The Big Question 32: What Did Jesus Wear?
Mar 18, 2019 1015
What did Jesus wear?
What did Jesus wear? The Bible doesn’t give us a neat physical description of what Jesus wore all in one place, but we can pretty much piece together his wardrobe.
Jesus wore a mantle, like a large shawl. This was a distinctively Jewish form of shawl that had tassels along the edge. Jesus would have used this to keep warm, and also to put over his head when praying. This shawl was usually made of undyed wool.
Jesus wore sandals, like everyone else. These were pretty basic and made of unprocessed leather.
Jesus’ main piece of clothing was a tunic, which for men went to just below the knees. Only very rich men wore long tunics that went down to their ankles. In fact, Jesus specifically criticised men who wore long tunics, and who received honour from people who were impressed by their fine clothes, when in fact they had made their wealth by exploiting others.
The unusual thing about the tunic that Jesus wore was that it was made of one piece of cloth only. Most tunics were made of two pieces sewn at the shoulders and sides. Usually, one-piece tunics in first-century Judea were only worn by children or worn by adults as thin undergarments. Only the very poor wore a one-piece tunic.
A scholar named Celsus wrote a book about this new religion called Christianity. He was able to interview people who had heard eyewitness stories about Jesus. The information that Celsus reported from his sources was that Jesus, “wandered about most shamefully in the sight of all,” and that he “obtained his means of livelihood in a disgraceful way,” which meant that he did it by begging and by receiving donations.
As you might have detected, Celsus was no friend of Christianity. In fact, he wrote his book to attack the new Christian faith. The Christian author Origen wrote a systematic rebuttal of Celsus’ book, but he never rejected these assertions about how Jesus dressed.
So, from the perspective of respectable people, Jesus would have looked pretty rough, in keeping with the company he preferred to keep – the poorest and the outcasts of society. The religious leaders of the day even said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
Jesus was always detached from material things and was always concerned for the poor. And how Jesus dressed was as much a part of his message as the words he spoke.
The message of Jesus challenged all the religious, social, economic, and political prejudices of his day. It was pretty radical. It still is.