The Earliest Portrait of Christ – New Information and New Ideas

Apr 04, 2011 by

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The photograph above was released to the world on Saturday, April 2nd, 2011, and it shows the cover of one of the 70 or so “Books of Lead” that have recently come to light. I have no idea if these artefacts are genuine or not, and the media are being cautious in their coverage and assessment of them, which is understandable after notable hoaxes such as that of the Hitler Diaries in recent times.

Be that as it may, there’s more information in this detailed Daily Mail link, which suggests that the face on the cover of the book in the photograph above might possibly be the earliest known portrait of Jesus Christ, fashioned during the lifetime of one of those who knew him personally.

Of course, I was fascinated to learn of such a thing, but the strange face instantly captured my attention for other reasons. If the portrait is indeed that of Jesus, then to my eye, it reveals a powerful disposition and an almost aggressive personality, which is at odds with the many bland mediaeval depictions of this man. However, these formidable traits are most certainly in keeping with the flesh and blood character I studied at length when I wrote my book “The Missing Years of Jesus“, a study of where this young man was between the ages of 12 and 30, a period that is apparently unaccounted for in the Bible.

All the evidence that I’ve seen and collated leaves me in no doubt that the most famous person the world’s ever known spent his teenage years and early adulthood in what is now the West of England and South Wales, so when I learned of these “Books of Lead”, I couldn’t help wondering if they contain material that proves my theory right, but I’m far more interested in learning the truth of any given matter than in trying to sway the opinions of others.

The Earliest Portrait of Christ   New Information and New Ideas   Justinian122309 optWell, the contents of the Books of Lead are a matter for speculation, but I found the face on the cover mesmerising on account of its latent power, and also because I was certain I had seen it somewhere before. I discussed the matter with a friend of mine, a retired engineer living in South Dakota by the name of Dan Johnston, who immediately pointed out the uncanny resemblance between the face on the cover of the lead book and the face of Jesus as depicted on a gold Byzantine coin from the late seventh century.

As you can see, this image is markedly different from the highly stylised portraits of Christ from medieval times, because it shows a rugged face, full of character, that is remarkably similar to the face on the cover of the Lead Book. Now, one thing that’s particularly intriguing about the face on the gold Byzantine coin is the fact that, as Dan Johnston reminded me, it’s based on what’s come to be known as the Veil of Veronica, pictured below, as depicted by Hans Memling (1430 – 1494).

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The legend of Veronica was extremely well-known in mediaeval times, and it spoke of a woman who had wiped the sweat from the face of Jesus as he made his way to Calvary or Golgotha to be crucified, after which his features became imprinted on the cloth and it acquired miraculous powers. In turn, this legend is supposed to have originated from another account involving the historical King Abgar of Edessa, who was said to have written to Jesus asking him to visit and cure him of an illness.

The story of this legend is a convoluted one, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of the whole story is that King Abgar is said to have included a court painter named Hannan as a member of his delegation, who then painted a portrait of Jesus and returned it to his master. Many doubts have been expressed about this legend, which is hardly surprising given its varied history, but as you can see from the photo of the tenth century image below, the face of Jesus on the cloth or portrait known as the Mandylion is that of a rough, forceful and unkempt character, very much like the image on the cover of the Book of Lead.

The Earliest Portrait of Christ   New Information and New Ideas   Abgarwithimageofedessa10thcentury

As Dan Johnston pointed out, the implications of all this are staggering if the Books of Lead turn out to be genuine and if the face on the cover of one of them turns out to be that of Jesus. It would mean that all the much-derided legends are true and it would also mean that the famous image on the Shroud of Turin is not, as is currently supposed by millions, that of Jesus. On the other hand, what better material could a forger work from than what is thought to be the earliest portrait of Jesus, as commissioned by King Abgar? All this, however, is far from being the end of the matter.

Earlier today, I spoke with Philip Gardiner, Mindscape’s editor, and we discussed the photograph at the top of this post at some length. It seems reasonable to assume that each hole punched in the cover and pages of the lead book were meant for a seal, so we can see three at the top, three on the right of the photograph, three at the bottom and a further nine holes on the left, although one seal appears to be missing at the very top.

It’s hard to fathom why the creator of this ‘book’ should choose to enclose it in such a way, but it was clearly significant. It also gives us a total of eighteen seals, which is of course the sum of the three numbers 666 that have a very special place in the Bible.

Some editions of the original Greek texts supply the number 616, of course, but the majority describe 666 as being the Number of the Beast in the Book of Revelations, and it’s here that we find ourselves wandering into even stranger territory. The Book of Revelation is also known as the Book of Revelation of St John the Divine, but it is best known as the Apocalypse, from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘uncovering’, or, in a bizarre link via wordplay with the legend of St Veronica, the ‘unveiling’. Either way, the sense is of something waiting to be revealed, uncovered or opened to the light of day, which is precisely what we’re awaiting as far as the currently sealed Books of Lead are concerned.

While the Apocalypse, or Book of Revelation, contains a great many numbers and repeated references to the number 7 that were doubtless of the greatest significance to the author of the book, it has to be said that a book with seals plays a highly notable part in the Book of Revelation. Chapter Five opens with the intriguing lines:

1: And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the back side, sealed with seven seals.
2: And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
3: And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.
4: And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.

Chapter Six goes on to list the dreadful consequences of these seals being broken and the imagery is surely familiar to us all in the form of earthquakes, stars falling to Earth and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse being unleashed upon Mankind. It continues in Chapter Eight, when the seventh seal is broken and the number 7 continues to dominate proceedings for a good while thereafter.

However, verse five of Chapter Five made me blink in surprise, because it reads: “And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” The ‘Lion of the Tribe of Judah‘ is an unmistakable reference to Jesus himself, and while I’m pretty certain that it bears no etymological relationship to our modern word ‘lion’, it’s an odd coincidence that the first known image – apparently – of Jesus came to be known as the Mandylion, as I mentioned above. I also mentioned what I saw as the rather rough cast to the features on the face on the cover of the book of lead, which immediately struck me as possessing leonine characteristics and I was not alone in this.

When I showed this face to other friends and asked for their opinion, at least one remarked that she thought the face resembled that of the lion in Beauty and the Beast. I agree with you, Evelyn, but everyone else is welcome to judge the matter for themselves. Of course, all this raises more questions than answers, but the nature on the face on the Book of Lead is truly thought-provoking, a concept and quality that lies at the heart of Mindscape, so we’ll continue to unveil more mysteries and to provide further ‘revelations’ as and when they make themselves known to us.

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Dennis Price

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About the author

Dennis Price is a classical scholar and former archaeologist; he is also a writer, speaker and broadcaster, who lives in the West of England among the enchanted and sometimes unnerving relics of Britain's past. Regarded as an expert on Stonehenge, he is also the author of The Missing Years of Jesus and is co-author of Ancient Code.



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