“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue.”
Through Moses, God commanded the Israelites to dye the tassels on the corners of their garments blue. The secret to making this blue dye appears to have been lost about 500 years after the birth of Christ.
The Hebrew description of the blue that the Israelites were to use on their garments refers to what we today call hyacinthine purple. Researchers searched for the original process for making the dye using clues from the Bible, the Talmud and ancient trade records. Ancient references to the dye go back at least 3,600 years. While the ancients knew how to make this dye, we moderns don’t.
Once researchers identified the correct color, they began to search for its origin. The Talmud says that the dye must be made from the uncontaminated extract from a shellfish. Eventually scientists discovered a species of shellfish, the Murex, that produces the raw material for exactly the color described in the Bible. Their final challenge was to perfect the dyeing method, which one researcher called one of the great industrial secrets of the ancient world.
In our modern technological age, it’s good to be reminded that we are not the only generation to develop sophisticated industrial secrets. This broader perspective helps us to understand claims that ancient man was not so primitive as some today might imagine.
Notes: D. Franklin. “Blue-purple Dye of Antiquity Reborn.” Science News, Vol. 126, p. 148.
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