Basically, scientists confirmed that a piece of fabric, nearly 2,000 years old, found near the Dead Sea contains tekhelet.
What is tekhelet?
Well, it's a blue dye worn by the high priests. It was also used in fabrics adorning the Tabernacle and the tzitzit, the tassels attached to the four corners of the tallit, the Hebrew prayer shawl.
Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”The Talmud gives specifics about where this blue dye might be found and that it cannot come from imposters, such as other snails, plants and chemicals. I'm not a huge wikipedia fan but I'm going to share what it says from the Talmud as it is broken down and easier to understand than directly from the Talmud.
In the Talmud, Tractate Menachot 44a, the ḥillazon is described as follows:
Other criteria (with Talmudic references):
- Its body is similar to the sea.
- Its form is like a fish.
- It comes up once in 70 years,
- With its "blood" one dyes tekhelet,
- Therefore: It is expensive.
- The fishers of the ḥillazon are from Haifa to the ladder of Tyre (Shabbat 26a)
- The color of the ḥillazon dye is identical to that produced from the dye of the kela ilan plant (Indigofera tinctoria, a source of the indigo dye), which served as a counterfeit source of the dye (Baba Metzia 61b)
- Cracking open the shell of the ḥillazon on Shabbat violates the laws of Shabbat (Shabbat 75a)
- The shell of the ḥillazon grows together with it (Midrash, Song of Songs Rabbah 4:11)
- It is an invertebrate (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 1:38a)
For over 1300 years the mystery has been lost, but the latest discovery depicted in the articles above solidifies what many thought; that this rare blue dye comes from the murex snail. It also seems the murex is the only living creature this dye can come from.
|Banded Dye-Murex, Hexaplex (Trunculariopsis) trunculus (Linnaeus, 1758), Family: Muricidae, Location: Croatia, Istria, Porec, Lanterna Photo Credit: H. Krisp|
This is exciting for many reasons. One, from a Jewish standpoint, of which I am not, it helps signify the return of a part of their culture thought lost. Many believe their Messiah will not come for them until certain things are in place, this holy blue dye is one of them.
For me, an archaeological wanna-be-geek, this is exciting because it helps shed some light on ancient dying processes for tzitzit and for the high priest clothing. What is really cool is that the murex's dye is actually purple, but through trial and error it was discovered how to change it into the beautiful blue of the tassels; sunlight!
If you have time, and you're interested, the following three videos shed some light on tekhelet. If you don't have time to watch all the videos, part II is particularly interesting as it covers extraction, color changes, carding, and the beginning stages of spinning and weaving.
I hope you enjoyed this post and the videos.