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Category Archives: Christendumb

I Wish I Could Give Him a Million Dollars

Here is a bipartisan legislative effort all Christians—indeed, all Americans—should be able to embrace. If you can afford to make a donation, I encourage you to do so. If you can’t, perhaps at least you can spread the word.

Sorry, My Church Will Not Be “Leveraging” Easter

We’ll just celebrate it, as we always have, Mr. Warren’s advice notwithstanding.

Is Comment Really Necessary?

NC church plans to burn Bibles, Christian books.

As a character in the book my wife is reading says, “I think everyone should have [a library card]. Reading is fundamental, and if more fundamentalists read, there might be fewer of them.”

At least they’re not burning witches.

I’m Still Not Clear on What’s Wrong with the One We’ve Got

According to this post by James McGrath, Conservapedia (which I’d never heard of) is apparently scandalized by the fact that portions of the Bible are *gasp!* open to varying interpretations. Their response to to create a “booby-trapped” translation (to borrow a phrase from Bart Ehrman) that is impervious to the misconstruals of liberals.

Or, to put it another way, the plan is to replace what the text says, which is open to other interpretations than their own, with a rendering that will say what they think the text means and really ought to have said. These “translators”, if they are serious, are exalting themselves above the Bible and, from the perspective of conservative Christianity, above God. How that shores up a conservative understanding of the Bible is hard to fathom.

I sort of miss the days when people actually took the time to defend their beliefs. Just call me an old fuddy-duddy.

Breaking News: Ancient Hebrew Men Didn’t Wear Pants

In a previous post I dealt with the customary attire of the New Testament era and the Greek vocabulary used to describe it. This was in response to a (shall we say) energetic defense of the idea that Jesus in fact wore pants.

The idea that men—and only men—should wear pants is rooted in a particular (misguided) understanding of Deuteronomy 22:5, which prohibits “cross-dressing.” Claude Mariottini, who had previously argued that this prohibition had to do with forbidding Canaanite religious practices, has now answered a critic of his position and provided some monumental evidence for the attire of ancient Hebrew men.

Did Jesus Wear a Dress?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this guy is just making stuff up. There are a few words that ought to be in his vocabulary, but aren’t. One of them, as one of Claude Mariottini’s commentors observed, is “anachronism.” As in, “To assume that people in ancient times had the same sensibilities about what male and female dress should look like is an anachronism.” Three more words (actually, a word and two phrases) that spring to mind are “original languages,” “archeology,” and “Bible dictionary.”

Let’s see what happens when we apply these words and phrases to the issue of how men dressed in the first century. First, there are two Koine Greek words of particular importance for the question of whether Jesus “wore pants.” These are the two common words used to denote the two main garments someone would wear: χιτών (chiton) and ἱμάτιον (himation).

The ἱμάτιον is the outer garment. It is usually translated something like “cloak,” “coat,” or “robe.” Some translators just call it an “outer garment.” Under the ἱμάτιον one wore a χιτών, usually translated “tunic” or “shirt.” The chiton eventually became the alb, the inner garment worn as the basic vestment for priests and deacons in liturgical churches. You can see its modern Middle Eastern descendants in pretty much any crowd scene from the region on the nightly news.

For outer wear in the biblical world, that is pretty much the basic set: a “cloak”—probably nothing more than an oblong piece of cloth wrapped around the body—on top of a “shirt” or “tunic,” the length of which would vary, with women and the most wealthy wearing them floor-length and common laborers exposing at least part of the leg in the interest of ease of movement.

Archeology can help us here. If we can find contemporary depictions of the way people dressed in biblical times, it can either confirm or repudiate a theory about their clothing styles. Here, for example, are a couple of ancient statues of a woman and a man wearing the chiton and himation:

Although quite a bit earlier, here is what the fashionable Israelite was wearing in the late 8th century while being carried away captive by the Assyrians:

It should be noted that “garments worn in biblical times remained rather simple and remarkably unchanged during the entire period” (Donald W. Garner, “Dress,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible [Mercer University Press, 1990] 220), so tunics like these may not have been terribly different from what Jesus and his followers were wearing several centuries later.

Finally, here is an early depiction of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” from the San Callisto catacomb in Rome. The Christian art in this catacomb is dated to the second to fourth centuries AD—well before the rise of Islam and the supposedly new innovation of men “wearing dresses.”

You could complement this basic ensemble with a ζώνη (zone) or “belt” and perhaps a workman’s apron or σιμικίνθιον (simikinthion). A wealthy or important person might wear a στολή (stole) or long, flowing robe, perhaps even a ποδήρης (poderes), a robe reaching to the feet. There are other terms indicating the material from which a garment is sewn; thus the rich man in Luke 18 was “clothed with purple garments and fine linen” (πορφύρας καὶ σιρικοῦ / porphyras kai sirikou). Women might wear a κάλυμμα (kalymma), “veil.” For Roman soldiers or travellers, we’ve got the word χλαμύς (chlamys), which is what the soldiers dressed Jesus in when they taunted him according to Matthew 27:28 and is usually translated “cloak.”All of these terms are carefully defined in Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (United Bible Societies, 1989), pages 72-75.

Here is a statue of a man wearing a chlamys. Presumably, they would usually have worn with something underneath!

Seriously, that is a good 90% of the New Testament vocabulary for articles of clothing. According to J. M. Myers, “the same general terms are used for women’s clothing as for men’s” (“Dress and Ornaments,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible [Abingdon, 1962] 871). Five basic articles of clothing were worn by both men and women: an outergarment, an undergarment, a belt or sash, footwear, and headgear (Garner, 220).

In some readings of Daniel 3:21, the word translated “trousers” in English is σαραβάροι (sarabaroi). This word does not appear in the Greek New Testament. The “breeches” the preacher goes on about

are mentioned only in connection with priestly vestments and were designed to cover the naked body “from the loins to the thighs” (Exod. 28:42; “linen breeches”). They were made of linen (Exod. 39:28; cf. Ecclus. 45:8) and were used in connection with the removal of the ashes of the burnt offering from the altar (Lev. 6:10—H 6:3) and by the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:4). According to the Ezekielian order (44:18), the Levitical priests were to wear them when on duty. Josephus calls these breeches ἀναξυρίδες (Antiq. III.vii.1), a term used by Herodotus (1.71; 3.87; 7.61) to describe the customary drawers of the Persians. (Myers, 1:870)

These “breeches” are usually called περισκελῆ in Greek—another word not found in the New Testament. Whatever form they took took in Old Testament times (and in the LXX of Lev 6:3 [Hebrew 6:10], the word used to describe them is χιτών!), they are clearly a badge of priestly office, and the layperson Jesus would no more have worn them in daily life than he would have worn a clerical collar (or physician’s lab coat, or any other garment associated with a specific vocation) today.

I'm not wearing a dress!

Now, to the heart of the matter: Did Jesus wear a dress? No, of course he didn’t. A “dress” is culturally defined as a woman’s garment. I wouldn’t say that Jesus wore a dress any more than I would say that William Wallace, the fourteenth-century Scottish freedom fighter, wore one. Wallace wore a medieval Scottish léine or tunic, possibly under an early version of a man’s féileadh mòr or “great kilt”—and no self-respecting medieval Scottish woman would have been so immodest as to wear such a masculine garment!

Similarly, in the New Testament world people perceived differences between a man’s chiton and a woman’s. Most obviously, most men’s chitones were shorter. More significantly, “the difference in clothes between sexes was not style. Women’s apparel was distinguished by its finer and more colorful materials, sometimes the presence of a veil (Gen 24:65; 38:14), and probably the use of a special headdress” (Garner, 220).

This is a lesson that preacher could have learned from my mother-in-law. When the scandal of women wearing pants first presented itself in the rural Appalachian community where she grew up, she understood that women‘s pants are not men‘s clothing: no man ever wore them! Nor should we confuse the simple, homespun tunic and cloak Jesus wore with the more colorful and ornamented garments of his female disciples. Common sense like that would correct a lot of peoples’ theology, and it should.

The moral of the story? Please do try to learn something about the historical context of the Bible before you make a career of trying to expound upon its message. Otherwise, you’re likely to get caught with your pants down.

Pretty Much Sums It Up

Deadlines looming, but this post by Johnny Pierce deserves a link:

Five ways to enliven the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting this year

1. As a point of order, ask if Louisville, Ky., was freely chosen by a planning committee — at Al Mohler’s urging — or predetermined by God before the formation of earth to be the 2009 meeting site.

2. Hang around the Southwestern Seminary booth until you can identify a true Baptist all by yourself.

3. Repeatedly and excitedly ask LifeWay bookstore workers when and where the book signing by Wade Burleson will be held.

4. Make a motion to boycott AT&T for having a logo similar to CBF.


5. Imagine Will Campbell is sitting beside you — and what he might say.

Of course, I’m fairly sure Wade Burleson’s book won’t be found at the LifeWay booth.

Snakes in a Church

I only link to this article because my family roots are in Bell County, Kentucky.

(H/T: Jim West)

Sabotage Made Simple

I’m confused. Is this suppposed to be advice for slowing down the Nazi war effort or for hamstringing a congregation? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I used to go to this church.

From an OSS “Simple Sabotage Manual” printed in 1944 (H/T: Evangelical Outpost):

(11) General Interference with Organisations and Production

(a) Organizations and Conferences

(1) Insist on doing everything through channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
(2) Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.
(3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible ‚Äî never less than five.
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
(5) Haggle over precise wordings of com¬?munications, minutes, resolutions.
(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
(7) Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reason¬?able” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
(8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision ‚Äî raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the juris¬?diction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

Well anyway, I’m heading off to Memphis tomorrow for the General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Anybody planning to attend feel free to look me up at the Smyth & Helwys booth.

And if you see anyone trying to sabotage the meeting, please inform the sergeant-at-arms.

A Delicate Balance

Someone’s comment in reference to something at work:

I’m having flashbacks to my ministry days in local church.  Dealing w/ crazies.  Trying to find the balance between grace and a baseball bat.