How white were the Israelites? Facial reconstruction may be surprising
By Ofri Ilani, Haaretz Correspondent
No one knows how the Israelites and the Judeans looked or which people they would most closely resemble today. Bible stories and historical essays from the Second Temple Period offer a relatively few descriptions of the Israelites' physical appearance. Whatever descriptions do exist can be interpreted in countless ways. The skeletons uncovered at archaeological digs throughout Israel provide only partial information regarding the appearance of early Land of Israel residents.
The accepted assumption has been that early Hebrews resembled the people now living in the Middle East or the Mediterranean Basin. However, an Israeli anthropologist researching the question has now made a surprising claim: the subjects of the Kingdom of Judea in the Second Temple Period looked more like black Africans. This theory arose after Prof. Yair Ben David of Tel-Aviv University conducted the first-ever facial reconstruction of its kind.
The research, conducted with scientists from the Russian Foundation of Fundamental Investigation, was published in the German journal Anthropoligischer Anzeiger. Ben Yair used the skull of a male from the Hellenistic Period and a female from the Roman Period that had been discovered in the Dead Sea region.
The researchers reconstructed gaps in the skulls and inserted false teeth. They measured the skulls and reconstructed the soft tissue based on earlier research. Using cutting-edge technology, they created two statues they say are quite accurate representations of early Hebrew man and woman.
Not surprisingly, the appearance of the man is very similar to that of today's Middle Eastern man. The researchers concluded that he belonged to the Mediterranean branch of the Caucasoid group, scientific terminology for what is known as "white."
However, the woman's appearance was quite surprising. She has a large mouth with a protruding upper lip and a full lower lip. The nose is also prominent with a low bridge. These and other findings led the researchers to determine that while the reconstructed woman was also Caucasoid, she had "equatorial (African)" characteristics.
The article notes her "high and prominent upper lip, and 'plump' lower lip." The researchers added: "The chin is prominent, high and narrow, protruding outward."
Ben David highlights the similarities between the two reconstructions and reconstructions of later Jewish populations in Europe. He also compared the early Jews he reconstructed to the average characteristics of modern Jewish populations in Israel, and reached the conclusion that there is a great similarity between the populations.