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Caitlin Kennell Kim
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Fr. Rick Malloy, SJ
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Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP
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Neela Kale
Culture, Moral Theology
Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
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Our readers asked:

Did Jesus Have a Tattoo on His Thigh in Revelation 19:16?

Ann Naffziger Answers:

The verse in question here is the only verse in the New Testament that appears to suggest that Jesus had something “inscribed” on his body. However, such a suggestion is in direct contradiction of a law in Leviticus 19:28 “You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you.” Not only would the idea of a Jewish man having a tattoo be shocking, even more so is the suggestion that his thigh would be exposed, something basically equated with public nudity in Jesus’ time and religious culture.

A theory that easily explains such a contradiction is that the book of Revelation was originally written in Hebrew, not Greek as previously assumed. If that is the case, a miniscule copying error by an early scribe would easily render the Hebrew word for “banner” as “thigh” instead. The first Hebrew letter for the word “banner”, dagel, looks almost exactly like the first Hebrew letter for “thigh”, ragel. So it is posited that the correct reading of Rev 19:16 is “On his robe and on his banner he has a name inscribed, ‘King of Kings and Lord of lords.’”

 
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The Author : Ann Naffziger
Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • kaykayy johnson

    you are wrong about Leviticus 19:28 – it relates specifically to the pagan ritual of worshipping the dead where they would tattoo marks and cut their flesh as part of the ritual. Also if you read the verse out of conduct you misunderstand that Jesus was setting rules for the Isralites at that time, not a rule for all Christians and if you think it is for all then you must follow the whole passage examples – :
    vs 19 …you shall not wear cloth of two kinds of materials
    vs 26 you shall not eat any flesh with blood in it
    vs 27 you must not cut the hair on your forehead or clip the ends of your beard

    • William Sperry

      That’s a pretty strong statement. What is it that established Jesus Christ as the Holy unspotted Lamb of God? Since He is the one who’s obedience to the will of God, ” even to death on the cross” brought about God’s gracious plan of salvation, Jesus had to be perfect in the law. What does Jesus mean in Mt 5:17-18 “Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill. (18) For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away , one jot or tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”? I agree that you and I are ” under the law of grace” as believers, but Jesus is the fulfillment of All of God’s law. I agree with the ordinal post that there is a greater possibility that what Rev 19:16 indicates is either a banner or sword, or sword in a scabbard. I believethe only marks we will see on His body will the the marks on His hands, feet and side that we in our sinfull

      • William Sperry

        …to continue….state nailed His hands and feet to the cross and pierced His side.

      • kaykayy johnson

        I was just talking about the fact that Jesus having a tattoo would be a contradiction to Leviticus 19:28 which i don’t think it is. when people read it out of context* they misunderstand, that is my interpretation of it, I take it literally. It’s a strong statement but I don’t think God intended those rules to be followed by everyone, just the Israelites at that time, there are other times in the old testament where God has set rules for his people in a particular place and told them what to do, it’s a story in a way, like in Deuteronomy there’s parts where God is setting rules for his chosen people and war time rules, he is not saying that’s how everyone in the world should act all the time. what we read in the bible at times is stating what happened in the past not telling us how to be now. Also I don’t think Jesus will have an ink tattoo like we get in tattoo parlours but I do think that it will be written on his thigh but in like gold italics not ink. And not a tattoo per se but somehow written on his thigh

      • William Sperry

        I think you might be missing the point. Jesus was Jewish, and the only way he could be God’s Holy Lamb, is that He fulfilled, to the letter, all of the Old Testament Law. Including Lev 19:28. Another issue we have is in translating from Hebrew to English, one small punctuation left out of the Hebrew changes the word “thigh” to “banner”. Another point is that if you back up to vvs 11-15 you will see a great deal of symbolism in the description of Christ Jesus,”His eyes were like a flame of fire”, “on His head were many crowns”, His robe “dipped in blood” and “out of His mouth goes a sharp sword”. All of those are symbolic and not literal.

  • Ronnie Maynor

    Jesus came and did away with the Law if we are going to live by the Law then you have to live by all of the law not just part of it so you would have to not eat unclean meat and all of our clothes have mix fabric kinda throws a kink in your logic

  • Nick Russo

    That reading certainly makes more sense. But what about Rev 19:12, “He has a name written on Him”? Perhaps the prohibition in Leviticus doesn’t apply here because the writing was not applied by a human, but by God. Could it be that labeling ourselves is considered presumptuous? Similarly, it’s not blasphemy when Jesus calls himself the Son of Man.

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