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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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In most languages this important organ is used by figurative application, as the symbol of a large number of objects and ideas. In the East such applications of the word 'eye' have always been uncommonly numerous; and they were so among the Hebrews. It may be serviceable to distinguish the following uses of the word, few of which are common in this country, unless so far as they have become so through the translation of the Bible.

1. A fountain. This use of the word probably originated from the eye being regarded as the fountain of tears.

2. Color, as in the phrase 'and the eye (color) of the woman was as the eye (color) of bdellium' (). This originated perhaps in the eye being the part of the body which exhibits different colors in different persons.

3. The surface, as 'the surface (eye) of the land' (;;; ).

4. In , 'eye' seems to be used poetically for 'look,' as is usual in most languages; 'Thou hast stolen my heart with one of thy looks' (eyes).

5. In , the term 'eye' is applied to the beads or bubbles of wine, when poured out, but our version preserves the sense of 'color.'

To these some other phrases, requiring notice and explanation, may be added:

'Before the eyes' of anyone, meaning in his presence; or, as we should say, 'before his face' (;; ).

'In the eyes' of anyone, means what appears to be so, or so in his individual judgment or opinion; and is equivalent to 'seeming' or 'appearing' (;; margin ).

'To set the eyes' upon any one, is usually to regard him with favor (;; ); but it occurs in a bad sense, as of looking with anger, in . But anger is more usually expressed by the contrary action of turning the eyes away.

As many of the passions, such as envy, pride, pity, and desire, are expressed by the eye; so, in the Scriptural style, they are often ascribed to that organ. Hence such phrases as 'evil eye' (); 'bountiful eye' (); 'haughty eyes' (); 'wanton eyes' (); 'eyes full of adultery' (); 'the lust of the eyes' (). This last phrase is applied by some to lasciviousness, by others to covetousness; but it is best to take the expression in the most extensive sense, as denoting a craving for the gay vanities of this life (comp. ). In the same chapter of Ezekiel (), 'the desire of thy eyes' is put not for the prophet's wife directly, as often understood, but for whatever is one's greatest solace and delight; which in this case was the prophet's wife—but which in another case might have been something else.

In , the angels of the Lord are called 'His eyes,' as being the executioners of His judgments, and watching and attending for His glory. From some such association of ideas, the favorite ministers of state in the Persian monarchy were called 'the king's eyes.' So, in , 'to be instead of eyes' is equivalent to being a prince, to rule and guide the people.

The expression in , 'As the eye's of servants look unto the hands of their masters,' has suggested a number of curious illustrations from Oriental history and customs, tending to show that masters, especially when in the presence of others, are in the habit of communicating to their servants orders and intimations by certain motions of their hands, which, although scarcely noticeable by other persons present, are clearly understood and promptly acted upon by the attendants. This custom keeps them with their attention bent upon the hand of their master, watching its slightest motions.

Respecting blinding the eyes as a punishment, or political disqualification, see Punishments.


Fig. 177—Painted eyes

'Painting the eyes,' or rather the eyelids, with a kind of black powder, is more than once alluded to in Scripture, although this scarcely appears in the Authorized Version, as our translators, unaware of the custom, usually render 'eye' by 'face,' although 'eye' is still preserved in the margin. So Jezebel 'painted her eyes,' literally, 'put her eyes in paint,' before she showed herself publicly (). This action is forcibly expressed by Jeremiah (), 'though thou rentest thine eyes with painting.' Ezekiel () also represents this as a part of high dress—'For whom thou didst wash thyself, paintedst thy eyes, and deckedst thyself with ornaments.' The custom is also, very possibly, alluded to in —'Lust not after her beauty in thine heart, neither let her take thee with her eyelids.' It certainly is the general impression in Western Asia that this embellishment adds much to the languishing expression and seducement of the eyes, although Europeans find some difficulty in appreciating the beauty which the Orientals find in this adornment.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Eye'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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