Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Hello My Friend and Welcome.

In the recent post about togas and how they were misused in various works of art depicting Jesus and his disciples, I used a picture portraying him with long, flowing hair. I chose the picture because he was wearing a toga and completely overlooked his hair. After all, aren’t we all accustomed to seeing Jesus with shoulder length hair?

Perhaps we are used to seeing it, but some people still question it. Another question that arises involves how they would have cut their hair. Did they have scissors, or did they just hack away at it with a knife?

Let’s address the second part first. They didn’t have scissors, if by scissors you mean a two- piece device joined at its axis by a screw. They did, however, have shears. There is a picture of a pair of modern shears at the top of this chapter. They’re still used to shear sheep. Clearly, one blade moves across the other just as it does with a scissors. I’ve watched them being used and confess I don’t understand exactly how to make them work. The mystery lies in the exact hand motion that produces the cut. God forbid I should ever be forced to actually use them.

Modern Sheep Shears
The word scissors derives from the Latin word cisoria, meaning a cutting instrument. I would guess that a wide variety of shears existed in the First Century, coarse ones for shearing sheep, and they sheared a lot of sheep because their clothes were mostly wool. Finer ones would have been used for trimming hair, etc.

Egyptian Brass Sheers
To bolster my case, I offer a pair of Egyptian bronze shears from the Third Century BC owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although their decoration is characteristic of the Nile culture, they show a strong Greek influence. The shears illustrate the high degree of craftsmanship which developed in the period following Alexander's conquest of Egypt. Decorative male and female figures, which complement each other on the opposing blades are formed of solid pieces of metal inlaid in the bronze of the shears.

Enough of the easy stuff; now we move on to the first, and more difficult, question: Did Jesus have long hair? If you begin researching the topic, you’ll find a wide range of opinions. There are occasional references to Josephus and Eusebius, but when I checked them out I couldn’t find any useful information in either source. Next, I turned to Alfred Edersheim’s books. A converted Jew, Edersheim wrote extensively in the late 1800’s about Jewish life in ancient times. Nothing there either. I also scanned Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus by the German author, Joachim Jeremias, and came up empty again.

Several people insisted Jesus had to have short hair because the Romans and the Greeks did. Just take a look at their statues. This train of thought ignores the fact that the Maccabean Rebellion in 167 BC was a response to the Hellenizing influence of the Seleucid Empire. They didn’t want to be like the Greeks. First Century Judaic society was also dominated by the Pharisees. Their strict adherence to the laws of the Torah and zeal for a regulated society would have led them to resist the prevailing cultural norms rather than copying them. Judea was known as a particularly difficult region to govern because its people were so unbending and noncompliant.

There were also references to the Nazarite movement which, among its precepts, prohibited the cutting of the hair or consuming alcoholic beverages. I found people confusing Nazarite and Nazerean, meaning someone from Nazareth, and therefore assuming Jesus would have had long hair. John the Baptist is often believed to have been a Nazarite, but Jesus clearly never took the Nazarite vow.

Another surprising insight came to me from the movie Fiddler on the Roof. It depicts Russian Jews living in a society divorced from that of their neighbors. The Jews wear distinctive clothing, the men have beards and their gentile neighbors don’t. Some dress in black coats and have distinctive hair styles similar to modern Hassidic Jews. Again, we see the Jews stubbornly resisting the dominant cultural influences.

But in the end, none of these provides truly convincing. For this we have to turn to Jesus himself…or at least the imprint his body left on his burial cloth. About 25 years ago I read a book written by a physician who had analyzed the Shroud of Turin. I recall him mentioning that the person on the shroud had his hair braided in the back, which was the style at that time. I couldn’t find a clear enough image of the back portion of the shroud to verify this. I did, however, find two other pieces of evidence.

The first comes in the form of an ancient coin minted in the realm of Herod Phillip, the son of Herod the Great and his fifth wife, Cleopatra of Jerusalem. He was a half-brother to Herod Antipas who divorced his wife to marry Herodias, Phillip’s former wife. You’ll recall she’s the one who wanted John the Baptist’s head on a plate.

Coin of Herod Phillip
Phillip had a coin minted with his image on it. Coins from that region and era with images on them are extremely rare because of the Torah’s injunction against graven images. Because Phillip ruled the easternmost region of Herod’s Empire, he didn’t have to worry as much about offending Jewish subjects. Even though the coin is a couple of thousand years old and shows plenty of wear, it still appears to me that Phillip has his hair braided in back.

Be that as it may, my search for shroud-based evidence took me back to the Christ Pantokrator Ikon. The image known as Christ Pantokrator is believed to have been derived from the discovery in 544 AD of a cloth hidden above a gate in Edessa’s city wall that bore an image of Jesus. Six years later, an icon, the Christ Pantokrator, was produced at St Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai. It represented a dramatic change in the way Jesus was portrayed. Previously on coins, frescos and mosaics he had been shown in storybook settings as a young shepherd or modeled after the Greek god Apollo. Suddenly he had become a living, breathing human being.

We can confirm the relationship between the two images by digitally overlaying one on top of the other. I found the results startling. The congruence between the two is unmistakable. Clearly the Christ Pantokrator was derived from the Shroud of Turin in the same way that a forensic sculptor creates the likeness of a living person from their skull. Is it a perfect likeness? No. Hair color and eye color have to be guessed at…although since Jesus was of Middle Eastern descent, that task is made much easier.

Shroud of Turin overlaid on Ikon Christ Pantokrator

My point here is not to claim that Christ Pantokrator is an exact portrait of Jesus. Such a thing is beyond the realm of possibility. But just as with forensic reconstruction, what we arrive at is a generally recognizable likeness. And that likeness indicates the person to whom it belonged had long hair.

Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings.

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