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In the Bible

The biblical terms for clothing (Heb. בֶּגֶד, beged; כְּסוּת, kesut; לְבוּשׁ, levush) and the corresponding verbs are employed in connection with the cover of the body for warmth or reasons of modesty. Extensive use is also made of the terms in figures of speech: "Put on thy beautiful garments" (Isa. 52:1), as an emblem of greatness; "He put on garments of vengeance for clothing" (Isa. 59:17), as a symbol of revenge; "For he dressed me in clothes of triumph," as a metaphor for victory and good fortune (Isa. 61:10); "They shall wear shame" (Ps. 35:26), as a metaphor for failure and defeat; and "Let your priest be clothed with triumph" (Ps. 132:9), as a metaphor for success and prestige; and so forth. On many occasions, clothing emphasizes a person's status, position, clothing, or particular situation or task: "Royal apparel (levush malkhut)… which the king is accustomed to wear" (Esth. 6:8), with which another man (Mordecai) would be honored or favored. A hairy cloak was probably a hallmark of Nazirites and ascetics: "Neither shall they wear a hairy mantle (adderet se'ar) to deceive" (Zech. 13:4). During the period of mourning widows wore a characteristic garment: "She put off from her garments of widowhood" (Gen. 38:14). Prisoners apparently also had special clothing: "He changed his prison garments" (II Kings 25:29). The official uniform (holy garments) worn by priests in the service of God was of great importance: "And Thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron" (Ex. 28:2). Just as the beauty of a garment symbolized a man's greatness, tearing the clothing or wearing poor and dirty clothing or sackcloth indicated a lowered station or mourning.

The Bible mentions articles of clothing appropriate to specific parts of the body: a cloth miter or turban (ẓenif, miẓnefet) to cover the head (Ex. 29:6; Zech. 3:5); metal or leather helmets (kovaʿ), and head coverings used in warfare for protection (I Sam. 17:5; II Chron. 26:14); a dress-like garment (simlah), apparently with closed seams used by both men and women to cover the entire body from the shoulders to the ankles (I Kings 11:30; Ex. 12:34; Y. Yadin, et al., Hazor, 3–4 (1961), pl. cccxxxix: 1, 2); the tunic (ketonet), a short, closed garment, covering the top part of the body, worn by both men and women (Gen. 37:3; Lev. 16:14; Song 5:3); the coat (meʿil), a long outer garment open at the front (I Sam. 15:27; 24:5; II Sam. 13:18); breeches (mikhnasayim), covering the loins, worn by the priests (Ex. 28:42; Ezek. 44:18); the girdle (ʾavnet), a belt for fastening the coat or dress around the waist (Ex. 29:9; Lev. 8:7); and the shoe, made of skin and attached with laces, strings, or straps (Gen. 14:23; Isa. 5:27).

Clothes, particularly the dress-like garment and the tunic, were considered essential though expensive articles, both because of their value, which of course was related to the work that went into producing them, and by reason of their importance in indicating a man's status, position, character, and living style. It is for this reason that the Bible and royal documents frequently list the quantities of clothing given as gifts (Gen. 45:22) or taken in war (Judg. 14:12). Kings had keepers of the wardrobe (II Kings 22:14), and the Temple in Jerusalem had a special wardrobe room.

Types of Garment Shown on Monuments

A common garment worn by men, which is often depicted on monuments in Egypt and Mesopotamia, was a piece of cloth covering from the waist to the knees or below (N. de Garis Davies, The Tomb of Puyemrê at Thebes, 1 (1922), pl. xxxiii, A), gathered around the waist and held in place by a belt fastened either in front or at the back or tied near the navel (L. Borchardt, Das Grabdenkmal des Koenigs Sahu-Re, 2 (1913), pl. 6; M.G. Lefébure, Le tombeau de Séti I, 4 (1886), pl. V). Occasionally this garment was patterned and multicolored, but more often it was a solid color, usually white. It was sometimes held in place by a leather or cloth suspender, passing diagonally over one shoulder from the upper part of the garment (Y. Yadin, et al., Hazor, 3–4 (1961), pl. ccxxvi). A more complex garment, made of a wide piece of cloth, covered the body from shoulder to ankle; it was worn by both men and women and was most common in Mesopotamia, though in other places it was worn as a festive garment (N. de Garis Davies and A.H. Gardiner, The Tomb of Ḥuy, 1926). This garment could be both in single color or in multicolored patterns. While it usually covered only one shoulder, it was occasionally worn covering both. In addition to the patterns woven into the cloth, a decorative border was common (W. Wreszinski, Atlas zur altaegyptisehen Kulturgeschichte, 2 (1935), pl. 46).

A garment more characteristic of the lower classes consisted of two shrunken cloths which were suspended from the waist in front and back by a belt or string, thus covering the loins (P.A.A. Boeser, Die Denkmaeler des Neuen Reiches (1911)). A sewn dress-like garment with sleeves covered the entire body; it had a large opening for the head, somewhat resembling a collar. The pictures on several monuments show that the stitches were prominent, serving also as a kind of decoration. The more elegant classes wore two garments: a sewn, short- or long-sleeved dress over which was worn a sheath covering the shoulder or sometimes the entire dress (E.F. Schmidt, Persepolis, 1 (1953, pls. 31, 32). Another such two-piece ensemble in the luxury category was made up of a length of cloth extending from the waist to the knees or trousers over which was worn a wide decorated cloth covering the body from shoulder to ankles. Typical of the colder, northern countries was a sleeved coat fastened all the way down (F. Thureau-Dangin, Arslan Tash (1931), 111–2, pl. 33:43; N. de Garis Davies, The Tombs of Menkheperrasonb… (1933), pl. iv). Pieces of cloth were frequently added to the basic garment in order to cover the shoulders (Boeser, op. cit., pl. xxiv). The tunic was a short, sewn garment, usually with short sleeves. It was made of one piece of cloth specially woven for this purpose with an opening for the head in the center. The cloth was folded along the shoulder line and sewn along the edges, thus making a garment which covered the upper part of the body. The tunic was often made with a woven decoration or later embroidered.

The clothing shown on early Mesopotamian and Egypt monuments emphasizes ethnic differences. Most apparent are the shorter lengths, relatively lighter weights of the materials (including translucent cloth) – especially in the case of women's wear – and the head coverings worn in Egypt, while the northern countries used longer and heavier clothing. The materials from which the garments were made also show ethnological differences. The garments depicted on a number of Mesopotamian monuments of the third millennium B.C.E. are made of heavy wool strands, fastened with large laces, or sewn with strips of animal skin. Noticeable ethnological differences also appear in head coverings. Wigs seem to have been widely worn by both men and women. A common style was a band circling the hair, tied at the back or side. On the majority of the Egyptian monuments feathers worn on the head depict Ethiopian captives. Headgear crowned with feathers is characteristic of the Sea Peoples (T. Dothan, Ha-Pelishtim ve-Tarbutam ha-Ḥomrit (1967), figs 1–7). Skullcaps resembling cones and cylinders decorated with ribbons and lacing were common in Babylonia and Assyria. Covering the head with a kerchief was customary in Egypt and Canaan. The most common sandal had a leather sole held in place by straps. Sandals could be partly closed, covering half the foot, or completely enclosed. However, the figures on monuments are usually shown barefoot.


IN THE BIBLE: EM, 4 (1962), 1034–49 (incl. bibl.); IDB, S.V., cloth (incl. bibl.); A. Rosenzweig, Kleidung und Schmuck in Bibel und talmudischen Schrifttum (1905); H.F. Lutz, Textiles and Costumes… (1923), 40–72; C. Singer, et al. (eds.), A History of Technology, 1 (1955), 413ff.; W.F. Albright, in: AASOR, 21–22 (1941–43), 55–62, Pl. 53; Y. Yadin, in: Eretz Israel, 4 (1956), 68ff; idem, The Finds from the Bar Kokhba Period in the Cave of Letters (1963), 169ff. OTHER PERIODS: A. Rubens, A History of Jewish Costume (1967), includes bibliography; Krauss, Tal Arch, 1 (1910), 127ff.; M. Grunwald, in: JJV, 25 (1923); H. Munic, in: YIVO-Bleter, 12 (1937), 463–73; E. Fuchs, Die Juden in der Karikatur.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.