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BLUE תְּכֵ֫לֶת, H9418: a color extracted from the mollusk Helix Ianthina (LXX, ὑάκινθος, G5611). Pliny (Nat. Hist. XXI, 45) calls it amethyst, but this represents some confusion on his part (Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology, IV, 119). It is a color derived by varying the process of extraction (ibid., p. 119). No specifications of intensity by which to define colors are or were available, most of the dyes being secrets of individual families (ibid., p. 100). The exact color on the fringe of every Heb. garment (Num 15:38) thus cannot be defined. There is also no indication of how the dye was made. However, the usu bablah or bulah (see below) occurs from Egypt to India and no doubt the Israelites during the bondage had learned to make the blue extract from the bark (ibid., p. 112).

Apart from the “hyacinth” shade, there were other shades, as woad (Gr. isātis); indigo (Heb. nîl); sunt blue (Heb. šiṭṭa, the usu bablah), turnsale (Heb. šalšūšīt, from the juice of the Crozophora Tinctoria); purple (Heb. ’argāmān; either Murex Trunculus, &--;Brandaris, Buccinum Lapillus or Helix Ianthina) and whortleberry (no Heb. equiv.; the vaccinia Myrtillus L). See ibid., p. 109.

Wool was used by 2500 b.c. in India, but became common only in Hel. times when it was cultivated in Syria but not in Pal. until after a.d. 589, when it received the name nil. True indigo came from India, described by Pliny as an import, and extracted from the Indigofera. The tekēlet blue is of the family of blues derived from the mollusks of the Phoen. coast. Wool dyed by this color was referred to in the Ugaritic tablets c. 1500 b.c. Cretan dealers of the Middle Minoan II era also traded in it. Modern tests have been developed to identify positively this dye. The use of it in Rome dates from earliest times.

The center of the purple (or blue) dye industry was Tyre (2 Chron 2:7, 14) and here were produced the most beautiful of these dyes, facilitated by ample supplies of supporting materials. In Rom. times Diocletian established Dorotheus as superintendent of the dye works. Mollusk shell heaps at Sidon reveal another important source of this purple dye.

In Revelation 9:17 sapphire is from ὑακίνθος, and is tr. jacinth in 21:20. See also Color, Colors.


F. E. Wallace, “Color in Homer and in Ancient Art,” Smith College Classical Studies, 9 (1927); A. Guillaumont, “La Designation des Couleurs en hebreu et en aramean,” in I. Meyerson, ed., Problems de la Couleur (1957), 339-348; R. J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology, IV, Textiles, “Fabrics and Dyeing.”

See also

  • Colors