(Heb. pishtah, i.e., "peeled", in allusion to the fact that the stalks of flax when dried were first split or peeled before being steeped in water for the purpose of destroying the pulp). This plant was cultivated from earliest times. The flax of Egypt was destroyed by the plague of hail when it "was bolled", i.e., was forming pods for seed (Ex. 9:31). It was extensively cultivated both in Egypt and Palestine. Reference is made in Josh. 2:6 to the custom of drying flax-stalks by exposing them to the sun on the flat roofs of houses. It was much used in forming articles of clothing such as girdles, also cords and bands (Lev. 13:48, 52, 59; Deut. 22:11). (See LINEN.)
a well-known plant with yellowish stem and bright-blue flowers. Its fibres are employed in the manufacture of linen. The root contains an oil, and after the oil is expressed is sued as a food for cattle. Egypt was celebrated for the culture of flax and the manufacture of linen. The spinning was anciently done by women of noble birth. It seems probable that the cultivation of flax for the purpose of the manufacture of linen was by no means confined to Egypt, but that, originating in India, it spread over Asia at a very early period of antiquity. That it was grown in Palestine even before the conquest of that country by the Israelites appears from (Joshua 2:6
) The various processes employed in preparing the flax for manufacture into cloth are indicated:
- The drying process.
- The peeling of the stalks and separation of the fibres.
- The hackling. (Isaiah 19:9) That flax was one of the most important crops in Palestine appears from (Hosea 2:5,9)
- flaks pesheth, also pishtah; linon (Mt 12:20
)): The above Hebrew words are applied (1) to the plant: "The flax was in bloom" (the King James Version "bolled"; Ex 9:31
); (2) the "stalks of flax," literally, "flax of the tree," put on the roof to dry (Josh 2:6
); (3) to the fine fibers used for lighting: the King James Version "tow," "flax," the Revised Version (British and American). "A dimly burning wick will he not quench" (Isa 42:3
); "They are quenched as a wick" (Isa 43:17
). The thought is perhaps of a scarcely lighted wick just kindled with difficulty from a spark. (4) In Isa 19:9
mention is made of "combed flax," i.e. flax hackled ready for spinning (compare Hos 2:5,9
; Prov 31:13
). The reference in Jdg 15:14
is to flax twisted into cords. (5) In Jdg 16:9
; Isa 1:31
, mention is made of ne`oreth, "tow," literally, something "shaken off"--as the root implies--from flax. (6) The plural form pishtim is used in many passages for linen, or linen garments, e.g. Lev 13:47,48,52,59
; Dt 22:11
; Jer 13:1
("linen girdle"); Ezek 44:17
f. Linen was in the earliest historic times a favorite material for clothes. The Jewish priestly garments were of pure linen. Egyptian mummies were swathed in linen. Several other Hebrew words were used for linen garments.
Flax is the product of Linum usitatissimum, a herbaceous plant which has been cultivated from the dawn of history. It is perennial and grows to a height of 2 to 3 ft.; it has blue flowers and very fibrous stalks. The tough fibers of the latter, after the decay and removal of the softer woody and gummy material, make up the crude "flax." Linseed, linseed oil and oilcake are useful products of the same plant.
E. W. G. Masterman