I received an e-mail this past week about another subject, this time the reference in John 20:6-7 mentioning the cloth that had been on Jesus’ face.
I suspect that one reason (perhaps the main or only reason) for the Gospel mentioning the detail is because it could be argued that, if someone had moved the body, they would either have left the cloth on Jesus’ face or, if it had fallen off, would not have bothered to pick it up, fold it carefully and set it aside.
I wrote an article (published way back in 1997!) about apologetic details in the Gospel of John, aimed at countering the accusation that Jesus and/or his disciples had contrived his fulfillment of prophecies, not to mention the resurrection. I didn’t mention this verse, but it would fit with that theme quite well, I thinkI’ve heard other suggestions – including one that attempted to relate it to an alleged custom involving what a host at a dinner did with his napkin – but none seems persuasive. Presumably some of the later traditions about the sudarium of Jesus arose in close connection with the reference in John. (In looking for a link for those seeking more information about the sudarium, I discovered that there is a web site for the “Gnostic Liberation Front“. Who knew?)
Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?