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laureth's avatar

Why do images of Jesus portray him with long hair?

Asked by laureth (27153points) September 19th, 2010

This question was inspired by this quip. However, because I am wondering it as a serious question, I’m putting it in the main section. Please, please don’t turn it into a bash-everyone thread.

Almost every image of Jesus I’ve ever seen looks something like this or this – a man with long hair. (I understand that as a Semite, he ought not look Caucasian either, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.)

However, in 1 Corinthians 11:14, we read, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?”

I am wondering why Christian artists would portray Jesus in a way that their fellows would see as shameful. One of my thoughts was that in the absence of an officially sanctioned Divine Feminine, Jesus was “softened up” a bit (much like what happened to Buddha statues in some countries). However, Catholic images of Jesus have long hair too, despite their adding Mary to balance the ticket.

It would be easy to say something like, “Well, not all Christians read their Bible,” or to say something about hypocrisy, but that’s not what I’m looking for. Thanks!

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62 Answers

Berserker's avatar

I guess it works well to represent the general story we know about him and his modesty which was heavily influencing the message he wished to spread. I mean Jesus was homeless wasn’t he?
Really though I have no idea, it’s an interesting question. I’m really not sure, as far as that thing about The Bible saying you’ll go to hell if you’re a dude with long hair, I suppose that depends on when Jesus transmitted that to his apostles? Yeah that’s not the point, again I’m thinking it’s a matter of simplicity and relation in order to pass on the point of what Jesus was all about. But that hair thing is, obviously, a very small part of that whole idea. :/

It’s cuz he was a hippy! :D

laureth's avatar

@Symbeline – I believe it was Paul saying that, but I am assured that God spoke through Paul exactly as he spoke through/as Jesus.

Seek's avatar

The actual answer is that the images of Jesus that were passed through the world were painted in the Mediaeval and Renaissance periods of Europe, and long-ish hair on men was the fashion at the time.

Of course, Jesus would be attractive to them (even the Bible says he was comely!)

DominicX's avatar

And yet then we have Samson who was instructed never to cut his hair and things really went to hell when he did?

Just another Biblical contradiction or what?

simone54's avatar

That’s how everyone looked back then. They didn’t have SuperCuts.

Seek's avatar

@DominicX Samson was a Nazarene, and the no-hair-cutting was a covenant between that tribe and God, much like Abraham and the whole circumcision thing.

janbb's avatar

I agree with @Seek_Kolinahr about the Medieval images of Christ. @DominicX – Samson was the Old Testament and Jesus the New so the conventions would be different.

laureth's avatar

If the answer is that long hair was in vogue during the Renaissance, would it not still be shameful according to Corinthians?

Ben_Dover's avatar

Long hair on men was the norm 2000 years ago, as it became in the Renaissance and the 1960s and has returned on old men today.

Seek's avatar


Consider that the Mediaeval and Renaissance public was largely illiterate, and even most parish priests only knew sermons they had memorised. Bibles were expensive, even after the Gutenberg press was invented.

Paul’s stance on long hair was probably not high on the priority list.

janbb's avatar

@laureth I don’t think that artists in the past were concerned with historical accuracy or anachronism.

sliceswiththings's avatar

In the first portrayal ever, the artist accidentally got some brown paint on Jesus’ shoulder, so he had to just give him long hair. Everyone else copied that one.

Ben_Dover's avatar

They got the ideas from the Shroud of Turin.

valdasta's avatar

It is possible that there is a mix-up in terminology. Jesus was from Nazareth, but not a Nazarite. Nazarites took a vow never to cut their hair (among other things). A “Nazarene” was someone who was from Nazareth (see Matthew 2:23). I believe Jesus was a Nazarene, but not a Nazarite. Jesus probably looked like your typical Jew of the day. Jesus had a three – year public ministry, but Judas still had to point him out to the soldiers with a kiss.

Nullo's avatar

You are in top form here, @Seek_Kolinahr! Though I must take issue with your description of Jesus as comely – Isaiah 53:2b states that, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

Medieval and Renaissance artists didn’t really bother that much with research. From the same period, for instance, you can find paintings of Egypt’s world-famous Roman arcades and the picturesque villas of the Middle East.
Though in fairness, I would imagine that Roman occupation would lead to at least a few villas.

Seek's avatar

@Nullo You have me there, bud. I was clearly melting in the bit from Song of Solomon. It’s been a while since I cracked the “good book”. ^_^

solomio's avatar

No one really knows what our Lord Jesus looked like.

I have seen painting depicting Him as a blue-eyed blond, and I have seen Him painted as a dark skinned, dark eyed individual.

I have read that He was descended from a royal family of the time that was called The House of David. That is in part why He is often called the King of kings. The House of David used a ‘lion’ to symbolize their family because the lion is a symbol of strength, and is often thought to be the ‘king’ among all wild animals.

Our Lord Jesus is often called The Lion of Judea in reference to the fact that he was a member of the family that was called The House of David, symbolized by a lion.

Long hair was common among Jews at the time of Jesus Christ; Jesus was a Jew.

zenvelo's avatar

Orthodox Jews did not, and Hasidim still don’t, cut their forelocks. Biblical era Jews did not cut their hair either. Jesus was a devout Jew, who, among other things, preached against the corruption of the Sanhedrin, the Hebrew Council of Elders. But he observed Jewish law.

Corinthians was written by Paul; Paul was a Roman citizen, and the epistle was to those in the Greek city of Corinth. Greek and Roman custom were much different from custom in Judea.

fundevogel's avatar

Long is a relative term. Shoulder length hair is considered long to us because very few men in our culture grow hair anywhere near that long. It could be that shoulder length was considered normal for men at that time.

In truth even considering shoulder length or waist length hair long on women is a relatively recent fashion. For centuries pretty much all women kept their hair down to their butts or even longer. Perhaps that’s the length that is forbidden in the verse.

solomio's avatar

I wrote the following a year ago when I was doing research on the subject of where our Christian Bible came from. Often quoting scripture out of context gives completely different meaning to what was being said. As I already stated Jesus was a Jew, he was an Orthodox Jew. He would not have cut his hair.

At the Council of Nicaea, called together by Constantine in 323ac, six hundred documents were considered for inclusion in the bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and only 66 documents/stories were chosen to be included in the Old Testament, with only 27 chosen to constitute the New Testament.

The documents to be included in the New Testament were written in Greek but for generations, after Christ was crucified, these documents had been passed from person to person by word of mouth.

Jesus’ family belonged to Aramaic speaking Jews, and Aramaic is a spoken language only. That’s why the scriptures passed on by Jesus’ disciples were passed down by word of mouth until persons who spoke Aramaic and wrote Greek finally wrote the stories down.

Translating Greek into other languages does change the interpretation of some words.

The Vatican has possession of the original documents that were transcribed at the Council of Nicaea. Catholics depend on educated church leaders to decipher meaning of scripture. The whole Catholic Church is in agreement on interpretation of what is being said in scripture, while other Christian religions differ from denomination to denomination on what is actually said in scripture.

When it is shown that the message doesn’t change from one ancient source document to another ancient source document, then it is understood that the scripture was written down as it had been spoken for centuries since the time of Christ.

Kraigmo's avatar

I think Ben Dover is right. The modern-day portrayal of Jesus is based on the Shroud of Turin.

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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

As far as long hair goes I would think it comes down to cultural interpretations which may not have carried over. Though there is little to cross reverence it on (in the New Testament) what or how long is the ”long” being spoken of we can only guess. Just like comparison take a toddler who never seen a boat and let him walk on a bass boat he would think it big. Put that bass boat next to a cruising yacht and the owner of the bass boat would think his boat smallish. But that yacht next to a container ship and it would seem small, that original bass boat the toddler thought huge would be dinky next to the container ship. How long was Jesus’ hair or what was too long according to the new Testament, what are we matching it up too? We were not present in that day of what the customary norm was.

FutureMemory's avatar

I think there’s a correlation between hair length and evilness. Hitler had short hair, and just look at nazi skinheads – all bald. Now look at hippies and our main man Jesus – long haired freaks preaching love and all that shit…

fundevogel's avatar

@FutureMemory What about Gandhi?

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laureth's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr @valdasta @solomio – thanks! I can see where it makes some sense now, especially re: literacy.

@Ben_Dover – I thought the shroud was fake though, originating around 1200–1300, so what was that based on? Medieval fashion?

Ben_Dover's avatar

It has never been proven one way or the other. It could just as easily be real as fake. I prefer to believe it is real. @laureth
originating around 1200–1300, so what was that based on?

Possibly that was based on a lie. If so, then the Shroud is not a fake and that image is actually Jesus.

laureth's avatar

Well, if it’s as easy as going with whatever we’d prefer to believe, I’d like to think that Jesus had long hair because the chicks in the 2000s would think he’s cute. Hey, that’s just as valid as the Bible or Science, right? ;) No?

janbb's avatar

@laureth Or maybe so the chicks in the 12th century would think he’s cute?

Aster's avatar

I thought men back then all had long hair. Mohawks and crewcuts had not come into fashion yet.

Nullo's avatar

@fundevogel In fact, there are two kinds of bald: There’s Bald of Awesome, a look favored by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and there’s the Bald of Evil.

fundevogel's avatar

@Nullo I’m intrigued but I think you mis-linked “Bald of Awesome”.

MeinTeil's avatar

Supercuts won’t emerge for another 2000 years.

Nullo's avatar

@fundevogel Oh dear. Let’s try again: Bald of Awesome.

laureth's avatar

If there was no Supercuts, so no one ever cut their hair, why did Paul say men should wear it short, then? ;) After all, The Romans cut theirs short just fine.

And I get the whole idea of a Renaissance fashion statement, that’s well and good. But eventually, people got to be literate again, enough to mass-produce Bibles and tell me that the answers are in them if I would just read and absorb and obey. Yet contemporary Jesus images still have that hippie long hair. Does artistic convention outrule Paul?

Ben_Dover's avatar

Why should Paul have any bearing on how to wear your hair, or indeed on how Jesus wore his hair?

fundevogel's avatar

@Ben_Dover I don’t think he should, but clearly Paul didn’t agree.

Ben_Dover's avatar

@fundevogel That’s what I’m saying. Who cares what Paul did or didn’t agree with?

laureth's avatar

@Ben_Dover – Paul has no authority over me; I’m not Christian. But for Christians who feel that the Bible is God-breathed, all of it, just as though it were from God’s own mouth, wouldn’t that be a pretty good authority?

There have been times on Fluther even, when I try to make a point that even though Paul spoke out against some things, Jesus did not. I have been totally corrected about it, and told that the entire Bible, OT as well as NT, every word, is from Jesus.

Nullo's avatar

Generally, Paul’s less-clear prescriptions require a look at the cultural context.
Exegesis is so much fun.

Seek's avatar

@laureth The United Pentecostal Church, International and other Apostolic Pentecostal groups take that scripture completely to heart. Women are never permitted to cut their hair – not even a trim. I’ve known numerous pastors and ministers who refused to baptize a man or boy if his hair reached past his ears.

Yes, they’re pretty much alone in that aspect of doctrine these days, but I’m just throwing it out there that there are churches that take every scripture (at least of the new testament) literally.

Ben_Dover's avatar

@laureth Those foolish enough to believe that every word of the Bible is a direct quote from jesus and/or god obviously haven’t a clue as to what Free Will is all about. Nor are they aware of the Version they are reading (It says version right on the side of all those bibles).

Heck, I know God exists and that Jesus actually did live around 2,000 years ago. But I don’t believe that everything is still in the bible which once was part of it, nor do I believe that what is in it is all gospel (nice pun, eh!).

Anyone who cares a whit about hair styles has forgotten the whole vanity thing, don’t you think?

Although I must admit that those old guys with their white as snow ponytails seem a tad silly.

Ben_Dover's avatar

If you want to pose a question, go ahead @Nullo , but I don’t need to read other people’s opinions on what I already know. Thanks.

Nullo's avatar

@Ben_Dover That link was posted in response to your assertion that the Bible ought not to be taken at face value. I posted it because I am rather sleepy right now and thus less likely to make much sense should I go about refuting you in person.
Just think of it as what I would have said if I were a properly-rested, well-taught apologist.

Ben_Dover's avatar

Like I said, the whole Free Will thing makes taking the bible literally as the word of god a somewhat antiquated notion. Better you should go direct to the source should you truly have questions.

Nullo's avatar

@Ben_Dover Now I’m curious: how do you reckon that free will necessitates an interpretational basis for Scripture?

Ben_Dover's avatar

@Nullo Think it through. Free will has allowed people like King James to alter the bible and present us with a version thereof.
And what about the Council of Nicea? ”The references in the Christian religion of reincarnation, I am told, were removed by the Council of Nicea.

AD 325, when Constantine the Great called the First Council of Nicaea, composed of 300 religious leaders. Three centuries after Jesus lived, this council was given the task of separating divinely inspired writings from those of questionable origin.

The actual compilation of the Bible was an incredibly complicated project that involved churchmen of many varying beliefs, in an atmosphere of dissension, jealousy, intolerance, persecution and bigotry.

Free Will means the ability to change the bible from the truth to politically expedient verbiage. Which is precisely what has happened.

Nullo's avatar

@Ben_Dover I dunno, I’d think that an almighty God, Who can speak the Universe into existence could preserve His Word for a couple millennia. It’s as simple as calling the right people to the task.

Ben_Dover's avatar

@Nullo You continually refuse to factor in this Creator’s gift of Free Will.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I have to agree with Seek_Kolinahr about the Medieval and Renaissance time periods. Long hair was in fashion, and so were feminine features. Much of the artwork from that time period portrays men with longish hair and feminine facial features. But I don’t think Jesus looked at all like he has been portrayed.

I mean think about it, he wasn’t a pansy who skipped around town and took care to not mar himself. Jesus was a carpenter. And carpenters at that time were big burly men. They didn’t have chainsaws and other machines then; they did it all by hand. For Jesus to have been a carpenter, he likely would have been tall, rugged, VERY strong, with scars from splinters and cuts. We do know that because of his location and bloodline that he likely had dark olive skin, but we can’t say for sure about his hair. I do think his hair would have been short, which was the norm back then, I believe.

@Seek_Kolinahr I find it interesting that after the scripture about a man having “shameful” long hair, there is a scripture saying that women having short hair is “shameful”, and it means they are defying God and refusing to be submissive. Oh my. I recently whacked all my hair off. I guess this means I have defied God and my husband. Uh oh… hides from lightning bolt

Seek's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate True story – I left the church over two years ago. “Came out” as an atheist over a year ago. I only cut my hair for the first time in 15 years this past February. It was that ingrained in my brain that a woman cutting her hair was inappropriate.

valdasta's avatar

I believe the King James Bible to be perfectly preserved and inspired…and take it literally, but as far as the hair thing goes: I believe there are more important things to worry about. I certainly would not let the length or shortness of a person’s hair blind me from seeing them as my brother or sister. I believe what the Bible says about hair, but the Bible does not define in inches what is long and what is short. Some ladies have lost their hair due to sickness or age. Does this make them less godly? I think not…

ok, I am beginning to ramble – see ya

Nullo's avatar

@Ben_Dover No, I considered that. Part of being a Christian (and it’s not easy) is the voluntary acceptance of God’s will. You certainly still have your own, but it is not, ideally, what drives you.
I point here to Jonah. God had His plan, and it included Jonah. Jonah exercised his free will, at first by refusing to participate, and later (after some coercion) by going to Nineveh, where God wanted him in the first place.

mariakrystal's avatar

No one really knows what our Lord Jesus looked like.

Seek's avatar

@Nullo I don’t recall ever hearing that the members of the Council of Nicea spent the greater part of a week living in a fish.

Nullo's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr They very probably did not, but that’s actually beside the point.

Serevaetse's avatar

I commend you on this very thought-out and well-backed-up question!

However, I have no answer for you :/

Ron_C's avatar

@Ben_Dover “I dunno, I’d think that an almighty God, Who can speak the Universe into existence could preserve His Word for a couple millennia. It’s as simple as calling the right people to the task.” I have to go with @Nullo on this.

I would suppose if god wanted to tell us something he wouldn’t be circumspect. The same hold true for his son’s appearance.

The conclusion is either that god doesn’t much care what we believe and less about what we think of him or god isn’t all that people say he is. He isn’t all knowing and all powerful and even his existance comes into question.

Nullo's avatar

@Ron_C Doubtless there are more conclusions than just those two. Anyway, the Bible makes it fairly clear that God would like us to believe in Him.

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