if you want to experience what he meant
saying- 78; a reed shaken by the wind – a man in fine garments.
(latest update: 07-12-2018).
Why have you come out into the desert/countryside?
To see a reed shaken by the wind?
And to see a man clothed in fine garments like your kings and your great men?
Upon them are the fine [garments],
and they are unable to discern the truth.
The reed shaken by the wind unlikely refers to John the Baptist (Plisch, 2008). Crossan (1998)
noticed that it doesn’t in Thomas, whereas it does in Q. He cites Theissen (1992) who noticed
that king Herod Antipas had minted coins with reeds on it. So the saying could mean to ask
sarcastically if the people think that they will find a sort of king, whereas in both cases, either
John or Jesus, they found quite the opposite. Because of historicity of the antithesis between
John and Herod, desert and palace, Crossan concludes that Thomas removed the reference to John,
and that the Q version is the original. However, the contrast between rich kings and great men on
the one side, and the Jesus’ people at the other, favors rather a saying of Jesus than of John, as it
was one of the central tenets of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus preached “the truth”; John
preached “repentance”. Besides, we should remember that the saying stems from Jesus
followers who kept Jesus’ words in honor, not from John’s followers who kept his
remembrance alive. So, I guess it was a saying of Jesus, who referred to himself.
Cameron (1990) also notes that the Thomas saying holds no reference to John or a prophet
figure. He translates ‘countryside’, rather than ‘desert’. One does usually not expect to come
across reeds in a desert, but there where one expects to find water. However, used as a literary
device the question could mean to state that one is unlikely to find what one is looking for. In
that case it rather suits the style of other Jesus’ sayings. As expression a reed shaken by the wind
could be also refer to someone who is of flimsy opinion on certain matters, depending on
circumstances. Also in the Aesopus fables, the bending reed refers to those who “go with the flow”
and bow to all whims of those in power. It may have been rather Jesus than John who told his
visitors in this way that they came in vain.
Jesus was probably visited by people from the towns or even the cities located farther away
from the area where he usually wandered, which was rural area – the countryside, the ‘dessert'.
They may have been attracted by stories about a fragile rabbi - a reed shaken by the wind .
Jesus just might have had a lean and even emaciated appearance due to his itinerant life style,
without regular meals. That Jesus and his followers were often hungry is mentioned in various
NT stories (Mark 11:12-14; Matthew 21:18-19) , and the famous story on plucking ears of grain
on the Sabbath in Mark 2:23; Matthew 12:1; Luke 6:1. Being accused in that story by the
Pharisees Jesus refers to a story of David who stole consecrated temple bread because he
was extremely hungry, which suggests that Jesus and his followers were in a similar state;
only Matthew explicitly states that the disciples indeed were hungry.
Theissen (1992) suggests that the itinerant lifestyle of Jesus’ followers would often
have left them hungry.
If Jesus meant by your great men the priesthood of the temple cult, as these similar to the
kings wore fancy linen instead of woolen cloths, (just as Jesus himself
might have done - see below), a certain degree of cynicism towards this category
cannot be denied here. Moreover, Jesus tells his visitors that because of the reason for their
visit they have nothing to expect from him, just as they have nothing to expect from their kings
and religious leaders as both categories cannot discern the Truth.
Worldly power and wealth, both the ultimate signs of obsessive clinging to
material existence, virtually exclude the Truth to be found.
Some considerations about Jesus’ clothes.
We read in Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, and Luke 23:34
that the soldiers took Jesus' clothes and divided these amongst themselves. According to
John 19:23 there were four parts to divide, which may have been his sandals, head-dress,
tunic and outer coat (with a girdle).
As these were of different value, the soldiers cast lots. However, the main reason might have
been the extraordinary value of Jesus coat or tunic (the tunic directly covered the body
whereas the coat was probably worn over the tunic in case of protection against the cold.
Various translations mix the two up - see below, e.g.). Considering the Palestinian climate,
during active teaching Jesus might not worn the outer coat, but only his tunic. Conspicuous
about Jesus' garment (so, likely his tunic) was for one thing as mentioned in John, that is was
woven in one piece. There were no armholes in it as usual and besides it was not sewn to
fit the body. So, it was not a piece of clothing altogether, but one seamless piece of woven
material , wrapped around the body (like Buddhist monks e.g. have done until today). Even more
conspicuous would he have looked if this "tunic" had not been made of wool, but of linen, the
clothing material of priests and the rich. Now the stories given by the evangelists about this
division of Jesus’ clothes during his Passion may well be ‘historicized prophesy’ rather than
‘history remembered’ (Crossan, 1995 – refers to Psalm 22:18 which says: they divide my clothes
among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots, and the Gospel of John even mentions that
this was done to fulfill scripture!), but there is a peculiarity mentioned about Jesus’ brother
James "the Just" , who is also mentioned as going dressed in linen only instead of wool. Wool
was the poor man's material (discussed by Crossan, 1998). We may see all kinds of
symbolism in Jesus' clothing ( despite his poverty he wore symbols of a priest or a king), but it
could well be that his family had easy access to linen fabric, and that he and his brother James
indeed wore such material. Regular, natural dyes were not only blue and purple, but also scarlet.
Now imaging this itinerant, skinny teacher preaching a weird kind of new teaching, using unfamiliar language, clothed with a one-piece woven scarlet blanket wrapped around his body - no wonder
people came out to the countryside to see this curious phenomenon. If spotted today, one
would held him for a wandering Buddhist luminary who lost his way. However, John might just
have indicated that it was Jesus’ tunic that was of one piece, just as that of the Temple priests,
to make an allusion to Jesus’ divine priesthood .
Vermes (2012) states that Jesus' cloak had tassels attached to it, which would pinpoint
him as a classical, law-abiding Jew, who had such appendages on their cloaks as a reminder
of the Law as was ordained in Numbers 15:37-41. In ancient Greek language, tassel would be
κρασπέδου (kraspedon), and as such it appears in the gospel of Mathew (9:20) and Luke(8:44),
whereas Mark only says “his garment” in the story of the woman with a bleeding problem
seeking to be cured by Jesus. Because of both Mathew’s and Luke’s dependence on Mark,
both might have had their own reasons to add the fringes to the story (Kloppenborg, 2008) ,
although elsewhere, Mark (6:56) tells of the people seeking to touch the kraspedon of
Jesus’ garment to be healed. However, kraspedon might also just refer to edge or border
of a cloak. Furthermore, Jesus’ original teachings are not very Law-like. Time and again he
violates the Torah in word and deed, and the wearing of a cloak with tassels as a Law
reminder would have been rather outlandish in his case. Furthermore, the historic veracity of whole
miraculous healing and exorcism side of Jesus remains doubtful from Thomas. Flavoring
stories with supra-natural performances, how unrealistic and even bizarre these may sound,
was (and still is!) performed as a formula to stress divine involvement from the perspective
that the divine is miraculous, (with the consequent, but actually illogical deduction that
therefore, everything miraculous is divine!) and the knowledge that many minds are receptive
to such flavoring. However, Thomas' Jesus rather stresses the natural character of things,
and does not invoke the supra-natural.
It looks a bit similar to Buddhism: in the most early stories about the Buddha he
remained Pyrrhonic about the supra-natural, just as still retained in Zen. However, later stories about
the Buddha are adorned with the most unrealistic, and fantastic supra-natural motives and