There are a lot of myths surrounding the way that the Israelites dressed when Deu. 22:5 was written. My experience is that most people assume that the Israelites wore robes. Many seminary graduates and authors of non-scholarly commentaries (I.e., study Bibles, devotional commentaries, etc) will also refer to the Israelites wearing robes.
But what did the Israelites really wear? It seems that people have a vague impression that everyone in ancient times wore robes. Combine that with images of Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments and you’ve got a recipe for myth being repeated as fact.
In this article I will present two citations from Nelson’s new illustrated Bible manners & customs : How the people of the Bible really lived. This is one of the best reference books available on biblical customs in my opinion.
Citation 1: How the Israelites dressed in Egypt
“Women during the Middle Kingdom [Joseph’s time period] and Empire periods [the time of the Exodus] commonly wore a long, white close-fitting dress (a sheath) held up with wide shoulder straps and extending to the ankles. Sometimes they covered their breasts and sometimes they did not. Surviving dresses show that the dresses were more baggy than the artists portray them. During the Empire the sheath dress became an undergarment. Over this, women wore a pleated, fringed robe consisting of a single piece of cloth, gathered around the waist and with the two top corners pulled over the shoulders and knotted under the breasts. Within this generalization, individuality was achieved with distinctive lines, embroidery, lace, and other decoration.
Servant girls usually wore only a skirt or apron while working. Dancing girls, musicians, singers and young waitresses commonly wore nothing but some jewelry.”1
Citation 2: How the Israelites dressed in the Wilderness
“As to styles, all we know for certain is the clothing of the priests and the high priest, as described above. The rest of the people would have dressed much as they did while in Egypt. In fact, as noted, they came from Egypt in Egyptian garb. What appears on the subject in the last chapter [the first paragraph that I cited] should be reviewed. Since it is very hot in the Sinai during the day, presumably men often wore only linen kilts and women full-length, light weight, loose-fitting dresses. But it gets cold in the Sinai at night and the people needed something to keep them warm. Therefore it may be assumed that men and women owned long cloaks to wear at night or in high altitudes or to use as a blanket. Cloaks served as blankets at night even in New Testament Palestine.”2
I hope that these citations prove helpful to people who are studying Deu. 22:5 and the meaning of “men’s apparel.” If you are studying the “pants” issue then you might also be interested in two other articles I have written about this subject:
- Vos, H. F. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible manners & customs : How the people of the Bible really lived (66). Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson Publishers. [↩]
- Vos, H. F. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible manners & customs : How the people of the Bible really lived (103). Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson Publishers. [↩]