This whole section is really….just a blueprint. Of all the laws enumerated so far, this seems a rather excessive amount of time to spend on what are essentially construction diagrams, but I’m trying to go with it.
Since I know pretty much nothing about construction, we’re going to talk here — and I bet you’re totally shocked by this — textiles!
God apparently has some firm ideas about fabric here. Now, that’s my kind of deity.
I seriously found this part very fascinating, because it says a lot about the high value and rarity of materials that are required for the construction of the tabernacle.
So, let’s start with the raw materials. Yarn and linen are both mentioned; based on that I’m going to take a (very) small leap and assume that yarn = wool. I don’t know the original Hebrew (Nancy, you may care to weigh in?) but I do know that historically yarn and wool have been used interchangeably in many cultures. British English still does, though in the reverse (wool referring to all yarns, regardless of fiber). Presumably, being shepherds, this would have been a common material. Linen was also grown and used in that region, particularly in Egypt where it was the dominant textile for some time.
But, here’s the thing about textiles: they take a lot to produce. Linen requires extensive preparation to spin, much more than fleece. Then you have to spin the fibers, which at the time would have been done on a drop spindle. If you’ve never spun on a drop spindle, let me tell you something about it — it takes a long freakin’ time. Then once the yarn (of both wool and linen varieties) is spun and plied, it has to be woven. Which is probably the quickest step of this whole process, but creating large pieces of material requires either very large looms (the Egyptians had looms that allowed multiple women to weave simultaneously) or sewing pieces together.
Bear in mind that all of this is in addition to the day-to-day work of producing clothing for the community, which is just as labor-intensive.
Then we come to the next bit here, which are the dyes. The colors specified are blue, purple and crimson. My footnotes here indicate that these dyes are costly and highly prized which is kind of an understatement I think.
So, there are some colors that are found more naturally in dying than others. These colors? Not so common. Of the three, crimson would be the most common, found in henna or madder. But these dyes are water soluble, and require the addition of a mordant like alum to be set. Then we have blue, which would only have come from indigo. Then there’s purple, the most rare and highly prized dye. The source of purple dye was a mollusk, each one of which only produced a tiny, tiny amount of dye. So these colors were not only rare, they would have been difficult to obtain.
So all that’s well and good, but we’re not done yet. Cherubim shall be skillfully worked into the cloth. Since embroidery is mentioned later, I’m going to assume this means woven in. Weaving can be simple or it can be complex and from my incredibly limited experience (note to self: use loom more) pictures are about as complicated as it gets. The embroidery isn’t going to be a picnic either, given the size of these pieces of cloth.
So all that long-windedness is to say, these add up to some very complex pieces of material. It’s also worth noting that these would have undoubtedly been produced by the women of the tribe. Textile arts were the domain of women, from spinning to weaving to embroidery.
What really stand out to me in all this, though, is the additional time. Producing textiles by hand takes an enormous amount of work — women would have been doing things like spinning nearly constantly. (Unlike a wheel, you can use a drop spindle while walking or riding a donkey. No idle hands, indeed.) The simple fact is, that this would have been an enormous burden on top of the daily work of producing clothes.
So I wonder, then, what this says to me about this section. Does this mean there was a surplus of resources that allowed for some degree of specialization? That these were a people so blessed that they could have some women whose daily needs were provided for by others, and who had time to devote to this work? Does it mean that they did not, and that this undertaking would have weighed as a burden on them? Would the sheer laboring be, in fact, part of the process? Would there have been thoughts of devotion on their mind as they spun, wove and stitched? What did women think as they did this work?