The Greek word σουδάριον (from Latin sudarium) occurs four times in the Greek New Testament, twice in Lukan writings, and twice in the fourth gospel. However, only in the fourth gospel is it mentioned in the context of burial, first concerning Lazarus, and second concerning the burial (and resurrection) of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In John 11:44, it is written,

44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin (σουδαρίῳ). Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. KJV, 1769

In John 20:7, it is written,

7 And the napkin (σουδάριον), that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. KJV, 1769

It is peculiar that none of the Synoptics mention anything about the σουδάριον in the context of the burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, the author of the fourth gospel states,

8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. KJV, 1769

The “other disciple” believed in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ simply by seeing the σουδάριον (unless I am mistaken). Is there a particular reason that only the fourth gospel mentions the σουδάριον in essentially the same context? Could it possibly be a hint at the identity of the author himself?

2 Answers 2


In spite of its anti-Jewish polemic, the author of John's Gospel often demonstrates a better knowledge of first-century Jewish culture than do any of the synoptic gospels. On this point, Dagmar Winter ('The Burden of Proof in Jesus Research', published in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, Volume 1, edited by Tom Holmén and Stanley E. Porter - page 967) says:

Scholars are becoming increasingly aware that John's Gospel is as equally Jewish, if not more Jewish than the synoptics. Jewish scholars cite John as evidence of aspects of Jewish life and practice in the first century.

The author of John was aware that Jews did not wrap the main cloth around the head of a deceased person in case the person was not really dead. Instead, they covered the deceased's head with a small cloth, or napkin (σουδαρίῳ) so that the person might blow the cloth away and alert the grievers who might still be present. The author mentions this napkin twice (at John 11:44 and at 20:7). Luke 19:20 also uses the same word, but merely for a small cloth unrelated to burial.

As the author of John was so familiar with Jewish practices, it may be that we can see a hint of his identity, which is that that he was very possibly a Christianised Jew.

It is arguably possible that the other evangelists might also have known of this practice but saw no need to mention it, as indeed there was no need for John's author to mention it except in support of his narrative. As I state in this answer, the beloved disciple was convinced that Jesus was risen as soon as he saw the napkin neatly rolled up. Had the body been stolen, the robbers would have either taken Jesus with all his coverings, or have removed them and left them in a mess on the floor. That the cloths, especially the headcloth, were in an apparently tidy state, the observer would have realised that something special had occurred and, after having recently seen Lazarus raised from the dead, a believing observer ought to have realised that Jesus had been raised.


The central issue of all four Gospel accounts is "Who is Jesus?"

Traditionally the fourth Gospel is seen as written last, near the end of the first century by the same author and around the same time as the letter 1 John. As the Church grew, different attacks on the nature of Jesus were made. The letter indicates the latest opponents were claiming that Jesus did not come in the flesh:

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God (1 John 4:2 ESV)

The question of whether Jesus came in the flesh is not only a question of the physical nature of the incarnate Word; it is a question of the resurrected Jesus. In fact, a resurrection in spirit only would be a logical attack. Jesus is not on earth; He is heaven; He does not now have a physical body.

The fourth gospel strives to make the point that the resurrected Jesus had a physical body:

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side... (20:20 ESV)
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (20:27 ESV)
Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish...(21:13 ESV)

From the perspective of a physical resurrection, the face cloth being rolled up and in a different place, indicates a physical resurrection. Had Jesus been a spirit who simply vanished or was brought to life, the two cloths would be lying together in one place.

So when the other disciple sees the cloths in two different places, they understand the cloths were physically removed. Even though they have not seen the resurrected Jesus, they believe in His physical resurrection. The napkin is one of the elements the writer of the fourth gospel includes to make the point Jesus came (the resurrection) in the flesh.

For the "other disciple" the napkin was the first piece of evidence, it was also the only one they needed to believe in a physical resurrection. From the point of a witness to the resurrection, the writer includes this personal element of their testimony.

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