LEATHER (Heb. ‘ôr, skin, Gr. dermatinos, made of skin). The skin of certain animals after it has been specially treated. Those who performed this work as a trade were called tanners (Acts.10.32). Leather was an article of clothing (Lev.13.48; Heb.11.37). However, John the Baptist (Matt.3.4) and his prototype, Elijah (2Kgs.1.8), are the only ones specifically mentioned as wearing “a leather belt.” Leather was used also for armor, shoes, containers, and writing material.
Besides being used for clothing, leather was used to cover the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exod 26:14; Num 4:6). Complete hides of goats, properly tanned, with the holes sewn up, served as water and wine containers profusely in the Near E. Fermenting wine could not be placed into old skins but into new and more flexible containers (Matt 9:17; Judg 4:19). Early writing materials were of carefully tanned fine leather, particularly of kids or lambs. It became known as vellum and parchment. Paul asks Timothy to bring him some type of parchment or articles made of parchment (membrana) to him in prison (2 Tim 4:13). Parchment, however, should not be confused with papyrus, the most common writing material of ancient times. Leather also was used for tent-making and many other articles and utensils, such as armor, shoes, containers, ornaments, shields, whips, harness, etc. The DSS were written on tanned leather which was sewn together.
Leather came from various kinds of animals: oxen, donkeys, sheep, goats, kids, and rams (Gen 27:16; Exod 25:5). Skins of lizards, badgers, leopards, and crocodiles also were used in OT times. Some scholars believe that a tough lasting sandal was made from a special kind of skin, perhaps from a porpoise (Ezek 16:10).
In the early nomadic life each family tanned its own hides. In later times certain men took up the business of tanning, e.g., Simon the Tanner in Joppa (Acts 10:6). Generally the tanner cured leather by soaking it in large vats, scraping off all of the fat, blood and hair with sharp knives or stones, and then laying it out to dry. Afterward it was oiled and rubbed until it became tough and pliable. The tanner used lime or juices of plants and fruits, sometimes bark from trees, animal and vegetable oils, to tan and preserve the hide as well as dye it in various colors. The ancients were expert tanners and it is surprising how durable and long-lasting their products were. No doubt the most expert tanners were employed to manufacture the sturdy shields for the army (2 Sam 1:21; Isa 22:6). Once the term skin is used fig. in the OT when Job says, “I have escaped by the skin of my teeth” (Job 19:20), a phrase which to this day describes a narrow escape from danger or a predicament. See Tanner.
A. Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life (1927), 182, 183; A. E. Bailey, Daily Life In Bible Times (1943), 143, 167; A. Klinck, Home Life in Bible Times (1959), 96, 97; W. S. McCullough in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (1962), III, 104; A. Van Deursen, Illustrated Dictionary of Bible Manners and Customs (1967), 46-48, 60-76, 112, 124.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
See Skin; Girdle; TANNER.