What colour robe did the soldiers put on Jesus, scarlet or purple?

Posted on Mar.24, 2009. Filed in Matthew, Mark, John. Average rating: 2.0 / 10 (Rate It).

After Jesus had been brought before Pontius Pilate, Pilate gave the people a choice: he would release either Jesus or Barabbas. The crowd chose Barabbas, and the soldiers then mocked Jesus by dressing him as a king and flogging him before he was taken away to be crucified.

According to Matthew, the soldiers dressed Jesus in a scarlet robe as part of this humiliation:

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, say, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. [Matthew 27:27-31 (NRSV)]

According to Mark, though, the robe was purple:

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple clock and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. [Mark 15:16-20 (NRSV)]

In John, too, the robe is purple:

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face. [John 19:1-3 (NRSV)]

So what colour was the robe that the soldiers put on Jesus, scarlet or purple?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    An expansion on response 1:

    Purple dye was extracted from a gland in a sea snail. The color produced by the dye is called Tyrian Purple

    Pliny describes Tyrian Purple as being the best “when it has exactly the colour of clotted blood, and is of a blackish hue to the sight, but of a shining appearance when held up to the light; hence it is that we find Homer speaking of “purple blood.””

    So purple can be the color of blood.

    Pliny also notes that “The tint that inclines to red is looked upon as inferior to that which is of a blackish hue”. Chances are very good that the Roman soldiers who tormented Christ did not have an extremely high quality purple robe, so it was probably redder in color.

    As a final note, the RGB color coordinates of Medium Tyrian Purple are (153, 0, 36), which is quite red (it is alternately referred to as Tyrian Red).

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