Ever since Adam and Eve used fig leaves to cover their nakedness, people have worn clothes. Clothes give protection from the weather, identify the wearer and proclaim his status, or even act as a magic charm (Numbers 15:38). Clothing is also, of course, decoration.
No clothes have survived from ancient Israel, but we can reconstruct items by looking at what was worn in neighboring countries like Assyria and Egypt.
There are also wall reliefs and paintings showing ancient clothing. Of course these are 'special event' pictures, and do not show what people wore every day. But fashion and fabrics did not change as quickly as they do in the modern world, so we can make an educated guess about clothing in the ancient world.
Unfortunately, there is no contemporary picture of the "coat of many colours" as rendered in older translations of the Bible, which angered Joseph's brothers (Genesis 37:23) and was worn by Tamar (II Samuel 13:18).
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible describes the garment as a "long robe with sleeves". Many scholars believe it was a tunic or robe made of a material woven from different coloured threads, similar to the costumes in the Egyptian Beni-Hassan painting shown above, in which some of the tunics are made of vertical strips of woven or embroidered material in bright colours, blue and red predominating.
Other scholars are of the opinion that it may have been a long-sleeved tunic reaching to the ankles - the sort of garment that would have made hard work impossible - especially for shepherds like Joseph and his brothers, who needed to be agile. It may also have denoted high social rank.
The implication was that Joseph was being singled out by his father to work as an overseer, which meant favouritism as far as his older brothers were concerned, and kindled the flame of intense dislike they already felt for this precocious younger brother.
An Egyptian wall painting of the 12 dynasty shows merchants coming from the east, bringing the dye used to make kohl, the eye-liner used by Egyptians to beautify their eyes and protect against dusty winds and eye infections.
The merchants are wearing knee-length multi-colored tunics. The fabric seems to be woven in strips of various colors. Others wear what looks like a kilt reaching from waist to knee.
The men have short beards, and both sexes have well-groomed hair.
The men wear dark-colored leather sandals. The women wear ankle-length boots - and is that the edge of a sock peeping out from the top of the boot? Or a white edging round the top?
The women's hair is combed, then twisted into ringlets and kept in place with a white, probably linen, band.
ORDINARY PEOPLE: WOMEN
ORDINARY PEOPLE: MEN
The average working villager had a change of fresh clothes, necessary if they were to keep the ritual purity laws.
Most peoples' clothes were homespun, loose fitting, in one of the soft colors of natural dyes - a dark red, brown or yellow, perhaps striped.
The first thing a man put on was either a loincloth or a short skirt from waist to knee. This was all he wore when he was doing heavy work. Over the top of this came a shirt or tunic - a long piece of material folded at the centre and sewn up the sides, with armholes and an opening for the head to go through.
The tunic was fastened round the waist with a girdle or belt. This was a piece of cloth, folded into a long strip to make a kind of pocket to hold coins and other belongings.
Both sexes wore leather ankle-length boots in winter and sandals in summer. Sandals were cut to a simple design: a piece of hide the same size as the foot, with a long leather strap which passed between the big and second toe, and was then tied round the ankle.
When a man needed to be able to move more freely, he would tuck his tunic into his belt to make it shorter - 'girding up the loins'.
In Israel the sun was so hot that some covering was needed to protect the head, neck and eyes. This was usually a square of cloth folded diagonally, with the fold across the forehead. A circle of plaited wool held it in place over the head, and the folds protected the neck. A cap was sometimes worn (see Jehu's head covering on the Black Obelish, above), or a fine wool shawl or tallith, especially during prayer.
There was also a thick woollen coat or cloak to keep out the cold, called a himation in New Testament times. This was made from two pieces of material, often
The garments worn by Jewish and Christian people of this period were fairly similar to those worn along the whole Mediterranean coast. However, traditional Jewish families still kept the Mosaic Law which forbade mixing wool and linen in the same garment.
Basic clothing was a tunic made from two lengths of woollen material joined at the top, with an opening for the head to pass through. It might have vertical stripes and be dyed red, cream/brown or black. A mantle/cloak made of wool was also worn; this was woven in one single piece of cloth. There was also a woollen or linen head-covering with a band that held it in place.
In biblical times, the basic textiles were wool and linen.
Making linen out of flax is quite a complicated process. First the outer bark of the stems must be removed (after it has rotted) and the fibres separated. Egyptian tablets show the flax being pressed into tubs of water, and Josiah 2:6 refers to the fibres spread out in the sun to dry.
The fibres were then spun into thread and wound onto a spindle held in the hand. The spindle was spun round in the fingers to tighten and strengthen the thread and, to keep this even, a heavy weight known as a "whorl" was attached to one end. The whorls were made of clay or stone, and the large number of them found in nearly all excavations is evidence of the universal practice of the craft. It was carried on by women (as described in Proverbs 31:19) rather than by tradesmen, whereas weaving was a trade.
The threads were woven into cloth on a loom made from a long beam supported by posts or in some other way. The "warp" threads were hung from this beam, weighted down by stones or other "loom weights" to keep them steady. The weaver threw his shuttle, carrying the long "weft" thread, backwards and forwards between the warp to make the cloth. The biblical loom was upright, not horizontal, and the weaving was done from the top down. This type of loom seems to have been borrowed from the Mediterranean area.
The word for warp ("shti" in Hebrew) has been said to come from Mycenean Greek. When the piece of cloth was finished, the ends of the threads were knotted into fringes to prevent unravelling. After all his tedious work, the weaver was naturally reluctant to see the cloth cut. Instead of making fitted garments, the rectangular piece of cloth would usually be draped around the body, fringes and all.
The Egyptians excelled in the making of fine linen, often dyeing the threads to weave coloured or patterned cloth, or embroidering the finished goods. The Hebrews must have learned some of these skills because later on they were able to build the tabernacle with "blue and purple and scarlet and fine twined linen, wrought with needlework." (Exodus 26:1). In early days, the yarn was dyed before weaving in cold vats, like those of the installation at Debir (below), which dates from the 8th-6th centuries BC. In the post-Exilic period, hot vats were used for dyeing woven cloth, as was customary outside Palestine.
The earliest undergarment was probably the kiltlike loincloth worn next to the skin, called ezor (II Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4). Many Egyptian paintings show such a garment wrapped around the loins and tied with a belt or girdle (hagorah).
For religious functions, a shirt or apron was tied around the body (I
Samuel 2:18; II Samuel 6:14).
This tunic or outer garment was made by simply folding a rectangle of cloth in half and sewing up the sides, leaving openings for the head and arms. This could be worn open or closed, with or without sleeves, depending on the people or place. The most usual Hebrew term for a top garment, possibly worn over the tunic, is the me'il, although in many cases English versions wrongly translate the term "coat" (see Joseph's coat, above). Apparently it was also worn by people of high rank.
Such a costume is pictured in a borderstone of a Babylonian king (ca. 1100 BCE) although this one was collarless and had short sleeves ending above the elbows. Later on, evidence from the New Testament
(Mark 6:9; Luke 3:11) suggests that at times people wore two coats, as explained below.
(Deuteronomy. 22:5) makes it clear that women's clothing differed from men's. The
saddin may have been similar to the outer cloak (simlah) that was worn, for instance, by King Jehu and his attendants bringing offerings to King Shalmaneser, shown in the black obelisk of Shalmaneser
(see illustrations at top of page).
The Bible tells how fine linen was wrapped around the head of the High Priest as a turban or mitre — the saniph or kidaris (Exodus 28:39).
Ordinary people wore
a kerchief over the head, held tight by a cord reminiscent of the Arab headdress, the
'aggal. When bareheaded, men wore a fillet to keep their long hair in place. A skull cap or turban was also typical. The peasant or soldier seems to have wound a simple strip of cloth around the head, leaving one fringed end to hang over the right ear.
In ancient times men generally went barefoot indoors but outside they protected their feet with a sandal usually made of a simple sole of untanned leather, tied on with straps or latchets (Genesis 14:23; Mark 1:7). A sandal was the cheapest thing one could imagine (Amos 2:6) — only the shoe-strap was worth less (Genesis 14:23).
The Egyptian Beni Hassan painting (at top of this page) shows men wearing thonged sandals, while the women have soft low boots of a kind still found in western Asia a few decades ago. In the black obelisk of Shalmaneser, however, Jehu's attendants, in contrast to the Assyrians, are wearing shoes which cover their feet completely. Shoes had to be removed in certain circumstances.
In later times a much greater elegance was achieved. A good example of second century AD footwear is the child's sandal found, with its straps still intact, in a cave of Nahal Hever, last hideout of Bar-Kochba's partisans. The other sandals were worn by adults.
In the same cave, pieces of leather which had once formed part of a garment or bag were also found, and nearby two samples of sewn leather which had once belonged to an outer coat.
Jewish people were required by their law (Numbers 15:37-41; Deut. 22:12) to put tassels (tzitzit or fringes) on the corners of their garments with a blue cord intertwined in them. This tradition is still followed by observant Jews during services, in the tasselled tzitzit knotted on the four corners of the tallit, a big fringed, four-cornered prayer shawl. The large tallit, usually made of wool, was worn only during morning prayer and in the afternoon and for all services on the Day of Atonement. However, a special undergarment, the "arba kanfot" (four corners) or "tallit Utan" (small tallit), was worn perpetually during waking hours under the outer garment.
The blue dye for tzitzit was obtained from the Mediterranean sea snail (murex) from which the ancients (mainly the Phoenicians) obtained blue and purple dyes. Because the use of shellfish gave rise to certain difficulties, the Talmud (Menahot 38a) later taught that all fringes might be white. Every male garment originally had
tzitzits and wearing them differentiated a zealous Jew from his neighbours. Later on, however, they were worn only on intimate garments or in the synagogue.
The Canaanite ivory carvings of Megiddo (12th century BC) show the men wearing long sleeved robes over a coloured tunic (ketonet), embroidered in geometric designs. Over their robes the simlah is wrapped closely around the body, leaving the right shoulder and arm free. On their heads, they have close-fitting caps.
The black obelisk of Shamaneser III of Assyria
(images are at the top of this page) shows him receiving tribute from Jehu, king of Israel. Some of the Assyrians wear fillets on their hair, flat sandals and long, short-sleeved robes with fringes at the bottom, tied with a tasselled sash. Others are wearing a long skirt with fringed shawls wrapped around the shoulders and
waist. The Assyrian king wears a fez-like cap on his head.
Fashions changed little after Hellenistic times, but they acquired a Roman flavour. The most interesting feature about Graeco-Roman clothing of the first century AD was the manner in which a long piece of cloth, the "chlamys" as the Greeks called it, or the "pallium" in Latin, was draped over the tunic in a variety of ways. A special variety of the pallium was the "toga". The typical flowing garments of Roman citizens, with loose togas and stoles worn over them in various ways as a type of cloak, are shown on a Roman relief of 13 BC, portraying a religious procession (Ara Pacis).
in one piece of clothing forbidden, Deut. 22:11.
for rich and poor in ancient times - Archaeology of The Bible
- Bible References - Bible Study Resource