Sunday, December 17, 2006

Swaddling Clothes

I learned something new today from Ronnie White. The story of Christ's birth as reflected in Luke holds deeper meaning than I realized. I'm sure you've heard the reference from the King James version in Luke 2, "And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." New versions have just called in cloth.

But the question arises, why would a baby in cloth be a "sign" to the shepherds that this was the Christ-child? The angel didn't mention the manger first, he mentioned the swaddling clothes. What is it about swaddling clothes that would be a sign?

The term swaddling clothes is still used today by nurses who wrap the baby after birth. Unfortunately, that term is a 2000 year old misnomer. The origin comes as a result of the harsh countryside in the Middle East. As people took off on trips that often lasted days into months, it was not uncommon for sickness or accident to take place. There we deaths in these journeys.

They Middle Eastern culture developed a way to deal with in-journey deaths. Each person would take a long, thin, gauze-like cloth and wrap it around their waist many times. This would be one of the bottom layers of clothing. This cloth would be reserved for death. If someone died during the journey, their friends or family would remove the "swaddling cloth" and wrap them from head to toe so they could compete the journey.

The baby Jesus was wrapped in Joseph's death cloth. The sign for the shepherds wasn't that they'd find a baby wrapped in a blanket in a manger. The sign was that they'd find a baby prepared for death. Jesus came to earth to die for our sins. That was his purpose. This was shown even from the instance of his birth.

What a God.

By the way... this makes the wise man's gift of myrrh even more appropriate. Myrrh was the spice used for death. It was basically deodorant for the dead. Even though the wise men didn't actually show up until he was toddler, the theme continues.

Merry Christmas....

13 comments:

Lana said...

So the baby Jesus was wrapped in the death clothes of a man named Joseph, and thirty three years later was buried in the tomb of a man named Joseph?

You're right. What a God.

Kim C. said...

Very interesting. It does make sense that the swaddling cloth would be something unusual rather than the norm; otherwise it would do the shepherds no good to look for it as a sign.
"You will find the baby wearing a diaper lying in a crib." Not real helpful.
:)
Do you have any sources or footnotes to help support this before I go tell everyone?

Gary Moyers said...

As I said, I got this from our Sunday message, but here are some interesting articles about it... some are more bloggish while others have a little scholarly info behind them:

http://www.gentle.org/News/article/sid=262.html

Also there is a reference to it it:
http://www.saintjohnsbible.org/educator/birth.htm

Also:
http://mentaltesserae.blogspot.com/2006/12/christmas-wrappings.html

And:
http://www.sacred-texts.com/etc/fcod/fcod06.htm

Also:
http://www.madisoncatholicherald.org/2005-12-22/bishop.html

A good one:
http://www.angelfire.com/mt/tabor/Christmas.html

Mark said...

An intriguing thought, but having looked at your references, the jury's still out on this one for me. One of your references, http://www.angelfire.com/mt/tabor/Christmas.html, says that the Greek word for swaddling clothes is the same one used for burial cloths. However, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all use the word sindon for the linen strips used to wrap Jesus' body after the crucifixion. John uses keiria to describe the burial clothes of Lazarus and othonion for the linen strips left behind in the tomb after Jesus' resurrection. Conversely, Luke's account of the birth uses the verb sparganoo, to swaddle. The word also occurs in the LXX (Greek translation of the OT) in Ezekiel 16:4 in a context that can only refer to the typical wrapping of a newborn. Sparganon, the noun form of Luke's verb, is cited by Thayer in Euripides, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Plutarch, and others, all in the sense of "infant's swaddling clothes." Liddle and Scott also cites the same sense in Homer.

There was no mention in any Greek language source I consulted of the sparganon word group in reference to burial cloths.

I'm open to further evidence, but for now, I have to say it's an intriguing idea, but I wouldn't state it is fact.

tammy said...

I was also very intrigued by this idea, but unfortunately, I have not found the historical data to substantiate this. Is there any Jewish history references to burial cloth being used on journeys?

Bill and Sheila said...

This is a very interesting thread. In the mid 70's I heard a series "Life of Jesus from a Jewish Perspective" by Arthur Fruchtenbaum. I looked him up and he has a website at http://www.ariel.org/outlines.htm. His catalog shows the Life of Jesus study which may have more info. Basically he said that swaddling clothes were grave clothes because the shepherds would recognize them as being different from the normal baby clothes. The added info about them being Joseph's is interesting.

Bill Moyer

Benitta said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Lucy

http://toddlergirls.net

Benitta said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Lucy

http://toddlergirls.net

J Hill said...

According to Jimmy DeYoung, Jewish scholar, the swaddling clothes were typical of a new-born lamb that was bred for sacrifice. The shepherd/priests would swaddle the lamb and place it in a manger until it settled down from the birth. This would protect if from possible injury and thus rejection as a sacrificial animal. When the lamb calmed, they would release it to feed from its mother. What was special about the swaddling clothes, was that this baby, God's Son, was born as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. (see Day of Discovery, Bethlehem: Beyond the Christmas Story.

E. said...

Gary Moyers thank you for your swaddling clothes article and to everyone else thank you for your comments. Please read for yourselves the book of Mark 14:50-52 says that when the soldiers took Jesus, "They [His followers] all forsook Him and fled. And there followed Him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: and he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked."

Is this the same kind of linen that you and everyone else is talking about? I will be waiting your or anyone else's response.

Thank you, Bobby

Kathy C Collins said...

I have never heard the message like this and was so amazed upon reading this blog. I had to share it this morning with my two sisters over coffee and posted it to my FB as well....God Bless!

Prairie Stitcher said...

Dear Gary: I had heard this story before and, while blogging this morning, thought I would see if I could find, online, the story I had heard. This is what I heard in a religious meeting a few years ago: swaddling clothes (a long white winding cloth) were woven for a baby at birth, among the Hebrews. The baby was "swaddled" in them at birth and the person was, again, wrapped in them, at death. The Hopi Indians have a similar tradition, (learned, perhaps from early contact with Sephardic Jews)where a young woman betrothed has a blanket woven for her of white wool, which she wears at her wedding ceremony. Woven into one corner, is a strand of bright red wool, a symbol of birth and death. When she dies, she is wrapped in the same blanket in which she was married. Lovely symbols, I think.

Joan said...

This is a revelation that I had never heard before. Thanks for sharing it!