In this text, the meaning of the word glass is derived from two Greek words: "esoptron", a mirror as for looking into, and "horao", to gaze with wide open eyes as at a reflection.
Mirrors have been around since ancient times. The early Chinese, Egyptians, Mesopotamians and even Jews were known to possess mirrors. Until late Roman times, mirrors were commonly made of bronze, and were small, about the size of today's hand mirrors. Early mirrors had handles made of stone, wood or metal that might be decorated with carvings or jewels.
Ancients took great pride in their mirrors, and to keep their surfaces reflecting well, continual polishing was required. A sponge containing pounded pumice stone was attached to a mirror's handle, and if a scratch or rust spot developed, it could be immediately polished away. In Egypt, mirrors were kept so well-polished that some of these early looking glasses, discovered at an archaeological dig in Thebes, have been able to have their shine restored, even though they had been buried for many centuries.
In the ancient world, mirrors held a great attraction, especially for women. Historical sources record that Egyptian ladies were in the habit of carrying a mirror with them whenever they were out in public. Keeping appraised of their appearance was important, but mirrors also served as a decorative accessory to their clothing.
From St. Cyril : "When entering their temples to worship, they (Egyptian women) carry a mirror in one hand". (Quoted in J.G. Wilkinson's "Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians," vol. iii., pp. 384-386. Published 1837, London.)
From Dr. Thomas Shaw: "This is now (still) done by females of Eastern nations. In the Levant, looking-glasses are a part of female dress. The Moorish women in Barabary are so fond of their ornaments, and particularly of their looking-glasses, that they made their mirrors a part of the ornaments of their costume, which they hang (the mirrors) upon their breasts; that they will not lay them aside, even when, after the drudgery of the day, they are obliged to go two or three miles with a pitcher or a goat-skin to fetch water. ("Shaw's Travels or Observations Relating to Several Parts of Barbary and the Levant ", p. 24. Published 1738.)
Some Biblical scholars believe that the Israelite women were equally infatuated with their mirrors and imitated the worship custom of the Egyptian women .They offer for proof, Exodus 38:8. "He made the laver of brass…of the looking glasses of the women assembling…at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation."
Because of the adverse effects of sunlight, dust or dampness on their metal surface, ancient mirrors were kept covered with a thin veil or see-thru cloth. The Septuagint describes this covering as a "thin, transparent fabric like gauze, perhaps even fine silk". While mirrors might be uncovered for a more accurate, quick look, generally they retained their protective covering at all times. Those attempting to see their likeness peered through a filmy, shadowy fabric layer.
It is from this mirror-covering custom, still practiced in Paul's day, that he draws the beautiful, poetic simile: To "see through a glass darkly" Here he uses it to illustrate mankind's inability to fully comprehend when beholding the divine (with the implication that we will not truly "see" until the divine is reflected in us.)
Copyright by Ancient Bible History - Eden Games Inc.