Excerpt from the book:
The Wealth of the Wicked
By Don Enevoldsen
A popular element of the Prosperity Message is the teaching that Jesus was rich. If it can be shown that Jesus had great wealth, then the idea that Christians should pursue as much money as they can accumulate becomes not only acceptable, but something of a mandate. This is presented as a validation of owning wealth, neglecting to consider that it also becomes a validation of greed. These claims are generally in the form of highlighting a supposedly overlooked tidbit of information that, when viewed properly, demonstrates that Jesus had money. For example, Jesus had so much money he needed a treasurer, or he owned a house, which implies he was rich. The problem with these claims is that they usually lack logic or they demonstrate an ignorance of history and the culture of the time in which Jesus walked the earth.
Chapters 8-10 of The Wealth of the Wicked examine a variety of claims, testing their biblical basis and their historical accuracy, as well as the reason behind the assumptions. In most cases, the claims don’t even come close to validity. They demonstrate a desire for self-justification much more than a genuine, objective study of the Bible. Following is an excerpt from Chapter 10, examining one of these claims:
Claim #12: Jesus wore such expensive clothes that the Roman soldiers gambled over them. (John 19:23-24). They would not have gambled if the garments were not of great value. The seamless robe was the dress of a nobleman, something only the wealthy would wear.
Analysis: It is likely that the Roman soldiers were in the habit of dividing up the possessions of every person they executed. Though there is no direct evidence of this, it was later expressly forbidden, which would imply that it was being done on a regular enough basis to require administrative attention. (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. ii, pp. 591-592.) Soldiers throughout history have been notorious pillagers when the opportunity presented itself. It was considered one of the perks that went with the job.
There were four other items that they passed around, but the seamless undergarment was the most valuable of the five, so they basically drew lots to decide which one got it. There would have been four Roman soldiers, since that was the standard contingent assigned to each cross. (Edersheim, p. 583.) The four soldiers attached to each of the other two men who were crucified with Jesus would have done the same thing with their possessions. That they drew lots over the one garment simply indicates that they were smart enough to know that it was useless if it was in four pieces.
There are two things not normally said in relation to this claim. First of all, the value of something is not always determined by its initial price tag. For example, a few years ago (2002, to be precise), a piece of Bazooka Bubble Gum, already chewed, sold on e-bay for $10,000. It wasn’t because it had any intrinsic value. It was used gum. Rather it was because Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Louis Gonzalez had chewed it. Celebrity status confers value.
If the Roman soldiers gambled over the robe because of its value, the value would have been more because of the amount of attention Jesus had drawn over the previous year than because it was an expensive robe. He was a big enough celebrity to draw a huge crowd just one week earlier when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
Secondly, the “seamless” robe was not a sign of wealth. It was specifically an undergarment that was part of the traditional dress of a priest, something far more significant than what it cost. Such robes are described in Exodus:
“Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die.” (Exodus 28:42-43)
Every priest in Israel wore the same thing. By the time of Christ, they were described as seamless. (Talmud Zevachim 88a; Yoma 72b; Ta ‘anith 11b) Jesus made a deliberate connection between his ministry and the position of a priest. His garment was not a reflection of his wealth but a reflection of his concept of the ministry he engaged in.
In addition to that, Jesus didn’t seem to associate himself with those who were expensively dressed. In his own words, “Those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces.” (Luke 7:25) He was talking about John the Baptist not being in a palace or wearing expensive clothes, but the implication is clear. Jesus wasn’t in a palace, either.
Conclusion: This claim is completely erroneous.
[Excerpt from The Wealth of the Wicked, Chapter 1. Available now at Amazon.]