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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. Hair Fashions
Hair was worn in different fashions by the Orientals of Biblical times, and not always in the same way among the same people in different epochs. We know this clearly from Egyptian literature and monuments, as well as from the writings of Greek authors (especially Herodotus), that the dwellers on the Nile had their heads shaved in early youth, leaving but a side lock until maturity was attained, when this mark of childhood was taken away. Priests and warriors kept their heads closely shaved; nothing but the exigencies of arduous warfare were allowed to interfere with this custom. On the other hand, the Hebrew people, like their Babylonian neighbors (Herod. i.195), affected long and well-cared-for, bushy curls of hair as emblems of manly beauty. Proofs thereof are not infrequent in the Scriptures and elsewhere. Samson's (Judges 16:13 , Judges 16:19 ) and Absalom's (2 Samuel 14:26 ) long luxuriant hair is specially mentioned, and the Shulammite sings of the locks of her beloved which are "bushy (the Revised Version, margin "curling"), and black as a raven" (Song of Solomon 5:11 ). Josephus (Ant. , VIII, vii, 3 (185)) reports that Solomon's body-guard was distinguished by youthful beauty and "luxuriant heads of hair." In the history of Samson we read of "the seven locks of his head" (Judges 16:19 ). It is likely that the expression signifies the plaits of hair which are even now often worn by the young Bedouin warrior of the desert.
2. Hair in Idol Worship
It is well known that among the surrounding heathen nations the hair of childhood or youth was often shaved and consecrated at idolatrous shrines (compare Herod. ii.65 for Egypt). Frequently this custom marked an initiatory rite into the service of a divinity (e.g. that of Orotal (Bacchus) in Arabia, Herod. iii.8). It was therefore an abomination of the Gentiles in the eyes of the Jew, which is referred to in Leviticus 19:27; Jeremiah 9:26; Jeremiah 25:23; Jeremiah 49:32 . The Syriac version of the latter passage renders, "Ye shall not let your hair grow long" (i.e. in order to cut it as a religious rite in honor of an idol). It is, however, probable that among the Jews, as now among many classes of Mohammedans, the periodical cropping of the hair, when it had become too cumbersome, was connected with some small festivity, when the weight of the hair was ascertained, and its weight in silver was given in charity to the poor. At least, the weighing of Absalom's hair (2 Samuel 14:26 ) may be referred to some such custom, which is not unparalleled in other countries. The use of balances in connection with the shaving-off of the hair in Ezekiel 5:1 is certainly out of the common. See illustration, "Votive Offering," on p. 1302.
3. The Nazirite Vow
We may also compare the shaving of the head of the Nazirite to these heathen practices, though the resemblance is merely superficial. The man who made a vow to God was responsible to Him with his whole body and being. Not even a hair was to be injured willfully during the whole period of the vow, for all belonged to God. The conclusion of the Nazirite vow was marked by sacrifices and the shaving of the head at the door of the sanctuary (Numbers 6:1-21 ), indicative of a new beginning of life. The long untouched hair was therefore considered as the emblem of personal devotion (or devotedness) to the God of all strength. Thus it was an easy step to the thought that in the hair was the seat of strength of a Samson (Judges 16:17 , Judges 16:20 ). God has numbered the very hairs of the head (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7 ), which to human beings conveys the idea of the innumerableness (Psalm 40:12; Psalm 69:4 ). What God can number, He can also protect, so that not even a hair of the head might "fall to the earth" or "perish." These phrases express complete safety (1 Samuel 14:45; 2 Samuel 14:11; 1 Kings 1:52; Luke 21:18; Acts 27:34 ).
4. Later Fashions
In New Testament times, especially in the Diaspora, the Jews frequently adopted the fashion of the Romans in cropping the hair closely (1 Corinthians 11:14 ); still the fear of being tainted by the idolatrous practice of the heathen, which is specially forbidden in Leviticus 21:5 , was so great that the side locks remained untouched and were permitted to grow ad libitum . This is still the custom among the Jews of Eastern Europe and the Orient. See also HEAD .
5. Woman's Hair
If Hebrew men paid much attention to their hair, it was even more so among Hebrew women. Long black tresses were the pride of the Jewish maiden and matron (Song of Solomon 7:5; John 11:2; 1 Corinthians 11:5 , 1 Corinthians 11:6 , 1 Corinthians 11:15 ), but many of the expressions used in connection with the "coiffures" of women do not convey to us more than a vague idea. The "locks" of the King James Version in Song of Solomon 4:1 , Song of Solomon 4:3; Song of Solomon 6:7; Isaiah 47:2 ( צמּה ,
The care of the hair, especially the periodical cutting of the same, early necessitated the trade of the barber. The Hebrew word גּלּב ,
Numerous were the cosmetics and ointments applied to the hair (Ecclesiastes 9:8; Matthew 6:17; perhaps Rth 3:3), but some, reserved for sacramental purposes, were prohibited for profane use (Exodus 30:32; Psalm 133:2 ). Such distinction we find also in Egypt, where the walls of temple laboratories were inscribed with extensive recipes of such holy oils, while the medical papyri (see especially Papyrus Ebers, plates 64-67) contain numerous ointments for the hair, the composition of some of which is ascribed to a renowned queen of antiquity. Even Greek and Roman medical authors have transmitted to us the knowledge of some such prescriptions compounded, it is said, by Queen Cleopatra
For the Jews the anointing of the head was synonymous with joy and prosperity (compare Psalm 23:5; Psalm 92:10; Hebrews 1:9; compare also "oil of joy," Isaiah 61:3 , and "oil of gladness," Psalm 45:7 ). It was also, like the washing of feet, a token of hospitality (Psalm 23:5; Luke 7:46 ).
On the contrary, it was the custom in times of personal or national affliction and mourning to wear the hair unanointed and disheveled, or to cover the head with dust and ashes (2 Samuel 14:2; Joshua 7:6; Job 2:12 ), or to tear the hair or to cut it off (Ezra 9:3; Nehemiah 13:25; Jeremiah 7:29 ).
8. Symbolical Use of Word
We have referred to the thickness of hair which supplied the Hebrew with a suitable expression for the conception "innumerable." Hair is also expressive of minuteness; thus the 700 left-handed men of Benjamin were able to "sling stones at a hairbreadth, and not miss" (Judges 20:16 ). Gray hairs and the hoary white of old age were highly honored by the Jews (Proverbs 16:31; Proverbs 20:29; 2 Macc 6:23). Besides expressing old age (Isaiah 46:4 ), they stand for wisdom (The Wisdom of Solomon 4:9 (10)). Sometimes white hair is the emblem of a glorious, if not Divine, presence (Daniel 7:9; 2 Macc 15:13; Revelation 1:14 ). Calamity befalling the gray-headed was doubly terrible (Genesis 42:38; Genesis 44:29 ). The "hair of the flesh" is said to "stand up" (Job 4:15; Sirach 27:14) when sudden terror or fear takes hold of a person. The symbolical language of Isaiah 7:20 uses the "hair of the feet" (see
Camel's hair ( Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6 ) is mentioned in connection with the description of John the Baptist's raiment. It represents, according to Jerome, a rough shirt worn under the coat or wrapper, though a rather soft fabric is produced in Arabia from the finer wool of the camel.
Goat's hair was the material of a cloth used for wearing apparel and for a more or less waterproof covering of tents and bundles. It is the black tent-cloth of Kedar' ( Song of Solomon 1:5; Exodus 26:7; Exodus 36:14 ). In New Testament times it was the special product of Paul's native province, Cilicia, whence its name cilicium , and its manufacture formed the apostle's own trade (Acts 18:3 ). It is also mentioned as a material for stuffing pillows (1 Samuel 19:13 ). See also WEAVING .
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Hair'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/h/hair.html. 1915.
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