There are three Hebrew word for "lap.
Chotsen: Arm or lap, as to hold firmly the bosom.
Beged: A garment or clothing, also pillage
Choq: Enclose the bosom.
In the ancient world, the lap was not the topside of the upper legs in a sitting position but rather a type of large pocket, which was created by folding the excess material of the front of the cloak into a deep pouch before draping it to the shoulder and securing it there. This pocket was always positioned near the breast and it could be opened and emptied without loosening it from the shoulder.
From Thomas Shaw: It is very probable, likewise, that the loose fitting garment, the toga of the Romans, was of this kind. For, if the drapery of their statues is to instruct us, this is actually no other than the dress of the Arabs, when they appear in their hykes. The plaid of the Highlanders in Scotland, is the very same. Instead of the fibula, that was used by the Romans, the Arabs join together with thread, or with a wooden bodkin, the two upper corners of their garment; and after having place them first over one of their shoulders, they then fold the rest of it about their bodies." (Travels in Barbary and the Levant, Vol. 1, pages 403, 40. Published 1757.)
It was in the lap pouch that the ancients carried their most personal and valued possessions. Such items might include medicinal herbs, loaves of bread, corn and coin pouches. c. (See 2 Kings 4:39). Some ancients never removed their treasures from the lap pocket, choosing instead to keep them on their person at all times.
The lap pocket was associated with various curses.
From Joseph Roberts: "When men or women curse each other, they shake the lap, their cloth, or robe, and say, "It shall be so with thee."
Does [If] a man begins to shake his sali or waistcloth, in the presence of another, the other will say, "Why do you shake your cloth here? Go to some other place. What! Can you [cannot] shake your lap here? Do it not, do it not." [Later] "Yes, yes ; it is all true enough ; this misery has come upon me through that wretched man shaking his cloth in my presence."
"The natives of India made a practice of carrying a pouch made from cocoa leaves in the lap pocket. Whether it was a real bag or simply that the lap pocket was lined with these leaves is hard to determine. But inside this so-called leaf pouch, the people placed items of value such as money, areca nut, betel leaf and tobacco. The idea was to keep something valuable in the lap pocket at all times. If the lap pocket should ever become empty the natives believed that the curse of destitution would come upon them. They also believed that once empty, the lap pocket would never refill and they would be poor forever.
"If he cannot soon find the article he requires, he shakes out the whole : not so the Hindoo ; he will fumble and grope for an hour, rather than shake out the whole. " Do that! Why who knows how long the pouch would remain empty?" (Oriental Illustrations of the Sacred Scriptures, p. 253-254. Published1835)
As curses go, few curses in the ancient world were as strongly believed in or as fearfully dreaded as the lap-shaking curse. To invoke this curse, the lap pocket was un-tucked, turned inside out and the excess fabric angrily shaken out in front of the person being cursed. Such a gesture called for the complete destruction and total annihilation of that person, his wealth and all that belonged to him.
From Appian's History of Rome - The Spanish Wars: "The Romans now sent ambassadors to Carthage to demand that Hannibal should be delivered up to them as a violator of the treaty unless they wished to assume the responsibility. If they would not give him up, war was to be declared forthwith. The ambassadors obeyed their instructions, and when the Carthaginians refused to give up Hannibal they declared war. It is said that it was done in the following manner. The chief of the embassy, pointing to the fold of his toga and smiling, said: "Here, Carthaginians, I bring you peace or war, you may take whichever you choose." The latter replied: "You may give us whichever you like." When the Romans offered war they all cried out: "We accept it." (Book VI Section III Number 13 )
In the introductory text, Nehemiah used a cultural practice, which his audience would understood perfectly the meaning, to represent what would happen to them if they reneged on their promise of restitution.. God to punish them according to the lap-shaking curse.
Copyright by Ancient Bible History - Eden Games Inc.