Showing posts with label crucifixion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label crucifixion. Show all posts

26 March 2013

The colour of the robe

Visiting Bath Abbey left us with a conundrum. When the Roman legionaries dressed Jesus in a robe and mocked him as a king, was that robe purple or red? The Greek text is fairly clear with a small caveat and I'm left wondering if it was, in fact, a rather dark red, perhaps a centurion's cape.

Stone tracery in the roof of Bath Abbey
Donna and I spent a couple of days in the city of Bath recently. While we were there we looked at a number of interesting places including the Roman baths, the famous Georgian architecture, and the Abbey.

The Abbey had some beautiful panels, the Bath Abbey Diptychs. They are presented as pairs, one painted and the other made in needlework.

One of them had a lovely, red, fabric background and the text referred to the scarlet robe put on Jesus by the Roman troops when they mocked him as a king.

This got me thinking, surely the robe was purple, not red? When we got home Donna checked and it seems the robe is sometimes described as scarlet and sometimes as purple.

So what happened? - After Pilate handed Jesus over to the Roman troops for crucifixion, they stripped him and then dressed him in a robe and a crown of thorns. Matthew says the robe was scarlet (Matthew 27:28). Mark says it was purple (Mark 15:17). Luke doesn't mention the event at all. John says it was purple (John 19:2).

So what colour was this robe? There are several plausible reasons for the differences.

The Greek is quite clear. Matthew uses κοκκίνην (kokkinēn), Strong's number 2847, literally 'scarlet' or 'crimson'. This kermes dye is obtained from an insect that lives on the holm oak tree. Matthew and John use the word πορφύραν (porphyran), Strong's number 4209, which usually means 'purple' or 'purple garment' but may also mean 'deep violet', 'deep scarlet', 'deep crimson' or 'deep blue'.

So one possibility is that the three gospel writers are in agreement and the colour was a rich, dark red of some kind.

Alternatively there may be some doubt about the colour, eye-witnesses might have seen or remembered it as either purple or red, particularly if it was a heavily dyed fabric and therefore dark.

Meaning and availability - Another point worth making is that purple was a colour that denoted wealth and high status. The Roman emperors wore purple so it denoted rule, power and kingship. Scarlet on the other hand might represent sacrifice, blood or death. Both seem appropriate, one representing Jesus as King of kings, the other as High Priest. Red and purple were both components of the Jewish priestly robes, along with blue and gold.

We can also ask ourselves what dyed garments the soldiers might have had available. Soldiers wore a white tunic under their armour, but coloured material was expensive and was not worn by the ordinary legionaries. Purple fabric was even more expensive and it's most unlikely they'd have had access to it.

Centurions, however, wore a red cape; might the soldiers have used one of these to dress Jesus as a king? It's certainly possible. A much cheaper dye suitable for these red capes would have been madder.

What's more, using a centurion's cape would have made the mockery deeply shameful as well. It's not unlikely Jesus would have remained naked with just the cloak over his shoulders, the woven thorns on his head and the reed in his hand as the soldiers taunted him. Then they dressed him in his own clothes and led him out to die. They stripped him again before nailing him to the cross, and shared out his clothes as he hung there. In this way Psalm 22:18 was fulfilled (see Matthew 27:27-35).

For me, the idea that the colour might have been deep and could be described equally well as purple or scarlet makes perfect sense. So too does the possibility that a Roman centurion's cape was used.

Questions:

  • Have you ever wondered about the colour of the robe? I hadn't until now.
  • Does the deep red using madder seem a probable solution to you?
  • Do you think the colour is symbolic?

See also:

03 January 2012

Eaton Ford (BS) - Arrest to resurrection

< 12th December 2011 | Index | 11th January 2012 >

Paul and I met to read the last part of Mark's gospel. We began at the beginning of  chapter 15 and read section by section right through to the end. Here are some of the things that stood out for me.

A rock-cut tomb in JerusalemAs far as we know the religious authorities handed Jesus over to Pilate because they were not permitted to apply the death penalty themselves. The Romans had decreed that only they could execute a prisoner.

The charge against Jesus was blasphemy and the penalty would have been stoning to death. Stonings were still comtemplated, even carried out (eg Stephen, the woman caught in adultery) but were presumably unofficial, illegal, and overlooked.

The Sanhedrin could hardly issue an illegal order right under the nose of the prefect. So they went to Pilate with a range of accusations, none of which they could prove. They knew a Jewish religious offence would not impress Pilate, so they chose something more promising - that Jesus claimed to be a king and was therefore a political challenge to Pilate, Herod, or even the Emperor in Rome. Pilate still didn't buy it, but sent Jesus for crucifixion to satisfy the mob.

It is striking that Simon, a passer-by, was forced to carry the cross. The presumption is that Jesus, weakened by injuries sustained from his earlier flogging, was either unable to carry it or perhaps collapsed after part of the journey.

Jesus refused to take the painkilling myrrh mixture in wine. They crucified him and then cast lots for his clothes. We decided he would have had a loin cloth, a tunic (rather like a T-shirt), a cloak, belt and sandals. The soldiers were not wealthy, clothing would have been expensive, so wasting it was unthinkable.

It's also interesting that the sign on the cross read 'King of the Jews'. Pilate ordered it written in three languages, he was making it clear one last time that in his view Jesus had committed no recognised crime. Those crucified with him would have been labelled 'Murderer, criminal, rebel' or something similar.

We also discussed the Aramaic words that Jesus shouted out. 'Eloi' is closely related to the Arabic word 'Allah' and the Hebrew 'Eloh' (plural 'Elohim') and simply means 'Mighty One' or 'Almighty'. The onlookers thought he said 'Elijah' which would have sounded like 'Ell-ee-yah' or 'Ell-yah' and means 'Mighty Yah' or in full 'Yahweh the Mighty One'. (See also an earlier post.)

I had a photo from Jerusalem of a similar tomb to the one Joseph of Arimathea would have used and we looked at it (see above). It seems Jesus had a few followers in the Sanhedrin itself, Joseph was clearly one of these and bravely did what he could to help.

We covered more than these few items of course, but these are the things I feel I should mention in this post.

Next time we meet we have decided to begin the book of Acts.

< 12th December 2011 | Index | 11th January 2012 >

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