The earliest known Christian art portrays Christ as clean-shaven, but what does that tell us?
The catacombs of Rome, the burial site of the earliest Christians, contain the first representations of Jesus Christ. Those looking for clues as to how Jesus really looked might assume, from the frescoes found there, that he was beardless.
Archaeologist Sarah Yeomans, in Bible Archaeology Review, however, notes that that may not have been the case. She points out that much of the religious art found in the catacombs includes pagan imagery:
“Thus the pagan image of Endymion sleeping under the watchful eye of the goddess Selene became the prototype of Jonah asleep beneath the vine (Jonah 4). Likewise, the scenes of jovial dinners (symposia) that were often depicted in Greek funerary contexts (and later in Roman ones, with a slightly less exuberant tone) became models for the Christian funerary images of the rewards of heaven.”
These early – beardless — images of Jesus Christ may have been similarly influenced by pagan culture. Yeoman writes:
“Thus the early images of Christ portray a young, beardless man who bears a strong resemblance to the god Apollo of the Greco-Roman world. This is not to say that Christians necessarily confused the two, but rather that they chose an image of a pre-established deity with noble associations to portray their own idea of the sacred.”
Read the rest of Yeoman’s article on early Christian art here.