Saturday, January 7, 2012

What did Jesus and Mary really look like?

       Unfortunately at the time when Jesus was living on Earth there were no cameras or video recorders. There are however many paintings and statues made of Jesus, the Blessed Mother (Mary), even God the Father who never was seen on Earth. Growing up in Catholic school we were taught that God created us in His own image and likeness. To most people that all sounds good and is one of the easier doctrines to accept. The funny thing about human nature is that we tend to think the opposite- in other words we create God in our own image and likeness. I'm not saying its a major crime but just interesting how people think. Ethnocentrism tends to play a major part in how we view the Higher Powers. While we know Jesus lived in the Middle East and we can use some generalizations to guess what he looked like it was always a diverse part of the world and no one really knows for sure. He is likely to have had long hair, that seems reasonable, and he is likely to have had dark hair and eyes (as he was Jewish). Yet on many Western images both Jesus and his Mother tend to have light hair and blue eyes. I have also heard stories of alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary where she appeared to people around the world with physical features of that culture. I won't argue... you never know. I also notice in Religious literature people tend to give God a personality and sometimes cultural traits of their own culture, perhaps without realizing it. Many times people tend to see God as having their temperament and other human ego-based qualities. I don't doubt that God has feelings but like to give Him credit for maturity and I don't think he has an Ego the way fallen human beings do. One of my favorite things is when I see statues or images of the Virgin Mary, especially cheaply made ones where she has make-up and lipstick (and is blonde of course). Now I know they had eye shadow in ancient times made from ashes and other things, I'm not sure about lipstick, but I highly doubt she would have worn such stuff in a modern way.
       Mel Gibson made the Movie "The Passion" a few years back and while I have mixed feelings about the movie I will have to say this: Mel Gibson is a genius- even though I don't always agree with his views (and no one can seem to figure him out anyway). He was thoughtful enough to portray things as realistic as possible, he even used the vernacular Aramaic language commonly used at the time. Other things did make me shake my head: Jesus was given unusually "macho" mannerisms, and it's possible he had them- many images of Jesus are rather effeminate for a first century carpenter. But I noticed he made all the bad guys rather androgynous. Also at the beginning of the movie he was shown being almost flirtatious with some woman. Nothing really bad but I can't help but to wonder what point he was trying to prove.
       One of the first images of Jesus and Mary I can remember was in my Parents' bedroom right over their bed. It was the paintings of Warner Sallman, Swedish Lutheran artist. (He was an American of Swedish/Finnish/Nordic ancestry.) The picture of Jesus was sepia-tone but in both paintings both Jesus and especially Mary had rather Nordic features. As a kid I found the picture of Jesus a little scary but I can appreciate it now as an adult. The work of this artist is rather unique in that it was quite popular in Protestant churches as well as among Catholics.
File:The Head of Christ by Warner Sallman 1941.jpg
The Head of Christ, by Warner Sallman 1941

File:Original Black Madonna of Częstochowa.jpg
Above is the original "Black Madonna of Czestochowa"
I will note that the term "Black" in the context of this picture has to do with the aging of the paint used and not with race.

File:Virgin Mary and Jesus (old Persian miniature).jpgFile:ChineseJesus.jpg
Above are Persian (left) and Chinese (right) versions of Mary and Jesus from Wikimedia Commons. Also see:

       St. Michael the Archangel is another story. Angels don't really have bodies or genders. They do have God given powers to appear however they with- the same goes for fallen angels. I do notice however that many images of St. Michael tend to give him red hair, a ruddy complexion, and a rather feminine appearance. I would say he has some features of a Celtic warrior in these images but then again no one is sure what the original Celts even looked like. I'm not saying the images are wrong since he was never incarnated as human anyway but I find it interesting that while he gets blatantly Northern European features the Devil who he crushes under his feet in some images frequently has "swarthy" more "Southern" features (kind of like me). For those who don't know St. Michael is the hero who cast the Serpent into the Eternal Fire after he disobeyed God. It reminds me of old shows on witches where a good witch is blonde and fair while the evil witch is brunette.
File:Abteikirche Michaelbeuern Altar.JPG
Abteikirche Michaelbeuern Altar, Michaelbeuern Abbey Church, Wikimedia Commons

In the image (icon) below St. Michael has his hair braided. I guess when you are a frequent flyer and have to fight off evil as he does it keeps his hair out of his eyes. At least the Devil in this image is not as "Mediterranean" as he is in other images:
File:Archangel Michael painted on the walls inside the church of Govora Monastery, Romania.jpg
Archangel Michael painted on the walls inside the church of Govora Monastery, Romania, Wikimedia Commons

       The website: has an excellent article with images that speculate on what Christ really looked like. I'm not saying it even matters to me what his race was but I find it worth noting how people create God in their own image and likeness.
And this is from the New York Times:
Don't forget the Shroud of Turin:
File:Light hair coloration map.png
Above is a light hair coloration map from Wikipedia

File:Westernparadigm blue eye color map.jpg
Percentage of light eyes in Europe, by: Peter Frost, Université Laval (Canada), 2004

Going by this article I'd imagine that Jesus was not an NBA player either:

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