Accessorizing with John the Baptist

The New Testament is chock-full of interesting characters – from Jesus and his disciples, to Mary Magdalene, to St. Paul, to Judas, Herod, Pontius Pilate, to the four horsemen of the apocalypse. But one character in particular who remains much revered in the realms of Christianity is John the Baptist, making his appearance near the beginning of all four gospels.

For instance, Matthew 3:1-3 reads: “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea. And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

Or, according to Mark 1:4-5: “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

And more from Luke 3:5-6: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

And John 1:28-29: “These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

So, Jesus came from Galilee to Judaea to be baptized by John in the River Jordan. John protested, saying “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” (Matthew 3:14) How awkward. But eventually everything got sorted out, John baptized Jesus, “and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him : And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” So, not a bad day overall.

And yet, although John the Baptist’s mention in the gospels is somewhat fleeting, focusing mainly on the baptism of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry, there are a number of revealing comments regarding clothing and accessories, beginning with Matthew 3:4: “And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins.” Mark 1:6 also comments on the Baptist’s attire with the following: “And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins.” Enough already about his loins – Oy vey!

By the way, camel hair was quite popular in those early A.D. days, especially on camels.

Additionally, Matthew 3:11 discusses footwear with the following comment : “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier that I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear.” Mark 1:7 goes one step further, saying: “There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.” And Luke 3:16 also makes mention of “the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose,” as does John 1:27 with “whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloosen.” What’s with this fixation on the latchet? It’s clear that Mark, Luke, and John are describing sandals, which were, of course, the preferred footwear of those preaching in the Judaea region in 30 A.D. (Although it did necessitate the constant bathing of feet that is so prevalent throughout the New Testament.)

As an aside, there was this one particular Judaean preacher who wore high-tops, but he was swiftly stoned by a band of religious zealots and his sneakers were stolen.

Luke 3:10-11 refers to John the Baptist discussing outerwear with this brief exchange: “And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none.” John did not make any such stipulation concerning hats or gloves, nor of scarves, boots, hand muffs, nor of any other accessories.

Finally, Matthew 3:12 makes mention of “Whose fan is in his hand.” Hand-held fans were all the rage in those days, after all, the Holy Land was a hot place in such biblical times before air conditioning.

Next time, we’ll discuss the practice of foot bathing, so bring along a bar of soap and some fragrant oils.

Jack Sheedy

Co-author of Cape Odd and Cape Cod Harvest, available at a library near you.

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