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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

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lin´en ( בּד , badh , "white linen," used chiefly for priestly robes, בּוּץ , būc , "byssus," a fine white Egyptian linen, called in the earlier writings שׁשׁ , shēsh ; פּשׁת , pesheth , "flax," סדין , ṣādhı̄n ; βύσσος , bússos , ὀθόνιον , othónion , λίνον , lı́non , σινδών , sindṓn ): Thread or cloth made of flax.

1. History:

Ancient Egypt was noted for its fine linen (Genesis 41:42; Isaiah 19:9 ). From it a large export trade was carried on with surrounding nations, including the Hebrews, who early learned the art of spinning from the Egyptians (Exodus 35:25 ) and continued to rely on them for the finest linen (Proverbs 7:16; Ezekiel 27:7 ). The culture of flax in Palestine probably antedated the conquest, for in Joshua 2:6 we read of the stalks of flax which Rahab had laid in order upon the roof. Among the Hebrews, as apparently among the Canaanites, the spinning and weaving of linen were carried on by the women ( Proverbs 31:13 , Proverbs 31:19 ), among whom skill in this work was considered highly praiseworthy (Exodus 35:25 ). One family, the house of Ashbea, attained eminence as workers in linen (1 Chronicles 4:21; 2 Chronicles 2:14 ).

2. General Uses:

Linen was used, not only in the making of garments of the finer kinds and for priests, but also for shrouds, hangings, and possibly for other purposes in which the most highly prized cloth of antiquity would naturally be desired.

3. Priestly Garments:

The robes of the Hebrew priests consisted of 4 linen garments, in addition to which the high priest wore garments of other stuffs (Exodus 28; 39; Leviticus 6:10; Leviticus 16:4; 1 Samuel 22:18; Ezekiel 44:17 , Ezekiel 44:18 ). Egyptian priests are said to have worn linen robes (Herod. ii. 37). In religious services by others than priests, white linen was also preferred, as in the case of the infant Samuel (1 Samuel 2:18 ), the Levite singers in the temple (2 Chronicles 5:12 ), and even royal personages (2 Samuel 6:14; 1 Chronicles 15:27 ). Accordingly, it was ascribed to angels (Ezekiel 9:2 , Ezekiel 9:3 , Ezekiel 9:11; Ezekiel 10:2 , Ezekiel 10:6 , Ezekiel 10:7; Daniel 10:5; Daniel 12:6 , Daniel 12:7 ). Fine linen, white and pure, is the raiment assigned to the armies which are in heaven following Him who is called Faithful and True (Revelation 19:14 ). It is deemed a fitting symbol of the righteousness and purity of the saints (Revelation 19:8 ).

4. Other Garments:

Garments of distinction were generally made of the same material: e.g. those which Pharaoh gave Joseph (Genesis 41:42 ), and those which Mordecai wore (Esther 8:15; compare also Luke 16:19 ). Even a girdle of fine linen could be used by a prophet as a means of attracting attention to his message (Jeremiah 13:1 ). It is probable that linen wrappers of a coarser quality were used by men (Judges 14:12 , Judges 14:13 ) and women (Proverbs 31:22 ). The use of linen, however, for ordinary purposes probably suggested unbecoming luxury (Isaiah 3:23; Ezekiel 16:10 , Ezekiel 16:13; compare also Revelation 18:12 , Revelation 18:16 ). The poorer classes probably wore wrappers made either of unbleached flax or hemp (Ecclesiasticus 40:4; Mark 14:51 ). The use of a mixture called sha‛aṭnēz , which is defined (Deuteronomy 22:11 ) as linen and wool together, was forbidden in garments.

5. Shrouds:

The Egyptians used linen exclusively in wrapping their mummies (Herod. ii. 86). As many as one hundred yards were used in one bandage. Likewise, the Hebrews seem to have preferred this material for winding-sheets for the dead, at least in the days of the New Testament (Matthew 27:59; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53; John 19:40; John 20:5 ff) and the Talmud (Jerusalem Killayim 9:32b).

6. Hangings:

The use of twisted linen ( shēsh moshzār ) for fine hangings dates back to an early period. It was used in the tabernacle ( Exodus 26:1; Exodus 27:9; 35; 36; 38; Josephus, Ant. , III, vi, 2), in the temple (2 Chronicles 3:14 ), and no doubt in other places (Mishna , Yoma' , iii. 4). Linen cords for hangings are mentioned in the description of the palace of Ahasuerus at Shushan (Esther 1:6 ).

7. Other Uses:

Other uses are suggested, such as for sails, in the imaginary ship to which Tyre is compared (Ezekiel 27:7 ), but judging from the extravagance of the other materials in the ship, it is doubtful whether we may infer that such valuable material as linen was ever actually used for this purpose. It is more likely, however, that it was used for coverings or tapestry (Proverbs 7:16 ), and possibly in other instances where an even, durable material was needed, as in making measuring lines (Ezekiel 40:3 ).

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