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Category Archives: Priestly garments


Jewish high priest wearing a hoshen, and Levit...

Jewish high priest wearing a hoshen, and Levites in ancient Judah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue…and upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around (Exodus 28:31-34).

When the tabernacle was built in the wilderness and Bezalel was selected to make the priestly garments, had he ever seen a pomegranate or held one in his hand? He might have—it’s possible. Pomegranates grew wild in Persia as early as 3000 to 2200 BC. Pomegranates were imported into Egypt from Mesopotamia for wealthy Egyptians.  Archeologists have found pomegranates and drawings of pomegranates in Egyptian tombs, confirming the Egyptian belief that the fruit symbolized prosperity and a prosperous afterlife.[1]

We remember the fish, which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic (Numbers 11:5).

It’s possible, on the other hand, Bezalel never saw or tasted pomegranates. They were not among the foods the Israelites remember eating in Egypt. Slaves lived on a simple diet of fish, vegetables and melon, and pomegranates were a labor-intensive delicacy. If he had no first hand experience with the fruit, Bezalel must have fashioned Aaron’s robe from a pattern God gave Moses. The tiny poms on the robe’s hem were woven from scarlet, blue and purple linen threads—colors that contribute to a complexity of red—shades ranging from pink, to rose, to magenta—commonly seen in the pomegranates grown in the United States. The fruit’s gorgeous colors, its pleasing roundness, and its early appearance in eastern Iran have led some scholars to speculate: Was the pomegranate the tempting fruit in the Garden of Eden?[2]  The Bible doesn’t say.

Whether the Israelites were familiar with pomegranates when they were slaves, we don’t know. But scriptures confirm they knew about pomegranates by the time they entered Canaan (Numbers 13:23).

Then they [spies] came to the Valley of Eshcol, and there cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes; they carried it between two of them on a pole. They also brought some of the pomegranates and figs.

Scriptures show that after settling in Canaan the Israelites cultivated pomegranates: pomegranate trees were common, the juice was an important drink and the fruit was a popular decorative motif. Saul sat under a pomegranate tree surrounded by his army (1 Sam. 14:2). Solomon used pomegranate imagery in his love poem (Song of Solomon 4:3, 6:7, and 8:2). Rows of carved pomegranates decorated the entry pillars of Solomon’s temple (I Kings 7:18). Joel mentions the pomegranate tree withering like the wasting away joy (Joel 1:12). Haggai cites the pomegranate tree marking the onset of God’s blessings (Haggai 2:19).

Phenomenal Fruit

Today we can substantiate by chemical analysis what the Israelites learned through experience: the tree is an extraordinary resource. The juice is a refreshing drink and can be fermented into wine.[3] Tannins extracted from tree bark and fruit rind condition leather. Pomegranate seeds, juice and bark have medicinal uses: an astringent poultice of the bark draws out bee stings; seeds and juice treat diarrhea, dislodge tapeworms and boost vitality; juice reduces symptoms of fever and eases severity of some disease.[4] 

An opened up pomegranate.

An opened up pomegranate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Labor Intensive

To extract juice from the pomegranates, women in that day rolled the pomegranates on a hard surface until the seeds inside stopped cracking. The juice extracted during rolling was held in the leathery “cup,” then the skin was punctured to release the liquid. It is said that travelers carried pomegranates as a convenient way quench thirst. (I tried the rolling method as a traveler might have done but ended up splitting the skin and spilling juice, so it must take a deft, experienced hand.) Juice was also extracted by stomping on the pomegranates, much like smashing grapes. The juice drained out of the stomping trough and was strained through cloth to catch the seeds, pith and skin. Juice extracted by the stomping technique contained tannins that affected the taste. The website illustrates gentler ways our Israelite mothers may have handled pomegranates.

When boiled in water, cooled and strained, the pomegranate’s red flowers and rinds yield a “richly colored dye bath” [5] for coloring natural fibers into shades of dull gold and yellow. Similar to other vegetable dyes, pomegranate dye, does not color linen, cotton, silk and wool as brilliantly as animal-based dyes. Today pomegranates are valued less for making poultices, dyes, and ink than for their beauty, taste and health benefits.

In ancient cultures pomegranates represented fertility, righteousness, prosperity and wisdom. In keeping with tradition, many Jews eat pomegranates on the Jewish New Year, “to wish for good deeds and a year as plentiful with goodness as the seeds of the pomegranate.” [6] Apart from the symbolism surrounding the pomegranate, I think of it as a reminder of God’s delightful providence. Isaac Watt composed a hymn in 1784 in praise of God’s provision of the earth. So rightly it says, “There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes Thy glories known.”—Mary Hendren




[1] “The Incredible Pomegranate: Plant and Fruit,” Richard Ashton, p. 3

[2], “Pomegranate—The Original Forbidden Fruit,” Annaliese Keller (online resource)

[3] “Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible,” Packer and Tenny, p. 255.

[4] Phytochemicals, “Pomegranates” (online resource)

[5] Folk Fibers, Maura Grace Ambrose, “Natural Dyes—Pomegranates,” Feb. 19, 2013 (online resource)

[6] Hebrewlessonsonline, “Israeli Symbols”

A Thread of History

This week it is my pleasure to welcome guest blogger, Judy Rand. In thinking about future posts for WomenfromtheBook, the topic of embroidery was intriguing, and who better to consult than my friend, Judy. Wife of a retired minister, a mother, grandmother, and thread artist in her own right, Judy Rand enjoys the arts of smocking and embroidery as well as mastering the challenges confronting an accomplished seamstress and machine embroidery enthusiast. I am delighted that she agreed to contribute an entry about something so near and dear to her heart. I know you will enjoy her post, “A Thread of History.” —KM

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What do you think of when you hear the word “embroidery”? Probably the little logo on your polo shirt. Or maybe the elaborate garments worn on Downton Abby by the elite class in old England. Most of the embroidery produced now is machine-made, but originally embroidery was done by hand by dedicated needle artists. Even though they’re increasingly rare, there are still embroiderers who work by hand to create stunning artwork–appropriately called “thread painting.”

Cunning work  tabernacle_pictures__image_4__sjpg761

In the book of Exodus the Israelites were directed to build a tabernacle in the wilderness. God gave them precise instructions for the size, materials and embroideries to be used on the draperies and priests’ garments (Exodus 25:9). The priestly ephod was made “of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work.” The ephod was a garment made in two parts that were clasped together at the shoulder by two onyx stones set in gold. Each of these stones was engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, six on one shoulder and six on the other (Exodus 28).

When the Israelites fled into the wilderness, they may have fashioned looms from available wood, or they may have brought their looms and implements with them. Whatever they did, it seems they were able to spin yarn, weave and embroider with a great deal of skill.

Covenant gift

Embroidery is mentioned in the blessings bestowed on ancient Israelites when they agreed to keep His commandments. God made a covenant with Israel and lavished them with beautiful garments of embroidered linen and silk. These fine embroidered garments were an extra blessing given by God to make life more beautiful and enjoyable (Ezekiel 16:10-13).

In Psalm 45:14 we read of a beautiful wedding procession where the bride is brought before the king clad in magnificent raiment with broidery to meet with her future husband, attended by her virgin companions, or “bridesmaids.” The word broidery used here means “something variegated” or “versicolored.” [1]

Skills and supplies

Exodus 35:31-33 indicates that the skill in art and science is a direct gift from God. Weaving was especially the business of men in Egypt. In Exodus 35:25, we see women, “gifted artisans,” spinning yarn for the men to weave fabric. The embroideries were either woven into the fabric or added later with needle and thread. Others offered their services in fabricating the needed tapestries which the Israelite women probably learned as bond slaves, in the houses of Egyptian princes (Exodus 35:29).

Where did the dyes come from to make these colorful embroideries? Historically, the color purple has been associated with royalty. Purple dyes were rare and expensive and only the rich had access to them. The most expensive dyes were from Tyre and purple was the rarest. It was made by extracting the essential oils from a species of shellfish that lived on a small stretch of coast near the city-state of Tyre.

Sumptuary Laws

Purple was so rare and so hard to make, and considered so beautiful that the Roman emperors decreed how it could be used by instituting Sumptuary Laws. The word sumptuary comes from the Latin word which means expenditure. These laws were imposed by the rulers to curb the expenditures of the people in order to maintain a specific class structure.

Royalty could have as much purple dye as they wanted and could wear it any way they wanted. Patricians and equestrians could have it only as bands, and the width was dictated by how high up they were in the Roman pecking order. [2]

This implies that Lydia, spoken of in Acts 16:14-15 as “a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira,” must have been a wealthy Roman citizen of Tyre. Apparently her house was large enough to accommodate the disciples when they came to baptize her. [3]

Numbers 15:38 describes the fringes which the Jews wore upon their garments. They had a ribband dyed blue or purple to remind them to keep the commandments and be holy.

Evolution of design 

Silk ribbon embroidery by Judy Rand. Photo: J. Rand

Silk ribbon embroidery by Judy Rand. Photo: J. Rand

Many forms of embroidery have developed over the centuries. Needlepoint (filling in spaces of a grid), Crewel (working thread over a blank canvas), Blackwork or Redwork (using only one color throughout the design), Drawn Threadwork (pulling threads from fabric and working a design in the space), Smocking (pleating fabric and working designs over pleats), Silk Ribbon Embroidery (using ribbon instead of thread), Cross Stitch (designs using x’s).

Over the years embroidery has continued to appeal to artisans in all social levels. In fact, during World War II when embroidery threads were scarce, determined needle artists deconstructed old garments and draperies and painstakingly pulled threads from the discarded fabric in order to have threads to create new designs.

Example of Cross Stitch in progress by Judy Rand. Photo: J Rand

Example of Cross Stitch in progress by Judy Rand.
Photo: J Rand

The Internet has opened doors for anyone with an interest and a few basic supplies to partake of this craft with videos available and step-by-step instructions to guide one through each phase of the process. is an excellent site for beginners and advanced embroiderers.

Hopefully, this entry will give you a deeper appreciation for the work of the embroiderer—both ancient and modern.—Judy Rand


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