Did Jesus Wear Tassels?

By

The men of that region recognized him and sent out to all the country nearby and brought to him all those who were sick. They begged him that they might touch merely the tassels of his garment. And all those who touched it were healed (Matthew 14:35-36).

Why would Gentiles in what is now Jordan beg to touch the Jewish prayer tassels hanging from Jesus’ garment, as they hung from every Torah-observant Jewish man’s garment? Jewish men wore these tassels in obedience to Numbers 15:38-39: Tell the men of Israel to make tassels on the corners of their garments . . . and to put a cord of blue on them . . . as a reminder to obey all the commandments of YHWH. On Jesus’ obedience to all the commandments, see my previous article, “Did Jesus reject the Jewish law?”

What is the “hem of his garment”?

First, let us see that Jesus did indeed wear these tassels that still hang today from the sides of Orthodox Jewish men. The Greek word that Matthew uses, kraspedon, is typically translated hem (as in hem of his garment) here and elsewhere in the gospels (Matthew 9:20; 23:5; Mark 6:56; Luke 8:44) But kraspedon is the same word used for tassels in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was nearly universally used by Jews in the first century).

Sponsored

The reason why we don’t usually see this word translated as tassel(s) in most English translations is Christian ignorance (even among scholars) of the deep Jewishness of Jesus and the gospels. This goes back to modern New Testament scholarship which in the 18th and 19th centuries was principally centered in Germany, where there was an Enlightenment-inspired effort to separate Jesus from his Jewishness. If you wonder if there is a connection between these efforts and the Holocaust, you would not be far wrong.

More and more scholars are agreed that Jesus was far more Jewish than moderns have imagined, and that Jesus was thoroughly Torah-observant. So he “no doubt” wore tassels according to the renowned New Testament scholar Craig Keener, and especially here in this healing (Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary at Matthew 14:36).

Healing in his wings

But why would this be significant? Why would these gentiles on the east side of the Jordan beg to touch his tassels? We can see several clues in the Old Testament. Malachi wrote in the Septuagint that the Messiah (who the rabbis taught was Malachi’s sun of righteousness) would have healing in his wings (Malachi 4:2). The Greek word for wings was used by Jews for the four corners of their prayer shawl, and the Torah commanded them to attach tassels to these wings of their garment (Numbers 15.38). Malachi prophesied, then, that the Messiah would have healing in the tassels tied to the four corners, as Torah commanded (Deuteronomy 22:12), of his garment.

It is also significant that a Jewish man’s tassels, which were often customized by a man, represented his authority and person. This is why King Saul begged to keep his throne by tearing off the wings of Samuel’s garment (1 Samuel 15:27). It is also why David cut off the wings of Saul’s robe in the cave at En-gedi:

And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a wing of Saul’s robe (1 Samuel 24:4-5).

The tassels on the corners represented the authority of both Samuel and Saul.

Even Gentiles knew

Back to Jesus in Gennesaret. The New Testament tells us that a considerable part of Jesus’ ministry was conducted on the east side of the Jordan in the “ten (Greek) cities” or Decapolis (from deka for “ten” and polis for “city”), formed after the Roman conquest of the region by Pompey in 63 BC. Even though these were Greek cities full of Gentiles, there were enough Jews scattered around—and news of Jesus’ healings had spread—to share their rabbis’ teaching that the Messiah’s tassels would communicate healing.

This is why, for example, the woman with bleeding for twelve years grabbed for Jesus’ kraspedon or tassels to be healed (Matthew 9:21).

And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassels of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well” (Matthew 9:20-21).

A recent episode in The Chosen series (at 34:45) shows this woman grabbing Jesus’ blue and white tassels.

And this explains why Matthew tells us that all those who touched the tassels of his garment were healed (Matt 14:36). These Gentiles knew that the Messiah would have healing in his tassels. For Jewish men wore tassels, and their personal identity was centered there.

Published on

March 1, 2023

Author

Gerald McDermott

Gerald McDermott serves as Distinguished Professor of Theology at Jerusalem Seminary, priest-in-residence at Holy Cross Anglican Church in Crozet, VA.

View more from Gerald McDermott

Comments

Please comment with both clarity and charity!

Subscribe to Comments
Notify of

4 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments