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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [1]

The dress of oriental nations, to which the inspired writers often allude, has undergone almost no change from the earliest times. Their stuffs were fabricated of various materials; but wool was generally used in their finer fabrics; and the hair of goats, camels, and even of horses, was manufactured for coarser purposes, especially for sackcloth, which they wore in time of mourning and distress. Sackcloth of black goat's hair was manufactured for mournings; the colour and the coarseness of which being reckoned more suitable to the circumstances of the wearer, than the finer and more valuable texture which the hair of white goats supplied. This is the reason why a clouded sky is represented, in the bold figurative language of Scripture, as covered with sackcloth and blackness, the colour and dress of persons in affliction. In Egypt and Syria they wore also fine linen, cotton, and byssus, probably fine muslin from India, in Hebrew בוצ , the finest cloth known to the ancients. In Canaan, persons of distinction were dressed in fine linen of Egypt; and according to some authors, in silk, and rich cloth, shaded with the choicest colours, or, as the Vulgate calls it, with feathered work, embroidered with gold. The beauty of their clothes consisted in the fineness and colour of the stuffs; and it seems, the colour most in use among the Israelites, as well as among the Greeks and Romans, was white, not imparted and improved by the dyer's art, but the native colour of the wool. The general use of this colour seems to be recognized by Solomon in his direction: "Let thy garments be always white,"  Ecclesiastes 9:8 . But garments in the native colour of the wool were not confined to the lower orders; they were also in great esteem among persons of superior station, and are particularly valued in Scripture, as the emblem of knowledge and purity, gladness and victory, grace and glory. The priests of Baal were habited in black; a colour which appears to have been peculiar to themselves, and which few others in those countries, except mourners, would choose to wear. Blue was a colour in great esteem among the Jews, and other oriental nations. The robe of the ephod, in the gorgeous dress of the high priest, was made all of blue; it was a prominent colour in the sumptuous hangings of the tabernacle; and the whole people of Israel were required to put a fringe of blue upon the border of their garments, and on the fringe a riband of the same colour. The palace of Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, was furnished with curtains of this colour, on a pavement of red, and blue, and white marble; a proof that it was not less esteemed in Persia than on the Jordan. And from Ezekiel we learn, that the Assyrian nobles were habited in robes of this colour: "She doated on the Assyrians, her neighbours, which were clothed with blue, captains and rulers, all of them desirable young men."

2. The Jewish nobles and courtiers, upon great and solemn occasions, appeared in scarlet robes, dyed, not as at present with madder, with cochineal, or with any modern tincture, but with a shrub, whose red berries give an orient tinge to the cloth. Crimson or vermilion, a colour, as the name imports, from the blood of the worm, was used in the temple of Solomon, and by many persons of the first quality; sometimes they wore purple, the most sublime of all earthly colours, says Mr. Harmer, having the gaudiness of red, of which it retains a shade, softened with the gravity of blue. This was chiefly dyed at Tyre, and was supposed to take the tincture from the liquor of a shell fish, anciently found in the adjacent sea; though Mr. Bruce, in his Travels, inclines to the opinion, that the murex, or purple fish at Tyre, was only a concealment of their knowledge of cochineal, as, if the whole city of Tyre had applied to nothing else but fishing, they would not have coloured twenty yards of cloth in a year. The children of wealthy and noble families were dressed in vestments of different colours. This mark of distinction may be traced to the patriarchal age; for Joseph was arrayed, by his indulgent and imprudent father, in a coat of many colours. A robe of divers colours was anciently reserved for the kings' daughters who were virgins; and in one of these was Tamar, the virgin daughter of David, arrayed, when she was met by her brother.

3. In these parts of the world, the fashion is in a state of almost daily fluctuation, and different fashions are not unfrequently seen contending for the superiority; but in the east, where the people are by no means given to change, the form of their garments continues nearly the same from one age to another. The greater part of their clothes are long and flowing, loosely cast about the body, consisting only of a large piece of cloth, in the cutting and sewing of which very little art or industry is employed. They have more dignity and gracefulness than ours, and are better adapted to the burning climates of Asia. From the simplicity of their form, and their loose adaptation to the body, the same clothes might be worn, with equal ease and convenience, by many different persons. The clothes of those Philistines whom Samson slew at Askelon required no altering to fit his companions; nor the robe of Jonathan, to answer his friend. The arts of weaving and fulling seem to have been distinct occupations in Israel, from a very remote period, in consequence of the various and skilful operations which were necessary to bring their stuffs to a suitable degree of perfection; but when the weaver and the fuller had finished their part, the labour was nearly at an end; no distinct artizan was necessary to make them into clothes; every family seems to have made their own. Sometimes, however, this part of the work was performed in the loom; for they had the art of weaving robes with sleeves all of one piece: of this kind was the coat which our Saviour wore during his abode with men. The loose dresses of these countries, when the arm is lifted up, exposes its whole length: to this circumstance the Prophet Isaiah refers: "To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" that is, uncovered: who observes that he is about to exert the arm of his power?

4. The chosen people were not allowed to wear clothes of any materials or form they chose; they were forbidden by their law to wear a garment of woollen and linen. This law did not prevent them from wearing many different substances together, but only these two; nor did the prohibition extend to the wool of camels and goats, (for the hair of these animals they called by the same name,) but only to that of sheep. It was lawful for any man who saw an Israelite dressed in such a garment to fall upon him and put him to death. In the opinion of Maimonides, this was principally intended as a preservative from idolatry; for the Heathen priests of those times wore such mixed garments of woollen and linen, in the superstitious hope, it was imagined, of having the beneficial influence of some lucky conjunction of the planets or stars, to bring down a blessing upon their sheep and their flax. The second restraint referred to the sexes, of which one was not to wear the dress appropriated to the other. This practice is said to be an abomination to the Lord; which plainly intimates that the law refers to some idolatrous custom, of which Moses and the prophets always spoke in terms of the utmost abhorrence. Nothing, indeed, was more common among the Heathen, in the worship of some of their false deities, than for the males to assist in women's clothes, and the females in the dress appropriated to men; in the worship of Venus, in particular, the women appeared before her in armour, and the men in women's apparel; and thus the words literally run in the original Scriptures, "Women shall not put on the armour of a man, nor a man the stole of a woman." Maimonides says he found this precept in an old magical book, "That men ought to stand before the star of Venus in the flowered garments of women, and women to put on the armour of men before the star of Mars." But whatever there may be in these observations, it is certain that, if there were no distinction of sexes made by their habits, there would be danger of involving mankind in all manner of licentiousness and impurity.

5. The ancient Jews very seldom wore any covering upon the head, except when they were in mourning, or worshipping in the temple, or in the synagogue. To pray with the head covered, was, in their estimation, a higher mark of respect for the majesty of heaven, as it indicated the conscious unworthiness of the suppliant to lift up his eyes in the divine presence. To guard themselves from the wind or the storm, or from the still more fatal stroke of the sun-beam, to which the general custom of walking bare headed particularly exposed them, they wrapped their heads in their mantles, or upper garments. But during their long captivity in Babylon, the Jews began to wear turbans, in compliance with the customs of their conquerors; for Daniel informs us, that his three friends were cast into the fiery furnace with their hats, or, as the term should be rendered, their turbans. It is not, however, improbable, that the bulk of the nation continued to follow their ancient custom; and that the compliance prevailed only among those Jews who were connected with the Babylonish court; for many ages after that, we find Antiochus Epiphanes introducing the habits and fashions of the Grecians among the Jews; and as the history of the Maccabees relates, he brought the chief young men under his subjection, and made them wear a hat, or turban. Their legs were generally bare; and they never wore any thing upon the feet, but soles fastened in different ways, according to the taste or fancy of the wearer.