Was Jesus Homely?

There was a piece in a Times Union blog written by high school student Allison Moss a few weeks ago, addressing the question “Was Jesus Gay?” This was based on something singer Elton John reportedly said. Well, Jesus Christ Superstar suggests that he (or He) was bisexual. Of course, as much as I adore JCSS, I never considered it theologically authoritative.

It was that question that prompted me to revisit the notion, “Was Jesus homely?” As I understand it, we really have no idea about the physical characteristics of Jesus. He was not depicted in art until decades after walking the earth. Looking in the Bible, there appears to be no description whatsoever, except an interpretation of Isaiah 53:2, which says, “He has no form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him”. If this is in fact referring to Jesus, and the subsequent verses of the chapter are used in Messiah (Handel) as Jesus verses, then this Jesus fellow was rather plain-looking.

There’s a lengthy Wikipedia description about the depictions of Jesus, which I don’t treat as gospel either, but it IS interesting. My favorite section is on this point: “But when the pagan Celsus ridiculed the Christian religion for having an ugly God in about 180, Origen (d. 248) cited Psalm 45:3: ‘Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, mighty one, with thy beauty and fairness.’ Later the emphasis of leading Christian thinkers changed; Jerome (d. 420) and Augustine of Hippo (d. 430) argued that Jesus must have been ideally beautiful in face and body. For Augustine he was ‘beautiful as a child, beautiful on earth, beautiful in heaven’.” So humans, using their own sensibilities, created the appearance of Jesus in their own image of what he (or He) must have looked like. The beard and long hair was copped, ironically, from the image of competing “gods”.

In other words, early depictions of Jesus suggested that He was plain-looking, but other religionists stuck their thumbs in their ears, wiggled their fingers, and chimed in a sing-songy voice, “Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah, nyah, nyah, your God is ugly!” So Christians made THEIR manifestation of God look more like OTHER people’s manifestation of the gods. Given the Biblical directive way back in Genesis that God made humans in God’s image, it seems as though people feel compelled to return the favor.

Moreover, He was probably short. How else does he evade the madding crowd that wants to throw him over a cliff?

So eventually, Jesus started looking, more or less, like this guy:

Theologically, it would make more sense to me if Jesus was less than handsome. It is now well documented that tall, handsome people fare better in social interactions than others. What would be the theological point if Jesus were physically appealing? One might ask if people were following Him for shallow reasons based on His countenance rather than for his message.

When images of “black Jesus” became popular four or five decades ago in some households, people were shocked, SHOCKED. “THAT’S not what Jesus looked like!” Maybe, maybe not. He probably looked more like that than this, given the geography:

I think this Time magazine cover is a fairly accurate representation of what Christ, and indeed Christianity, looks like; it depends on the point of view.

***
Yes, this is a rewrite of a post from six months ago. It just felt like a Holy week piece.

ROG

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. i hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

2 thoughts on “Was Jesus Homely?”

  1. A very thought-provoking question. As a Jew, my guess he had the same traits as other Jewish men of the day in that region. I always laugh when I see a blond-haired, fair-skinned depiction of him. Blond? Oh, please. Fair skin? Seriously doubtful.

    Was he homely or attractive? I never gave it much thought. Since he was a carpenter, my guess is he was physically strong. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And he may have looked differently to different people. One thing I believe is how he will look when he comes again. (Not literally, but just as impressive, I'm sure.)

    "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. …On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS."(Revelation 19:11-16)

    Guess it won't really matter how he looks at that point, will it? A Blessed Easter to you and yours.

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