Evolution of the Importance of Dress through to the Gospels of Jesus of Nazareth
by Christopher B. Adams Jr.
© 2009, All Rights Reserved.
Abstract: Through the Gospels of Jesus of Nazareth, God alters the sacrosanct importance of dress and clothing from that shown in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Table of Contents:
Introduction: According to Christian tradition, the Word of God, the Creator of mankind and the universe, can be found in the Holy Bible; the Bible, a series of narratives and proclamations written by a collection of authors, is viewed Christianity to be a divinely inspired text. The first half of the Bible, known as the Old Testament, details the creation of the universe by God and the history of the Israelites, his chosen people, until the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in approximately 4 BCE (Wikipedia). Jesus of Nazareth, also known as Jesus Christ, is viewed by Christians to be the Messiah and the physical manifestation of God on earth. The birth of Jesus and his life and teachings are chronicled in the section of the Bible known as the Gospels. By comparing the Old Testament and Gospels, the evolution of the Will of God due to the coming of Jesus Christ can therefore be seen. In performing this comparison, it is one of the less obtrusive verses of the Gospels that I found the most interesting. On Mount Olive the night of the Last Supper, Jesus is apprehended by Roman soldiers for charges of heresy. During the apprehension, the Gospels subtly note the following:
"And one guy, a teenager, was following him (Jesus), wrapped in a sheet and nothing else. And they (the Roman soldiers) seized him, but he jumped out of the sheet and ran off naked." (Mark 14:51, Mark 14:52, Gaus)
This statement is often viewed figuratively to represent the symbolic release of Christ from this life by his crucifixion at the hands of the Romans (Matthews). However, my hypothesis is that verse is not metaphorical, but instead illiterates an important shift in the Will of God through the coming of Christ: as Jesus' crucifixion absolved mankind of sin, so too does God relinquish the requirement that man physically and symbolically separate himself from God with prescribed clothing and dress. I will illustrate and defend this point through the following findings.
Findings: The Old Testament of the Bible first makes reference to clothing in the Book of Genesis through the story of Adam and Eve. These first human beings, Adams and Eve, naïvely live in the paradise of the Garden of Eden and lack any knowledge of life outside the Word of God. However, giving into temptation and curiosity, they commit the first sin against God by eating from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge (New International Version). By eating the fruit and receiving wisdom of the Divine, Adam and Eve immediately became aware of their lack of clothing and rushed to cover themselves:
"Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves." (Genesis 3:7, New International Version)
By committing this sin, mankind is ejected from the Garden of Eden and never allowed to return. These fig leaves, man's first clothing, become the first objectification of mankind's newfound separation from God.
Clothing gains greater importance further on in the Old Testament; God reveals His Word to the prophet Moses, detailing the prescribed dress of the Levites, the group of Israelites designated to serve in the Tabernacle:
"He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on." (Leviticus 16:4, New International Version)
The Tabernacle, the symbolic seat of God on earth, served as the interface between the Israelites and the Divine (New International Version). It is here that God decreed man is to wear a series of sacred garments and be cleansed by a ritual bath before even coming into His presence. This clothing separates man from God at their closest acquaintance; even at this juncture, this degree of separation is demanded between mankind and the Divine.
However, through the Gospels, a change in the importance God places on the physical form is seen. During one of his sermons, Jesus is questioned by a group of Pharisees, a sect of Jews viewed as overly legalistic, concerning why he and his companions did not cleanse themselves before eating (Gaus). Jesus responds to his followers:
"…Don't you see that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the belly and is thrown out into the toilet? But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and those things pollute the person. For out of the heart comes evil designs, murders, adulteries, whoring, thefts, perjuries, blasphemies… those things pollute a person, but eating with unwashed hands doesn't pollute a person." (Mathew 15:17-20, Gaus)
The evolved Will of God, manifested through the words of Jesus, shows little regard for the body and physical form, and instead places greater importance on character and spirit. To further illustrate this, Jesus instructs his disciples to treat all others with love and compassion, even if the emotion is not reciprocated:
"And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well." (Matthew 5:40, Gaus)
While this verse presents the more obvious message that one should obey the Golden Rule, that one should treat others as they themselves would like to be treated, it also depicts another important point: material objects, such as clothing, can be freely given away as they are no longer essential in God's view and come second to the happiness and well being of man.
The decreased importance of the physical form and therefore clothing can also be seen in the dress of Jesus' followers. As Jesus is viewed by his followers to be the embodiment of God on earth, it would be expected that those he traveled with would have taken the greatest care in their appearance and manners as they are in the presence of the Devine. But instead, the opposite occurs: the more formal clothing prescribed in the Old Testament is exchanged for the plebian dress of the common person. As stated previously, on Mount Olive the night of the Last Supper, Jesus is apprehended by Roman soldiers for charges of heresy. During the apprehension, the Gospels subtly note the following:
"And one guy, a teenager, was following him (Jesus), wrapped in a sheet and nothing else. And they (the Roman soldiers) seized him, but he jumped out of the sheet and ran off naked." (Mark 14:51-52, Gaus)
As described before, this statement is often viewed figuratively to represent the symbolic release of Christ from this life by his crucifixion at the hands of the Romans (represented by the young man releasing himself from his clothes at the hands of the Romans) (Matthews). However, by performing a more straightforward examination of this verse, one can see that this follower of Jesus had very little clothing on and was not wearing any undergarments. The argument can be made that this was an exception to the norm and that the majority of Christ's followers may not have dressed so "casually." However, that cannot refute the fact that Jesus, the manifestation of God on earth, readily allowed a follower dressed so informally to remain in his close company. As all of Jesus' immediate followers were common working people (Gaus), their clothing options were most likely limited due to economics. It would therefore be expected that such casual dress was not only acceptable, but even most likely commonplace.
Conclusion: While certain attire may be prescribed for Christian religious settings in modern times, close examination of the Gospels indicate that this was not the case during the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, the scriptures indicate that the dress of Jesus' followers was most likely simple and casual, obeying the vernacular fashion of the time instead of the more ornate and constrictive clothing edict of the Old Testament. Through the teachings of Jesus, many Christians strive to achieve a closer and more personal relationship with God. Perhaps, through further analyses of the Gospels and by setting aside artificial constraints, this goal can be better put into reach.
Gaus, Andy. The Unvarnished Gospels. Boston: Shambhala, 1988.
Holy Bible, New International Version. Biblica. New York: Zondervan, 1973.
"Jesus." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 15 September 2009. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus>.
Matthews, Marry W. "The Naked Young Man in Mark 14:51-52." Rheophilia. 15 September 2009. < http://www.extremelysmart.com/insight/accurate/Mark_14_51-52.php>.
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