To me, two of the most fascinating items the Lord gives to mankind are the coats of skins given to Adam and Eve before they’re expelled from the Garden of Eden.
Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them. … Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
The canon doesn’t specifically carry on the story of the coats of skins, but other non-scriptural sources pick up the coats in the hands of Noah on the ark, then stolen by Ham revealing Noah’s nakedness, then passed to Nimrod who used the clothing of paradise to dominate the world and on and on. Because the coats held real power, the user of the coats directed their power.
While studying the scriptures about this topic, again, I felt led to a Google search and found an article on theTorah.com by Dr. Rachel Adelman, “Primeval Coats.” I devoured the content. Thoughts, ideas, suggestions in her article have filled my mind all day. I want to share it. And I also wanted a place to keep it.
Following is Dr. Adleman’s fascinating article.
by Dr. Rachel Adelman
“Clothing, beginning with Joseph’s coat, functions both as a marker of distinction and as the source of undoing in the Joseph story. Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer adds layers of history to this coat: it is the original garments made from the sloughed skin of the serpent that God gave to Adam and Eve, which was then worn by Nimrod, Esau, and Jacob. Midrash Tanchuma claims it to be the (future) High Priest’s tunic.
Jacob and Joseph’s Coat, Ford Madox Brown 1871
|“Thus, there is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.”
(Virginia Woolf, Orlando)
The Tearing of the Ornamented Tunic
Parashat VaYeshev opens with Jacob’s inauspicious act of favoritism for his (second) youngest son, born to Rachel, his favorite wife:
לז:ג וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אָהַ֤ב אֶת יוֹסֵף֙ מִכָּל בָּנָ֔יו כִּֽי בֶן זְקֻנִ֥ים ה֖וּא ל֑וֹ וְעָ֥שָׂה ל֖וֹ כְּתֹ֥נֶת פַּסִּֽים: לז:ד וַיִּרְא֣וּ אֶחָ֗יו כִּֽי־אֹת֞וֹ אָהַ֤ב אֲבִיהֶם֙ מִכָּל אֶחָ֔יו וַֽיִּשְׂנְא֖וּ אֹת֑וֹ וְלֹ֥א יָכְל֖וּ דַּבְּר֥וֹ לְשָׁלֹֽם:
|37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he made him an ornamented tunic.37:4 And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak peaceably [shalom] to him (my translation).|
At first, the tunic provokes his brothers’ jealousy, exacerbated by his dreams of grandeur (prescient of the role he will later play as the viceroy in Egypt). He is then sent by his father “to seek the peace/welfare [shalom] of his brothers” as they pasture their flocks in Shechem (Gen. 37:12-14). The brothers see him from a distance – the tunic, like a bulls-eye, the focal point of their sight– and plot to kill him, intending to tell their father that he was devoured by a wild beast. When he arrives and they assault him, it is the tunic they first set upon:
לז:כג …וַיַּפְשִׁ֤יטוּ אֶת יוֹסֵף֙ אֶת כֻּתָּנְתּ֔וֹ אֶת כְּתֹ֥נֶת הַפַּסִּ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָלָֽיו:
|37:23 They stripped Joseph of his tunic, the ornamented tunic that he was wearing.|
The repetition of the object of their fratricidal ire: ’et Yosef, ’et kutanto, ’et ketonot ha-passim – concatenates, cumulatively as their fury explodes. When they tear at his cloak, the brothers become the figurative “wild beast” (v. 20), whom Jacob later (falsely) names as having “surely torn Joseph apart [tarof toraf Yosef]” (v. 33).
The term כתנת פסים is distinctive. The only other time this collocation appears in Tanakh is in the story of Tamar, the daughter of King David, who is distinguished as a princess because she wears an “ornamented tunic (כתנת פסים)” ( II Sam. 13:18). Tamar’s beautiful cloak is rent in her despair after Amnon, her half-brother, rapes her (v. 19) just as Joseph’s coat is torn at the scene of the pit and he, like Tamar, is cast off by his half-brother(s). Royalty and shame; glory and perdition – these are the two poles of destiny these privileged children meet!
Two Garments Two Pits
In the end, the brothers do not kill Joseph, but,
לז:כד וַיִּ֨קָּחֻ֔הוּ וַיַּשְׁלִ֥כוּ אֹת֖וֹ הַבֹּ֑רָה וְהַבּ֣וֹר רֵ֔ק אֵ֥ין בּ֖וֹ מָֽיִם:
|They cast him into the pit [ha-borah]; The pit [ha-bor] was empty; there was no water in it.|
Eventually, he is sold into slavery for twenty pieces of silver. This pit foreshadows the second pit [bor] into which Joseph is cast, the dungeon where the king’s prisoners were confined, as Joseph tells the cupbearer:
מ:טו כִּֽי־גֻנֹּ֣ב גֻּנַּ֔בְתִּי מֵאֶ֖רֶץ הָעִבְרִ֑ים וְגַם־פֹּה֙ לֹא־עָשִׂ֣יתִֽי מְא֔וּמָה כִּֽי־שָׂמ֥וּ אֹתִ֖י בַּבּֽוֹר:
|40:15 For indeed, I was stolen from the land of the Hebrews; nor have I done anything here that they should have put me in the pit/dungeon (ba-bor).|
Into this second pit he was cast, betrayed by yet another garment. 
Clothing Betrayal: The Cover-Story
Clothing functions as a central motif in the story of “Joseph and His Brothers,” both as a marker of distinction and as the source of undoing. It bestows honor and privilege upon the favored son of Jacob but, when stripped of the garment, it induces shame and serves as a prop for deception (ch. 37). As a motif, a “garment” appears again—albeit a different one—in the House of Potiphar, where Joseph is stripped of it and framed for rape by the lustful wife of Potiphar (ch. 39).
In the first story of the torn tunic, one might have supposed that Joseph’s ornamented cloak would serve as a means of disclosure, of testimony. In fact, it facilitates a mis-recognition. The blood-stained garment acts as a false alibi, the cover-story for Joseph’s sale into slavery:
לז:לא וַיִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־כְּתֹ֣נֶת יוֹסֵ֑ף וַֽיִּשְׁחֲטוּ֙ שְׂעִ֣יר עִזִּ֔ים וַיִּטְבְּל֥וּ אֶת־הַכֻּתֹּ֖נֶת בַּדָּֽם:לז:לב וַֽיְשַׁלְּח֞וּ אֶת־כְּתֹ֣נֶת הַפַּסִּ֗ים וַיָּבִ֙יאוּ֙ אֶל־אֲבִיהֶ֔ם וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ זֹ֣את מָצָ֑אנוּ הַכֶּר־נָ֗א הַכְּתֹ֧נֶת בִּנְךָ֛ הִ֖וא אִם־לֹֽא: לז:לג וַיַּכִּירָ֤הּ וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ כְּתֹ֣נֶת בְּנִ֔י חַיָּ֥ה רָעָ֖ה אֲכָלָ֑תְהוּ טָרֹ֥ף טֹרַ֖ף יוֹסֵֽף:
|37:31 Then they took Joseph’s tunic, slaughtered a kid, and dipped the tunic in the blood. 37:32 They had the ornamented tunic taken to their father, and they said, “We found this. Please recognize it; is it your son’s tunic or not?” 37:33 He recognized it, and said, “My son’s tunic! A wild beast devoured him! Joseph is surely torn, torn apart!”|
The tunic accounts for Joseph’s absence and conjectured death. It diverts the grieving father from the truth about his beloved son’s true fate – sold ignominiously as a slave.
Clothing as Betrayal (Begged as Begidah)
Similarly, in the story of Joseph’s escapade with the wife of Potiphar, clothing serves as false testimony. Potiphar’s wife tears the young man’s garment from him as he flees her lascivious grasp (39:12-13). She then uses the garment to frame him for sexual assault, both with the servants (vv. 14-15), and with her husband:
לט:טז וַתַּנַּ֥ח בִּגְד֖וֹ אֶצְלָ֑הּ עַד־בּ֥וֹא אֲדֹנָ֖יו אֶל־בֵּיתֽוֹ: לט:יז וַתְּדַבֵּ֣ר אֵלָ֔יו כַּדְּבָרִ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה לֵאמֹ֑ר בָּֽא־אֵלַ֞י הָעֶ֧בֶד הָֽעִבְרִ֛י אֲשֶׁר־הֵבֵ֥אתָ לָּ֖נוּ לְצַ֥חֶק בִּֽי: לט:יח וַיְהִ֕י כַּהֲרִימִ֥י קוֹלִ֖י וָאֶקְרָ֑א וַיַּעֲזֹ֥ב בִּגְד֛וֹ אֶצְלִ֖י וַיָּ֥נָס הַחֽוּצָה:
|39:16 She kept his garment [biggdo] beside her, until his master came home. 39:17 Then she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew slave whom you brought into our house came to me to play with me; 39:18 but when I screamed at the top of my voice, he left his garment [biggdo] with me and fled outside.”|
The Hebrew term referring to Joseph’s garment, begged, is generic for clothing, though a pun may well be intended, resonant with the verb bagad (meaning “to betray”). Clothing (begged) in the Joseph saga serves as betrayal (begidah), false testimony; the tunic and garment cover for heinous acts – the sale of Joseph into slavery and the married woman’s attempted seduction of the handsome Hebrew slave, whom she later frames with rape.
Just as Iago uses Desdemona’s handkerchief, in Shakespeare’s Othello, to rouse the Moor’s jealousy, the “green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on” (Act 3, sc. 3), instigating the tragic murder, the Joseph story makes use of the leitmotif of clothing to highlight the act of mis-recognition. Both acts of misconstruction hinge on clothing – respectively, a blood-stained tunic and a garment.
The Legacy of the First Clothing
The story of the Garden of Eden, with its emphasis on nakedness and “dressing up”, similarly oscillates between the two poles of honor and ignominy.
The “Nakedness” of the Snake
The narrative opens with a description of Adam and Eve as naked (ערומים), and in the very next verse, the same word ‘arum ערום is used to describe the snake’s cunning:
ב:כה וַיִּֽהְי֤וּ שְׁנֵיהֶם֙ עֲרוּמִּ֔ים הָֽאָדָ֖ם וְאִשְׁתּ֑וֹ וְלֹ֖א יִתְבֹּשָֽׁשׁוּ:
|2:25 And they were both naked, ‘arumim, the man and his wife, but they were not ashamed (2:25).|
ג:א וְהַנָּחָשׁ֙ הָיָ֣ה עָר֔וּם מִכֹּל֙ חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה…
|3:1 The serpent was more cunning [‘arum] than all the beasts of the field.|
Even before Adam and Eve’s eyes were “opened” with the “knowledge of good and evil,” the primordial serpent seems to have this knowledge, and expresses its wisdom or cunning through the manipulation of language, distorting God’s command: “Didn’t God say you shall not eat of all the trees of the garden?” (3:1).
Where does the snake’s nakedness/cunning come from? The Hizkuni (commentary of 13th c., French exegete, R. Hezekiah ben Manoah) suggests that the snake had already eaten of the tree – had gained “cunning/nakedness” and seduced Eve into eating of the fruit for want of company. The snake is the first to be aware of its own nudity, the first to “cover up” through the manipulation of language, and the first to be physically stripped of its outer layer. According to midrash (PRE 14), God’s curse not only strips the snake of its limbs but of its skin as well.
וקצץ רגליו של נחש, ופקד עליו להיות מפשיט את עורו.
|He lopped off the snake’s limbs, and commanded that it (=the snake) shed its skin.|
Adam and Eve’s New Clothing
Following their consciousness of nakedness and shame, the Garden of Eden story ends with God “dressing up” of the first humans:
ג:כא וַיַּעַשׂ֩ יְ-הֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים לְאָדָ֧ם וּלְאִשְׁתּ֛וֹ כָּתְנ֥וֹת ע֖וֹר וַיַּלְבִּשֵֽׁם:
|3:21 Yhwh made garments (or tunics) of skins [kotnot ‘or] for Adam and his woman and he clothed them.|
Presumably, these skins replace the loin-cloth of fig leaves, which Adam and Eve had made for themselves (v. 7). From where did God get the skins? There had, as yet, been no death. According to a later chapter in Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, God sewed the clothes from the skin that the serpent sloughed off (PRE 20).
The skin symbolizes the post-lapsarian sense of living-unto-death, with the awareness of one’s own mortality and the sense of dissonance between the inner and outer being following the sin in the Garden of Eden.
Why are these trappings used to clothe the newly banished man and his wife? Avivah Zornberg comments:
“The serpent – all deception, representation, plausible language, verbal display is constructed into an attribute of human dignity!”
Irony abounds. Humanity began covered (though not clothed) but lost this covering upon sinning. The first actual clothing was then granted them as a gift from God, to cover shame. Clothing makes us, yet testifies to our undoing. It lends us our dignity, yet symbolizes the impossibility of total integration for our internal and external selves. Banished from the Garden of Eden, the unaccommodated human is but a “bare forked animal”, self-conscious, sighing in the gap between ideal self and mortal skin. It is this gap that clothing covers over, in leather, velvet, silk or other trim.
The Fate of the First Clothing: From Adam to Jacob
Nimrod – The Cloak Demonstrates Power
A later chapter in Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer (ch. 24) goes on to link this snake-skin tunic to the Jacob drama, beginning with the story of Nimrod, the King of Shinar (of Ancient Babylonia):
ר’ יהודה אומ’ הכתונת שעשה הקב”ה לאדם ולאשתו היתה עמהם בתיבה, וכשיצאו מן התיבה לקחה חם בן נח הוציאה עמו והנחילה לנמרוד, ובשעה שהיה לובש אותה היו כל בהמה, חיה ועוף באין ונופלים לפניו, כסבורין שהוא מכח גבורתו, לפיכך המליכוהו עליהם מלך, שנ’ על כן יאמר “כנמרוד גבור ציד לפני ה’” (בר’ י:ט)
|…Rabbi Yehuda said: The coats which the Holy One, blessed be He, made for Adam and his wife, were with Noah in the ark, and when they went forth from the ark, Ham, the son of Noah, brought them forth with him, and gave them as an inheritance to Nimrod. When he put them on, all beasts, animals, and birds, when they saw the coats, came and prostrated themselves before him. The sons of men thought that this (was due) to the power of his might; therefore they made him king over themselves, as it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD” (Gen. 10:9).|
The “cloaks of skin,” כותנות עור, are presented in the singular, כתונת, as they fall into the hands of Nimrod, granting him a mesmerizing power over the animals. Their prostration before him resonates with the animals’ original reaction to Adam, when he was first created:
קם על רגליו והיה בתואר כדמות אלהים, והיתה קומתו מן המזרח למערב… וראו אותו כל הבריות ונתייראו מלפניו סבורין שהוא בוראן ובאו להשתחוות לפניו.
|He stood on his legs and was in appearance like that of God, and his stature extended from east to west… All the creatures saw him and became afraid of him, thinking that he was their creator, and they came to prostrate themselves before him (PRE 11).|
Likewise, the Serpent’s skin, when worn by Nimrod, grants the illusion of omnipotence, absolute power. In response to the animal’s reaction, the humans make him king—the first mortal king, who would rule from one end of the Earth to the other (PRE 11). Here the snakeskin, when worn by mortal man, is not necessarily related to the wily use of language; rather it bestows regal stature, based on the illusion of absolute power granted to the one who wears it.
Esau – The Cloak Stimulates Covetousness
The midrash then collapses time and space, anachronistically leaping four generations forward, from the Valley of Shinar to the Land of Canaan. Here, the snakeskin cloak as Esau’s precious clothing (Gen. 27:15), is that which Jacob dons when he stands before his blind father:
ר’ [מאיר] אומ’ עשו אחיו של יעקב ראה את הכתונת שעשה הקב”ה לאדם ולחוה על נמרוד וחמד אותם בלבו והרגו ולקח אותם ממנו. ומניין שהיו חמודות בעיניו, שנ’ “ותקח רבקה את בגדי עשו בנה הגדול החמודות” (בר’ כז:טו) ,
|Rabbi Meir said: Esau, the brother of Jacob, saw the coats of Nimrod, and in his heart he coveted them, and he slew him, and took them for himself. How (do we know) that they were desirable in his sight? Because it is said, “And Rebecca took the coveted clothing of Esau [בגדי עשו…החמודות], her elder son” (Gen. 27:15). (PRE 24)|
For Esau, covetousness arouses the impulse to murder. When worn by the snake, originally, it had inspired lust for Adam’s wife; and that desire was transferred to Eve’s perception, who saw the fruit of the tree as “that it was delectable to the eyes and that the tree was coveted[neḥmad] to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6, my translation). That is the cloaks stimulate desire, even lust, for that which does not rightfully belong to one—women, trees, power, the cloaks themselves, even blessings.
Both Nimrod and Esau are great hunters (Gen. 10:9 and 25:27). Both gain their predator status from the cloak of the original hunter, the primordial serpent, who had bated Eve with the fruit of the Tree.
Jacob Understands the Cloak’s Power
וכשלבש אותם נעשה גם הוא גבור, שנ’ “ויהי עשו איש יודע ציד” (בר’ כה:כז), וכשבא יעקב מאת פני יצחק אביו אמר, “אין זה [עשו] ראוי ללבוש את הכתונת הללו.” וחפר וממנם שם, [בארץ וטמנה] , שנאמר, “טמון בארץ חבלו” (איוב יח:י)
|When he (=Jacob) put them on he also became, by means of them, a mighty hero, as it is said, “And Esau was a cunning hunter” (ibid. 25:27). And when Jacob left the presence of Isaac, his father, he said: Esau, the wicked one is not worthy to wear these coats. What did he do? He dug in the earth and hid them there as it is said, “The rope for him lies hidden in the ground [His snare, on the path]” (Job 18:10). (PRE 24)|
When Jacob dresses up in the cloak at his mother’s behest, he becomes aware of its power and, reflecting on Esau’s unworthiness, he buries it, but not before taking advantage of the metamorphosis—the cold-blooded, reptilian transformation the cloak engenders.
Like the snake, Jacob covets and lays claim to what is not rightfully his in stealing the blessing. Jacob differs from Nimrod and Esau, however, and even from the original serpent, in that he recognizes the danger that the snakeskin embodies, and hides it: “The rope for him lies hidden in the ground (טמון בארץ חבלו)….” (Job 8:10), like a noose with which man would hang himself. It is too powerful for his own good. In PRE, Jacob never bequeaths these treacherous garments to his son, though one might imagine a sequel. Perhaps they were dug up, dry-cleaned and mended, and given to Joseph, with near fatal consequences. As we will see later, one midrashist at least seems to have imagined something like this.
The Clothing of the High Priest
In yet another midrashic tradition, the original clothing granted to Adam upon his banishment from Eden is linked to first-born status and the honors of the priesthood (Tanḥuma Toledot 12, ed. Buber). In a chain of inheritance similar to the links in PRE 24, the tunics, “the garments of the high priesthood” were passed from Adam to Noah to Shem to Abraham, and then to Isaac, and from Isaac to Esau, from father to first-born son, for it was the first born who performed the priestly sacrificial duties. In the Tanḥuma (ed. Buber, Toledot 12), Jacob then takes the clothing from Esau, having purchased the birthright.
In contrast to PRE, this midrash conveys a positive attitude towards this cloak, and overtly states that the garments of skin inspired Isaac’s blessing, their odor evoking associations with Eden, as the patriarch intones, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of the field the LORD has blessed. May God give you of the dew of Heaven and of the fat of the earth…” (Gen. 27:27-28).
Transferred into the hands of the High Priest, the clothing of the Priest (also called כתנת) then functions as symbol of atonement [kaparah]—an appropriate gift following “the Fall” of man from his pristine state.
The Sin Offering and the Sin of Joseph’s Brothers
In a remarkable passage in Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed, the sacrifice of goats for the sin offering is linked to the “original sin” of the sons of Jacob (Israel), when they stripped him of his tunic, sold him as a slave, and dipped the torn cloak in goat’s blood:
Our Sages, however, explained the fact that goats were always the sin-offerings of the congregation (cf. Lev. 9:3), as an allusion to the sin of the whole congregation of Israel: for in the account of the selling of the pious Joseph we read, “And they slaughtered a kid-goat…” (Gen. 37:31).
And, as the Talmud argues, just as sacrifice atones, so too do the various parts of the clothing of the High Priest. In particular (b. Zevahim 88b),
מה קרבנות מכפרין, אף בגדי כהונה מכפרין. כתונת מכפרת על שפיכות דם, שנאמר: וישחטו שעיר עזים ויטבלו את הכתנת בדם.
|The tunic (of the Kohen) atones for the spilling of blood, as it says “And they slaughtered a goat and dipped the tunic [Joseph’s ornamented tunic] in blood (Gen. 37:31).|
That is, when the High Priest dons his tunic on the Day of Atonement, he not only atones for the Jews who have shed blood in his generation, but also, perhaps, for the shedding of that blood which served as a cover-story for Joseph’s sale into slavery.
Could Joseph’s Tunic be the Same as that of Adam and Esau?
Neither Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer nor Midrash Tanḥuma ever make the explicit connection between Adam’s cloak and the Joseph story. Nevertheless, the connection is made in other midrashim. For example, in a Midrash found in a Yemenite collection, and published in the Torah Sheleima (vol., p. 1399, #50), we read:
כתנת פסים – הכתונת שעשה הקב”ה לאדם ולעזרו היא שלקחה עשו מנמרוד, והיא בגדי עשו החמודות שלבש יעקב בשעת הברכה.
|The ornamented tunic – this is the same tunic which the Holy One, blessed be He, made for Adam and his partner. It is this same tunic which Esau took from Nimrod, and these are the coveted garments of Esau that Jacob wore when he received [Isaac’s] blessing.|
This midrash, or some version of it, appears to be the referent in an obscure piyyut (liturgical poem) dating to the 11th century, composed by Rabbi Yosef ha-Levi, which also suggests that the garment which Jacob gave to Joseph was indeed this same primordial tunic. 
Thus, depending on whether one follows the history as outlined by PRE or by Tanḥuma, Jacob either bestows upon Joseph a dangerous cloak of power used by Nimrod to rule the earth, or one symbolizing the status of first born and High Priest of Israel before there ever was a Tabernacle or Temple.
Yet, those beautiful robes were torn from Joseph at the pit, and stained with goat’s blood and presented to his father as false evidence of being “torn, torn apart” by a wild animal.
The Dual Power of the Mythical Ornamented, Snakeskin Tunic
The rabbis seem ambivalent about whether the tunic represents something negative, like lust for power (PRE), or whether it represents something positive, like the High Priest’s garments, with their power to achieve atonement (Tanḥuma).
In PRE’s account, the first humans acquire the skins of the primordial serpent and inherit its covetousness. Nimrod desires power, donning the cloak to establish his dominance over all creation. Esau covets the coat and kills Nimrod to get it. Jacob makes use of the coat to steal Esau’s blessing and then hides it. In this midrashic account, the patriarch never bequeaths the skins to Joseph, his favorite son, perhaps because he senses the danger they carry.
The Tanḥuma tells a very different tale, in which the cloak, as the primordial priestly garments grants the wearer a closer relationship to God. It is thus passed down, father to son, from Adam, to Noah, to Shem, to Abraham, to Isaac and eventually, after Esau, to Jacob, and eventually it becomes the tunic of the High Priest of Israel. Unlike the covetous primordial serpent, who desires what does not belong to him, the priest atones for the sins of others by emptying himself out, by becoming one with his role – the inner man as one-and-the-same as his outer skin and clothing.
Both the qualities of envy and honor, reified in Adam’s original tunic, inhere in Joseph’s cloak, though neither midrash makes the gift explicit. After all, Jacob “makes” the ornamented tunic (anew?) for Joseph (Gen. 37:3). Nevertheless, the positive and negative valence inheres in Joseph’s cloak as it does in the garments of the first humans. Whether the donning of this special cloak serves as a source of protection (Tanḥuma) or as an extension of ‘‘the Fall’’ (PRE) depends on the effect on the one who wears them. As Virginia Woolf so eloquently penned, “there is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we, them…” for they bear the power to “mold our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.”
When studying the Joseph story, and even more so when studying the rabbinic interpretations of the story, we are in the realm of myth, myth as meaning-making through stories that resonate across centuries and generations. Whatever happened to Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors is left to the vicarious power of the imagination.
Footnotes: Virginia Woolf, Orlando (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1998), p. 108.
מדרש תנחומא (בובר) פרשת תולדות סימן יב
Whether the Tanḥuma is familiar with the tradition, brought down by PRE, that it was the Serpent’s skin and deliberately ignores it, perhaps even transforms it into a strictly positive image, is questionable. Lambden suggests that this origin of the Priestly Garment is consistent with the Targum’s reading of Gen. 3:21 as “garments of honour/glory’ (Targ. Onq, 1TJ.; 2 TJ; and Targ. Neof.), “From Fig Leaves to Fingernails”, From Fig Leaves to Fingernails: Some Notes on the Garments of Adam and Eve in the Hebrew Bible and Select Early Post-Biblical Jewish Writings”, in A Walk in the Garden: Biblical, Iconographical and Literary Images of Eden, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement, Series 136, ed. By P. Morris and D. Sawyer (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992), p.80 On the connection between Adam as the “first born” and the priestly garments in the rabbinic sources, see Gary Anderson’s discussion, “The Garments of Skin in Apocryphal Narrative and Biblical Commentary”, in Studies in Ancient Midrash, ed. James Kugel (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 123 (he quotes Midrash Abkir, cited in Theodor-Albeck, Gen. Rab. p. 168, cf. Yalkut Shimoni 34). There is also a hint of this tradition in Gen. Rab. 20:12 (Theodor-Albeck, p. 197) an opinion given in the name of Resh Laqish on Gen. 3:21: They were milky-white [in color] and in them the first-born sons [prior to Sinai] served [as priests].” See Anderson’s discussion on p. 116-117, and especially footnote 35.
Piyyut of Rabbi Yosef ha-Levi on Va-Yeshev Ya’aqov, line 13 (Shulamith Elitzur, She’erit Yosef [Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1992], p. 53 (Heb).”