John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: April 7

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: April 7

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Dress and Ornament of Women


The third chapter of Isaiah contains a remarkable enumeration of the articles which composed the dress of a Hebrew lady of fashion in the time of the prophet. One would think that this ought to enable us to form a distinct conception of the garb in which women of quality appeared; and this would be valuable in many respects, as enabling us to form an idea to the mind of the aspect which raiment gave to those of whom we read so much. It might even be supposed that a clever artist might find no difficulty in combining such minute particulars into a pictorial representation of a female Israelite in all her dress and ornaments. This has, however, never been done, though we dare say it has often been attempted. The fact is, there are two serious difficulties in the task. One is, the uncertainty which interpreters feel, in the absence of the material facts, as to the meaning of the terms employed; and the other, the want of pictured representations of this dress, from monuments, or the dress of any near or kindred nation, which might help to the identification of the particulars. It is true, there are abundant Egyptian representations of female attire; but we are to remember that the climate of Egypt was very different from that of Palestine, and required a different and lighter raiment; and, in fact, we see that the dress of the Egyptians was most essentially different from that of the various Syrian nations represented, chiefly as prisoners, on the monuments of Egypt.

Then, it may be asked, why not recur to these latter representations for the required materials? The answer is, that the representations are almost entirely of male foreigners, and that we are therefore left without any information from this source as to the prevailing style of garb among the women of the Syrian nations.

The case however, not hopeless. There are the Arabians—a neighboring people of kindred origin, who have remained in the same country, with little alteration of language, habits of life, or raiment, since the days of the patriarchs; and it is probable we should not be far wrong in seeking among them for all the proximate illustrations of Hebrew costume we can require, or may now hope to obtain.

It is common to confound the terms Arabian and Bedouin; but all the Arabians are not tent-dwellers. They have had, and even still have, important towns, the inhabitants of which pursue the avocations and maintain the habits of civil life, manifesting, even now, among the wealthier classes, much luxury of dress and ornament, especially among the women. The dress of the poorer inhabitants of these towns is much the same with that of the Arabians, who dwell in tents; and it has always appeared to us, that from the dresses worn by these different classes of the great Arabian people, nothing that occurs in Scripture on the subject of costume needs remain unexplained. Even at this day, the Arabian influence as to costume predominate in Syria, and the paramount style of raiment differs little from that of the Arabs. As we go farther north, the Turkish dress begins to prevail. This dress, it will be recollected, is quite different from, and in all respects far less becoming than, the Arabian. It is also an exotic importation that came in with the Turks, and was not known in western Asia until a comparatively recent period, and therefore supplying no materials for illustration. Indeed, one would not desire to regard Scripture characters as arrayed in such a garb as that of the Turks, which, with its vast trousers and small, skirtless jackets, always seemed to us singularly ungraceful as compared with the flowing amplitude of Arabian attire. It has been praised, indeed, by Europeans; but only, we apprehend, in comparison with their own still more atrocious costumes, and sometimes, as we know, from their regarding the Arabian costumes as Turkish, from observing them in Turkish towns. Even in Constantinople, the Arabian dress prevails among certain classes of the population, such as those who follow what with us would be called the learned professions. The proper Turkish dress is, in fact, an equestrian one, and the Turks were formerly an entirely equestrian people, as they still are in part; but it is ill suited to the civil life to which they attained after the conquest of the Greek empire.

Under these views, we shall feel authorized in looking mainly to Arabian dress for the analogies which may, from the text before us, furnish us with some clearer apprehensions than are usually entertained respecting the raiment of the Jewish females. We may premise, however, that although we conceive the dress of the Hebrew women (and also, indeed, of the men) to have been essentially different from that of the ancient Egyptians, it is very possible that many articles of personal ornament were much the same in form and application. The large class of articles we include under the name of “jewelry,” are less different in neighboring countries than the articles that constitute the proper “dress,” perhaps because they are not subject to the influence of those changes which variations of climate necessitate. A necklace, a bracelet, an ear-ring, a frontlet of diamonds, silver, or gold, are as well suited to a warm as to a cold climate.