The Error of the Long-haired Jesus
One of the biggest errors Hollywood has made is in their depiction of Jesus while he was teaching here on earth. The error comes because the preachers, priests and theologians have themselves accepted a false type of Jesus that nowhere resembles the true Jesus who is described in the New Testament. The images of Jesus that Christians have in their churches, homes, Bibles, Sunday School or Sabbath School books are those which have the outward features of the chief pagan gods of the heathen world. If the apostles could come back to life and visit our churches, enter our homes, and see our movies about Jesus, they would be aghast at witnessing Jesus being portrayed like the chief gods of the heathen world.
In the fourth century it became common for many Gentile peoples throughout the Roman Empire (who had long worshiped pagan gods and goddesses) to begin identifying their deities of old with the newly honored Jesus, Mary, and the “twelve apostles” (plus other saints of the Old and New Testaments). One particular deity that seemed to blend together the attributes of several gods into a unified portrayal of deity was the Egyptian god “Sarapis.” This god had been famous for 600 years in Egypt and now his worship was found all over the Roman Empire. He was equated with the Greek Zeus (the chief god over all other gods) along with Asclepius (the god of healing). Professor Everett Ferguson in his excellent work titled Backgrounds of Early Christianity shows an example that the statues of Asclepius (the pagan god of healing) were images "that imitated Zeus and that his portraiture influenced artists in depicting both Sarapis [the Egyptian Zeus] and Christ" (p.114).
Remarkably, the pagan god Sarapis of the fourth century appeared very much like what Christians (from the time of Constantine onwards) began to depict as their “Jesus.” At that time the people began to abandon all of the early depictions of Christ made in the previous hundred years or so (which showed ‘Jesus normally as young, beardless and with hair like ordinary men—not with long flowing feminine type of hair). But now, with Constantine, the people began to want “Jesus” to appear like the pagan gods, so they selected the model of Zeus after the Egyptian rendition of Sarapis (the Egyptian Zeus) to be their new “Jesus.” What they actually did was to change the name of “Zeus” (Sarapis) into “Jesus.” The people kept on worshiping Zeus (Sarapis) but they now called him “Jesus.” Note the picture of Sarapis below.
With the time of Constantine a new type of JESUS began to be portrayed among the Christian population of the Roman Empire. They took the style of grooming which was typical of the pagan gods and adopted it as their “JESUS.” The above drawing is from a bust in the British Museum of Sarapis, the Egyptian version of Zeus (the chief of the Gentile gods). See reference Harper’s Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities, article, “Coma.”
Note the long hair! Such long feminine type of hair on a man is how evil spirits are portrayed in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 9:7,8). And Sarapis is always portrayed with a beard and long hair. It is astonishing that since the time of Constantine in the fourth century, almost all the visionary experiences of people who believed they saw a personage they thought to be “Jesus,” have seen a long haired “Jesus.” This is not the Jesus of the Bible (either in his fleshly state on earth or his divine state in heaven). The truth is, the real “Jesus” of the New Testament (who taught in the flesh among the Jews almost 2000 years ago) groomed himself by clipping his hair to keep it relatively short.
Hollywood not only shows Jesus in an erroneous fashion with a beard and long hair, but to add local color to many of their biblically oriented films, they will also show other common people with long hair—especially older men to give them an appearance of being august long haired patriarchs. Again, Hollywood is wrong. Almost all Jewish men, especially in the time of Jesus, wore their hair short.
The apostle Paul said it was a shame for a man to have long hair because the male is made in the image of God who is groomed with short hair (I Corinthians 11:3-16). It was a common characteristic of Jewish men to wear their hair in a close-cropped fashion. Eusebius copied the text of the Jewish historian Josephus in Against Apion I.22, para.173-4. In this section, Josephus was quoting an early Gentile author who gave some unique grooming styles of Jewish men. Josephus shows that the Jews were known, as Eusebius renders it, for “their close-cropped hair” (Preparation for the Gospel, IX.9, sect 412b).
There was a definite reason why Jewish men (especially in the time of Jesus) wore their hair short as a common custom. The people knew that the Aaronic priests had the role of being mediators between themselves and God. Sometimes the priests took the place of the people in petitioning God, while at other times the priests became a substitute for God in instructing the people. In the time of Jesus most of the Sadducees were priests while the majority of the remainder of the Jews were Pharisees. The Pharisees applied the Scripture that the whole nation of Israel were to be reckoned as priests (Exodus 19:6) and they invented some strict customs even for themselves and the common people that were actually designed only for priests. And what was a principal custom (indeed, it was a command from God) that characterized the priests because of their roles in being like God to the people and the rest of the world? God commanded all priests to have SHORT HAIR! That’s right, the priests who administered in the first Tabernacle and later in the Temple at Jerusalem were required to have short hair, not long hair which women were accustomed to wear.
Such a command had been in effect since the time of Moses. Whereas the King James Version translates Leviticus 10:6 as “uncover not your heads,” the Jewish authorities always knew that this should be rendered “Let the hair of your heads not grow long” (see Rashi on Leviticus 10:6; and it is so translated in The Jerusalem Bible, Koren ed.).
This command of God was given again in the time of Ezekiel. “They shall not shave their heads [that is, to be bald], or let their locks grow LONG they shall only trim the hair of their heads” (Ezekiel 44:20 RSV).
This shows that the priests of God (who represented God before the people) were utterly forbidden to have long hair. They had their hair trimmed short in order to do the divine administrations in the Temple because they were looked on by the common people among the Jews as substitutes for “God.” This was unlike some heathen priests, however, who wore long hair to mimic the gods they worshiped. But Jewish men followed the example of their priests and wore their hair short. After all, the ordinary men wanted to be groomed like God was groomed and not like pagan gods, philosophers or alien priests.
While it can easily be shown that ordinary Jewish men wore their hair short, did not a special group among them known as Nazarites let their hair grow without cutting it?
Only when Jewish men were under a Nazarite vow (which normally lasted for 30 days, and rarely beyond 100 days—see M’Clintock and Strong, Cyclopaedia, vol.VI, pp.881,882) or when in short periods of mourning (see early Jewish commentaries on Leviticus 10:6) did Jewish men refrain from going to a barber.
As for lifetime Nazarites, it was common for them to braid the hair (like the seven braids on Samson—Judges 16:13) and to wind the braids around the head under a turban or other headgear. Samson was a warrior and he would never have allowed his braids to reach below his neck lest they be grasped by his enemies and cut off. Samson knew that cutting off his braided hair meant his strength was gone. This was the very part of his body that Samson would have wanted to secure as close to his head as possible. One thing for certain, lifetime Nazarites among the Israelites (and they were rare) did not let their hair hang down like the hair of women with which the “Jesus” we know since the fourth century has been depicted.
Jesus, however, was not under a Nazarite vow during his ministry because he also consumed wine and the fruit of the vine (Matthew 11:19) and this was prohibited to all Nazarites (Numbers 6:3). Though Jesus lived in the town of Nazareth, he was not a Nazarite. This shows that Jesus had short hair like all normal Jewish men at the time. Indeed, when Judas pointed out who Jesus was at the time of his betrayal to the priests, he kissed him on the cheek (Luke 22:48) rather than pointing out the man with the long hair. The simple truth is, Jesus while teaching on earth had short hair and all the early portraits of him made in the hundred or so years before the time of Constantine show him also as beardless.
It was common custom throughout the Roman Empire in the first century for men to have their hair short. They followed the examples of the Caesars of Rome who always wore short hair. As far as males were concerned, Paul demanded that they keep their hair short. Indeed, even with the Greeks it was customary for men to wear their hair short except, as the Jews, for short periods of mourning. Charles Goodwin of Pusan, Korea supplied me with this quotation from the Loeb edition of Plutarch’s Moralia on The Roman Questions 267B. “In Greece, whenever any misfortune comes, the women cut off their hair and the men let it grow, for it is usual for men to have their hair cut and for women to let it grow” (emphasis mine). Paul reminded his Greek readers in Corinth of this custom which he called the way of nature [instinct] among the Greeks. So, both Jewish and Greek men normally wore their hair short. It was even a religious duty for Jewish men.
This is because males were to be groomed in the way that God and Christ were groomed (and as the priests of Israel were groomed). Jewish Christians did not need to be told this. They already kept their hair short. Indeed, for a Jewish male to have long hair signified his attitude of mourning and that he was in shame and humiliation. “Does not nature [instinct] itself teach you, that if a man have long hair it is a shame to him?” (I Corinthians 11:14).
Most philosophers and most of the pagan gods were depicted with long hair. Dio Chrysostom, the practical philosopher who lived in the first century, told his readers that he and other philosophers wore their hair long (Oration Thirty-Five, vol.III. pp.391, 401 Loeb ed.). Epictetus in his Discourses (Chapter 8) urged people not to adopt quickly the grooming habits of the professionals such as wearing the cloak, wearing long hair and beard of the philosophers. In Epictetus’ opinion only those who were true philosophers should adopt such grooming habits. Since Epictetus lived about 50 years after the apostle Paul, this is again proof that ordinary Greek men wore their hair short. But by the fourth century, some Christians began to teach that Jesus should be depicted like the heathen gods—with a beard and long hair!
Hollywood has never wanted to show the origin of the long haired Jesus. If they did, they would be directed to the middle of the fourth century as the source of the error. In the previous hundred years, what few pictures there were of Jesus being displayed, he is shown almost always beardless, young and with short hair (and certainly not with flowing long hair like that of women in the same manner in which he is commonly portrayed today). The false long haired Jesus finally won the contest, but not without opposition from some top Christian theologians.
The following excerpts from early historical documents can show the opposition by several Christian theologians during and soon after the time of Constantine to the pagan portrayals of Jesus.
This quote (abridged) is from Eusebius’ Letter to Constantia (the sister of Constantine the Great). It shows the utter disdain of Eusebius for what was then happening. All words in brackets are my explanations:
“You also wrote me about some supposed image of Christ, which image you wished me to send to you. Now what kind of thing is that you refer to as the image of Christ? I do not know what compelled you to request that an image of Our Savior should be shown. What kind of image of Christ are you seeking? Is it the true and unadulterated one which bears His essential characteristics [His divine image], or the one which He assumed for our sake when He took up the form of a servant [His human form]?... Granted, He has two forms, and even I do not think that your petition has to do with His divine form....
“Surely then, you are seeking His image as a servant, that of the flesh which He assumed for our sake.... How can one paint an image so unattainable. .unless, as so the unbelieving pagans, one is to represent things that have no possible resemblance to anything...? For they [the pagans] make such idols when they wish to form the likeness of what they think to be a god or, as they might say, one of the heroes or anything else of like nature, yet they are unable even to approach a likeness, and accurately represent some strange human forms. Surely, even you will agree with me that such practices are illegal for us. [Eusebius believed, accurately so, that even a true likeness of Jesus—if one were available—was still not allowed to be displayed by biblical teaching.] Have you ever heard of such a resemblance yourself in church or from another person? Are not such things excluded and banished from churches all over the world, and does not everyone know that such practices are not permitted to us alone?
“Once there was a woman, I do not know how, brought me in her hands a picture of two men in the demeanor of philosophers [Dio Chrysostom, Oration Thirty-Five, vol.III,pp.391,401, Loeb ed., stated that Gentile philosophers generally wore long hair] and the woman mentioned that they were Paul and the Savior. I have no way of knowing where she got this information or where she learned it. But in order that neither she nor others might receive offense, I took the picture away from her and kept it in my house, as I thought it was improper for such things to be displayed to others, lest we appear, like idol worshipers, to carry our God around in an image. I note that Paul informs all of us not to hold any more to things of the flesh; because he tells us that though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet from now on we know Him no more.”
Also, the following quotation is from Epiphanius of Salamis in his Letter to the Emperor Theodosius (written somewhere between A.D.379-395).
“Which of the earlier Fathers ever painted an image of Christ and put it in a church or a private home? [None of them ever did such a thing.] Which early bishop ever dishonored Christ by portraying Him on door curtains?...
“Moreover, they are deceiving who represent the likeness of [biblical] saints in various forms according to their fancy, sometimes showing the same persons as old men, sometimes as youths, intruding into things which they have not seen. For they paint the Savior with long hair, and this by guessing because He is called a Nazarene, and Nazarenes wear long hair. They are in error if they try to attach stereotypes to Him, because the Savior drank wine, whereas the Nazarenes [the Nazarites] did not.
“They also show forth deception by inventing things according to their fancies. These impostors represent the holy apostle Peter as an elderly man with hair and beard cut short; some represent holy Paul as a man with receding hair, others as being bald and bearded, and the other apostles are shown having their hair closely cropped. If then the Savior had long hair while his apostles were cropped, and since by not being cropped, He was unlike them in appearance, for what reason did the Pharisees and scribes give a fee of thirty silver pieces to Judas that he might kiss Him and show them that He was the one they looked for, when they might themselves or by means of others have determined by reason of His [long] hair Him whom they were seeking to find, and thereby without paying a fee?...
“Can you not see, O most God-loving emperor, that this state of things is not agreeable to God? [Which trend was then sweeping the Christian world.] Wherefore I beg of you... that the curtains which may be found that have such false depictions of the apostles or prophets or of the Lord Christ Himself should be collected from churches, baptisteries, houses and martyria [sites where martyrs were buried or honored] and that you should give them over for the burial of the poor, and as [concerning the depictions] on walls, that they should be whitewashed. As for those that have already been represented in mosaics, realizing that their removal is difficult you know what to command in the wisdom that God has given you. If it be possible to remove them [the mosaics], well and good; but if it proves impossible, let that which has already been accomplished be sufficient, and let no one paint in this fashion from now on.”
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