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A mosaic of Jesus on the walls of the Chora Church in Istanbul. This original mosaic is from the Byzantine era. (Shutterstock)When soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane before the Crucifixion, the men could barely distinguish Jesus from the rest of the disciples present that night. In fact, Jesus looked so much like the others that one of them betrayed Jesus by giving him the kiss that forever bears his name—the Judas kiss.

One former forensic artist decided to use this biblical story as the basis of a new computer-generated picture of Jesus that might just be the most historically accurate to date.

Over the weekend, headlines in a number of big media outlets touted that the “real” face of Jesus was finally discovered. But what forensic information did experts really have to recreate the face, and how did they do it?

In an article with Esquire, Richard Neave, from the University of Manchester, explained how his team had acquired three skulls from the time period to determine what an average Galean Semite might have looked like. They started by using computerized tomography to create X-rays of the skulls. These images provided “slices” of the skulls revealing intricate details. A computer program then provided measurements for the thickness of facial muscles and tissue, and a cast of the face was created.

 


What could not be determined with any degree of certainty was the hair and the skin color. Without any SNP (single nucleotide polymorphisms) information taken from DNA, scientists had to rely on what historical drawings found at numerous sites from the time period could tell them. Dark eyes, short-cropped hair with tight curls, and a beard would have all kept with societal norms of the era, and Jewish tradition.

Also up for debate was the length of the hair. The article reported that it was common for Jewish men to have short hair. But those who believe in the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin—believed by some to be Jesus’s death shroud—think the image in the cloth suggests Jesus would have had long hair.

Read more: Defining a Face: What Can DNA Phenotyping Really Tell Us?

While the image Neave and his team created is certainly controversial, Neave told Esquire that the image is most simply a depiction of what an adult male would have likely looked like during that time. Historical depictions, coupled with forensic analysis of an extremely small sample of Galean males (three) were used in the study. Read the Esquire article here.

Although Neave’s depiction is only one interpretation, he specializes in recreating images of historical figures. Over the past two decades, Neave has reconstructed dozens of famous faces, including Philip II of Macedonia and King Midas of Phrygia.

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