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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
SACKCLOTH . The sackcloth of OT was a coarse dark cloth made on the loom from the hair of goats and camels. In the extant literature it is almost always associated with mourning for the dead ( Genesis 37:34 , 2 Samuel 3:31 and oft.): and especially with the public expression of humiliation and penitence in view of some national misfortune, present or impending ( 1 Kings 21:27 , Nehemiah 9:1 , Jonah 3:5 etc.). For other tokens of grief and penitence, associated with the donning of sackcloth, such as ashes or dust on the head, and the rending of garments (this being a later substitute for their entire removal), see Mourning Customs. In such cases the person or persons concerned are generally said to ‘gird’ themselves with sackcloth, or to have sackcloth about their loins, from which it is evident that the sackcloth was worn in the form of a loincloth or waistcloth, tied in the ancient manner in a knot in front (cf. Isaiah 20:2 ‘loose the sackcloth,’ lit. ‘untie the knot’). It was worn by women as well as by men ( Isaiah 32:11 , Jdt 9:1 ). The putting of it upon cattle, however, as mentioned in Jonah 3:8 and Jdt 4:10 , and even upon an altar ( Jdt 4:11 ), is, from the nature of the passages cited, rather a literary than a historical extravagance.
In this custom most modern scholars recognize an illustration of conservatism in religious practice. The waistcloth is known to have been the oldest article of dress among the Semites (see Dress, Â§ 2 ), and as such it appears to have been retained in mourning customs and in humiliation before God, and perhaps in the exercise of the cultus, long after it had ceased to be the only garment of the people. The ihram or waistcloth still worn by the Moslem pilgrims during their devotions at the sacred shrine at Mecca, has often been cited as a modern parallel.
A. R. S. Kennedy.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sackcloth'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/s/sackcloth.html. 1909.