The hair growing on a man’s chin and cheeks, sometimes including that growing on the upper lip. In the Hebrew Scriptures, za·qanʹ is the word for “beard,” while sa·phamʹ, pertaining to the lip, is variously rendered by translators as “beard,” “mustache,” and “upper lip.” In a few instances the word za·qanʹ refers not to the beard but to the “chin.”—Le 13:29, 30; 14:9.
Among many ancient peoples of the East, including the Israelites, a beard was cherished as an evidence of manly dignity. God’s law to Israel prohibited the cutting off of the “sidelocks,” the hair between the ear and the eye, and the extremity of the beard. (Le 19:27; 21:5) This was doubtless because among some pagans it was a religious practice.
During extreme grief, shame, or humiliation, a man might pluck hairs from his beard, or he might leave the beard or the mustache untended. (Ezr 9:3) It may have been the untended beard of Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, that indicated to David that Mephibosheth was perhaps telling the truth when he said that his servant Ziba had slandered him, and that Mephibosheth was actually mourning while David was a refugee from Absalom, contrary to what Ziba had reported. (2Sa 16:3; 19:24-30) The removing of the beard illustrated calamity or great mourning because of calamity.—Isa 7:20; 15:2; Jer 48:37; Eze 5:1.
After the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E., men from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria expressed their distress by shaving their beards, ripping their garments apart, and cutting themselves. Even though they were bringing offerings to the house of Jehovah, they were bloodless offerings, apparently to be offered at the place where the temple had been. (Jer 41:5) That the practices of these men were not fully in harmony with the law of God is shown by the fact that they made cuts upon themselves, a practice sternly prohibited by the Law.—Le 19:28; 21:5.
The importance of the beard and its being well groomed played a part in the attitude of Achish the king of Gath toward David when the latter disguised his sanity by letting his saliva run down upon his beard. This served to help convince King Achish that David was insane. (1Sa 21:13) Later, when Hanun the king of Ammon grossly insulted David’s ambassadors by cutting off half their beards, David sympathetically told his men to stay in Jericho until their beards grew abundantly again. The Ammonites knew that it was a signal insult to David and that they had become foul-smelling in his eyes over the incident, and so they prepared for war.—2Sa 10:4-6; 1Ch 19:1-6.
It was customary for men to wear beards, even before the Law covenant was made. While the Hebrews did not make monuments with figures of themselves, many monuments and inscriptions have been found in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and other Middle Eastern lands, in which the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Canaanites are pictured with beards. Even some representations dated as far back as the third millennium B.C.E. show beards of varying styles. Among the above-named peoples, eunuchs were mainly the ones depicted beardless. The making of eunuchs was not a practice in Israel, however, because the Law excluded eunuchs from the congregation of Israel.—De 23:1.
Since most Semites are pictured as wearing beards, even prior to the time of the Law, it would logically follow that the faithful men of the line of Shem, who continued to speak the language of Eden and who doubtless followed more closely the original customs from the time of their forefather Shem, possessed beards. Consequently, there is good reason to believe that Noah, Enoch, Seth, and Adam likewise were bearded men.
Herodotus (II, 36) says the Egyptians shaved the hair both of the face and of the head. For the men it was a sign of mourning or of slovenliness to let the hair and beard grow. For this reason Joseph, when taken out of prison, shaved before being brought into the presence of Pharaoh. (Ge 41:14) However, false beards as well as wigs were worn by the Egyptians.
Did Jesus, when on earth, wear a beard? Certainly it was a custom strictly held by the Jews. Jesus, born a Jew, “came to be under law” and he fulfilled the Law. (Ga 4:4; Mt 5:17) Like all other Jews, Jesus was dedicated to Jehovah God from his birth, by reason of the Law covenant, and was under obligation to keep the whole Law, including the prohibition on shaving the extremity of the beard. Also, at the time that Jesus was on earth, the Roman custom was beardlessness. Therefore, if Jesus had been beardless, he would have been challenged as being either a eunuch or a Roman. Significantly, a prophecy concerning Jesus’ suffering states: “My back I gave to the strikers, and my cheeks to those plucking off the hair.”—Isa 50:6.