Bible references and the evidence unearthed by archaeologists reveal, not only an interest in ornamentation from very ancient times, but also great ability and skill in producing ornamentation of high artistic caliber. Artisans did highly decorative work in weaving, embroidery, wood- and ivory-carving and in metalworking. The remains of palaces in Assyria, Babylon, Persia and the city of Mari all give evidence of rich decorating, with large murals on interior walls and finely carved bas-reliefs depicting scenes of war, hunting and palace affairs adorning both inner and outer walls. Palace doorways were often guarded by great figures of mighty beasts. The representations of the king and others in the reliefs reveal fine embroidery on their garments. Even the gear of the horses is highly decorated with tassels and engravings. (Compare the necklaces of the Midianites’ camels; Judg. 8:21, 26.)
Tomb paintings provide the principal source of evidence from Egypt, although some artifacts in the form of throne chairs, royal chariots and other items have survived. The paintings depict even foreign nomads as wearing brightly colored and patterned dress. The royal tombs at Ur in Mesopotamia produced some of the best finds in ancient jewelry, some of it of considerable intricacy in its construction. Lovely blue and gold necklaces, a headdress of delicately hammered gold and silver leaves and flowers, as well as a harp of beautifully inlaid wood with engraved shell plaques bearing scenes of animal life, are a few of the many treasures unearthed there.
Throughout Near Eastern lands pottery of all styles, and elaborately ornamented cosmetic boxes, ointment jars, mirror handles and palettes for mixing cosmetic pigments have been found, frequently of carved ivory or bone.
HEBREW AND CHRISTIAN ORNAMENTATION
The Bible lays greatest emphasis on spiritual beauty rather than on material adornment. Parental discipline is “a wreath of attractiveness” to one’s head “and a fine necklace” for the throat, a “crown of beauty”; “lips of knowledge are precious vessels” superior to any gold vases of an artisan; “as apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it,” and “an earring of gold, and an ornament of special gold, is a wise reprover upon the hearing ear.” (Prov. 1:9; 4:9; 20:15; 25:11, 12) A pretty woman lacking sensibleness is likened to “a gold nose ring in the snout of a pig.” (Prov. 11:22) These texts, while exalting spiritual qualities, also show that the Bible writers and those reading their writings were well acquainted with all such ornamentation.
Moderation is encouraged, particularly in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Women were “to adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind, not with styles of hair braiding and gold or pearls or very expensive garb, but in the way that befits women professing to reverence God, namely, through good works.” (1 Tim. 2:9, 10) Peter could call upon examples of pre-Christian times in urging that women seek the beauty of “the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God,” pointing to women such as Sarah who so adorned themselves, “subjecting themselves to their own husbands.” (1 Pet. 3:1-6) Thus, if followed, the Scriptures provide the guide to a proper evaluation of ornamentation and jewelry and good balance in its use.
Both men and women wore ornaments in ancient times, and this was true among the Hebrews. Early mention is made of jewelry in the form of a gold nose ring and also bracelets given to Rebekah by Abraham’s servant. (Gen. 24:22, 30, 47, 53) Joseph, upon becoming Pharaoh’s prime minister, received a gold necklace and the monarch’s own signet ring. (Gen. 41:41-43) Such signet rings or seal rings were common in all the Bible lands, frequently being worn on a cord around the neck. (Compare Genesis 38:18.) They served to affix the signature or official seal of the individual to documents and hence, if granted to another person to carry, identified him as a bona fide and authorized representative of the ring’s owner.
At the Exodus the Israelites obtained many silver and gold articles from the Egyptians, and doubtless from these came many of the brooches, earrings, rings and other items they contributed for the preparation of the tabernacle, even as they had wrongly contributed gold earrings for the forming of an idolatrous calf. (Ex. 12:35, 36; 32:1-4; 35:20-24) The tabernacle and its equipment saw much work by artisans skilled in woodworking and working with precious metals and gems as well as weaving and embroidering. (Ex. 35:25-35) The later temple by Solomon was even more gloriously adorned; its cedarwood panels, doors of oil-tree and juniper wood were carved with such figures as gourd-shaped ornaments, garlands of blossoms, cherubs and palm-tree figures and overlaid with gold, while the two copper pillars in front of the structure had network, chainwork, pomegranates, and lily work adorning their capitals. (1 Ki. 6:18, 29, 35; 7:15-22) Solomon showed great appreciation for artistic beauty and his great gold-overlaid ivory throne, with lion figures alongside each arm and twelve more on the six steps before it, was unique in the ancient world.—1 Ki. 10:16-21.
ORNAMENTATION IN PROPHECY
Because of his blessing upon Jerusalem, Jehovah likened this capital of Judah to a woman clothed with costly garments, richly ornamented and bejeweled. Her loss of spirituality and her spiritual prostitution with the nations led to her being stripped of her adornments and left as if naked. (Ezek. 16:2, 10-39) Such stripping came, not only in a spiritual way, but also literally as her greedy conquerors took the city’s wealth, including the bangles, headbands, moon-shaped ornaments, eardrops, bracelets, veils, headdresses, step chains, breastbands, “houses of the soul” (perhaps referring to perfume receptacles), ornamental humming shells, finger and nose rings that “the daughters of Zion” had worn. (Isa. 3:16-26) It would be a time of mourning, for in mourning ornaments were customarily removed.—Ex. 33:4-6.
However, when Jehovah repurchased Zion from Babylonian captivity, he would figuratively build her with a sapphire foundation, with battlements of rubies and gates of fiery glowing stones, this because of the peace and righteousness he would bring (Isa. 54:7, 8, 11-14) and she would be clothed with bridelike attire and ornaments. (Isa. 49:14-18; compare 61:10.) This latter picture resembles somewhat the description of the New Jerusalem with its pearl gates and gemlike foundations, and its being prepared as “a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev. 21:2, 9-21) Again, it is evident that the ornaments and adornment relate to spiritual qualities and blessings that result from God’s approval and favor.
By contrast, Babylon the Great, the symbolic woman committing fornication with the kings of the earth, decks herself with royal garb and ornaments and lives in shameless luxury, but is to be stripped of all her gorgeous finery, made naked and destroyed. Her beauty is false, and she ‘glorifies herself’; hence her ornamentation does not represent divine blessing and favor but, rather, her own pretenses and the benefits her harlotrous course pays her in the way of power and wealth.—Rev. 17:3-5, 16; 18:7-20; see ANKLET; BEADS; BRACELET; BROOCH; EARRING, JEWELS AND PRECIOUS STONES; NECKLACE; NOSE RING; RING.