A Purple Robe

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(This is #10 of the presentations for the series “Fashion Statements: Lessons from Garments in the Bible.”)


What is your favorite color to wear? Red? Blue? Yellow? Pink? How about purple?

During the inauguration of US President Joe Biden back in January 2021, Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, all stepped out wearing shades of purple. Well the significance is that it is a call for unity, as Republicans are red, and Democrats are blue, and if you combine red and blue, you’ll get purple.

Why Women are Wearing Purple Outfits on Inauguration Day 2021
purple outfit during President Biden’s inaguration

The color purple also symbolizes royalty and nobility for a long time in history. In many European societies, the symbolism was even established by law: from ancient Rome to Elizabethan England, they even made laws that forbade anyone except close members of the royal family to wear the color purple.

Why is the color purple associated with royalty?

Purple’s elite status was due to the fact that it was so rare and costly to produce the original dye. Fabric traders obtained “Tyrian purple,” as the dye was called, from a small mollusk or sea snail that was found only in a region of the Mediterranean Sea near Tyre, a city located in modern-day Lebanon. About 10,000 sea snails were needed to be crushed to produce 1 gram of the purple dye, and that is just enough to dye one robe or cloak into color purple. That 1 gram of purple dye costs $2700 and was once 15 times more valuable than gold.

That’s why only wealthy rulers and kings could afford to buy and wear fabrics dyed with the color purple during those times. Now we are able to produce the purple dye synthetically, actually created by accident when they were developing a drug for malaria. Thanks partly to mosquitoes, we don’t have to sacrifice millions of snails anymore to produce purple.

Before Jesus was crucified, he was ridiculed by the Roman soldiers by putting on him a purple robe:

Mark 15: 17-18 – And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head,  and began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

In Bible times, clothing for common people was usually dull and unbleached. Only the rich could afford expensive dyed cloth. Roman soldiers could afford beautiful clothing since they were paid well, but also they could take whatever they wanted from captive people. We don’t know where the robe came from that the soldiers draped over Jesus when they were mocking him. Of course they put a crown of thorns on Jesus also, to humiliate him for his “supposed” royalty.

The irony of it all is that Jesus is indeed royalty.

There is more of this color purple in the Bible. We also read of this dye many times in relation to the Tabernacle and the priestly outfits. In Exodus and Numbers it was mentioned many times that the three colors of blue, scarlet (red) and purple were seen in the priest outfits. These three colors were also seen in the veils of the temple. However, there are some occasions where one pure color is called for. The ark of the covenant itself, for example, had to be covered only in blue:

Whenever the camp is about to move out, Aaron and his sons are to take down the shielding curtain and cover the Ark of the Testimony with it. Then they are to cover this with porpoise hide, then spread over it a cloth of solid blue. (Numbers 4:5-6)

Similarly, we read further down in the chapter, that the altar outside the tent, where all the sacrifices were slaughtered and offered, had to be covered in pure purple:

They are to remove the ashes from the altar, then spread over it a purple cloth. (Numbers 4:13)

Purple was draped on the sacrificial altar way back in the Old Testament times. So when the Roman soldiers draped Jesus with a purple robe this is the fulfillment that Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice, shedding His own blood for our sin.

The color purple is both blue and red together, expressing that Jesus was both divine and human. The color purple represents that Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice. And the color purple represents that Jesus is our King.

(*photo from marieclaire.com)

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