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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Pare the Nails

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(עָשָׂה הִצַּפָּרְנַים, lit. make the nails; Sept. περιονυχίζειν ; Vulg. circumcidere ungues). This expression occurs in Deuteronomy 21:12, in reference to female captives taken in war: "Thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head and pare her nails." The margin has "or suffer to grow," which is, as Roberts observes, I doubt not, the true meaning. This woman was a prisoner of war, and was about to become the wife of the man who had taken her captive. Having thus been taken from her native land, having had to leave her earliest and dearest connections, and now to become the wife of a foreigner and an enemy, she would naturally be overwhelmed with grief. To acquire a better view of her state, let any woman consider herself in similar circumstances. She accompanies her husband or father to the battle; the enemy becomes victorious, and she is carried off by the hand of a ruthless stranger. Poignant, indeed, would be the sorrow of her mind. The poor captive was to shave her head' in token of her distress, which is a custom in the East to this day. A son on the death of his father, or a woman on the decease of her husband, has the head shaved in token of sorrow. To shave the head is also a punishment inflicted on females for certain crimes. The fair captive, then, as a sign of her misery, was to shave her head, because her father or brother was among the slain, or in consequence of having become a prisoner of war. It showed her sorrow, and was a token' of her submission. But this poor woman was to suffer her nails to grow as an additional emblem of her distress. That it does not mean she was to pare her nails, as the text has it, is established by the custom of the East, of allowing them to grow when in sorrow. The marginal reading, therefore, would have been much better for the text. When people are performing penance, or are in captivity or disgrace or prison, or are devotees, they suffer their nails to grow; and some may be seen, as were those of the monarch of Babylon in his sorrow, like birds' claws,' literally folding round the ends of the fingers, or shooting through the backs of their hands" (Oriental Illustrations, ad loc.). (See NAIL) (of the Finger).


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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Pare the Nails'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/p/pare-the-nails.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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