The Face Of Jesus

Question from Vlad:
Last night I got together with a few friends, and we were talking about how in Islam for example, there is very little imagery (if any) of the prophet Muhammad or Isa (Jesus) but how in Christianity, there are numerous depictions and drawings of Jesus. One thing I found curious was that many of the so-called visions people have of Jesus in dreams, or even according to some individuals “in real life” generally cater to the images they were brought up to believe. A Christian living in Texas, for example, who believes he or she encountered Jesus, is likely to describe him as having long dark hair, pretty light skin, a thin build, etc. However, I brought this up during our conversation, and one of my friends (who is very religious) told me that Jesus did actually look like the way he is depicted in photos. I know quite a few people on here may not even believe Jesus ever existed, but assuming he did, I would have thought that he would have likely looked less “European”. My friend told me that recently, a cloth with Jesus’s face on it was discovered apparently where he was buried, and there are documentaries about this. Apparently carbon dating was done to prove that this cloth existed around his time. He said the only thing they could not verify was Jesus’s skin colour, but that it is actually known what his physical structure looked like. I’m not sure if any of you are familiar with these recent claims, but I would like to know, what would your opinion be on this? Does this give these visions any more credence?

Answer by SmartLX:
Islam, or the widely practiced version of it, expressly forbids depictions of Muhammad. That was the whole basis of the furore surrounding the Danish cartoons depicting him, and the resulting attack on the publication in which they appeared. That’s why there are so few images of him. As for Jesus in the Muslim tradition, he’s only a relatively minor figure in that mythology, and not being able to depict Muhammad makes it difficult to express images of any of the other figures regardless.

The “cloth with Jesus’s face on it” was the Shroud of Turin, which I’ve covered before. Its whereabouts have only been traced definitively back to the 14th to 15th century, and the majority of carbon dating tests done on it so far place its origin around that time. The Christian image of Jesus had mostly been standardised by the 6th century, so if the shroud is a fake then it creators were already working from the image we’re familiar with from so many paintings.

There are claims that those tests were invalid because they were supposedly done on newer patches of cloth, but even the strongest advocates of the shroud’s authenticity can only point to a test which indicates a date range that includes the time of Jesus, but also includes the year 1000 BC and the year AD 1700. In other words it’s useless.

Coming back to your question about people’s visions of Jesus matching the image on the shroud, they also match the accepted image of Jesus from all the art. Even if the shroud is genuine, the supposed visions would only be amazing just for matching the shroud if the shroud were the only surviving source of that type of depiction of Jesus. To sustain the claim, a Christian would have to go on to claim that every famous artist who painted that kind of face for him had a similar vision, because otherwise the face comes to people’s minds for other reasons than that Jesus has paid them all a visit.

2 thoughts on “The Face Of Jesus”

  1. The questions like this only show the intentional ignorance of theists and their determination to use anything, no matter how absurd of discredited, to “prove” their religion is fact and not fantasy.

    Oblique reference here to the Shroud of Turin is a perfect example. Christians will deny it is fake and insist that any scientific evidence, no matter how often confirmed, is “unreliable”. They should know about unreliability, it permeates every shred of their religion.

  2. Vlad, just a point on the shroud of Turin – Every religion has some item or the other that it claims to be the personal artifact of its founder/ its most popular “action hero” (to borrow a phrase from a young atheist I met and interacted with recently 🙂 … his phrase not mine, though I took an instant liking to it). Older religions tend to have dodgy evidence for such artifacts, younger religions tend to have more credible evidence.
    Christianity, I guess is a middle aged religion of sorts … so the evidence tends to be semi-dodgy.

    Anyhow, whether an artifact actually did belong to an actual living person does not bear any testimony to a) whether the person is indeed the person the religion so reveres and b) that if the person is that very same person, then he/ she actually had the miraculous powers claimed by said religion.
    So, allowing theists a lot of leeway here … maybe Jesus existed (the shroud of Turin is probably not the best of evidence to support that, there seem to be other lines of reasoning/ evidence though but I profess I haven’t bothered getting into their details). Maybe he was a spiritual teacher of sorts. Maybe he had the kind of looks and appearance that are typically attributed to him (the Middle East has always been a mixing ground of European and Asiatic looks). But does that make him any more than a usual pious but confused & confusing preacher/ holy-man type (which is infinitely better than a secretly cynical and deliberately misleading one, which a lot of them are)?

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