what was it like Christ? To this thorny question, the theologians answer that it was necessarily the perfect body. But no trace of physical description, more accurate in the Gospels. A team of israeli researchers has just updated a mural of the representative in the ruins of the byzantine city of Shivta, in the Negev desert. Dating from the sixth century, this would be one of the portraits, the oldest known of the deity.

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The drawing has been discovered in the apse and a baptistery. There are three byzantine churches on the site of Shivta. Dror Maayan

“I was there at the right time, in the right place with the right light and, suddenly, I saw eyes. It was the face of Jesus in the baptism, who looked at me,” said Emma Maayan-Fanar in the journal Haaretz on the 12th of November. The art historian is, with Delights Linn, Yotam Tepper, Guy Bar-Oz, university of Haifa, the origin of the discovery. His place at the end of the church, above the place where one is baptized, can have little doubt as to the identity of the character represented.

“We can see a dimming, the red lines,” says Emma Maayan-Fanar. The face is that of a young man. The hair is more mid-length and curly. The head is oval, and the eyes, large and round. This result has been achieved thanks to the use of photographs of very high resolution that highlighted the traits, not visible to the naked eye. Another face is located to the left of Jesus. It could be that of saint John the Baptist. The apse whole was probably covered with a scene of the baptism of Christ.

The ruins of the byzantine city fell to the abandonment in the Seventh century to the islamic period were unearthed at the end of the Nineteenth century and have undergone several campaigns of excavation. But the painting, damaged by time and sand, situated very high, had not received attention until now.

The supposed image of Christ was found in the apse of the baptistery. © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2018

The oldest portrait we have of Jesus, found on the borders of Syria, dates from the third century after his death. But the discovery of the israeli team is all the more exceptional in that it is located within 150 kilometres of the premises certified attributed by tradition to the passage of the Christ.

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This Christ – supposed – to Shivta contradicts the byzantine tradition that depicts Christ on the hair very long and bearded. This is close to the iconography of the eastern, of Syria and of Egypt, where we see the short hair and the color of skin darker. Because no contemporary image of the life of Jesus does not exist, the mystery remains whole.