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Friday, April 6, 2018

What historians say about the real aspect of Jesus

Por Rory

After centuries and centuries of Eurocentrism -both in art and in religion- the most well-known image of Jesus settled down: a white man, bearded, with long light brown hair and blue eyes. Despite being a portrait already known by most of the nearly 2,000 million Christians in the world, it is a recreation that must have had little to do with reality. The historical Jesus, experts say, was probably dark, short and kept his hair clipped, like the other Jews of his time.

The difficulty in knowing what Jesus looked like comes from the same origin of Christianity: the New Testament, the part of the Bible that narrates the life of Jesus, does not make any description of its appearance. "The Gospels do not describe him physically, they do not say if he was tall or short, handsome or strong, they only say his approximate age, about 30 years," says New Zealand historian Joan E. Taylor, author of the new book What Did Jesus Look Like?, and a professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College, London, United Kingdom.

"This lack of data is very significant, it seems to indicate that the first followers of Jesus did not worry about such information, that for them it was more important to record the ideas than to say how they were physically", affirms the historian André Leonardo Chevitarese, professor of the Institute of History of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and author of the book "Historical Jesus, A Brief Introduction".

In 2001, for a documentary produced by the BBC, the forensic expert in facial reconstructions, British Richard Neave used his scientific knowledge to achieve an image close to reality. From three skulls of the first century, of ancient inhabitants of the same region where Jesus would have lived, he and his team recreated, using 3D modeling, a typical face that could very well have been that of Jesus. The skeletons of Jews of that time show that the average height was 1.60 m and that the vast majority of men weighed little more than 50 kilos.

Taylor, author of the new book, reached similar conclusions about Jesus' physiognomy. "The Jews of the time were biologically similar to the Iraqi Jews of today, so I think (Jesus) had dark brown to black hair, brown eyes, brown skin, a typical Middle Eastern man," she says.

Brazilian graphic designer Cícero Moraes, a specialist in forensic facial reconstruction, created a scientific image of Jesus Christ at the request of BBC Brazil. Moraes comments that "(Jesus) was certainly dark, considering the complexion of people from that region and, mainly, analyzing the physiognomy of desert men, people who live under the intense sun." Another interesting question is the hair of Jesus.

In the Epistle to the Corinthians (one of the books of the Bible), the apostle Paul writes that "it is a disgrace for man to have long hair," so Jesus would not have had long hair, as is usually portrayed. "For the Roman world, the acceptable appearance for a man was to have a shaved beard and short hair, although in ancient times, philosophers probably left their beards long," says historian Joan Taylor.

Professor Leonardo Chevitarese, author of the book "Historical Jesus, A Brief Introduction", says that the first known iconographies of Jesus, dating from the third century, show him as a young beardless man and with short hair."He seemed more like a young philosopher, a teacher, than a bearded god," he explains. The researcher Wilma Steagall, a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo and a member of the Brazilian Society of Theology and Religious Sciences, points out that "at the center of early Christian iconography, Christ appears under various representations: with a beard, like a philosopher or teacher, or beardless, with an Apollonian face, with a tunic, with the countenance of the sun god or humble shepherd ".

Taylor, the author of the new book, believes that the images that have been used over the centuries have always tried to portray the Christ, that is, the divine figure, the son of God, and not the human Jesus. "That's an issue that always fascinated me, I wanted to see Jesus, obviously," she says.

The representation of bearded and hairy Jesus arose in the Middle Ages, during the height of the Byzantine Empire. As Professor Chevitaese recalls, the figure of Christ began to show an invincible being, physically similar to the kings and emperors of the time. The sociologist Francisco Borba Ribeiro Neto, coordinator of the Nucleus Faith and Culture of the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo, says that "throughout history, the artistic representations of Jesus and his face rarely worried about presenting the human being concrete that inhabited Palestine at the beginning of the Christian era.”

"In the Eastern Catholic churches, the image of Christ must follow a series of rules to convey that other perception of the character's reality, for example, he holds his head high, with wrinkles between his eyes suggesting wisdom and ability to see beyond the material world, "Ribeiro Neto adds. "In scenes with several people he always looks bigger, which indicates his superiority over the normal human being, and on the cross he is represented alive and in glory, suggesting his resurrection," he says.

Since the Western Church did not follow such norms, the artists who represented Christ throughout the centuries created it in their own way. "He can be a sweet figure in many baroque images or a suffering and martyred Christ as in the works of Caravaggio or Goya," says sociologist Ribeiro Neto. "The problem of faithful representation of the historical figure is a question of our time, when critical reflection showed the forms of cultural domination in artistic representations," continues the sociologist. "In that sense, the problem is not having a blue-eyed blond Christ, the problem is that you think that the divinity should present itself with European factions because they represent those who are up on the 'social scale'", laments Ribeiro Neto.

This distance between the "European" Jesus and the new faithful of distant countries, according to the historian Chevitarese, was reduced in the search for a much more intermediate representation, an "ethnic Jesus". "Images of Jesus in Macao, the ancient Portuguese colony in China, show him with slanted eyes, with the way a Chinese dress. In Ethiopia, there are records of a Jesus with black features," he adds.