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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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LINEN is cloth made from the prepared fibre of flax. In ancient Egypt great proficiency was attained in its manufacture (Pliny, HN vii. 56; Strabo, xxvii. 41; Herod. ii. 182), and a flourishing trade was carried on ( Proverbs 7:16 , Ezekiel 27:7 ). As material of wearing apparel it has always been esteemed in the East. In a hot climate it tends to greater freshness and cleanliness than cotton or wool. The Egyptian priests were obliged to wear linen (Herod. ii. 37; Wilk. Anc. Egyp . iii. 117). The ‘cotton garments’ mentioned on the Rosetta stone were probably worn over the linen, and left outside when the priests entered a temple. The embalmed bodies of men and animals were wrapped in strips of linen. No other material was used for this purpose (Wilk. ib . iii. 115, 116, 484). Perhaps we may trace Egyptian influence in the place given to linen in the hangings, etc., of the Tabernacle, and in the garments of the priests ( Exodus 25:4; Exodus 26:1 etc., Exodus 28:15 etc.). It formed part of the usual clothing of royalty, and of the wealthy classes ( Genesis 41:42 , Esther 8:15 , Luke 16:19 ). It is the dress worn by persons engaged in religious service. The priests are those who ‘wear a linen ephod’ ( 1 Samuel 22:18 ). The child Samuel in Shiloh ( 1 Samuel 2:18 ), and David, bringing back the ark ( 2 Samuel 6:14 etc.), also wear the linen ephod; cf. Ezekiel 9:2; Ezekiel 10:2 , Daniel 10:5 . It formed the garment of the Levite singers ( 2 Chronicles 5:12 ). It was the fitting raiment of the Lamb’s wife, ‘the righteousness of the saints’ ( Revelation 19:3 ); presumptuously assumed by ‘the great city Babylon’ ( Revelation 18:16 ); in it are also arrayed ‘the armies that are in heaven’ ( Revelation 19:14 ).

No clear and uniform distinction can be drawn between several Heb. words tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘linen.’ bad appears to be always used of garments ( Genesis 41:42 etc.), while shçsh may perhaps mean the thread, as in the phrase ‘ bad of fine twined shçsh ’ ( Exodus 39:28 ), the cloth made from it ( Exodus 25:4; Exodus 26:1 , Ezekiel 27:7 etc.), and also garments ( Exodus 28:5 etc.). We cannot, indeed, be certain that ‘linen’ is always intended (Guthe, Bib. Wörterbuch, s.v. ). The modern Arab. [Note: Arabic.] shash means ‘cotton gauze.’ bûts is a word of Aramæan origin, occurring only in later books ( Ezekiel 27:16 , 1 Chronicles 4:21 , Esther 1:6 ), whence comes the Gr. byssos . which covered both bad and shçsh (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . III. vi. 1f.). By later writers it was taken to represent cotton (Liddell and Scott, s.v .). pishtîm is a general term, denoting the flax, or anything made from it ( Joshua 2:5 , Judges 15:14 , Jeremiah 13:1 etc.). sâdîn was a sheet in which the whole body might be wrapped ( Judges 14:12 f., Proverbs 31:24 etc.). It probably corresponded to the sindôn ‘linen cloth’ of Mark 14:51 , and the shroud of Matthew 27:59 etc. ’çtûm ( Proverbs 7:16 ) is probably fine Egyptian thread, with which cloths and haogiogs were ornamented, othonç ( Acts 10:11 ) is a large sheet: othonia ( John 19:40 etc.) are strips for bandages, ômolinon ( Sir 40:4 ) was cloth of unbleached flax, sha‘atnçz ( Leviticus 19:19 ) was probably cloth composed of linen and cotton.

Linen yarn ( 1 Kings 10:28 , 2 Chronicles 1:15 , miqweh ) should almost certainly be rendered with RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘drove.’

W. Ewing.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Linen'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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