A. History of Tekhelet-dyeing in Israel; Centres of Production

The history of Tekhelet-dyeing in Israel is buried in obscurity. Tradition singles out the territory of Zebulun as the centre of purple production in Palestine. “Zebulun complained before the Holy One. Blessed be He, ‘O Lord of the Universe, unto my brothers Thou hast given fields and vineyards, but unto me Thou hast given mountains and hills; unto my brothers Thou has given lands but unto me Thou hast given seas and rivers.’ God answered him: ‘They will all stand in need of you because of the hillazon‘: for it is said “They will call the tribes unto the mountains.., for they will suck the abundance of the seas and the treasures hid in the sand.”1 R. Joseph taught “Sephunei refers to the hillazon,”2 etc.

King David in specifying the various materials prepared by him for the future temple, makes no mention of Tekhelet or Argaman.3

This circumstance tends to show that the production of purple was a home-industry in Davidic times, so that there was no need to store the article in providing for the requirements of the projected sanctuary. It is scarcely necessary to add that the inference has its roots solely in the authority of the Chronicler, the value of which is greatly deprecated by the critical schools of modern Bible exegesis. But even upon the critical view, it would, I think, not improbably follow that at least in the Chronicler’s age the manufacturing of Tekhelet and Argaman was practised on the Palestinian coasts.

The occurrence of Tekhelet and Argaman in the enumeration of the articles of value sent by Hezekijah to Senaherib is hardly relevant here.

A baraitha reported by Rab Joseph4 interprets part of Jeremiah5, as meaning that Nebuzradan left some of the poorest people of the land to engage in the fishing of the hillazon on the coast extending from the Ladder of Tyre to Haifa. This would point to that stretch of country as the home of Jewish purple manufacture.

A baraitha6 speaks of the Hittite city Luz as the centre of Tekhelet production par excellence.

With reference to Judges7 the baraitha states: “This is the same Luz where Tekhelet is (or was) dyed; it is the same Luz whose inhabitants Senaherib did not (or could not) deport; which Nebukadnesar did not (or could not) destroy; nor dare even the Angel of Death pass through it, but its old men and women when they have grown weary of life go out of the city walls and die, etc…” The context gives the impression that the very site of Luz was no longer known when that baraitha originated.

It is interesting to compare the Aggadah asserting that the resurrection of the body will begin with the spinal bone “luz” as its starting point.8 It is hard to determine the exact relation of the two Aggadoth.

Sanhedrin 12a also alludes to Luz as preeminent in Tekhelet manufacture. “A pair came from Reket, carrying in their hands things made at Luz – i.e., Tekhelet, etc…” This close association of Luz with Tekhelet does not seem to me explicable except on the supposition that there existed an old tradition connecting the discovery of Tekhelet-dyeing with a city, of the name of Luz. This may well have been a city in the vicinity of the Syrian coast, belonging to the great Hittite empire in Northern Syria. The allusion, however, in Sanhedrin 12a hardly proves that down to the date of that missive (c. second quarter of the 4th century C.E.) Luz retained its position as mistress of the art of Tekhelet dyeing. The baraitha (n. 378), just noted, indicates that already in the Tanaitic age Luz passed for a sort of terrestrial Paradise, a forbidden city to the Angel of Death.

As purple dyeing was probably confined, at least in the main, to the coasts, it is very unlikely that Jerusalem ever harboured a dye-house of Tekhelet and Argaman of which the Temple made considerable use. The Tosephta9 states that planting, ploughing and sowing were prohibited within the city area in Jerusalem. The reason as stated in Baba Kama 82b, was that the manuring of the ground, which these operations would necessitate, might be productive of a bad smell in the Holy City.

That no provision was made against the establishment of purple dye-houses on a similar ground proves nothing, if purple dyeing was, as seems probable, mostly limited to coasts. This perhaps affords a point against Schmidt’s view that the production of purple was exercised to a considerable extent in inland localities far removed from the sea.10 Against this however should be weighed the consideration that if the manufacturing of purple really produced a very offensive smell its establishment would not be permitted within a certain area from the boundaries of any Palestinian city, not only Jerusalem.11

Geographia Graeca12 names Sarepta Caesarea, Neapolis and Lydda as purple supplying cities, thus indicating that the industry covered an area comprising the coasts of Syro-Phoenicia, Galilee, Samaria and Judaea. Migdal Sabaja in the neighborhood of Lydda (Lud) would also seem to have contained an important purple market.13



  1.   Deut. ch. 33, v.19.
  2. Megillah 6a. Compare: Sifre, Deut. ch. 33, v.29; and Targum Jonathan, ib.
    ויאחרון חלזונים ויצבעון בים דמיה תכלת לחוטי גוליתיחון
  3. I Chron. ch. 29; cf. ib. II, ch. 2, vs.213-6-; chs. 3, v.l4. cf. also ib. I, ch. 29, v.26 with Exod. ch. 25, vs.3-4-7.
  4. 26 שבתa.
  5. Jerem., ch. 52, v.16.
  6. Sotah 46b.
  7. Judges, bk. I, ch. 26.
  8. Cf. בראשית רבה; Cf. תוספות בבא קמא ט״ז ד״ה והוא
  9. Tosephta, Negaim, ch. VI.
  10. See: Dedekind, Beitrag I, pp. 179, 899.
  11. See: Baba Bathra, 25a.
  12.  Geographia Graeca, Jerusalem, Fratres Minores (1897), v.II, pp. 5-13, 29.
  13. Cf. סינרי פלגס כמגדל צבעיא, ירושלמי, תענית
    This possibly means dealers in purple; cf. pelagia.