Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Meaning of Fringe in Ancient Cultures

In many ancient cultures fringes were a well-known style of dress rich with meaning.

Assyrians and Babylonians believed that fringes assured the wearer of the protection of the gods.

The fringed hem was ornate in comparison with the rest of the outer robe and frequently had tassels along the edges. This ornate hem was a "symbolic extension of the owner and more specifically of the owner's rank and authority. " [Donna: Think of this as one reason why David cut off the corner of Saul's robe--and why he felt so remorseful about usurping God's prerogative.]

Requests accompanied by grasping the fringes of the one from whom you wanted something could not be refused.

Exorcists used the hem of a patient's garment in their healing ceremonies.

A husband could divorce his wife by cutting off the hem of his wife's robe.

In Mari, an ancient city in what is now Syria, a professional prophet or diviner would enclose with his report to the King a lock of his hair and a piece of his hem....Sometimes the hem was impressed on a clay tablet as a kind of signature.

Fringes could also be pressed onto the clay instead of the hem. E.A.Speiser has suggested that when we press the corner fringe of the tallit to the Torah scroll we are reflecting this ancient custom.

The primary significance of the tassel in ancient times was that it was worn only by those who counted; it was the "I.D. of the nobility."



  1. <<>>

    Question, please. Are we just talking here about the fringes on hems of clothing which are close to the ground, or are we also talking about tallits (which likewise have fringes, but are not near the ground)? When I read the above, I immediately thought of Jesus' tallit... and the woman with the issue of blood who wanted to be healed... and so she reached forward and touched His tallit (with its fringes), and was instantly cured.

  2. I apologize... I included a quote from your post, but it didn't show up above. It was the part which talks about making requests of someone and holding onto their hems...

  3. Laura, In Christ's time, tallits were a garment similar to today's poncho--and they did hang down nearly to the ground.

    I'm with you on the woman with an issue of blood. That is a story with many poignant aspects. I'm pretty sure that it was Origen, an early Church Father, wrote that the healed woman commissioned a life-size statue of the Savior to honor the miracle and that it was later torn down.

  4. That's very good to know about the tallits. I'd just assumed they were the same sizes of those today.

    I'd read about that statue in a Body Thoene book, and wondered if it were true. Good to know the source of the issue. Thanks! You're a wealth of knowledge and I look forward each weekday to seeing what else you will share with us!