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Purple is not so pure

The colour purple appears in more than 50 verses, both in the Old and New Testaments, where it refers to this reddish-purple to deep-purple dye.

ZOE AUTOR 102/Antonio_Cruz TRADUCTOR Roger Marshall 10 DE OCTUBRE DE 2021 15:00 h
[photo_footer] Infor de la imagen. Derechos de imagen reservados [/photo_footer]

Everyone who had blue, purple or scarlet yarn or fine linen, or goat hair, ram skins dyed red or the other durable leather brought them. (Ex. 35:23) 



The Hebrew word argamán (in Aramaic argewán), which refers to the colour “purple”, appears in several Biblical texts (2 Chronicles 2:7; Deuteronomy 5:7, 16, 29: etc).



It was translated into the Greek Septuagint as porphyra, which was the term used for certain molluscs from the Mediterranean belonging to the Muricidae family, and subsequently for the colouring dye that was extracted from them.



Finally it came to be used for the garments that were coloured with the dye obtained from these molluscs (Mark 15:17, 20; Luke 16:19; Revelation 18:12).



The colour purple appears in more than 50 verses, both in the Old and New Testaments, where it refers to this reddish-purple to deep-purple dye that was so sought after and so expensive during Bible times.



This dye was so costly, in fact, that only royalty and the nobility could afford to wear clothing of this colour. (Est. 8:15; Pr. 31:22; Dn. 5:7; Lk. 16:19; Rev. 17:4).



The Phoenicians were the main producers of purple, as they were very familiar with the sea and the properties of its aquatic life. It is thought that purple dye was already being extracted in Crete in about 1600 BC. The Jews confined themselves to buying this luxury product, and they attached enormous symbolic value to it.



As purple garments were typical of royalty, Jesus himself was mocked by the Roman soldiers by being dressed in a purple cloak – probably belonging to a Roman dignitary – a symbol of his claim to be a king (Mark 15:17; John 19:2).



In the New Testament, we also read that Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, was a seller of purple, as in this small city in Asia Minor there was a thriving dye-based industry.



Apparently it was women who extracted dyes from different species of marine molluscs and also from certain plant roots.



By and large it was an arduous, painstaking task, which the Romans regarded as slave-work. The raw-material extracted from these tiny sea-snails, or from the roots of certain plants, such as rose-madder (Rubia tictorum), was crushed, salted and then boiled.



Acccording to Pliny the Elder, other substances, known as medicamenta, such as human urine, were then added to the resulting material in order to fix the colour in the cloth and make it permanent.



After this mixture had sufficiently fermented, wool from sheep was steeped in it and dyed. After some time had passed, it was taken out of the dye and left to dry in the sun to make it shiny and give it consistency.



Needless to say, depending on the organic materials used, the smells associated with such industries tended to be very unpleasant. Hence, dyeing infrastructures were usually located outside the city, and the people who worked in them (generally slaves) were regarded as stinking and dirty.



The purple dyes obtained from the liquid secreted by the gills of sea-snails were considered to be of higher quality than those extracted from plants, which accounted for the difference in price.





[photo_footer] Antonio Cruz [/photo_footer] 


A kilogramme of these glands was required for some 60 grammes of dye, and 200 grammes of dye were needed for one kilogramme of wool.



The ecological problem lay in the fact that to get one kilogramme of gills 50,000 snails had to be harvested. Thus, just one gramme of dye cost 20 grammes of gold. [1]



At the archaeological site which was the ancient port of Ugarit (now Minet el-Beida) huge piles of this species of snail have been found.



The molluscs which produce this mucus from their gills normally use it to attack their prey, as they are predators of other molluscs.



Among the marine gastropods used as a source of this dye, most prominent was the purple dye murex Bolinus brandaris, (formerly known as the Murex brandaris) and another snail whose scientific name was the Stramonita haemastoma.



The former lives in shallow coastal waters and measures about 8 centimetres in length. Its siphonal canal is long and straight, and can account for up to half of its total length.



It has large spines around it, arranged in a total of six rows. It closes its opening by means of a hard cover, or a horny operculum on its foot.



The murex is a carnivorous mollusc and preys on other molluscs, both bivalves and gastropods. In some countries, including Spain, it is regarded as an edible mollusc.



Another species of gastropod mollusc used as a source of dye in ancient times is the Stramonita haemastoma, also known as Thais haemastoma. It also belongs to the Muicidae family, and can be found all round the Mediterranean and on the Atlantic coast, near the shoreline, at a depth of 30 metres.



It hides among Posidonia, where it attacks its prey and feeds on carrion. Now it is a protected species and, if it is fished accidentally, it has to be returned to the sea or kept in a tank until it can be freed.



Another source of purple dye, albeit of lesser quality, was the root of the rose madder (Rubia tinctorum) a type of phanerogam (seed-bearing) plant.



This is a climbing plant, still present in Israel and in the whole Mediterranean basin, which grows to a height of up to a metre. It has a reddish root due to a pigment known as “alizarin crimson”, which was already known to the Egyptians 2500 years BC.



Augustin of Hippo (353-429) mentioned purple in one of his commentaries on the words of the psalmist: “Evil will slay the wicked.” (Psalm 34:21), as some Protestant bibles translate it.



In response to objections from many of his contemporaries who could not accept the fact that many evildoers prospered while the righteous often suffered, the great theologian wrote:



There are many who object to these words and are perplexed by them. They ask, “Were not those who were slaughtered by lions righteous? And yet they met a horrible death.



By contrast, I know of many others whose misdeeds are known to all, but who died as old men, peacefully in their beds, without suffering the slightest persecution.



Pay attention to this. What might seem on the surface to be a good death, would look very different from inside their hearts. You see them resting in peace upon their beds, but do you not know that their soul is being dragged into hell? (…) Remember the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: The one was dressed in purple and fine linen, the other lying at his gate covered in sores.



But when the day of their death arrived, the beggar was raised up by the angels to the bosom of Abraham and the rich man was carried off into Hades. If anyone saw the corpse of poor Lazarus lying at the rich man’s gate, with no one to give him a decent burial, what must they have thought?



Brothers if we are Christians, let us believe the words of Christ, because things are as the Lord says they are, and faith must lead us to hear them as such.



What kind of death must the rich man have had? Undoubtedly his funeral was the finest and most pompous that he could have been given. His body must have lain on his bed covered in his purple and fine linen. How many sweet-smelling perfumes must have been used to anoint his corpse for burial?



And yet, being in torment he pleaded for the finger of poor despised Lazarus to place a drop of water on his burning tongue, but his request was refused (Luke 16:19-26). Do you realise what this means? “Horrendous is the death of the wicked”. Feel no envy for the deathbeds decked with silk or the corpses adorned with jewels, with the families standing around mourning and the silent multitudes following the funeral cortege as a token of their respect as the body is transported to the marble mausoleum built specially in memory of the deceased.



Because if this is all you see, you will assume that the death of all the tyrants, criminals and murderers was the best it could have been. But if you believe the Gospel, your faith will reveal to you that their soul is suffering the torments of hell, and that they have gained nothing from all the homage and the honour paid to their corpse here on earth.” [2]



 



 [1] López Melero, R. 2011, Breve Historia del Mundo Antiguo, 2ª Ed., Editorial Universitaria Ramón Areces, p. 179.



[2] Spurgeon C. H The Treasury of David.


 

 


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