The hair growing on a man’s chin and cheeks, sometimes including that growing on the upper lip. In the Hebrew Scriptures, za·qanʹ is the word for “beard,” while sa·phamʹ, pertaining to the lip, is variously rendered by translators as “beard,” “mustache” and “upper lip.”
Among many ancient peoples of the East, including the Israelites, a beard was cherished as an evidence of manly dignity. God’s law to Israel prohibited the cutting off of the “side locks,” the hair between the ear and the eye, and the extremity of the beard. (Lev. 19:27; 21:5) This was doubtless because among some pagans it was a religious practice.
During extreme grief, shame or humiliation, one might pluck hairs from his beard or leave the beard or the mustache untended. (Ezra 9:3) It may have been the untended beard of Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, that indicated to David that Mephibosheth was perhaps telling the truth when he said that his servant Ziba had slandered him, and that Mephibosheth was actually mourning while David was a refugee from Absalom, contrary to what Ziba had reported. (2 Sam. 16:3; 19:24-30) The removing of the beard was viewed in figurative expression to illustrate great mourning because of calamity.—Isa. 7:20; 15:2; Jer. 48:37; Ezek. 5:1.
After the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E., men from Shechem, Shiloh and Samaria expressed their distress by shaving their beards, ripping their garments apart and cutting themselves. Even though they were bringing offerings to the house of Jehovah, they were bloodless offerings, apparently to be offered at the place where the temple had been. (Jer. 41:5) That the practices of these men were not fully in harmony with the law of God is shown by the fact that they made cuts upon themselves, a practice sternly prohibited by the Law.—Lev. 19:28; 21:5
The importance of the beard and its being well groomed played a part in the attitude of Achish the king of Gath toward David when the latter disguised his sanity by letting his saliva run down upon his beard. This served to help convince King Achish that David was insane. (1 Sam. 21:13) Later, when Hanun the king of Ammon grossly insulted David’s ambassadors by cutting off half their beards, David sympathetically told his men to stay in Jericho until their beards grew abundantly again. The Ammonites knew that it was a signal insult to David and that they had become foul smelling in his eyes over the incident, and so they prepared for war.—2 Sam. 10:4-6; 1 Chron. 19:1-6.
It was customary for men to wear beards, even before the Law covenant was made. While the Hebrews did not make monuments with figures of themselves, many monuments and inscriptions have been found in Egypt and Mesopotamia and other Near Eastern lands, in which the Assyrians, Babylonians and Canaanites are pictured with beards, and even some representations dated as far back as the third millennium B.C.E. show beards of varying styles. Among the above-named peoples eunuchs were mainly the ones depicted beardless. The making of eunuchs was not a practice in Israel, however, because the Law excluded eunuchs from the congregation of Israel.—Deut. 23:1.
Since most Semites are pictured as wearing beards, even prior to the time of the Law, it would logically follow that the faithful men of the line of Shem, who continued to speak the language of Eden and who doubtless followed more closely the original customs from the time of their forefather Seth, possessed beards. Consequently, there is good reason to believe that Noah, Enoch, Seth and Seth’s father Adam likewise were bearded men.
Herodotus says the Egyptians shaved both the hair of the face and of the head. To them a beard betokened grief or an undesirable condition. One writer states that whenever an Egyptian artist wanted to convey the idea of a man of low condition or a slovenly person, he would depict the man with a beard. This helps one to appreciate why Joseph shaved before appearing in the presence of Pharaoh. (Gen. 41:14; compare Jeremiah 9:26; 25:23.) However, false beards as well as wigs were worn by the Egyptians. The beard of the common man was short; that of the monarch, long and square-bottomed, and those on the figures of their gods were curled up at the end. In two Egyptian representations of the Philistines these men are also pictured beardless.
Did Jesus, when on earth, wear a beard? Certainly it was a custom strictly held by the Jews. Jesus, born a Jew, “came to be under law” and he fulfilled the Law. (Gal. 4:4; Matt. 5:17) Like all other Jews, Jesus was dedicated to Jehovah God from his birth, by reason of the Law covenant, and was under obligation to keep the whole law, including the prohibition on shaving the extremity of the beard. Also, at the time that Jesus was on earth, the Roman custom was beardlessness. Therefore, if Jesus had been beardless, he would have been challenged as either a eunuch or a Roman. Significantly, a prophecy concerning Jesus’ suffering states: “My back I gave to the strikers, and my cheeks to those plucking off the hair.”—Isa. 50:6.
There is no support for believing, contrary to Biblical evidence, that Jesus was beardless, as represented in pictures found in the Roman catacombs and purported to be early Christian drawings of the likeness of Christ. Not only is the earliest drawing effaced to the point of being practically obliterated, but in this and other catacombs there are so many pictures and inscriptions representing pagan or false religious ideas that they cease to have authenticity as being truly Christian drawings.
Likewise, no credence can be given to the claims that Christ is pictured in a figure on the so-called “Chalice of Antioch.” Wide disagreement as to the identity of the figures of men in a silver network of vines on the cup has arisen among archaeologists, and its dating is generally believed to be no earlier than the fourth century C.E.—See The Biblical Archaeologist, December 1941, and February 1942.
Early Christian writers, Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement of Alexandria and others, clearly indicate that no satisfactory record of the physical likeness of Jesus and the apostles existed in their time. They made references to the Hebrew Scriptures when the question as to the appearance of Christ arose. “The earthly image of Christ was buried so completely with those who had seen Him,” says H. Harvard Arnason, in The Biblical Archaeologist, “that Saint Augustine, writing about A.D. 400 (De Trinitate, VIII, 4) could describe each man as having his own picture of Christ’s appearance, and the conceptions as being infinite.”
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Assyrian, Syrian beards
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Egyptian, Babylonian beards