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:

jesus

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):

ravenna_005-627x364

 

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.

800px-spas_vsederzhitel_sinay

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!

 

 

41 Responses to “Did Jesus have a Beard?”

  1. I can’t say, but my ‘ancestor’ from the 16th Century had a great
    one, see my hoimepage….Hint-Nosty….

  2. “As far as I am aware, it doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible whether Jesus had a beard or not”

    Yes, it does. Before the crucifixion, he is tortured by having his beard pulled out.

    Also, since he was apparently a rabbi, this implies a beard (and also marriage—of course he was married to Mary Magdalene, the original Marlene).

    “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.”

    Indeed. The (otherwise excellent) film Spartacus is a good example: the hairdos, the makeup, and so on—though I assume the director didn’t intend the viewer to notice the tennis shoes worn by the slaves (recalling Charlton Heston’s watch in Ben Hur.

    As a former redhead myself more interesting is that he is often (usually?) portrayed with red hair (and beard). (After chemotherapy and the loss of my hair, (only) my head hair grew back in a different colour (and with curls, though that went away after a few months).)

    But, most important, he listens to jazz. 🙂

    • Or maybe not.

      Maybe there was a schism, with the beardies and the smoothies fighting wars in the middle ages. 😐

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      You are right, Phillip; the Bible does state that Jesus has his beard pulled out during the tortures of his last hours before his Crucifixion. This is stated, however, as prophecy by the prophet Isaiah (chapter 50 verse 6), several centuries before the Crucifixion, and is not mentioned in the gospel stories themselves. It is one reason why Christians should not accept the Turin Shroud as authentic, given that the figure there has a full beard.

      The word “rabbi” means “teacher” and it can have a formal meaning, like schoolmaster, and an informal meaning (“I learnt a lot from him – he rabbi-ed me”). While it was the custom for formal rabbis to be married in the ancient Israel of 2000 years ago it was not compulsory – that is a myth. And Jesus did not think of himself as a formal rabbi.

      • I always felt that the image on the Turin Shroud looked too much like a mediaeval European representation of Christ to be genuine.

        I believe that carbon dating has established a date somewhere around 1300 AD for the cloth, but there remains some controversy about this.

        Nevertheless, it remains an interesting artifact because nobody really has the faintest idea how it was made.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        O yes they do! There are multiple reasons to disbelieve the authenticity of the Turin Shroud, including its replicability by mediaeval techniques. I set out the reasons here:

        http://tbcw.org/thought-for-month/The%20Turin%20Shroud.pdf

      • I agree that there are plausible suggestions, but I’d say none of these has been fully tested scientifically – that’s mainly the fault of the religious authorities who have not allowed much real investigation into the part of the fabric on which the image is imprinted.

      • Do all Christians believe that the text from Isaiah refers to Jesus? I mean, do the Gospels state that the treatment of Jesus is the fulfillment of this particular prophesy?

      • The most interesting—and, arguably, most plausible—explanation I have heard of the shroud is that Leonardo (da Vinci) earned some money on the side by fabricating relics (big business in those days) and, using a camera obscura, immortalized himself in the role of Jesus on the shroud, an in-joke to those who would recognize him.

      • “Do all Christians believe that the text from Isaiah refers to Jesus? I mean, do the Gospels state that the treatment of Jesus is the fulfillment of this particular prophesy?”

        Certainly in several cases it says that Jesus did this or that in order that the prophecy might be fulfilled, which sounds to me that he intentionally planned events in his life so that he would behave as expected of the Messiah, quite literally a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      • One could argue that these connections were embellishments added to make the connection with Old Testament prophesies.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Peter, yes all Christians believe that the man referred to by Isaiah is Jesus; the verse in question is from one of four passages of Isaiah (the “suffering servant” passages) that match Jesus very closely. (Orthodox Jews dispute the identification.)

        Here is a list of quotes from Isaiah in the New Testament:

        http://www.simplybible.com/f59b.htm

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip,

        The Wikipedia article on the Turin Shroud states that

        The history of the shroud from the 15th century is well recorded. In 1453 Margaret de Charny deeded the Shroud to the House of Savoy. In 1578 the shroud was transferred to Turin.

        Given that Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452, his precocity as an artist to have fabricated it would have been remarkable…

      • It looks more like Billy Connolly to me…

      • When transferred to Turin in 1578, Leonardo did his bit. 🙂

      • This is presumably why, in the set of Ravenna mosaics, Jesus is shown with a beard in the final scene (of the Passion).

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip, I think you need to check the date of da Vinci’s death as well as his birth!

      • “I think you need to check the date of da Vinci’s death as well as his birth!”

        My bad. I’ll see if I can find the documentation. Maybe Leonardo had his hands on it at some point.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        “I agree that there are plausible suggestions, but I’d say none of these has been fully tested scientifically – that’s mainly the fault of the religious authorities who have not allowed much real investigation into the part of the fabric on which the image is imprinted.”

        It’s only really the obsessed and deluded who believe that the 1988 radiocarbon dating wasn’t decisive, and such people could be guaranteed to manufacture some new reason to doubt any subsequent test. They’ve already tried to rubbish radiocarbon dating generally (despite the accuracy of the control experiments) and claimed invisible mediaeval mending of the Shroud (despite this being ruled out by a Vatican-hired expert on mediaeval textiles who examined the Shroud subsequent to the claim). Protestant as I am, I don’t blame Rome for not wanting the image marred in a futile attempt to convince the unconvinceable. It would be nice if Bishop d’Arcis’ draft letter were exhibited next to the Shroud, though.

        For any history enthusiasts who read the link to my 2-page essay on the Shroud (above), Geoffroy de Charny was killed by English knights at the Battle of Poitiers during the 100 Years War. He was the carrier of the Oriflamme, the French battle pennant, and the English knights twigged that the French king would be close to the Oriflamme and ran a flying wedge through French lines towards him. Geoffroy was killed and the French king captured and exfiltrated to England. There he was an honoured guest at court, except that he was not permitted to leave. He was eventually ransomed.

      • I have actually seen the Shroud – on one of the occasions it was exhibited publicly. The image is extremely faint and brought to my mind the kind of marks you make when you accidentally burn a shirt while ironing. My theory was then that it was made by wrapping a metal statue that had been heated.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Nice idea, but it’s been looked into and rejected for these reasons:

        https://shroudofturin.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/scorch-paper-en.pdf

  3. I’m certainly not an expert in these matters, but the Torah prohibits shaving the beard, and I was under the impression that Jews in ancient Judea took those prohibitions seriously. So unless some sort of biological condition prevented him from growing one, I’d be very surprised to find he didn’t have a beard.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      The word “Torah” is a bit of a moveable feast as it means “teaching” (not “law”). Christians and nonsecular Jews both believe that the regulations in the first five books (the ‘Pentateuch’) of the Old Testament (or the Tanakh, as Jews call it) were binding laws in ancient Israel, which had been given to Moses by God. (These laws are not binding on Christians as the church is, properly, a volunteer movement not a nation.) Orthodox Jews believe that certain other regulations are/were also binding, and that these were given by God to Moses at the same time but were not to be written down. (They eventually were, in the Talmud.) Christians and *some* other Jews (Karaites) believe, in contrast, that these further laws accreted round the written ones over the centuries. Certainly today’s kosher laws (for example) are more extensive and stricter than those in the Pentateuch.

      The Pentateuch prohibits cutting or shaving the hair at the side of the head. I believe this simply means that sideburns were mandatory for ancient Israelite men, but it explains why ultra-Orthodox boys today have long wisps down the sides of their heads.

  4. Most people who spend time thinking about this have a theological axe to grind, so one must take the result of their research with a lump of salt.

    A similar question regards not just the colour but also the length of his hair.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      The length of his hair would have been typical of a Jew of the era. Not much is said about that in either Testament. (Jesus had not taken a Nazirite vow, which would have meant no haircutting – he drank alcohol with his disciples, and Nazirites were teetotal.) As for long hair being unChristian, the Puritans were perhaps the most serious Christians ever to run a nation (at which point they bumped into the perennial problem that Christianity is meant to be voluntary), yet they had rock-star length hair.

      Why do you raise the colour of his hair? Surely that is obvious: dark.

      • “As for long hair being unChristian”

        St. Paul would agree that it is unChristian.

        “Why do you raise the colour of his hair? Surely that is obvious: dark.”

        Logic says yes. Most depictions say no.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Please quote (in English translation) the relevant passage of Paul.

        Most depictions? Some, certainly, but surely a minority?

      • “Please quote (in English translation) the relevant passage of Paul.”

        “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?”

        1 Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 14, King James translation.

      • Apparently the consensus is that Paul wrote it, but a couple of passages, one including the verse above, might have been inserted later.

        But since the entire Bible is the inspired word of God, and the King James translation is similarly inspired, it doesn’t matter who wrote it. 🙂

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        The King James Bible was a very good translation for its time, but it is out of date simply because English usage has changed in the last 400 years. “Suffer little children” (meaning “Let little children…”) doesn’t sound good today. Or the woman “taken” in adultery (meaning caught in adultery). Then a small part of it was translated from the Latin Vulgate Bible because no Greek manuscript in Greek (the original language of the New Testament) was at hand for that passage (it is now). The “textus receptus”, a Greek New Testament compiled from the earliest extant sources, upon which King James’ New Testament was based, deserves overhaul given the many new ancient documents uncovered in recent centuries.

        The passage continues: But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her. Paul is saying that men should have significantly different hairstyles from women, specifically shorter. If you think that the Puritan men had long hair, see the Puritan women!

      • “Paul is saying that men should have significantly different hairstyles from women, specifically shorter.”

        Yes, shorter, but also short in absolute terms.

        “The King James Bible was a very good translation for its time, but it is out of date simply because English usage has changed in the last 400 years.”

        Point taken, but, assuming that one is familiar with the language (which is not that different than Shakespeare’s, though the KJV is deliberately somewhat old-fashioned, and of course Shakespeare coined many new words and phrases), then it’s certainly very good, at least from a literary perspective.

      • “The King James Bible was a very good translation for its time, but it is out of date simply because English usage has changed in the last 400 years.”

        One can modernize the language. How about Matthew 3:16–17, the baptism of Jesus:

        And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

        And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

        One can compare various versions here.

        I remember one from some 1970s Bible, which went something like this:

        And after JC was dunked, he shot straight up into the sky. And check it out, bro, heaven opened right up, and he saw the holy ghost flyin’ down like some pigeon and and the a-sittin’
        on his head.

        And then Big Daddy yelled from his penthouse mansion “That’s my boy!”

      • and and the —-> and

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        To get any further you need to know what long and short hair meant in Israel 2000 years ago.

  5. Given that you have a blog reader in the Vatican, I am hopeful that you will receive clarification from a higher, but not quite celestial, body.

  6. Anton Garrett Says:

    I know members of the family who found that mosaic at Hinton St Mary!

  7. Steve Warren Says:

    It seems the experts don’t think it’s actually Constantine. But the date fits quite well, he did like to use the chi-rho symbol, and it even looks a bit like him, at least as depicted in the Colossus of Constantine statue. Note the long nose, small mouth and dimpled chin. Could they be by any chance related?

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