The face of arguably the most famous person in history was a mystery until forensic anthropology put together Jesus’ probable face.
Without a physical description in the Bible or any other known writings, remains from which to find DNA, the presence of a skeleton or skull, or original drawings, the image of Jesus through history was left to the artist’s imagination. As a general rule their imagination did not stray too far, typically depicting Jesus with features reflecting their own cultural standard for a good looking man.
Richard Neave, a retired medical artist, decided to depict Jesus using his own craft, the scientific method of creating a possible look-alike used for crime solving. Neave, co-author of “Making Faces: Using Forensic And Archaeological Evidence,” developed his unique portrait hobby with such faces as Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great, and King Midas of Phrygia.
Given the need for Judas to identify Jesus from his disciples by giving him a kiss in front of the soldiers, according to accounts of his arrest in the book of Matthew, Neave assumed Jesus looked like most early 30-year-old Galilean Semite males of his era. Neave used three skulls of male Semites dated to the first century, lent to him by an Israeli anthropologist. With the compiled data on how facial muscle shape and thickness correspond to a skull a computer program created the face structure which Neave used to inform his clay model.
For hair and coloring Neave referenced first century written and artistic depictions of Jews in Roman occupied Palestine and the general consensus among biblical scholars. Given Jesus life as a carpenter and then as a wondering preacher Neave aged Jesus face a little and included a more weather-beaten look. The average height and build of a first century Semite was 5 ft. 1 in., with an average weight of about 110 pounds.
The final face of Jesus to came out of Naeve’s lab and land on the front of Popular Mechanics in 2002 caused quite a stir when it differed completely from Sunday school pictures and Hollywood presentations. While this may not be exactly what Jesus looked like, it is much closer than any of the top images Google pulls up when you type in Jesus. Despite making some people uncomfortable this picture keeps popping up as a reminder to the American Christians of their religion’s humble and Middle Eastern origins.