HAIR. Hair varies in length, color, and structure among the different races and seems to be intended by God for protection, for beauty, and for identification. The peoples of the Bible lands were generally black-haired, though red-haired individuals are fairly common among the people of Israel. Hebrews and Arabs (cf. Rev.9.8) wore their beards long as a mark of dignity, but the Egyptians were clean-shaven (Gen.41.14).
The quick-whitening of hair was one of the symptoms of leprosy (Lev.13.3, Lev.13.10), but if the leprosy and the white hairs covered the body and there was no raw flesh, the leprosy was no longer contagious (Lev.13.13). Thin yellow hair appearing in the head or beard was a symptom of an itch, related to leprosy (Lev.13.29-Lev.13.37).
The men of Israel were not to clip off the edges of the beard (Lev.19.27), and this prohibition explains the “prayer-locks” in front of the ears of Orthodox Jewish men today.
The word “hair” is used in several figurative senses: e.g., in marksmanship some Benjamites could “sling a stone at a hair and not miss” (Judg.20.16); or in meaning complete safety—“not a hair of his head will fall to the ground” (1Sam.14.45); or to indicate multiplicity—“my sins...are more than the hairs of my head” (Ps.40.12); or to show age or dignity—“the hair of his head was white like wool” (Dan.7.9).
Hair was a mark of beauty and sometimes of pride. Absalom’s hair (2Sam.14.26; 2Sam.18.9), of which he was inordinately proud, caused his death. Samson’s uncut hair was a symbol of his Naziritic dedication; and when he lost his hair, his strength went with it (Judg.13.7; Judg.16.17-Judg.16.20). In NT times the length of the hair was one mark of distinction between the sexes, and Paul said that that disctinction should continue, pointing out that even nature teaches that long hair is a shame for a man but a glory for a woman (1Cor.11.14-1Cor.11.16).——ABF
An assurance of safety was Jesus’ word that the hairs of the head are numbered (Matt 10:30). David felt his sins were more than the hairs of his head (Ps 40:12). When hair was cut and weighed (2 Sam 14:26) some would give its equivalent weight in silver to the poor.
Gray hair was honored and gained in a righteous life (Prov 20:29) while white hair meant a glorious presence as of Christ Himself (Rev 1:14). Hair seldom was dyed in Pal., but Herod dyed his black. Jesus said, “You cannot make one hair white or black” (Matt 5:36).
Hair standing up is a sign of fear (Job 4:15) caused by the contraction of small muscles attached obliquely to each hair. Tearing or pulling out hair expressed deep sorrow (Isa 15:2) or mourning for the dead, and putting ashes on the head showed shame and grief, like Tamar’s desecration (2 Sam 13:19). Anointing the head was a sign of joy (Ps 23:5) and prosperity, but only the purest could be anointed with the sacred oil (Exod 30:32).
Good marksmen could “sling a stone at a hair and not miss” (Judg 20:16).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(se`ar, sa`ar, Aramaic se`ar, and their derivatives; thrix, gen. case trichos, kome):
1. Hair Fashions:
Hair was worn in different fashions by the Orientals of Biblical times, and not always in the same way among the same people in different epochs. We know this clearly from Egyptian literature and monuments, as well as from the writings of Greek authors (especially Herodotus), that the dwellers on the Nile had their heads shaved in early youth, leaving but a side lock until maturity was attained, when this mark of childhood was taken away. Priests and warriors kept their heads closely shaved; nothing but the exigencies of arduous warfare were allowed to interfere with this custom. On the other hand, the Hebrew people, like their Babylonian neighbors (Herod. i.195), affected long and well-cared-for, bushy curls of hair as emblems of manly beauty. Proofs thereof are not infrequent in the Scriptures and elsewhere. Samson’s (Jud 16:13,19) and Absalom’s (2Sa 14:26) long luxuriant hair is specially mentioned, and the Shulammite sings of the locks of her beloved which are "bushy (the Revised Version, margin "curling"), and black as a raven" (So 5:11). Josephus (Ant., VIII, vii, 3 (185)) reports that Solomon’s body-guard was distinguished by youthful beauty and "luxuriant heads of hair." In the history of Samson we read of "the seven locks of his head" (Jud 16:19). It is likely that the expression signifies the plaits of hair which are even now often worn by the young Bedouin warrior of the desert.
2. Hair in Idol Worship:
It is well known that among the surrounding heathen nations the hair of childhood or youth was often shaved and consecrated at idolatrous shrines (compare Herod. ii.65 for Egypt). Frequently this custom marked an initiatory rite into the service of a divinity (e.g. that of Orotal (Bacchus) in Arabia, Herod. iii.8). It was therefore an abomination of the Gentiles in the eyes of the Jew, which is referred to in Le 19:27; Jer 9:26; 25:23; 49:32. The Syriac version of the latter passage renders, "Ye shall not let your hair grow long" (i.e. in order to cut it as a religious rite in honor of an idol). It is, however, probable that among the Jews, as now among many classes of Mohammedans, the periodical cropping of the hair, when it had become too cumbersome, was connected with some small festivity, when the weight of the hair was ascertained, and its weight in silver was given in charity to the poor. At least, the weighing of Absalom’s hair (2Sa 14:26) may be referred to some such custom, which is not unparalleled in other countries. The use of balances in connection with the shaving-off of the hair in Eze 5:1 is certainly out of the common. See illustration, "Votive Offering," on p. 1302.
3. The Nazirite Vow:
4. Later Fashions:
In New Testament times, especially in the Diaspora, the Jews frequently adopted the fashion of the Romans in cropping the hair closely (1Co 11:14); still the fear of being tainted by the idolatrous practice of the heathen, which is specially forbidden in Le 21:5, was so great that the side locks remained untouched and were permitted to grow ad libitum. This is still the custom among the Jews of Eastern Europe and the Orient.
See also HEAD.
5. Woman’s Hair:
The care of the hair, especially the periodical cutting of the same, early necessitated the trade of the barber. The Hebrew word gallabh is found in Eze 5:1, and the plural form of the same word occurs in an inscription at Citium (Cyprus) (CIS, 1586), where the persons thus described clearly belonged to the priests or servants of a temple.
Numerous were the cosmetics and ointments applied to the hair (Ec 9:8; Mt 6:17; perhaps Ru 3:3), but some, reserved for sacramental purposes, were prohibited for profane use (Ex 30:32; Ps 133:2). Such distinction we find also in Egypt, where the walls of temple laboratories were inscribed with extensive recipes of such holy oils, while the medical papyri (see especially Papyrus Ebers, plates 64-67) contain numerous ointments for the hair, the composition of some of which is ascribed to a renowned queen of antiquity. Even Greek and Roman medical authors have transmitted to us the knowledge of some such prescriptions compounded, it is said, by Queen Cleopatra VI of Egypt, the frivolous friend of Caesar and Antony (see my dissertation, Die uber die medicinischen Kenntnisse der alten Aegypter berichtenden Papyri, ere, Leipzig, 1888, 121-32). We know from Josephus (Ant., XVI, viii, 1 (233)), that Herod the Great, in his old age, dyed his hair black, a custom, however, which does not appear to be specifically Jewish, as hair-dyes as well as means for bleaching the hair were well known in Greece and Rome. It is certain that the passage Mt 5:36 would not have been spoken, had this been a common custom in the days of the Lord. A special luxury is mentioned by Josephus (Ant., VIII, vii, 3 (185)), who states that the young men who formed the body-guard of King Solomon were in the habit, on festive occasions, of sprinkling their long hair with gold-dust (psegma chrusou).
For the Jews the anointing of the head was synonymous with joy and prosperity (compare Ps 23:5; 92:10; Heb 1:9; compare also "oil of joy," Isa 61:3, and "oil of gladness," Ps 45:7). It was also, like the washing of feet, a token of hospitality (Ps 23:5; Lu 7:46).
On the contrary, it was the custom in times of personal or national affliction and mourning to wear the hair unanointed and disheveled, or to cover the head with dust and ashes (2Sa 14:2; Jos 7:6; Job 2:12), or to tear the hair or to cut it off (Ezr 9:3; Ne 13:25; Jer 7:29).
8. Symbolical Use of Word:
Camel’s hair (Mt 3:4; Mr 1:6) is mentioned in connection with the description of John the Baptist’s raiment. It represents, according to Jerome, a rough shirt worn under the coat or wrapper, though a rather soft fabric is produced in Arabia from the finer wool of the camel.
Goat’s hair was the material of a cloth used for wearing apparel and for a more or less waterproof covering of tents and bundles. It is the black tent-cloth of Kedar’ (So 1:5; Ex 26:7; 36:14). In New Testament times it was the special product of Paul’s native province, Cilicia, whence its name cilicium, and its manufacture formed the apostle’s own trade (Ac 18:3). It is also mentioned as a material for stuffing pillows (1Sa 19:13).
See also WEAVING.