Here in Canada, a double double is how one orders a coffee—two creams, two sugars. For those with a love of literature, it hails to the witches in Macbeth. For fibre artists, it’s another ball of yarn entirely.
Most commentaries will make a point of talking about the seamless garment Jesus wore, but none that I’ve found so far have managed to explain exactly what it meant that Jesus had a tunic woven seamlessly in one piece from top to bottom. I admit that I probably spent more time than I needed to looking into this.
As a weaver myself, I understood immediately the implications of a seamless garment. It’s what’s referred to as a double-weave, or in some cases, pocket-weave. In regular weaving, a single piece of cloth is woven on a loom. In the case of a double-weave, two pieces of cloth are woven on one loom at the same time. These pieces can be woven as two separate items or a single item as a tube (as in the case of John 19:23), or even as double cloth in which case the final product is a reversible item with identical, but inverted, patterning on both sides.
One commentary erroneously stated that such a garment was not necessarily a luxury item for it could be woven by a craftsman who had no exceptional skill. I beg to differ. I’ve been weaving for about four years now and would consider myself to work at an intermediate level. I’m no expert, but I’m not a beginner either. Double-weave is daunting. I have the skills and equipment to to it, but I have yet to even make an attempt.
What does this mean in relation to a single verse most people skip over? Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot.
Weaving in ancient times was primitive. The looms I own would have been a dream for weavers in Jesus’ day. Don’t even get me started on spinning wheels… On a modern loom, four shafts or sheds are required for a double weave. Each shed lifts a specific grouping of threads (warp) through which another thread is woven (weft). According to my research, these simple mechanical wonders didn’t exist 2,000 years ago. What existed was a basic wood frame and stone or clay weights add tension to the warp (vertical threads as shown below).
The garment described in John 19:23 is a fine and complex piece of weaving. It was an article of clothing that someone took much time and care to make. Some scholars believe Jesus’ mother, Mary, made the tunic herself. No matter who made it, someone obviously cared greatly and it was unlikely that the item was purchased since a tunic like the one described was most often made for priests who served in the temple.
First of all, the tunic was probably linen, which would have been imported from Egypt either as unprocessed flax or processed thread. Either way, it didn’t come cheap and easy. If it started as flax, someone had to process and spin it (another long, arduous, and complicated process). If it was already thread, it still had to be woven.
My take it that whoever made this piece of clothing for Jesus was someone who obviously cared about Him greatly and also recognised His authority as our High Priest.
So what does all of this have to do with any of us and why should it matter?
Some scholars liken Jesus’ tunic to righteousness—unbroken, seamless, perfect, that which covers without blemish. Look at it this way, this particular article of clothing remained whole through Jesus’ entire ordeal. And who got it in the end? A Roman soldier. A Gentile. One the Jews reviled.
What had once clothed Jesus as the Son of God would clothe a man unworthy of the garment.
What Jesus shed at the cross was something He most assuredly deserved. He had every right to everything the Father has. We had no right to it at all. But Jesus gave up that which was most valuable to Him so that we could be clothed in it. He gave up His rights so that we could take them on. Because He shed it at the cross, we get to take up that perfect, seamless garment of righteousness and wear it as though it was made for us.
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