Did Jesus have long hair and a beard?

This post entitled “The Error of the Long-haired Jesus” makes the very interesting case that Jesus did not have long hair and a beard. Read it yourselves, but I will summarize it in this post.

(In case anybody is interested, it doesn’t affect my faith one whit whether Jesus has long hair or not. I have a vision of His face in my mind that has nothing to do with his hair length or whether he has a beard. It is mostly His eyes that I see in my mind. But I find such historical speculation interesting. And, yes, this also applies to temple depictions of the Savior, which like everything in the temple are done to help our worldly eyes understand the mysteries of the eternities. Please note that each of the temple films has a Jesus who looks different, so we should not let ourselves get bogged down about details (such as Jesus with long hair and a beard) that miss the point.)

So, the post I link above makes the point that it was the custom in Palestine in the 1st century AD for most Jews to have short hair. Jesus was not a Nazarite (they notably had long hair). And Paul’s writings seem to imply that people who are followers of Christ should have shorter hair. In addition, early Christian writers make the point that most people in the 1st Century AD thought Jesus had short hair.

The idea that Jesus had long hair and a beard came from the attempt to make Christianity more palatable to Greeks and Romans, who all imagined gods in that way. Here is a statue of Sarapis (Zeus):


But, the post claims, there is no reason to believe Jesus actually looked at all like this.

The post states:

With the time of Constantine a new type of JESUS began to be portrayed among the Christian population of the Roman Empire. They took the style of grooming which was typical of the pagan gods and adopted it as their “JESUS.” The above drawing is from a bust in the British Museum of Sarapis, the Egyptian version of Zeus (the chief of the Gentile gods). See reference Harper’s Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities, article, “Coma.”

Note the long hair! Such long feminine type of hair on a man is how evil spirits are portrayed in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 9:7,8). And Sarapis is always portrayed with a beard and long hair. It is astonishing that since the time of Constantine in the fourth century, almost all the visionary experiences of people who believed they saw a personage they thought to be “Jesus,” have seen a long haired “Jesus.” This is not the Jesus of the Bible (either in his fleshly state on earth or his divine state in heaven). The truth is, the real “Jesus” of the New Testament (who taught in the flesh among the Jews almost 2000 years ago) groomed himself by clipping his hair to keep it relatively short.

Looking at scripture, the post makes the following points:

The apostle Paul said it was a shame for a man to have long hair because the male is made in the image of God who is groomed with short hair (I Corinthians 11:3-16). It was a common characteristic of Jewish men to wear their hair in a close-cropped fashion. Eusebius copied the text of the Jewish historian Josephus in Against Apion I.22, para.173-4. In this section, Josephus was quoting an early Gentile author who gave some unique grooming styles of Jewish men. Josephus shows that the Jews were known, as Eusebius renders it, for “their close-cropped hair” (Preparation for the Gospel, IX.9, sect 412b).

There was a definite reason why Jewish men (especially in the time of Jesus) wore their hair short as a common custom. The people knew that the Aaronic priests had the role of being mediators between themselves and God. Sometimes the priests took the place of the people in petitioning God, while at other times the priests became a substitute for God in instructing the people. In the time of Jesus most of the Sadducees were priests while the majority of the remainder of the Jews were Pharisees. The Pharisees applied the Scripture that the whole nation of Israel were to be reckoned as priests (Exodus 19:6) and they invented some strict customs even for themselves and the common people that were actually designed only for priests. And what was a principal custom (indeed, it was a command from God) that characterized the priests because of their roles in being like God to the people and the rest of the world? God commanded all priests to have SHORT HAIR! That’s right, the priests who administered in the first Tabernacle and later in the Temple at Jerusalem were required to have short hair, not long hair which women were accustomed to wear.

Such a command had been in effect since the time of Moses. Whereas the King James Version translates Leviticus 10:6 as “uncover not your heads,” the Jewish authorities always knew that this should be rendered “Let the hair of your heads not grow long” (see Rashi on Leviticus 10:6; and it is so translated in The Jerusalem Bible, Koren ed.).

This command of God was given again in the time of Ezekiel. “They shall not shave their heads [that is, to be bald], or let their locks grow LONG they shall only trim the hair of their heads” (Ezekiel 44:20 RSV)

Jesus was not a Nazarite:

Jesus, however, was not under a Nazarite vow during his ministry because he also consumed wine and the fruit of the vine (Matthew 11:19) and this was prohibited to all Nazarites (Numbers 6:3). Though Jesus lived in the town of Nazareth, he was not a Nazarite. This shows that Jesus had short hair like all normal Jewish men at the time. Indeed, when Judas pointed out who Jesus was at the time of his betrayal to the priests, he kissed him on the cheek (Luke 22:48) rather than pointing out the man with the long hair. The simple truth is, Jesus while teaching on earth had short hair and all the early portraits of him made in the hundred or so years before the time of Constantine show him also as beardless.

It was common custom throughout the Roman Empire in the first century for men to have their hair short. They followed the examples of the Caesars of Rome who always wore short hair. As far as males were concerned, Paul demanded that they keep their hair short. Indeed, even with the Greeks it was customary for men to wear their hair short except, as the Jews, for short periods of mourning. Charles Goodwin of Pusan, Korea supplied me with this quotation from the Loeb edition of Plutarch’s Moralia on The Roman Questions 267B. “In Greece, whenever any misfortune comes, the women cut off their hair and the men let it grow, for it is usual for men to have their hair cut and for women to let it grow” (emphasis mine). Paul reminded his Greek readers in Corinth of this custom which he called the way of nature [instinct] among the Greeks. So, both Jewish and Greek men normally wore their hair short. It was even a religious duty for Jewish men.

This is because males were to be groomed in the way that God and Christ were groomed (and as the priests of Israel were groomed). Jewish Christians did not need to be told this. They already kept their hair short. Indeed, for a Jewish male to have long hair signified his attitude of mourning and that he was in shame and humiliation. “Does not nature [instinct] itself teach you, that if a man have long hair it is a shame to him?” (I Corinthians 11:14).

So, to sum up: I think the post makes an interesting case, certainly one worth considering. If you still feel Jesus has long hair and a beard, I have no problem with that. As I said, I don’t have strong feelings either way. But it is worth thinking about at the very least.

This entry was posted in General by Geoff B.. Bookmark the permalink.

About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

17 thoughts on “Did Jesus have long hair and a beard?

  1. On my Facebook page, somebody left the following excellent comment, which I will quote here:

    “Well, there is this writing, said to have been taken from the records of Rome (and referred to by Spencer W. Kimball, Conference Report, April 1956), and said to have been written by Publius Lentulus, Governor of Judea, to the senate of Rome at the time of Christ’s ministry. It reads:

    Conscript Fathers: In these our days appeared a man named Jesus Christ, who is yet living among us, and of the Gentiles is accepted as a prophet of great truth; but his own disciples call him the son of God. He hath raised the dead and cured all manner of diseases. He is a man of stature somewhat tall and comely, with a ruddy countenance, such as the beholder may both love and fear. His hair is the color of filbert when fully ripe, plain to his ear, whence downward it is more of orient color, curling and waving on his shoulders; in the middle of his head is a seam of long hair, after the manner of the Nazarites. His forehead is plain and delicate; the face without spot or wrinkle, beautiful with a comely red, his nose and mouth are exactly formed; his beard is the color of his hair and thick, not of any length but forked.

    So…..shoulder length hair and a fine beard. I do also note that there is this movie I see once a month or so………..”

  2. I have sometimes joked that I care not if God is 9 feet tall with green skin and glowing red eyes.

    It certainly wouldn’t bother me if Jesus happened to have short hair and no beard.

    By the way, fun descriptive quote attributed to a contemporary…

  3. The terms ‘short’ and ‘long’ are relative. In terms of women’s hairstyles we would usually say ‘long’ hair would be below the shoulders, sometimes down to the waist and further. I think is it is interesting that shaving is forbidden which would dictate at least some small amount of beard. Since male follicles probably function the same as female follicles, we could expect that men could easily grow beards down to their knees and hair below the waistline.
    Therefore depictions of Jesus which normally show hair not quite to the shoulders, and a fairly modest beard fall within the criteria.
    I have long felt that the shroud of the Turin might depict the crucified Christ. If so, his beard was short and slightly forked and his hair was above the shoulders. As Meg says, his appearance really isn’t the issue with those who believe.

  4. JimD kind of beat me to it: The letter of Lentulus basically has no credibility.

    For that matter, the shroud of Turin has no credibility.

  5. I don’t know the source of the paintings in Wikipedia of the early Christian fathers, but they all have long hair and beards, except Irenaeus (2nd Century) who had hair to his ears and a forked beard.

  6. Regarding the Shroud of Turin, I think there are two interesting things:

    1) Though no religion (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church) is currently willing to assert that it is necessarily authentic, it is recognized as an artifact that causes people to reflect upon Christ. That, in and of itself, is good. For what it is worth, I don’t believe Joseph Smith was aware of the shroud, so clearly it isn’t necessary for a Mormon to believe or not believe in the shroud as part of their faith.

    2) The Shroud seems to indicate that someone suffered in ways resembling the Bible account of Jesus’ death, with the exception of the damage to the wrist. The Shroud suggests that the individual wrapped (or depicted) in the Shroud had first been nailed through the palms, and subsequently (or simultaneously) also nailed through the wrist. It’s a gruesome but realistic detail, as the flesh of the palms would have ripped under the weight of a man, while the bones of the wrist would have held up to the dead weight of an unconscious (or dead) man. This is a realistic touch that forgers could have learned due to experience with convicts who would allow themselves to be crucified for the benefit of their eternal souls to inform artists on what a crucified man actually looked like. Though I’m not sure we know of that practice occurring at the early date suggested by the carbon dating of the shroud (which is one of the main indicators that the Shroud is likely not authentic). Though if the forgers cobbled together the wrist wound due to experience with later crucifixions, it is curious that we don’t see the wrist wound in artistic depictions of the crucified Christ. Just to say that the wrist wound inferred from the evidence of the Shroud is non-canonical and therefore interesting.

  7. I think the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin is still open and will never be proven one way or another:

    The earliest representations were of a young Roman man with short curly hair. He was even represented as Orpheus that hellenized Jews associated with David. One of my favorite pictures of Jesus is a 3rd C. catacomb representation of the woman with issue of blood:

  8. re: The Shroud of Turin:
    In the Dresden Files books, there are two “Shrouds of Turin” – the real one, which is in Hades’ personal treasure vault (it’s complicated), and the one that pops up in the media occasionally, which isn’t real, but has acquired some powers because enough people believe in it, it acts as a channel to/for people’s faith.


  9. For me, the three big strikes against the Shroud are the carbon dating, the analysis of the pigment (which appears to be hematite-based) and the conclusion of the Catholic authorities involved when the Shroud first surfaced that they had identified the forger. The last is something I recall from reading Nibley on the Shroud — he considered it thoroughly debunked.

  10. But remember, it was not like the ancients had great cutting and shaving technology. In an age in which modern bathroom facilities were non-existent, long hair and a long beard was a hygienic disaster… lice! To shave, I suppose one could draw an edge on a stone or bronze implement. And bronze scissors have been found in Egypt. Essentially what they would had was crude spring shears. My best guess is that “short” hair was not what we see modern LDS missionaries sport… no taper! And “shaves” were probably performed with shears, not modern steel safety razors. I know the Greeks and Romans did a lot of scraping and plucking in their baths.

    I wear a short beard because my skin gets irritated by modern shaving techniques, ancient technologies make me shudder.

Comments are closed.