Christian Churches of God
The Origin of the Wearing of Earrings and Jewellery
in Ancient Times
(Edition 2.0 19970405-20010215-20110511)
This paper is concerned with tracing the origin of earrings and other apparel within ancient Israel and associated civilisations. There are many traditions associated with the use of cosmetics and jewellery generally that deny their legitimate use within Christianity or see in them a non-scriptural basis. Some of the words used concerning earrings in the Bible involve mistranslation in the English and convey an incorrect meaning.
Earrings and Jewellery in Ancient Times
At the time of Christ there was a view held among the sects that the use of make-up and jewellery was of demonic origin. The Ethiopic Book of Enoch states:
8:1 And Azazel taught men to make swords, and daggers, and shields and breastplates. And he showed them the things after these (2v, a5) and the art of making them: bracelets, and ornaments, and the art of making up eyes and of beautifying the eyelids, and the most precious and choice stones, and all (kinds of) coloured dyes. And the world was changed. 8.2 And there was great impiety and much fornication, and they went astray, and all their ways became corrupt (2v, a10). 8.3 Amezarack taught all those who cast spells and cut roots, Amaros the release of spells, and Baraqiel astrologers, and Kokabel portents, and Tamiel taught astrology, and Asradel taught (2v, a15) the path of the moon. 8.4 And at the destruction of men they cried out, and their voice reached heaven.
9.1 And then Michael, Gabriel, Suriel and Uriel looked down from heaven and saw the mass of blood that was being shed on the earth and all the iniquity that was being done (2v, a20) on the earth. 9.2 And they said to one another: ‘Let the devastated earth cry out with the sound of their cries unto the gate of heaven. 9.3 And now to you O holy ones of heaven, the souls of men complain, saying: “Bring our suit before the most high.”’ 9.4 And they said to their Lord, the king: ‘Lord of Lords, God of Gods, King of Kings! Your glorious throne (endures) for all the generations of the world, and your name (is) holy and praised for all the generations of the world, and blessed and praised! (2v, a30). 9.5 You have made everything, and power over everything is yours. And everything is uncovered and open before you, and you see everything and nothing can be hidden from you. 9.6 See then what Azazel has done, how he has taught all iniquity on the earth and revealed the eternal secrets (2v, a35) which were made in heaven. 9.7 And Semyaza has made known spells, (he) to whom you gave authority to rule over those who are with him. 9.8 And they went in to the daughters of men together, and lay with those women, and became unclean, and revealed to them these sins. 9.9 And the women bore giants and the whole earth has been filled (2v, b1) with blood and iniquity (Knibb, Oxford Clarendon, 1982, Vol. 2, pp. 79-86).
The four archangels Michael, Gabriel, Suriel and Uriel approached the God Most High about the iniquity on the earth. Suriel is rendered Raphael in the other texts (e.g. Bodl. 5² 2 MSS; Gr. Sync a, b; cf. Knibb, p. 84). As Raphael means God has healed, it is likely that Suriel is understood as the original name for Raphael.
The Most High God then decided to intervene and destroy the giants through the flood. He sent Arsalalyur to Lamech to warn him about the coming catastrophe and to teach him how he and his offspring may escape (ibid., 10.1-4).
There is no question in the eyes of the Host that God Most High knew all of this in advance and that He acted only when He was petitioned. From this point, God is understood to have announced the coming restoration and from this sequence we see the book work towards the coming of the Son of Man (ibid., pp. 164-165).
The archangel Phanuel is listed with Michael and Gabriel and Raphael as being of the four and Uriel is considered as the leader of these four (ibid., pp. 166-167). Thus, the hierarchy of those at the throne of God who is the Head of Days or the Ancient of Days was understood to be four plus one as we see in Revelation. There are also three categories of the Host named from this source, namely, Seraphim and Cherubim which we have from the Bible and the third is the Ophannim being those who have eternal watch over the throne of His Glory.
We see from this text that it was long ago held that ornaments and cosmetics were the product of the teaching of the fallen Host. This view has been attributed to the text in the New Testament which is found in 1Timothy 2:9-10.
1Timothy 2:9-10 also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire 10 but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. (RSV)
Likewise, the text in 1Peter is used as an example against the use of make-up and jewellery. The injunctions are against the unseemly behaviour and dress of a woman that is of a wrong spirit. Many people who wear no jewellery or make-up do not have the Spirit of God.
1Peter 3:3-6 Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing, 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. 5 So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves and were submissive to their husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are now her children if you do right and let nothing terrify you. (RSV)
This view is one of seemly behaviour and the orderly government of the family and the Church.
It is fairly obvious what the view of the writers of Enoch were in regard to the origin of the mysteries and of the use of jewellery and cosmetics. That view is an advance on the view of the Bible. What, then, was the view or cosmology behind these objects? What did Israel think was involved in the use of ornamentation and cosmetics?
Despite the view of those who would condemn jewellery, the Bible has specific application and uses specific terms that identify what was and what was not permitted. The translations have obscured the true meaning of the texts. Our task is to examine the true meaning of the texts here and to come to an understanding of the various prohibitions in the Bible.
The most important section in this analysis is that on the origin of the wearing of earrings and other jewellery.
The Origin of the Wearing of Earrings and Jewellery
According to the ERE, it is possible that bracelets, anklets and rings may have at one time been amulets and to have participated in the general tendency for amulets to degenerate into ornaments (Regalia, ERE, Vol. 10, p. 637). Certainly, the practice of wearing amulets seems to have originated in the animistic beliefs and practices, which attribute power and influence to the spirit world. This practice has continued over the ages.
Anklet is a word for fetters of the feet. The word in Hebrew appears in three forms: SHD 5178; SHD 2131 in Job 36:8 and SHD 3525 in the Psalms.
5178 is nechosheth meaning copper and hence a coin or fetter or chain and is base because of the comparison with gold or silver.
2131 Ziyqah is dervied from the proposition what leaps forth as a flash of fire or a burning arrow. Hence it is a bond or chain or firebrand or an arrow.
3525 Kebel is from an unused root to twine or braid together and hence a fetter.
In all these senses it is one of bondage or subjection. Isaiah 3:18 refers to them as tinkling ornaments about the feet. They were in common usage all over Palestine and many have been recovered. Most were of heavy bronze flattened on the inside and between 2.5 to 4 inches in diameter and from 2.25 to 2.5 inches wide.
Bullinger says they were also metal crescent shaped discs. However our archaeology has given us these basic types as the numerous types.
This century, small gold earrings were worn by Carbonari and others of Sicily avowedly to ward off the Malocchio or evil eye and, according to the ERE (Vol. 5, Evil Eye, p. 613b):
… our own navvies and showmen wear them for the like purpose, not merely for ornament.
Abraham’s servant gave a ring (translated as earring) to Rebekah when he sought her as a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:22). However, at verse 47 it appears that it was in fact a forehead jewel as it was placed on her face.
It is thus beyond dispute that the patriarchs condoned this use of a forehead jewel.
The first reference to earrings amongst the Hebrew peoples is found at Genesis 35:4 where the association of the earrings of Jacob’s household is made with the strange or foreign gods which were in their land. Jacob was told at Genesis 35:2 to put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean and change your garments. The symbols of these foreign gods appear to have been worn as or on garments. From Genesis 35:4, it is plain that the wearing of earrings was common and that those earrings were part of the strange gods or their symbols which were handed over to Jacob and which he hid by burial under the oak at Schechem. It appears that earrings were symbols of the ancient polytheist practices, which derived from the original Animism of Chaldea and specifically Babylon.
The Bible uses the term ring (Heb. nezem) followed by the term in the ears for earrings at Genesis 35:4 and Exodus 32:2-3.
It appears that Israel reverted to the custom of wearing earrings while in Egypt and, at the time of the giving of the law, they are recorded as being collected by Aaron. He fashioned the golden calf from the earrings which were worn by the wives and sons and daughters (Ex. 32:2). At Exodus 32:4, after making the molten calf he said:
These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
Aaron seems to be referring in the plural to the earrings as symbols of the gods and not only to the calf in the singular as expounded in Nehemiah 9:18 as being this is thy god. The comment is not referred to in Psalm 106:19-21 although in Exodus 32:4 it is definitely in the plural and referring to the past exodus. The meaning is therefore a probable reflective device, whose meaning became lost in later years becoming a perceived error, which may have been corrected by the recorders of Nehemiah. The practice of wearing earring amulets as visible signs appears to have been stamped out at some period and such amulets could only be worn under the garments in secret.
Moses destroyed the calf and dispersed its gold. He appears to have completed the elimination of the collection of this form of amulet, not only by prohibition under the second commandment but also by collecting such decorations and melting them down to construct the Tabernacle (see Ex. 35:22). However, the gold used in the calf was not used for the Tabernacle.
The use of the word earring in the KJV is misleading. Job was given an earring of gold by each of his companions (Job 42:11). However, this appears to be the general term for ring. The word nezem is found at Exodus 35:4 and Judges 8:24-26. The word ring (SHD 5141 nose-ring, earring or jewel) is used at Genesis 24:22,30,47; 35:4; Exodus 32:2-3; Job 42:11; Proverbs 25:12; Hosea 2:15 (cf. Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Earring’, Vol. 2, p. 2).
The term ’âgîyl (SHD 5694), used at Numbers 31:50 and Ezekiel 16:12, refers to a circular shaped ornament, whether a disc or a ring is not clear but is rendered as earring by Strong.
The term lachash (SHD 3908) in Isaiah 3:20 is translated as earring in the KJV and amulet in the RSV (ibid.). It is derived from the concept to whisper and, hence, a prayer in a positive sense and an incantation in the negative. Hence, it becomes then an amulet of the ear or against incantations or as an orator or a prayer. Strong thus defines it as an amulet meaning charmed. The removal of this sort of apparel is as by God’s wrath.
The book of Judith shows that she wore earrings (Judith 10:4) using the Greek word ’enõtia.
A.R.S. Kennedy states in his article Charms and Amulets (ERE, Vol. 3, p. 439) that the recent excavations:
… shows that the ear-rings were regarded as of the nature of charms or amulets. The possession of such articles and the belief in their efficacy which it implied, the Hebrew historian rightly regarded as inconsistent with whole-hearted devotion to Jahweh. In early times, indeed, it may be said that every ornament was an amulet (cf. the Aram. Kedasha, ‘holy thing’ for ear-ring). The venerable custom of wearing jewellery, in short, is believed to be less the custom of female vanity than the result of a desire to secure the various orifices of the body against the entrance of evil spirits (see W R Smith Rel Sem 1894, p. 453 and footnote).
Similarly, nose rings appear to have been to protect the nose from entry of spirits and, from the structure of the original word lehashim, they are shown to have been definitely charms and, judging from the context of the original term in Ecclesiastes 10:11, the original lehashim may have been charms in the form of serpents (ibid.). Isaiah lists the Saharon or little moon or crescent. Those crescent shaped bands are still worn around the necks of camels today and stem from the association with the moon god (as a masculine form in Arabia i.e. Qamar) but the association of the entirety as moon worshipping symbols of the Easter cults seems probable, with earrings being of round shape and, hence, identified with both the moon and the serpent respectively.
It is probable that the association of the crescent with the New Moon is not merely the result of pharisaic mis-interpretation of the true New Moon to keep the traditions but stems in itself from these ancient Chaldean moon and sun worshipping systems. There is no doubt that the crescent is a symbol not of the New Moon but of the moon god Qamar as consort to the sun goddess Shams. This reflects itself in the Ishtar or Easter system.
The significance of a serpent shape in relationship to the ears is reflected in a very ancient Greek legend of a sage who was able to understand the language of birds “having learned it through some serpents whose life he had saved and who, out of gratitude, had cleansed his ears as he slept.” (Frazer, The Golden Bough: A study in Magic and Religion, 3rd Ed., Pt. 1, Vol. I, p. 158). This may well be a reflection to the role ascribed to the fallen Host depicted as serpents in providing forms of knowledge to humans (see M.A. Knibb, The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, ibid.; cf. Gen. 3 et seq.).
Ears were also seen as the means of entry and exit of spirits (Frazer, ibid., Vol. III, p. 31), and also as the seat of intelligence. From these reasons come the necessity to protect the ears by means of ring amulets in the form of serpents or moons. Blood drawn from the ear by piercing may have been used as a ritual penance prior to the conferring of the amulet (see also Frazer, ibid. for the practice of drawing blood from the ears as a penance). Similarly, for the Hebrew, the ears were as a means of experiencing God as a form of understanding or comprehension, viz. Hear O Israel etc., and this is directly contrary to the concept of vision in the mystery cults.
The concept of a single earring in one ear showing availability in the modern sense seems to be a corruption of a Pacific Island custom relating to flowers or a perception thereof and is related to the perversion of homosexuality.
The differentiation between males and females wearing earrings appears to have occurred from an early date as Frazer refers to the practice of a woman’s bracelet and earrings being worn by a man who had been stung by a scorpion as some sort of healing talisman.
Similarly, women’s apparel is worn by men in some animist cultures as a protection against being recognised by evil spirits and among Shamans or medicine men of some South East Asian tribes. Transvestite behaviour is manifested by some prominent medicine men in Shamanism.
The wearing of the dress of the opposite sex is forbidden by the Bible as an abomination and may well stem from the suppression of animistic practices. The practice of wearing earrings seems certainly to derive from them.
The practice of wearing amulets among the Hebrews appears to have had to be suppressed and thereby removed from open display on areas such as the ears and nose and were placed under the garments by the superstitious to hide them from public view. Kennedy refers to the practice of wearing amulets as protection in battle, but hidden under the garments (ibid.). Some soldiers of Judas Maccabaeus who were killed in battle, were afterwards found to have worn under their garments sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear, and it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen (2Macc. 12:40 RSV).
Indian Examples of the Origins
The clearest example of the original intention as an animistic fetish is found in the practice of the Kanphata Yogis of India, a sub-sect of Saiva ascetics named from the practice of splitting their ears and placing a large earring made of agate, horn or glass, about two and a quarter ounces in weight, in the ear as a symbol of their initiation. The Kanphatas of Bombay and Belgaum carry a trident as a symbol of the god Siva whom they worship. The most depraved are the hill Kanphatas who follow Tantric rituals and indulge in the orgies of the left handed Sakta cult. They are generally regarded as soothsayers and sorcerers (L.P. Tessitori, Yogis (Kanphata), ERE, Vol. 12, p. 835).
The Wrong Use of Cosmetics in the Bible
The earliest condemnation of cosmetics as a face adornment is associated with Jezebel where she adorned the eyes and eyelids.
2Kings 9:30 When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jez'ebel heard of it; and she painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window. (RSV)
It is condemned here by association, because Jezebel was notorious in the worship of Baal.
Jeremiah uses the concept of Israel as an adulterous woman and the use of eye make-up and face paint is found in that context.
Jeremiah 4:30 And you, O desolate one, what do you mean that you dress in scarlet, that you deck yourself with ornaments of gold, that you enlarge your eyes with paint? In vain you beautify yourself. Your lovers despise you; they seek your life. (RSV)
The same concept appears in Ezekiel.
Ezekiel 23:40 They even sent for men to come from far, to whom a messenger was sent, and lo, they came. For them you bathed yourself, painted your eyes, and decked yourself with ornaments; (RSV)
Here again, Israel was an adulterous woman. Ezekiel condemns the idolatry and harlotry of Israel.
It could be argued that this is the process adopted by an adulterous woman, but not all women who use make-up do so in this context. Indeed, that is the basis of its defence. The anti-make-up lobby would say that it is only used in ancient Israel by these people. There is no doubt that its creation was held by some sects to be a creation of the demons as we see from the book of Enoch. However, such a view does not appear to be general.
The use of ointments and spices and dressings was common and, indeed, used of Christ on more than one occasion. Apothecary or chemists were evident from the time of the Exodus and the anointing oils were made of myrrh (a gum of Arabian thorny shrubs), cinnamon, calamus (Indian lemon grass), cassia (the bark of a form of Indian cinnamon) and olive oil.
The other item used was a perfume as made by the apothecary, which was the anointing oil. It was made of stacte, onycha and galbanum combined by weight with that of frankincense and this became holy. Anyone who made perfumes in the combination of these two forms was to be cut off from the people. Thus, these ingredients could be used by the people in singular or other compounds. Only in the formula of the temple compounds was it not permitted. It was to be placed before the tabernacle of the congregation (Ex. 30:22-38).
There is thus no doubt that anointing oils and perfumes were permitted in ancient Israel. Not only were they permitted but also they were used directly in and for the ritual of the Temple as holy objects. The distinction was that the special compounds used in the Tabernacle were not to be used for everyday purposes. The sons of the priests made these holy ointments and perfumes (1Chron. 9:30).
Hezekiah had a store of these ointments and precious spices for general use in his treasury before the captivity (2Kgs. 20:13; Isa. 39:2).
Proverbs 27:9 says ointment and spices rejoice the heart. Christ had such ointment poured upon him (Mat. 26:7ff.).
There can thus be no condemnation involved in the use of such items in the daily life of the people (Eccl. 9:8).
The wearing of earrings is, along with the animistic origins of the Saiva and other Indo-Aryan religions, of great antiquity. There seems little doubt that the wearing of earrings by men, as well as women, was originally, amongst the Indo-Europeans, of an adherence to animistic or idolatrous practice involving elements of Chaldean theology, which spread both east and west. It was forbidden by a simple analysis of Genesis 35:4. Despite its eradication by Jacob, the wearing of earrings appears to have crept back into use during the Egyptian captivity. The cessation of the practice with Moses appears to have lasted for an indeterminate period with amulets in general going underground or, more correctly, under garment. Most of the Anglo-Saxon people no longer understand the origin of the practice.
The wearing of jewellery generally appears to have stemmed from the same practice as that of earrings – namely, as amulets against the spirits, and the serpent amulet was the most prominent form. This was associated with the crescent moon or the whole rounded form as a circle.
The crescent moon was not associated with the simple determination of the calendar from tradition and away from the true New Moon (the conjunction) but is the symbolic representation of the moon god Qamar of the Middle Eastern systems. His form is generally represented by the crescent.
The view of cosmetics among the early sects was that it was an art taught by Azazel or Satan at the rebellion of the Host. The Bible has no specific injunction against the use of preventative cosmetics or to oils and unguents or spices in that role. The attitude to attire is an appeal to sober and modest dress, being decorated by good deeds. The painting of the eyes seems to have been associated with false worship and adulterous behaviour. Once again, the fault seems to have been in the presentation and the attitude behind the fact.
The use of charms and amulets is forbidden and is associated with idolatry. In this way, decorative items of dress are restricted and amulets or such ornamentation is forbidden.
This use seems to be associated with a mindset that degenerates into idolatry or stems from it and hence the social degradation we see described by Paul in Romans 1 following on from idolatry.
The dress of a Christian is to be seemly and without suggestion of association with these idolatrous practices or with superstition generally.
Women and men are not to wear the apparel of the other and their behaviour is to be seemly.
God declares that He adorned His chosen Jerusalem.
Ezekiel 16:8-22 "When I passed by you again and looked upon you, behold, you were at the age for love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yea, I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord GOD, and you became mine. 9 Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you, and anointed you with oil. 10 I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with leather, I swathed you in fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 And I decked you with ornaments, and put bracelets on your arms, and a chain on your neck. 12 And I put a ring on your nose, and earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head. 13 Thus you were decked with gold and silver; and your raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and embroidered cloth; you ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful, and came to regal estate. 14 And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor which I had bestowed upon you, says the Lord GOD. 15 "But you trusted in your beauty, and played the harlot because of your renown, and lavished your harlotries on any passer-by. 16 You took some of your garments, and made for yourself gaily decked shrines, and on them played the harlot; the like has never been, nor ever shall be. 17 You also took your fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the harlot; 18 and you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. 19 Also my bread which I gave you -- I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey -- you set before them for a pleasing odor, says the Lord GOD. 20 And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter 21 that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them? 22 And in all your abominations and your harlotries you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, weltering in your blood. (RSV)
God adorned Jerusalem and, symbolically, all of the elect. Jerusalem turned away from God and became apostate even though they were adorned by God with the jewellery and apparel that was symbolic of the gods to which the nations turned. They fell to an even worse state than Samaria and Sodom had before them. Yet God will restore all of these systems under His new covenant (Ezek. 16:55-63). It is our task to remember the spiritual adornments that have been given to us by God and not to be concerned with the physical or material substance as is this world.