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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
lin'-en (badh, "white linen," used chiefly for priestly robes, buts, "byssus," a fine white Egyptian linen, called in the earlier writings shesh; pesheth, "flax," cadhin; bussos, othonion, linon, sindon): Thread or cloth made of flax.
Ancient Egypt was noted for its fine linen (Gen 41:42; Isa 19:9). From it a large export trade was carried on with surrounding nations, including the Hebrews, who early learned the art of spinning from the Egyptians (Ex 35:25) and continued to rely on them for the finest linen (Prov 7:16; Ezek 27:7). The culture of flax in Israel probably antedated the conquest, for in Josh 2:6 we read of the stalks of flax which Rahab had laid in order upon the roof. Among the Hebrews, as apparently among the Canaanites, the spinning and weaving of linen were carried on by the women (Prov 31:13,19), among whom skill in this work was considered highly praiseworthy (Ex 35:25). One family, the house of Ashbea, attained eminence as workers in linen (1 Ch 4:21; 2 Ch 2:14).
2. General Uses:
Linen was used, not only in the making of garments of the finer kinds and for priests, but also for shrouds, hangings, and possibly for other purposes in which the most highly prized cloth of antiquity would naturally be desired.
3. Priestly Garments:
The robes of the Hebrew priests consisted of 4 linen garments, in addition to which the high priest wore garments of other stuffs (Ex 28; 39; Lev 6:10; 16:4; 1 Sam 22:18; Ezek 44:17,18). Egyptian priests are said to have worn linen robes (Herod. ii.37). In religious services by others than priests, white linen was also preferred, as in the case of the infant Samuel (1 Sam 2:18), the Levite singers in the temple (2 Ch 5:12), and even royal personages (2 Sam 6:14; 1 Ch 15:27). Accordingly, it was ascribed to angels (Ezek 9:2,3,11; 10:2,6,7; Dan 10:5; 12:6,7). Fine linen, white and pure, is the raiment assigned to the armies which are in heaven following Him who is called Faithful and True (Rev 19:14). It is deemed a fitting symbol of the righteousness and purity of the saints (Rev 19:8).
4. Other Garments:
Garments of distinction were generally made of the same material: e.g. those which Pharaoh gave Joseph (Gen 41:42), and those which Mordecai wore (Est 8:15; compare also Lk 16:19). Even a girdle of fine linen could be used by a prophet as a means of attracting attention to his message (Jer 13:1). It is probable that linen wrappers of a coarser quality were used by men (Jdg 14:12,13) and women (Prov 31:22). The use of linen, however, for ordinary purposes probably suggested unbecoming luxury (Isa 3:23; Ezek 16:10,13; compare also Rev 18:12,16). The poorer classes probably wore wrappers made either of unbleached flax or hemp (Ecclesiasticus 40:4; Mk 14:51). The use of a mixture called sha'aTnez, which is defined (Dt 22:11) as linen and wool together, was forbidden in garments.
The Egyptians used linen exclusively in wrapping their mummies (Herod. ii.86). As many as one hundred yards were used in one bandage. Likewise, the Hebrews seem to have preferred this material for winding-sheets for the dead, at least in the days of the New Testament (Mt 27:59; Mk 15:46; Lk 23:53; Jn 19:40; 20:5 ff) and the Talmud (Jerusalem Killayim 9:32b).
The use of twisted linen (shesh moshzar) for fine hangings dates back to an early period. It was used in the tabernacle (Ex 26:1; 27:9; 35; 36; 38; Josephus, Ant, III, vi, 2), in the temple (2 Ch 3:14), and no doubt in other places (Mishna, Yoma', iii.4). Linen cords for hangings are mentioned in the description of the palace of Ahasuerus at Shushan (Est 1:6).
7. Other Uses:
Other uses are suggested, such as for sails, in the imaginary ship to which Tyre is compared (Ezek 27:7), but judging from the extravagance of the other materials in the ship, it is doubtful whether we may infer that such valuable material as linen was ever actually used for this purpose. It is more likely, however, that it was used for coverings or tapestry (Prov 7:16), and possibly in other instances where an even, durable material was needed, as in making measuring lines (Ezek 40:3).
Ella Davis Isaacs
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'linen'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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