DRESS. Our knowledge of the kind of clothing worn by the people of biblical times comes from biblical statements; from representations of the people and their clothing found on monuments, reliefs, seals, plaques, and tomb-paintings; and from graves and tomb remains.
All these, coupled with the traditions and usages extant among the present Bedouin Arab tribes, lead us to conclude that at a very early period people learned the art of spinning and weaving cloth of hair, wool, cotton, flax, and eventually silk (
When the Arabs overran the larger part of the Bible lands in the sixth century a.d., they returned with these patterns of clothing. In general they have so nearly continued the basic forms that in unspoiled areas much the same garments are worn today as were worn by Jacob of OT times and by Jesus of NT times.
When a person’s heart was torn by grief, the inner emotions were given expression by “rending” or tearing the garments (
There was variety in clothing characterizing the people from the various lands adjacent to Palestine, and within the narrow confines of the country itself there was a distinctive clothing that set off the Canaanite from the Philistine. Among the Hebrews there were slight differences in dress characterizing rank, trade, and profession. Yet it was little less than amazing how similar the general patterns were. The variety for the most part was in quality and in decoration. Clothing was colored, red, brown, yellow, etc., but white was much preferred. It denoted purity, cleanliness, and joy. Princes, priests, and kings of Near Eastern countries wore purple, except on special occasions when they often dressed in white garments. Others sometimes wore white on the occasions of joy and gladness. But in general the people wore darker colors, yet they tended toward the brighter side.
The basic garments used among the men of biblical times seem to have consisted of the inner-tunic, the tunic-coat, the girdle, and the cloak. Added to this was the headdress and the shoes or sandals.
1. The inner-tunic or undershirt, which in cooler weather the male members of the oriental family wore next to the body, was usually made of a long piece of plain cotton or linen cloth made into a short shirtlike undergarment. At times it was little more than a loincloth in length, and at other times it reached below the knees or even just above the ankles. It was not usually worn when the weather was warm. The KJV refers to such undergarments worn by priests as “breeches” (
2. The tunic-coat, or ketonet, was a close-fitting shirtlike garment that was the most frequently worn garment in the home and on the street. In ancient times it was often of one solid color, but at the present it is more often made of a gaily-colored striped cotton material that among the Arabs is often called “the cloth of seven colors” because of the narrow vertical stripes of green, red, yellow, blue, and white that alternate. It was lined with a white cotton material and worn over the undershirts when the weather was cool, but next to the body when it was warm. This garment usually had long sleeves and extended down to the ankles when worn as a dress coat and was held in place by a girdle. Hard-working men, slaves, and prisoners wore them more abbreviated—sometimes even to their knees and without sleeves—as shown on the Behistun Inscription.
On Sennacherib’s Lachish relief (701 b.c.), the elders and important men of the city are shown wearing long dresslike white tunics that came down near the ankles. These garments were pure white, with no decorations, and no girdle to hold them. In this and other reliefs, however, the Hebrews had just been taken captive and were prisoners of war, therefore they could well have been divested of all but their basic garments.
3. The girdle was either a cloth or a leather belt, which was worn over the loose coatlike skirt or shirt. The cloth girdle, ordinarily worn by village and townspeople, was a square yard of woolen, linen, or even silk cloth first made into a triangle, then folded into a sashlike belt about five to eight inches (thirteen to twenty-one cm.) wide and some thirty-six inches (ninety-two cm.) long. When drawn about the waist and the tapering ends tied in the back, it not only formed a belt but its folds formed a pocket to carry a variety of articles such as nuts, loose change, and other small objects or treasures. It was worn by both men and women and the model woman of
The leather girdle or belt was from two to six inches (five to fifteen cm.) wide and was often studded with iron, silver, or gold. It was worn by soldiers, by men of the desert, and by countrymen who tended cattle or engaged in the rougher pursuits of life. This type of girdle was sometimes supported by a shoulder strap and provided a means whereby various articles such as a scrip (a small bag or wallet for carrying small articles), sword, dagger, or other valuables could be carried. It was the kind of girdle worn by Elijah (
The girdle, whether made of cloth or leather, was a very useful article of clothing and often entered into many activities of everyday life. When one was to walk or run or enter into any type of service he “girded himself” for the journey or for the task at hand. Girded loins became a symbol of readiness for service or endeavor. Isaiah said of the Messiah that righteousness should be “his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist” (
4. The cloak, mantle, or robe was a large, loose-fitting garment, which for warmth and appearance was worn over all other articles of clothing as a completion of male attire. It was distinguished by its greater size and by the absence of the girdle. It existed in two varieties, which were usually known as the “me-il,” and the “simlah.”
The me-il was a long, loose-sleeved robe or public dress that was worn chiefly by men of official position and by ministers, educators, and the wealthy. It was the robe of the professions (
The simlah was the large, loose-fitting, sleeveless cloak or mantle that, in general pattern, corresponds to the long and flowing garment that the Arab shepherd and peasant call an abba or abayeh. They wear it by day and wrap themselves in it by night, therefore it was not be to taken in pledge unless it was returned by sundown (
These simple yet picturesque garments were usually made of wool, goat hair, or camel hair. Men of distinction often wore more colorful cloaks called “robes,” which were made of linen, wool, velvet, or silk, elaborately bordered and lined with fur.
This long outer garment or topcoat was, in all probability, the “mantle” worn by Elijah and Elisha (
On Shalmaneser’s Black Obelisk (ninth century b.c.), the artist shows Israelite men wearing long cloaks or mantles with elaborate fringed borders both on the cutaway fronts and along the bottom. These were in keeping with the Mosaic injunction to make blue tassels on the borders of their garments to remind them to keep all the commandments and to be holy before God (
The word “skirt,” found several times in the KJV, usually refers to an article of male, not female, clothing, and has a number of meanings: “corner” (
The headdress was worn chiefly as a protection against the sun and as a finish to a completed costume. It varied from time to time according to rank, sex, and nationality. In the main, however, there were three known types that were worn by the male members of the Hebrew and surrounding nations: the cap, the turban, and the head-scarf.
The ordinary brimless cotton or woolen cap, corresponding somewhat to our skullcap, was sometimes worn by men of poorer circumstances. Captives are seen wearing these on the Behistun Rock. The turban (hood, kjv; tiara, niv—
The head-scarf, known among the Arabs as the kaffiyeh, is usually made up of a square yard of white or colored cotton, wool, or silk cloth folded into a triangle and draped about the head. The apex of the triangle falls directly down the back, forming a V point, while the tapering ends are thrown back over the shoulders, or in cold weather they are wrapped about the neck. This graceful head-scarf is held in position by an ajhal, which is made of several soft woolen or silk twists bound by ornamental threads, and worn in coils about the head. An ornamental tassel falls to the side or down the back. When Ben-Hadad’s shattered Syrian army realized the serious loss it had suffered, some of his men suggested to him that they go to the king of Israel “wearing sackcloth around their waists and ropes around their heads” (
Shoes and sandals were considered the lowliest articles that went to make up the wearing apparel of the people of Bible lands (
Shoes were of soft leather, while sandals were of a harder leather and were worn for rougher wear. According to some authorities, the sole was of wood, cane, or sometimes bark of the palm tree and was fastened to the leather by nails. They were tied about the feet with “thongs” (niv), or “shoe-latchets” (
Shoes were usually removed at the doorway before entering a home, on approaching God (
Women’s Dress. Among the Hebrews neither sex was permitted by Mosaic law to wear the same form of clothing as was used by the other (
The women wore long garments reaching almost to the feet, with a girdle of silk or wool, many times having all the colors of the rainbow. Often such a garment would have a fringe hanging from the waist nearly to the ankles.
The ladies’ headdress, for example, usually included some kind of a kaffiyeh or cloth for covering the head, yet the material that was in that covering was of different quality, kind, or color from that worn by the men. Also, it was often pinned over some kind of a cap made of stiff material and set with pearls, silver, gold, or spangled ornaments common to that day. If a woman was married, these or other more significant coins covered the entire front of her cap and constituted her dowry. Her undergarments would be made of cotton, linen, or silk, as might befit her wealth or station in life. She would probably wear a long gown with long, pointed sleeves. Over this was a small rather tightly fitted jacket or “petticoat”—meaning little coat. The small jacket was made of “scarlet” or other good material and was a thing of exquisite beauty because it was covered with “tapestry” or fine needlework, wrought with multicolored threads. A woman of even moderate circumstances could have beautiful clothing, for it was “the fruit of her own hands.”
In the OT many articles of women’s clothing are mentioned that cannot be exactly identified.
Women often added to their adornment by an elaborate braiding of the hair. Peter found it necessary to warn Christian women against relying on such adorning to make themselves attractive (
Beginning about the second century b.c., all male Jews were expected to wear at morning prayers, except on Sabbaths and festivals, two phylacteries, one on the forehead, called a frontlet, the other on the left arm. They consisted of small leather cases containing four passages of Scripture from the OT:
DRESS. Ever since the creation man has been interested in articles of clothing, and thus it is not surprising that the Bible gives considerable information as to articles worn by men and women. Sometimes the Heb. and Gr. terms are clear as to the exact nature of the items, and at other times there exists doubt as to the specific shape, size, or character of the articles.
Descriptions in which terms for several articles of dress occur together.
Several passages in the OT and NT give descriptions of dress to be worn (including ornaments) in which a number of Heb. and Gr. terms for articles of apparel are to be found together. These and other terms are found scattered throughout the Scriptures.
When Abraham’s servant went to Nahor in Mesopotamia to obtain Rebekah as a bride for Isaac, the text of
For military dress see Armor, Arms.
General terms for garments of men and women.
The examples given in the preceding discussion present some of the terms for clothing given in the Scriptures. Some of these words together with others often are used to refer to clothing in general, rather than to distinguish individual garments worn.
מַד, H4496, is used as a general term for clothing in the reference to the clothes under which Ehud’s sword was hid (
The general term כְּסוּת, H4064, means “covering,” “clothing,” and is used for a woman’s clothing (
The general reference to clothes in
Individual articles of clothing for the body
Men’s outer garments could be expressed by the terms בֶּ֫גֶד, H955, (see
The מִכְנָס, H4829, “drawers,” was a special priestly linen garment worn next to the skin to cover the body from the loins to the thighs (
The NT χιτών, G5945, “tunic” or “coat,” was worn next to the skin (cf.
As to accessories, the women’s girdle is mentioned in
Women, too, wore sandals as evidenced by
A. Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ (n.d.), 216-222; A. Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 1 (1901), 620-627; vol. II, 278, 279; J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near East in Pictures (1954).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
In the Hebrew and Greek there is a wonderful wealth of terminology having to do with the general subject of dress among the ancient Orientals. This is reflected in the numerous synonyms for "dress" to be found inof the Bible, "apparel," "attire," "clothes," "raiment," "garments," etc. But the words used in the originals are often greatly obscured through the inconsistent variations of the translators. Besides there are few indications even in the original Hebrew or Greek of the exact shape or specific materials of the various articles of dress named, and so their identification is made doubly difficult. In dealing with the subject, therefore, the most reliable sources of information, apart from the meaning of the terms used in characterization, are certain well-known facts about the costumes and dress-customs of the orthodox Jews, and others about the forms of dress worn today by the people of simple life and primitive habits in modern Palestine. Thanks to the ultraconservatism and unchanging usages of the nearer East, this is no mean help. In the endeavor to discover, distinguish and deal with the various oriental garments, then, we will consider:
1. The Meaning of Terms;
2. The Materials;
3. The Outer Garments;
4. The Inner Garments;
5. The Headdress;
6. The Foot-gear;
7. The Dress of Jesus and His Disciples.
1. Meaning of Terms:
There was originally a sharp distinction between classical and oriental costume, but this was palpably lessened under the cosmopolitanism of the. This of course had its effect both in the modification of the fashions of the day and upon the words used for articles of clothing in the .
(1) The terms most used for clothes in general were, in the
(2) The three normal body garments, the ones most mentioned in the Scriptures, are cadjin, a rather long "under garment" provided with sleeves; kethoneth (Greek chiton), a long-sleeved tunic worn over the cadhin, likewise a shirt with sleeves (see Masterman, DCG, article "Dress"); and simlah (Greek himation), the cloak of theand the (British and American), used in the plural for "garments" in general; and the "girdle" (Greek zone; Arabic zunnar). The "headdress" (two types are now in use, the "turban" and the "kufiyeh") is never definitely named in the Bible, though we know it was the universal custom among ancient Orientals to cover the head.
(3) The simlah (Greek himation) signifies an "outer garment" (see below), a "mantle," or "cloak" (see lexicons). A kindred word in the Greek himatismos, (translated "raiment" in
Other New Testament terms are porphuran, the "purple" (
The primitive "aprons" of
2. The Materials:
Anthropology, Scripture and archaeology all witness to the use by primitive man of skins of animals as dress material (
Even today the traveler will occasionally see in Palestine a shepherd clad in "a coat of skin." Then, as now, goat’s hair and camel’s hair supplied the materials for the coarser fabrics of the poor.
3. The Outer Garments:
(1) We may well begin here with the familiar saying of Jesus for a basal distinction: "If any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat (Greek chiton), let him have thy cloak (himation) also" (
(3) The common Hebrew name for this "outer garment" in the Old Testament is as above, simlah or salmah. In most cases it was of "wool," though sometimes of "linen," and was as a rule certainly the counterpart of the himation of the Greek (this is its name throughout the New Testament). It answered, too, to the pallium of the Romans. It belonged, like them, not to the endumata, or garments "put on," but to the periblemata, or garments "wrapped, around" the body. It was concerning this "cloak" that the Law of Moses provided that, if it were taken in pawn, it should be returned before sunset--"for that is his only covering, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? .... for I am gracious" (
Some identify the simlah of the ancient Hebrews with modern aba, the coarse blouse or overcoat worn today by the Syrian peasant (Nowack, Benzinger, Mackie in HDB); but the distinction between these two garments of the Jews, so clearly made in the New Testament, seems to confirm the conclusion otherwise reached, that this Jewish "outer garment" closely resembled, if it was not identical with, the himation of the Greeks (see Jew Encyclopedia, article "Cloke" and 1-vol HDB, "Dress," 197; but compare Masterman, DCG, article "Dress," 499, and Dearmer, DCG, article "Cloke"). In no respect has the variety of renderings in our English Versions of the Bible done more to conceal from English readers the meaning of the original than in the case of this word simlah. For instance it is the "garment" with which Noah’s nakedness was covered (
4. The Under Garments:
(1) In considering the under garments, contrary to the impression made by English Versions of the Bible, we must begin with the "loin-cloth" (Hebrew ’ezor), which unlike the "girdle" (see Girdle), was always worn next to the skin. The figurative use made of it in
(2) The ordinary "under garment," later worn by all classes--certain special occasions and individuals being exceptions--was the "shirt" (Hebrew kethoneth) which, as we have seen, reappears as chiton in Greek, and tunica in Latin It is uniformly rendered "coat" in English Versions of the Bible, except that the Revised Version, margin has "tunic" in
(3) As regards sleeves, they are not expressly mentioned in the Old Testament, but the Lachish tunics mentioned above have short sleeves, reaching half-way to the elbows. This probably represents the prevailing type of sleeve among the Hebrews of the earlier period. An early Egyptian picture of a group of Semitic traders (circa 2000 BC) shows a colored tunic without sleeves, which, fastened on the left shoulder, left the right bare. Another variety of sleeves, restricted to the upper and wealthy classes, had long and wide sleeves reaching to the ground. This was the tunic worn by Tamar, the royal princess (
(4) Ultimately it became usual, even with the people of the lower ranks, to wear an under "tunic," or "real shirt" (Josephus, Ant., XVII, vi, 7; Mishna, passim, where it is called chaluq). In this case the upper tunic, the kuttoneth proper, would be removed at night (compare
The material for the tunic might be either
(1) woven on the loom in two pieces, and afterward put together without cutting (compare Dict. of Roman and Greek Antiq., article "Tunica"), or
(2) the garment might be woven whole on a special loom, "without seam," i.e. so as to require no sewing, as we know from the description given in
5. The Headdress:
When the Hebrews first emerged into view, they seem to have had no covering for the head except on special demand, as in case of war, when a leather-helmet was worn (see Armor). Ordinarily, as with the fellah of Palestine today, a rope or cord served as a fillet (compare
The ancient Hebrews, like Orientals in general, went barefoot within doors. Out of doors they usually wore sandals, less frequently shoes. The simplest form of sandal then, as now, consisted of a sole of untanned leather, bound to the foot by a leather thong, the shoe-latchet of
7. The Dress of Jesus and His Disciples:
In general we may say that the clothes worn by Christ and His disciples were of the simplest and least sumptuous kinds. A special interest must attach even to the clothes that Jesus wore. These consisted, it seems quite certain, not of just five separate articles (see Edersheim, LTJM, I, 625), but of six. In His day it had become customary to wear a linen shirt (chaluq) beneath the tunic (see above). That our Lord wore such a "shirt" seems clear from the mention of the laying aside of the upper garments (himatia, plural), i.e. the "mantle" and the "tunic," before washing His disciples’ feet (
In conclusion it may be said that, although the dress of even orthodox Jews today is as various as their lands of residence and their languages, yet there are two garments worn by them the world over, the Tallith and the ’arba` kanephoth (see DCG, article "Dress," col. 1). Jews who affect special sanctity, especially those living in the Holy Land, still wear the Tallith all day, as was the common custom in Christ’s time. As the earliest mention of the ’arba` kanephoth is in 1350 AD, it is clear that it cannot have existed in New Testament times.
Nowack’s and Benzinger’s Hebrew Archaologie; Tristram, Eastern Customs in Bible Lands; Rich, Dict. of Roman and Greek Antiq.; Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 625, and elsewhere; articles on "Dress," "Clothing," "Costumes," etc., HDB, DCG, Jew Encyclopedia (by Noldeke) in Encyclopedia Biblica (by Abrahams and Cook); Masterman, "Dress and Personal Adornment in Mod. Palestine," in Biblical World, 1902, etc.
George B. Eager