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Eye Paint

EYE PAINT (Heb. פּוּכְ, H7037, black eye paint, LXX στιμίζω, tinge black with antimony, ἐνχρίω στίβἰ, anoint with antimony; and Heb. כֹּחַ֮, H3947, (verb) to paint eyes, LXX στιβίζομαι to paint one’s eyelids and eyebrows with black). Eye paint, that substance made of mineral or other powder used by women in ancient times for beautifying the eyes.

The terms for eye paint are used only in the OT and only then found in four references: (1) 2 Kings 9:30 where Jezebel paints her eyes (Heb. puk; LXX stimi̱zo) to allure Jehu; (2) Jeremiah 4:30 a reference in which Jerusalem presented as a harlot is pictured as enlarging her eyes (not, “face,” KJV) with paint (Heb. puk, LXX, enchríō stíbi); (3) Ezekiel 23:40 where Oholibah the harlot in representation of Jerusalem, is pictured as painting her eyes (Heb. kāḥal; LXX, stibízomai); and (4) Job 42:14 in which reference Job’s third daughter is called “horn of paint” or “antimony” (Heb. קֶ֥רֶן הַפּֽוּכְ; LXX ̓Αμαλθείας κέρας).

In the first three examples above the eye painting is connected with women of objectionable character. However, this does not mean that all such use of cosmetics is wrong, for the name of Job’s daughter, as “Horn of Antimony,” or “Keren-happuch” in Job 42:14 does not carry an evil connotation, since in 42:15 this daughter as well as the others is counted as best in the land.

Eye paint was used to enhance the beauty of women by “enlarging” (RSV) the eyes (Jer 4:30) and making them stand out brightly by outlining them and projecting the line to the outer edge of the eye. The gray or black mineral could also be applied to the eyebrows. Cf. the sculptor’s bust of the Egyp. Queen Nefertiti, from Tell el-Amarna (ANEP, No. 404).

The material used for the eye paint mentioned in the OT was prob. the powdered minerals galena and/or stibnite; the galena being a lead ore, i.e., lead sulphide PbS, of bluish gray color and metallic luster. The stibnite was an antimony tri-sulphide, Sb2S3 of lead gray color and brilliant luster, a substance which the Romans called stibium. This mineral was listed as a part of Hezekiah’s tribute to Sennacherib in the latter’s annals (ANET, 288). See Cosmetics.

The eye paint powder before mixture with water was kept in a horn (cf. Job 42:14, “horn” of antimony), or slender reed, or in a jar.

Bibliography R. J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology, IX (1964), 160-166.