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Category Archives: Jewelry

Hair

 And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil (Luke 7:37-39).

Luke didn’t name the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, but Simon said she was a sinner. Weeping, she stood behind Jesus, let down her hair and wiped His feet. Her extraordinary behavior disturbed the men. “Among the Jews it was a shameful thing for a woman to let down her hair in public.”[1] In adoration, she kissed His feet and massaged them with oil.

Simon thought that if Jesus were truly a prophet, He would have known the woman was a sinner. Responding to Simon’s thoughts, Jesus reminded him that a host customarily greets his guests with a kiss, provides water for washing their feet, honors them with anointing oil—all of which Simon had neglected to do. The woman, however, in heart-felt humility, fulfilled every courtesy Simon had neglected. Jesus called attention to the proportion of her love in comparison to Simon’s: Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little (Luke 7:47).

Cut

The woman’s hair was very long, long enough to wipe Jesus’ feet. I didn’t find any references to Israelite women cutting their hair for stylish purposes. There are references to women shaving their heads and cutting their hair in connection with vows. If a woman took a Nazarite vow, she couldn’t cut her hair for the duration of the vow. When the woman completed her obligations, she shaved her head and presented the hair in the Temple as part of an offering. A woman cured of leprosy shaved her head (Lev. 14:8). An Israelite soldier that took a foreign woman captive shaved her head, trimmed her nails, gave her new clothing and allowed her a month of mourning before consummating the marriage (Deut. 21:10-13).

Washed

Women in ancient Israel didn’t wash their hair with the regularity we do today. “How widespread and how frequent non-ceremonial bathing was in Israel is impossible to determine.” [2] Bathsheba bathed, Naaman bathed, Levites and priests washed before serving in the Temple, and men and women cured of leprosy bathed (Lev. 14:8). In the time of Jesus, some religious leaders made a great show of washing their hands. However, there’s no mention of soap for bathing the body or shampoo for washing the hair.

In the ancient middle-east “oil served a hygienic purpose prior to the invention of soap and shampoo.” [3] Although the Babylonians, Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Greeks and Romans used a compound made from oil, fat and caustic soda to wash clothing, the compound was harsh and tended to burn skin and hair. Women made a body scrub from oil mixed with natron, a mineral deposit that resembled baking soda. The natron scrub had some anti-bacterial properties but gummed up the hair and was difficult to rinse out. It is said that Egyptians washed their hair and their wigs in diluted citrus juice, but I found no references that citrus hair-washing was practiced in Israel.

Arranged and Colored

Isaiah, in warning ancient Israel, refers to “well-set hair.” Israel had defied God and would suffer for it. As part of the nation’s punishment, women who prided themselves on beautifully arranged hair, scarves, veils and turbans would experience the baldness of poverty and famine.

1024px-Beautiful_Greek_woman_statue

Beautiful Greek woman (public domain)
This image was originally posted to Flickr by Wonderlane at http://flickr.com/photos/71401718@N00/4258937618. It was reviewed on 12 September 2011 by the FlickreviewR robot and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.

On occasion women in Egypt and Israel colored their hair. Solomon may have been referring to the use of henna as a coloring agent in Song of Songs 7:6. Your head is like scarlet [or Carmel] and the locks of your head like purple. “Some scholars suggest that this refers to the purplish sheen of hennaed black hair, since elsewhere the woman’s hair is described as black. It is certainly possible that henna was known in the Biblical period as a hair dye. In fact, the earliest evidence for henna use in the Land of Israel are wigs of henna-dyed hair, dating from the Middle Bronze Age (1900-1550 BCE), which were found in the excavations of Jericho; furthermore, Greek and Roman historians specifically mention henna from the Land of Israel being used to colour hair.”[4] 

Women paid attention to their hair—covering it, wrapping it into buns, folding, curling and braiding it. They wove ribbons into their braids and fastened them atop their heads with ivory pins. They twined pearls and jewels into their hair. They added gold dust and metallic plates to catch the sunlight.[5] In writing to Christians in Asia Minor, Peter stated that a woman’s outward adorning of arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel (I Pet. 3:3-4) should never overshadow the inner beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. The Nelson’s Study Bible states that Peter “is not condemning women who wear jewelry” [6] or dress in an attractive manner. He encourages a woman to appear and conduct herself worthy of one called to inherit a blessing (1 Pet.3:9).

One woman’s hair and humility

All four gospel accounts mention the occasion of Jesus being anointed with oil by a woman before He was crucified, but with some variations (indicated in italics).

  • The accounts in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 agree almost word-for-word. Both writers say that an unnamed woman anointed Jesus’ head with fragrant oil while He was at dinner in the home of Simon the Leper. Some disciples criticized the woman for wasting the oil on Jesus rather than selling it to help the poor. Jesus stated that the woman had done a good work by anointing Him prior to His burial. The act would be remembered as a memorial to her.
  • Luke states that Simon the Pharisee hosted the dinner (Luke 7:36-50). The unnamed woman was a known sinner from the city. She wept at Jesus’ feet and wiped the tears with her hair. She anointed His feet with fragrant oil. Simon criticized her in his thoughts. Jesus drew a lesson about love and forgiveness from the woman’s devotion. He acknowledged that the woman was a sinner, and He forgave her sins.
  • John is the only writer that identifies the woman as Mary of Bethany (John 12:1-8). Lazarus, Martha and Mary hosted the supper. Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with fragrant oil and wiped them with her hair. Judas questioned why the oil was not sold to help the poor. Jesus stated that Mary had the oil in preparation for His burial and that the poor would always be there.

Postscript: Who was the woman?

Some scholars say that the differences in the four accounts reflect what the writers saw and remembered, which is the nature of eyewitness reports. These scholars believe there was only one occasion when a woman anointed Jesus, and details from the accounts can be accounted for. Their reasoning is based on speculations:

  • Simon may have been related to Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and may have owned the home where the three friends prepared supper.
  • Simon may have been a Pharisee and a recovered leper.
  • The unnamed woman may have anointed Jesus’ head before she anointed His feet.
  • Simon may have condemned her in his thoughts while Judas and the disciples criticized her openly.
  • Jesus may have addressed Simon’s self-righteous lack of love privately and corrected the disciples in public.

Other commentators believe that Mary of Bethany and a different unnamed woman anointed Jesus on two separate occasions. “There is no Biblical evidence whatever for identifying this sinful woman with Mary Magdalene or with Mary of Bethany as some commentators have done…as for Mary, sister of Martha, what is said of her devout spirit is strikingly adverse to that of a harlot of the streets.”[7] Lockyer’s argument rests most strongly on his confidence that Mary of Bethany, the dear friend of Jesus, could not have been the unnamed, sinful woman.—Mary Hendren


[1] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, on-line note on Luke 7:38

[2] Archeological Study Bible, Zondervan, “Bathing,” p. 456

[3] Same source, “Perfumes and Oils,” p. 1746

[4] hennabysienna.com/henna-in-the-bible.html

[5] On-line commentaries: Barnes’ Notes, and Adam Clarke’s, notes on 1 Peter 3:3

[6] Nelson Study Bible, NKJV, Second Edition, note on 1 Peter 3:3, p. 1986

[7] Herbert Lockyer,  All the Women of the Bible, p. 231

The Power of the Ring

Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and Mordecai the Jew, “Indeed, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows because he tried to lay his hand on the Jews. You yourselves write a decree concerning the Jews, as you please, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet ring; for whatever is written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet ring no one can revoke.”

So the king’s scribes were called at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day; and it was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded, to the Jews, the satraps, the governors, and the princes of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, one hundred and twenty-seven provinces in all, to every province in its own script, to every people in their own language, and to the Jews in their own script and language. And he wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus, sealed it with the king’s signet ring, and sent letters by couriers on horseback, riding on royal horses bred from swift steeds.  (Esther 8:7-10)

One of the most powerful pieces of ornamentation mentioned in the Bible is a ring—particularly the signet ring. It was worn not as an accessory, but rather the wearing of it represented the personal legal signature or status of the owner. For Mordecai to have access to the king’s own signet ring indicates the trust and power he had been afforded, and his badge of office.

Cylinder seals

A signet could be shaped as a ring to be worn usually on the right finger, or as a cylinder or rod of metal suspended from a cord worn around the neck. Exodus 28:9-14 indicates that signets were engraved, in this case, on stone. Cylinder seals  were incised on many hard surfaces, from baked clay to lapis lazuli, gold, silver, carnelian, blue chalcedony, rock crystal, pink marble, jasper, shell-core, ivory, and glazed pottery.[1]

When an ancient letter-writer had finished his message on a clay tablet, “he had the sender and any witnesses remove from around their necks their own small cylinder seals and roll them over the still-wet clay to make their signatures.”[2] Often these were written by professional letter-writers—some of whom were women—who stationed themselves at the city gates.

Signed, sealed, and delivered

The Babylonians used cylinder-seals to insure safe shipment of valuable papers or commodities  to distant destinations. Items were inserted into a jar which was then covered with cloth and tied with cord at the neck. The sender covered the binding cord with soft clay and rolled his cylinder-seal across the wet mud. If the jar arrived with the seal intact, its contents had arrived secure.

Hundreds of such cylinders have been found at various archaeological sites, and it seems that T. E. Laurence was himself an avid “seal-hunter,” searching for these small treasures to send back to his friends in England.

Matters of state

The principle uses for the signet ring were to provide legal signatures, and/or   proof of authority. A hard, flat substance associated with the ring—perhaps a precious stone, a bit of marble, or the metal of the ring itself—was engraved with its owner’s unique symbol or signature. The resulting inscription could then be pressed into wax or clay as needed, leaving an impression which amounted to a seal of authorship or authority.

When Joseph was appointed vizier or governor in Egypt, Pharaoh took off his signet ring and put it on Joseph’s finger (Genesis 43:42), clothed him in fine linen (court dress), and further rewarded him with a gold chain. In effect Joseph was awarded the accouterments to signal him as the second in command.

Used for good …

One of the most-loved of Christ’s parables concerns the return of the prodigal son to his ever-watchful, ever-hopeful father. After an emotional reunion and period of reconciliation, the father called for the best robe and put it on his beloved son. Then he put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. The celebration culminated with music, dancing, and the killing of a fatted calf. (See Luke 15:20-24.) The Woman’s Study Bible, in a note on Luke 15:17-24, comments that “the best robe was a sign of position; the ‘ring’ indicated authority[3], the ‘sandals’ [a sign of freedom and luxury] put on his bare feet set him apart from the barefoot slaves.”

…Or ill

When authority is wrested by evil hands, wickedness is sure to follow. Jezebel well understood power, and she was not afraid to use it, especially when her husband Ahab was in a funk. A prophet of God had given him terrible news. Because he failed to obey God’s instructions concerning Ben-Hadad, the prophet said: “”Thus says the LORD: ‘Because you have let slip out of your hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people'” So the king of Israel went to his house sullen and displeased, and came to Samaria” (1 Kings 20:41-43).

English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Na...

English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard Giclee. Print by Sir Frank Dicksee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As if that weren’t enough, the petulant king coveted a piece of property that belonged to his neighbor Naboth. It had been passed down as an inheritance in his family for generations, and Naboth stubbornly refused to sell.

Ahab did not handle rejection well. The scripture says, “And he [Ahab] lay  down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food” (21:4).

Tiring of her husband’s fit of depression, Jezebel took matters into her own hands. She wrote letters in Ahab’s name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent them out. The missives contained orders that eventually led to the death of innocent Naboth. But as an unintended consequence, her actions also sealed the fate of the despicable pair—ignominious deaths.

Its power endures

Alan King, in his Ezine article, “Signet Rings Have Significance Today,” comments that “in Europe the rings were commissioned by nobility and created by artists. Therefore, they were works of art, often made of gold and very much valued for their beauty as well as for their material value. Sometimes they were even embellished with designs and calligraphy on the side to add to the appearance. The rings were guarded and treasured by the owner, and passed on to successive generations in much the same way that a crown would be passed on to a prince or princess. They were a symbol of authority and power, indicating that the owner had the right to bear arms (the crest or shield) in medieval Europe. The Pope’s ring was kissed to honor the supreme authority of the position, and when a Pope died, his ring was destroyed to symbolize the clearing of the way for a new Pope.”

Medieval gold signet ring from England, with a...

Medieval gold signet ring from England, with a ruby and the arms of de Grailly, now in the British Museum. Tag reads: “Signet ring with the arms of de Grailly.” and “About 1351-99, England, Gold, ruby. PE 1982,0501.1”. See British Museum Database entry for further details. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He further explains that the tradition surrounding the signet ring continues to this day. In Europe, each country (and its nobility) has its own preferences as to how the ring is to be worn, on which finger and on which hand. “French, German, and some Spanish nobles wear it on the ring finger of their left hands. The Swiss wear signets on the right hand, and nobles of the United Kingdom wear them on the little finger of the left hand. Of course, it is worn with the impressing outward to enable the wearer to turn his hand over and press it into the wax.”

From ancient times to modern day, the signet ring has endured and continues to symbolize power and authority.

***

For further study, the following scriptures may be of interest concerning this topic. Some contain historical references; others are viewed metaphorically.

Genesis 38:18 Tamar requests Judah’s signet and his bracelets and his staff.

Exodus 28:11, 21, 36 engravings of a signet

Isaiah 3:18-23 jewelry worn by the haughty daughters of Babylon

Song of Solomon 8:6 Set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thine arm.

Haggai 2:23 God’s statement to Zerubbabel: ” . . .will make you like a signet ring: for I have chosen you. . . .”

Revelation 7:3-4 servants of God sealed in their foreheads

 


[1] Miller, Madeleine S. and J. Lane, Encyclopedia of Bible Life (1944), p. 134

[2] Ibid., pp. 127, 134

[3] It is the author’s opinion that this was likely a signet ring.

Jewelry Speaks

For 3,300 years, King Tutankhamun secretly rested in the Valley of the Kings. In 1922 archeologists discovered his tomb and years later displayed his mummified body in a climate-controlled glass box. When researchers removed the burial linens that wrapped the king’s body, they found magnificent jeweled collars, bracelets, rings, amulets and daggers of gold, and semi-precious stones—all confirming the skill of ancient Egyptian jewelers. “The Egyptians loved their jewelry, and their craftsmen produced some of the most colorful and lovely jewelry the world has ever seen. Elaborate pendants with bead chains were made from semi-precious stones—deep blue lapis lazuli, turquoise, and red carnelian, quartz and colored glass in dazzling blues and reds set in gold and silver.”[1] 

English: Winged scarab of Tutankhamun with sem...

English: Winged scarab of Tutankhamun with semi-precious stones. This pectoral is composed of Tut’s Prenomen name: “NebKheperU-Ra”, the hieroglyphs of: Basket, Scarab-(in Plural-strokes), and Re. (The “James, 2000, Picture Book, Tutankhamun, describes this pectoral in the section of ‘Necklaces and Pectorals’, as: “Pectoral with Royal Prenomen and Lotus Fringe”, p. 234.) (Two other hieroglyphs are on the pectoral, the Eye of Horus, and the Ankh.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the stunning burial items found in the king’s coffin is the Collar of Nekhebet, a flexible piece that lay across the king’s chest. Made of 256 small gold plaques threaded together and inlaid with colored glass, the collar forms an image of the white vulture Nekhebet, the patron goddess of Pharaoh. In her talons the vulture clutches two orbs that symbolize the eternal protection thought to be in her power.

Symbolic of Power

The Collar of Nekhebet and other of the king’s treasures recall a time when Egyptian jewelry played an important role in Israel’s history. Jacob (Israel) and his family had moved to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan. There the Israelite population grew large, and Pharaoh eventually forced them into slavery.  God had compassion on the slaves and delivered them under the leadership of Moses. In preparation for leaving Egypt, the Israelites “asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing” (Exodus 12:35). Note that the jewelry taken from King Tutankhamun’s tomb is dated roughly within 100-150 years of the time of the Exodus. So it’s probable that the riches Israel carried out, while not royal treasures, reflected the artistry of the tomb pieces.

God required an offering from the people. Under His inspiration, they built a tabernacle for the LORD from the clothing, jewelry, silver, and gold that once belonged to Egypt (Exodus 36-40). The tabernacle represented God’s presence with His people, and the end of Egypt’s power to enslave them.

Symbolic of Love

In an account pre-dating the Exodus, Rebekah accepted two gold bracelets and a nose ring from the servant of Abraham. In attaching the nose ring and slipping the bracelets on her wrists, the servant claimed Rebekah for his master’s son, Isaac. This formality of giving and receiving jewelry was the first step in a marriage negotiation.  Similar to wearing an engagement ring, Rebekah’s wearing of the nose ring and bracelets indicated her willingness to discuss terms of marriage (Genesis 24).

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God expressed His love in terms of giving jewels to His bride, Jerusalem.

“. . . I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth . . . you were exceedingly beautiful”  (16:10-13).

If negotiations had broken down between Rebekah’s parents and the servant representing Isaac’s interests, I believe Rebekah would have returned the nose ring and bracelets. They were given and received as a prelude to marriage with the hope that Isaac and Rebekah would build an enduring relationship with one another, which they did.  Isaac had no other wives, and the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah was characterized by affection.

That’s not how it turned out for God and ancient Israel, however. Ezekiel tells of God’s incredulity: Jerusalem (Israel) gladly received His gifts of material wealth and health, but failed to love Him. Shamelessly she used the presents to go after others.

Symbolic of Position

King Saul customarily wore a broad gold bracelet on his upper arm and a crown to signify his royalty. When an Amalekite killed Saul and took his crown and bracelet to show David, he made a fatal error in thinking David would be pleased with proofs of Saul’s death (2 Samuel 1:10-16).

Women of royalty wore bracelets on the upper arm, though more commonly their bracelets were narrow gold bands worn at the wrists. Anklets favored by women of high rank were hollow and “filled with pebbles, so that the rattling sound could be heard when they walked.”[2]

Packer and Tenney state that nose jewels were “one of the most ancient ornaments of the east” and were made of ivory or gold and set with stones. . . . At times these nose jewels were more than 6 cm (2.5 in.) in diameter and hung down over the women’s lips.”[3]

A silver coin dowry necklace or headdress was “one of the most prized pieces of jewelry worn by a bride.”[4] A woman’s dowry and jewelry belonged to her and formed a kind of insurance policy when her husband died, or if the marriage failed. It is suggested that the lost coin in Jesus’ parable may have been part of a dowry necklace or headdress, although Jesus did not specify the coin constituted part of the woman’s dowry.

Symbolic of Pride

The prideful wearing of jewelry usually brings undesirable consequences. Isaiah wrote of God’s displeasure with the arrogant women who made an ostentatious display of themselves.

“. . . Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, making a jingling with their feet; therefore the Lord will strike . . . in that day the Lord will take away the finery, the jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents, the pendants, the bracelets, and the veils; the headdresses, the leg ornaments and the headbands; the perfume boxes, the charms, and the rings; the nose jewels, the festal apparel, and the mantles; the outer garments, the purses, and the mirrors; the fine linen, the turbans, and the robes” (Isaiah 3:16-23).

 It may have been in response to the heavily adorned female attendants at the Temple of Diana, that Paul and Peter advised Christian women to be moderate in their wearing jewelry and in their dress. Peter stated that a woman has both an outer and an inner adornment to consider in light of God’s preference.

“Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4; see also 1 Timothy 2:9).

With all that can be studied in the scriptures about jewelry and adornment, my favorite passage about jewels has to do with conversation among believers. Malachi says that God listens to the conversations going on among those who fear the LORD. He takes note of their discussions in a book of remembrance. These people will be His “in the day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him” (Malachi 3:16-17).—Mary Hendren


[1] NIV Pictorial Bible, Zondervan publishers, l978, p. 128

[2] Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, J.I. Packer and M.C. Tenney, p. 484

[3] Same resource, p. 484

[4] The Women’s Study Bible, NKJV, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006, p. 116

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