Pictures of Jesus Pictures
I often try to picture God when I pray. I know that I can’t physically see him, and therefore it’s irrational to do so, but I feel like there’s something in the way we’re wired that visual stimulus feels necessary. I’m sure I’m not alone in that feeling because thousands and thousands of people look for pictures of Jesus every month in Google. According to Google, the number of monthly searches for the phrase “Jesus pictures” is roughly 74,000.
Although it’s irrational to believe we can without a shadow of a doubt know what Jesus looked like, I think it’s only natural to want to try.
Throughout this article, I’ll walk you through a number of ways people have attempted to depict Jesus. We’ll look at how the images of Jesus have changed over time, the impact geography makes on the visual depiction of Jesus, various situations people have placed Jesus in pictures, and the different types of media people have use through time from paintings to computer desktop wallpaper.
Pictures of Jesus Through Time
To get started, let’s walk through the history of people creating pictures of Jesus. In this section, we’ll talk about the hunt for the original picture of Jesus Christ (the earliest recorded image of Jesus) dating back to 200 AD, some slightly more recent images of Christ between 1000 and 1900, and we’ll wrap up with some more modern pictures of Jesus.
First, let’s walk through the hunt for the oldest picture of Jesus, the original.
While it’s unknown exactly which depiction is truly the original picture of Jesus, there are a number who are in the running for that desired description. Here’s a breakdown of the 5 that seem like they’re the most likely candidates:
According to popular believe, this is most likely the oldest picture of Jesus. Original pictures though have to actually about Jesus in order to claim the title. And, I’m candidly not entirely convinced this is even depicting Jesus. If you translate the writing on the plaster carving, it reads "Alexamenos worships [his] God.” So, it has a person on a cross and another person worshiping the crucified one. Yes, that could mean this is the original Jesus picture, but there were thousands and thousands of crucifixions and Jesus was by no means the only one to hang on a cross. Even the Bible reveals he had two other men hanging near him. And, if humans back then are anything like they are today, and I’m sure they were, I would not be at all surprised if there were other religions sprouting up either in mockery of or to copy Christ that included worshipping crucified individuals. Finally, while this may be the oldest reference to Jesus in a visual form, I think we can all agree Jesus did not have the head of a donkey, so this picture is definitely not the oldest accurate picture of Christ.
The Good Shepherd
The next one is known as “The Good Shepherd” because the image has a shepherd holding a sheep around its neck, seemingly taking it to safety. I’m fairly convinced that this one can claim the title or original Jesus picture, but I do still have some doubts. It was created in early 200-300 AD, so it definitely has the age down. And Jesus refers to himself as the good shepherd in John 10:11, so it has that going for it too. Also, if you look at other artists fresco depictions of events in the catacombs of the day, it’s clear they were focused on biblical situations such as Noah and his ark, and Jonah and his big fish. But, I’m not entirely convinced because David was also a shepherd. Why couldn’t it just be David?
Adoration of the Magi
The third contender is called the “Adoration of the Magi” because it depicts the nativity, with the three wisemen, Mary, Joseph, and of course, Jesus. It has writing on it that reads "severa indeovi vas,” which I’m having difficulty finding an accurate translation of, but the closest one I can find that I assume is remotely real says “you live in God.” Regardless of what the writing says, it’s pretty clear to me that this is indeed a picture of Jesus and it is indeed old because it’s dated back to sometime between 200-300 AD. But, it’s a picture of baby Jesus, not grownup Jesus, and I’m pretty sure when we’re seeking out what God looks like, we’re more concerned about him as an adult, not a child. Right? Oh, also, an interesting fact is that this picture came from a cast of a sarcophagus!
Christ Between Peter and Paul
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. I’m pretty darn sure this fresco is truly the original picture of Jesus. It’s dated between 300-400 AD, and out of all the ones we’ve seen so far, it’s the most what you would expect a picture of Jesus to look like. The adult-aged Jesus has a halo-esque shape around his head, which is commonly understood to signify someone holy, and he appears to be the center of attention, which I can only imagine Jesus always was. So, again, I’m pretty sure this is the oldest known picture of Christ, but if you’re not convinced on this one, we’ve got one more that could oust it.
If you’re still not 100% convinced you’ve seen the original picture of Jesus, this last one in the running is sure to satisfy your search. It’s called the “Pantocrator” which is actually a really generic name that means “almighty” or “all-powerful” and is basically like naming it “Christ.” It’s a mosaic in the Church of Santa Pudenziana in Rome. Right in the middle of it, sits Jesus on a throne, with the cross above him as well as all sorts of religious and biblical symbols signifying various things. Through all of those cross referencing symbols that provide contextual relevance to say that this could be no one other than Jesus, it’s clear that if none of the prior candidates are the original, this one takes the cake. And for reference, it’s dated at around 410 AD.