Bible, Teaching
Comments 7

Did Jesus have a beard?


Artist's rendering of the plate from 4th century depicting Jesus without a beard. Photo: FOR

Artist’s rendering of the plate from 4th century depicting Jesus without a beard. Photo: FORVM MMX

Our immediate response to the question posed by the title is YES!!!!

However, a piece of a glass plate from the 4th century does a very unique thing — it portrays Jesus without a beard. The discovery is considered one of the earliest representations of Jesus. It was found by archaeologists in Andalusia, Spain. They were part of the FORVM MMX project digging at the site of a religious building in the ancient village of Castulo dated to around 350 AD.

The glass plate probably held bread for the Eucharist.

The image engraved on the glass was also different in other respects. The artist portray Jesus as having short curly hair and wearing a toga. Pictured beside Jesus are the apostles Peter and Paul, who are also beardless. All three have halos over their head.

We have no idea if this rendering was based on even older images of Jesus, but obviously the people of this era accepted a beardless Jesus as realistic.

Shroud of Turin

What we do know is that it differs substantially from modern paintings of Jesus that depict Him with long flowing hair and a beard. Many of these are influenced by the shroud of Turin — that has an image of a man burned into what was probably a burial cloth. It shows a man with long hair and a beard. It is argued by some this was Jesus’ burial cloth and His image was burned into the cloth at the resurrection.

Though the Catholic Church has no official position on the Shroud, many modern images of Jesus, particularly of the Catholic variety, portray Jesus with long hair and a beard with a resemblance to the image on the Shroud.

However, it was reformer John Calvin (1509 -1564) who pointed out the biggest problem with the shroud. Citing John 20:6-7, Calvin says Jesus was wrapped in two pieces of cloth at His burial — one for His body and one for His head found rolled in a ball on the floor after Christ’s resurrection. So based on the scriptural record, the shroud is not Jesus’ burial cloth.

What does the Bible say?

But is the artists rendering of Jesus without a beard correct?

Most of us immediately ask: Didn’t Jesus have his beard plucked out by the Roman guards? In fact, the Gospel writers don’t mention that:

and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face. (John 19:3 NASV note “in the face’ is not in the original text, but is added for clarification see also Mark 14:65 and Matthew 26:67-68)

Jesus was beaten several times during His imprisonment. However, there is no mention of soldiers pulling out Jesus’ beard, only that they hit Jesus in the face or beat upon His head as it reads in Matthew 27:30.

The only possible reference to Jesus’ beard being plucked comes from the Old Testament:

I gave My back to those who strike Me,
And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard;
I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. (Isaiah 5o:6 NASV)

In this verse, Isaiah was describing the torture practices of the Assyrians who pulled out the beard of their captives including skin and flesh. The prophet said he was willing to go through this.  In fact, Isaiah prophesied to Ahaz if he didn’t repent his beard would be pulled out (Isaiah 7:20).  But some also believe the verse prophetically looked ahead to the torment Jesus went through because He was similarly scourged and spit upon (Matthew 27:67-68).

But does this Old Testament verse refer to Jesus? If the guards had pulled out Jesus’ beard, you would expect the Gospel writers to mention it and I suspect the guards would have done so, if Jesus had a beard.

Leviticus 19:27-28, says the Jewish men were not allowed to trim the edges of the beard or square it off. This was a reference to a religious rite practiced by many pagans in Canaan. It was an act of worship to their gods and the Israelis were not allowed to mimic that practice. But this did not require them to have a beard. But it was custom for men in the Old Testament to have one.  King David had a beard (1 Samuel 21:13 NASV), as did Aaron (Psalm 133:2), Samson (Judges 16:17) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 5:1). But Joseph didn’t (Genesis 41:14), as was the Egyptian custom.

As we move into the New Testament, there is not a single mention of a beard and it seems the custom of the day was to shave. It probably wasn’t a daily thing — stubble was in vogue. So perhaps the artist from the ancient village of Castulo had it right.

In one sense, whether Jesus had a beard is not significant to our faith but in another sense it is, as it shows that our perceptions of Jesus are sometimes influenced more by a picture on a wall, than the Biblical record.

 

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7 Comments

  1. Ethan says

    When it comes to credibility, how is this glass plate any different from the shroud? The scripture in Isaiah 50 seems to describe the suffering of Christ. Jesus fulfilled every Old Testament prophesy regarding him. He did not stand out in a crowd, so if the style for first century Jewish men in Israel was to have a beard (and I’ve never heard credibly otherwise) then Jesus had a beard. These arguments that he didn’t I find hard to believe, and a glass plate from hundreds of years after Christ doesn’t help.

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    • Hi Ethan. Thank you for your comment. I absolutely agree. The image on the plate is certainly not what Christ looked like. However, it did reflect a tradition of what some people thought Christ looked like at the time the plate was made. Similarly, the image on the Shroud of Turin has affected many of our modern perceptions of what Jesus looks like.

      As for whether Christ had a beard — when I started working on the article I was sure the Gospels mentioned Jesus’ beard being plucked and was surprised to find they didn’t. Of course, this is not proof one way or the other, as Jesus’ beard could have been plucked and the writers didn’t mention it or inferred it when they talked about Jesus being hit in the face. The only clear reference to a beard being plucked was found in the Old Testament, which many have considered a messianic reference to Jesus. I have always looked upon it as such, myself. But the Gospel writers did not mention it, which I found surprising.

      However, it is certainly not something I can be dogmatic about.

      Along a similar vein, many believe because of Christmas carols and tradition, that three magi visited Christ at His birth. In fact, the Bible doesn’t say. This is not to say there weren’t three, all we know for sure is that there were three different types of gifts. So it is good to look at Scripture and find out exactly what it says.

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  2. Kym says

    Shaving the face was popularized by Alexander the Great. Rabbis, on the other hand let it grow because the OT said it was a shame for a man to cut off the corners of the beard. Since no one knows what that means they let it grow. Orthodox rabbis have beards. Since Jesus was the rabbi par excellence it’s hard to believe he would get up every morning and shave like a Roman Senator. I think you find beards distasteful so you go to great pains to remake Jesus as you want him. That’s how we end up with a sanitized Jesus.

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    • Well, I don’t think it has anything to do with me disliking beards. I got saved in a Jesus people church and everyone had a beard including myself.And I have had a beard off and on throughout the years.

      I was just surprised that there was no verse in the New Testament that clearly said Jesus had a beard. Of course, this doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t have one…

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  3. Dean Smith, you are so amazingly tactful in your replies to people. Your article was SO clear. Sometimes I wonder if the people who respond to things have actually fully read what you’ve written. Even more astounding to me, is how gracious and patient you are in your response. As you wisely pointed out, there are plenty of factors to consider–and in the end no one can be certain what Jesus looked like. You did a great job of just laying out the considerations for thought. And, I think the way you respond to people reveals that YOU look a lot like Jesus. D. Hahn

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