Guest Post – Clothes Make the Man Part Two

This is the second part of the first post from Dan Belnap.

Clothing and Definitions
But the Garden story is not wholly concerned with nakedness, or rather remaining in a state of nakedness. There are also two scenes concerning the preparation and presentation of clothing. If nakedness represents the loss of one’s identity, which Adam and Eve have, then clothing represents one’s identity, and changes of clothing may represent new identities. It has long been recognized that clothing are powerful symbols as to the status and authority of an individual by defining the individual. The choice of clothing by the individual tells us both how he or she views him or herself, and how they wish to be defined by others. As others have noted, clothing acts as like a language, silently providing clues as to how this individual is to be perceived and therefore interacted with. As one scholar put it, “more than any other material product, clothing plays a symbolic role in mediating the relationship between nature, man, and his sociocultural environment.” Therefore, understanding the symbolic role that clothing plays in the definition of the individual is particularly important when clothing is presented in the text. This can done in two ways: 1) by reviewing the way in which the wearing of clothing represented the identity, including new identities with changes of clothing, and 2) and by studying the act of giving clothing to others thereby providing new identities and definitions.

In the ancient Near East clothing, or a piece of clothing, literally represented the individual. It is well known that in ancient times, the color purple could only be worn by royal figures, thus if one saw someone wearing purple one knew automatically the social structure. In ancient Mesopotamia, a professional diviner would place a lock of his hair and a piece of the hem of his robe as his identifying mark in his reports to the king. Elsewhere in Mesopotamia, actual imprints of hems worked the same way as signatures for legal documents. This is especially true for the upper classes, where the variety of weaves and designs provided a personalized way to differentiate one from the other nobility, acting as a form of personal ID.

In the Old Testament the identification of an individual is also connected to the clothing one wears. Moreover, one’s status and identification experienced a transformation when a change of clothing takes place. The most obvious example of this is recorded in Exodus 28, where we learn that the clothing of the high priest, Aaron’s garments, are made in order to “consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.” Later in the chapter, this special set of clothing is made “for glory and for beauty (v. 40).” By wearing this costume, Aaron and his sons are transformed from ordinary men to the priests of God. As one scholar has put it, “With the vestment the priest puts on the “character” of divinity. By change of vestments he multiplies the divine force, while showing its different aspects.” This transformation and new identity is demonstrated in Leviticus 10 when Aaron is not allowed to mourn the death of his sons in the traditional manner, in a ritualized nakedness: “Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes.., but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail (v. 6).” Instead they are to remain in the priestly clothing, having lost their old identity, only to be given another symbolized by the exchange of clothing.

Another biblical scene demonstrates the new identity given with clothing. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah places his cloak on Elisha, making Elisha the next prophet, symbolized by an exchange of clothing. Elisha, by receiving the cloak gains a new identity not had earlier, that of the presiding authority. This exchange is still used today in the church when we refer to setting apart of an individual as placing a “mantle” on that person, as if we are clothing them, setting them apart, and giving a new identity. Elsewhere, the spirit of God is depicted as being placed on an individual as a piece of clothing. In Judges 6:24, the Hebrew reads, “the Spirit clothed Gideon” suggesting that clothing, being dressed and being worthy of the Lord’s spirit are one and the same. Finally, one last great example of new definitions based on new clothing can be seen in 1 Samuel 18:3-4. At this point, Jonathan and David covenant because of the mutual love for each other. To emphasize the covenant, Jonathon “stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.” By accepting this, David has symbolically become Jonathan, and for Jonathan’s part he now sees no difference between himself and David, David having symbolically become him.

This reference also demonstrates the second symbolic aspect of clothing, as representative of the relationship between the giver and the receiver. In this account, it is Jonathan that gives the clothes, not David; David merely receives. Symbolically, this demonstrates that it is Jonathan who is in the superior social position. It is he that can help David and redefine him by giving him a new identity. Thus not only is the clothing itself symbolically significant, but also the exchange of clothing. So also, the transfer of his cloak to Elisha demonstrates that Elijah is the one who is presiding, it is he who transfers that authority to Elijah. It is this symbolic aspect associated with clothing that gives emphasis to Nephi’s cry, “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me with thy robe of righteousness (2 Nephi 4:33)!” The giving of clothing symbolizes that one will protect and watch over the one receiving the clothing. This in turn makes sense of one particularly interesting verse in Isaiah.

In Isaiah 3:6-7, we read that after the captivity of all the natural leaders in Jerusalem one will say to his brother, “Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let not this ruin come under thy hand.” What is being discussed is both the possession of clothing, denoting the leadership held by the brother, and his ability to transfer clothing, denoting his protective abilities (let not this ruin come under thy hand) and his ability to redefine those under him, giving them an identity lost through the Babylonian captivity.

Clothing, Being Clothed, and the Garden of Eden
Having recognized their nakedness, it is Adam and Eve who clothe themselves first. This first set of clothing symbolizes the new definition and identity by which they separate themselves from God. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “apron” refers to a piece of clothing that wraps around the whole body. Moreover, note how the clothing also reflects what they actually do. Having clothed themselves they now hide among the trees. The clothing itself is made out of leaves. The clothing acts as camouflage. Note also that elsewhere we learn that it is Satan who explicitly points out that they are no longer what they were and therefore needing a new identity. Their act of hiding is symbolically represented in their clothing. Both represent their new identity, they are no longer worthy of God’s presence.

This exchange is tempered later, where, prior to their expulsion from the Garden, they are dressed again. This time though, instead of making clothes themselves, and thereby symbolically defining themselves, they receive clothing from someone else, God. At this point, all the above discussion comes into play. By giving them the clothing God effectively does two things. First, he demonstrates symbolically that though they must leave he will watch out and protect them. Second, this second set of clothing will act to define them and give them a new identity according to God’s definitions. In other words, this second set of clothing is the identity that God wants them to know about themselves. And what is that definition? Elsewhere we learn that the garments given are representative of the veil and the veil represents Christ. In Hebrews 10 we are told, “having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say his flesh.” Two concepts pop out here. The first is that thanks to Christ’s atonement we may enter boldly the presence of God. Boldness denotes confidence, assurance, surety of purpose. Exaltation will not come as a surprise. One will know whether or not they will receive exaltation. They will gain it boldly. The second concept is that the veil of the temple represents the flesh of Christ. Thus, the garments represent the flesh of Christ. Thus God clothed Adam and Eve in Christ thereby redefining them as equals to Christ, or “heirs, joint-heirs with Christ.” The symbolic transfer of clothing suggests that God’s definition is not the same as ours. He sees us as beings worthy by right to receive exaltation. This is made clear in the final scripture I wish to discuss.

In Hebrews 2 we read the following passages: But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him (God the Father) for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons (us) unto glory, to make the captain (Christ) of their (us) salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he (Christ) that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified (us) are all one for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” Note a few things, first because of who we really are Christ is not ashamed to call us equals. He views as equals, equals in all things. We may have less power and authority and knowledge now, but he sees as beings who have rights to have the same as he does. Now understanding this we can read verse 12 in a new light. Note that the one speaking would be Christ, “for which cause is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, “I (Christ) will declare thy name (us) unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I (Christ) sing praise unto thee (us).” This promise most assuredly demonstrates how Christ and God define us. If Christ is willing to sing praise unto us does it not show the real nature of who we are? And if God clothes us in Christ does that not also represent how he defines us? The promise depicted in verse 12 is simply beautiful. It become simply unbelievable when one notes that in verse 11 it is ultimately God the Father who sanctifies us all, including Christ, who is his firstborn. When read this way, it is God the Father who is not ashamed to call us brethren and who will sing praise to us among his brethren. At this point, one cannot but feel overwhelmed at the definition God has provided. And that is the point. Ultimately God wants us to know that we are his equals and that is how he sees us. Could any greater gift have been given to man when left on their own?

8. Peterson, „The propensity to understand ourselves in relation to others and God by virtue of our habits of dress is a deeply rooted aspect of our human condition.

9. Jacob Milgrom, “Of Hems and Tassels: Rank, Authority, and Holiness were Expressed in Antiquity by Fringes on Garments,“ Biblical Archaeology Review 9/3 (1983), 61-5.

10. Philo of Alexandria and Josephus both describe the high priest’s clothing as covered in images symbolizing the cosmos and thus those robes stand as the universe itself. It is a long-standing tradition that the robes of the high priest are in fact the same garments given to Adam prior to the expulsion. Thus, the garments themselves would have represented the cosmos. See also Blake Ostler, “Clothed Upon: A Unique Aspect of Christian Antiquity,” in Brigham Young University Studies 22 (1982), 31-45, 35: “E. Goodenough, in his study of Jewish symbolism, discovered in Christian art the garment and robe were marked with signs at right angles, the gamma or square, or simply with a straight bar with prongs. He concluded that the marks had some religious significance or symbolic force. It should be noted that the ancient garment bore the same tokens as the veil of the temple at Jerusalem. In the Testament of Levi, for example, the veil is ‘enduma’ of the angel or the personified temple. Many ancient texts confuse the garment with the veil of the temple, such as Ambrose of Milano’s Tractate of the Mysteries or the Hebrew Book of Enoch where ‘garment’ and ‘veil’ are used interchangeably. Enoch is clothed with the veil in the Hebrew Book of Enoch: “The Holy One . . . made me a throne similar to the throne of glory. And He spread over me a curtain [veil] of splendour and brilliant appearance of beauty, grace, and mercy, similar to the curtain [veil] of the throne of glory, and on it were fixed all kinds of lights in the universe.”