Purple Dye From King David’s Time

Israeli archaeologists find ‘Biblical royal purple dye’ bbc.com

Archaeologists have discovered remnants of a fabric dyed with royal purple from King David’s time. The 3,000-year-old cloth, found in the Arava Desert near the Red Sea, is the first purple fabric found in Israel from that time. The remnant is still a brilliant purple after three millennia. Naama Sukenik of the Israel Antiquities Authority says, “In antiquity, purple attire was associated with the nobility, with priests, and of course with royalty. The gorgeous shade of the purple, the fact that it does not fade, and the difficulty in producing the dye, which is found in minute quantities in the body of mollusks, all made it the most highly valued of the dyes, which often cost more than gold. Until the current discovery, we had only encountered mollusk-shell waste and potsherds with patches of dye, which provided evidence of the purple industry in the Iron Age. Now, for the first time, we have direct evidence of the dyed fabrics themselves, preserved for some 3,000 years” (“Rare Purple Dye,” Israel21c.org, Jan. 31, 2021). The name Phoenicia, referring to the trading empire based on Tyre and Sidon, was coined by the Greeks and means purple. In the book of Maccabees, the dye is called “purple of the sea” because it was made from the murex sea snail by a well-guarded process. When the snail dies, it releases a substance that turns purple. It is said that 10-12,000 of the creatures were needed to produce one gram of dye. It was used to color fabrics for the wealthy and powerful. The children of the Roman emperor were said to be “born in the purple.” The kings of Midean wore “purple raiment” (Jud. 8:26). The rich man of Jesus’ parable was “clothed in purple” (Lu. 16:19). Lydia was “a seller of purple” (Acts 16:14). Ancient Tyre coins depicted the murex shell. Pits for purple dye production and heaps of crushed murex snails were discovered at the ancient Phoenician port of Dor on the coast of Israel. They date to the 4th century BC. Information about this can be seen in the Hamizgaga Museum at Dor. (For a pictorial study of ancient purple see Bible Times & Ancient Kingdoms, 2021 edition, PowerPoint # 12, “Phoenicia.”)

(Friday Church News Notes, May 21, 2021, www.wayoflife.org, fbns@wayoflife.org, 866-295-4143)