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.

Why Mohammed?

Question from Ali:
I was asking a friend if God wanted to reveal Islam to all humans why was it in Arabic? He answered me because he chose Mohammed as his prophet. Then I asked why of all the people he chose an illiterate man? They answered me because that is the miracle and how he showed his divine powers of making an illiterate man able to read and write instantly. So i got stuck on that thought and couldn’t answer because it made some sense… if you have a supporting argument for me to continue that conversation please advise me…

Answer by SmartLX:
It would have made more sense for God to reveal himself in multiple places, in all major languages, with a consistent message for mankind. Therefore I don’t think much of the supposed decision to send a message to just one person in any single language, let alone Arabic. That said, if that was how it had to happen, Arabic was as good a language as any – less for its popularity than for the fact that it was spoken by many groups with aggressive warriors who were ideal for spreading Islam by the sword.

Not all Muslims believe that God bestowed literacy upon Mohammed (peace be upon him, as they say). This Muslim site doesn’t say anything about him ever learning to read or write. There’s a third opinion too: a separate site (written by a non-Muslim) gives a quote from the “writings” of Mohammed himself which implies that he was always able to read.

It hardly matters, because as the first link says it’s perfectly reasonable to think that Mohammed dictated his works to his companions, at least a few of whom were surely literate. Oral storytelling and other communication has a strong tradition in the Middle East, and even today Muslims are encouraged to memorise chunks of the Quran for recital (and, of course, simply for the sake of indoctrination). It’s the simplest explanation for a large body of written work coming from an illiterate man, and it even satisfies some Muslims. There’s still the supernatural claim that the angel Gabriel (Jibril) provided much of the material to Mohammed beforehand, but his literacy is irrelevant to that issue.

Take all of the above into account, and the idea of Mohammed’s sudden literacy makes very poor Muslim apologetic when there are so many other – and so much more mundane – things that could have happened instead.