Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tekhelet, Snails, and the Midnight Sky

via nytimes

“One of the mysteries that scholars have puzzled over for centuries is the exact shade of blue represented by ‘tekhelet,’ which the Bible mentions as the color of ceremonial robes donned by high priests and ritual prayer tassels worn by the common Israelite.

Though scientists and scholars are still debating the exact shade of the ritual blue, the dye used is modeled after a 2,000-year-old textile, above, and is produced from sea snails found in Israeli waters.

What was known about tekhelet (pronounced t-CHELL-et) was that the Talmud said it was produced from the secretion of the sea snail, which is still found on Israeli beaches. Traditional interpretations have characterized tekhelet as a pure blue, symbolic of the heavens so that Jews would remember God. Not so, according to an Israeli scholar who has a new analysis: tekhelet appears to have been closer to a bluish purple.

The scholar, Zvi C. Koren, a professor specializing in the analytical chemistry of ancient colorants, says he has identified the first known physical sample of tekhelet in a tiny, 2,000-year-old patch of dyed fabric recovered from Masada, King Herod’s Judean Desert fortress, later the site of a mass suicide by Jewish zealots after a long standoff against the Romans.

‘It really is majestic,’ Dr. Koren said of the shade, which he said remained close to its original hue and appeared to be indigo. . . ”

Read the rest here.

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