BEARD. With Asiatics a badge of manly dignity, in contrast to the Egyptians, who usually shaved the head and the face. As a sign of mourning, it was the custom to pluck it out or cut it off. The Israelites were forbidden to shave off the corners of their beards, probably because that act was regarded as a sign of paganism (Lev.19.27). To force a man to cut off his beard was to inflict on him a shameful disgrace (2Sam.10.4-2Sam.10.5).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


(1) Western Semites in general, according to the monuments, wore full round beards, to which they evidently devoted great care. The nomads of the desert, in distinction from the settled Semites, wore a clipped and pointed beard (see Jer 9:26: "all that have the corners of their hair cut off, that dwell in the wilderness"; and compare 25:23; 49:32, etc.).

(2) Long beards are found on Assyrian and Babylonian monuments and sculptures as a mark of the highest aristocracy (compare Egyptian monuments, especially representations by W. Max Muller, Asien und Europa, 140). It is not clear that it was ever so with the Jews. Yet it is significant that the Hebrew "elder" (zaqen) seems to have received his name from his long beard (compare bene barbatus).

(3) The view of some that it was customary among the Hebrews to shave the upper lip is considered by the best authorities as without foundation. The mustache (Hebrew sapham, "beard"), according to 2Sa 19:24, received regular "trimming" (thus English Versions of the Bible after the Vulgate, but the Hebrew is generic, not specific: "He had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard").

(4) In one case (1Sa 21:13,14) the neglect of the beard is set down as a sign of madness: "(He) let his spittle fall down upon his beard. Then said Achish, .... Lo, ye see the man is mad."

(5) It was common. Semitic custom to cut both hair and beard as a token of grief or distress. Isa 15:2, describing the heathen who have "gone up to the high places to weep," says "Moab waileth over Nebo, and over Medeba; on all their heads is baldness, every beard is cut off." Jeremiah (Je 41:5), describing the grief of the men of Samaria for their slain governor, Gedaliah, says, "There came men from .... Samaria (his sorrowing subjects) even four score men, having their beards shaven and their clothes rent," etc. And Amos, in his prophecy of the vision of the "basket of summer fruit" (Am 8:1 ff), makes Yahweh say to His people: "I will turn your feasts into mourning; .... I will bring sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head" (Am 8:10). On the other hand it was even more significant of great distress or fear to leave the beard untrimmed, as did Mephibosheth, the son of Saul, when he went to meet King David, in the crisis of his guilty failure to go up with the king according to his expectation: "He had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came home in peace." (Compare 1Sa 21:13,14; 2Sa 19:24.)


Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, II, 324, 349; Herod. i.195; ii.36; iii.12; Josephus, Antiquities, VIII, viii, 3; XVI, viii, 1; W. R. Smith, Kinship, 209; RS, 324; Wellhausen, Skizzen, III, 167,

George B. Eager