I find it quite fun to talk about what Jesus really looked like. And my advice to everyone is that your base template, the general phenotypical example to start with, is Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Using him as a template you can then branch out into the numerous variables that would have likely applied to Jesus.
So to start, no one knows what Jesus looks like. But we know where he is said to be from so we can make a lot of solid guesses.
Jesus came from a region around the Mediterranean Sea or Mediterranea if you like (I do). And Serj’s family roots are in Armenia, just up in the right corner of the map below.
And many of the peoples in this regions share common ancestry. That ancestry is basically the result of people moving around this region constantly & reproductively intermingling.
Groups like Phoenicians who were great at traveling by sea are prime examples but also just people migrating around on land. When traveling peoples interact with each other there is a nearly universal set of interactions: they trade and/or kill and/or have sex with each other. So the different groups went through numerous combinations of these different interactions over long periods of time. Some more so than others but the result was inevitably a sharing of genetic traits with a lot of unpredictable variation.
Serj’s appearance was likely influenced by multiple interactions and reproducing from a number of these different groups making for a mish-mash of traits from all over the Mediterranean Basin. At some points the genetic evidence suggests more affinity with Europe and at other points more affinity with Asia or Northern Africa.
But regardless you’re more likely to find some traits than others.
You might come across mild to moderate to darkly pigmented skin for example. Most likely darker hair, most likely dark eye pigment, and a high incidence of curly hair.
Hair is particularly interesting because it’s just determined by the shape of the hair follicles. The more ovoid the follicle, the more curl. The more circular, the straighter the hair is.
Serj exemplifies these traits perfectly.
He’s got dark coiled hair
Jesus would almost certainly have had similar hair. It might have a been a bit darker or light, maybe a bit more curly or straight. But not too much, just slight variation.
Serj also has quite darkly pigmented eye color.
The same rule probably would have applied as hair color. There’s some room for variation in his eye color for sure. Jesus could’ve had a bit lighter or darker eye pigment but not too much in either direction.
Now we come to skin color. Which I have to say, people with lighter skin pigment are REAL hung up on this one. To be charitable Jesus could’ve had light skin pigment as Serj does…
But it’s not likely. He was born into a population much further south than Serj’s most recent ancestors probably were. So Jesus’ skin pigment would almost certainly have been darker.
Even if it wasn’t though, even if he was born with less skin pigment, he was some sort of carpenter or builder. Depending on how you interpret the specific working, maybe even something like a modern day general contractor or handyman. He almost certainly spent a lot of time outside working in the sun.
Another trait these Mediterranean populations would’ve passed around to each other would’ve been an ability to tan much more efficiently than peoples further north.
By working in the sun Jesus would almost certainly have developed much darker skin tone by his early 20s. Even if he didn’t work outside, during the ministry described in the Bible he spent a lot of time outside walking and speaking and boating around so that would’ve contributed to increasing his skin pigment.
So when it comes to artistic depictions of Jesus, if we want a semblance of historical accuracy we should use Serj as our template.
Take some artistic license here and there, skin that’s moderately darker or lighter, give hair more curl or a bit more straight. No big deal. But don’t deviate too far or it becomes grossly inaccurate. Then you’re just remaking God in your own image.
Painting, movies, graphic novels, whatever. Know the region you’re working from and know the general appearance of the people there. It’s not hard.
The way we perceive someone like Jesus, a historical figure who has had an enormous impact on our culture for both the religious & non-religious, makes a difference.
How we see him in our imagination informs how we perceive others, informs the way we think about the broad variety of features we see in the people around us.
When you think Jesus, think Serj 🤘