E. Dr. A. Dedekind’s Contribution to the Study of the Identification of the Species Productive of Tekhelet and Argaman Respectively

It has fallen to Dr. Dedekind to press Lacaze-Duthiers’ far-reaching results into the service of Semitic porphyrology. 


In one of his letters, M. Dedekind says to me: “I was sent, a few weeks ago, volume II (Hierozoicon) of Samuel Bochart, where one finds curious remarks on the purple. The work is from 1663. Bochart talks a lot about two kinds of purple, one crimson, the other blue or violet. ‘It is proven that תכלת Tekhelet and ארגמן Argamman are…” These colors only became clear to me and for the first time the day I was able to observe your drawings,” Mr. Dedekind adds.”  Dans l’une de ses lettres, M. Dedekind me dit: “On m’a envoyé, il y a quelques semaines, le volume II (Hierozoicon) de Samuel Bochart, où l’on trouve de curieuses remarques sur la pourpre. L’ouvrage est de 1663. Bochart y parle beaucoup de deux espèces de la pourpre, l’une cramoisie, l’autre bleue ou violette. Probatur תכלת thecheleth, et ארגמן esse … Ces couleurs ne sont devenues claires pour moi et pour la première fois que le jour où j’ai pu observer vos dessins,” ajoute M. Dedekind.1

Dr. Dedekind has since maintained that Lacaze-Duthiers’ researches have once for all furnished the clue to the identification of the species used for Tekhelet and Argaman respectively. In the fourth volume of his Beitrag2 in the course of a criticism of George Tryon’s references to ancient purple, Dr. Dedekind gives the following classification:

Pupura lapillus, Murex erinaceus, Murex trunculus = gehören zur Purpursorte Tekhelet (d.i. violetter oder blauer Purpur) (belongs to the purple variety Tekhelet (i.e. purple or blue purple) )

Murex brandaris, Purpura haemastoma =  gehören zur Purpursorte Argaman (d.i. roter oder karminer Purpur) (belongs to the purple variety Argaman (i.e. red or carmine purple) )

In a private communication to me last summer, the learned author, while commenting on a series of notes on תכלת I had forwarded to him, insisted with as much emphasis as ever upon the identification of the Tekhelet-species with Murex trunculus and of the Argaman species with Murex brandaris and Purpura haemastoma. He also mentioned Murex erinaceus as a possible identification with the Tekhelet species, adding, however, that in view of the minuteness of the dye-secretion of the species its employ-ment for dyeing was unlikely. Was Dr. Dedekind’s omission of Purpura lapillus in the above communication due to the fact of that species being non-Mediterranean?

The identification adopted by Dr. Dedekind, be it carefully noted, is based solely upon the tradition of the Tekhelet-nuance: It takes no note of the description of the Tekhelethillazon as given in the Talmud and as reproduced by Maimonides. Tekhelet according to some was blue, according to others dark violet playing into bluish; Murex trunculus, Dr. Dedekind affirms, is capable of producing both blue3 and dark violet playing into blue, but the latter is the usual result of the development of the pigment of that species. The species known to have been employed in Phoenician purple dyeing are Murex trunculus. Murex brandaris and Purpura haemastoma.

There can be no question about the identification of the Tekhelet species. Whether Tekhelet denotes the former or the latter colour or covers both, Murex trunculus is the only possible solution out of the three species just named. There is of course the possibility that Tekhelet was produced from a fourth species not yet identified. Gaillardot4 on whose authority it is asserted that remains of shells of Murex brandaris and Purpura haemastoma have been found about Saida bearing internal evidence of their employment in dyeing really never asserted that no others had been discovered. From the fact, however, that the one mass consists exclusively of Murex trunculus shells while in the other Murex brandaris and Purpura haemastoma are found together it may be inferred that the latter is composed entirely of shells of species furnishing colours homogeneous with that obtained from Murex brandaris and Purpura haemastoma that is Argaman rather than Tekhelet.

The possibility of identifying the Tekhelet-mollusc with some indeterminate species other than M. trunculus is thus reduced to a minimum, though it is not entirely excluded, for it is possible that the remains of the Tekhelet shells on the Phoenician coast have somehow disappeared, or that the shells being utilized for some purpose were not allowed to accumulate in the manner of those of Murex trunculus, etc….

There is of course a distinct relationship between the determination of the exact Tekhelet colour and the identification of the species furnishing the Tekhelet-dye.

If, as Baehr5 contends, Tekhelet was a pure dark blue to the exclusion of violet, then the claims of Murex trunculus will require some propping before they can be urged with unmixed confidence. The chemical constitution of the purpurigenic matter secreted by that species also includes an element of red, necessitating a violet shade in the final development. The question will be dealt with elsewhere; here it can only be touched upon. Dr. Dedekind in one of his letters to me says with reference to certain statements made by me in connection with the subject: 


“The purple drawings by Lacazes using purple from Murex trunculus (Volume I of my” Contribution “) show sky-blue purple in the assimilated areas.” “Die Purpurzeichnungen des Lacazes’ mittels Purpurs von Murex trunculus (I. Band von meinem “Beitrag”) zeigen himmelblauen Purpur an den imbibierten Stellen.”


In another communication the learned prophyrologist points to those designs as illustrating the Talmudic statement that Tekhelet is like unto the sky. The colour, however, of those “imbibierte Stellen” (“imbibed places”) is light sky blue (helles Himmelblau), not dark sky blue which is the colour of the cloudless Palestinian sky in bright sunshine but this is an objection of very little force. The phenomen presented by those sky blue spots is, however, hardly comprehensive enough to satisfy the view advocating a pure blue for Tekhelet, that the Murex trunculus may be accepted without further ado as the Tekhelet-species. The sky-blue colouring in question is due to infiltration and the instability of the matter.6 Cf. Lacaze-Duthier’s statement with reference to the designs with pigment of Purpura lapillus.



  1. Lacaze-Duthiers, Archives de Zoologie, p. XVIII.
  2. Dedekind, Beitrage, v.IV, p. 886.
  3. Herzog, ibid., “Purpur,” v.XII, pp. 398-400.
  4. Galliardot, ibid., p. 17.
  5. Baehr, Karl, Symbolik des mosaischen Cultus. Heidelberg, 1837תכלת” ,39-.”
  6. Dr. Dedekind, however, also speaks of “wahres tropisches Himmelblau” from M. trunculus in his possession. See Beitrag I, p. 93. Archives de Zoologie, Paris (1896).