patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

john the baptizer's outfit

So much about clothes in the accounts of John the Baptizer. According to Mark, “clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist” (1:6 NIV). Matthew says about the same thing: “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist” (3:4). In all four gospel accounts of John preaching and baptizing in the desert, John mentions Jesus’ sandals—which John feels himself “not worthy to carry” (Matthew 3:11) and the straps of which, in Mark's account, John professed himself “not worthy to stoop down and untie” (1:7).

Camel hair, these days, in the U.S., is a fine fabric, mostly used for businessmen’s winterwear. The same men rarely wear sandals, even in summer, even on vacation.

Other translations describe the belt as “a girdle of a skin about his loins” (KJV) or “a loincloth of leather” (Weymouth NT). And some translations add “coarse” to the description of the camel hair garment (NLT). And in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message, John is dressed in monks’ clothes: “John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt.”

Add in John’s diet—grasshoppers and honey he must have scraped himself from the odd beehive he might have found in his desert wanderings—and the picture is clear: he was hermit. Literally (or, etymologically, anyway), a desert-dweller, along the lines of John Muir or Obi-Wan Kenobi or Christopher McCandless, of Into the Wild fame. The original desert father, if you discount similar prophets of the Old Testament and Gautama Buddha.

Anyway, just thinking about how our clothes define us. (And about how difficult it is to get such definitions across in translations across cultures.)


  1. And a few great songs about John's clothes! Including Neko Case's "John Saw that Number," which blurs John the Baptist with John the Revelator. And the "Baptismal Anthem" on the Boston Camerata's American Christmas album. Both really different. Both really wonderful.