Ancient Egyptian sandals from the Rammesside (?) period.
Sandal soles are widely-plaited palm fiber. Sides are finer woven palm.
Photo by permission of the British Museum. Sandals acquired in 1839.

Exodus 3:5:   "Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. " (KJV)

Taking off one's shoes before entering a holy place is a very old custom and was practiced almost universally among the ancient peoples.

 According to James Usher, the Biblical account of Moses encountering the presence of God in the burning bush and removing his shoes took place about 1491 BC, making it one of the earliest documented accounts of this religious custom. Although, many historical sources mention that the people of early Egypt and Mesopotamia were also observing this practice at the same time or possibly earlier.

But unlike so many ancient customs and traditions that lose their importance over time, shoe removal in deference to a deity or the divine continued for centuries and has remained a significant aspect of at least one religion into the twenty-first century.

From Ovid:  "It chanced that at the festival of Vesta I was returning by that way which now joins the New Way to the Roman Forum, Hither I saw a matron coming down barefoot (from the altars): amazed I held my peace and halted. An old woman of the neighborhood perceived me, and bidding me sit down she addressed me in quavering tones, shaking her head. 'This ground, where now are the forums, was once occupied by wet swamps: a ditch was drenched with the water that overflowed from the river. That Lake of Curtius, which supports dry altars, is now solid ground, but formerly it was a lake. '" ("Fasti or The Book of Days", v1, 395 ff. Published in Rome, 8AD.)

From Justin Martyr:  "They (the Jews) set up their baptisms, and made such as go to their temples, and officiate in their libations and meat-offerings, first sprinkle themselves with water by way of lustration; and they have now brought it to such a pass that the worshippers are washed from head to foot before they approach the sacred place where their images are kept. And whereas their adorers are commanded by priests to put off their shoes before they presume to enter the temples." ("The First Apology of Justin Martyr", p.78. Published in Rome, 155 AD -157 AD.)

From Iamblichus Chalcedonies (245 AD – 345 AD): "Enter not into a temple negligently nor adore careless, not even though you stand at the doors themselves: Sacrifice and adore unshod:" ("Life of Pythagoras – 570 AD – 495 AD"*, p.12. Published in London, 1818.)
*Translated from the Greek by Thomas Taylor.

From Richared le Pelerin:  In his epic poem*, "La Chasnon de Jerusalem", Pelerin relates an episode that took place during the First Crusade (1096-1099) on the Mount of Olives, in which the Bishop of Martirano and his army removed their shoes before seeking out a hermit, living in a cave on this holy site, and whom they believed would aid them in the capture of Jerusalem. Poem written between 1350 and 1425 in Northeaster France.                         
(*Translation from the French not available.)

From Josephus Abundancnus: "The Monks, and those that the French generally call religious amongst the Jacobites, live much more strictly then those that live in Europe.... They wear a Shirt, and upon it a Robe made of the coarsest wool, and go barefoot in their Monastery." ("The True History of the Jacobites of Egypt, Libya, Nubia, and the Origine, Religion, Ceremonies, Laws, and Customs...Great Britain", Chapter 18, p.24. Published in London, 1692.)

From M. Karstens Neibuhr: "The dress of Eastern nations, some peculiar cities among which we observed with particular attention, is adapted to their climate and manners. As they are accustomed to sit cross-legged,  they wear their clothes very wide. And being obliged to express their respect for holy places, and for the, apartments of the great, by leaving their shoes at the gate, they find it necessary to dress so as that they may suffer no inconvenience from the want of them."  ("Niebuhr's Travels Through Arabia and Other Countries in the East", Vol 1, p, 111-112. Published in Edinburgh and London, 1792.)

From Rev. William Ward: "The natives of Bengal never go into their own houses, nor into the houses of others, with their shoes on, but always leave them at the door. It would be a great affront not to attend to this mark of respect in visiting; and to enter a temple without pulling off the shoes, would be an unpardonable offense." ("A View of the History, Literature, and Religion of the Hindoos", Vol 2, p. 465. Second Edition. Published in London, 1815.)

From Rev. George Paxton: "All the Orientals, under the guidance of tradition, put off their shoes when they enter their holy places. " ("Illustrations of Scripture in Three Parts", Vol 2, p.286. Published in Philadelphia, 1822.)

From Sir J.G. Wilkinson: "(In modern Egypt) Ladies and men of rank paid great attention to the beauty of their sandals: but on some occasions those of the middle classes who were in the habit of wearing them preferred walking barefooted; and in religious ceremonies the priests frequently took them off while  performing their duties in the temple. ("The Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians ", Vol 2.  p .336. Published in New York, 1878.)

From Dr. Jacob R. Freese: "Next we visit the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet (Istanbul, Turkey) and …while examining this mosque some of the attendants become very insolent; one of them pushed others against us because of our refusal to take off out shoes before stepping on the matting in the passageway." ("Travels in the Holy Land, Syria, Asia Minor and Turkey",  P.512, 4th edition.  Published in Philadelphia, 1882.)

Still photo from the movie "The Ten Commandments" 1956.
Charlton Heston as Moses removing his sandals in the presence of God.

Obviously, the taking off of one's shoes is an extremely important custom. And, because it is performed in deference to a deity or the divine, it importance is easily understood. But the question still remains, considering that any number of rituals  that could  be performed to show respect for God or one's spiritual authority, why is the removal of shoes the "one" chosen?

From Horatio Hackett:  "This mark of respect (putting off the shoes) was regarded as due to a superior; since to appear before him wearing shoes or sandals was to be guilty of the indecorum of approaching him (one's superior) with the feet soiled with the dust which would otherwise cleave to them. On the same principle, the Jewish priests officiated barefoot in the tabernacle and in the temple." ("Illustrations of Scripture as Suggested by a Tour of the Holy Land", p.66. Published in Boston, 1857.)

From Matthew Poole: "The 'Putting of thy shoes" was required by God as an act and token of reverence to the Divine Majesty, then and there eminently present; and of his humiliation for his (Moses) sins, whereby he was unfit and unworthy to appear before God; for this was the posture of humiliation. (See scripture: 2 Samuel 15:30; Isaiah 20:.2,4; Ezekiel 24: 17,23.) ("Annotations on the Holy Bible", Vol 1, P.120. Published in London, 1840.)

From Jacob Nacht: "Only with bare feet should one draw near to a place dedicated to God. The shoe denotes supreme power and possession. 'Den Pantoffel schwingen'* is a well-known proverbial expression marking off the shoe as the symbol of power. And another adage, in which likewise the shoe is represented as the embodiment of power says: 'As long as they foot is shod, tread the thorn.' The shoe thus is accorded and importance equaling that of the foot. The foot signifies domination: 'Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.' (Psalms 8:6.)  An example of this dominion, King David removing his shoes as he flees before his son, Absalom. (2 Samuel 15:30)" ("The Symbolism of the Shoe with Special Reference to Jewish Sources"; The Jewish Quarterly Review - New Series, Vol 6, No.1., pp.1-22. Published in Philadelphia, July 1915.)
*Translation: Swing the Slipper as in wielding all the power.

The action taking place in the introductory verse is that God, by instructing Moses to remove his shoes, is alerting him that what he sees, a fiery bush that is not consumed, is no supernatural manifestation but the presence of the Almighty God, Himself. 
Moses, in removing his shoes demonstrates that he does indeed believe himself to be in the presence of holiness, that he shows reverence and humility for God, and he acknowledges that God possesses the power and dominion over him. 

Copyright by Ancient Bible History - Eden Games Inc.

Naturally forming salt deposit along the south shore of the Dead Sea.
 Leviticus 2:13: "And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the Salt of the Covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt." (KJV)  

 In ancient times, salt was a highly prized commodity. Every culture depended on a constant supply of it, and used it in many different ways. Uses included:  seasoning and preserving  foods,  commercial trade, money or wages (hence the word salary), religious ritual, cleansing, healing, punishment, warfare, agriculture, mummification, and in burial rites.

 The Bible gives good examples of many of these uses.
1.  Medicinal: Rubbing new born babies with salt to clean and strengthen the skin. Ezekiel 16:4.

2.  Purification: Salt added to poison water to heal it (miracle). 2 King 2:21.

3.  Seasoning: Salt sprinkled on vegetables to improve the taste. Job 6:6.

4.  Cattle Fodder:  Salt added to grain to help animals better withstand heat. (RV translation.) Isaiah 30:24.

5.  Fertilizer: Salt added to dung to turn it into usable manure. Luke 14:35.

6.  Warfare: Abimelech sowed the city of Shechem and the land surrounding it with salt.  Judges 9:45.

7.  Punishment:  God turned Lot's wife to a pillar of salt for her sin. Genesis 19:26.

8.  Religious ceremony: Salting meat and other offerings before sacrifice.  Leviticus 2:13.

9.  Idiom for Receiving a Salary or Sustenance from the King: Eat the salt of the palace. Ezra 4:14.

10. Idiom for Preservers of Truth  or Renewers of the Covenant: Jesus calls the disciples the "salt  of the  earth".  Matthew 5:13,

 However, among the ancients, salt had another important and unique use. It was called the Salt Covenant --the earliest form a universally understood, generally accepted, and binding Peace Treaty.

The Hebrews, Babylonians, Egyptians,  Hittites, Assyrians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans (as well as many other ancient cultures) all practiced the Salt Covenant. And while the ceremony involved in enacting the covenant might be performed with variations, the covenant's symbolic meaning never changed, nor did  the outcome expected by the parties involved. The rules were simple. Keep the covenant and Life and Well-being were assured. Break the covenant and the penalty could be as harsh as Abandonment and Death.

 The Salt Covenant was practiced in two different ways.

1.) In Religious Life as a part of ritual sacrifice to one's god; 

2.) In Secular Life as a mutually beneficial pledge of hospitality, friendship or loyalty to other people.

 From the Bible: "And thou shalt offer them (sacrifices) before the LORD, and the priests shall cast salt upon them, and they shall offer them up for a burnt offering unto the LORD." Exodus 43:24. (KJV).

From John Potter: "In the affairs of life, they (Greeks) seem to have desired the protection and favor of the gods by oblations of incense or drink offerings...The case seems to have been this: The oblations of the gods...were furnished after the same manner with the entertainments of men. Hence, as men delight in different sorts of diet, so the gods were thought to be pleased with several sorts of sacrifices. Some with human victims, others with beasts of various kinds, others with herbs only, and the fruits of the earth. All required salt and drink; whence there was scarce any sacrifice without salt and an oblation of drink."  ("Antiquities of Greece ", Vol. 1, p. 211.  Published in London, 1722.)

So, which came about first?  The use of salt in religious observances or the use of salt in secular agreements? It's hard to know since instances of both appear about the same time in history. However, one fact can be concluded. Both the religious and sacred use of the salt had the same purpose; that of establishing a peaceful long-lasting relationship with one's god or one's neighbor.

From Eustathius of Thessalonica – 1115AD-1195AD: "The Salt of the Sacrifice is called the Salt of the Covenant, because in common life salt was the symbol of covenant --treaties being concluded and rendered firm and inviolable." ("Commentary on Homer's Iliad and the Odyssey," i. 449. First published in Rome, 1542-1550.)

From Dr. John Kitto: "The perpetuity of covenants of alliance thus contracted is expressed by calling them 'covenants of salt ' -- salt being the symbol of incorruption." ("The Cyclopedia of Bible Literature", Vol. 1, p.117. Published, New York, 1880.)

 From Samuel Burder: "Salt amongst the ancients was the emblem of friendship and fidelity…A covenant of salt seems to refer to the making of an agreement wherein salt was used as a token of confirmation."  ("Oriental Customs", Vol. 1, #50, p.38. Published in London 1807.)

From John Kitto: "To eat salt with any one was to partake of his fare, to share his hospitality and hence, by implication, to enjoy his favor, or to be in his confidence. Hence, also, salt became an emblem of fidelity and of intimate friendship. At the present hour, the Arabs regard as their friend him who has eaten salt with them --that is, has partaken of their hospitality in the same way as in Greece, those (who shared salt) regarded each other as friends even to distant generations." (Bible Cyclopedia of Scriptures", Vol. 3, p.738. Published in Edinburgh, 1876.)

From Alexander Russell: "The relation of host and guest (Syria)is held sacred and always mentioned with reverence. A league of mutual amity…is expressed by 'having eat bread and salt together." ("The Natural History of Aleppo", p.232. Published, London. 1794 Edition.)

From Karl Rosenmuller: "The Bedouins usually treat the stranger as a hostile...but they restrain their wildness, (which is) wholly alien to their character (by) put(ting)...a few grains of saline with small pieces of bread in their mouths, and at the same time say the words: 'With this salt and bread, I will not betray you'." ("The Old and New Land... or Explanations of the Holy Scriptures...and Customs of the East", Vol. 2, p.151. Published in Leipzig, 1818.) [Title and Text Translated from original German.)

From Carl Ritter:  "When the Arabs make a covenant, they put salt on the blade of a sword. Their oath is sacred and incomprehensible. Brother Henniker was a partaker in such a solemn oath for his protection and he said:  "The oldest had a sword. He put salt on the blade, then stuck that something (the blade) into his mouth, telling me to do the same. (To put salt on the same blade and put the blade in my mouth.) From that oath, he joined my life with his with these words: 'Son of my own home, they head is upon mine shoulder'. By the salt and the naked sword, we became blood relatives (servants to each other) and were to remain so even to the threat of death." ." ("Geography in Relation to Nature and the History of Mankind", Book 8, p. 960. Published in Berlin, 1848.) [Title and Text translated from original German].

From Diogenes Laertius (180 AD-240 AD)"Of salt his opinion was, that it ought to be set before people as a reminder of justice; for salt preserves everything which it touches, and it is composed of the purest particles of water and sea."  ("The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers - Life of Pythagoras", Section 19. Literally translated by C.D. Yonge. Published in London, 1853.)

 In the introductory text, God is instructing Israel to continually observe the Salt Covenant; a pledge they had sworn together. A pledge that guaranteed that if that Israel would be God's people, then He would be their God and favor them. By the continual renewal of the covenant, the agreement became generational and all people of Israel were included in the covenant, benefitting from constant reminders of the promises and punishments involved.  The salt and its ability to purify of and preserve symbolized the character of Israel and God. Israel was to become pure, God's holy people. And God would preserve His benevolence in perpetuity.

The following are several interesting experiences of travelers who encountered the Salt Covenant.

Bedouin clutching his sword.
Postcard 1910-1920 - Jerusalem.
Photo courtesy of the British Museum.
From Tamerlane (aka Timour) (1336 -1405): "In such manner, Share Behraum, the chief of a tribe, was along with me. And he left me in the hour of action, and he united with the enemy, and he drew forth his sword against me. And at length, my salt…which he said he had eaten, seized upon him a remorse, and (he) humbled himself before me. As he was a man of illustrious descent, and of bravery, and of experience, I covered my eyes from his evil actions; and I magnified him, and I exalted him to a superior, and I pardoned his disloyalty in consideration of his rank and his valour." ("Tamerlane's Political and Military Institutes", by Major William Davy and Joseph White; p.171. Published in Oxford, 1783.

From Baron Du Tott: "He (the Moldovanji Pacha) was desirous of an acquaintance with me, and seeming to regret that his business would not permit him to stay long, he departed, promising in a short time to return. I had already attened him way down the staircase, when stopping and turning briskly to one of my domestics who followed me, 'Bring me directly,' said he, 'some bread and salt.' I was not less surprised at this fancy, than at the haste which was made to obey him. What he requested was brought. Then taking a little salt between his fingers and putting it mysteriously on a bit of bread, he ate it with a devout gravity, assuring me that I might now rely on him.
I soon procured an explanaation of this significant ceremony (but 'tis the same man, when he became vizier, was tempted to violate this oath) thus taken in my favour. Yet, if this solemn contract be not always religiously observed, it serves at least to moderate the spirit of vengenance so natural to the Turks...The Turks think it the blackest ingratitute to forget the man from whom we have received food; which is signified by the bread and salt in this ceremony. ("Memoirs of Baron De Tott", Vol. 1,  p.214.Purblished in London, 1786.)

From John MacGregor: "I cut thin slices of the preserved beef (for) soup, and, while they were boiling (it), I opened my salt-cellar. This is a snuff-box, and from it I offered a pinch to the sheikh. He had never before seen salt so white (the Arab salt is like our black pepper), and, therefore, thinking it was sugar, he willingly took some from my hand and put it to his tongue. Instantly I ate up the rest of the salt, and with a loud, laughing shout, I administered to the astonished, outwitted sheikh a manifest thump on the back.

"What is it?" all asked from him. "Is it sukkcr?" (Is it sugar?)

 He answered demurely, "La ! meleh!" (No, it's salt! )

Even his (the sheikh's) Home Secretary laughed at his chief. We had now eaten salt together, and in his own tent, and so he was bound by the strongest tie, and he knew it." ("The Rob Roy on the Jordan", p.230. 8th Edition. Published in London, 1904. [1st publication of this book – 1869].

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Magian Priest venerating the fire holding Barsom.
Circa 520 BC - 330 BC.
Displayed in the Istanbul, Arkeoloji Müzesi Museum
Ezekiel 8:17: "For they have filled the land with violence, and have returned to provoke me to anger: and, lo, they put the branch to their nose. " KJV

When it comes to odd phrases in the Bible, branch to the nose" is one of the most unusual and difficult to understand.  Where it originated from and its exact meaning is not entirely known. And attempts to translate it from the original Hebrew has brought about much disagreement and confusion.

From Bishop John Parkhurst (Linguist):  Under the entry
zemôr meaning to cut off or to prune as a vine.  "I observe... that the Vulgate translation of (the word) them is the most faithful and literal. Adplicant ramum ad nares suas (means) they apply the branch to their nostrils. I should rather say nose." ("A Hebrew and a Chaldee Grammar", p.168. Published 1829, London).

Holding a bundle of twigs before the face is an ancient religious custom most often associated with the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. However other cultures, such as the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Hindus, Greek, Romans (as well as some earlier European groups) all used twigs and twig bundles in their pagan worship ceremonies; especially in the worship of the sun and fire.

From Strabo: "In Cappadocia (Turkey), there is the sect of the Magi fire-worshipers called Pyraethi. (In) that country are also many temples of the Persian gods. There are also Pyraethea (fire-shrines) worthy of description. In the center of them there is an altar, and on it much ashes, where the Magi guard the inextinguishable fire. Daily entering these shrines, they (the priests) sing invocations for nearly the space of an hour, holding a bundle of slender tamarisk wands in their hands before the fire. I have seen this myself." ("Geography", Book 15, Chapter 3, Sections 14-15. (Modern translation).  First edition published 7BC., Greece.)

From Dr. Thomas Hyde: The Flamines or the Fire-priests of the ancient Romans also carried bunches of such twigs in their hands in their (religious) ritual." ("Historia Religionis Veterum Persarum"; Published 1760, Latin edition.)

Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron: "Barsom is a bundle of twigs; in Kiman (Persia). They are twigs of the pomegranate, the tamarisk or the date. The number of twigs required for the barsom is fixed on that part of the liturgy which the priest celebrates. The barsom is held together by a band called evanquin; this band must be taken from a green tree. Date or palm branches are usually employed, which as well as the barsom, are consecrated with particular ceremonies. The number of twigs required differ in different services. The Shyest Ne-Shayest (Hindu) enjoin that neither more nor less that the requisite number should be used. The celebration of the Yasna requires 23 twigs of which 21 form a bundle. ("The Zend-Avesta - Description of the Holy Utensils of the Persians", Part III,  p.20.  Published 1771, French Translation.)

From Dr. Martin Haug: " They (Parsis*) have such a custom...of arranging...the bundle of sacred twigs (Barsom) that with three, that with five, that with seven, and that with nine stalks; those which were as long as to go up to the knees, and those which went a s far as the middle of the breast." ("Essays on Sacred Language, Writings and Religion of the Parsis", p.189. 3rd. ed. Published 1878, London.)

One of the most significant areas of disagreement concerns how and why the twig bundles were used. Some scholars think they were a symbol of greeting or honor, while others think they were used to cover the mouth. And still others believe they were used as a type of wand.

From Thomas Lewis, Cleric: "The most reasonable exposition is that the worshipper with a wand in his hand was wont to touch the idol and then apply the stick to his nose and mouth in token of worship and adoration." ("Origines Hebraeae - The Antiquities of the Hebrew Republic",  VOL III, Book 4. Published 1714, London.)

 From Professor Friedrich von Spiegel: "Twig bunches were used by the priests as veils "so that the bright rays of the sun might not be polluted by human breath." ("Aran", 3:571,572.  Translated from German. Published 1863.)

 From Dr. Benjamin Boothroyd:  "Lo, they send forth a scornful noise through their nostrils." (Ezekiel 8:17, last part.) ("The Holy Bible - Translated from Corrected Texts of the Original Tongues", p.793. Published 1836, London.)

The preceding quotation raises several interesting questions. Was the scornful noise brought about by breathing normally through the tied twigs with the unintended result being a shrill whistle? Or was the noise an intended aspect of the worship ceremony? One commentator proposed that the scornful noise was a purposeful action meant to insult God; sort of like
blowing the tongue
at him.

The last area of disagreement concerns whether "putting the branch to the nose" is literal or figurative. Some Bible interpreters believe the phrase is not describing a physical action but is rather a figure of speech used by God to describe how he views the insolent behavior of the people. He takes their actions to be as the ancient counterpart of the modern offensive gesture of thumbing the nose.

From the LXX – Septuagint: "And he said to me, Son of man, thou hast seen this. a little thing to the house of Juda to practice the iniquities which they have practiced here? for they have filled the land with iniquity: and, behold, these are as scorners." (Ezekiel 8:17. Translated from the Greek.)

Along with those who agree that the phrase is symbolic, are the group who  disagree that the phrase describes the people's insulting actions towards God. Rather, they think it is an idiomatic phrase that God used to describe the inevitable result of the people's continued idolatrous behavior, that they were adding fuel to their punishment fire.

From Rev. John Lightfoot: "Several other ways the Rabbins and others (translate), but for my part I would render (the Hebrew) not by nose or nostrils, but by anger:  so should be the sense; 'They commit these abominations, filling the lad with violence, and have turned to provoke me; and behold they send the branch of the wild vine to my wrath, or to their own wrath.  In the same manner that any one puts wood to the hearth…that it (the fire) may the quicklier be burnt, so do these put the branch to my wrath that I may burn the more fiercely." ("Hebrew and Talmudic - Exercitations upon St. John", Vol 3., Ch. 15:12, p.404. Gandell Edition.  Published 1859, Oxford.)

Branch to their nose may never be translated and understood to everyone's satisfaction. However, based on the results of the extensive research associated with it, it is reasonable to conclude that it is multi-layered phrase that is heavy with both facts and symbolic meanings. With a few succinct words it tells an entire story of actions, reactions, warnings and pronouncements of judgement.

The action taking place in this verse is that Israel has immersed itself in idolatry and God is furious.

Followers of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster who lived in India. 

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Calendar of Gezer - Approximately 10th Century BC. Limestone tablet listing the
annual cycle of agricultural activities of the ancient Canaanites was discovered in 1908.
John 1:17 - "Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights."

Earliest cultures believed the number three to be mystical, magic or representative of the supernatural.  In their world, triads of natural forces aligned to create events that man could neither dispute, disrupt or control. These ancients were the first to notice that similar calamitous events seemed to arrive in groups of three; and that cycles of life also occurred in three distinct phases --such as past, present or future, or planting, growing and harvest.

From Vincent F. Hopper:  "A single occurrence is of no significance.  A repetition is noticeable but it might easily be the result of coincidence. A third occurrence, of the same nature, gives the event the impress of law." ("Medieval Number Symbolism: Its sources, Meanings…and Expression", p.5. Published 1938, New York.)

Over the centuries, the number three took on more significance than quantity or the mysterious.  By the 18th century BC, the number three had become symbolic and had been adopted into the legal system.

From EW. Bollinger: "The number three (by Bible times) had come to represent that which is solid, real, substantial, complete and entire." ("Number in Scripture...and Spiritual Significance", p.95.  Published 1921, London.)

From the Code of Hammurabi: "A man may...repudiate the purchase of a female slave after three days on approval.” (Law 278 translated; Babylon 1754 BC .)

From the King James Bible: When Jeroboam requested more lenient royal policies, Rehoboam chose to delay his answer and instead said: "Depart for three days, then return to me. So the people departed." (1 Kings 12:5. Rebellion of Israel against the House of David. About 970 BC)

From Roman Law:  "Thirty days shall be allowed by law for payment of confessed debt and for settlement of matters adjudged in court. After this time the creditor shall have the right of laying hand on the debtor. The creditor shall hale the debtor into court...or they shall have the right to compromise. (If no) compromise the debtor...shall be brought to the praetor, into the meeting place, on three successive market days, and the amount for which they have been judged liable shall be declared publicly. Moreover, on the third market day, they shall suffer capital punishment or shall be delivered for sale abroad across the Tiber River." (From the "Twelve Tables".  Table III – Execution of Judgement. 450 BC.)

From Jewish Law: "Once something is done three times it is considered a permanent thing. This concept is called a chazakah; which is defined as an act of property acquisition or the status of permanence that is established when an event repeats itself three times." (Detailed in the Talmud  - 550 AD.)

The phrase three days and three nights is found in three places in the Bible: 1 Samuel 30:12, Jonah 1:17 and Matthew 12:40.

While there seems to be no argument that the event described in 1 Samuel (the illness of an Egyptian slave) did indeed take place during a literal three-day period, not so with the events described in Jonah and Matthew. In those two respects, there is considerable argument as to whether those events (Jonah in the big fish and Christ in the grave)
lasted fully as long as stated or...if those two events even happened at all.

The Hebrew word for day is yom  and the Greek word is hemara.  Both words have similar meanings and can denote  either : 1) the warm hours of the day, meaning  the space of time from sunrise to sunset or  2) the entire space of time from one sunset to the next sunset.

The Jews in Bible reckoned one full day to be all the hours between two sunsets. The day began at one sunset and ended at the beginning of the next. It included both the evening and night darkness and the morning and day lightness. (See Gen. 1:4-5). However, these same Jews believed that any part of any day, whether the dark hours or the light hours, could also be considered a day.

From Rev. Dr. John Lightfoot: "…where many things are discussed by the Gemarists* concerning the computation of this space of three days, among other things these words occur:

1. "R. Ismael saith: 'Sometimes it contains four Onoth sometimes five, sometimes six."  But how much is the space of an Onah?

2. R. Jochanan saith: 'either a day or a night.'

3. And so also the Jerusalem Talmud; R. Akiba fixed 'a day for an Onah, and a night for an Onah':

4. But the tradition is, that R. Eliezar Ben Azariah said: 'A day and a night make an Onah, and a part of an Onah is as the whole.'

5. And a little after, R. Ismael computeth: 'a part of the Onah for the whole.' ("Hebrew and Talmudical Exercitations of the Gospels…Corinthians, ", Vol 2, p. 210.  Published 1658 – London.)

If, according to Jewish history and tradition, a day can contain both the light hours and the dark hours, then why was it important for the Bible writers to include the word night(s) when relating events that lasted three days. The addition of the word "nights"  seems redundant.

From Jacobus deVoragine (Archbishop of Geno): “For right so as in the mouth of twain or of three is the witness established, right so in three days is proved all deed and fait veritable.” ("The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints", Compiled in 1275 AD.  1st. Edition Published 1470 AD.)

Three days and three nights is a more precise phrase than simply citing "three days" (or simply citing "three nights"). It provides extra meaning along with the complete information. 

In the introductory text, by using the specific phrase three days and three nights, the reader is meant to understand that not only did the event take place over a span of three days --parts or whole--,  but that the event also met the criteria of that time period for being real, verified, complete, absolute and true.

In other words, Jonah survived three days, (parts or whole) in a large fish and the event was declared undeniably factual.

TEXT: Isaiah 60:8  "Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows."

In ancient times, Doves were a highly-prized commodity. 

The Bible often speaks of these birds interchangeably with the better known and easily tamed pigeon, but doves were in fact their own wild species known for their gentle, sweet-tempered, nature.

According to Jewish law, Doves could be eaten and were one of the acceptable sacrificial offerings for sin and purification. They were actively traded in the market place, kept in cages as adored pets, a delight with their soft cooing, given great latitude when roaming free, and most importantly, guarded and treasured for the important byproduct they naturally produced--dove dung. In Bible times,  dove excrement was considered so valuable that ancient folks went to great lengths to attract migrating birds into domesticating, reproducing and delivering their product (poop).

Most doves came in shades of blue, gray and brown, and  as noted in Psalms 68:13, a rare silver dove with yellow-gold tipped wings could be found in Damascus. However, 
it was the white dove that was most admired.

From Thomas Harmer:  "But though pigeons or doves are in common blue in the East, yet there were some, even anciently, that were more' beautiful --witness those lines of Tibullus: 

     "Quid referam, ut volitet crebras intacta per urbes, Alba I'alsestino       sancta columba Syro ?" 
       (Translation:  "Why should I say, How thro' the crowded towns the milk white                    dove, in Syria sacred, may with safety rove?*  -- From Book VII, "Messalla’s                           Triumph". [A poem questionably attributed to Tibullus the Latin Poet, 55 BC–19 BC].)

Here we see some of the doves of Palestine were white, their wings covered as with silver; they were treated with great respect like the blue pigeons of Mecca." {Observations on Various Passages of Scripture", (with additions by Adam Clarke) p.229. Published 1815, London.] 

From the accounts of eighteenth and nineteenth century travelers, the Holy Land was filled with doves. They inhabited a wide area that included Turkey, Syria, Persia, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Egypt. Many geographical locations were named in their honor. And interestingly, one such place was the high rocky terrain where Noah's ark came to rest after the flood.  

From Agustin Calmut:   "The coast of Canaan was denominated the Coast of the Dove.  ("Scripture Illustrated by Means of Natural Science", p. 124. Published 1850, Charlestown.)

From Joseph WIlson: "The mountains of Coh-Suleiman (Ararat) are sometimes called by the natives the Mountains of the Dove: the whole range as far as Gazni is called by Ptolemy the Paruetoi Mountains, probably form the Parvata or Paravat, which signifies a dove."  ("A History of Mountains: Geographical and Mineralogical"; Vol 3, p. 611. Published 1810, London.)

In the wild, Doves preferred to nest in trees or in nooks among the rocks.  However, due to the earnest endeavors of the people to domesticate them, many of these birds adapted to both city and farm dwelling.

From W.M. Thompson: "I found the air cool in June and all agree that the city (Gaza) is healthy. The houses are full of sparrows and the gardens alive with doves and other birds, which keep up a constant roar of music, aided by rook in abundance, from the tops of the feathery palms." ("The Land and the Book"; Vol. 2, p. 337. Published 1860, New York.)

When it was discovered that migrating flocks defecating on seeded fields caused the plants to grow more rapidly and produce a finer quality of vegetables and fruits, farmers quickly began to build colorful and ornate birdhouses hoping to catch the birds attention and entice them to settle and nest.

From Henry Maundrell: "Kefteen (Syria) itself is a large plentiful Village on the West side of the Plain. And the adjacent fields, abounding with Corn, give the Inhabitants great advantage for breeding pigeons (doves): insomuch that you find here more Dove-Cots than other Houses.  ["A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter (in 1697)", p.3. Published 1703, Oxford Theatre, London.]

Woodcut of Pigeon Towers in Persia
From James Morier: " The dung of pigeons is the dearest manure that the Persians use; and as they apply it almost entirely for the rearing of melons, it is probable on that account that the melons of Ispahan (16th Century Capital of Persia) are so much finer than those of other cities. The revenue of a pigeon-house is about 100 tomauns per annum; and the great value of this dung, which rears a fruit that is indispensable to the existence of the natives during the great heats of Summer, will probably throw some light upon that passage in Scripture, when in the famine of Samaria, the fourth part of a cab of doves' dung was sold for five pieces of silver. 2 Kings, vi. 25." 

And…"In the environs of the city to the westward, near the Zainderood (Persia),are many pigeon-houses, erected at a distance from habitations, for the sole purpose of collecting pigeons' dung for manure. They are large round towers, rather broader at the bottom than the top, and crowned by conical spiracles through which the pigeons descend. Their interior resembles a honeycomb, pierced with a thousand holes, each of which forms a snug retreat for a nest. More care appears to have been bestowed upon their outside, than upon that of the generality of the dwelling houses, for they are painted and ornamented. The extraordinary flights of pigeons which I have seen alight upon one of these buildings afford a good illustration for the passage in Isaiah, "Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?" (ls. Lx. 8.) Their great numbers and the compactness of their mass, literally look like a cloud at a distance, and obscure the sun in their passage." ("A Second Journey Through Persia, Armenia and Asia Minor", p.140-141. Published 1818, London.)

 There are two distinct interpretations of Isaiah 60:8, both of which are expressed in the following Targum. 

From the Chaldee Paraphrase - Isaiah 60:8-9:  "Who are these that are coming openly like swift clouds, and tarry not? the captives of Israel, who are gathered together, come to their land, lo, as doves which return to their dove-houses.  Surely, the isles shall wait for my Word."

The first interpretation is that this verse is describing the culmination of the prophecy concerning the Children of Israel's release from Babylonian captivity. Isaiah, in his vision, beholds the now liberated throng of Israelites returning to their homeland in such great haste that they remind him of a large mass of doves rapidly flying in their migration.

The second interpretation is that this passage is describing events found in the New Testament, namely that of the rapid success of the Apostles in spreading Christianity throughout the Gentile world. From that success, Gentile converts came to Christ in such great numbers that they were metaphorically said to be flocking in cloud-like mass to the redemptive doors of the church.

No matter how this verse is interpreted, one cannot fail to appreciate the striking animation and beauty of  language used to create such  impressive visual imagery.

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Drawing of an Egyptian granary carving showing how the grain was put in. The small doors in the
right corners of a, and b. show how it was intended for the grain to be taken out. (Found at Thebes)
Text:  Genesis 41:48-49  - "And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same. And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number."  (KJV)

Much speculation has been given as to how grain was stored in ancient times, especially the huge quantity as described in the story of Joseph preparing for the  seven yeas of Egyptian famine. In the Bible, the word for corn in Hebrew is bawr and can mean any type of edible grain including corn, wheat, barley, spelt and rye.  It can also have the symbolic meaning of food.

Ancient Egypt produced an abundance of food. The annual flooding of the Nile River created a perfect fertile environment for bountiful crops, especially wheat and barley. Plus, the Egyptian diet included meat, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables and spices, all of which the Egyptians had methods for preserving. The introductory scripture is not only giving an indication of Egypt's vast food wealth (corn as the sand of the sea) but also alluding to the assortment (food in the cities and in the field) that was stored.

In the ancient world, granaries were common. They came in a number of styles and designs; and every group of people built some form of them to store their harvest or food supply. The type of granary adopted by the people usually depended on whether the people were settled or nomadic; meaning how much time did they have to build a storehouse and could that structure become permanent with their lifestyle.

According to early monuments, granaries in Egypt were numerous and show that a number of different styles of storehouses were in use. However, granaries constructed of brick, stucco or rock appear to have been the most popular.

From Rev. James Freeman: "Some of these store-houses were low flat-roofed buildings, divided into rooms or vaults, into which the grain was poured from bags. Similar structures were also used in Palestine. ("Bible Manners and Customs", #81, p. 49. Published 1901, New York.)

From Rev. J.G. Wilkinson: "The (Egyptian) granaries were also apart from the house, and were enclosed within a separate wall." (Customs and Manners of the Ancient Egyptians, Vol 1. Page 372 .)

Dr. John Kitto:
"In the tomb of Amenemhe at Peni Hassan, there is a painting of a great storehouse, before the door of which lies a large heap of grain, already winnowed. The measurer fills a bushel in
order to pour it out into the uniform sacks of those who carry the grain to the granary. The bearers go to the door of the storehouse, and lay down their sacks before an officer, who stands ready to receive the corn. This is the owner of the storehouse. Nearby stands the bushel with which it is measured, and the registrar who takes the account. At the side of the windows there are characters which indicate the quantity of the mass which is deposited in the magazine. From the subjoined (wood)cut it seems that the granaries of Egypt consisted of a series of vaulted chambers; and as the men are engagedin carrying the corn up the steps to the top of these vaults, it is manifest that it -was cast in through an opening at the top, which does not appear in the engraving—just as coal is cast into our cellars from the street." The Pictorial Bible Vol 1, pps. 140-141 (London 1855)

Woodcut. Taking corn to the granary.

Another popular mode of ancient grain storage was the "pit".

From Rev. James Freeman: " It is a very ancient custom in many parts of the East to store grain in large pits or cisterns, dug in the ground for this purpose. In Syria these cisterns are sealed at the top with plaster, and covered with a deep bed of earth to keep out vermin. They are cool and dry and light. [Bible Manners and Customs. P.49 - #81 Granaries. (NewYork 1902)]

 From Dr. Thomas Shaw: "The Moors and Arabs continue to tread out their corn after the primitive custom of the East. After the Grain is trodden out, they winnow it, by throwing it up into the wind with Shovels; lodging it afterwards in Mattamores or subterraneous magazines." (According to Pliny, this was the custom of many nations.) 

I have sometimes seen two or three hundred of them (Mattamores) together; the smallest of which would contain four hundred Bushels." ("Travels or Observations of Barbary and the Levant". P.221-222/ Published 1738,  Oxford.)

Grain was not only an important food and silage source, it was also valuable for trade and might be used as currency in the marketplace. Ancient people went to great lengths to insure the safekeeping of their grain, especially in the time of war. Losing their store of grain and other food supplies to the enemy could mean annihilation by starvation.

 From F.C. J. Spurrell: "(Aulus)Hiritus says that it was the custom of the people of Africa to deposit their corn privately, in vaults underground, to secure it in time of war, and that Cesar having intelligence of this, organized an excursion to Agar (perhaps the modem Souza), and obtained by this means barley, com, oil, and wine." ("Denholes and Artificial Caves with Vertical Entrances".  Archaeological Journal, Vol 39. P.12. Published 1882, London.)

So where does the idea come from that  Egypt's  famous  pyramids were once the storehouse for Josephs' seven years of grain collecting?

Such notable and imaginative authors as Joulius Honoirus (Cosmographis – 4th or 5th century AD), Gregory of Tour's (History of the Frank - 594 AD.), the Irish monk Dicuil (825 AD) all described Joseph's granaries as built of stone --wide at the bottom, narrowing as they went up and containing holes at the top through which grain might be dumped. They associated these grain storehouse with the pyramids.

From John Mandeville:  (14th century traveler).  "I will speak about something else that is beyond Babylon across the Nile River towards the desert between Africa and Egypt: these are Joseph's Granaries, which he had made to store the wheat for hard times. They are made of well-hewn stone. Two of them are amazingly large and tall and the others are not so big. And each granary has an entrance for going inside a little above the ground, for the land has been ravaged and ruined since the granaries were built. 

Inside they are completely full of snakes; and outside on these granaries are many writings in different languages. Some say that they are tombs of the great lords of antiquity, but that is not true....if they were tombs, they would not be empty inside, nor would they have entrances for going inside, nor are tombs ever made of such a large size and such a height—which is why it is not to be believed that they are tombs."  ("The Travels of Sir John Mandeville",
Ch. 8, p 30. First editied 1725.  Published 1900, London.)

However, while the famous burial sites of Egypt's royalty my not be the repositories for Joseph's corn, there is good evidence that a type of pyramid does play a part in the preservation of grain."

"The House of a Great Egyptian Lord". Drawning by Faucher-Gudin from a water color by Broussad, "Le Tombeau d'Anna" in the "Memoires de la Mission Francaise" . The house was situated at Thebes and belonged to the 18th dynasty. The tomb of Anna reproduces in most respects...the appearance of a nobleman's dwelling at all periods. At the side of the main
building we see two corn granaries with conical roofs and a great storehouse for provisions.
("From History of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria" by G. Maspero",
Vol 2, P.103. Published 1903, London.)

The following is an account of subterranean granaries covered by pyramids

 From Louis de Chenier: "After the harvest the Moors used to enclose their corn in subterraneous granaries, which are pits dug in the earth, where the corn is preserved for a considerable time. This custom is very ancient, and ought to be general in all warm countries, inhabited by wandering people. To secure the corn from moisture, they line these pits with straw, in proportion as they fill them, and cover them with the same; when the granary is filled, they cover it with a stone, upon which they put some earth in a pyramidical form, to disperse the water in case of rain." (Translated from the French) [Recherches Historiques, sur les Maures, vol. iii. P. 219. Published 1787, Paris.)

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Palestine women making cheese. (National Geographic March 1914.)
TEXT: 1 Samuel 17:18 "Carry these ten cheeses unto the captain of their thousand, and look how thy brethren fare, and take their pledge."(KJV)

The ancient world had a custom for nearly every occasion. When it came to identity and intent, formalities were carefully observed because the ancients were often suspicions of each other’s motives. This verse is an interesting example of such.
In this passage, Jesse’s older sons are encamped with Saul’s army at Gibeah and the young David is being sent to inquire of their well-being. So that David might be welcomed into the camp and be able to visit with his brothers, Jesse sends a gift of ten cheeses to their chiliarch, the captain in charge of a 1000 men. Cheese was a generous and welcome gift (ancient armies foraged for their food). Such an appropriate gift would demonstrate David’s (Jesse’s) peaceful and friendly intentions of only seeking information. 

Cheese is a very ancient food.  It is believed to have originated about 3000 BC, the approximate time that sheep and goats were being domesticated in Egypt and Sumer. In those hot climates, cheese was the only form in which milk could be stored for any length of time. Cheese was a favorite food item, and the desire for it quickly spread throughout the Arab world. Cheese became a valuable trade item.

To make cheese, the ancients stored milk in containers made from animal skins and inflated internal organs. There it was allowed to sour and turn into curds and whey. The curd part was then strongly salted and pressed into cakes. At first the cakes were soft, but in the hot climate, they quickly dried and became hard, crumbling when sliced. The texture of these cheese cakes was similar to the feta cheese of today.

From John Lewis Burkhart :
  "It may be observed that cheese is not at the present day (1831) common among the Bedouin Arabs, butter being decidedly preferred. But there is a substance closely corresponding to those mentioned in 1 Samuel 17(18) and 2 Samuel 17(29) consisting of coagulated buttermilk, which is dried until it becomes quite hard and is then ground. The Arabs eat it (mixed) with butter." (From Notes on the Bedouins and Wahabys, Vol.1, p. 59-60. Published 1831, London.)

Again, the second half of this verse also shows the same suspicious nature, even among family members to each other. The phrase “take their pledge” is Jesse demanding David bring a personal item or object belonging to each brother that would assure Jesse that each still live and had not fallen in battle. Pledges were something that the receiver could easily recognize as honest proof that fulfilled the inquiry or request.  

Pledges came in many forms. 
From Rev. John Roberts:  "Among the Hindus, a person in a distant country will send to those who are interested in his welfare a ring, a lock of hair, or a piece of his nail, as a 'pledge' of his health and prosperity. ("Oriental Illustrations of the Sacred Scriptures", p.169. London, 1844.)

There are also some notations that give spoils taken in battle as a Pledge. Such booty might be sent home to a wife and children, not only to assure that the husband and father still lived, but to maintain the family living while he was away at war. 

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Erect Egyptian Idols. From the British Museum.
Text: Jeremiah 10:3-4  "For one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers that it move not. (KJV) 

In Hebrew, the word for tree is ates and means a living tree that is firm and of a suitable quality for carving. Ates comes from the primitive Hebrew root word atsah, and it means to fasten or make firm, as in to close or shut the eyes. In this verse, the tree carving being described is the ancient art of making  personal or household gods (idols) out of wood.  

Trees in the ancient Middle East were short and scrubby. An entire tree stock might be used to produce a god.

From Pliny:  In those days (earliest days) all images were of wood. In Italy, down to the conquest of Western Asia in the first half of the second century B.C., most of the images of the gods are said to have been of wood or earthenware (clay). (Natural History, Book XXXIV. 34.)

From  Rev. George Bush: "Before the art of carving was carried to perfection, the ancients made their images all of a thickness, straight, having their hands hanging down and close to their sides, the legs joined together, the eyes shut with a very perpendicular attitude, and not unlike the body of a palm tree; such are the figures of those antique Egyptian statues that still remain." ( Illustrations of the Holy Scriptures, P.493. Published 1850.)

From Sir John Gardner Wilkinson:  
"Long after men had attempted to make out the parts of the figure, statues continued to be very rude; the arms were placed directly down the side to the thighs, and the legs were united together, nor did they pass beyond the imperfect state in Greece until the age of Daedalus (Greek Mythology)." (Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, Vol.3  p. 273; Published 1847.)

Idol trees were chosen according to their durability and longevity. 

From John Gill (Concerning  Isaiah 40:20 - "He chooseth a tree that will not rot.") "He goes to the forest, and chooses the best tree for his purpose he can find, even one that will not rot, as the cypress; and though he cannot get an idol made of metal, but is forced to have one of wood, yet he will get the best he can, that will last longest, an incorruptible deity, as he fancies: ."  (Exposition of the Old Testament; Published 1748-1763.)

Once a tree was obtained, the workman cut, stripped and cleaned the wood in preparation for it to become a life-sized carving. Any deity's likeness might be chosen, but there is reliable evidence that these idols were given human forms and oftentimes bore the features of the new owner or even the workman himself. 

After the carving was completed, the tree idol was decorated according to the wealth and social standing of the new owner. Some gods were merely stained or painted with crude dyes, while others were covered with hand beaten sheets of silver or gold. If the owner was extremely rich, the idol might have loops of silver and gold attached to it, or be embedded with precious gems.  
Once finished, the tree idol could not stand on its own. It had to be nailed to a wooden base, a wall, a post or some other such brace. Where it was then located where all could admire it. 

From Jean Baptiste Tavernier: The idolaters of India have, both in the towns and country parts, a great number of temples, large as well as small, which they call pagodas, where they go to pray to their gods and make offerings ; but many of the poor people who dwell in the forests and mountains, far removed from villages, take a stone, and rudely trace a nose and eyes with yellow or red color upon it, and all the family then worship it. (Travels in India, Volume 2, P. 262; Published 1676.) (1889 Translation from French.) 

From J.G. Wilkinson: " In the early stages of society when gold first began to be used, idols, ornaments, or other objects, were made of the metal in its pure state, till being found too soft, and too easily worn away, an alloy was added to harden it, at the same time that it increased the bulk of the valuable material. As men advanced in experience, they found that the great ductility of gold enabled them to cover substances of all kinds with thin plates of the metal, giving all the effect of the richness and brilliancy they admired in solid gold ornaments; and the gilding of bronze. ("The Ancient Egyptians", P. 234; Published 1837.

Some Biblical scholars believe that the introductory verses, besides their intended spiritual meaning, may also be an historical reference to the use of scarecrows. Mention of scarecrows can also be found in the apocrypha and the LXX.

From the Epistle of Jeremiah 1:70-72: " So we have no evidence whatever that they are gods; therefore do not fear them. Like a scarecrow in a cucumber bed, that guards nothing, so are their gods of wood, overlaid with gold and silver. In the same way, their gods of wood, overlaid with gold and silver, and like a thorn bush in a garden, on which every bird sits; or like a dead body cast out in the darkness.  By the purple and linen that rot upon them you will know that they are not gods…." (Apocrypha/Baruch 6 – Approximately 300BC-100BC.)

One misconception of note concerning the introductory text is that this verse is describing  the earliest use  of a Christmas Tree and the censure of such a practice.  There is absolutely no historical basis for this assumption. 

The best explanation for this verse comes from the companion verses found in Isaiah 40:18-20 (KJV). "To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him? The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains. He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved. "

This passage is God's condemnation against the making and worshiping of false idols. 

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Robe draped about shoulders with the "lap" showing. (Man in red.)
TEXT: Nehemiah 5:13  "Also I shook my lap, and said, 'So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labor, that performeth not this promise, even thus be shaken out, and emptied.'"

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 [218])

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.

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Bronze key that was either used for a door or a box Probably Roman and
dating from 50 BC- 1200 AD. Photo used by permission of the British Museum.
"Text:  Isaiah  22:22  "The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none open." (KJV)

In the ancient world, keys were heavy… both literally and symbolically.  An ordinary key might be as small as six inches or as large as two feet long. Most were made of wood, although, archaeologist have found keys in Egypt made of iron and bronze, and figures of such are frequently found on monument. Assyrian locks and keys, large and made out of wood, have also been found.

In appearance, the keys resembled the skeleton keys of the 1500-1700's, except that they were bent at an odd angle at the pin end.  The pins, sometimes called pegs or nails, were inserted into a hollow bolt (lock), which d released  other pins, which allowed the bolt to be drawn back. Many keys had ornamented handles made of brass or silver filigree, oftentimes with hooks or rings attached. 

Robert Lowth D.D.: Without entering into a long disquisition, and a great deal of obscure learning, concerning the locks and keys of the ancients, it will be sufficient to observe that one sort of key, and that probably the most ancient, was of considerable magnitude; and as to shape very much bent and crooked. Aratus, to give his reader an idea of the form of the constellation, Cassiopeia, compared it to a Key. It must be owned that the passage is very obscure, but the learned  (Pierre Daniel) Huetius 1630-1721 has bestowed a great deal of pains in explaining it.  As found in Manilii, lib. 1:355. ("Isaiah A New Tranlation", p. 127. Published 1778, London.)

Homer, in his odyssey, (XXI. 6), describes the key of Ulysses’ storehouse as a large curvature and  being in the shape of a reap-hook. (Translated by Eustathius, Bishop of Antioch, 320 AD) 

In ancient times, keys were either slung around the shoulders (Hebrew – shekem; meaning on the neck), or hung from the shoulder by way of a knotted kerchief. 

But why carry a key on the shoulder? Keys were a status symbol. A key on the shoulder meant that someone possessed something important enough and valuable enough to be locked up. Eastern merchants were known to make a lavish display of carrying their keys on their shoulders. 

A key on the shoulder might also indicate honor. Those chosen by the king to be the royal key bearer (treasury) held a high position in the court and were due great respect. They were 

But a key two feet long would be difficult to carry and hard to work with. Records indicate that royal key bearers often had servants walk in front of them, carrying the key for them.
Judges 3:25 indicates that it may have taken more than one person to make these keys work. "And they tarried till they were ashamed: and, behold, he opened not the doors of the parlor; therefore they took a key, and opened them: and, behold, their lord was fallen down dead on the earth."

 From Joseph Roberts (1835), recounts this experience: "How much was I delighted when I first saw the people, especially the Moors, going along the streets with each his key on his shoulder. The handle is generally made of brass (though sometimes of silver), and is often nicely worked in a device of filigrane. The way it is carried is to have the corner of a kerchief tied to the ring; the key is then placed on the shoulder, and the kerchief hangs down in front. At other times they have a bunch of large keys, and then they have half on one side of the shoulder, and half on the other. For a man thus to march along with a large key on his shoulder, shows at once that he is a person of consequence. “Raman is in great favor with the Modeliar (headman or chief) for he now carries the key.” “Whose key have you got on your shoulder?” “I shall carry my key on my own shoulder.”’ - (Oriental illustrations of the Sacred Scripture*, P. 424. Published 1835, London.)

Key on the Shoulder is an ancient idiom that means "power" or "authority". The Key represents the authority (access) and the shoulder represents the power (permission) to enforce the authority: One who is allowed access is in control.

In the opening text, Shebna, Hezekiah's treasurer, is warned that Eliakim shall carry "the keys of the house of David. Or, in other words, Eliakim is to replace Shebna as the treasurer. This  
is a figurative way of expressing what is said in the preceding  
verse (21): "I will commit thy government into his hand." The  
expression is partly figurative in that the hand is a symbol of  
power. Therefore, hand and keys together were symbolic of  
great power including wealth and authority.

The idea contained in these passages is also expressed in Isaiah  
9:6, where it is said of the Messiah that "the government shall  
be upon his shoulder." And again Matthew 16:19, when Christ says  
to Peter: "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of  
heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on the earth shall be  
bound in heaven; and whatsoever thus shalt loose on earth shall  
be loosed in heaven."

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