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In the Hebrew and Greek there is a wonderful wealth of terminology having to do with the general subject of dress among the ancient Orientals. This is reflected in the numerous synonyms for "dress" to be found in English Versions of the Bible, "apparel," "attire," "clothes," "raiment," "garments," etc. But the words used in the originals are often greatly obscured through the inconsistent variations of the translators. Besides there are few indications even in the original Hebrew or Greek of the exact shape or specific materials of the various articles of dress named, and so their identification is made doubly difficult. In dealing with the subject, therefore, the most reliable sources of information, apart from the meaning of the terms used in characterization, are certain well-known facts about the costumes and dress-customs of the orthodox Jews, and others about the forms of dress worn today by the people of simple life and primitive habits in modern Palestine. Thanks to the ultraconservatism and unchanging usages of the nearer East, this is no mean help. In the endeavor to discover, distinguish and deal with the various oriental garments, then, we will consider:

1. The Meaning of Terms

2. The Materials

3. The Outer Garments

4. The Inner Garments

5. The Headdress

6. The Foot-Gear

7. The Dress of Jesus and His Disciples

1. Meaning of Terms

There was originally a sharp distinction between classical and oriental costume, but this was palpably lessened under the cosmopolitanism of the Roman Empire. This of course had its effect both in the modification of the fashions of the day and upon the words used for articles of clothing in the New Testament.

(1) The terms most used for clothes in general were, in the Old Testament, ṣādhı̄n , simlāh , salmāh , and in the New Testament himátion (Matthew 21:7; Matthew 24:18; Matthew 26:65; Luke 8:27 ) and énduma (Matthew 22:11 f; compare Matthew 7:15 ), plural, though the oldest and most widely distributed article of human apparel was probably the "loin-cloth" (Hebrew 'ēzōr ), entirely different from "girdle" (Greek zō̇nē ). Biblical references for clothes are nearly all to the costume of the males, owing doubtless to the fact that the garments ordinarily used indoors were worn alike by men and women.

(2) The three normal body garments, the ones most mentioned in the Scriptures, are ṣādhı̄n , a rather long "under garment" provided with sleeves; kethōneth (Greek chitō̇n ), a long-sleeved tunic worn over the ṣādhı̄n , likewise a shirt with sleeves (see Masterman, DCG , article "Dress"); and simlāh (Greek himation ), the cloak of the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American), used in the plural for "garments" in general; and the "girdle" (Greek zōnē ; Arabic zunnar ). The "headdress" (two types are now in use, the "turban" and the "kufiyeh ") is never definitely named in the Bible, though we know it was the universal custom among ancient Orientals to cover the head.

(3) The simlāh (Greek himation ) signifies an "outer garment" (see below), a "mantle," or "cloak" (see lexicons). A kindred word in the Greek himatismós , (translated "raiment" in Luke 9:29 , "garments" in Matthew 27:35 , and "vesture" in John 19:24 ) stands in antithesis to ηιματιον , himation ̌ . The Greek chitōn , Hebrew kethōneth , the "under garment," is translated "coat" in Matthew 5:40 , "clothes" in Mark 14:63 . The Hebrew word me‛ı̄l , Greek stolḗ , Latin stola , stands for a variety of garment used only by men of rank or of the priestly order, rendered the Revised Version (British and American) "robe." It stands for the long garments of the scribes rendered "long robes" (Mark 12:38; Luke 20:46 ) and "best robe" in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:22 ). (For difference between me‛ı̄l and simlāh , see Kennedy, one-vol HDB , 197.) Oriental influences led to the adoption of the long tunic in Rome, and in Cicero's time it was a mark of effeminacy. It came to be known in its white form as tunica alba , or "white tunic," afterward in English "alb ."

Other New Testament terms are πορφύραν , porphúran , the "purple" (Luke 16:19 ); the purple robe of Jesus is called himation in John 19:2; léntion , "the towel" with which Jesus girded himself (John 13:4 , John 13:5 ); then othónion , "linen cloth" (Luke 24:12; John 19:40 ); sindō̇n , "linen cloth" (Matthew 27:59 ); and bússos , "fine linen" (Luke 16:19 ).

The primitive "aprons" of Genesis 3:7 , made of "sewed fig-leaves," were quite different from the "aprons" brought to the apostles in Acts 19:12 . The latter were of a species known among the Romans as semicinctium , a short "waist-cloth" worn especially by slaves (Rich, Dict. of Roman and Greek Antiq .).

2. The Materials

Anthropology, Scripture and archaeology all witness to the use by primitive man of skins of animals as dress material ( Genesis 3:21 , "coats of skin"; compare Hebrews 11:37 , "went about in sheepskins, in goatskins").

Even today the traveler will occasionally see in Palestine a shepherd clad in "a coat of skin." Then, as now, goat's hair and camel's hair supplied the materials for the coarser fabrics of the poor. John the Baptist had his raiment, enduma , of camel's hair (literally, "of camel's hairs," Matthew 3:4 ). This was a coarse cloth made by weaving camel's hairs. There is no evidence that coats of camel's skin, like those made of goat's skin or sheep's skin have ever been worn in the East, as imagined by painters (see Meyer, Bleek, Weiss and Broadus; but compare HDB , article "Camel"). The favorite materials, however, in Palestine, as throughout the Orient, in ancient times, were wool (see Proverbs 27:26 , "The lambs are for thy clothing") and flax (see Proverbs 31:13 , where it is said of the ideal woman of King Lemuel, "She seeketh wool and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands"). The finest quality of ancient "linen" seems to have been the product of Egypt (see LINEN ). The "silk" of Proverbs 31:22 the King James Version is really "fine linen," as in the Revised Version (British and American). The first certain mention of "silk" in the Bible, it is now conceded, is in Revelation 18:12 , as the word rendered "silk" in Ezekiel 16:10 , Ezekiel 16:13 is of doubtful meaning.

3. The Outer Garments

(1) We may well begin here with the familiar saying of Jesus for a basal distinction: "If any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat (Greek chitōn ), let him have thy cloak (himation ) also" (Matthew 5:40 ). Here the "coat" (Hebrew kethōneth ) was the ordinary "inner garment" worn by the Jew of the day, in which he did the work of the day (see Matthew 24:18; Mark 13:16 ). It resembled the Roman "tunic," corresponding most nearly to our "long shirt," reaching below the knees always, and, in case it was designed for dress occasions, reaching almost to the ground. Sometimes "two coats" were worn (Luke 3:11; compare Matthew 10:10; Mark 6:9 ), but in general only one. It was this garment of Jesus that is said by John (John 19:23 ) to have been "without seam, woven from the top throughout."

(2) The word himation , here rendered "cloak," denotes the well-known "outer garment" of the Jews (see Matthew 9:20 , Matthew 9:21; Matthew 14:36; Matthew 21:7 , Matthew 21:8; but compare also Matthew 9:16; Matthew 17:2; Matthew 24:18; Matthew 26:65; Matthew 27:31 , Matthew 27:35 ). It appears in some cases to have been a loose robe, but in most others, certainly, it was a large square piece of cloth, like a modern shawl, which could be wrapped around the person, with more or less taste and comfort. Now these two, with the "girdle" (a necessary and almost universal article of oriental dress), were commonly all the garments worn by the ordinary man of the Orient. The "outer garment" was frequently used by the poor and by the traveler as his only covering at night, just as shawls are used among us now.

(3) The common Hebrew name for this "outer garment" in the Old Testament is as above, simlāh or salmāh ̌ . In most cases it was of "wool," though sometimes of "linen," and was as a rule certainly the counterpart of the himation of the Greek (this is its name throughout the New Testament). It answered, too, to the pallium of the Romans. It belonged, like them, not to the endúmata , or garments "put on," but to the periblḗmata , or garments "wrapped, around" the body. It was concerning this "cloak" that the Law of Moses provided that, if it were taken in pawn, it should be returned before sunset - "for that is his only covering, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep?... for I am gracious" (Exodus 22:27 ). The Jewish tribunals would naturally, therefore, allow the "inner garment" to be taken by legal process, rather than the outer one (Matthew 5:40; Luke 6:29 ); but Jesus virtually teaches that rather than have difficulty or indulge animosity one would better yield one's rights in this, as in other matters; compare 1 Corinthians 6:7 .

Some identify the simlāh of the ancient Hebrews with modern aba , the coarse blouse or overcoat worn today by the Syrian peasant (Nowack, Benzinger, Mackie in HDB ); but the distinction between these two garments of the Jews, so clearly made in the New Testament, seems to confirm the conclusion otherwise reached, that this Jewish "outer garment" closely resembled, if it was not identical with, the himation of the Greeks (see Jewish Encyclopedia , article "Cloke" and 1-vol HDB , "Dress," 197; but compare Masterman, DCG , article "Dress," 499, and Dearmer, DCG , article "Cloke"). In no respect has the variety of renderings in our English Versions of the Bible done more to conceal from English readers the meaning of the original than in the case of this word simlāh ̌ . For instance it is the "garment" with which Noah's nakedness was covered (Genesis 9:23 ); the "clothes" in which the Hebrews bound up, their kneading-troughs (Exodus 12:34 ); the "garment" of Gideon in Judges 8:25; the "raiment" of Ruth (Rth 3:3); just as the himation of the New Testament is the "cloak" of Matthew 5:40 , the "clothes" of Matthew 24:18 the King James Version (the Revised Version (British and American) "cloak"), the "garment" ( Mark 13:16 the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) "cloak").

4. The Under Garments

(1) In considering the under garments, contrary to the impression made by English Versions of the Bible, we must begin with the "loin-cloth" (Hebrew 'ēzōr ), which unlike the "girdle" (see GIRDLE ), was always worn next to the skin. The figurative use made of it in Isaiah 11:5 , and Jeremiah 13:11 , e.g. will be lost unless this is remembered. Often it was the only "under garment," as with certain of the prophets (Elijah, 2 Kings 1:8; compare John the Baptist, Matthew 3:4; Isaiah, Isaiah 20:2 , and Jeremiah, Jeremiah 13:1 ). In later times it was displaced among the Hebrews by the "shirt" or "tunic" (see TUNIC ). The universal "sign of mourning" was the girding of the waist with an 'ēzōr or "hair-cloth" (English Versions, "sack-cloth"). A "loincloth" of "linen" was worn by the priests of early times and bore the special name of 'ēphōdh (1 Samuel 2:18; compare 2 Samuel 6:14 ).

(2) The ordinary "under garment," later worn by all classes - certain special occasions and individuals being exceptions - was the "shirt" (Hebrew kethōneth ) which, as we have seen, reappears as chitōn in Greek, and tunica in Latin It is uniformly rendered "coat" in English Versions of the Bible, except that the Revised Version, margin has "tunic" in John 19:23 . The well-known piece of Assyrian sculpture, representing the siege and capture of Lachish by Sennacherib, shows the Jewish captives, male and female, dressed in a moderately tight garment, fitting close to the neck (compare Job 30:18 ) and reaching almost to the ankles; which must represent the kethōneth , or kuttōneth of the period, as worn in towns at least. Probably the kuttōneth of the peasantry was both looser and shorter, resembling more the modern kamis of the Syrian fellah (compare Latin camisa , and English "chemise").

(3) As regards sleeves , they are not expressly mentioned in the Old Testament, but the Lachish tunics mentioned above have short sleeves, reaching half-way to the elbows. This probably represents the prevailing type of sleeve among the Hebrews of the earlier period. An early Egyptian picture of a group of Semitic traders (circa 2000 bc) shows a colored tunic without sleeves, which, fastened on the left shoulder, left the right bare. Another variety of sleeves, restricted to the upper and wealthy classes, had long and wide sleeves reaching to the ground. This was the tunic worn by Tamar, the royal princess (2 Samuel 13:18 , "A garment of divers colors upon her; for with such robes were the king's daughters that were virgins appareled"), "the tunic of (i.e. reaching to) palms and soles" worn by Joseph, familiarly known as the "coat of many colors" (Genesis 37:3 ), a rendering which represents now an abandoned tradition (compare Kennedy, HDB ). The long white linen tunic, which was the chief garment of the ordinary Jewish priest of the later period, had sleeves, which, for special reasons, were tied to the arms (compare Josephus, Ant. , III, vii, 2).

(4) Ultimately it became usual, even with the people of the lower ranks, to wear an under "tunic," or "real shirt" (Josephus, Ant. , XVII , vi, 7; Mishna, passim , where it is called ḥālūḳ ). In this case the upper tunic, the kuttōneth proper, would be removed at night (compare Song of Solomon 5:3 , "I have put off my garment").

The material for the tunic might be either (1) woven on the loom in two pieces, and afterward put together without cutting (compare Dict. of Roman and Greek Antiq ., article "Tunica"), or (2) The garment might be woven whole on a special loom, "without seam," i.e. so as to require no sewing, as we know from the description given in John 19:23 , and from other sources, was the chitōn worn by our Lord just before His crucifixion. The garments intended by the Hebrew (Daniel 3:21-27 ), rendered "coats" the King James Version, have not been certainly made out. The King James Version margin has "mantles" the English Revised Version "hosen" the American Standard Revised Version "breeches" (see HOSEN ). For "coat of mail" (1 Samuel 17:5 ) see ARMOR .

5. The Headdress

When the Hebrews first emerged into view, they seem to have had no covering for the head except on special demand, as in case of war, when a leather-helmet was worn (see ARMOR ). Ordinarily, as with the fellah of Palestine today, a rope or cord served as a fillet (compare 1 Kings 20:32 , and Virgil, Aeneid (Dryden), iv.213: "A golden fillet binds his awful brows"). Such "fillets" may be seen surviving in the representation of Syrians on the monuments of Egypt. Naturally, in the course of time, exposure to the Syrian sun in the tropical summer time would compel recourse to some such covering as the modern kufiyeh , which lets in the breeze, but protects in a graceful, easy way, the head, the neck and the shoulders. The headgear of Ben-hadad's tribute carriers (see above) resembles the Phrygian cap.

The head covering, however, which is best attested, at least for the upper ranks of both sexes, is the turban (Hebrew cānı̄ph , from a root meaning to "wind round"). It is the ladies' "hood" of Isaiah 3:23 , the Revised Version (British and American) "turban"; the "royal diadem" of Isaiah 62:3 , and the "mitre" of Zechariah 3:5 , the Revised Version, margin "turban" or "diadem." Ezekiel's description of a lady's headdress: "I bound thee with attire of fine linen" (Ezekiel 16:10 margin), points to a turban. For the egg-shaped turban of the priests see BONNET (the Revised Version (British and American) "head-tires"). The hats of Daniel 3:21 (the Revised Version (British and American) "mantles") are thought by some to have been the conical Babylonian headdress seen on the monuments. According to 2 Macc 4:12 the Revised Version (British and American) the young Jewish nobles were compelled by Antiochus Epiphanes to wear the pétasos , the low, broad-brimmed hat associated with Hermes. Other forms of headdress were in use in New Testament times, as we learn from the Mishna, as well as from the New Testament, e.g. the suddar (σουδάριον , soudárion ) from Latin sudarium (a cloth for wiping off perspiration, sudor ) which is probably the "napkin" of John 11:44; John 20:7 , although there it appears as a kerchief, or covering, for the head. The female captives from Lachish (see above) wear over their tunics an upper garment, which covers the forehead and falls down over the shoulders to the ankles. Whether this is the garment intended by the Hebrew in Rth 3:15, rendered "vail" by the King James Version and "mantle" by the Revised Version (British and American), and "kerchiefs for the head" (Ezekiel 13:18 the Revised Version (British and American)), we cannot say. The "veil" with which Rebekah and Tamar "covered themselves" ( Genesis 24:65; Genesis 38:14 ) was most likely a large "mantle" in which the whole body could be wrapped, like the ṣādhı̄n (see above). But it seems impossible to draw a clear distinction between "mantle" and "veil" in the Old Testament (Kennedy). The case of Moses (Exodus 34:33 ) gives us the only express mention of a "face-veil."

6. Footgear

The ancient Hebrews, like Orientals in general, went barefoot within doors. Out of doors they usually wore sandals, less frequently shoes. The simplest form of sandal then, as now, consisted of a sole of untanned leather, bound to the foot by a leather thong, the shoe-latchet of Genesis 14:23 and the latchet of Mark 1:7 , etc. In the obelisk of Shalmaneser, however, Jehu's attendants are distinguished by shoes completely covering the feet, from the Assyrians, who are represented as wearing sandals fitted with a heel-cap. Ladies of Ezekiel's day wore shoes of "sealskin" (Ezekiel 16:10 the Revised Version (British and American)). The soldiers' "laced boot" may be intended in Isaiah 9:5 (the Revised Version (British and American), margin). Then, as now, on entering the house of a friend, or a sacred precinct ( Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15 ), or in case of mourning (2 Samuel 15:30 ), the sandals, or shoes, were removed. The priests performed their offices in the Temple in bare feet (compare the modern requirement on entering a mosque).

7. The Dress of Jesus and His Disciples

In general we may say that the clothes worn by Christ and His disciples were of the simplest and least sumptuous kinds. A special interest must attach even to the clothes that Jesus wore. These consisted, it seems quite certain, not of just five separate articles (see Edersheim, LTJM , I, 625), but of six. In His day it had become customary to wear a linen shirt (ḥālūḳ ) beneath the tunic (see above). That our Lord wore such a "shirt" seems clear from the mention of the laying aside of the upper garments (himátia , plural), i.e. the "mantle" and the "tunic," before washing His disciples' feet (John 13:4 ). The tunic proper worn by Him, as we have seen, was "woven without seam" throughout, and was of the kind, therefore, that fitted closely about the neck, and had short sleeves. Above the tunic would naturally be the linen girdle, wound several times about the waist. On His feet were leather sandals (Matthew 3:11 ). His upper garment was of the customary sort and shape, probably of white woolen cloth, as is suggested by the details of the account of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:3 ), with the four prescribed "tassels" at the corners. As to His headdress, we have no description of it, but we may set it down as certain that no Jewish teacher of that day would appear in public with the head uncovered. He probably wore the customary white linen "napkin" (sudarium ), wound round the head as a turban , with the ends of it falling down over the neck. The dress of His disciples was, probably, not materially different.

In conclusion it may be said that, although the dress of even orthodox Jews today is as various as their lands of residence and their languages, yet there are two garments worn by them the world over, the ṭallı̄th and the 'arba‛ kanephōth (see DCG , article "Dress," col. 1). Jews who affect special sanctity, especially those living in the Holy Land, still wear the ṭallı̄th all day, as was the common custom in Christ's time. As the earliest mention of the 'arba‛kanephōth is in 1350 ad, it is clear that it cannot have existed in New Testament times.


Nowack's and Benzinger's Hebrew Archäologie; Tristram, Eastern Customs in Bible Lands; Rich, Dict. of Roman and Greek Antiq .; Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah , 625, and elsewhere; articles on "Dress," "Clothing," "Costumes," etc., HDB , DCG , Jewish Encyclopedia (by Nöldeke) in Encyclopedia Biblica (by Abrahams and Cook); Masterman, "Dress and Personal Adornment in Mod. Palestine," in Biblical World , 1902, etc.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Dress'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​d/dress.html. 1915.
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