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Biblical ‘royal purple’ (argaman) found at Timna valley offers a look at King David wardrobe

Wool fibers dyed with Royal Purple,~1000 BCE, Excavations in Timna Valley, Israel.


The color, a bright shade of purple, was extracted from mollusks fished in the Mediterranean Sea through a very expensive process.

The special purple described in the Bible and wore by the kings of Israel, including David and Solomon, was recently identified on 3,000 year-old fragments of fabrics unearthed at the iconic site of Timna in the Negev. Scholars believe Timna was part of the biblical Kingdom of Edom.

“King Solomon made for himself the carriage; he made it of wood from Lebanon. Its posts he made of silver, its base of gold. Its seat was upholstered with purple, its interior inlaid with love” Song of Songs (chapter 3).

Jesus is also described in Christian sources wearing the same color. The royal purple, sometimes also called scarlet – “argaman” – was considered a status symbol of the elites in ancient societies in southern Levant and in the area of Judea.

“They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him.” Mark 15:17

“After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him.” Mark 15:20

“And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him.” John 19:2

“Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold, the Man!” John 19:5

“We have been working on this project for several years,” Dr. Naama Sukenik from the Israel Antiquities Authority explained to The Jerusalem Post. “This study is very important for several reasons. First of all, remains carrying this color so often described in the Bible are rare, and this is the first time that we uncovered some dating back to the Iron Age.”

Because of the organic nature of the artifact uncovered, the scholars were able to perform the radiocarbon dating, which confirmed that the artifacts dated back to approximately 1000 BCE, the time when most scholars believe that King David and King Solomon lived.

The color, a bright shade of purple, was extracted from mollusks fished in the Mediterranean Sea through a very expensive process. In the past, archaeologists had uncovered traces of production, such as empty shells and potsherds.

Scholars believe that three species were employed: the Banded Dye-Murex (Hexaplex trunculus), the Spiny Dye-Murex (Bolinus brandaris) and the Red-Mouthed Rock-Shell (Stramonita haemastoma).

A similar process was used also to obtain another color often mentioned in the Bible, azure (“tehelet”). The two colors were manufactured by exposing the raw materials to different shades of light.

Carrying out the new study, researchers worked to recreate the procedure to obtain the color, cracking mollusks to remove the raw material from the dye glands and performing hundreds of attempts.

“The Edomite Kingdom was a kingdom of nomads in the early Iron Age,” he pointed out, adding that uncovering evidence that a nomadic kingdom at the time of King David could constitute a stratified and wealthy society can have important repercussions also in understanding what was happening in Jerusalem and in supporting the biblical narrative.

“We know that the Tribes of Israel were originally nomadic and that the process of settlement was gradual and prolonged. Archaeologists are looking for King David’s palace. However, David may not have expressed his wealth in splendid buildings, but with objects more suited to a nomadic heritage such as textiles and artifacts,” he pointed out.

“It is wrong to assume that if no grand buildings and fortresses have been found, then biblical descriptions of the United Monarchy in Jerusalem must be literary fiction.”

From an article in The Jerusalem Post newspaper Read the rest of the article here

What a great discovery, new findings every day, and we are here to bring them all to you !

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