Did Jesus have a Beard?
I don’t often venture into matters religious via the medium of this blog, but I think I’ll make an exception in this case to address a question that must surely be of prime concern to theological scholars.
The question Did Jesus have a Beard? was provoked by this image which I saw on Twitter this morning:
This is the oldest known depiction of Jesus found in England, a Roman mosaic found at Hinton St Mary, which dates from around AD 350.
All the very old depictions of Jesus that I’m aware of show him clean-shaven. The oldest I have seen in person (in the Basilica San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy) shows him likewise beardless (he’s in the middle):
Another famous depiction, in the Basillica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo also in Ravenna, which is dated 520 AD) shows him in a series of scenes in which he appears beardless, but the final scene (of the Passion) shows him with the full beard that became the norm for later portraits and remains so up to the present day. This image is from the 6th Century AD and is very much in line with the we have come to assume Jesus looked like.
As far as I am aware, it doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible whether Jesus had a beard or not, so does the fact that the oldest known depictions show him clean-shaven mean that the real historical figure of Jesus didn’t have a beard?
Not necessarily. You have to remember that these early depictions were Roman, so it’s natural that they would have reflected the conventions of the culture at that time, not those of a different country (Judea) more than three centuries earlier. Being clean-shaven would have been regarded as a mark of nobility in Roman society, which probably explains why he was represented in that way.
I will probably get a deluge of corrections and clarifications from people who know a lot more than me about the early Christian church, so I’ll now step back and let the Comments Box do its work!Follow @telescoper