The traditional Jesus is suffering an identity crisis of growing proportions. Was Jesus of Nazareth the Christ of the Crusades? Was he the Jesus of the Jewish persecutions or the Spanish Inquisition? Was he the Jesus of some first century artist's imagination? Who was this most enigmatic figure in all of history? There are about as many varied opinions and conflicting ideas about Jesus Christ as there are people to express them.
Every publishing season authors grind out a whole new mill of theological ideas about Jesus Christ, claiming he was anything from an occultic leader of some mystic sect steeped in hallucinogenic experiences to a frustrated Jewish revolutionary.
Someone wrote a book supposedly "proving" he was married. Others have claimed that he was a hypnotist and a magician. One author even went so far as to assert that he was a mushroom.
Movie makers are now turning out Jesus films at a record rate. The latest in the series — called "The Passover Plot" — is at this writing being filmed in the state of Israel. Various of these film odysseys picture a "harried Christ." a political and religious reformer, a loving drop-out, a self-styled Messiah, a hippie Christ, a revolutionary Christ — anything but the real Jesus.
The Traditional Jesus Today the traditional Jesus is experiencing a serious identity crisis! The latest spate of Jesus movies is simply the most recent manifestation of it.
Television has succeeded in further confusing and complicating this identity. By the time a kid reaches the age of six. Bugs Bunny and Pink Panther are his real heroes.
Before the age of television, there was Samson the strong man. David and Goliath, Jonah and the whale, Daniel in the lion's den, Joshua and the battle of Jericho, and maybe even Noah and the flood.
Youngsters in Sunday School experienced no identity crisis whatsoever with such Old Testament "machismo" characters and their heroic deeds.
But what about the traditional Jesus? How does he stack up against all these biblical heroes?
The "Sunday School" Jesus Does the "Sunday School" Jesus inspire thoughts of admiration, worship, and respect? Does the traditional Christ make children automatically think of strength, courage, masculinity, and manliness? Does the personality of Jesus Christ truly capture the imagination of our youth? Do strapping young men want to grow up to be "just like Jesus"? Why don't they?
Take a close look at the traditional Jesus. You'll hardly be surprised that children rapidly outgrow the tender shepherd and find their heroes elsewhere.
Christ's traditional image begins with the Christmas story depicting a little Lord Jesus in the manger. He is lauded with hymns of praise and poems of love and tenderness.
A quote from the book Your God Is Too Small is all too typical of the traditional teaching about Jesus: "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look up on a little child. Christian children all must be mild, obedient, good as He." And so goes many Sunday School primers.
But the traditional Jesus was never allowed to grow up and develop strength, masculinity, and a dynamic personality. Even in manhood he is depicted as delicate and decidedly effeminate. He is sanctimoniously portrayed kneeling in a long flowing purple robe, with brown tumbling locks flowing down his back, a thin face, an aquiline nose, a frizzy, wispy little beard, a pious look on his face, and perhaps with his hands (with long, slender, tapering fingers) neatly folded on a rock.
This "Jesus" is pictured as a soft, semi-sick. womanly, shaky, pale, sorrowful, sad-eyed, and always much put-upon young man with no sense of humor.
Whether you run the gamut all the way from the little Lord Jesus in the manger to the Jesus smiling serenely from stained-glass windows, or finally to a dead Christ on a cross, this is the consistent Sunday School picture.
Do you understand why our youth might have an identity crisis with Jesus Christ when you consider the manner in which he is traditionally portrayed? This "Jesus" would even be persona non grata with the average businessman, machinist, truck driver, or military man. He is the ultimate ill lack of "machismo"!
But did you know that the real Jesus Christ or Nazareth did not look like, did not dress like, did not act like, and was not like the traditional Jesus which we have been "fed" all of our lives"
The Only Authentic Historical Source There have been more books written about the life, works, actions, and deeds of Jesus Christ than any other man throughout all of history — more than 60,000 in this century alone. Whole series and bulky volumes of books have been written on "the life and times of Jesus." Books about his life, teachings, birth, infancy, manhood, and ministry have watered down, negated, misinterpreted. misapplied, and perverted the only authentic historical source of his life — the Christian Bible.
As one German theologian put it: "At no time has Christianity quietly accepted this likeness [or the biblical Jesus]. On the contrary it has always worked at it, and remodeled it. Sometimes within limits, and sometimes so passionately that it has been refashioned out of all recognition."
Scribes have sometimes scoured mythology, legend, tradition, and the superstitions of past dark ages to come up with the traditional Jesus image. Yet the true, open, plain explanation of the scriptures of your Bible has been virtually ignored.
Most people in the modern world have either blindly accepted the traditional Jesus or created a Christ of their own convenience.
The Bible itself adds its own testimony. The apostle Paul told the Corinthian church that he was "afraid that as the serpent [Satan] deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if some one comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached... you submit to it readily enough" (II Cor. 11:3-4. RSV). This other Jesus is the figment of demonic and human imagination and is not based on the true biblical account.
Only four mini-biographies were written about the life and times of Jesus, mostly concentrating on his three-and-one-half-year ministry. Other Old and New Testament documents supply additional details. Only the barest information is given about his life prior to the age of 30. However, more than enough information is provided to create an accurate, overall picture of just what Jesus was like.
Two of the New Testament gospel writers were men who constantly ate with Jesus, sometimes in his own house, slept in the same area that he did, and sang songs together with him. They were his very closest friends — not biographers 200 years removed from the scene reconstructing the story based on some third-hand account.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote about Jesus' habits, appetites, attitudes, personality, and to a degree, appearance. A fair-sized portion of their writings is composed of first-person quotations from the mouth of Jesus himself.
It is only from these biblical documents that we can obtain the "straight scoop" about the true Jesus on any given subject. We can learn what he looked like, what he did to earn a living, whether he had a family — and much more.
In this first installment we'll examine some clues about Christ's physical appearance — with biblical support for each point. Read on.
Jesus Was a Jew Notwithstanding some of the ultra-conservative, Nazi-like paramilitary organizations and the anti-Semites of the world. Jesus Christ or Nazareth was a member of the Jewish race. The English word "Jew" either means a man or woman racially descended from the patriarch Judah or a citizen or national of the house of Judah. Jesus was both of the race and house of Judah.
The genealogies in two of the gospels in the New Testament define Jesus as coming right through the line of Judah (see Matt. 1 and Luke 3). Jesus was a direct descendant of David (who was a Jew by race, as well as nationality) both in his natural and legal genealogies. Notice what the apostle Peter said of Jesus' ancestor David: "Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried... Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit upon his [David's] throne (Acts 2:29-30). He was to inherit "the throne or his father David" (Luke 1:32). Scriptures too numerous to quote here show Christ as the son of David (see Matt. 15:22; 20:30; 22:41-46; Mark 10:47-48; Rom. 1:3 among many).
Jesus knew that he was a Jew! Notice part of his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. She said to him: "How is it that thou, being a Jew" askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9. KJV). Racial bigotry was as bad then as it is today. The only difference is that it was between Jews and Samaritans then.
Later at the end of the conversation Jesus told her: "Ye [you and the Samaritans] worship ye know not what: we [Jesus and the Jews] know what we worship; for salvation is of the Jews" (verse 22).
Add the weight of the apostle Paul to the mounting evidence. He wrote: "It is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah" (Heb. 7:14. RSV). In the book of Revelation, Jesus is called the "Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Rev. 5:5). Both Genesis 49:10 and I Chronicles 5:2 predict that the Prince or Messiah (Christ) would come from the tribe of Judah.
Pilate knew Jesus was a Jew! "Thine own nation and the chief priests delivered thee unto me" (John 18:35).
Scripture after scripture proves over and over again that Jesus was born of human flesh by a divine begettal into the nation, area, and family of Judah (the Jewish race).
JESUS WAS A JEW!
What Did Jesus Look Like? Jesus was a common, everyday, ordinary-looking young Jewish man of his day.
People seem to forget that Judas Iscariot had to be paid a fairly large sum of money (thirty pieces of silver) to identify Jesus with a kiss on the cheek — a familiar, friendly type of a gesture to unmistakably point him out in the midst of a crowd.
Notice it in the longest of the gospel accounts written by Matthew — a tax collector by trade. "While he [Jesus] was still speaking, Judas [Iscariot] came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs.... Now the betrayer [Judas] had given them a sign, saying, The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him" (Matt. 26:47-48. RSV).
If Jesus had looked any different in any particularly outstanding way than any other of the eleven disciples with him, why did Judas need to go to the trouble of identifying him with a kiss on the check (the customary greeting of the day, comparable to today's handshake)?
No, Jesus did not have a constant halo above his head that would instantly tell any passerby who he was. Jesus did not have, as a human being, a shining face like Moses returning from the mount.
Believe it or not, Jesus was not handsome! All heads did not turn when he walked by. Does that shock anybody"
Almost all religious commentators agree that the 53rd chapter of Isaiah constitutes a prophecy of key facts and events surrounding the first coming of Christ. Notice what that prophet predicted about Jesus...... He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him" (verse 2, KJV). The Revised Standard Version renders the same verse: "He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him.
Jesus had no specific outstanding characteristics that made him especially physically attractive. His charisma was in his message, personality, and example, not in his physical appearance perse.
Jesus Did Not Have Long Hair Many will be surprised to know that Jesus had a fairly short haircut. The traditional Jesus with long hair was a later Greek innovation inspired by the fact that Zeus and other Greek gods were fashioned with long hair by their human creators. Originally during the days of Jesus, even the busts of Roman rulers and leaders showed shorter hair like some of the fuller styles of today, i.e., the Italian cut.
Short hair was the dominant, accepted mode for wearing men's hair in the time of Jesus Christ. On pages 126 and 127 of A History of the Holy Land (edited by Michael AviYonah) are busts of Pompey, Augustus, and one believed to be Herod the Great (an observant Jew by religion) — all with short hair! All statues and carvings of Roman legionnaires show them with closely cropped hair. All Roman emperors before, during, and after the time of Jesus Christ, from Julius Caesar to Trajan, wore their hair short. The Roman emperor was the individual who set the pattern in styles and modes of dress for the whole empire — which included Galilee and Judaea in Jesus' day.
Prior to the Roman Empire, the Hellenistic Greek culture dominated the Eastern Mediterranean area, including the Holy Land. Even in Christ's day, a large portion of the Jewish population was Greek-speaking and Hellenistic in outlook. (See John 12:20; Acts 6:1, etc.) Short hair was also the Greek Hellenistic style for men. (See Gaalyahu Cornfield's Daniel to Paul, pp. 15. 146.)
Professor Cornfield, a noted author, historian, and archaeologist, captioned one of the statues: "Marble statuette of an unidentified man of the Hellenistic period — a time of close contacts between the Jewish and Heltenistic civilizations in thought, art and everyday life. Whether Jewish or Gentile, he evokes his age and environment" (ibid). The statue had short hair!
Non-Hellenistic Jews also traditionally wore their hair short. Even the anti-Hellenistic Jewish Talmud states that all priests should have their hair cut once every thirty days (Ta'anith 17a). This priestly law is undoubtedly based on the biblical injunction found in Ezekiel 44:20: "They [the priests] shall not shave their heads or let their locks grow long; they shall only trim the hair of their heads" (RSV).
The Talmud specifies the "Julian," or what we would call the "Caesar cut" (Sanhedrin 22b). God had set rather stringent regulations for the conduct of priests in the Pentateuch. They were supposed to set the example for the rest of the community (see Mal. 2:7).
Statues and other reproductions of Jewish men from Jesus' day are few and far between because many Jews objected to them on religious grounds. But those few representations we do possess inevitably point to short hair (see Daniel to Paul, p. 287).
Other sources of ancient pictures of known Jews having short hair are (1) Nathan Ausubel's The Book of Jewish Knowledge, 25-26: and (2) The Standard Jewish Encyclopaedia, p. 167. The former shows Jewish conceptions of both David and Ezra dating from A.D. 250; the latter shows Jews of the third century with short hair.
Christ was an average Jew of his day. How long do you think he wore his hair?
An Apostolic Example Have you ever read the eleventh chapter of I Corinthians — a letter written to a Gentile church? A portion of that particular biblical chapter is devoted to hair lengths of both men and women. The apostle Paul wrote in verses 14 through 16: "Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading [a shame, KJV] to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride [glory, KJV]? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God" (RSV).
Paul, primarily the apostle to the gentiles, received the gospel directly from Christ. He wrote to the Galatians: "For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:11-12, RSV). Jesus actually appeared directly to the apostle Paul (see I Cor. 15:8).
Paul said: "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (I Cor. 9:1.) He also said: "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (I Cor. 11:1) in the very same chapter where men wearing long hair is mentioned as being a shame.
My point is that Jesus Christ did not contradict the words of his own apostle while he was a human being. He did not deliver a gospel to Paul that contradicted his own personal life-style.
Paul did not say: "Follow me as I follow Christ" and then go out and preach and write the diametric opposite of what he was directly taught.
Jesus was not a shame to Paul, Jesus Christ, who was Paul's champion, soon-coming king, and high priest, did not wear long hair!
Jesus Was Not a Nazarite Some religionists claim that Jesus Christ was under some sort of "Nazaritic vow," and therefore automatically wore his hair long. The truth is that Jesus did not fulfill a single one of the strict scriptural obligations laid upon a "Nazarite."
A Nazarite was (1) not to drink wine. (2) not to cut his hair as a token of humiliation. (3) and not to touch a dead body (see Numbers 6:1-27). The Bible proves that Jesus drank wine, touched a dead body on occasion (Matt. 9:18-25; Mark 5:35-43, etc.), and had his hair cut, as we have already proved.
Some few have even gotten the terms Nazarite, Nazarene, and Nazareth mixed up in their minds. In Matthew 2:23 it says: "And he [Jesus] came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: [why?] that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene" (KJV). Almost any Bible dictionary will tell you that a Nazarene was merely an inhabitant or citizen of Nazareth — the city where Jesus grew up (Mark 1:9; Luke 1:26; John 1:45). A man from Texas is a Texan; a man from Nazareth is a Nazarene. Neither of these two names has anything to do with a Nazarite vow.
Paintings of Christ-Accurate? Down through history artists have portrayed Christ as he reflected their ideas and ideals. The "earliest Christ" pictured by artists is found on the walls of the catacombs in Rome. These post-apostolic representations were painted somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 to 200 years after the time of Christ — all probably done in defiance of early Catholic thinking concerning idolatrous images.
Various authors have commented on these earliest paintings of Christ. Dr. Farrar. in his authoritative book. The Life of Christ as Represented in Art, has this to say about these primitive paintings: "He [Christ] is almost invariably boyish and beardless.... His hair is short" (p. 43).
What is thought to be the oldest of these catacomb pictures is described by Roderic Dunkerley: "In particular, there is a painting of the Resurrection of Lazarus in which Christ is shown youthful and beardless, with short hair and large eyes. Although it is now only barely recognizable.... " (Beyond the Gospels, p. 57).
The early, classic, youthful Christ was consistently painted beardless and with short hair. No doubt these very first artistic renderings were heavily influenced by the Hellenistic culture extant during the days of Jesus — who lived in a short-haired culture.
I personally doubt their authenticity because the book of Isaiah definitely indicates that Christ would have a beard: "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting" (Isa. 50:6, RSV).
Gradually the artistic conception of Jesus changed over the centuries. By the time of the tenth or eleventh century a sadomasochistic view of self-suffering, ascetic self-denial, and self-flagellation was in vogue. So spanning several centuries of time, artists tended to picture Jesus as a man of complete sorrow, sadness, and seriousness — never with a smile on his face.
Later Michelangelo accepted the idea of an Old Testament God of wrath — and the painters of his era generally pictured a God of divine fury that had to be placated by saints like Mary and St. Francis.
In the 19th century, the pendulum swung back in the other direction, probably in reaction to Michelangelo. Then an "effeminate overly pious Christ was pictured smiling serenely from a stained-glass window as he held a shepherd's crook while being surrounded by lambs.
Not a single one of these pictures, of whatever era, represents the true Jesus. Nobody painted him when he was a human being on this earth.
Did you know about the so-called Report of Publius Lentulus which describes Jesus as having long hair? This letter was supposedly written by the Roman governor of Judaea to the Emperor Tiberius. But accurate historical records of the Roman governors at that time are still in existence. There was no governor of Judaea by the name of Publius Lentulus during the time of Jesus Christ.
Professor Edgar J. Goodspeed, a well-known biblical scholar, comments on this totally spurious forgery: "The 'Letter of Lentulus' is evidently a fiction, designed to give currency to the description contained in the painter's manuals about the personal appearance of Jesus.... It is probably as old as the thirteenth century; but it was unknown to Christian antiquity, and has no claims to serious attention as throwing any light on the personal appearance of Jesus" (Modern Apoclypha, p. 91).
Why the Identity Crisis? Jesus knew he was a Jew, Pilate knew that Jesus was a Jew, The Samaritan woman knew. The apostles knew. The Bible plainly says that he was. Then why do some people today believe otherwise?
Because they almost never go to the only authentic source — the biblical scriptures. Or if they do, their biases and prejudices are so thick that they simply can't see what their eyes plainly tell them is there. That is why people have an identity crisis with Jesus Christ of Nazareth. That is why people want to cling to their many misconceptions about Jesus Christ and the Bible itself. Human nature would like to hang on to happenstance, tradition, possibly's, perhaps's, probably's, and maybe's — rather than face the straight-from-the-shoulder biblical facts.
Jesus' generation was no different from ours in that respect. One of the major points of the gospels was the continuing struggle between opposing points of view as to who Jesus really was.
The book of Matthew makes it plain that those people back then had an identity crisis with Jesus Christ of major proportions. "When Jesus came in to the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, Who do men say that the Son of man is? And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets'" (Matt. 16:13-14. RSV).
The question is: Did the general public believe some of these fantastic stories? They certainly did! Some carried these utterly untrue convictions with them to their graves. Most of the people of the Middle East were thoroughly confused as to Christ's true identity. But not his immediate disciples. "He [Jesus] said to them. 'But who do you say that I am" Simon Peter replied. 'You are Christ, the Son of the living God.' And Jesus answered him, 'Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven'" (verses 15-1 7).
Peter knew who the real Jesus was! And it wasn't just the fact that he had been one of his closest friends and companions. There was a miraculous element of revelation involved in his understanding.
The Next Installment In this article we've substantiated that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was a common, everyday, ordinary-looking young Jewish man of his day with a fairly short haircut.
The concluding article in this two-part series will show you that, believe it or not, Jesus Christ did not convert one single person during his entire earthly ministry, that he lived in and owned as many as two houses in two different cities, that he sometimes hobnobbed with the upper crust of society, that he paid his taxes as a property owner, and that he was subject to civil authorities.
All this information and more is coming up in either the next or a soon-coming issue of this magazine. If you don't wish to wait that long, write for the free booklet entitled The Real Jesus, which contains much of the same information.