Biblical Archaeology Review 36:2, March/April 2010

Strata: Did Jesus Know This Face?

It may lack the intimacy of a self-portrait by Rembrandt or Van Gogh, but this newly reconstructed coin bust provides the clearest look into the face of Herod Philip II that we will likely ever see.

Herod Philip II (4 B.C–34 A.D.), one of the sons of Herod the Great and ruler of the eastern Galilee and the Golan during the time of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, was the first Jewish ruler to have his portrait emblazoned upon a coin.

Coins with portraits of Herodian kings are extremely rare because of the Jewish religious prohibition of graven images. Only a handful of Philip’s coins have survived, and even these are well worn with largely indistinct busts.

Biblical coin specialist and researcher Jean-Philippe Fontanille has developed a new technique to recover the original minted impressions of ancient coins. Using the latest in computer imaging technology, Fontanille superimposes digital images of multiple ancient coins from the same issue, adjusting for differences in size and orientation. After keeping the best-preserved parts of each coin image, digitally removing worn or missing areas, and then merging and blending the remaining elements, Fontanille produces an “idealized” composite of the coin as it would have appeared in ancient times.

Fontanille has used this technique to reveal the portrait busts of several Herodian kings, including Agrippa I and Agrippa II, Herod of Chalcis and Aristobulus of Chalcis. His composite enhancement technique has also provided new insight into numerous nonportrait coin depictions.

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