LINEN. Thread or cloth, prepared from the fiber of flax. The use of flax fiber for cloth and other purposes is very ancient, being traceable as far back as the Stone Age. Flax was cultivated in Mesopotamia, Assyria, and Egypt, and linen was well known in the ancient biblical world. Ancient Egypt was noted for its fine linen and carried on a thriving export with neighboring nations. Flax was being cultivated in the tropical climate around Jericho at the time of the conquest (
Linen is a fabric woven from yarn made of the fine fibers of the stalk of the flax plant. The term also designates clothes and garments made of linen. Since the bleached fabric was often flashing white, the term “whiteness” (shesh) also means linen. The term “fine linen” in the Bible refers to sheer, often almost translucent material of the expensive finely woven linen worn by royal and wealthy people or the priests of the Temple.
The flax plant was common in Egypt, being cultured extensively in the fertile Nile Valley. Egyptian linen and weaving was considered the best of ancient times, so much so that some could not distinguish the fabric from silk. Flax also was introduced into Pal. early and was grown in the Jordan Valley near Jericho (
In Biblical times linen was used for many purposes. It was popular material for clothing of many kinds and for sheets, curtains, sails of ships, for wrapping scrolls, etc. Shesh, or fine linen, always was used for the garments of the priests in the Temple. Regarding Aaron it is said, “And you shall weave the coat in checker work of fine linen, and you shall make a turban of fine linen, and you shall make a girdle embroidered with needlework. And for Aaron’s sons...you shall make for them linen breeches to cover their naked flesh; from the loins to the thighs they shall reach” (
Fine linen is such splendid cloth that sometimes trs. of the Bible have rendered the term “silk.” When the Lord speaks of punishing Israel He includes the taking away of the finery of clothing: “In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands,...the sashes...the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks,...the garments of gauze, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils” (
The rich man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (
The material was cheaper and less durable when the linen yarn or flaxen yarn was mixed with other yarn such as wool and cotton. The Heb. word shaatnez signified garments or cloth made of two types of thread. God forbade the Israelites to wear garments made of such materials (
Without a doubt linen ranked with wool as one of the most common fabrics in the ancient world. (See CLOTH, LEATHER.)
L. M. Wilson, Ancient Textiles from Egypt (1933); A. E. Bailey, Daily Life in Bible Times (1943); M. Radin, The Life of the People in Biblical Times (1948); G. M. Crowfoot, Linen Textiles from the Cave of Ain Feshkha in the Jordan Valley;Quarterly (1951); F. H. Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (1953); G. E. Wright, “Israelite Daily Life,” The Biblical Archaeologist (1955); M. T. Gilbertson, The Way It Was In Bible Times (1959); H. Daniel-Rops, Daily Life in Palestine at the Time of Christ (1962); J. M. Myers, “Linen” in IDB, Vol. 3 (1962).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Thread or cloth made of flax.
2. General Uses:
Linen was used, not only in the making of garments of the finer kinds and for priests, but also for shrouds, hangings, and possibly for other purposes in which the most highly prized cloth of antiquity would naturally be desired.
3. Priestly Garments:
4. Other Garments:
The Egyptians used linen exclusively in wrapping their mummies (Herod. ii.86). As many as one hundred yards were used in one bandage. Likewise, the Hebrews seem to have preferred this material for winding-sheets for the dead, at least in the days of the
The use of twisted linen (shesh moshzar) for fine hangings dates back to an early period. It was used in the tabernacle (
7. Other Uses:
Other uses are suggested, such as for sails, in the imaginary ship to which Tyre is compared (