Apart from mention, with some description, of various articles of clothing in the Bible, there is little historical information as to the dress worn by the Hebrews—far less than that of the Egyptians and Assyrians. The reason is that the nation of Israel did not erect monuments or make inscriptions lauding their military victors, with figures of themselves from which we could get an idea as to their style of dress. Numerous Egyptian and Assyrian bas-reliefs, and those of other nations, illustrate the dress of their own peoples, and several show captives of different nationalities. Some of those depicted are believed to be Hebrews, but this cannot be proved. It seems reasonable, however, that some of the clothing worn today by people in many parts of the Bible lands may be roughly similar to what was worn centuries ago, since the same purposes are served, and since some customs have remained unchanged for centuries. On the other hand, archaeological evidence seems to show that the Hebrews used color in their dress to a greater extent than the modern Arab bedouins. Additionally, the dress worn by modern-day Jews and by other people in those lands has often been greatly influenced by religion and by Greek, Roman and Western customs, so that we can at best get only a general idea by comparison.
The very earliest clothing material was the fig leaf, Adam and Eve sewing fig leaves together to make loin coverings. (Gen. 3:7) Later, Jehovah made them long garments of skin. (Gen. 3:21) A “hair garment” was used by Elijah and by Elisha as the “official garment” of the prophetic ministry. Elijah also wore a belt of leather. John the Baptist dressed similarly. (2 Ki. 1:8; 2:13; Heb. 11:37; Matt. 3:4) Sackcloth, usually made of hair (Rev. 6:12), was worn by mourners. (Esther 4:1; Ps. 69:10, 11; Rev. 11:3) Linen and wool were the principal fabrics. (Lev. 13:47-59; Prov. 31:13) The coarser fabrics of the poor were made of goat’s hair and camel’s hair, although they also used wool. Linen was a more expensive material. Cotton may also have been used. In only one place in the Bible is it certain that silk is mentioned, it being listed as an article of Babylon the Great’s commerce. (Rev. 18:12) Garments were of various colors, variegated and striped, and some were embroidered. (Judg. 5:30) Varieties of weave existed. The high priest’s white linen robe was woven “in checker work.” (Ex. 28:39) The Israelites might wear a garment of linen and another of wool, but were forbidden by God’s law to wear a garment of two sorts of thread, mixed.—Lev. 19:19; Deut. 22:11; see CLOTH; DYES, DYEING.
The general term for garment most often used in the Hebrew Scriptures is beʹghedh. Other terms were used, sometimes in a general way, but they also appear in places as applying to specific articles of clothing.
There seems to have been an innermost garment in the form of a loincloth, or perhaps drawers, worn next to the skin, for the exposure of absolute nakedness was shameful. The priests were required to wear linen drawers (Heb., mikh·nesaʹyim) to prevent indecent exposure when they served at the altar. Pagan priests sometimes served naked, a thing disgusting to Jehovah.—Ex. 28:42, 43.
The sa·dhinʹ (Heb.) was an “undergarment” worn by both men and women. (Isa. 3:23) Some think that one form of this inner article of clothing was in the nature of a wraparound garment. It would be worn without outer garments by workmen such as the Israelites in Egypt’s brick fields, or fishermen, carpenters, hewers of wood and drawers of water, and so forth. When worn beneath outer clothing the style of it appears to have been shirtlike, reaching to or below the knees, having sleeves and worn with or without a sash. It was made of wool or linen.
The Hebrew kut·toʹneth (or, kethoʹneth), a type of robe, seems to correspond with the Greek khi·tonʹ. Both terms are most widely used to refer to a tunic or shirtlike article of apparel, long or half-sleeved, reaching to the knees or to the ankles. It was the indoor costume for family life and familiar outdoor surroundings. In some styles of the kut·toʹneth or the khi·tonʹ, it may have been draped over one shoulder, leaving the other bare, and was white or of varied colors. The longer style would be slit in each side from the hem up about a foot (c. 30 centimeters) for freedom of walking. Some were of linen, but probably more often of wool, especially among the poor. This garment was also worn by both men and women, the women’s robe likely being longer.
Kut·toʹneth is the word used for the robe of the high priest and the underpriests. (Ex. 28:39, 40) The word is also used for Joseph’s long striped shirtlike garment (Gen. 37:3), and for Tamar’s striped robe, which she ripped apart in grief and humiliation. (2 Sam. 13:18) Jesus’ inner garment (khi·tonʹ), over which the soldiers cast lots, was woven in one piece without a seam. (John 19:23, 24) The kut·toʹneth or khi·tonʹ could be worn with a sash, as in the case of the priests, or without; likely, in most cases, a sash was used. Probably different styles of it were worn, depending on the activity of the wearer. One engaged in work or physical activity would reasonably wear a shorter version of the garment, for more liberty of movement. Jude’s illustration, at verse 23, is appropriate, for the khi·tonʹ would be in contact with the flesh.
The meʽilʹ, a sleeveless coat, was worn on top of the kut·toʹneth or white linen robe of the high priest. (Lev. 8:7) The meʽilʹ was not restricted to the priesthood, however, but was a common item of apparel. Samuel, Saul, David, and Job and his three companions are among those mentioned as wearing sleeveless coats. (1 Sam. 2:19; 15:27; 18:4; 24:4; 1 Chron. 15:27; Job 1:20; 2:12) In each case it is quite clear that it refers to an upper or secondary garment worn over another one. The Septuagint Version often renders meʽilʹ in Greek as sto·leʹ and hi·maʹti·on, terms denoting an upper garment. This article of dress may have been usually longer than the kut·toʹneth. The sal·mahʹ (Heb.) may also have been a form of outer garment.
The sto·leʹ, as referred to in the Christian Greek Scriptures, was a stately robe reaching down to the feet. Jesus criticized the scribes for loving to wear this type of robe in public places to attract attention and to impress people with their importance. (Luke 20:46) The angel at Jesus’ tomb was wearing this form of clothing. (Mark 16:5) It was this robe, “the best,” that was put on the prodigal son at his return. (Luke 15:22) And the martyred servants of God in John’s vision are clothed with the sto·leʹ (Rev. 6:11), as are also the members of the “great crowd.”—Rev. 7:9, 13, 14.
E·sthesʹ (Gr.) usually had reference to a robe or garment that was ornate, splendid. Angels appeared in such attire. (Luke 24:4; see also James 2:2, 3.) Herod clothed Jesus in such a robe in mockery. (Luke 23:11) After Jesus was scourged at Pilate’s orders the soldiers put on him a scarlet cloak (a khla·mysʹ) (Matt. 27:28, 31), or hi·maʹti·on. (John 19:2, 5) This was apparently a cloak or robe worn by kings, magistrates, military officers, and so forth.
The sim·lahʹ (Heb.), “mantle,” was the outermost garment worn by the majority. It was also the largest and heaviest, made of wool, linen, or goat’s hair, and perhaps, in some cases, of sheepskin or goatskin. The mantle was often the garment that was ripped to express grief. (Gen. 37:34; 44:13; Josh. 7:6) It seems to have been a large rectangular piece of material, usually placed on the left shoulder, brought up under the right arm from behind, drawn across the chest and thrown back over the left shoulder again, leaving the right arm free. In bad weather it was drawn around the body more closely, over both arms, and even covering the head. Some believe that it was occasionally in the form of a square cloak with an opening in front and slits in the side for the arms, but, if so, this would seem to be a less common style. The mantle, comparable in some respects to our shawl, could be used as a covering (Gen. 9:23); as bed clothing (Ex. 22:27; Deut. 22:17); and to bind or wrap up articles.—Ex. 12:34; Judg. 8:25; 1 Sam. 21:9.
The sim·lahʹ was worn by both men and women, the woman’s being distinguishable from the man’s, perhaps in size, color and decoration, such as embroidery. God commanded that a woman should not wear a man’s garment, nor a man a woman’s mantle, this command doubtless being given in order to prevent sex abuses.—Deut. 22:5.
A poor man might have only one mantle, but the well-to-do had several changes. (Ex. 22:27; Deut. 10:18; Gen. 45:22) Because it was the poor person’s covering during the chilly Palestinian nights, it was forbidden to take a widow’s garment as a pledge or to keep the garment of a poor man overnight, the mantle here being referred to primarily.—Deut. 24:13, 17.
The Greek hi·maʹti·on, “outer garment,” probably corresponds largely to the mantle (sim·lahʹ) of the Hebrew Scriptures. In some cases it appears to have been a loose robe, but more often a rectangular piece of material. It was easily put on and thrown off. Usually it was taken off when its owner was working nearby. (Matt. 24:18; Mark 10:50; John 13:4; Acts 7:58) Jesus spoke of this piece of apparel when he said: “From him that takes away your outer garment [hi·maʹti·on], do not withhold even the undergarment [khi·toʹna].” (Luke 6:29) He may refer here to a forcible or illegal removal of garments, the outer garment naturally being first to be pulled off. At Matthew 5:40, he reverses the order. There he is discussing legal action, in which the judges might first award the complainant the khi·tonʹ, the inner garment, which was of less value.
That hi·maʹti·on and khi·tonʹ may have been used at times interchangeably to mean “garment” is indicated in the accounts of Jesus’ trial by Matthew and Mark. The high priest ripped his clothing to demonstrate forcibly his sanctimoniously assumed horror and indignation. Matthew uses the word hi·maʹti·on here, while Mark uses khi·tonʹ. (Matt. 26:65; Mark 14:63) Or it is possible that in his fervor he ripped one garment, then another.
The phe·loʹnes (Gr.), which Paul asked Timothy to bring to him in prison, was likely a traveling cloak for protection against cold or stormy weather. It was not a religious or ecclesiastical vestment.—2 Tim. 4:13.
The ʼad·deʹreth (Heb.) was the official garment of one such as a prophet or a king. (2 Ki. 2:8; Jonah 3:6) The prophet’s official garment was likely made of camel’s or goat’s hair. (2 Ki. 1:8; Matt. 3:4; Mark 1:6; compare Genesis 25:25.) Elijah appointed Elisha as his successor by throwing his official garment upon him, and Elisha took up this garment after Elijah was carried away in a windstorm. (1 Ki. 19:19; 2 Ki. 2:13) It was an official garment from Shinar that Achan took from the “devoted” city of Jericho, in violation of Jehovah’s command.—Josh. 7:1, 21.
The Greek word enʹdy·ma is used with reference to a wedding garment (Matt. 22:11, 12), to the clothing of the angel at Jesus’ tomb (Matt. 28:3), to John the Baptist’s camel-hair clothing and to garments in general.—Matt. 3:4; 6:25, 28; Luke 12:23.
The woman’s “headdress” or “veil” that the apostle Paul speaks of in connection with the symbol of woman’s subjection to headship is pe·ri·boʹlai·on (Gr.), something that is thrown around, a wrap. (1 Cor. 11:15) It is different from the face veil or covering worn by Moses when his face shone so that the Israelites could not look upon it. (Ex. 34:33-35; 2 Cor. 3:13) Rebekah put on a headcloth when meeting Isaac, her espoused, to denote her subjection. (Gen. 24:65) The Hebrew word tsaʽiphʹ, used here, is translated “shawl” (NW), “veil” (AT, AV, RS) at Genesis 38:14, 19.
Sash, belt or girdle
A sash was often worn over the inner or the outer garments. When one engaged in some form of physical activity or work, he would ‘gird up his loins’ by wearing a sash, often pulling the ends of the garment up between his legs and tucking these ends under the sash so that he would have freedom of movement. (1 Ki. 18:46; 2 Ki. 4:29; 9:1) The high priest wore a woven sash over his linen robe and, when wearing the ephod, a girdle of the same material was worn to hold the back and front parts of the apronlike ephod close to the waist. (Ex. 28:4, 8, 39; 39:29) A belt or girdle was a commonly worn item because of its additional convenience for placing in it sheathed daggers or swords, for holding money, the inkhorn of the recorder, and so forth.—Judg. 3:16; 2 Sam. 20:8; Ezek. 9:3.
Since those engaged in some form of work, and servants or slaves, wore a sash or girdle, it came to be symbolic of service or of one ministering to others. Jesus’ expression “let your loins be girded” figuratively describes readiness for spiritual activity on the part of God’s servants. (Luke 12:35) Jesus laid aside his outer garments and girded himself with a towel. He then ministered to the apostles by washing their feet, as an example to teach them to serve their brothers. The angels seen in vision by John had golden girdles, signifying a most precious service.—John 13:1-16; Rev. 15:6.
God commanded the Israelites to make fringed edges on the skirts of their garments, with a blue string above the fringe. This seems to have been peculiar to Israelite dress and provided a visual reminder that they were set aside as a people holy to Jehovah. It would keep before their eyes the fact that they should obey Jehovah’s commandments. (Num. 15:38-41) Tassels were also to be put on the four extremities of their clothing; possibly this had reference to the four corners of the mantle. (Deut. 22:12) The hem of the high priest’s blue sleeveless coat was fringed with alternate golden bells and pomegranates of cloth material.—Ex. 28:33, 34.
Where a robe or a sash needed fastening, the Hebrews may have used a toggle pin. Specimens found in the Middle East are pointed on one end and had a hole like a needle’s eye at the middle, into which a cord was tied. The garment would be fastened by inserting the pin into it and then winding the cord around the pin’s protruding ends. It appears that about the tenth century B.C.E. a form of safety pin somewhat resembling our modern safety pin may have been introduced into Palestine.
RIGHT AND WRONG VIEW OF DRESS
Jehovah’s people are told not to be unduly anxious about having sufficient clothing. (Matt. 6:25-32) The Christian woman is warned not to let expensive, showy dress or style be the thing she seeks, but, rather, to let her clothing be modest yet well arranged, showing soundness of mind. She should therefore give attention to her dress, but should put the primary stress on the apparel of a quiet and mild spirit. (1 Tim. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:3-5) The wise writer of Proverbs describes a good wife as seeing that her family is well clothed, industriously making garments with her own hands.—Prov. 31:13, 21, 24.
On the other hand, many women of Bible times used their attire as a means of gaining their selfish objectives. It was a custom for women of pagan cities, when about to be captured by the enemy, to put on their finest apparel in order to attract soldiers who might take them as wives. But, in case a captive woman was taken by an Israelite soldier, she was required to set aside her items of dress, some of which might be connected with pagan religion, before he could marry her.—Deut. 21:10-13.
After Israel had fallen into many idolatrous and immoral practices, Jehovah condemned the women of the nation who haughtily garbed and decorated themselves in order to attract men, even men of other nations, and for decking themselves with the ornaments of false religion.—Isa. 3:16-23; compare Proverbs 7:10.
Jehovah portrays Jerusalem as once figuratively attired by him in beautiful garments. But she trusted in her prettiness and consorted with the pagan nations, decking herself out to be attractive, as a prostitute.—Ezek. 16:10-14; see also Ezekiel 23:26, 27; Jeremiah 4:30, 31.
Clothing is used symbolically in many Bible passages. Jehovah portrays himself as clothed with dignity, splendor, eminence, light, righteousness, zeal and vengeance. (Ps. 93:1; 104:1, 2; Isa. 59:17) He is said to clothe his people in garments of righteousness and salvation. (Ps. 132:9; Isa. 61:10) His enemies will be clothed with shame and humiliation. (Ps. 35:26) Paul commands Christians to strip off the old personality and to clothe themselves with the new personality, some of the features of which are the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, long-suffering and, especially, love.—Col. 3:9-14.
Many other symbolic references are made to clothing. Just as a uniform or special attire identifies one as belonging to a certain organization or supporting a certain movement, so clothing, as used symbolically in the Bible, indicates the identification of a person by the stand he takes and his activities in harmony with it, as in the case of Jesus’ illustration of the marriage garment.—Matt. 22:11, 12; see HEADDRESS; SANDAL.
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