What did Jesus wear at his resurrection?
Why do I care?
Is there anything less important I could be writing about?
The problem with Jesus’ clothes or lack thereof begins when he is flogged and intensifies at the cross as the author of the Book of John (19:23-24 (TNIV)) informs us that the soldiers “took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.” They gambled for it. So presumably Jesus was left with zero clothing?? OK, the texts do not actually say that Jesus had zero clothing and in fact, he could have had plenty of clothing left on. However, “took his clothes” could mean that all his clothes were taken.
The biblical passage notwithstanding, the Crucified has always been shown with a loincloth or some sort of drapery in paintings as far as I know. The drapery reaches fantastical dimensions with the long ends streaming and billowing outward in the painting, “The Crucifixion with the Converted Centurion,” by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1536. Google shows variations on this painting, because copies were produced by the Cranach workshop.1
I am a bit mystified as to why the TNIV says “undergarment,” yet the NRSV says it was a “tunic.” Now I don’t know much about first-century clothing, but I suspect that a tunic was like it is today, a longish shirt, maybe coming to hips, mid-thighs, or just above the knees. And I suspect that an “undergarment” would be worn under the tunic. So which is it? Grosvenor’s Analysis lets me know that the item in question is a tunic or shirt worn next to the skin. So both “undergarment” or “tunic” is correct if the item is a shirt-like undergarment.
Most of the English translations of verse 19:23 available online at Biblegateway -a- say “tunic” or the next choice, “coat.” One has “under-robe” (CJB); another “outer garment” (CEV). So is it a “coat” which is an outer garment or a “tunic” that could be used as an undergarment? Are those translators writing “coat” doing so because they don’t want the people sitting in the pews to gasp audibly when they realize that even Jesus’ undergarment was taken away? So “coat” is just a pious cover-up?? I popped the Westcott-Hort Greek into Google’s language translator (modern Greek) and got “tunic.” So is “coat” a fiction?? I do wish that translators would translate and not coddle me and cover up what the biblical author wanted me to know. Maybe I’m overreacting; after all, I don’t know Greek and I just can’t know if “coat” is correct or not.
My next question is whether a shirt (or coat) can be made without seams. I have done a small bit of sewing in my time and I have to admit, I can think of no way to make a shirt without any seams, unless one uses crocheting, or knits the shirt like knitting socks. But I never heard of such a shirt except in John! So I am tempted to assume that the item woven in one piece seamlessly was not a shirt, but rather a long strip of cloth, rectangular-shaped, that served as a loincloth. But maybe it was a “cloak” (KNOX) because I think a cloak could be seamless, gathered only on one end and with ties attached.
Maybe the biblical author wrote “tunic” to lead the reader into obsessing over whether a woven tunic can be seamless or not. It certainly has become a fixation for me (hmm). I do believe that the words of the Gospel were chosen very, very carefully by the original author(s). So yes, “seamless tunic” might be an oxymoron to confront and confound me. Or maybe it is supposed to be a coat and point to Joseph’s coat of many colors (“long robe with sleeves” in the NRSV (Gen 37:3) footnote – meaning of Hebrew uncertain), or some forgotten mystical garment in Pagan myth.
It’s probably worth pointing out that public nudity might not have been a big concern to the first-century author of John or his/her readers, because back then, clothing was not mass-produced and was therefore relatively expensive. I suspect that those who could not afford it, often did without, and nobody thought much about it?? Or maybe most people had the same distaste for public nudity as we do today. I really can’t come to any conclusion as to whether the Roman soldiers would have seized all Jesus’ clothes, not knowing what their practice was, or whether the Jewish leaders would have tolerated public nudity under any circumstances or whether their opinion would have mattered to the Roman oppressors.
Unlike Mark and Matthew, John does not tell us that Jesus’ clothes were returned to him after the flogging. In John, we are led to believe that Jesus was not wearing his own clothes to the crucifixion but rather the costly “purple robe” the soldiers had put on him earlier to mock him (19:2). That is, until John says there were four piles of Jesus’ clothes – not possible if he was wearing only a purple robe. Perhaps John just tries to give the reader a little jolt – we think we know where the clothes are (back at Pilate’s) until we realize we didn’t know – a fast moving shell game.
Why would the soldiers give Jesus back his clothing (after flogging him) and not steal it then but steal it later? Because Jesus had not yet been condemned to death? (John) Or maybe the author of John is just writing symbolism (to “fulfill” the scripture) and nobody actual stole Jesus’ clothes??
Just a quick detour – the description of dividing up Jesus’ clothes into four piles, “one for each soldier,” lets me know there were only four soldiers. Only four to guard and torture to death three men, one of whom had at least 12 rough men from the countryside as apostolic followers?? That’s 15 against 4. Something doesn’t add up here. Or maybe there were more soldiers just lounging around nearby?
The problem understanding Jesus’ state of dress continues in John 20:6-7, where the burial cloths are discovered in the otherwise empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Despite having zero?? clothing going into the tomb, and despite taking no?? burial cloths with him upon his resurrection, Jesus has always been shown resurrecting with some sort of covering (floating, streaming, billowing, satiny drapery) in paintings depicting the resurrection as far as I know.
The real question is not “what was Jesus wearing at his resurrection;” but rather, why does John make clothing an issue? Not only is there a discussion of clothing/cloths at the mocking, at the cross, and at the tomb, but go back and see what Jesus was wearing as he washed the disciples’ feet (13:4) – if you can figure it out. Most translators-b- say that Jesus removed an outer garment then, but more than one-quarter say that Jesus removed his garments before putting on a towel. Which translators are the most accurate? John’s author has a thing for clothes (or the lack thereof) or maybe a sense of humor? I have to add at this point that this fascination with Jesus’ clothing makes me think that the author of John may have been a woman (or a man interested in men’s clothing).
The verses about the burial cloths are in a section (20:2-10) that is likely an ancient edit, because Mary Magdalene leaves the scene and then abruptly is right back. These verses may have been edited by the original author or another. But I don’t think the reference to burial cloths left in the tomb is incompatible with the other clothing verses and so maybe are original, just rephrased. Perhaps in the original it was Mary Magdalene who found the cloths, not Peter her rival. That would be consistent with her finding the two angels in the tomb, not him.
Possibly the author of John just made a mistake by leaving open the question of whether Jesus was naked at the resurrection?? No, not a mistake – I think that the clothing problem is a puzzle that the writer makes for us intentionally as an exercise to increase our awareness. We are supposed to ask ourselves how the disciples experienced the resurrected Jesus. Sometimes they weren’t sure what they saw. We are supposed to work our way through the Magdalene seeing Jesus in the dark through her tears and thinking he was the gardener (John 20:15); also, John 21:4 where the disciples did not realize at first it was Jesus on the beach; and John 20:25-29 where Thomas says he won’t believe until he puts his hand into the wound (we are not told if he did put his hand, only that he finally saw Jesus). Luke 24:30-31 has Jesus recognized only in the breaking of the bread.
For those who need something more literal and down-to-earth than “he was recognized in the breaking of the bread,” there is this offering by a friend: “John’s author very deliberately put in the word ‘gardener’ (20:15) so we could imagine Jesus clothed in a laborer’s attire. Maybe the gardener had left his work clothes there at the end of the workday?”
This business of undress does perhaps draw on the dream archetype of finding oneself without clothing or being only partly clothed, something that would resonate with many Gospel readers at some level. (How much of scripture is essentially a dream landscape??) Problem with clothes in a dream may represent, according to one opinion, the state of the mask one wears.2 I suppose that finding one’s true self beneath the mask would be vital to a resurrection – letting the true self out to modify or replace the mask??
The undue emphasis on Jesus’ clothing in the Gospel seems odd to me, but it might be a reform of earlier traditions that put even greater emphasis on the clothing of the god-savior or the king-player??
Just how insignificant is the question of what Jesus wore? I rather suspect that everything in the Gospel and Letters is there for a reason. Take this resurrection-thinking in Ephesians 4:24 (NRSV): “Clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Maybe the resurrection is not just something that happened nearly two millennia ago, but something that can happen in every moment as I strive to “clothe myself with a new self”??
Maybe Jesus didn’t need his old clothes because he was being re-clothed with a new (true) self?? As in the transfiguration where his clothing became “white as the light” (Mt 17:2), “dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mk 9:3), “bright as a flash of lightning” and “the appearance of his face changed” (Lk 9:29). And his true being was revealed??
In the previous paragraph I used the TNIV because it does not harmonize as much as the NRSV in this case which has: “dazzling white,” (Mt 17:2) “dazzling white,” (Mk 9:3), and “dazzling white” (Lk 9:29). But there is a wide range of different translations for the Luke verse, and most don’t have “lightning.”-c- And I’m not going to bother to check the other verses right now.
I do believe that we are supposed to link the transfiguration more closely to the resurrection and ascension than is usually done – these are just different ways of looking at the same thing?? All these uplifting events were meant to be interiorized by the reader, either consciously or subconsciously – the result being??
Interesting that the New Testament writers never really spell out just what is a resurrection or what is a resurrected body or what a resurrected body wears.
But the Gospel hints that the risen Jesus has some element of divinity and thus we are supposed to assume that he is capable of supplying himself with decent clothing – conceivably he could even appear in a 21st-century two-piece suit, shirt and tie, and with socks, shoes, belt, appropriate undergarments, and a shave and a haircut.
But what sort of person would worry about this?
1 Sister Wendy Beckett, The Story of Painting, A DK Publishing Book, 1994, page 158, on Cranach painting.
2 Maria F. Mahoney, The Meaning in Dreams and Dreaming; The Jungian Viewpoint, Castle Books, 1977, pages 103-6, on clothing.