TANNER (βυρσεύς, G1114, tanner). The process known as tanning is not mentioned directly in the Bible. It is reported that Peter “stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon a tanner” (Acts 9:43).
Animal hides or skins are converted into leather by tanning. It is a process of preserving in good condition the “corium” structure of the hide which is between the “epidermis” and the “flesh.” In OT times this involved flaying the dead animal, beating the flayed hide in water to remove the dirt, then salting and soaking the hide in a tanning agent, and stretching the wet leather on a frame to dry properly.
The tanner was not a popular man because of the stench of the ingredients used in his trade and because he handled dead bodies. Sometimes the hides were put into dog’s dung for dehairing. Little is known of ancient tanning agents but they were prob. the same as in modern Syria and Egypt where the bark of certain Acacia trees, galls of the oak and the tamarisk and rinds of the pomegranate are used.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
The only references to a tanner are in Ac 9:43; 10:6,32. The Jews looked upon tanning as an undesirable occupation and well they might, for at best it was accompanied with unpleasant odors and unattractive sights, if not even ceremonially unclean. We can imagine that Simon the tanner found among the disciples of Jesus a fellowship which had been denied him before. Peter made the way still easier for Simon by choosing his house as his abode while staying in Joppa. Simon’s house was by the seashore, as is true of the tanneries along the Syrian coast today, so that the foul-smelling liquors from the vats can be drawn off with the least nuisance, and so that the salt water may be easily accessible for washing the skins during the tanning process. These tanneries are very unpretentious affairs, usually consisting of one or two small rooms and a courtyard. Within are the vats made either of stone masonry, plastered within and without, or cut out of the solid rock. The sheep or goat skins are smeared on the flesh side with a paste of slaked lime and then folded up and allowed to stand until the hair loosens. The hair and fleshy matter are removed, the skins are plumped in lime, bated in a concoction first of dog dung and afterward in one of fermenting bran, in much the same way as in a modern tannery. The bated skins are tanned in sumach (Arabic summak), which is the common tanning material in Syria and Palestine. After drying, the leather is blackened on one side by rubbing on a solution made by boiling vinegar with old nails or pieces of copper, and the skin is finally given a dressing of olive oil. In the more modern tanneries degras is being imported for the currying processes. For dyeing the rams’ skins red (Ex 25 ) they rub on a solution of qermes (similar to cochineal; see Dyeing), dry, oil, and polish with a smooth stone.
Pine bark is sometimes used for tanning in Lebanon. According to Wilkinson (Ancient Egypt, II, 186), the Arabs use the juice of a desert plant for dehairing and tanning skins. The skins for pouches are either tawed, i.e. tanned with a mineral salt like alum, or treated like parchment (see Parchment). About Hebron oak branches, chopped into small chips, are used for tanning the leather bottles or water skins. In this case the hair is not removed. The tanning is accomplished, after removing the fleshy matter, by filling the skin with oak chips and water, tying up all openings in the skins, and allowing them to lie in the open on their "backs," with "legs" upright, for weeks. The field near Hebron where they arrange the bulging skins in orderly rows during the tanning process presents a weird sight. These are the bottles referred to in the (the (British and American) "skins") (Jos 9:4,13; Ho 7:5; Mt 9:17; Mr 2:22; Lu 5:37).
Leather was probably used more extensively than any records show. We know that the Egyptians used leather for ornamental work. They understood the art of making stamped leather. The sculptures give us an idea of the methods used for making the leather into sandals, trimmings for chariots, coverings of chairs, decorations for harps, sarcophagi, etc. There are two Biblical references to leather, where leather girdles are mentioned (2Ki 1:8; Mt 3:4).
See also CRAFTS, II, 17.
James A. Patch