Beards and hairstyles in the Biblical world (Isaiah 15)

Image result for ancient babylon Beards and hairstyles in the biblical world

Illustration: Ancient Israelites 

In Isaiah 15:2 the prophet declared that every head was shaved and every beard cut off. In context, it is clear that this was a sign of mourning, shaving the head and face was evidently not ordinary fashion but a way of expressing overwhelming grief. Baldness was subject to mockery (2 Kings 2:23-25; we find the same attitude in the Greek comedies of Aristophanes in the late fifth century B.C.), while luxuriant hair seems to have been viewed as a sign of strength and vigour. But how did the people in the ancient world typically wear their hair?

Fashion in hairstyles and beards varied in different times and places in the Biblical world. Paul stated that, in his cultural context, it was a disgrace for men to wear their hair long or for women to have theirs shorn (1 Corinthians 11:6, 14-15). Samson and Absalom both had long hair (Judges 16:13-19, 2 Samuel 14:26), but the very fact that the Bible draws attention to this may indicate that this practice was outside the norm. Israelite men typically wore their beards long, although during the intertestamental period and the New Testament period, under the influence of Greek culture, some Jewish men were clean shaven. It is possible that some professions called for distinctive hairstyles. For example, Mesopotamian physicians may have shaved their heads, and Mesopotamian slaves were required to wear a particular hairstyle, with dire consequences for unlawfully altering it.

The Israelites, however, had some distinctive customs. Men were forbidden to trim their hair along the sides or the edges of their beards (Leviticus 19:27). A Nazirite who had made a vow did not allow a razor to touch his hair until that vow had been completed; at that time his hair was shaved and cast into the fire under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering he had presented to God (Numbers 6:5-21). Hair and beards could have symbolic significance as well. While cutting off another man’s beard was considered an insult (2 Samuel 10:4-5), cutting off one’s own hair or beard was a sign of mourning (Isaiah 15:2). Ezekiel, for example, shaved off his hair and beard as a symbol of the coming destruction of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 5:1 ff).


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