Jesus and the Napkin

I was asked at church this week about the napkin mentioned in John (20:7), namely if there were any significance to it being folded. I knew where this was going because I’ve heard/read of this before. Basically it is said that the folded napkin in the tomb finds parallel in the Jewish master/servant relationship. Supposedly a servant would never attend to the table after a meal unless the master was finished. The master would indicate that he was finished with his meal by tossing his napkin (with which he cleaned his hands and face) on the table. If he were not finished, he would fold it neatly as to indicate to the servant he would return to the table. Thus, Jesus’ folded napkin indicates that he would be returning.

After reading through the few commentaries on John I have and reading a few other resources (a search for articles on the matter yielded zero results), I have found nothing that even remotely suggests such a practice as the background. In fact, most of what I read indicates that the orderly placement of the burial cloths suggests Jesus’ body was not taken by grave robbers, who would have had no interest in the tidiness of the tomb.

I am sure this idea is as popular as it is because it sounds good as an illustration, but my initial digging has left me no reason even to suspect that this is the reason for John’s inclusion of the detail.

If you know from whence this little gem of a story came or if there is indeed any good reason to think it true, I’d be glad to know!

Out of curiosity, what are some of your favorite illustrations you’ve heard that have given you pause?

Αυτω η δοξα

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