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The wardrobe of a person living in Bible times was fairly basic. A loincloth (maybe) was worn beneath a tunic, and there was some form of headwear. Footwear and coat were options. The slight variations in this pattern during Bible times were in colour, material, and style rather than in basic provision because clothes of this kind were best for a relatively hot climate. Paul uses the tunic, held in at the waist by a girdle, as a metaphor for the lifestyle of God's chosen people (Colossians 3:12), and everyone would have understood that he was talking about basics.
The undergarment, when worn, was either in the form of a loincloth or was a small waist slip. Peter was wearing the loincloth when he was "naked" or "stripped for work" in the family fishing boat (John 21:7). Jesus was crucified wearing only the loincloth, because the soldiers had already removed his tunic (John 19:23).
The tunic was the essential garment. It was made from two pieces of material. seamed so that the seam came horizontally, at waist level. When stripes were woven into the material on the loom, they fell vertically in the finished article. In many respects the tunic was like a sack. A V-shaped opening was cut for the head, and slits were made in the two corners for the arms. A new tunic was normally sold without the V-opening so that it could be proved to be new. The material could be of wool, linen, or even cotton, according to the wealth of the wearer. Tunics made of sackcloth, or goats hair, were very uncomfortable because they caused skin irritation. They were therefore worn in times of mourning and repentance.
Men's tunics were normally short and coloured; women's tunics were ankle-length and blue, with embroidered edges to the V-neck, which in some cases identified the village or region of the wearer. The tunic that Jesus wore must have been one of the latest in fashion because it was without the centre seam. Looms able to accommodate the full length of the tunic were invented only in his lifetime (see John 19:23).
The tunic was held to the waist by a girdle made of leather or coarse cloth. Sometimes the girdle was slit to make pocket for money or other personal possessions (Mark 6:8). The girdle also handy for the insertion of weapons or tools (1 Samuel 25:13). When men needed freedom to work for running, they lifted the hem of the tunic and tucked it into the girdle to gain greater freedom of movement. It was called "girding up the loins" (see p. 97) and the phrase became a metaphor for preparedness. Peter, for example, commends clear thinking, by advising Christians to "gird up the loins" of their minds (1 Peter 1:13, KJV). The women lifted the hem of their tunics too-in their case to carry, things from one place to another. At the end of the day there were no night-clothes to wear; the girdle was loosened and each person lay down in his or her tunic.
When people were wealthy enough to afford it, or when cold weather made it a necessity, a cloak (or mantle) was worn on top of the tunic. Cloaks were made in two forms. In the country, where warmth was important, it was made by wrapping thick woollen material around the body, seaming it at the shoulders, and providing slits for the arms to go through. For many people the cloak was their only form of protection, so even if taken in pledge for a loan it had to be returned to the owner before nightfall for sleeping purposes (Exodus 22:26-27). For the same reason a Jewish court of law would never award a cloak.
The other form of cloak was like a loose dressing-gown with wide sleeves. When made of silk it was a luxury garment, and a wealthy person would never think of going out of doors without one. The Pharisees wore blue fringes at the bottom of their cloaks so that they could be seen to be keeping the law recorded in Numbers 15:38-39. Because this practice tended to be ostentatious it was condemned by Jesus (Matthew 23:5). It was probably this bottom part of Jesus' cloak that the woman who was healed of a haemorrhage wanted to touch (Matthew 9:20).
The poor often walked barefoot, but others wore simple sandals. A sole was made from a piece of cowhide to match the shape of the foot. It was attached to the foot by a long thong that passed through the sole, between the large and second toe, and was tied around the ankle (Luke 3:16). Otherwise the thong linked together loops that had been made around the sole, crossing over and over the top of the foot. Slippers were also in use.
Most men seem to have worn a skull cap with a piece of material folded into a band around the turned-up edge, so that it gave the appearance of a turban. Women wore a square of material, folded to make a sunshield for the eves and allowed to fall in folds over the neck and the shoulders to give full protection from the sun. It wits held in place by a plaited cord. A light veil was sometimes worn over the head so that the woman did not show her face in a public place. Only the husband might look upon his wife's face. Hence Rebekah hid her face from Isaac before they were married (Genesis 24:65), and it was at the marriage ceremony that the veil was lifted from the bride's face and laid on the shoulder of the bridegroom, to the declaration, "the government will be upon his shoulders" (Isaiah 9:6).
Clothes were cleaned by allowing the swift current of a steam to pass through the coarse-woven cloth, washing the dirt out and away, or else by placing the wet clothes on flat stones and pounding out the dirt. David used the picture of washing clothes as a symbol of the action needed to away his sin (Psalm 51:2). Soap was made either from olive oil or from a vegetable alkali.
Clothes were not easy to come by for most people and were very costly. The poor had only the clothes they stood up in. It was therefore realistic to trade a person for a pair of shoes (Amos 2:6), and it was quite revolutionary for John the Baptist to tell people to give away spare coats (Luke 3:11). It is therefore interesting to see that in their codification of the law in the first century A.D., the Jews gave a list of clothes that might be rescued from a burning house on the Sabbath-interesting because the list indicates the value of clothes and mentions garments that were familiar at the time. The list is divided into two sections, for men and for women (children wore scaled-down versions of adult clothes).
Many of the names are Greek names for the garments, but the basic patterns of clothing are exactly the same. So important were clothes that it was a sign of intense grief or mourning to tear them into pieces (Job 1:20).
In addition to clothes there was heavy personal ornamentation by make-up, ornaments, and hair treatment. So important was this to the women of New Testament times that Christians were warned to ornament themselves with a meek and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:3-4). Make-up was derived either from kohl (green copper carbonate) or from galena (black lead sulphide) (Ezekiel 23:40).
Isaiah describes in great detail the ornamentation used in his day (Isaiah 3:18-21). Many of the earrings, bracelets, and pendants were set with precious stones, but it is extremely difficult to identify, the exact nature of the stone from the ancient languages. Oils were used as a base for pigments that coloured fingernails and toenails. Cosmetics were applied either with the finger or with a small wooden spatula. Men frequently wore a ring on the finger or on a chain around the neck, but the importance of such rings was more for sealing purposes than for decoration. In Old Testament times the hair was an important feature; it was seldom cut.
There are two characteristics of dwellings in the Holy Land. First they have a typical shape and style of building. They tend to be squarish, with a flat roof and external staircase, and are often built of white limestone blocks. This has become the pattern because of climate, availability of building materials, and an original need to build so as to conserve space. The second characteristic is to preserve the very old with the relatively new, so that visitors to the area today can see alongside modern buildings dwellings of the type used by Abraham.
Dividing the land
The Israelites gained their land by conquest, and every tribe and family looked upon its inheritance or allotment as from God. The way the land was divided is described in the second half of the book of Joshua. The area was divided up by line and allocated by lot. A lot was literally a two-sided disc believed to he in God's control when thrown. The results of the throw were used to find his will. A proverb expresses it, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord" (Proverbs 16:33). David was therefore able to thank God that the lines had fallen in very pleasant places for him-he had a good inheritance (Psalm 16:6).
Once allocated, inheritances were marked by landmarks-a heap of stones, a natural feature, or a double furrow of ploughed land-and the landmark could never be moved because to do so was to alter the gift of God (Deuteronomy 19:14). For the same reason, it was dishonouring to Cod to sell one's inheritance. Naboth refused to sell his vineyard to King Ahab for this reason (1 Kings 21:3).
Selling the land
There was need, on occasion, to realize the cash value of property when a particular family fell on hard times, but all land sold for such a reason had to be returned to the original owner in the year of Jubilee, which came every fifty years (Leviticus 25: 10). The sale value of the land was based upon the number of years left until Jubilee (Leviticus 25:13-17). Such transfers were very carefully arranged and monitored. Money was weighed, and deeds were drawn up describing every detail of the land in the presence of witnesses. The Jews seem to have taken over this practice of transfer from ancient times (compare Jeremiah 32:9-12 with Genesis 23:4-20).
If in the meantime a member of the family that had sold the land was able to raise the money to buy it back on behalf of the family, then the land had to be returned at once. Or if a childless widow remarried, her husband could purchase the land, but it would pass on to their firstborn child, who would carry the original family name, so that the land did not go out of the family (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). An example is recorded in the story of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 4).
People of the land
The inseparable link between people and land caused the ordinary people to be known as the "people of the land," the am-ha-aretz. (It is this consciousness of land that lies behind the repurchase and repossession of land in modern Israel.)
Land passed from father to sons, the eldest son receiving twice as much as each of his brothers. Joseph, as Jacob's heir, received a double portion in the names of his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Elisha asked for an eldest son's portion, a double portion, of the spirit of Elijah to fall upon him (2 Kings 2:9). The prodigal son was able to take his share of the inheritance with him, but when he returned, the whole property, a double portion, belonged to his elder brother (Luke 15:31). Case law established that the inheritance could pass to daughters if there were no sons. Numbers 27:1-11 describes the circumstances where this rule was given, along with other laws of inheritance.
Although by Bible times people had moved out of the original cave dwellings that were abundant in the ancient Middle East, there were always people who lived in caves. Lot lived in a cave after his escape from Sodom (Genesis 19:30), and the Edomites made and enlarged caves in the rock face at Petra for living and for public affairs. Obadiah rotors to the Edomites as those who dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high (Obadiah 3), There were caves under the homes in Nazareth that were contemporary with Jesus, and traditionally (almost certainly) Jesus was born in a shepherd's cave, Caves were always in use for escape (Joshua 10:16; 1 Samuel 22:1; 1 Kings 18:4), and the Philistines taunted the Israelites for using holes in the ground to hide themselves (1 Samuel 14:11).
By Bible times people were either living in settlements in a good defensive position with a water supply, or else they had adopted a semi-nomadic form of life, living in tents and moving with their herds from oasis to oasis. whom crops could be grown.
Abraham left the settled community at Ur in Chaldea and became a "sand-dweller" by faith, believing that God would eventually give his descendants another permanent land (Hebrews 11:9). The mode of life of the modern bedouin is similar to that of Abraham; it has never been fully deserted. The Jewish festival of Succoth (Tabernacles) is a constant reminder of Israel's past, and Pesach (Passover) too became a camping festival, as thousands of people made their way to Jerusalem.
The tent life of Israel always seems to approach an ideal and became an important metaphor. When the prophets recalled a materialistically-minded people to God, they reminded them of the time spent in the desert and on the move: "Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me" (Isaiah 46:9). When John says of Jesus that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), the word he uses is "tented" himself, or "camped" among us, to emphasise the temporary nature of his time on earth. Paul uses the same temporary nature of a tent to describe our own lives (2 Corinthians 5:1,4).
The tent of the sand-dweller was made from a long piece of goatshair cloth about five or six feet wide. It was erected on a series of poles to provide a long awning, the two ends being pegged to the ground with tent-nails (see Judges 4:21). The black colour of the tent is alluded to in Song of Songs 1:5. The strip was made on a loom pegged out on the ground; patches were inserted, like a huge darn, by the same method.
Vertical hangings were made either from worn roof-coverings or from other brightly-coloured materials. The hangings provided a "back" and "front" for the tent and divisions between. An area with a "back" and two dividing hangings therefore made an open porch where visitors could be received (Genesis 18:1-2) and where conversation could be heard by other people behind the hangings (see Genesis 18:9-15).
The tent could be extended simply by weaving an extra length onto the original awning and providing an additional hanging curtain (see Isaiah 54:2 where this is used as a metaphor for Jewish expansion). The awning was not waterproof until the first rains of the season had caused the cloth to shrink. Rugs were placed on the ground underneath the awning, and the families' possessions (food, cooking utensils, water carriers, and so forth) were kept beneath by the tent poles.
The only male allowed within the curtains of the tent was the husband/father; other men remained in the porch area. Entry of a male stranger within the women's quarters of the tent was punishable by death. Sisera paid with his life for going into Jael's tent, even though she had issued the invitation (Judges 4:18, 21).
Tents were not always primitive. When kings used their tents to travel with the army, they would have been luxurious, as was the tent David made to house the Ark of the Covenant at Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16:1).
Tents were often informally grouped to accommodate all members of the extended family. The Ishmaelites had some kind of order among the tents (Genesis 25:16), and during the wanderings between Egypt and Canaan there was a strict order for the pitching of tents (Numbers 2). Some kind of ensign marked the leaders among the Jewish people; the bedouin custom had ' been to put a spear upright by the tent door of the leader (sheikh)-see 1 Samuel 26:7.
Excerpted from THE NEW MANNERS & CUSTOMS OF BIBLE TIMES by Ralph Gower Copyright © 2005 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
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Part One- Family Life
Food and Meals
Craftsmen and Traders
Part Two- Institutions and Customs
Towns and Villages
Journeys and Travel
Social and Political Groupings
Government and Society
Posted May 3, 2015