Imaging Jesus

This week my introductory Scriptures course reached the New Testament.  After a brief intro to the NT and then a more thorough discussion of the Synoptic Problem, I paused to ask them a question: “who is Jesus?”  I solicited any adjective that came to their mind, especially dealing with Jesus’ appearance.  I received what I expected.

Bearded.  Long hair.  Blue eyes.  Handsome.  Strong.  White.

I then went through a variety of stereotypical images of just such a type of Jesus:


I then offered them some alternative images of Jesus:







And thanks to Julia O’Brien, we even looked at a “ripped Jesus”:



And after reflecting upon these images for a while, I put up the ‘well-known’ reconstruction of a first-century Palestinian male from Popular Mechanics in 2002 . . . the ‘face’ of Jesus:


The response was fascinating.  After the initial shock, I asked students for their reflections.  I then concluded class by saying the following: “I want to press you all to read the gospels, the New Testament, as though it is talking about this guy (gesturing to the final picture above) rather than about this guy (gesturing to white Jesus).”  It was  a great exercise and really pressed them to think about the gospels, as much as is possible, as first-century Jews, not 21st century Christians.

What are your reactions to this approach?  To these images?

17 thoughts on “Imaging Jesus

  1. dannyfrese says:

    Palestinian male Jesus: why did they have to give him that idiotic look of incomprehension?

    Chinese Jesus: I’m pretty sure the real Jesus had WAY better facial hair.

  2. John Anderson says:

    Michael: Thanks, buddy. As you can see I have replaced the ‘dino Jesus’ pic with the original . . . I must have attached the wrong one. I showed that one as a joke (because I too thought it was funny), but I have remedied that in this post.

    Danny I agree entirely with your comment about the expression of Palestinian Jewish Jesus. Actually, as my class ended and I was talking to some of my students, the next class began to filter in and I said to those who were there, “Let me introduce Jesus.” One said, “When did Jesus take a mugshot?” I quickly replied, “He was arrested, you know!” Funny yet interesting at the same time.

  3. Jason says:

    I like the “ripped Jesus”! Fortunately, Jesus remained on the cross and finished the work, unlike the billboard. It’s funny, too, that “ripped Jesus” came away from the scourging and crowning virtually unmarked! Now THAT’S imaginative!

  4. Roy "Eli" Garton says:

    I find the terminator allusion on the billboard quite humorous, especially since image of Jesus’ return in Revelation 19 well suites that allusion.

  5. diglot says:

    Thanks for this post!

    I saw that reconstructed picture of Jesus years ago in a video.

    I think it makes Jesus seem more human than the stereotypical pictures of the strong chiselled white Jesus.

  6. Zachary Kolk says:

    Jesus was a Jew. There is no way he was black, white or Asian. So why show those types of pictures? I get that you want to teach to look deeper into the bible, but there must be a better way. Even though it doesn’t matter what he looks like, it is still not truth to say he could be black or Asian etc…

  7. John Anderson says:


    I don’t think that’s what I was saying at all. It was more for effect, challenge.Ginger their presuppositions of who Jesus is/was…I never insinuated I told them Jesus was black or Asian…they are powerful and fascinating images. All for pedagogical effect. If you reread my post you will see I clearly identify and press them to think of Jesus as a Jew.

  8. Susan says:

    Thanks for these images. I do pretty much the same lesson as you with my twelve and thirteen year olds, and I was looking for some new images. Always get a good range of reactions from them – some are aware that Jesus would not have been the Caucasian beauty we sometimes see, others are really surprised by the fact that Jesus wouldn’t have been white like those early pictures, some are a bit offended by some of the pictures where Jesus is neither “Western” nor like the BBC picture … My pupils are from all over the world, I’m always interested to see how they react!

  9. Ken Mills says:

    I am glad that someone is raising the image question. I was hoping that the discussion would have been taken a bit further– for instance how does the image of Jesus affect modern american christianity. I happen to think that modern christianity is polluted with the de-jewification of Jesus. Even the name is ludicrous — the letter J is only 500 years old — Jesus is a transliterated name/concept. Again everything about the man/entity has been historically distorted to fit a euro-american ideal. If the name is changed ?–if the jew has been jazzed up into an american pop icon ? — then where is the truth ? Intellectually religion states that Jesus came to save us all — but imagery says that he is unquely white and his whiteness has replaced the chosen of the old testament– all others of course are only heathens that must give gratitude to his whiteness and understand its supremacy before being allowed into the kingdom. You only need to visit the homes of older black americans and see the picture of the white Jesus on the bookshelf to understand the concept. Slavery continued even in the practice of faith.

  10. Mia Byun says:

    Hi John,
    This is quite a late post but thanks for all the images.
    Would be great to know where the top portrait (of Jesus holding a lamb) came from? I’d like to use a part of the image for a graphic work and need to ask for permission first.


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