Tag Archives: linen

Wrapped in Linen

First century Palestinians made clothes from linen and cotton in addition to using animal hides and fleece.  Both linen and cotton were made from plants, with linen the more valuable material.  Linen was used almost exclusively for wrapping bodies of dead individuals. Israelites didn’t cremate their dead. Rather, they interned them in a cave or crypt.

According to Mosaic Law, a dead body had to be buried or entombed the day the individual died or was killed, so the land wasn’t defiled (Deuteronomy 21.23). At the same time, two other Mosaic laws were applicable: First, a man couldn’t work on the Sabbath. Preparing a body for burial was work. Second, an individual who touched a dead body was ceremonially unclean for seven days (Numbers 19.11). Devout Jews internalized these law; thus, Joseph of Arimathea asked Governor Pilate for the body of Jesus as soon as Jesus died. Because Jesus died at about 3:00 p.m. and because the Sabbath begun about 6:00 p.m., Joseph had a three-hour window of opportunity to prepare and intern Jesus’s body. Joseph and his helper, Nicodemus, both devout Jews, knew that they would be unclean for seven days because they touched Jesus’s dead body.

Nicodemus supplied 75 pounds of aloes and myrrh to infuse Jesus’s grave cloths. While Jesus lived, his clothes were made from cotton or wool. Linen would have been a luxury item for an itinerate rabbi (Luke 16.19).  After his death, I don’t believe Jesus cared if he was wrapped in linen cloths or simply cotton rags, as his mother used for swaddling cloths at his birth.

One Bible scholar11 wrote that first century Jews wrapped the corpse’s body with a wide long cloth beginning at the feet and ending with the head.  This perspective contrasts with John’s description of Lazarus, when he came out of the grave. John wrote that when Lazarus came out of the grave, his hands and feet were bound with perfumed linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth (John 11.44). Logic suggests that Jesus was wrapped for burial in the same manner as Lazarus.

The gospel writer, John, identified that Jesus was wrapped in linen cloths, not in a linen cloth. As I pondered the proposal that Joseph and Nicodemus buried Jesus in a single piece of linen, I remembered 30 years ago when I practiced nursing. Part of the care of a deceased body in the hospital was wrapping it in a single sheet of cloth and tying this “shroud” around the body. Only then, was the body transported through the hospital halls to the morgue. Perhaps, Jesus was wrapped in strips of linen cloths, then wrapped in a shroud.

In New Testament Greek, words for linen (bussos, sindōn) generally, translated as “fine linen.”1 Fine linen cloth was associated with coverings in the tabernacle and with Israelite priests’ robes. The ancient Hebrew word for fine linen, was shêsh. Shêsh denotes a type of linen of peculiar whiteness and fineness.

 In the ancient Near East, the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum, was used to make linen.  In Biblical times, flax was the most important fiber crop. Although flax may have originated in Mesopotamia, it was extensively cultivated in Egypt and less so in Palestine.  In Egypt flax grew along the sides the Nile River, particularly the Nile Delta region. In Egypt and the Middle East, flax was planted in the early winter and harvested in the spring. Egypt exported linen cloth and linen threads to Palestine in the first century.

The flax plant has a single stem that grows up to 4 feet tall.  The fiber is in the stem.  Initially, the stem is green, but turns yellow as the plant ripens and readies for harvest. When flax plants were harvested for fiber, mature plants were pulled up by their roots. Harvested plants were allowed to dry, then retted.  Retting is a process of soaking flax to separate the fiber from the woody tissue (straw).  Fibers were spun, then woven into linen cloth. Ancient people dyed some linen threads.

Have you ever wondered why each of the gospel writers recorded something about Jesus’s body being wrapped in grave cloth/cloths? Wouldn’t it have been easier to stop with Jesus’s death?  We are given all the detail about Jesus’s body being wrapped in linen grave cloths and then possibly in a shroud so that we believe absolutely that Jesus died on the cross. His corpse was treated the way all dead Jews were treated.

Reflection: Will it matter what you are wrapped in at your death?

Copyright July 8, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Linen Curtains in the Tabernacle

??????????????????

Read how Tabernacle Curtains were made and used in Exodus 26:1–6 and 31-37; Exodus 27:9–19; and Exodus chapter 28.

Flax was used extensively in the Tabernacle to make linen. Flax is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and was an important crop in Egypt since the 5th millennium B.C.  The linen curtains, the blue, purple and scarlet embroidery yarn, and the linen priest’s clothes came from the flax plant. The two craftsmen, Bezalel and Oholiab, God designated to oversee building of the Tabernacle were given skill as designers and embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and in fine linen (Exodus 35:35). 

In the Tent of Meeting, a curtain (veil) made of fine woven linen hung between the Holies of Holy and the Most Holy of Holies. Cherubim were embroidered on the veil with blue, purple and scarlet yarn.  The Tent of Meeting roof was made of linen curtains. The curtains draped over the outside of the gold-covered acacia wood panels.  Cherubim made of purple, blue and scarlet yarn were woven or worked into the linen curtains.  A fine linen curtain covered the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (east side).  The entrance curtain included colored yarn, however, there were no cherubim on the curtain.  The sides of the Tabernacle courtyard were plain linen curtains held in place by silver hooks that attached them to the wood posts.  The curtain at the courtyard entrance was the only courtyard curtain that included colored yarn.  An embroiderer was used to make the entrance curtain.  

Aaron was the first Israelite high priest. God gave very specific instructions for making his   clothes.   The clothes included the breastplate, ephod, robe, tunic, turban, sash, and undergarments.   All were made with fine linen.  With the exception of the tunic and undergarments, all linen clothes were embroidered with or used colored yarn.  No sandals or shoes were included as part of the high priest’s clothing.  The rationale for lack of sandals was that when Aaron ministered to the Lord he was on holy ground.  As priests, Aaron’s sons had special clothes.   Their clothes included tunics, sashes, headbands, and undergarments made of linen; no colored yarn or embroidery was used.

 In the Bible, the Hebrew word for the linen associated with the Tabernacle is shêsh. Shêsh means “fine linen” and denotes a type of Egyptian linen of peculiar whiteness and fineness. When Egyptians wove fine linen, they used as many as 140 strands of threads per inch lengthwise (warf) and 64 strands per inch horizontal (weft). Linen of this fine weave had the appearance of silk. In ancient times fine linen was a mark of quality and associated with wealth and rank. Fine linen was the usual dress of Egyptian priests and royalty.  Pharaoh dressed Joseph in fine linen when Joseph was promoted to second-in command over all Egypt (Genesis 41:41–43). Egyptian fine linen was exquisite – it was soft and flexible but strong, cool to wear, and had a luster or sheen to its whiteness.

As slaves in Egypt, the Israelites would not have possessed much, if any, fine linen; however, when they left Egypt, the Egyptians gave them tribute.  The tribute included clothes and more than likely included fine linen and yarn for spinning linen (Exodus 12:35-36). When Moses asked the Israelites for offerings to build the Tabernacle, he specified the need for blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen (Exodus 25:3).  Exodus recorded that skilled women spun fine linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn and brought these as offerings for the Tabernacle (Exodus 35:25-26).  There is no record that women wove the yarn into linen cloth for curtains or priest’s clothes.

 The Flax Plant

The Ancient Egyptian flax plant, Linum usitatissimum, was used to make linen.  In Biblical times flax was the most important fiber crop. Probably the L. usitatissimum originated in Mesopotamia; however, it was extensively cultivated in Egypt and less so in Palestine.  In Egypt flax grew along the sides the Nile River and particularly in the Nile Delta region. In Egypt and the Middle East, flax was planted in the early winter and flax harvested in the spring.

 The flax plant has a single stem that grows up to four feet tall.  The fiber is in the stem.  Initially, the stem is green, but turns yellow as the plant ripens and readies for harvest. When flax plants were harvested for fiber, mature plants were pulled up by their roots. Harvested plants were allowed to dry, then retted.  Retting is a process of soaking flax to separate the fiber from the woody tissue (straw).  Egyptians dyed some flax threads.  Blue and purple dyes were derived from shellfish (primarily the murex) which lived in the Mediterranean Sea. Scarlet dye came from the eggs and carcasses of a worm (Coccus ilicus) which lived on the leaves of holly plants.

 Symbolism: Purity 

 In ancient times, linen symbolized purity and in Revelation (15:5-6) St. John used “clean, shining linen” as a symbol for purity.  Purity means spotless, stainless, free from what pollutes; containing nothing that does not properly belong; free from moral fault or guilt. The Hebrew verb for purify, tāhēr, also means to cleanse or to be clean. The Tabernacle complex with its linen curtains was a symbol of the Israelite’s need to be clean or pure before God.  In the Tabernacle animals were sacrificed and animal blood shed to accomplish ritual purification.  Today when individuals accept Christ as their Savior, they are purified (cleansed) or made spotless in relation to former sins.  Then, the challenge of living a pure life begins.

 Of the 33 verses in the New International Version Study Bible (2002) which referred to purity, about 1/3 centered on the individual’s heart  In the Old Testament, King David implored God to “create in me a pure heart” (Psalm 51:10).  King David questioned who can approach God and stand before him? The answer was “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false” (Psalm 24:3–4).

 In the New Testament there is a similar focus on Christians keeping their heart pure. Christ taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).  Paul told Timothy that love (the greatest of all virtues) comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (1Timothy 1:5).  He instructed Timothy to “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).  Paul cautioned Timothy to have nothing to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because they produce quarrels (verse 23).

  Taken together, these verses from the Old and New Testament communicated that to please God, Christians must keep their hearts pure.  Keeping a pure hearts begins with a sincere faith in Christ as our Savior. Purity means that we love one another and are free from moral guilt about how we act toward and think about each other.   Purity is about actively pursuing faith, love, and peace.  In addition to positive actions that help us to grow toward purity, the Bible verses on a pure heart articulated certain behaviors to avoid.  These behaviors are worshipping idols, lying, becoming involved in nonproductive arguments and quarrels, and pursuing evil desires of youth, e.g., sexual debauchery.

 I want to keep my heart pure; however, sometime I do not restrain my impulses. At times I fill my life with irreverent thoughts and actions.  In the past I often made my career an idol rather than keeping God at the center of my life. Most certainly I have engaged in foolish and stupid arguments, rationalizing them in the name of “devil’s advocate” or “intellectual debate.”  How, then, can I keep a clean, pure heart so I can see God in my day-to-day life?  The answer for me is the same as it was for the Israelites. I must agree with God about my sins. When I do, I can be at-one with God. God has made it easy for me to reconcile myself to him and his purity. I John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, God will cleanse us from sin and purify us from our unrighteousness.  Having a pure, clean heart is as simple as going to God admitting my sin and asking His forgiveness.

Reflection. When did you last clean up or purify your life?  Would now be a good time to enact I John 1:9 in your relationship with Christ?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright July 31, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

Save