At Matt 26: 63-65 we see:

"But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy."

I wish to know when the practice of tearing one's own garments in order to show protest, especially when one was witnessing apparent blasphemy, started among the Jews. Did such a practice have its origin in the scriptures ?


Genesis 37:29 (NIV):

29 When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes.

This is the earliest mention I can find among the descendants of Abraham. Reuben, son of Jacob was distraught that his nine brothers had sold their other brother Joseph into slavery.

In Job, we see both Job and his three friends doing this:

Job 1:20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship.

Job 2:12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.

In this case, it was to display mourning and sympathy.

There is little agreement over when Job lived, but my best understanding is that he lived between Abraham and Moses. Thus this practice would seem to be common in the Ancient Near East, not just among Jews, but also among the neighboring peoples.


Although there are examples in the Old Testament of people tearing their garments, the High Priest was forbidden by law to tear his clothes because the temple garments worn by the High Priest were holy:

The high priest, the one among his brothers who has had the anointing oil poured on his head and who has been ordained to wear the priestly garments, must not let his hair become unkempt or tear his clothes. (Leviticus 21:10)

The tearing of clothes was a sign of distress, grief or shock (Genesis 37:29; 44:13; 2 Kings 18:37-19:1). The events described in the book of Job appear to fit the second millennium B.C.

The New Testament situation, where Annas, the son-in-law of Caiaiphs (the High Priest) rent his robes in outrage at Jesus’ acknowledgement to be the Christ, the Blessed, and the Son of Man, was taken as blasphemy. However, he wasn't the High Priest.

The tearing of garments, of wearing sackcloth and ashes, is documented in the Old Testament and was a sign of grief.

  • 1
    It is true that Job was not a Jewish priest. However, in Job 1, he offered sacrifices for his children, and in the end of the book, Job 42, accepted sacrifices from his friends for their forgiveness as commanded by God. Thus Job did fulfill a priestly function. May 31 '19 at 17:22
  • 1
    Jesus was first taken before Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year (Jn 18:13). There Jesus was struck in the face by an official who demanded, "Is this the way you answer the high priest?" (vs 22) yet Jesus was not before Caiaphas, only being taken to the high priest after that event. If Caiaphas later tore his garments, it was a sign that he viewed Jesus' claim to be the Christ, the Son of God, as blasphemy (Mk 14:60-64), more serious than mourning for a relative's death. Perhaps he wasn't wearing Temple garments at that early hour in his house?
    – Anne
    Jun 1 '19 at 5:37
  • Good points raised by both Paul Chernoch (about Job) and Anne (about Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the High Priest). I have edited my answer accordingly.
    – Lesley
    Jun 1 '19 at 6:49
  • It was Caiaphas who tore his robes (not Annas) but the point is the reason for the charge of blasphemy - Jesus said "I am" to the question, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" Then Jesus also added that He was the Son of Man, so all three titles combined here to ensure God's will would be done in the Son of God being sacrificed though he was without sin. He had not uttered blasphemy in agreeing with the high priest's Q, for it was all true!
    – Anne
    Jun 1 '19 at 7:24

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