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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Spinning And Weaving

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SPINNING AND WEAVING

1 . The raw material . In all periods of Hebrew history the chief textile materials were wool and flax , and to a less extent goats’ hair . As for the last named, it will be remembered that St. Paul was proud of being ‘chargeable to no man’ ( 2 Corinthians 11:9 ) in virtue of his trade as a weaver of tent curtains ( Acts 18:3 ), doubtless from the goats’ hair ( cilicium ) for which his native province was famed. The preparation of the various materials for the loom differed according to the nature of each. Wool, before being spun, was thoroughly scoured and carded, probably, as now in the East, by means of a bow-string. In the case of flax, the stalks were rippled and exposed to the sun till thoroughly dry ( Joshua 2:6 ); thereafter by repeated processes of steeping, drying, and beating, the fibres were ready for the ‘heckling’ or combing. Representations of these processes are preserved in the tombs of Egypt. Isaiah 19:9 also refers to the flax industry on the banks of the Nile; the emended text runs: ‘And confounded shall be the workers in linen; the combing-women and weavers shall grow pale, and they that lay the warp shall be broken in spirit; (even) all that work for hire shall be grieved in soul.’

2. Spinning . The spinning was done, as all the world over, by means of the distaff and spindle, and was pre-eminently women’s work ( Exodus 35:25 f., 2 Kings 23:7 , Proverbs 31:19 ). Both men and women, on the other hand, plied the loom. The distaff probably consisted, as elsewhere, of a piece of cane slit at the top to hold the wool. The spindle everywhere consists of a round shank of wood, 9 12 inches in length, furnished with a book at the top for catching the wool or flax, and having its lower end inserted into a circular or spherical whorl of clay, stone, or other heavy material to steady the rotary motion of the spindle (see Rich, Dict. of Rom. and Gr. Ant. s.v. ‘Fusus’; cf. ‘Colus’). Many spindle-whorls have been found in the course of the recent excavations in Palestine (for illust. see Bliss and Macalister, Excavations , etc., pi. LXX. [Note: Septuagint.] viii.; PEFST [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] 1902, 39; 1904, 324 and oft.). Sometimes a piece of broken pottery served as a whorl ( id . 1902, 338). Distaff and spindle are named together in Proverbs 31:19 , RV [Note: Revised Version.] , however, rightly reversing the renderings of AV [Note: Authorized Version.] . In 2 Samuel 3:29 for ‘one that leaneth on a staff’ recent scholars render ‘one that holdeth a spindle,’ expressive of the wish that Joab’s descendants may be womanish and effeminate.

3 . The three varieties of loom . ‘ Loom ’ does not occur in AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ; in RV [Note: Revised Version.] it wrongly appears ( Isaiah 38:12 ) for ‘thrum’ (so RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). It is almost certain, however, that Delilah’s loom is meant by the word rendered ‘beam’ in Judges 16:14 (see 4 ( c )). Three varieties of loom were in use around the Mediterranean in ancient times the horizontal loom and two varieties of the upright loom, distinguished by the Romans as the tela pendula and the tela jugalis .

( a ) The horizontal loom is at least as old as the twelfth Egyptian dynasty, and probably goes back to pre-historic times. That the Hebrews were early familiar with it is evident from the incident of Samson and Delilah above referred to, the true interpretation of which will be given in a later section, 4 ( c ). It is still, with some modifications, the loom in use to-day from Morocco to the Ganges and the farther East.

( b ) The oldest variety of the upright loom is that familiar to classical students from the well-known representation, on a Greek vase, of Penelope’s loom. It consisted of two uprights joined at the top by a crossbeam, from which, or from a second beam below it, depended the threads of the warp. These were kept taut by having small stone weights attached to their lower ends, hence the name tela pendula . In view of the numerous ‘weavers’ weights’ recently unearthed at Gezer and elsewhere (illust. PEFSt [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] 1903, 311, plate iv.; cf. 1904, 324), it can no longer be doubted that this form of the upright loom was also in use in Palestine, even as far back as the later Stone Age (Vincent, Canaan d’après l’exploration récente , 405).

( c ) The second and later variety of the upright loom had for its distinguishing feature a second cross-beam at the foot of the uprights, which served as a yarn-beam or as a cloth-beam, according as the web was begun at the top or at the bottom of the loom. By providing a third cross-beam capable of revolving, a web of much greater length could be woven than if the latter were confined to the height of the loom. The loom in ordinary use in NT times was of this type, as is evident from many passages in the Mishna.

4 . OT references to the processes of weaving . In its simplest form the art of weaving consists in interlacing a series of parallel threads, called the warp , with another series called the weft or woof , in such a way that each thread of the weft passes alternately over and under each thread of the warp. In the beginnings of the art this interlacing was laboriously done by the fingers of the spinner as in plaiting, of which weaving is only a more complicated variety. Now the first process is to stretch the threads of the warp ( Leviticus 13:48 ff.) evenly between the upper and lower beams of the loom. This process of warping is mentioned in the literal sense only, Isaiah 19:9 1 ), but is elsewhere used in a metaphorical sense, as Job 10:11 (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘knit together’), Psalms 139:13 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] , and the difficult passage Isaiah 30:1 . Of the four alternatives here given by the Revisers the only admissible rendering is the first of RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘weave a web,’ or, still better, ‘warp a warp,’ an apposite figure for commencing a new ‘web’ of political intrigue (cf. the similar metaphor 59:8). The Heb. law forbade the use of wool and linen, the one as warp, the other as woof, in the same web.

In the process of uniting warp and woof there are ‘the three primary movements,’ as they are called, to be considered. These are (1) shedding, i.e. dividing the warp into two sets of odd and even threads for the passage of the weft; (2) passing the weft through the ‘shed’ by means of a rod or a shuttle; and (3) beating up the weft to form with the warp a web of uniform consistency. These three processes, so far as applicable to the Egyptian and Hebrew looms, are the subject of a special study by the present writer in the article ‘Weaving’ in EBi [Note: Encyclopædia Biblica.] iv. 5282 87 (with illustt.), to which the curious student is referred. It must suffice here to mention only such of the details as bear on certain OT references, most of them misunderstood hitherto.

( a ) The formation of the shed was effected by at least two leash-rods or shafts, the Roman liciatoria , suspended from the upper cross-beam (see illust. Wilkinson, Anc. Egyp . ii. 171) or otherwise, connected by loops or leashes with each of the odd and even warp-threads respectively. The two sets of threads were alternately brought forward (or raised in the horizontal loom) by pulling the leash-rods, thus forming a shed for the passage of the shuttle-rod carrying the weft. Now, with a heavy warp, the rods must have been of considerable thickness, a stout branch of a tree serves as a leash-rod, for example, in a modern Anatolian loom figured in Smith’s Dict. of Gr. and Rom. Anl . 3 ii. 179. Accordingly, when the shaft of Goliath’s spear is compared to a weaver’s mânôr ( 1 Samuel 17:7 , 2 Samuel 21:19 , 1 Chronicles 20:5 ; cf. 1 Chronicles 11:23 ), it is not to either of the ‘beams’ of the loom but to ‘a weaver’s shaft’ or leash-rod that the comparison applies. The original term above given, it may be added, is from the same root as nîr , one of the Mishna terms for the leash-rod (cf. Jerome’s true rendering, quasi liciatorium texentium ).

( b ) The weft or woof ( Leviticus 13:48 ff.) was passed through the shed by means of a staff or rod on which the yarn was wound. Homer, however, was already familiar with a shuttle-rod at one end of which was a revolving spool from which the weft-thread unrolled itself in its passage. It is uncertain whether Job 7:6 , the only EV [Note: English Version.] occurrence of shuttle , refers to a shuttle-rod, or to the loom as a whole.

( c ) The weft was beat up at each passage of the rod-rod by a thin lathe or batten, or, as later, by a special comb.

In Egypt, however, under the Middle Empire, it would appear that the more efficient ‘reed,’ still used in modern weaving, had already been invented for this purpose (Garstang, Burial Customs of Anc. Egyp . [1907], 133 ff. with illust.); the two reeds there figured are 27 and 29 inches in length, showing approximately the width of the web. The Bedouin women of Moab to-day weave their tent curtains in strips about 5 yards long and from 16 to 20 inches wide, according to Jaussen ( Coutumes des Arabes , etc. [1908], 74).

The Hebrews in early times used a batten simply to beat up the weft withal, as we learn from the true text of Judges 16:13 f. which reads thus: ‘If thon weavest the seven plaits of my head with the warp land beatest them up with the batten, then shall I become weak and be as other men; and she made him sleep, and wove the seven plaits of his head with the warp], and beat them up with the batten (EV [Note: English Version.] ‘pin’), and said (as in EV [Note: English Version.] ) … and he awaked out of his sleep and pulled up the loom together with the warp.’ For Delilah, seated on the ground beside her horizontal loom with Samson’s head upon her knees (v. 19), it was an easy matter to use his flowing locks as weft and weave them into the warp of her loom. When Samson awoke he pulled up the loom, which was fastened to the ground with pegs.

With Penelope’s type of loom, the web could be woven only from the top downwards. This was also the Jewish custom in NT times with the other form of upright loom. Our Lord’s tunic, it will be remembered, ‘was without seam, woven from the top throughout’ (John 19:23 ). For the weaving of such seamless robes , which were in vogue in Egypt under the later dynasties at least, it was necessary to mount a double warp and to weave each face of the warp with a continuous weft (see EBi [Note: Encyclopædia Biblica.] iv. 5289).

5 . When the web was finished, the weaver cut the ends of the warp threads, those left hanging being the thrum of Isaiah 38:12 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] , and rolled up the web. These two processes are the source of the figures for premature death in the passage cited. The ‘new’ cloth of Matthew 9:16 , Mark 2:21 AV [Note: Authorized Version.] was unfulled (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘undressed’), that is, cloth fresh from the loom. The milling or fulling was the work of the fuller (Arts and Crafts, § 6 ).

6 . Special kinds of fabrics . By appropriate arrangement of the warp, woof, and leash-rods, striped, checked, and other varieties of cloth were produced. The cloth intended by the ‘ chequer work ’ of Exodus 28:4 is quite uncertain. The Revisers probably mean by the phrase a species of check, produced by alternating different coloured bands in the warp, or in the woof, or in both, The ‘work of the cunning workman’ ( Exodus 26:1 etc.), of which the inner curtains of the Tabernacle were composed, was probably a species of tapestry (EV [Note: English Version.] Proverbs 7:16 ; Proverbs 31:22 but here doubtful), in which a design was traced by inserting short coloured threads behind a varying number of warp threads.

A weft of gold thread was employed for the high priest’s robes (Exodus 28:6 f., Exodus 39:2 ff.; cf. Jdt 10:21 , 2Ma 5:2 ‘cloth of gold’). Herod Agrippa’s ‘royal apparel’ ( Acts 12:21 ) is said by Josephus to have been woven throughout of silver thread.

In OT times the finer textile fabrics were imported from Babylonia (Joshua 7:21 ), Phœnicia ( Ezekiel 27:16 f.), Egypt, and in NT times even from India for the high priest’s dress (Mishna, Yôma , iii. 7). In the days of the Chronicler the weavers formed a trade guild ( 1 Chronicles 4:21 ), and so continued in later times. As a class they were held in disrepute by the mass of the people, so much so that the Talmud declares weaving to be ‘the lowest of crafts.’

A. R. S. Kennedy.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Spinning And Weaving'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/s/spinning-and-weaving.html. 1909.

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