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The High Priest and Abraham
The High Priest and Abraham

This 13th century fresco shows Abraham being blessed by a High Priest. While Abraham is shown in the costume of a medieval knight, the High Priest wears his ceremonial robes.

A Hebrewpriest wearing the “white garments”-a turban, tunic, breeches and belt all made from pure white linen. These garments were worn as asign of humility before God.

The story of the Hebrews is told in the Old Testament of the Bible. They were a wandering desert people who gained control of some land in Canaan between 1200 and 1050 BCE. Around 1000 BCE the Hebrew king David (reigned c. 1005–c. 965 BCE) established the kingdom of Israel with its capital city in Jerusalem. The kingdom split in two in about 931, and the northern kingdom, called Israel, was conquered by the Assyrians (see pages 22–3) around 722. The southern kingdom, Judah, was attacked by the Babylonians (see page 24) in 597,and ten years later the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. The Hebrews, who came to be known as Jews, were taken into captivity.

Most Hebrews dressed very simply in tunics or long dresses. To keep off the glare of the sun, people often wore a cloth over their head, which was fixed in place with a narrow headband. Hebrew kings, however, wore rich robes, adorned with precious stones, while the most magnificent costume of all was worn by the high priest.

Ceremonial Garments

Around 950 BCE King David's son Solomon (reigned c. 965–c. 931 BCE) built a spectacular temple in Jerusalem to house his people’smost precious treasure,the Ark of the Covenant. The high priest in charge of the temple wore aspecial set of ceremonial clothes known as the golden garments. According to Jewish belief, God gave the prophet Moses detailed instructions for the making of these sacred garments, and these instructions are all recorded in the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament.

The golden garments consisted of eight separate items:atunic, a belt, a turban, a pair of linen breeches, a breastplate, an ephod (a type of apron), a robe, and a golden head plate.Over the white tunic and pants,the high priest wore a sky-blue robe, hemmed with decorative pomegranates and bells which tinkled as he moved. On top of the tunic was the ephod, with two sardonyx stones on its shoulder-straps,and a breastplate, set with twelveprecious stones,representing the twelvetribes of Israel.Finally, the turban was placed on the high priest’s head,and the golden head plate fixed in place with its inscription, “Holy to the Lord.”

The high priest wore his golden garments every day of the year except on the Day of Atonement, the Hebrews’ most holy day. On this day, the high priest showed his humility before God by wearing the white garments: a turban, tunic, breeches, and belt, all made from pure white linen. Other priests wore the white garments all through the year.


Special Materials

The Book of Exodus lists five different materials to be used in the making of the golden garments: gold, sky-blue wool,dark red wool, crimson wool, and “twisted linen.” Manyyears of research have gone into discovering exactly which materials were used.

The evidence suggests that gold leaf was beaten into thin sheets, and then cut into fine threads; the sky-blue dye for the wool came from a shellfish known as chilazon;the dark red color was derived from a type of snail; and the crimson color was produced by the cochineal insect.To weave the tunic, turban,and breeches,athick linen thread was used, made from six twisted strands.

Joseph’s Coat

In the Old Testament Book of Genesis, Joseph,the youngest son of Jacob, is described as having a glorious “coat of many colors.” Nobody knows what this coat would have looked like, but it may have featured colored wool dyed skyblue and crimson, as well as the more usual greens, yellows,and browns produced byearth and plants.

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