Purple fabric dyed from Murex found in Judean desert

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced last week the discovery of two pieces of fabrics found at Wadi Murabba’at on the western shore of the Dead Sea.

Thousands of fabrics dating to the Roman period have been discovered in the Judean Desert and regions of the Negev and the ‘Arava. So far only two were colored with dye extracted from the murex snail. Now, within the framework of a study conducted by Dr. Na‘ama Sukenik of the Israel Antiquities Authority, three other rare fabrics belonging to pieces of prestigious textiles were exposed that might have been used as clothing in the Roman period. …

These prestigious textiles, from the Wadi Murabba‘at caves located south of Qumran, were revealed in a study that analysis the dye of 180 textiles specimens from the Judean Desert caves. Among the many textiles, most of which were dyed using substances derived from plants, were two purple-bordeaux colored textiles – parts of tunics that were double dyed utilizing two of the most expensive materials in antiquity: Murex trunculus (Hexaplex trunculus) and American Cochineal insect.

Purple fabric discovered at Wadi Murabba'at at caves south of Qumran. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Purple fabric discovered at Wadi Murabba’at at caves south of Qumran. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The valuation of the Murex purple in the ancient world is explained.

Of all of the dyes that were in use, purple is considered the most prestigious color of the earlier periods; however it seems the public’s fondness for this reached its peak in the Hellenistic-Roman period. The purple dyed fabrics attested to the prestige of the garment and the social status of its owner. There were times when the masses were forbidden from dressing in purple clothing, which was reserved for only the emperor and his family. These measures only served to increase the popularity of that color, the price of which soared and was equal to that of gold.

The photo below shows two Murex shells that I collected at the ruins of the ancient Phoenician site of Tyre.

Murex shells from Tyre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Murex shells from Tyre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Purple is mentioned in several New Testament texts. Notice these:

  • A rich man who habitually dressed in purple and fine linen (Luke 16:19).
  • Jesus was dressed in a purple garment to make him look like a king (Mark 15:17).
  • Purple was one of the products commonly traded and transported in the Roman Empire (Revelation 18:12).

If you are interested in more information about the Murex and the color Purple put the word Murex in the search box. You should locate six posts on this topic.

For the purple made from the madder root sold by Lydia (Acts 16:14), see here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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