his modern disciples are on colorful parade when I arrive in Bethlehem, the ancient city traditionally identified as his birthplace. The tour buses that cross the checkpoint from Jerusalem to the West Bank carry a virtual United Nations of pilgrims. One by one the buses park and discharge their passengers, who emerge blinking in the dazzling sun: Indian women in splashy saris, Spaniards in backpacks emblazoned with the logo of their local parish, Ethiopians in snow-white robes with indigo crucifixes tattooed on their foreheads.
I catch up to a group of Nigerian pilgrims in Manger Square and follow them through the low entrance of the Church of the Nativity. The soaring aisles of the basilica are shrouded in tarps and scaffolding. A conservation team is busy cleaning centuries of candle soot from the 12th-century gilded mosaics that flank the upper walls, above elaborately carved cedar beams erected in the sixth century. We carefully circle a section of floor cut open to reveal the earliest incarnation of the church, built in the 330s on orders of Rome’s first Christian emperor, Constantine.
Another series of steps takes us down into a lamp-lit grotto and a small marble-clad niche. Here, a silver star marks the very spot where, according to tradition, Jesus Christ was born. The pilgrims ease to their knees to kiss the star and press their palms to the cool, polished stone. Soon a church official entreats them to hurry along and give others a chance to touch the holy rock—and, by faith, the Holy Child.
The Church of the Nativity is the oldest Christian church still in daily use, but not all scholars are convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem. Only two of the four Gospels mention his birth, and they provide diverging accounts: the traditional manger and shepherds in Luke; the wise men, massacre of children, and flight to Egypt in Matthew. Some suspect that the Gospel writers located Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem to tie the Galilean peasant to the Judaean city prophesied in the Old Testament as the birthplace of the Messiah.
Archaeology is largely silent on the matter. After all, what are the odds of unearthing any evidence of a peasant couple’s fleeting visit two millennia ago? Excavations at and around the Church of the Nativity have so far turned up no artifacts dating to the time of Christ, nor any sign that early Christians considered the site sacred. The first clear evidence of veneration comes from the third century, when the theologian Origen of Alexandria visited Palestine and noted, “In Bethlehem there is shown the cave where [Jesus] was born.” Early in the fourth century, the emperor Constantine sent an imperial delegation to the Holy Land to identify places associated with the life of Christ and hallow them with churches and shrines. Having located what they believed was the site of the Nativity grotto, the delegates erected an elaborate church, the forerunner of the present-day basilica.
Many of the scholars I spoke to are neutral on the question of Christ’s birthplace, the physical evidence being too elusive to make a call. To their minds, the old adage that I learned in Archaeology 101—“Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence”—applies here.
If the trail of the real Jesus has gone cold in Bethlehem, it grows much warmer 65 miles north in Galilee, the rolling hill country of northern Israel. As the names “Jesus of Nazareth” and “Jesus the Nazarene” suggest, Jesus was raised in Nazareth, a small, agricultural village in southern Galilee. Scholars who understand him in strictly human terms—as a religious reformer, or a social revolutionary, or an apocalyptic prophet, or even a Jewish jihadist—plumb the political, economic, and social currents of first-century Galilee to discover the forces that gave rise to the man and his mission.
By far the mightiest force at the time shaping life in Galilee was the Roman Empire, which had subjugated Palestine some 60 years before Jesus’ birth. Almost all Jews chafed under Rome’s ironfisted rule, with its oppressive taxes and idolatrous religion, and many scholars believe this social unrest set the stage for the Jewish agitator who burst onto the scene denouncing the rich and powerful and pronouncing blessings on the poor and marginalized.
Others imagine the onslaught of Greco-Roman culture molding Jesus into a less Jewish, more cosmopolitan champion of social justice. In 1991 John Dominic Crossan published a bombshell of a book, The Historical Jesus, in which he put forward the theory that the real Jesus was a wandering sage whose countercultural lifestyle and subversive sayings bore striking parallels to the Cynics. These peripatetic philosophers of ancient Greece, while not cynical in the modern sense of the word, thumbed their unwashed noses at social conventions such as cleanliness and the pursuit of wealth and status.
Crossan’s unorthodox thesis was inspired partly by archaeological discoveries showing that Galilee—long thought to have been a rural backwater and an isolated Jewish enclave—was in fact becoming more urbanized and romanized during Jesus’ day than scholars once imagined, and partly by the fact that Jesus’ boyhood home was just three miles from Sepphoris, the Roman provincial capital. Although the city isn’t mentioned in the Gospels, an ambitious building campaign fueled by Galilee’s ruler, Herod Antipas, would have attracted skilled workers from all the surrounding villages. Many scholars think it’s reasonable to imagine Jesus, a young craftsman living nearby, working at Sepphoris—and, like a college freshman, testing the boundaries of his religious upbringing.
On a brilliant spring day after rains have left the Galilean hills awash with wildflowers, I hike around the ruins of Sepphoris with Eric and Carol Meyers, the Duke University archaeologists I consulted at the start of my odyssey. The husband-and-wife team spent 33 years excavating the sprawling site, which became the nexus of a heated academic debate about the Jewishness of Galilee and, by extension, of Jesus himself. Eric Meyers, lanky and white-haired, pauses in front of a pile of columns. “It was pretty acrimonious,” he says, recalling the decades-long dispute over the influence of a hellenizing city on a young Jewish peasant. He stops at the top of a hill and waves his hands across a sprawl of neatly excavated walls. “We had to dig through a bivouac from the 1948 war, including a live Syrian shell, to get to these houses,” he explains. “And underneath we found the mikvaot !”
At least 30 mikvahs, or Jewish ritual baths, dot the residential quarter of Sepphoris—the largest domestic concentration ever found by archaeologists. Along with ceremonial stone vessels and a striking absence of pig bones (pork being shunned by kosher-keeping Jews), they offer clear evidence that even this imperial Roman city remained a very Jewish place during Jesus’ formative years.
This and other insights gleaned from excavations across Galilee have led to a significant shift in scholarly opinion, says Craig Evans, professor of Christian origins in the School of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. “Thanks to archaeology, there’s been a big change in thinking—from Jesus the cosmopolitan Hellenist to Jesus the observant Jew.”
When Jesus was about 30 years old, he waded into the Jordan River with the Jewish firebrand John the Baptist and, according to New Testament accounts, underwent a life-changing experience. Rising from the water, he saw the Spirit of God descend on him “like a dove” and heard the voice of God proclaim, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The divine encounter launched Jesus on a preaching and healing mission that began in Galilee and ended, three years later, with his execution in Jerusalem.
One of his first stops was Capernaum, a fishing town on the northwest shore of a large freshwater lake called, confusingly, the Sea of Galilee. Here Jesus met the fishermen who became his first followers—Peter and Andrew casting nets, James and John mending theirs—and established his first base of operation.
Commonly referred to on the Christian tour route as the “town of Jesus,” the pilgrimage site of Capernaum today is owned by the Franciscans and surrounded by a high metal fence. A sign at the gate makes clear what’s not allowed inside: dogs, guns, cigarettes, and short skirts. Directly beyond the gate is an incongruously modern church mounted on eight pillars that resembles a spaceship hovering above a pile of ruins. This is St. Peter’s Memorial, consecrated in 1990 over one of the biggest discoveries made during the 20th century by archaeologists investigating the historical Jesus.
From its odd perch the church offers a stunning view of the lake, but all eyes are drawn to the center of the building, where visitors peer over a railing and through a glass floor into the ruins of an octagonal church built some 1,500 years ago. When Franciscan archaeologists excavated beneath the structure in 1968, they discovered that it had been built on the remains of a first-century house. There was evidence that this private home had been transformed into a public meeting place in a short span of time.
By the second half of the first century—just a few decades after the Crucifixion of Jesus—the home’s rough stone walls had been plastered over and household kitchen items replaced with oil lamps, characteristic of a community gathering place. Over the following centuries, entreaties to Christ were etched into the walls, and by the time Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, the dwelling had been expanded into an elaborately decorated house of worship. Since then the structure has commonly been known as Peter’s House, and while it’s impossible to determine whether the disciple actually inhabited the home, many scholars say it’s possible.
The Gospels note that Jesus cured Peter’s mother-in-law, ill with fever, at her home in Capernaum. Word of the miracle spread quickly, and by evening a suffering crowd had gathered at her door. Jesus healed the sick and delivered people possessed by demons.
Accounts of large crowds coming to Jesus for healing are consistent with what archaeology reveals about first-century Palestine, where diseases such as leprosy and tuberculosis were rife. According to a study of burials in Roman Palestine by archaeologist Byron McCane, between two-thirds and three-quarters of the surveyed graves held the remains of children and adolescents. Survive the perilous years of childhood, and your chances of living to old age greatly increased, McCane says. “During Jesus’ time, getting past 15 was apparently the trick.”
From Capernaum I head south along the Sea of Galilee to a kibbutz (a communal farm) that in 1986 was the scene of great excitement—and an emergency excavation. A severe drought had drastically lowered the lake’s water level, and as two brothers from the community hunted for ancient coins in the mud of the exposed lake bed, they spotted the faint outline of a boat. Archaeologists who examined the vessel found artifacts dating to the Roman era inside and next to the hull. Carbon 14 testing later confirmed the boat’s age: It was from roughly the lifetime of Jesus.
Efforts to keep the discovery under wraps soon failed, and news of the “Jesus boat” sent a stampede of relic hunters scouring the lakeshore, threatening the fragile artifact. Just then the rains returned, and the lake level began to rise.
The round-the-clock “rescue excavation” that ensued was an archaeological feat for the record books. A project that normally would take months to plan and execute was completed, start to finish, in just 11 days. Once exposed to air, the boat’s waterlogged timbers would quickly disintegrate. So archaeologists supported the remains with a fiberglass frame and polyurethane foam and floated it to safety.
Today the treasured boat has pride of place in a museum on the kibbutz, near the spot where it was discovered. Measuring seven and a half feet wide and 27 feet long, it could have accommodated 13 men—although there’s no evidence that Jesus and his Twelve Apostles used this very vessel. To be candid, it’s not much to look at: a skeleton of planks repeatedly patched and repaired until it was finally stripped and scuttled.
“They had to nurse this boat along until they couldn’t nurse it any longer,” says Crossan, who likens the vessel to “some of those cars you see in Havana.” But its value to historians is incalculable, he says. Seeing “how hard they had to work to keep that boat afloat tells me a lot about the economics of the Sea of Galilee and the fishing at the time of Jesus.”
Another dramatic discovery occurred just over a mile south of the Jesus boat, at the site of ancient Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene, a devoted follower of Jesus. Franciscan archaeologists began excavating part of the town during the 1970s, but the northern half lay under a defunct lakeside resort called Hawaii Beach.
Enter Father Juan Solana, a papal appointee charged with overseeing a pilgrimage guesthouse in Jerusalem. In 2004 Solana “felt the leading of Christ” to build a pilgrims’ retreat in Galilee, so he set about raising millions of dollars and buying up parcels of waterfront land, including the failed resort. As construction was about to begin in 2009, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority showed up to survey the site, as required by law. After a few weeks of probing the rocky soil, they were startled to discover the buried ruins of a synagogue from the time of Jesus—the first such structure unearthed in Galilee.
The find was especially significant because it put to rest an argument made by skeptics that no synagogues existed in Galilee until decades after Jesus’ death. If those skeptics were right, their claim would shred the Gospels’ portrait of Jesus as a faithful synagogue-goer who often proclaimed his message and performed miracles in these Jewish meeting places.
As archaeologists excavated the ruins, they uncovered walls lined with benches—indicating that this was a synagogue—and a mosaic floor. At the center of the room they were astounded to find a stone about the size of a footlocker that showed the most sacred elements of the Temple in Jerusalem carved in relief. The discovery of the Magdala Stone, as the artifact has come to be called, struck a death blow to the once fashionable notion that Galileans were impious hillbillies detached from Israel’s religious center.
As archaeologists continued to dig, they discovered an entire town buried less than a foot below the surface. The ruins were so well preserved that some began calling Magdala the “Israeli Pompeii.”
Archaeologist Dina Avshalom-Gorni walks me through the site, pointing out the remains of storerooms, ritual baths, and an industrial area where fish may have been processed and sold. “I can just imagine women buying fish in the market right there,” she says, nodding toward the foundations of stone stalls. And who knows? Maybe those women included the town’s famous native daughter, Mary of Magdala.
Father Solana comes over to greet us, and I ask him what he tells visitors who want to know whether Jesus ever walked these streets. “We can’t expect to answer that,” he admits, “but we see the number of times that the Gospels mention Jesus in a Galilee synagogue.” Considering the fact that the synagogue was active during his ministry and just a brief sail from Capernaum, Solana concludes, “we have no reason to deny or doubt that Jesus was here.”
At each stop on my journey through Galilee, Jesus’ faint footprints seemed to grow a bit more distinct, a shade more discernible. But it’s not until I return to Jerusalem that they finally come into vivid focus. In the New Testament, the ancient city is the setting for many of his miracles and most dramatic moments: his triumphal entry, his cleansing of the Temple, his healing miracles at the Pools of Bethesda and Siloam—both of which have been uncovered by archaeologists—his clashes with the religious authorities, his last Passover meal, his agonized prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his trial and execution, his burial and Resurrection.
Unlike the disparate stories of Jesus’ birth, the four Gospels reach much closer agreement in their account of his death. Following his arrival in Jerusalem for Passover, Jesus is brought before the high priest Caiaphas and charged with blasphemy and threats against the Temple. Condemned to death by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, he’s crucified on a hill outside the city walls and buried in a rock-cut tomb nearby.
The traditional location of that tomb, in what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is considered the holiest site in Christianity. It’s also the place that sparked my quest for the real Jesus. In 2016 I made several trips to the church to document the historic restoration of the Edicule, the shrine that houses the reputed tomb of Jesus. Now, during Easter week, I return to see it in all its soot-scrubbed, reinforced glory.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with holiday pilgrims waiting to enter the tiny shrine, I recall the nights spent inside the empty church with the conservation team, coming upon darkened nooks etched with centuries of graffiti and burials of crusader kings. I marvel at the many archaeological discoveries made in Jerusalem and elsewhere over the years that lend credibility to the Scriptures and traditions surrounding the death of Jesus, including an ornate ossuary that may contain the bones of Caiaphas, an inscription attesting to the rule of Pontius Pilate, and a heel bone driven through with an iron crucifixion nail, found in the Jerusalem burial of a Jewish man named Yehohanan.
I’m also struck by the many lines of evidence that converge on this ancient church. Just yards from the tomb of Christ are other rock-hewn tombs of the period, affirming that this church, destroyed and rebuilt twice, was indeed constructed over a Jewish burial ground. I recall being alone inside the tomb after its marble cladding was briefly removed, overwhelmed that I was looking at one of the world’s most important monuments—a simple limestone shelf that people have revered for millennia, a sight that hadn’t been seen for possibly a thousand years. I was overwhelmed by all the questions of history I hoped this brief and spectacular moment of exposure would eventually answer.
Today, on my Easter visit, I find myself inside the tomb again, squeezed alongside three kerchiefed Russian women. The marble is back in place, protecting the burial bed from their kisses and all the rosaries and prayer cards rubbed endlessly on its time-polished surface. The youngest woman whispers entreaties for Jesus to heal her son Yevgeni, who has leukemia.
A priest standing outside the entrance loudly reminds us that our time is up, that other pilgrims are waiting. Reluctantly, the women stand up and file out, and I follow. At this moment I realize that to sincere believers, the scholars’ quest for the historical, non-supernatural Jesus is of little consequence. That quest will be endless, full of shifting theories, unanswerable questions, irreconcilable facts. But for true believers, their faith in the life, death, and Resurrection of the Son of God will be evidence enough.
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Famous Paintings of Jesus – A Look at the Art of Jesus Christ
Jesus must be one of the most iconic people in history. Thousands of Jesus paintings and Jesus drawings have been created through the ages, yet no one knows what he really looks like. Art of Jesus Christ has been made by amateur artists as well as the masters, leaving behind many Jesus on the cross paintings and other images of the divine being.
Table of Contents
- 1 Jesus and Art
- 2.1 The Last Supper (1498) by Leonardo da Vinci
- 2.2 Salvator Mundi (1519) by Leonardo da Vinci
- 2.3 The Transfiguration (1520) by Raphael
- 2.4 The Last Judgment (1541) by Michelangelo
- 2.5 Christ Carrying the Cross (1580) by El Greco
- 2.6 Supper at Emmaus (1601) by Caravaggio
- 2.7 Christ Crucified (1632) by Diego Velazquez
- 2.8 The Yellow Christ (1889) by Paul Gauguin
- 2.9 Crucifixion (1933) by Francis Bacon
- 2.10 Christ of Saint John on the Cross (1951) by Salvador Dali
- 3.1 Why Was Jesus Depicted as a White European Man?
- 3.2 Are Paintings of Jesus Expensive?
- 3.3 How Old Is the Oldest Painting Of Jesus?
Jesus and Art
The oldest painting of Jesus that we know about was painted around 235 AD and was discovered in Syria. It portrays Christ as a man in his youth, without any facial hair, and he is depicted in a manner that exudes dignity and authority. He has been portrayed with short hair and dressed in a pallium and tunic – the attire of a well-bred philosopher from the Greco-Roman era. In later versions, he is portrayed as slightly maturer and sporting a full beard.
Jesus was born in the middle-eastern region of Galilee and therefore would most likely have had darker skin, curly hair, and brown eyes. However, he is often portrayed as a European man with blue eyes and light hair.
Due to American and European Christians using their spiritual beliefs as an excuse to oppress people from other racial groups, it would not have served their cause to portray him as a person of color.
The Nazis from Germany were also responsible for trying to portray Christ as an Aryan, and not anything like his true Jewish looks. In 1940, an image of Christ painted by Warner Sallman also became extremely popular and was reprinted on many products and objects, further solidifying this incorrect image of a man from that region and time.
Famous Paintings of Jesus
Despite there being no certain clues as to what the real image of Jesus might have looked like, many painters have managed to capture his essence. Whether it is a portrait of Jesus, or one of the many Jesus on cross paintings, the context of the scene as well as his divine expression, have managed to convey a sense of who the painting is meant to represent.
Today we will take a look at the most famous paintings of Jesus throughout history.
The Last Supper (1498) by Leonardo da Vinci
The Last Supper was painted in the 1490s as part of a contract for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, to restore the church and its structures. On the mural, Jesus tells his followers at the Last Supper that he would be betrayed by one of the people present. The original has been mostly damaged by environmental causes, despite several attempts at repair over the years.
As early as the early 1500s, the artwork had already begun to flake and deteriorate, reaching the point where it hardly resembled its previous splendor after just 50 years. Early repair efforts just made things worse.
Allied bombings during World War II created severe vibrations that rocked the structure and severely damaged it. Much of the original paint had already been removed by the time the 19-year restoration project got underway in 1980. When a door was built in 1652 as part of repairs, a section of the painting on the bottom left, including Jesus’s feet, was damaged. Scholars think that each member of the group was modeled after a real person.
Leonardo da Vinci intended Judas to have the traits of a cynical and hardened criminal. It’s thought that he went through the Milan prisons looking for a suitable model for Judas.
Salvator Mundi (1519) by Leonardo da Vinci
A multi-talented prodigy, Leonardo Da Vinci was an Italian painter who became famous for his innovations, inventions, and art. The majority of his renown was earned as a painter during the next four centuries and he is still considered as one of the finest artists in Western art history today. King Charles I of England was the first person to acquire this picture according to records. The Duke of Buckingham’s son sold it at auction in 1763, and Sir Francis Cook, an English art dealer, bought it in 1900.
Sir Francis Cook’s family later sold it for £45 at another auction. For many years, it was considered to be a copy of a lost da Vinci painting by another artist, but after it was cleaned in 2006, numerous methods indicative of the master’s work were evident and it was reattributed to him. In spite of its notoriety as the world’s most costly artwork, many art historians still disagree whether it was painted by Leonardo da Vinci.
Christ is depicted as the world’s savior. It portrays him dressed in Renaissance garb, raising one hand in benediction while holding a crystal ball in his other.
The Transfiguration (1520) by Raphael
There is little doubt that Raphael’s The Transfiguration is one of his finest works, as well as his last. It was commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de Medici of the banking family of the same name. Originally intended for the Narbonne Cathedral in France, where it would have served as the center entablature, it now resides in the Vatican’s Pinacoteca Vaticana. After Raphael’s death, the painting wasn’t sent to France. Instead of hanging on the cathedral’s altarpiece, it was given to the Blessed Amadeo Church in 1523.
During Napoleon’s 1797 campaign in Italy, it was taken by the soldiers from France and then exhibited in the Louvre Museum.
This artwork can be observed as portraying two images that oppose each other at the base level. On the one side, you have Christ with his power to redeem, the upper section of the composition is symbolic of the pure and symmetrical elements of the universe. On the lower section, the painting portrays Man and all of his shortcomings, represented by the scenes of chaos and gloom. This would be the last work he would ever create and continued to work on until the last days of his life.
After the stunning art of Jesus Christ was cleaned in the mid-1970s, it was revealed that he had done most of the work himself, with only a few of the beings in the bottom half being completed by his assistant painters.
The Last Judgment (1541) by Michelangelo
This massive masterpiece was created by Michelangelo and it takes up the complete wall of the Chapel’s altar. Due to the number of people that he included in the composition, as well as the sheer size and impracticalities, it took him around four years to finish the mammoth task. He began his work on the fresco about a quarter of a century after the chapel was first constructed, and when the piece was complete, he was already 67 years old.
Although the entirety of the men in the painting was portrayed as being naked, they were later covered with draperies that were painted over the offending regions.
Critics gave the piece a mixed reception, with some people criticizing the level of nudity and muscularity of the figures, while others heaped praise upon it. The fresco represents the day when Christ returns to earth to hand out Mankind’s final judgment. Around 300 deceased beings can be observed rising up towards the heavens, as Christ and his saints judge the souls for worthiness. It was finished under the reign of Pope Paul III, despite being ordered to be painted by the previous Pope, Clement VII.
The conservative views of the later Pope would have been greatly influential in the decision to have the painting modified to be more modest in its depiction of the human form.
Christ Carrying the Cross (1580) by El Greco
El Greco created many Jesus on the cross paintings throughout his illustrious career in Spain. This one, however, differs in the fact that there is no discernable context or background, and the image of Christ is the only one in the composition. Jesus is depicted carrying the full weight of the cross on the way to his own crucifixion. It captures a moment of deep reflection as Christ intends to die to save humanity from its sins, the ultimate self-sacrifice.
El Greco’s paintings were genuinely unique since he blended the artistic elements of three separate eras and ideals of art.
Overall, they captivated a fresh spirit regarding the body’s design. Greco’s figures were frequently long, stretched shapes that were practically flowing in character. His paintings were typically Romantic in nature and focused on how Man suffered and loved through hurt and contention. El Greco was also influenced by Renaissance techniques and ideals, specifically the notion that the ideal human form was a purified link to divinity. The majority of Greco’s works depicted figures associated with this divine and iconoclastic state of being.
El Greco’s figures, on the other hand, were frequently distorted and elongated, in contrast to the pure proportion and flawlessness of the Renaissance natural body shape.
Supper at Emmaus (1601) by Caravaggio
Caravaggio was an Italian painter whose works combined a precise study of the human condition, both emotional and physical, with lighting that was very dramatic. He is considered among the most important painters in Western art, and his paintings shaped the Baroque style of painting. Supper at Emmaus , one of Caravaggio’s most renowned religious paintings, represents the moment when the risen Christ first showed himself to two of his followers, most likely Cleopas and Luke, in the village of Emmaus.
In actuality, the Jesus painting portrays the exact moment the two apostles realize they are witnessing a supernatural event. Christ is seen beardless, and his billowing garments conceal any evidence of the wounds he received through the Crucifixion. The groom, whose brow is sleek and his face is darkened, is standing there seemingly clueless about what’s going on.
The picture is unique in that it features life-sized people against a black, empty backdrop. A still-life dinner is set up on the table. The food basket teeters precariously on the brink, just as the world these disciples knew.
The unexalted nature is appropriate for this scenario since the human Jesus has rendered himself unrecognizable to his disciples and simultaneously affirms and transcends his humanity.
Christ Crucified (1632) by Diego Velazquez
Spain’s Golden Age artist and painter Diego Velazquez was active in the 17th century and often regarded as its most important figure. He is renowned for his portraits and served as King Philip IV’s royal painter. This picture of Jesus on the cross, done by Velazquez in the middle of his career, shows him moments following his death. Apart from the cross, the artwork is remarkable for its absence of story elements.
A work of remarkable uniqueness and mastery in its combination of calm, grandeur, and majesty, this painting is regarded as a watershed moment in Velazquez’s creative growth.
It is the artist’s most famous religious picture and has influenced much poetry. The date of the artwork is unclear given the lack of documentation. Nonetheless, scholars think the painting was completed after Velázquez’s return from Italy, most likely between 1631 and 1632. The tranquil stance of the torso, the stylized visage, and the reclining head all reveal the influence of Classicist painting.
The influence of Caravaggism, on the other hand, can be observed in the intense chiaroscuro between the backdrop and the torso, as well as the bright, artificial lighting above the cross.
The Yellow Christ (1889) by Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin was a French painter who was active largely throughout the nineteenth century and is today regarded as one of the most prominent painters of the art style Post-Impressionism , which expanded Impressionism while rejecting its constraints. This painting, as with another by Gauguin named The Green Chris t, is considered one of the first and most essential pieces of Symbolism in art.
This painting depicts Christ’s crucifixion in 19th-century northern France, while women gather in prayer.
The composition is rich in symbolism, such as the person jogging in the background, which represents the yearning of the 19th century for people to escape city life and return to a more “primitive” and basic way of life. Gauguin’s “synthetism” approach, as shown by the Yellow Christ , goes beyond symbolism. Vivid colors and thick encircling outlines were used to make this, along with flat planes.
Crucifixion (1933) by Francis Bacon
A far more contentious depiction of Jesus and the crucifixion, Francis Bacon painted this picture while he was just around 24 years of age. Bacon, one of the few contemporary painters on the list, spent a lot of time working on religious works. It was his first piece to garner widespread attention, and the proceeds from subsequent sales enabled him to afford his first solo show, which unfortunately received a poor review in the Times.
As a result, Bacon destroyed several of his previous paintings, including crucifixion pictures. He would subsequently claim that the other crucifixion paintings were among the few that he regretted erasing.
Like many abstract paintings, this sort of work for the general public might be difficult to understand, but it is only when viewed in the context of Bacon’s previous work that its genius becomes apparent. An abstracted white human figure with arms outstretched against a dark background is shown in this gloomy painting in black, white, and grey tones. Lines signifying walls meeting a floor, as well as the horizontal bar of the cross, define space. Jesus on the crucifixion is represented as a stick figure, with thin white arms looping around the cross, skinny legs, and the head, hands, and feet diminished to pale lumps.
Christ of Saint John on the Cross (1951) by Salvador Dali
Surrealism’s most important artist, Salvador Dali , is internationally recognized. The artwork is referred to as Christ of Saint John of the Cross because of its design, which was influenced by a sketch by the 16th-century Spanish Franciscan John of the Cross. The arms of Christ and the horizontal of the cross make a triangle, while Christ’s head forms a circle in the composition. It is possible to interpret the triangle as a nod to the Holy Trinity , but the circle may stand for unity, which means that everything is interconnected. Despite the fact that it depicts the crucifixion, the artwork is free of nails and blood.
After a cosmic dream in which he was concerned that depicting nails and blood would detract from Christ’s image, Dali decided to paint this picture.
Scotland’s favorite picture, Christ of Saint John of the Cross was selected in a 2006 survey. It’s one of the most well-known pieces by a major contemporary artist, and it’s often regarded as the best religious painting of the twentieth century. Dal had Hollywood stuntman Russell Saunders hung from an above scaffolding to observe how the body would look from the required perspective and to imagine the force of gravity on the human body in order to construct the image of Christ. The body of water portrayed is the bay of Port Lligat, Dal’s house at the time of the painting.
Today we have learned about some of the most famous paintings of Jesus. The portrait of Jesus is an age-old image that has changed over time. Jesus art is as varied as there are styles of painting, with Jesus drawings found in every movement and style. The art of Jesus Christ continues to inspire and fascinate religious people. From Jesus paintings that depict Christ among his disciples to Jesus on the cross paintings that depict him alone and dying, we hope you have enjoyed our top list of famous paintings of Jesus.
Take a look at our Jesus art webstory here!
Frequently Asked Questions
Why was jesus depicted as a white european man.
Because Jesus was born in Galilee, a location in the Middle East, he most likely had a darker complexion, curly hair, and brown eyes. However, he is frequently shown as a white male with blonde hair and blue eyes. Because Christians in the United States and Europe use their religious beliefs as a justification for oppressing people of color, portraying him as a black man would have fit their purposes. It was the German Nazis that portrayed Christ as an Aryan and not at all like his genuine Jewish appearance. Another iconic image of Christ, painted by Warner Sallman in 1940, was replicated on a variety of items and objects, further reinforcing the erroneous perception of a man from that place and period.
Are Paintings of Jesus Expensive?
The most expensive painting ever sold was a portrait of Jesus painted by Leonardo da Vinci. The painting is called Salvator Mundi and sold for $475 million.
How Old Is the Oldest Painting Of Jesus?
The oldest painting of Jesus around was painted in 235 AD. It was discovered in Syria and portrays Christ as a young beardless man.
Isabella studied at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English Literature & Language and Psychology. Throughout her undergraduate years, she took Art History as an additional subject and absolutely loved it. Building on from her art history knowledge that began in high school, art has always been a particular area of fascination for her. From learning about artworks previously unknown to her, or sharpening her existing understanding of specific works, the ability to continue learning within this interesting sphere excites her greatly.
Her focal points of interest in art history encompass profiling specific artists and art movements, as it is these areas where she is able to really dig deep into the rich narrative of the art world. Additionally, she particularly enjoys exploring the different artistic styles of the 20 th century, as well as the important impact that female artists have had on the development of art history.
Learn more about Isabella Meyer and the Art in Context Team .
Cite this Article
Isabella, Meyer, “Famous Paintings of Jesus – A Look at the Art of Jesus Christ.” Art in Context. September 23, 2021. URL: https://artincontext.org/famous-paintings-of-jesus/
Meyer, I. (2021, 23 September). Famous Paintings of Jesus – A Look at the Art of Jesus Christ. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/famous-paintings-of-jesus/
Meyer, Isabella. “Famous Paintings of Jesus – A Look at the Art of Jesus Christ.” Art in Context , September 23, 2021. https://artincontext.org/famous-paintings-of-jesus/ .
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The Most Famous Artists and Artworks
Discover the most famous artists, paintings, sculptors…in all of history!
MOST FAMOUS ARTISTS AND ARTWORKS
Discover the most famous artists, paintings, sculptors!
GHOST Announces ' Phantomime' Covers EP, Shares 'Jesus He Knows Me' Music Video
Fresh off winning "Best Rock Album Of The Year" at the iHeart Radio Music Awards , GHOST has announced "Phantomime" , a five-song covers EP intended from the start to follow last year's international chart-topping opus "Impera" . A diverse and spellbinding sampling of the Grammy Award -winning band's musical DNA, "Phantomime" is comprised of covers of classics and deep cuts by TELEVISION , GENESIS , THE STRANGLERS , IRON MAIDEN and Tina Turner . "Phantomime" pays tribute in equal measure to every one of these unlikely bedfellow, influences while stamping them all with GHOST 's undeniable sonic signature.
The announcement of "Phantomime" 's impending release also solves the mystery of GHOST 's recent "Jesus Is Coming" campaign, as referenced in the Good Friday premiere of the newest installment of the band's long-running webisode series, "Chapter 17: Nap Time" . "Phantomime" 's May 18 release via Loma Vista Recordings is heralded by GHOST 's interpretation of GENESIS 's 1992 satirical stab at televangelists "Jesus He Knows Me" , available now to stream and download.
This second coming of "Jesus He Knows Me" is accompanied by an Alex Ross Perry -directed video that will surely make the case that one person's beauty is another's blasphemy. Culminating in a climactic ritual that must be seen to be believed, GHOST 's visual interpretation of "Jesus He Knows Me" rises to the occasion in unholy fashion — and then some.
"Phantomime" track listing:
01. See No Evil (TELEVISION) 02. Jesus He Knows Me (GENESIS) 03. Hanging Around (THE STRANGLERS) 04. Phantom Of The Opera (IRON MAIDEN) 05. We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome) (Tina Turner)
GHOST is no stranger to covers, having previously tackled material originally written and recorded by THE BEATLES ("Here Comes The Sun"), ABBA ("I'm A Marionette"), DEPECHE MODE ("Waiting For The Night"), Roky Erickson ("If You Have Ghosts"), METALLICA ("Enter Sandman"), PET SHOP BOYS ("It's A Sin") and EURYTHMICS ("Missionary Man"), among others.
This past February, GHOST revealed details of its upcoming "Re-Imperatour" summer 2023 U.S. tour with special guest AMON AMARTH . Produced by Live Nation and FPC Live , the 27-date trek kicks off on Wednesday, August 2 in Concord, California at Concord Pavilion, with stops in Salt Lake City, Chicago, Cincinnati, Austin and more before wrapping up with the band's Monday, September 11 return to the Kia Forum in Los Angeles.
GHOST is continuing to tour in support of its latest album, "Impera" , which sold 70,000 equivalent album units in the U.S. in its first week of release to land at position No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. It marked the third top 10 album — and fifth top 40-charting set — for the Swedish act. The 12-song effort was produced by Klas Åhlund and mixed by Andy Wallace .
"Impera" landed at position No. 1 in Germany and Sweden, No. 2 in the U.K., Netherlands, Belgium and Norway, No. 3 in Australia, No. 5 in France and Ireland, and No. 20 in Italy.
GHOST leader Tobias Forge worked on the follow-up to 2018's "Prequelle" with Åhlund and Swedish co-writers Salem Al Fakir and Vincent Pontare , whose credits include Madonna and Lady Gaga .
In January, GHOST released a new version of its song "Spillways" featuring a guest appearance by DEF LEPPARD singer Joe Elliott .
"Spillways" is taken from "Impera" , which was released in March 2022.
Photo credit: Jimmy Hubbard
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