While little is known about the spinning and weaving processes used by the Israelites, it is evident that they were well acquainted with these crafts. In Egypt, archaeologists have unearthed wall paintings with illustrations of women weaving and spinning, showing the kind of loom that was used. An Egyptian model of a weaving shop with a horizontal loom was found near Girgeh, Upper Egypt.—See WEAVING.
The robe of fine white linen worn by the Aaronic high priest was to be woven in checker work, evidence that the Israelites were well acquainted with the art, being able to weave patterns into their fabrics.—Ex. 28:39.
In the construction of the tabernacle Bezalel and Oholiab were experts and their ability was increased and sharpened by God’s holy spirit, so that they could do the required work exactly according to the pattern given by Jehovah. (Ex. 35:30-35) Also, there were women with fine ability in this direction, spinning thread from flax and wool. (Ex. 35:25, 26) In making the fabric for the ephod of Aaron the high priest, the workmen “beat plates of gold to thin sheets, and . . . cut out threads to work in among the blue thread and the wool dyed reddish purple and the coccus scarlet material and the fine linen, as the work of an embroiderer.”—Ex. 39:2, 3.
The Greek Scriptures mention fabrics made of camel’s hair and of silk. (Matt. 3:4; Rev. 18:12) It is not known whether the Hebrews used cotton. Cotton is mentioned at Esther 1:6 as being used in the Persian palace at Shushan. Cotton was known in India, probably at least as early as 800 B.C.E. and the historian Pliny says that it was used in Egypt. It is grown today in the area of ancient Palestine. However, certain materials not native to Palestine could be obtained by the Hebrews from traveling merchants from both East and West passing through Palestine.
Linen has much longer fibers than cotton and is easier to spin, but it is harder to dye. Linen was a cherished item in the wardrobes of kings and high officials. Joseph was clothed with “garments of fine linen” when he was made a ruler in Egypt. (Gen. 41:42) Also, Mordecai went out from before the Persian king in royal apparel of blue and linen. (Esther 8:15) Women valued clothing made of linen.—Prov. 31:22.
Other materials used for garments were skins and leather and hair. Tents were made of skins or of goat’s hair. (Ex. 26:7, 14) Samples of wool felt have been found. At 1 Samuel 19:13, a net of goats’ hair is mentioned.
The people of Bible lands were doubtless able to make a great variety of colors of fabrics. In describing the curtains for the tabernacle and the garments in connection with the sanctuary, the Bible mentions blue, scarlet and reddish purple. (Ex. 26:1; 28:31, 33) A wide variety of shades and colors could be produced by using these three colors of dye on fabrics of originally different colors and shades. Joseph was given a striped garment by his father Jacob. (Gen. 37:3, 32) David’s daughter Tamar wore a striped robe, “for that was the way the daughters of the king, the virgins, used to dress with sleeveless coats.” (2 Sam. 13:18) By using different colors in the warp from those in the woof a variegated pattern could be produced.—See DYES, DYEING.
In the construction of the tabernacle, ten tent cloths of fine twisted linen and wool, embroidered with cherubs, constituted the immediate covering of the panel frames, so that these frames served as “shadow boxes” in which the cherubs could be seen by the priests serving inside the tabernacle. (Ex. 26:1, 2) Goat’s-hair cloth formed the next covering. (Ex. 26:7, 8) It was probably woven of only the very finest, softest part of the goat’s hair, which we might speak of as the “down,” far excelling the wool of lambs and sheep. Lustrous and soft like silk, it served as a fine protection for the embroidered linen. The curtains or screens hanging at the entrances of the Holy and Most Holy compartments were also of linen and wool, the screen of the Most Holy being embroidered with cherubs. (Ex. 26:31-37) The linen tent cloths were four cubits (about 6 feet or 1.8 meters) wide and twenty-eight cubits (about 41 feet or 12.5 meters) long. The N and S sides of the courtyard were one hundred cubits (about 146 feet or 44.5 meters).—Ex. 27:9-11.
Cloths of blue and of coccus scarlet material and of wool dyed reddish purple were used to cover the ark of the covenant, the table of showbread, the lampstand, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and the other utensils of the ministry when the tabernacle was moved from one location to another. (The color or colors for each item were specified.)—Num. 4:4-14.
When Lazarus was resurrected he came out of the tomb with his countenance still bound up with the cloth that had been placed over his head at burial, apparently a long piece of linen fabric. (John 11:44) In accordance with custom a cloth was also put upon Jesus’ head at his burial. The Jews had the custom of preparing bodies for burial by binding them with bandages of clean linen along with spices (not an embalming process such as the Egyptians practiced). (John 19:40; Matt. 27:59) After Jesus’ resurrection John and Peter found the bandages and the cloth that had been upon Jesus rolled up separately lying in the tomb. (John 20:5-7) Cloth bands were used as “swaddling bands” for newborn babies.—Luke 2:7.
Cloth was used in a murder on at least one occasion, when Hazael assassinated his master King Benhadad of Syria by dipping a coverlet of thick cloth in water and spreading it over the sick king’s face so that he died.—2 Ki. 8:15.
Money was sometimes kept wrapped in a cloth. This was the way the wicked slave referred to in one of Jesus’ illustrations kept his mina instead of investing it. (Luke 19:20) Money was often carried in the voluminous folds of the bosom of the garment, probably wrapped in such cloths.
God showed his recognition of Paul as his representative and put his seal of approval on Paul’s preaching by performing extraordinary works of power through cloths and aprons that were borne from Paul’s body to ailing people, curing them of diseases and throwing out wicked spirits from them. (Acts 19:11, 12) That this was due to God’s power and not to any magical power on the part of Paul himself is shown by the fact that seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who were not representing Jehovah and Jesus Christ, tried to exorcise demons but were overcome by a demonized man. Additionally, the effect of these powerful works of Jehovah was against magic, causing those who practiced magical arts to burn their books publicly.—Acts 19:13-20.
God’s law to Israel commanded: “You must not wear mixed stuff of wool and linen together.” (Deut. 22:11) This likely meant two kinds of yarn fibers spun together. God desired Israel to be a special people, separate from the other nations, pure and holy to him. In this respect this prohibition was similar to the listing of certain animals as “unclean” and not to be eaten. There may have been other practical considerations. It may have prevented fraud and misrepresentation by merchants. It may also have worked toward greater durability of the cloth, avoiding the difficulty that would arise in washing a cloth, for example, made of linen and wool together.
The Scriptures describe a “leprosy” that could develop in a garment of either wool or linen. This may have been some form of mildew or mold. Leviticus 13:47-59 deals with the detection and identification of leprosy in a garment and the process of dealing with the plague.—See LEPROSY.
Because of the cleanness and purity of white linen it is used in the Scriptures to symbolize righteousness. The garments next to the high priest’s body, namely, the drawers, robe and turban, were made of fine white linen, as were the drawers, robes and headgears for the underpriests. (Ex. 28:39-42; compare Job 29:14.) The bride of the Lamb is arrayed in bright, clean, fine linen, for “the fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the holy ones.” (Rev. 19:8) The armies following Jesus Christ in heaven are represented as being clothed in white, clean, fine linen. (Rev. 19:14) Babylon the Great has been rich in the traffic of merchandise, which includes fine linen. Also, she has put on an appearance of righteousness, being “clothed with fine linen,” while at the same time carrying on harlot activities.—Rev. 18:3, 16; see COTTON; DRESS.