The best-selling Jesus movie, Jesus of Nazareth (1977), starred the attractive blue-eyed Robert Powell. If a modern version of the movie had to be produced one can easily imagine attractive actors like Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp portraying Jesus.
But what did the real Jesus look like? And what did other famous religious figures look like physically?
There is, of course, more than one Buddha. The first buddha, who is known as The Buddha (‘enlightened one’) was Prince Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni, the sage of the Skakya tribe from north India. It is not known when exactly he lived but it is thought to be any time between 563 and 483 BC, thus some 2 500 years ago.
We also do not know what The Buddha looked like. There were no images or descriptions of any kind made during his lifetime because he requested that none be made. It is, however, thought that he was a tall, slim fellow and had jet black hair. Being from that northern region, his complexion probably was a smooth golden brown. Images of The Buddha were created only 500 years after his death and most depict the above description.
The fat Buddha – the one you usually find in gift shops – is the buddha named Hotei or Pu-Tai. He is based on a Chinese Zen (Ch’an) monk who lived at the end of the first millennium, thus over 1 000 years ago. He is generally known as the jolly or the laughing Buddha but in China he is known as the Friendly One or Loving One. Obviously we know what he looked like.
Muslims do not allow images of their prophet, Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullāh, to be made in any format therefor were up in arms, literally, when he was portrayed in cartoons in Norwegian newspapers and elsewhere. Although there are no pictures, portraits or statues of the prophet Muhammad there are many text based descriptions.
In his biography on the prophet Muhammad, author Athar Husain explains: “Transmitted from Ali, may God be pleased with him, who, when asked to describe the Prophet, peace be upon him, would say: He was not too tall nor too short. He was medium sized. His hair was not short and curly, nor was it lank, but in between. His face was not narrow, nor was it fully round, but there was a roundness to it. His skin was white. His eyes were black. He had long eyelashes.”
Other descriptions have him as above average height with a large and prominent forehead and, also, long, thick eyelashes. Some sources describes his mouth and his eye as large – he was thought to have been blind in one eye.
But others explains the prophet Muhammad as short and fat. For instance, in Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 40: “When Ubaydullah saw him, he said: This Muhammad of yours is a dwarf and fat.”
Jesus was a Jew. So he obviously most likely looked like a Jew: olive skin complexion, prominent nose, curly dark hair, perhaps green or blue eyes. As with the other religious figures there are no images of descriptions made of Jesus during his lifetime. Images of Jesus appeared long after his death (or ascendance into heaven).
Modern depictions of Jesus as an tall, attractive guy is probably wrong. For one thing, in the time that any of these character lived the average height of people was much shorter than today – 5 ft 1 inch. Perhaps they, with the exception of the prophet Muhammad, were taller than average but it is not known as certainty.
There is one description of Jesus in the Old Testament, made more than 5 000 years before he was born. Isaiah 52 describes Jesus as follows:
“… like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
The way they walk
Whatever these religious figures really looked like it is doubtful that any of them would turn heads if they walk down the street today. There is less doubt that none of these figures, including Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp, except one could walk on water.
The picture is called The Head of Christ, painted by Walter Sallman in 1941. It sold more than 500 million copies.