Spanish archaeologists have pieced together a glass plate that they say bears a fourth-century engraving of Jesus, wearing a philosopher's robe — but not wearing a beard.
The glass fragments were found amid the ruins of a building that was used for religious worship in the Iberian-Roman city of Castulo, near the present-day town of Linares. The FORVM MMX archaeological team has been painstakingly excavating the Castulo site for three years, and they benefited from a big break in July when crucial pieces of the puzzle came to light.
The AFP news service reports that more than 80 percent of the plate has been assembled. It's about 8.5 inches (22 centimeters), and is thought to have served as a paten — that is, a plate that held pieces of bread for communion. The short-haired figure of Jesus is shown holding a cross, and is flanked by two apostles thought to be Peter and Paul.
Most modern-day depictions show Jesus and the apostles as bearded, but the iconography was more varied in early Christian art. For example, some of the paintings found in the Roman catacombs show Jesus without a beard, and dressed in the garb of a philosopher. One of the oldest artifacts referring to Jesus — a bowl that dates to the first or second century, appears to call him a magician.