Although weaving was one of the most important and best developed of the crafts of Bible times, yet we have but few Biblical references to enlighten us as to the processes used in those early days. A knowledge of the technique of weaving is necessary, however, if we are to understand some of the Biblical incidents. The principle of weaving in all ages is illustrated by the process of darning. The hole to be darned is laid over with parallel threads which correspond to the "warp" (shethi) of a woven fabric. Then, by means of a darning needle which takes the place of the shuttle in the loom, other threads are interlaced back and forth at right angles to the first set of strands. This second set corresponds to the woof (`erebh) or weft of woven cloth. The result is a web of threads across the hole. If the warp threads, instead of being attached to the edges of a fabric, are fastened to two beams which can be stretched either on a frame or on the ground, and the woof is interlaced exactly as in darning, the result will be a web of cloth. The process is then called weaving ('aragh), and the apparatus a loom. The most up-to-date loom of our modern mills differs from the above only in the devices for accelerating the process. The first of these improvements dates back some 5,000 years to the early Egyptians, who discovered what is technically known as shedding, i.e. dividing the warp into two sets of threads, every other thread being lifted so that the woof can run between, as is shown in the diagram of the Arabic loom.of considerable means (Mark 1:19,20; John 19:27).
The looms are still commonly used among the Bedouins. Supppose only eight threads are used for an illustration. In reality the eight strands are made by passing one continuous thread back and forth between the two poles which are held apart by stakes driven into the ground. The even strands run through loops of string attached to a rod, and from there under a beam to the pole. By placing the ends upon stones, or by suspending it on loops, the even threads are raised above the odd threads, thus forming a shed through which the weft can be passed. The separating of odds and evens is assisted by a flat board of wedge-shaped cross-section, which is turned at right angles to the odd threads. After the shuttle has been passed across, this same stick is used to beat up the weft.
The threads are removed from the stones or loops, and allowed to lie loosely on the warp; it is pulled forward toward the weaver and raised on the stones in the position previously occupied by it. The flat spreader is passed through the new shed in which the odd threads are now above and the even threads below. The weft is run through and is beaten into place with the thin edge of it. The shuttle commonly used is a straight tree branch on which the thread is loosely wound "kite-string" fashion.
The loom used by Delilah was no doubt like the one described above (Judges 16:13,14). It would have been an easy matter for her to run in Samson's locks as strands of the weft while he lay sleeping on the ground near the loom adjacent to rod under the beam. The passage might be transposed thus:
"And he said unto her, If thou weavest the seven locks of my head into the web. And she passed in his locks and beat them up with the batten (yathedh), and said unto him, The Philistines are upon thee, Samson. And he awakened out of his sleep and as he jumped up he pulled away the pins of the loom."
The counterpart of the Bedouin loom is shown on the ancient tombs at Beni Chasan (see EB, 5279, or Wilkinson, I, 317). As Dr. Kennedy points out, the artist of that ancient picture has unwittingly reversed the order of the beams. The shedding beam, of the two, should be nearer the weaver. At what period the crude shedding device described above was replaced by a double set of loops worked by pedals is unknown. Some writers believe that the Jews were acquainted with it. The "flying shuttle" of the modern loom is probably a comparatively recent invention.
The products of the Bedouin looms are coarse in texture. Such passages as Exodus 35:35; Isaiah 19:9, and examples of ancient weaving, lead us to believe that in Bible times contemporaneous with the primitive loom were more highly developed machines, just as in the cities of Egypt and Palestine today, alongside of the crude Bedouin loom, are found the more intricate hand looms on which are produced the most delicate fabrics possible to the weaver's article. Examples of cloth comparing favorably with our best grades of muslin have been found among the Egyptian mummy wrappings.
Two other forms of looms have been used for weaving, in both of which the warp is upright. In one type the strands of the warp, singly or in bundles, are suspended from a beam and held taut by numerous small weights made of stones or pottery. Dr. Bliss found at Tel el-Chesy collections of weights, sometimes 60 or more together, individual examples of which showed marks where cords had been attached to them. These he assumed were weavers' weights (see A Mound of Many Cities). In this form the weaving was necessarily from top to bottom.
The second type of upright loom is still used in some parts of Syria, especially for weaving coarse goat's hair cloth. In this form the warp is attached to the lower beam and passes vertically upward over another beam and thence to a wall where it is gathered in a rope and tied to a peg, or it is held taut by heavy stone weights. The manipulation is much the same as in the primitive loom, except that the weft is beaten up with an iron comb. The web is wound up on the lower beam as it is woven (compare Isaiah 38:12).
Patterns are woven into the web
(1) by making the warp threads of different colors,
(2) by alternating colors in the weft,
(3) by a combination of (1) and (2); this produces checked work (shibbets, Exodus 28:39 the Revised Version (British and American));
(4) by running special weft threads through only a portion of the warp. This requires much skill and is probably the kind of weaving referred to in Exodus 26:1; Ezekiel 16:13; 27:16;
(5) when metals are to be woven, they are rolled thin, cut into narrow strips, wound in spirals about threads of cotton or linen (compare Exodus 28:5; 39:3). In all these kinds of weaving the Syrian weavers of today are very skillful. If a cylindrical web is referred to in John 19:23, then Jesus' tunic must have been woven with two sets of warp threads on an upright loom so arranged that the weft could be passed first through one shed and then around to the other side and back through the shed of the second set.
Goliath's spear was compared in thickness to that of the weaver's beam, i.e. 2 inches to 2 1/2 inches in diameter (1 Samuel 17:7; 2 Samuel 21:19; 1 Chronicles 11:23; 20:5).
In Job 7:6, if "shuttle" is the right rendering for 'eregh, the reference is to the rapidity with which the thread of the shuttle is used up, as the second part of the verse indicates.
For a very full discussion of the terms employed see A. R. S. Kennedy in EB, IV, 5276-90.
James A. Patch