Monday, February 16, 2009

Mary, Does that Sweatrag Look Rolled-up to You?

I saw this article about a month ago, did a little research then....seemed unpersuasive to me:

Why did Jesus fold the linen burial cloth after His resurrection? I never noticed this....
The Gospel of John (20:7) tells us that the napkin, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the grave clothes......
It goes on from there, you can find it online all too easily. The rest of this post won't make sense without reading the original article.

The article's based on the King James version of John 20:7, and depends a good bit on the English words napkin, and folded.
The word napkin shows up 3 times in the whole KJV:

Luke 19:20 And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:

John 11:44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

John 20:7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.

Napkin's a translation of σουδάριον, soudarion, from the Greek stem for sweat, with the following Bible meanings (per Strong's Concordance):

1) a handkerchief

2) a cloth for wiping perspiration from the face and for cleaning the nose and also used in swathing the head of a corpse

Notice in none of the 3 occasions napkin is used in the KJV does it have anything to do with eating or mealtime (nor do Strong's definitions). Later translations than the KJV (I checked about half a dozen) don't say napkin anywhere, since its use in the KJV is now archaic, and its modern association with mealtime can be confusing.

Now, folded is intended to translate the Greek word ἐντυλίσσω, entylisso, which has the following Bible meaning:

to roll up, wrap together.

In the KJV NT entylisso is used only 3 times:

1. Matt 27:59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth...

2. Luke 23:53 And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.

3. John 20:7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.

In no case does the online KJV I searched substitute the word fold for wrap. About half of the later translations say fold here; the others say wrap or roll up.

The NT KJV does use the English verb fold once, by the way, here:

Heb 1:12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

The word the KJV is translating is ἑλίσσω, helisso, which isn't really the Greek word for fold, anyway (that's δίπλωμω, diplomo; like some English word...I forgot what it is).

Helisso and entylisso are related, they have the same root meaning of rolling or twisting, which is like our Greek loanword helix. So even the Greek word the KJV translates as fold has rolling or twisting as its base meaning. As it turns out, later translations don't say folded, but rather rolled up. My guess is the KJV team used fold since people in their day (and ours) would fold clothes, not roll them up; but later translators used rolled up to stay closer to the Greek verb.

So the whole business in the email about folding napkins at mealtime is made up as far as I can tell.

The only significance I know of regarding the rolled-up headcloth is that it shows Jesus' body was not hurriedly snatched by robbers, e.g, in the Exposition of the Old and New Testaments (1708–1710) by Matthew Henry:

"The grave-clothes were found in very good order, which serves for an evidence that his body was not stolen away while men slept. Robbers of tombs have been known to take away the clothes and leave the body; but none ever took away the body and left the clothes, especially when it was fine linen and new. Anyone would rather choose to carry a dead body in its clothes than naked. Or, if those that were supposed to have stolen it would have left the grave-clothes behind, yet it cannot be supposed they should find leisure to fold up the linen."
Next thing you know, someone will be adding other jots & tittles on their own this:
So halten wir nun dafür, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, allein durch den Glauben.
(Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone without the deeds of the law)
Just speculating.