A Question I Was Asked:

Did Jesus Wear a Tassel to Identify Him as a Jew?

The Question:

You have answered the question, "How come the Samaritan knew Jesus was a Jew?," (Answer signed by Robin A. Brace, 2006), by explaining that Jesus undoubtedly betrayed his own culture (mannerism, accent, behavior etc) by speaking to the woman when asking for water. You also say that probably not all the words in that conversation are recorded in John 4. But you should take into account Numbers 15:37 where all Jews are required to mark the ending of their dresses/robes with a blue strip and ribbon.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, let us look at this Scripture:

The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: "Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord your God.'" (Numbers 15:37-41, NIV).

You make a good point and I am adding one or two comments to my earlier article on this subject in the light of what you say.

However, in general terms, we know that many Jews did not obey this instruction and did not make this adjustment to their clothing. Having said that, Jesus probably did, although it is a little hard to be certain. We should bear in mind that Jesus is critical of the Pharisees for making outward amendments to their clothing as indicators of their righteous status.

The strongest evidence that Jesus fulfilled this instruction is possibly Matthew 9:20 which states:

And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. (Matthew 9:20, NKJV).

Renowned Bible commentator Adam Clarke was in no doubt that this refers to this tassel which this woman touched, but others are less convinced on this point. The Pharisees certainly observed this and may well have gone a bit beyond what was required of them.

For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. (Matthew 23: 4-5).

The big question is whether Jesus fulfilled the law given in Numbers - as a faithful Jew - or whether, as the Second Person of the Trinity Who would soon inaugurate the New Covenant, He chose not to do so, since many of His comments directed against the Jewish religious leaders of His day, were aimed against outward shows of righteousness, that is: 'shows' but with no substance. Probably Jesus did fulfill this law but undoubtedly in an inconspicuous manner compared to the Pharisees.

So is this why the Samaritan woman knew that Jesus was a Jew? I still cannot be sure on this point; possibly yes, but she may well have noted other thngs about Jesus before even spotting the hem of His garment.

For those who want a bit more information on these specific borders/tassels, Adam Clarke wrote:

"...and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments, throughout their generations: the garments on which these fringes were put were such that were made either of linen or of woollen; no other were obliged to them by the law; but according to the Rabbins other garments were also, yet only square garments, which they call the Talith; and if that had not four skirts to it, it was free from them (a): on this square garment, and the four corners or skirts of it, were the fringes put; which were a sort of pendants or tassels, which hung down from it, which consisted of eight white woollen threads, sometimes four, sometimes eight or twelve fingers broad (b); there were four of them, one at each skirt or corner of the garment: they were, as another writer says (c), made of eight threads broad, each of them being knit to the middle with five knots, and of wool spun on purpose for this use; and these were to be wore by them throughout their generations until the Messiah came, and they seem to have been worn by him, Matthew 9:20 however, it is certain they were worn by the Pharisees in his time, Matthew 23:5; at present this four cornered garment is not any where in common use among the Jews, instead of which they wear, under their other garments, a kind of square frock, with the fringes or tassels fastened to it, and this they call Arbah Canfot; and in their schools, and at certain times of prayer, they put on a certain square woollen vestment, with the said pendants fastened at each corner, and this they call Talith."

And John Gill wrote:

"...and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a riband of blue; or a blue lace, a piece of blue tape, which bound and kept the fringe tight and close, and being of a different colour, the fringe being white, made it the more conspicuous: the reason why this colour was used, the Jews say (e), was, because it was like the sea, and the like the sky, and the sky like the throne of glory: this blue, hyacinth, or purple colour, as the Jews generally take it to be, was of a peculiar dye; the manner of making which is now unknown to them, and therefore they use only the white."

Robin A. Brace, July 20th, 2012.