Was Jesus Crucified Naked?

by Steve Ray on April 17, 2014

A gentleman heard me on Relevant Radio earlier. I had mentioned on the air that one of the great humiliations of a crucifixion was that a man was crucified naked. This thoughtful gentleman wrote to challenge my comments. Below is his e-mail and my response.

Dear Mr. Ray,

Please correct your description of the Passion. You have said that Christ was crucified naked on the cross because it was the Roman way of executing condemned prisoners.

Realize that in Christ’s case the Romans were following instructions of the Jews—Pilate did not want to crucify Jesus, thus he finally gave orders that the soldiers do as the Jews requested. Thus the gospel explicitly describes how the Jews requested the legs of the condemned be broken so that their dead bodies would be removed before the Passover, and this was done per their request.

Nudity in 1st century Jewish culture brought shame to the beholder, and it was the Jews that had Jesus crucified—thus Jesus would have had a cloth to cever his loins, which is consistent with the visions of various mystics of the Church. Otherwise, the gospels would have mentioned the Jewish displeasure, much like it does with their demand to remove the sign above Christ’s head, had Pilate ordered Jesus to be stripped completely naked against the wishes of the Temple leaders.

God bless, A Friend

Dear Friend:

Thanks for writing– and for your thoughtful comments. I always appreciate feedback especially from studious listeners. Please take my comments below in the same irenic tone in which you kindly wrote to me.

However, I disagree with your assessment. There is no reason to believe that Jesus was crucified according to Jewish “specifications.” The Romans had little regard for the Jews, their laws and their sensibilities (e.g., Acts 18:12-17).

The Jews were very scandalized by the sign put on the Cross “Jesus, King of the Jews.” Yet when the Jews specifically went back to Pilate with the demand it be reworded, the Romans refused to change it or take it down even though that was probably more offensive to the Jews than the nakedness of a convicted criminal. Jews were also limited in the number of lashes one could receive, but they certainly paid no heed to that Jewish concern either. They were there to uphold Roman law, not cater to Jewish religious sentiments.

You say the Romans were instructed to do what the Jews requested, but that had only to do with Pilate’s willingness to grant the Jews request to have Jesus crucified instead of just flogged. It did not mean that the Romans wrote down a list of the Jewish sensibilities to insure that none of them were upset. The Romans were to do what the Jews requested only, presumably, in terms of their willingness to allow Jesus to be crucified even though Pilate found his innocent.

Even among the Jewish rabbis there was allowance for nakedness during execution. The Mishnah (Jewish tradition from earlier centuries compiled around 200 AD) records three opinions held among the Jews, saying,

A [When] he was four cubits from the place of stoning, they remove his clothes.
B “In the case of a man, they cover him up in front, and in the case of a woman, they cover her up in front and behind,” the words of R. Judah.
C And sages say, “A man is stoned naked, but a woman is not stoned naked.”

Here we have the recording of three Jewish traditions. Two out of three claim that a man was executed naked even among his own Jewish countrymen. If even the Jews stripped their own naked according to two out of three of their traditions, why would we think the Romans would practice more scruples than the Jews?

I would agree he was robed on the Via Cruses, but even Scripture says they divided his garments but for the outer garments they cast lots. There is NO indication that he retained covering, rather the soldiers divided them – outer and under clothes.

One good historical commentary says, “The replacement of Jesus’ own clothes for the walk to Golgotha was probably a concession to Jewish scruples about public nakedness (Jub. 3:30–31; cf. Gen 9:20–27). Crucifixion was normally naked, and in v. 35 Jesus’ clothes will again have been removed; m. Sanh. 6:3 specifies that the clothes should be removed only at the place of execution, not on the way there.”

An excellent commentary on the details of the life of Christ relays, “Even though Jesus has been flogged, Mark/Matt have Jesus dressed again before he sets out to the place of crucifixion. Normally the criminal, carrying the lateral beam of the cross behind his neck with his arms fastened to it, would go naked to the place of crucifixion, being scourged as he went. We know this from passing references in Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Roman Antiquities 7.69.2) and Valerius Maximus (Facta 1.7.4). Indeed, Josephus (Ant. 19.4.5; #270) reports that even Roman nobles involved in the assassination of Gaius Caligula had their clothes removed before being taken to the place of execution.

“In having the final disrobing of Jesus only at the place of execution (Mark 15:24 and par.), the evangelist may reflect a local concession that the Romans made to the Jewish abhorrence of public nudity. Josephus reports that the Roman tribune Celer, who was executed in Jerusalem by imperial order, was dragged across the whole city as a public spectacle before being beheaded; but there is no mention of his being disrobed (War 2.12.7; #246; Ant. 20.6.3; #136).”

Another commentator says, “To distribute the garments of Christ among the soldiers, the clothes had to be removed from Christ. Thus, Christ was crucified naked. The suffering was great at the crucifixion but so was the shame. No artist dares to picture Christ as naked—they put a loin cloth around Him for modesty. But Scripture indicates He was naked.”

Another says, “[T]he normal undergarment was either a tunic or a loincloth, and Jesus’ tunic was taken from him (v. 23; Brown 1970:902), it is perhaps more likely he was naked. Early Christian tradition is divided on the subject (cf. Brown 1994:2:953).”

Catholic Monk and prolific writer Thomas A Kempis wrote a meditative prayer on the death of Christ including the words, “Of the Crucifixion, naked, of the Lord Jesus; and of His hanging for many long hours aloft upon the Cross.”

Typical Crucifixion scene

In my opinion and others, there is NO reason to believe that the Romans covered Jesus’ privates with a loin cloth. In fact, it would be unreasonable to think they would do this since crucifixion was to be the final humiliation and degradation. They had very little respect for Jewish sensibilities in general. Even if they made a concession to the Jews by covering him as he processed through the streets, they would have removed his clothes at the site of the execution, even as the Jews did with their own executions. Roman custom gave the soldiers the right to appropriate for themselves all the clothes of the convict – kind of as a bonus.

And if you suggest they crucified Jesus with his loins covered, do you suggest that ALL executions were done with private parts covered? Were the thieves on his right and left also covered? I don’t think they treated Jesus differently than any other criminals crucified.

You mention various Mystics who have “revealed” that Jesus was covered on the cross. I suspect this has to do with pious puritanism more than historical reality. I often enjoy the writings of mystics and are benefited from them, but I don’t have a lot of confidence in their often contradicting visions, especially when it contradicts historical realities and Scripture.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to these revelations of Mystics in a category called “private revelation.” Commenting on private revelation the Church teaches, “Throughout the ages, there have been so-called “private” revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church. (no. 67)

Rembrandt's self-portrait in Dutch painters beret. HE raised Christ on the cross and we did too!

Just an interesting parallel to ponder: The first Adam was naked and due to sin had to be clothed; the last Adam was clothed but to redeem was stripped naked. The first brought death at the tree of life, the last brought life at the tree of death.

In this regard The Fathers of the Church loved to play with the concept of the naked Christ. In that regard I suggest, Jesus born naked in a cave provided by a man named Joseph and he was then wrapped in swaddling clothes. In his death he was stripped of his clothes and later covered by a shroud and placed in a cave provided by another man named Joseph.

Lastly, I agree that this goes contrary to all our Catholic sentiments of decency and modesty which is why artists always portray, and properly so, Jesus in a loin covering. But real life is not controlled by polite conventions especially in pagan Rome.

My friend, may you and those you love have a wonderful Easter and may the joy of our risen Lord Jesus shine in your heart for all of eternity. Thanks for your thoughtful e-mail.

Steve Ray

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Victor Rodrigues March 30, 2013 at 1:21 AM

Thanks for the insightful article. I’ve heard both sides of the argument before, and I’ve learnt more from both A Friend’s letter and Steve’s article. I have no opinion either way, and like some of the mysteries in scripture I am open to the insight of experts and future findings. Christ’s death on the cross, with or without the loin cloth, is a manifestation of God’s love for me.

Colin De Sa April 1, 2013 at 7:07 AM

Steve, I heard you speak in Dubai in Nov 12 . I also own a couple of your books and love reading them. A Protestant friend yesterday greeted me with the words ‘Happy Resurrection Day’ in a text and went on to expound how we must not use the word ‘Easter’ as its Pagan in Origin etc . I know the Eastern Christians use “Pascha” and the association with the Passover . However there are conflicting threads on Catholic Answers and someone there is even challenging something you’ve written. Can you please shed more light on this matter and write a detailed article like only you can?

God Bless

Teresa Leever April 1, 2013 at 7:54 PM

Ray, I too had a non-denominational pastor wish me ‘Happy Resurrection Day’ What’s with this?
I’ve heard some public schools are not allowing students to use the word ‘Easter’. Have our
Protestant friends gone mad or am I missing something?

Happy week after Easter.
Teresa

J. Goins June 22, 2013 at 7:36 PM

I am not Catholic but SDA. I ran across your comments while looking up something else. I also believe Christ died on the cross uncovered. I am just thankful that his blood covers my sins. I enjoyed reading your comments Mr. Ray.

May the God continue to bless you and your studies.

Brian Hawi January 6, 2014 at 7:34 AM

Wow…i never knew about this, crucifixion was the ultimate humiliation for our Lord. But i am beyond thankful that Christ reached into the darkness and pulled us out of the lost; and now we are found.

Dave Hodgson January 28, 2014 at 7:40 AM

I have belief but no belief in religeons whose desire to destroy the bodies of those who worship the same God with different devotions is truly evil,

STEVE RAY HERE: Huh? You make no sense. Who are you referring to as destroying people’s bodies? I can think of abortionists, euthanasiaists and pornographers. What are you referring to?

but my reason for making a comment is to ask why the body that is supoosed to be the work of God is disgusting and obscene to you?

STEVE RAY HERE: It is either of those two and never implied it was. The body is created by God, will exist forever and can be the temple of the Holy Spirit.

and why the body of the one you call your saviour is also so obscene and disguting to you that you devise ficticious garments to protect yourselves and your children from the sight?

STEVE RAY: It is a matter of modesty and prudence. The same reason neither you nor I go shopping in the nude.

Perhaps you think that you are protecting his modesty – a modesty that he refused in the name of truth.

STEVE RAY: Again, sorry you make no sense. He had his modesty stripped him as was his life.

Elaine February 8, 2014 at 2:59 AM

Jesus was considered to be “naked” while wearing a loincloth. According to wikipedia (search for “biblical clothing), Israelite men wore an apron like cloth next to the skin (which was a simple piece of cloth worn in various configurations), or an under-tunic ( an outfit similar to a long shirt). In time, anyone wearing nothing but one of these articles of clothing were considered to be naked. Thus, when Jesus was stripped of his clothing before being crucified, he would be considered naked even if he wore a loincloth

Raymond February 16, 2014 at 1:53 AM

There are several Michalangelo crucifixes in which the body of our Lord is naked. It is really not until the late 1400s that many such items were removed or covered.

Jerry February 21, 2014 at 10:26 AM

I thankyou for your studies and travels which I enjot very much on EWTN. I have always wondered whether Jesus was crucified naked. I personally believe that he was naked. I believe that that was the ” ignominy” of the cross.
People at the time of Chtist were no different than today. There was no surprise-in my opinion-that He was naked. I firmly believe that the crowds at that time were well aware that a person could and would be crucified with respect to the human person!
Thankyou for your references and your devotion to our Lord. May He bless your work and honesty for the programs and writings you put forward. why should we believe that the Romans of that time would have any compunction to the wishes of the Jews. Crucifixion was meant to be a warning that they were the boss and as a sign that one does not cross Rome in any manner. I’m sure that people knew that a crime need not be committed to be crucified! Remember that this was likewise a time of Passover and with the great crowds entering Jerusalem there had to be order at any cost!!!! Again, thankyou for your insight and study,

Jo Ann April 17, 2014 at 10:35 AM

When you look at the Shroud of Turin, there is no indication that Christ was wearing a loin cloth. Would they have taken the time to remove the loin cloth before wrapping Him in the burial shroud? Because of the Roman custom of crucifying criminals in the nude as a final humiliation, I do believe Christ was crucified naked. However, I have heard/read some comments that after He was crucified and hanging on the cross, some people (women?) attempted to cover Him up with a veil or some other type of cloth to maintain His modesty.

Theresa A Henderson April 17, 2014 at 10:41 PM

There was also the fact of his nakedness showing Him to have been circumcised. A “mark” of being Jewish hence the shame doubled as he was named “King of the Jews”. It was considered one of the proofs a man was Jewish.
There was no modesty in the brutality heaped upon Jesus. Anymore than there was for the Christians thrown to the lions. In art history many early depictions did show Him naked. And many of them were painted over.

Thomas Di Mattia April 18, 2014 at 10:16 PM

A very thorough answer! I pray wonderful answers such as this will move all of us to search out the best possible scholarship regarding what the scriptures meant.

Maria Fatima Pais April 19, 2014 at 12:46 AM

Thank you for the very interesting read. One goes through life listening to sermons but never pays attention to these things or even think about it. Yesterday at the Good Friday Mass I distinctly heard the priest read about the part when they took away Jesus’s inner garment which was seamless. I did wonder then what it meant but just accepted what was said.

Anna Macdonald April 19, 2014 at 10:24 AM

I forget which theologian I heard this from, but I was struck by the thought: that, in being crucified, Jesus not only redeemed death itself, but he redeemed a shameful death. The shame of being publicly naked ties in to that. Redeeming undeserved shame is significant for our own lives.

Brent Earley April 19, 2014 at 10:31 AM

The Venerable Mary of Agreda gives us a different perspective. One that has the hand of God in it and is very plausible, given His love of the BVM. In her four volume writings, divinely revealed, entitled ‘The Mystical City of God’, she wrote in chapter xvii & xx of Vol. III, how the BVM was given multiple graces by God during this most trying time. One being the answering of her prayer that, at Jesus’ crucifixion, His crucifiers not succeed in removing all His clothing. It is noted that God answered her prayer and allowed His cincture remained intact, despite the efforts made to remove it.

Steve Ray April 19, 2014 at 10:36 AM

Thanks Brent for sharing that. Much appreciated and glad for the continued discussion. I know you are not saying that her writings are required for belief. We must remember that this is private revelation and not required of the faithful to believe. Many mystics contradict each other and it is often pious sentiments which are put forth as fact. Here writings are very controversial as stated here: “According to María de Ágreda, the book was to a considerable extent dictated to her by the Blessed Virgin Mary and regarded the life of the Virgin Mary and the divine plan for creation and the salvation of souls. The book, however, makes a number of unusual claims and has remained controversial within the Catholic Church having been banned and restored a number of times over the centuries. In 1673, María de Ágreda was declared venerable soon after her death, but the process of her beatification has yet to be completed.[2] Beatification and canonization do not authenticate revelations, however.” (Wikipedia)

Sue Fin April 19, 2014 at 11:54 AM

I’m sorry but am I the only one that thinks that it finds even discussing it distasteful. I was not going to comment but I thought that my point of view should be heard because I believe I am not the only one that feels this way. I contemplate on the crucifixion regularly and never spend time on this subject.

STEVE RAY HERE: Sue, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter. I agree it is distasteful but it was the way it was. Sorry, but our dislike for something does not make it go away or mean it did not happen. I am not asking you or anyone else to spend time meditating on it; I am only stating the facts about crucifixion in Roman times and the utter shame and pain that accompanied such a death. It shows the ultimate price paid for our sins.

Dr. Eric April 22, 2014 at 9:15 AM

JoAnn gave a great reason why we should acknowledge that Our Lord was not spared any humiliation for our sakes. One can clearly see that He was naked when wrapped in The Shroud. There may be some debate as to its authenticity, but if one accepts it as genuine, one must acknowledge that the man in the image is naked. How utterly humiliating it must have been to hang there for hours on end, and then to have your mom have to witness that! Miserere me Deus!

Wangari Gachegu May 8, 2014 at 9:06 AM

I do not believe that it is right to shy away from the facts concerning Christ being disrobed while he was on the cross. I think it would be more helpful to reflect on what that shameful humiliation he bore on our behalf signified and bring us closer to Jesus. Jesus took our place of poverty, nakedness, wretchedness, blindness and pathetic living when he took up the cross. He is the Bridegroom and he purchased the bright ,clean, fine linen for his bride, the Church, allowing us to trade our righteousness which is like filthy rags and be clothed in His perfect righteousness.

God is truth and love. This is why the Scriptures never shy away from addressing matters that offend our sense of modesty.Contemplating on all the aspects of the cruxifixion, however distasteful or gory should ultimately lead us to the conclusion that our sin is ugly, grave and repulsive but God’s grace and mercy is undeniable. That is why we “cherish the old rugged cross.” Its shame and horror will speak eternally of our Savior’s relentless love for us.

Sasha June 9, 2014 at 9:26 AM

I have always believed in the paintings and photos I see until yesterday. I had a dream where I saw Our Lord Jesus Christ totally naked from behind. That was why I decided to do a research of it. Thank you for the insight. I do agree much more because God revealed it to me.

God bless you

Vijin Mariadhas July 14, 2014 at 12:53 AM

Dear Steve
I had a homily yesterday in Tamilnadu.India and mention this with an example. After the Mass 2 persons came and referred the jewish sentiments and told even if it is true better not to disgrace Jesus public.After I made a search and found this answers. I know truth is superior than modesty.i request you to enlighten me how to encounter indian catholics like those who give more importance to sentiments than truth?

Mike Archer August 15, 2014 at 2:30 PM

Steve: I’m in a study of Zechariah 3 regarding Joshua as the high priest. The High Priest garments served as a very strong symbol of how God is to be viewed and approached. It triggered a question in my mind regarding the crucifixion, namely, that Joshua was initially in rags because he was being accused by Satan in front of the “Angel of the Lord” (Jesus). Then the angel commands that he be robed in clean clothes as His representative to the people. This is the only place in the Bible where a priest is described as being dirty, but it goes along with Isaiah where it describes our righteousness as “filthy rags” in Isaiah 64:6. It just seems to me that it would be a requirement for Jesus to be naked on the cross as a symbolic gesture to counter the symbolism of the perfect garments provided to the high priest as God’s representative to the people. My thoughts may seem a little muddled here, but you get the idea. I’m still studying this, but I’m convinced there are several Old Testament tie-ins to a naked crucifixion.

Mike Archer August 15, 2014 at 2:52 PM

A further note of interest is that in Zechariah, the Angel of the Lord says that if Joshua keeps to the rules of the priesthood, He will remove the sin of “this land” in one day, meaning Israel. By extension, once we accept the act of the crucifixion is meant for us, our sins likewise are removed in one day, the reference being an immediate forgiveness of sin for Jerusalem and Israel. Joshua’s act of obedience while in the priestly garments for Israel is in direct agreement with our acceptance Jesus’ ultimate shame and sacrifice for the atonement of ALL sin. Acceptance of that act by each one of us removes our sins in one day.

pema shan September 10, 2014 at 10:12 AM

I’d like to point a single artist who portraied Jesus naked on the cross, and is none other than Michelangelo!
It’s a little wooden statue at the church of the Holy Spirit in Florence.
It’s easy to look for it in google images!

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