Color, Colors

See also Color

COLOR, COLORS. No word occurs in Heb. for the abstract idea of color. It is possible that overshadowing effects of the first commandment inhibited many types of artistic efforts among the Israelites including the extensive employment of color. On the other hand, the colors of the Tabernacle hangings were prescribed by God, and likewise also the vestments of the high priest. But it was prob. after contact developed with the Phoenicians that colors became more emphasized in Israelite culture. Words designating color have basic meanings differing from the concept of color.

1. עַ֫יִנ֒, H6524, (Prov 23:31; Ezek 1:7; 8:2 KJV), lit. “appearance” (or “aspect”). Here color is expressed in terms of likeness to some other material.

2. פַּסִּֽים (Gen 37:3, 23, 32 KJV; 2 Sam 13:18, 19) not so much color as the form and type of garment, namely a sleeved garment frequently associated with officials.

3. פּוּכְ׃֙ “background for precious gems” (Isa 54:11); “eye shadow” (2 Kings 9:30; Jer 4:30); actually antimony or stibium used to provide emphasis or contrast.


5. טָל֗וּא, descriptive of patch-colored sheep and goats (Gen 30:32), of idol shrines (Ezek 16:16) and the patchwork of repaired sandals (Josh 9:5 RSV), all indicating variety of color.

6. זִיו, H10228, Aram. (Assyr. zîmu?) splendor of idol (Dan 2:31), brightness of face (5:6, 9, 10). Here aspect or intensity is indicated.


Real colors appear principally as dyes (see specific color) among the Jews, the most lavish use being seen in the Tabernacle (q.v.) and on a reduced scale in Solomon’s Temple (q.v.). Colors were extracted principally from plants or mollusks, and the resulting product was rather impure and often unstable. The most expensive was the purple of the murex which required 250,000 mollusks per ounce! Hence the implication of great wealth in the saying, “born to the purple.”

Color derivation processes were mostly family secrets passed from father to son, and many formulas have been lost. Having only crude controls, constancy of color quality was impossible to obtain. The most important dyes were the reds and purples.

In early times colors prob. had little allegorical meaning. Philo (Life of Moses, II, 17) makes white a symbol of the earth and purple the sea. The NT makes white the symbol of righteousness (Rev 19:8) while red symbolizes the carnage of war (Rev 6:4), and black signifies the sorrow and death resulting therefrom (Zech 6:2, 6).

Bibliography F. E. Wallace, “Color in Homer and in Ancient Art,” Smith Col. Class. Studies (1927); A. Guillamont, “La Designation des Couleurs en Hebreu et en Araméan,” in I. Meyerson, ed., Problèms de la Couleur (1957), 339-348.