By: Emil G. Hirsch
Ornamental needlework on cloth, more frequently on linen, often executed in variegated colors and designs. Among the Egyptians and Assyro-Babylonians this art was highly developed, and Biblical texts make mention of the fact. The mantle that tempted Achan (Josh. vii. 21, 24) was of Babylonian make, i.e., according to Josephus ("Ant." v. 1, § 10), embroidered in gold. Ezekiel speaks of embroidered byssus from Egypt (Ezek. xxvii. 7). If the chapters of Exodus relating the preparations for the Tabernacle and its erection are contemporaneous with the events narrated, proof is established that the Hebrews at an early period of their history had attained a high degree of skill in the embroiderer's craft. Wilkinson ("Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians," ii. 166) sees adaptations of Egyptian models in the hangings of the Tabernacle (Ex. xxvi. 36, xxvii. 16, xxxvi. 37, xxxviii. 18) and in Aaron's coat and girdle (Ex. xxviii. 39, xxxix. 29). On the other hand, Delitzsch ("Babel und Bibel"), among others, assumes that in this and many other things the Babylonians must be regarded as the teachers of the Hebrews. At all events, in the early days of the Israelitish invasion and occupation of Canaan, embroidered cloth was valuable because rare enough to be coveted as booty in war (Judges v. 30).
In Hebrew three words are employed to connote the craft and the finished product: (1) "Tashbeẓ" and its derivative forms are used exclusively in Exodus (xxviii. 4) in connection with sacerdotal garments (A. V. "broidered"; R. V. "checkered"). The root also occurs in the description of the princess' dress, Ps. xlv. 14, where the R. V. has "inwrought with gold." In the Mishnah the root stands for smoothing and ornamenting wood or metal (Ḥul. 25a, b). (2) "Raḳam" (whence "riḳmah" and "roḳem") means to embroider in colors with the needle; to variegate (Judges v. 30; Ezek. xvi. 10, 13, 18; xxvi. 16; xxvii. 7, 16 [comp. Cornill, "Ezekiel," text]; Ps. xlv. 15). It is used also of the colors of feathers (Ezek. xvii. 3) and of stones(I Chron. xxix. 2). In the Targum the derivative noun stands for colored dots; while in Syriac means "freckles." "Roḳem" is the name of the craftsman (Ex. xxvi. 36), generally associated with (3) "ḥashab" (whence "ḥosheb"; R. V. "the cunning workman"). According to Yoma 72b, "ḥosheb" designates the designer of the colored pattern, which the roḳem followed and executed with the needle. But R. Nehemiah is probably more exact in saying that the roḳem works with the needle, and hence variegates only one side of the fabric; while the ḥosheb is a weaver who works his pattern on both sides (see Ḳimḥi to Judges v. 30; idem, in "Sefer ha-Shorashim," s.v. ; Moore, "Judges," p. 171, with reference to Judges v. 30).
Figuratively, "raḳam" is used both in the Bible (Ps. cxxxix. 15) and in later Hebrew (Yer. Beẓah i. 60a; Lev. R. xxix.; Niddah 24b) for the forming of the embryo, undoubtedly because the veins and arteries give it the appearance of an embroidered pattern.