Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Deeper Significance of Jewelry in the Scriptures

I was reading on Google Books parts of a scanned copy of a book written by a woman who learned the craft of making jewelry in Egypt and in the process, I stumbled upon a very interesting cultural idea. Jewelry in Egypt functioned not only for decoration and beauty, but also as a display of wealth and social standing. In a society without social security, gold and silver jewelry also acted as a form of life savings for families. Jewelry could be sold more quickly than land in case of need. (Azza Fahmy , Enchanted Jewelry of Egypt, p20)

Now, I know that it is technically not good logic to extrapolate that a practice recorded in relatively modern times is the same as it was in ancient times, nor is it always wise to assume that a practice of one ancient country (Egypt) was the same as another ancient country (Israel). However, in the interest of seeking additional insight from the scriptures, let us assume that these practices haven’t changed much over millennia, and let us also assume that this was one of those practices that was common in the general area of the ancient middle east. Does equating jewelry with “show of wealth” and “life savings for security” increase the depth of our understanding as we read the scriptures?

Let’s try it out on one of those more difficult books of scripture—the Book of Isaiah.
16 ¶ Moreover the Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet:
17 Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts.
18 In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon,
19 The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers,
20 The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings,
21 The rings, and nose jewels,
22 The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins,
23 The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails.
24 And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.
25 Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war.
26 And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground. (Isaiah 3:16-26)
Here it seems Isaiah could be talking about how a proud attitude and a wanton focus brings upon women a process of steady impoverishment or a feeling of insecurity and shame despite having many worldly marks and indications of high status.
1 At that time Merodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for he had heard that he had been sick, and was recovered.
2 And Hezekiah was glad of them, and shewed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.
3 Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon.
4 Then said he, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All that is in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed them.
5 Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the Lord of hosts:
6 Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. (Isaiah 39:1-6)
Here we get the sense that Hezekiah was certainly displaying his wealth to try to gain status in the eyes of Babylon. The punishment for this was that Babylon would rob him of it.
The burden of the beasts of the south:
into the land of trouble and anguish,
from whence come the young and old lion,
the viper and fiery flying serpent,
they will carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses,
and their treasures upon the bunches of camels,
to a people that shall not profit them.
(Isaiah 30:6)
Here we get the sense that an entire community was pawning their jewelry to another community to try to get help. And Isaiah is making the prophetic announcement that it wouldn’t do any good.
Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?
and your labour for that which satisfieth not?
hearken diligently unto me,
and eat ye that which is good,
and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
(Isaiah 55:2)
Usually the jewelry would be bought at the end of the harvest season when the crops had been got in and sold. In the above scripture, Isaiah may have seen this pattern of behavior and wanted to suggest an alternative—seek satisfaction from the word of the Lord.
I will make a man more precious than fine gold;
even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.
(Isaiah 13:12)
Perhaps this could have been a suggestion to the women to appreciate their righteous husbands more than the jewelry they were able to buy with the living their husbands made.

I don’t know what it is like in your homes, but in my home, I’m the one who watches over the budget. I can get a little… um.. overzealous from time to time. I suppose this scripture is a good one for me to remember.

Interestingly enough, Isaiah also uses the cultural values attached to jewelry in his prophecies of the gathering of Israel.
Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold:
all these gather themselves together,
and come to thee.
As I live, saith the Lord,
thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all,
as with an ornament,
and bind them on thee,
as a bride doeth.
(Isaiah 49:18)
This conveys how each convert brought to the church through the gathering increases the beauty, status, and security of the church.
Surely the isles shall wait for me,
and the ships of Tarshish first,
to bring thy sons from far,
their silver and their gold with them,
unto the name of the Lord thy God,
and to the Holy One of Israel,
because he hath glorified thee.
(Isaiah 60:9)
This also seems to imply the faithfulness of the church will grow as the gathered members pay tithing and consecrate themselves, time, talents, and everything else they are blessed with to build up the kingdom of God.
10 For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
11 O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.
12 And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.
13 And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children. (Isaiah 54:10-13)

This seems to imply that keeping baptismal and temple covenants and having righteous children gives a beauty, status, and security to our homes comparable to if our houses were made of enormous jewels.

Which reminds me, my mom used to call me her jewel. Hmmm.
And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the Lord is his treasure. (Isaiah 33:6)
Here Isaiah suggests that our stability (meaning security) is found in wisdom, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord, and that the Lord treasures these qualities in us. This message would be particularly significant to those who trusted in their jewelry for security in emergencies. Today we trust in investments and social security and retirement funds and savings accounts for security in retirement and we trust in insurance for emergencies. To us Isaiah would probably say “the fear of the Lord is his insurance and is savings.”

In that day shall the Lord of hosts be for a crown of glory,
and for a diadem of beauty,
unto the residue of his people
(Isaiah 28:5)

This seems to imply that righteousness gives us status. However, there is danger in that because that may be what leads to annoying “I’m-more-righteous-than-you” attitudes. Rather, remembering that inheriting eternal life in the highest celestial glory will raise us to the highest status, a state of being like God, puts this in its true light.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my soul shall be joyful in my God;
for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments,
and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
(Isaiah 61:10)

Here Isaiah associates the values of beauty, status, and security with salvation and righteousness and gives God credit for it.

These aren’t the only scriptures that can give us additional insights. There is new meaning associated with the words of Christ when he said, to not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, but lay up treasures in heaven. Additionally, when we read Paul’s admonition to women not to adorn themselves with gold and silver, but instead with good works, we know exactly what he is talking about. In the Book of Mormon when we read of Lehi who left all his gold and silver and precious things in Jerusalem when he left with his family, we understand that they were also leaving the security that those things represented (Who would they have to sell them to if they needed help?) This indicates they were truly placing their trust in the Lord to support them. (It also explains the immense anger Laman and Lemuel had against Nephi when they lost those precious things to Laban in an attempt to buy the brass plates.)
Further, in 4 Nephi, we begin to understand when it says that the Nephites began to lift themselves up in pride and to wear costly apparel and many pearls, seeking to communicate their status. Saving for these treasures ended consecration.

What I take away from all of this that we have a need for beauty, status, and security in our lives, but that gospel values can satisfy those longings through salvation, righteousness, eternal life, righteous children, righteous husbands, depending upon the Lord, seeking knowledge and wisdom, and doing good works and gathering Israel through missionary work.

Image 1 – An Egyptian bride, found at Shazly Nubian forum, http://shazlyasmail.tripod.com/new_page_65.htm

Image 2 – Yemenite bride found at “Insane in my Brain”, http://insaneinmybrain.wordpress.com/2009/02/08/headresses/

Image 3 – The famous CRYSTAL CAVES impression by Robert Strachan, http://www.crystalcaves.com.au/cavepaint.htm

Image 4 - Image of Bedouin jewelry from ARAMCO World Magazine, September-October, 1992 "Berber Silver, Arab Gold" p. 14 - 21 as cited by http://www.sfusd.k12.ca.us/schwww/sch618/clothing/Make-Up.html

1 comments:

motti gatto said...

hebrew scripture jewelries
are amazingly beautiful and mistical.
there is so much history and kabalah meaning behind each one of them