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Sweat

SWEAT

swet (ze`ah (Genesis 3:19), yeza` (Ezekiel 44:18); hidros (2 Macc 2:26; Luke 22:44)):

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread" (Genesis 3:19). Somewhat difficult is the passage, which the Revised Version (British and American) renders: "But the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok .... shall have linen tires upon their heads, and shall have linen breeches upon their loins; they shall not gird themselves with anything that causeth sweat," literally, "they shall not gird themselves with sweat" (Ezekiel 44:15,18). The idea is evidently that profuse perspiration would make their ministrations unpleasant. The rule was of special importance in the sultry climate of Palestine.

Luke, the physician, describing the agony of the Lord in Gethsemane, says:

"His sweat became as it were great drops (thromboi) of blood falling down upon the ground" (Luke 22:44, the Revised Version (British and American), following Codex Sinaiticus (a), Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Vaticanus etc., notes in margin: "Many ancient authorities omit Luke 22:43,44"). There are two difficulties of interpretation in this passage, apart from the difficulty which the physiological explanation of the phenomenon presents:

(1) the word (thrombos) translated "drop" means literally, "a clot of blood," "a lump," "a curd," and is nowhere else used in the sense of drop.

(2) It has been generally accepted that the sweat of the brow of Jesus had become bloody in appearance and in character, a symptom called in ancient medicine haimatodes hidros, "bloody sweat."

It must, however, be observed that this translation would make the Greek particle hosei, superfluous, by which, not the identity of the sweat with drops of blood, but a certain similarity or comparison must be intended. Ch. Th. Kuinoel, in his Latin commentary on the historical books of the New Testament (Leipzig, 1809, II, 654), has given all known parallel instances in history and legend, which seem to prove that under certain psychological or physiological conditions, though rarely, haimatodes hidros has occurred.

Olshausen in his Commentary, II, 469, thinks that the following points of comparison might have been in the mind of Luke:

(1) the sweat may have appeared on the forehead of Jesus in heavy drops;

(2) these may have dropped visibly to the ground, just as drops of blood fall from a wound;

(3) in addition, possibly a reddish color may have been noticeable, owing to an exudation of the arteries, though the latter is not directly expressed in the words of the evangelist. See also Dr. Stroud, On the Physical Cause of the Death of Christ, 183; Bynaeus, De morte Christi, II, 33.

The people of Palestine in Greek-Roman times were generally provided with handkerchiefs, used especially to wipe off the perspiration. The fashion was derived from Rome, whence the name of these napkins became soudarion, Latin sudarium. The late legend of Berenice or Veronica, who presented her handkerchief to the Saviour on His way to be crucified, and who found, when it had been returned to her by the Lord, that His features had been imprinted upon the cloth, is a reminiscence of this use. These handkerchiefs were frequently used to tie up small bundles of certain possessions, money, etc. (Luke 19:20). As a rule the dead had their faces covered with one, or had it tied around the head (John 11:44; 20:7). In Ephesus the handkerchiefs of Paul were carried to the sick, and achieved miraculous cures (Acts 19:12).

The verb hidroo, "to sweat," is found in a rather difficult passage of the Didache (i.6), which is introduced as a quotation, the source of which, however, we do not know:

"Let thy alms sweat into (in ?) thy hands, until thou knowest to whom thou givest." The context seems to show that we have here a free repetition of the arguments of Sirach 12:1. so that the meaning would be: "In giving charity, do not give indiscriminately or thoughtlessly, but consider carefully so that no one who is unworthy receive your benefaction." Still it is not impossible that the text is corrupt in the passage.

H. L. E. Luering


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'SWEAT'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.