How Jewish is your Jesus?
What did Jesus wear?
Yeshua began his ministry. His deeds may have been mighty, but in appearance he was just like any other Jewish itinerant teacher. Far from the blue-eyed, chisel-jawed Hollywood Swede, or the dreamy ginger-haired Renaissance Italian, he was an olive-skinned, dark-haired first-century Jew. The Samaritan woman certainly thought so.
“The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman.” (John 4:9)
He certainly dressed as a religious Jew. A clue is in this passage:
“Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” (Matthew 9:20-21)
It’s not an obvious clue, because the translation does the original event no favour at all. The clue becomes clearer when we look at the same passage in the Jewish New Testament translation.
“A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years approached him from behind and touched the tzitzit on his robe…”
Spot the strange word? Tzitzit. Some translations refer to it as a “hem”, which is only marginally more accurate than “edge”. A better word is “fringe” or “tassel”, a word that appears in Numbers 15:37-39.
“The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.”
And that is what Jesus was wearing. A robe, like the garments worn by today’s Bedouins, with tassels, or tzitzits, on each corner. It marked him out not just a Jew, but one who followed the Torah and lived by it, as directed by that passage in Numbers.
He taught in synagogues and the Jewish Temple, without a Gentile in sight. Much of his teaching was in a thoroughly Jewish context, as we will see in Chapter Six. He visited Jerusalem for the Pilgrim Feasts of Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Succot (Tabernacles), as well as Chanukah (Dedication of the Temple) and made great use of their symbolism in his teachings, particularly when speaking of his mission on Earth. He went to great pains in affirming the great themes of the Old Testament, the only Holy Scriptures available to the Jews of his day.