Thursday, April 18, 2013

Clothes and Headcoverings of First Century Jewish People

The article, "The Clothing of Jews in the Time of Jesus," by Alice Pfeifer, of Demand Media, describes the clothing that is commonly believed to be worn by the modest Jew at the time of the early Roman Empire. Based on readings rather than illustrations of life from that time, since there have been none found, we remember the teachings found in the Law of Moses, which found nudity shameful, and considered partial dress to be nakedness. The author refers to Biblical scholars John L. McKenzie and Michael Marlowe when outlining the dress of women of the day:
photo found in Michael Marlowe's "The Woman's Headcovering"
 McKenzie says that differences of style and cut must have existed between men's and women's clothing, or else the prohibition against cross-dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5 would make little sense. One difference was that a Jewish woman wore a longer, ankle-length tunic. Also, her head was wrapped in a veil that had ends extending to the floor. * According to Marlowe, she added a face veil whenever outside her home. The only time she let her hair show in public was on her wedding day.
* from Dictionary of the Bible, page 145, by John L. McKenzie

A difference in dress exists between the Jews of the time and the Greek and Roman traditions pictured of that time as well.
Although Jews living in a city like Corinth may have adopted a few minor details of local style, they still maintained uniquely Jewish habits of dress. They did not imitate Greco-Roman working men, for example, who wore short tunics that extended only to mid-thigh. Although Greco-Roman women maintained modest floor-length tunics, they did not always cover their heads. Scholars debate the circumstances that determined their choices. Greek women could choose among a variety of head coverings, including veils, scarves, headbands and other items. Roman women sometimes wore veils.
Why is this distinction important to the head covering Christian or Jew, or to those who seek to understand why some Christians and Jews cover their heads? Because it is during the ancient times and teachings that traditions began, and where we find purpose for headcoverings.

Under the Law of Moses, the women of God dressed modestly, and we can draw from necessary inference that it was natural to find good women covered in public, to draw their veils over their heads or faces in the presence of men outside the family, especially at their wedding.

In the days of Christ, the Jewish women would have covered their heads still, regardless of how the nations around them lived. How many times had they been warned of the prophets of God to come out from the other nations and be holy? So when they became Christians and devoted their lives to the teachings of Jesus, would they have thrown off their modest ways, or continued in them, knowing that they were a part of a holy nation still?

Paul addresses this tradition in the letter 1 Corinthians, and encourages women to continue to cover their heads, whether they are Jewish or Greek or whatever. He appeals to headship of God over Christ over man over woman, and the order of creation, that women were created for men - pointing out, of course, that this doesn't mean that man is whole without a woman, since men come through women in the births. Paul appeals to nature, asking them to notice how women were even given a mantle of hair to cover themselves, so should they not want to keep their heads covered? But he doesn't stop with this hair comparison; he specifically compares a woman not covering her head in worship with a man covering his head in worship, pointing out that both of these examples are not appropriate. If a woman's hair is the covering he's writing about here, then we would have to assume that men are to all shave and go bald when worshiping, so that they are not covered.

Many people believe that Paul is merely talking about local or Jewish culture, but neither of these things is mentioned in this letter. Some will point out that this is Paul's opinion and not Jesus' teaching, but this would mean that we can trust none of the teachings passed on by Paul. What we draw from this is that Paul took it for granted that a modest, God-fearing woman would want to cover her self and her "glory" (her hair, in this passage) during worship (prayer and prophecy). It was so taken for granted that for centuries before and after the First Century, holy women are pictured with a head covering, even in cultures without strong Jewish or Christian presence.

Sometimes, the elders in a culture have to insist on women covering, because the young "don't get it," and fail to keep the traditions of respect and honour, and modesty, whether sexual modesty or just plain modesty, to keep them from showing themselves off. I think the elders are just keeping up ancient traditions that have been taken for granted. Who would have thought that their culture would come to a time where head coverings which were good and humble and pure would be forgotten, sneered at, and traded for either men's short hair or hair styles and colours, hair sprays, braids and curls? But, here we are.

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