Biblical Nudity


The Drunkenness of Noah. Moretto da Brescia.

There are four kinds of nudity in the Bible.

The first kind of nudity: the head uncovered, the face unveiled, or the body dressed in torn clothing.

Moses said to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons: « Do not uncover your heads or tear your clothes, unless you want to die and bring divine wrath upon the whole community. « (Lev. 10:6)

In this episode, sadness and mourning take hold of Aaron and his sons because a divine fire has just fatally burned two other sons. But Moses does not allow them to express their sorrow in the agreed forms (uncovered head, torn clothes).

In another episode, it is the unveiled face of Abraham’s wife that poses a problem, not as such, but because it arouses the Pharaoh’s desire, and incites Abraham to lie to him about his wife whom he presents as his sister.

« When he was about to arrive in Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife: « I know that you are a woman with a gracious face. It will happen that when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’, and they will kill me and keep you alive. « (Gen. 12:11-12)

Second kind of nudity: that of the drunk man, who does not have his full conscience. Thus Noah: « He drank of his wine and became drunk, and laid himself bare in the midst of his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and went outside to tell his two brothers. « (Gen. 9:21-22)

Third kind of nudity, the proud nudity of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. « Now they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed. « (Gen. 2:25).

The fourth kind of nakedness is that of the shameful body. « And the LORD God called the man and said to him, « Where are you? » He answered, « I heard your voice in the garden; I was afraid, because I am naked, and I hid myself. » Then he said, « Who told you that you were naked? » (Gen. 3:9-11)

These different sort of nakedness can be interpreted, it seems to me, as various allegories of the Mystery, as various ways of being confronted with it, partially or totally, seeing it without understanding it, or somewhat understanding it, but then being excluded from it.

Not everyone is allowed to “see” the mysteries of heaven and earth. There are several levels of unveiling, reserved for those who have the capacity to face them face to face, according to their own merits.

“Seeing” the nakedness of the mystery is in principle excluded. But there are cases where this is more or less possible, with certain consequences.

If the mystery is laid bare, if it is looked at without a veil, without precaution, this implies taking risks.

The first kind of nudity is an image of the risk taken. Uncovering one’s head or tearing off one’s clothes against time, like Aaron did, can arouse divine anger.

Noah’s nakedness is another parable. One is sometimes led to surreptitiously discover a hidden aspect of the Mystery. Ham accidentally saw his father’s nudity (nudity which is admittedly a figure, a metaphor, of the Mystery). Ham will be punished above all for having immediately ‘revealed’ it to his brothers Shem and Japheth instead of having taken the necessary measures (covering the nudity, protecting the nakedness of the Mystery). It was the latter brothers who then carefully covered it, walking backwards and turning their face, not taking any glance at the scene.

They were to be rewarded later on for having preserved the invisible aura of the Mystery.

The third nudity, the happy nudity of Adam and Eve, is that of the origin. One may see the entire Mystery, without any veil, but the paradox is that one is not aware of its real nature. The whole Mystery is fully disclosed, but everything happens as if there was no awareness of it, as if there was nothing special to see, to understand, as is there was nothing mysterious in fact. Trap of the visible. Laces of un-exercised intelligence. Adam and Eve do not “see” and even less understand the Mystery that surrounds them, and they are not even aware of their own mystery, the mystery of their existence, their own consciousness. The Mystery is present in them, around them, but they know nothing of it.

The fourth kind of nudity is shameful nudity. Adam finally knows and sees his own nakedness as it is. The mystery is revealed to the consciousness. The consciousness has knowledge of the existence of the Mystery, but to no avail. The presence of the Mystery is immediately covered, buried in the unconscious, by the consciousness.

Four kind of nudity, four ways of perceiving the Mystery, and four ways blinding oneself to its true nature.

The biblical nudity carries four lessons about the veil and its unveiling.

One has to make an effort to understand the true nature, the true nudity, the true essence of the Mystery.

Not by unveiling it. On the contrary.