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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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Linegar, John, D.D.
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has been made in the A. Version or elsewhere the representative of a considerable number of Hebrew and Greek terms, to most of which it more or less nearly corresponds. The material designated by them in general is no doubt principally, and perhaps by some of them exclusively, the product of the flax-plant; but there is another plant which, as being a probable rival to it, may be most conveniently considered here, namely, HEMP (See HEMP) . (See SILK); (See WOOL).

Hemp is a plant which in the present day is extensively distributed, being cultivated in Europe, and extending through Persia to the southernmost parts of India. In the plains of that country it is cultivated on account of its intoxicating product, so well known as bang; in the Himalayas both on this account and for its yielding the ligneous fiber which is used for sack and rope making. Its European names are no doubt derived from the Arabic kinnab, which is supposed to be connected with the Sanscrit shanapee. There is no doubt therefore, that it might easily have been cultivated in Egypt. Herodotus mentions it as being employed by the Thracians for making garments. "These were so like linen that none but a very experienced person could tell whether they were of hemp or flax; one who had never seen hemp would certainly suppose them to be linen." Hemp is used in the present day for smockfrocks and tunics; and Russia sheeting and Russia duck are well known. Cannabis is mentioned in the works of Hippocrates on account of its medical properties. Dioscorides describes it as being employed for making ropes, and it was a good deal cultivated by the Greeks for this purpose. Though we are unable at present to prove that it was cultivated in Egypt at an early period, and used for making garments, yet there is nothing improbable in its having been so. Indeed, as it was known to various Asiatic nations, it could hardly have been unknown to the Egyptians, and the similarity of the word husheesh to the Arabic shesh would lead to a belief that they were acquainted with it, especially as in a language like the Hebrew it is more probable that different names were applied to totally different things, than that the same thing had two or three different names. Hemp might thus have been used at an early period, along with flax and wool, for making cloth for garments and for hangings, and would be much valued until cotton and the finer kinds of linen came to be known.

1. PISHTEH´ (פַּשְׁתֶּה, or, rather, according to Gesenius, פֶּשֶׁת , pe'sheth, from פָּשִׁשׁ, to card) is rendered "linen" in Leviticus 13:47-48; Leviticus 13:52; Leviticus 13:59; Deuteronomy 22:11; Jeremiah 13:1; Ezekiel 44:17-18; and "flax" in Joshua 2:6; Judges 15:14; Proverbs 31:13; Isaiah 19:9; Ezekiel 40:3, Hosea 2:5; Hosea 2:9. It signifies

(1.) flax. i.e., the material of linen, Isaiah 19:9; Deuteronomy 22:11; Proverbs 31:13, where its manufacture is spoken of; also a line or rope made of it, Ezekiel 40:3; Judges 14:4; so "stalks of flax," i.e., woody flax, Joshua 2:6 (where the Sept. has λινοκαλάμη, Vulg. stipulae lini. but the Arabic Vers. stalks of cotton); and

(2.) wrought flax. i.e., linen cloth, as made into garments. e.g. generally, Leviticus 13:47-48; Leviticus 13:52; Leviticus 13:59; Deuteronomy 22:11; Ezekiel 44:17; a girdle, Jeremiah 13:1. a mitre a pair of drawers worn by the priests, Ezekiel 44:18. A cognate term is פַּשְׁתָּה, pistah', the plant "flax" as growing, Exodus 9:31; spec. a wick, made of linen, i.e., of "flax," Isaiah 42:3, or "tow," Isaiah 43:17. To this exactly corresponds the Greek λίνον (whence English linen), which, indeed, stands for pishteh or pishtah in the Sept. (at Exodus 9:31; Isaiah 19:9; Isaiah 43:3). It signifies properly the flax-plant (Xenophon, Ath. 2:11, 12), but in the N.T. is only used of linen raiment (Revelation 15:6; comp. Homer, Il. 9:661; Od. 13:73), also the wick of a lamp, as being composed of a strip or ravelings of linen (Matthew 12:20), where the half-expiring flame is made the symbol of an almost despairing heart, which will be cheered instead of having its religious hopes extinguished by the Redeemer. In John 13:4-5 occurs the Latin term linteum, in its Greek form λέντιον, literally a linen cloth, hence a "towel" or apron (comp. Galen, Comp. Med. 9; Suetonius, Calig. 26).

This well-known plant was early cultivated in Egypt (Exodus 9:31; Isaiah 19:9; comp. Pliny, 19:2; Herod. 2:105; Iasselquist, Trav. page 500), namely, in the Delta around Pelusium ("linum Pelusiacum," Sil. Ital. 3:25, 375; "linteum Pelusium," Phaedr. 2:6, 12); but also in Palestine (Joshua 2:6, Hosea 2:7; compare Pococke. East, 1:260), the stalk attaining a height of several feet (see Joshua 2:6; compare Hartmann, Hebr. 1:116). Linen or tow was employed by the Hebrews, especially as a branch of female domestic manufacture (Proverbs 31:13), for garments (2 Samuel 6:14; Ezekiel 44:17; Leviticus 13:47; Revelation 15:6; comp. Philo, 2:225), girdles (Jeremiah 31:1), thread and ropes (Ezekiel 40:3; Judges 15:13), napkins (Luke 24:12; John 19:40), turbans (Ezekiel 44:18), and lamp-wick (Isaiah 40:3; Isaiah 43:17; Matthew 12:20). For clothing they used the "fine linen" (בִּד, ὀθόνη, 1 Chronicles 15:27, where the Sept. has βύσσινος : see Hartmann, 3:38; compare Leviticus 16:4; Leviticus 16:23; Ezekiel 44:17), perhaps the Pelusiac linen of Egypt (see Mishna, Joma, 3:7), of remarkable whiteness (comp. Daniel 12:6; Revelation 15:6; see Plutarch, Isis, c. 4), with which the fine Babylon linen manufactured at Borsippa doubtless corresponded (Strabo, 16:739), being the material of the splendid robes of the Persian monarchs (Strabo, 14:719; Curt. 8:9), doubtless the karpas, כִּרְפִּס, of Esther 1:6 (see Gesenius, Thesaur. Heb. page 715). Very poor persons wore garments of unbleached flax (ὠμόλινον, linum crudum, i.q. tow-cloth, Sirach 40:4). The refuse of flax or tow is called in Heb. נַעֹרֵת, nesoreth (Judges 16:9; Isaiah 31). (See, generally, Celsius, Hierobot. 2:28 sq. See FLAX.

2. BUTS (בּוּוֹ , from a root signifying whiteness) occurs in 1 Chronicles 4:21; 1 Chronicles 15:27; 2 Chronicles 2:14; 2 Chronicles 3:14; 2 Chronicles 5:12; Esther 1:6; Esther 8:15; Ezekiel 27:16, in all which passages the A.V. renders it "fine linen," except in 2 Chronicles 5:12, where it translates "white linen." The word is of Aramean origin, being found in substantially the same form in all the cognate dialects. It is spoken of the finest and most precious stuffs, as worn by kings (1 Chronicles 15:27), by priests (2 Chronicles 5:12), and by other persons of high rank or honor (Esther 1:6; Esther 1:8; Esther 1:15). It is used of the Syrian byssus (Ezekiel 27:16), which seems there to be distinguished from the Egyptian byssus or שֵׁשׁ, shesh (Ezekiel 27:7). Elsewhere it seems not to differ from this last, and is often put for it in late Hebrew (e.g. 1 Chronicles 4:21; 2 Chronicles 3:14; comp. Exodus 26:31; so the Syr. and Chald. equivalents of buts occur in the O. and N.T. for the Heb. שֵׁשׁ and Gr. βύσσος). That the Heb. garments made of this material were white may not only be certainly concluded from the etymology (which that of שֵׁשׁ confirms), but from the express language of Revelation 19:4, where the white and shining raiment of the saints is emblematical of their purity. Yet we should not rashly reject the testimony of Pausanias (5:5), who states that the Hebrew byssus was yellow, for cotton of this color is found as well in Guinea and India (Gossypium religiosum) as in Greece at this day (comp. Vossius, ad. Virg. Geo. 2:220), although white was doubtless the prevailing color, as of linen with us. J.E. Faber (in Harmar, Observ. 2:382 sq.) suspects that the buts was a cotton-plant common in Syria, and different from the shesh or tree-cotton. It has long been disputed whether the cloths of byssus were of linen or cotton (see Celsius, Hierobot. 2:167 sq.; Forster, De bysso antiquor. London, 1776), and recent microscopic experiments upon the mummy-cloths brought to London from Egypt have been claimed as determining the controversy by discovering that the threads of these are linen (Wilkinson, Anc. Egypt. 3:115).

But this is not decisive, as there may have existed religious reasons for employing linen for this particular purpose, and the cloths used for bandaging the bodies are not clearly stated to have been of byssus. On the contrary, the characteristics ascribed to this latter are such as much better agree with the qualities of cotton (see Forster, De bysqo, ut sup.). "The corresponding Greek word βύσσος occurs in Luke 16:19, where the rich man is described as being clothed in purple and fine linen, and also in Revelation 18:12; Revelation 18:16; Revelation 19:8; Revelation 19:14, among the merchandise the loss of which would be mourned for by the merchants trading with the mystical Babylon. But it is by many authors still considered uncertain whether this byssus was of fax or cotton; for, as Rosenmü ller says, 'The Heb. word shesh, which occurs thirty times in the two first books of the Pentateuch (see Celsius, 2:259), is in these places, as well as in Proverbs 31:22, by the Greek Alexandrian translators interpreted byssus, which denotes Egyptian cotton, and also the cotton cloth made from it. In the later writings of the O.T., as, for example, in the Chronicles, the book of Esther, and Ezekiel, buts is commonly used instead of shesh as an expression for cotton cloth.' This, however, seems to be inferred rather than proved, and it is just as likely that improved civilization may have introduced a substance, such as cotton, which was unknown at the times when shesh was spoken of and employed, in the same manner as we know that in Europe woolen, hempen, linen, and cotton clothes have at one period of society been more extensively worn than at another."

Cotton is the product of a plant apparently cultivated in the earliest ages not only in India, Cyprus, and other well-known localities, but also in Egypt (Pliny, 19:2; comp. Descript. de l'Egypte, 17:104 sq.), and even in Syria (Ezekiel 27:16) and Palestine (1 Chronicles 4:21; Pausan. 5:5, 2; Pococke, East, 2:88; Arvieux, 1:306). Two kinds of cotton are usually distinguished, the plant (Gossypium herbaceum) and the tree (Gossyp. arboreum), although the latest investigations appear to make them essentially one. The former, which in Western Asia is found growing in fields (Olearius, Travels, page 297; Korte, Reis. page 437), is an annual shrub two or three feet high, but when cultivated (Olivier, Trav. 2:461) it becomes a bush from three to five feet in height. The stalks are reddish at the bottom, the branches short, furry, and speckled with black spots; the leaves are dark green, large, five-lobed, and weak. The flowers spring from the junction of the leaves with the stem; they are bell-shaped, pale yellow, but purplish beneath. They are succeeded by oval capsules of the size of a hazel-nut, which swell to the size of a walnut, and (in October) burst spontaneously. They contain a little ball of white filaments, which in warm situations attains the size of an apple. Imbedded in this are seven little egg- shaped, woolly seeds, of a brown or black-gray color, which contain an oily kernel. The Gossypium arboreunr (δένδρον ἐπιοφόριον of Theophrastus) was anciently (see Theoph. Plant. 4:9, page 144, ed. Schneider), and still is indigenous in Asia (i.e., India), and attains a height of about twelve feet, but differs very little as to the leaves, blossoms, or fruit from the herbaceous cotton. See generally Belon, in Paulus's Samml. 1:214 sq.; Kurrer, in the Hall. Encykl. 8:209 sq., Oken, Lehrb. d. Neaturgesch. II, 2:1262 sq.; Ainslie, Mater. Ind. page 282 sq.; Ritter, Erdk. 7:1058 sq.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Linen'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​l/linen.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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