'Suddenly I Saw Eyes': Jesus' Face Discovered in 1500-Year-Old Desert Church Ruins


A depiction of the face of Jesus Christ from the early Christian era has been uncovered by archeologists in a Byzantine farming village in Israel’s Negev desert.

The 1,500-year-old painting was discovered at a Byzantine church in Shivta.

While the site was explored by archaeologists in the 1920s, it wasn’t until recently that a painting believed to be depicting Jesus’ face was noticed.

Dr. Emma Maayan-Fanar, the art historian who detected the image, told Israel’s Haaretz that she had visited the site a few times before she recognized it.

“I was there at the right time, at the right place with the right angle of light and, suddenly, I saw eyes,” Maayan-Fanar said. “It was the face of Jesus at his baptism, looking at us.”

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According to research published in the journal “Antiquity” from experts at the University of Haifa in Israel, the church where the image was found likely dates back to the fifth or sixth century A.D.

“The location of the scene — above the (church’s) crucifix-shaped Baptist font — suggests its identification as the baptism of Christ,” said the study’s authors.

The portrait shows a youthful Jesus with short curly hair, no beard, a long nose and face and large eyes.

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This unique depiction is a departure from the typical Western tradition that portrays Christ with long hair and a beard.

The face next to Jesus, thought to be John the Baptist, is surrounded by a large halo, and is much larger than Jesus’, typical of traditional Byzantine art. According to the researchers, it suggests that he is meant to be seen as older than Jesus.

Traces of paint throughout the apse indicate that these figures were a part of a larger composition that contained additional people.

Despite the Gospels never describing Jesus’ earthly appearance, artistic impressions are ubiquitous in history, with early Christian art surviving from close to the beginnings of Christianity.

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This recent discovery is important in adding to Israel’s sparse history of surviving Christian art. According to Maayan-Fanar, it is currently the only artistic depiction of Christ’s baptism that dates before the iconoclastic days in the Holy Land, when a large amount of religious art was destroyed.

The discovery may yield clues about the history of early Christians in Byzantine Shivta and around the region.

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Karista Baldwin studied constitutional law, politics and criminal justice.
Karista Baldwin has studied constitutional law, politics and criminal justice. Before college, she was a lifelong homeschooler in the "Catholic eclectic" style.
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