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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Is frequently mentioned in Scripture, and in scarcely anything has the caprice of fashion been more strikingly displayed than in the various forms which the taste of different countries and ages has prescribed for disposing of this natural covering of the head. The Greeks let their hair grow to a great length. The early Egyptians, again, who were proverbial for their habits of cleanliness, removed the hair as an encumbrance, and the almost unavoidable occasion of sordid and offensive negligence. All classes among that people, not excepting the slaves imported from foreign countries, were required to submit to the tonsure (); and yet, what was remarkable in the inhabitants of a hot climate, while they removed their natural hair, they were accustomed to wear wigs, which were so constructed that 'they far surpassed,' says Wilkinson, 'the comfort and coolness of the modern turban, the reticulated texture of the groundwork on which the hair was fastened allowing the heat of the head to escape, while the hair effectually protected it from the sun.' Different from the custom both of the Greeks and the Egyptians, that of the Hebrews was to wear their hair generally short, and to check its growth by the application of scissors only. The priests at their inauguration shaved off all their hair, and when on actual duty at the temple, were in the habit, it is said, of cutting it every fortnight. The only exceptions to this prevailing fashion are found in the case of the Nazarites, whose hair, from religious duty, was not to be cropped during the term of their vow; of young persons who, during their minority, allowed their hair to hang down in luxuriant ringlets on their shoulders; of such effeminate persons as Absalom (); and of Solomon's horse-guards, whose vanity affected a puerile extravagance, and who strewed their heads every day with particles of gold-dust. Although the Hebrews wore their hair short, they were great admirers of strong and thickset locks; and so high a value did they set on the possession of a good head of hair, that they deprecated nothing so much as baldness. To prevent or remedy this defect they seem, at an early period, to have availed themselves of the assistance of art, not only for beautifying the hair, but increasing its thickness; while the heads of the priests were anointed with an unguent of a peculiar kind, the ingredients of which, with their various proportions, were prescribed by divine authority, and the composition of which the people were prohibited, under severe penalties, from attempting to imitate (). This custom spread till anointing the hair of the head became a general mark of gentility and an essential part of the daily toilet; the usual cosmetics employed consisting of the best oil of olives mingled with spices, a decoction of parsley-seed in wine, and more rarely of spikenard (; ; ; ). The prevailing color of hair among the Hebrews was dark; 'locks bushy and black as a raven,' being mentioned in the description of the bridegroom as the perfection of beauty in mature manhood (). Hence the appearance of an old man with a snow-white head in a company of younger Jews, all whose heads, like those of other Eastern people, were jet black—a most conspicuous object—is beautifully compared to an almond-tree, which in the early part of the year is in full blossom, while all the others are dark and leafless (). Among the Romans it was customary to employ artificial means for changing or disguising the silver hue of age. From Rome the fashion spread into Greece and other provinces, and it appears that the members of the church of Corinth were, to a certain extent, captivated by the prevailing taste, some Christians being evidently in the eye of the Apostle, who had attracted attention by the cherished and womanly decoration of their hair (). To them the letter of Paul was intended to administer a timely reproof for allowing themselves to fall in with a style of manners which, by confounding the distinctions of the sexes, threatened a baneful influence on good morals: and that not only the Christian converts in that city, but the primitive church generally, were led by this admonition to adopt simpler habits, is evident from the remarkable fact that a criminal, who came to trial under the assumed character of a Christian, was proved to the satisfaction of the judge to be an impostor, by the luxuriant and frizzled appearance of his hair.

With regard to women, the possession of long and luxuriant hair is allowed by Paul to be an essential attribute of the sex—a graceful and modest covering provided by nature; and yet the same Apostle elsewhere () concurs with Peter () in launching severe invectives against the ladies of his day for the pride and passionate fondness they displayed in the elaborate decorations of their head-dress. As the hair was pre-eminently the 'instrument of their pride' (, margin), all the resources of ingenuity and art were exhausted to set it off to advantage and load it with the most dazzling finery; and many when they died caused their longest locks to be cut off, and placed separately in an urn, to be deposited in their tomb as the most precious and valued relics.

From the great value attached to a profuse head of hair arose a variety of superstitious and emblematic observances, such as shaving parts of the head, or cropping it in a particular form; parents dedicating the hair of infants to the gods; young women theirs at their marriage; warriors after a successful campaign; sailors after deliverance from a storm; hanging it up on consecrated trees, or depositing it in temples; burying it in the tomb of friends, as Achilles did at the funeral of Patroclus; besides shaving, cutting off, or plucking it out, as some people did; or allowing it to grow in sordid negligence, as was the practice with others, according as the calamity that befell them was common or extraordinary, and their grief was mild or violent.

Various metaphorical allusions are made to hair by the sacred writers, especially the prophets. 'Cutting off the hair' is a figure used to denote the entire destruction of a people by the righteous retributions of Providence () 'Gray hairs here and there on Ephraim' portended the decline and fall of the kingdom of Israel (). 'Hair like women's' forms part of the description of the Apocalyptic locusts, and historically points to the prevailing headdress of the Saracens, as well as the voluptuous effeminacy of the Antichristian clergy (). And, finally, 'hair like fine wool' was a prominent feature in the appearance of the deified Redeemer, emblematic of the majesty and wisdom that belong to him ().





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

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