Old Testament and Embroidery

Detail of an embroidered panel from Britain, late-16th century, representing the Biblical Garden of Eden. Detail of an embroidered panel from Britain, late-16th century, representing the Biblical Garden of Eden. Copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, acc. no. 64.101.1284.

There is a small number of passages in the Old Testament, which (may) refer to textiles and garments and some may allude to embroidered objects and the embroiderers themselves. For example, in Exodus 38:23: "And the Lord commanded Moses; and with him was Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, a craftsman and designer and embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen" (King James version; see also Exodus 35:35).

It would also seem, if the translations are correct, that embroidery was used for temple curtains (Exodus 26:36; Exodus 27:16), for garments worn by high priests in the temple (Exodus 27:16, 28:39), as well as for the garments of elite men (Ezekiel 26:16; 16:10; 16:18; Exodus 39:29) and of women (Psalms 45:14). In addition, it would appear that embroidered sails were used for some, presumably royal ships (Ezekiel 27:7) and as trade items (Ezekiel 27:16).

Embroidery is also listed among the spoils of war (Judges 5:30), and even metaphorically for the city of Jerusalem, to indicate its richness and beauty (Ezekiel 16:10, 13): "Thus you were decked with gold and silver; and your raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and embroidered cloth: you ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful, and came to regal estate" (Ezekiel 16:13).

It should be noted, however, that to date, no examples of embroidery have been found from mid-first millennium BC Palestine, when most of the books of the Old Testament were brought together. In addition, there are still various scholarly discussions concerning the Hebrew words and phrases associated with these ‘embroideries'. So until this situation is resolved, all that can be said is that while it is likely that embroidery was being produced in Palestine during the first millennium BC, as it was elsewhere in the area, there is no direct evidence for this suggestion.

Source: VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD, Gillian (2016), 'Embroideries from archaeological and historical sources from the Eastern Mediterranean and Iraq,' in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 71-77, esp. p. 71.

Metropolitan Museum of Art online catalogue (retrieved 18 April 2017).


Last modified on Tuesday, 18 April 2017 12:35