Saturday, 26 April 2014

Veil in Bible

We have already learned the head covering is a mandatory requirement for dutiful Christians according to 1 Corinthians 11:6. Paul of Tarsus (the Apostle Paul) was pro-hijab.[1] We have also seen the Jesus scholar, Geza Vermes, cite Paul's possible reasoning for promoting the hijab - a fear that hijab-less women would be a temptation.

OK the head covering is in the Bible but what about the veil?

Some Muslim women add a face veil to the hijab – this is called the niqab. Does the Bible contain any reference or instruction pertaining to the niqab?

There is no explicit teaching within the Bible instructing the wearing of the face veil – this does not mean the Bible militates against the niqab nor does it give Christians carte blanche to harass Muslim ladies whom decide to wear such a covering.

However, the veil does crop up in the Old Testament [2]. From such instances, we can extract valuable insights in so far as the stance Jews and Christians should take on the subject of banning the veil.

The veil in the Bible – Old Testament

The key Biblical reference is the word “tsaiph” in Genesis 24:65 but we shall first look into the veil (tzammah) in Song of Solomon in Song of Solomon 4:1, 4:3 and Isaiah 47:2 as well as the mufflers in Isaiah 3:9

The veil in Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) 4:1 and 4:3

Song of Solomon is a puzzling piece of poetry which scholars differ as to its interpretation; either literal, typical or allegorical [3]

Of course there is a romanticised feel [4] to the verses [5] in question and thus the veil here could have been for ornamental purposes – part of the finery a bride would wear, but Fausset’s Bible dictionary considers the tzammah to be “a mark of modesty and subjection to her lord” [2]

The veil in Isaiah

Isaiah 3:18-19 indicates the veils were used as finery amongst the women of zion and we also realise, through Isaiah 47:2, Babylonian women wore veils too [6].

There is very little we can glean about the veil from Isaiah and Song of Solomon aside from the fact the veil was something that existed prior to the teachings of Muhammad (p) and women did wear such a covering.

The early portion (ch 1-39, Proto-Isaiah) of the Book of Isaiah is attributed to the Prophet Isaiah (p) and is dated ca 700 BCE. Conservative Christian view dictates Solomon is the author of the Song of Solomon and the date of writing is thought to be circa 900 BCE. However, there is a Biblical reference to the veil which precedes the Song of Solomon.

The veil in Genesis 24:64-65

Conservative Christian view dictates Genesis was authored by Moses (p) and dates the writing circa 1400 BCE.

And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel
For she had said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a vail, and covered herself [Genesis 24:64-65 KJV]

Note: vail is an alternative spelling for veil

Here, Rebekah covers herself with the veil in the presence of her future husband, Isaac. The veil did not stop with Rebekah or her contemporaries. We have already seen the veil was still in use during the times of Solomon and Isaiah.

Hebrew women did generally appear in public without veils [7] though wearing the veil was not unheard of and at times some would appear in public with the full face covered except one eye – nevertheless all the women would observe a covering of the hair, that’s to say, they would wear a head scarf [8].

The union between Rebekah and Isaac (p) is thought to be ca 1800 BCE thus women were wearing the veil some twenty four centuries prior to the wives of Prophet Muhammad (p)

From where did the veil originate?

Smith and Easton in their respective Bible dictionaries tell us in no uncertain terms the veil was not part of a general dress code[9] [10]. Smith cites three “exceptional” cases for the use of the veil; concealment of a woman with loose character, ornamental purposes and by betrothed maidens in the presence of their future husbands.

The big question that begs to be asked is from whom did the custom of veiling oneslef originate from? Where did Rebekah learn of such a teaching? Was it through Abraham (p)? Was it via Rebekah’s father (Bethuel) or was it handed down by her forefathers (linking all the way back to Noah, p)?

It is possible the veil was taught by an Old Testament Prophet or figure, however we do not know for sure - Allah knows best. Going by the Genesis account we see tacit approval for the veil by Isaac (p) in so far as he did not object to the veil. To glean and speculate further we can note Rebekah was not specifically instructed to wear the veil – she just wore it without any prompting or fuss – thus the practice of wearing the veil (at least in the presence of a future husband) was already established and could have origins preceding Abraham (p).

Regardless of who introduced such a practice we can all appreciate the veil was not frowned upon and was used to further modesty – even for those of loose character.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are Abrahamic faiths valuing and teaching modesty – thus the veil furthers modesty. No sincere Christian or Jew should be supporting the ban on burqas, hijabs or niqabs.

Typology – is Rebekah’s veil telling us something?

Previously, we saw the Bible was considered to have multiple layers of meaning; Origen certainly subscribed to this view. Could the instance of Rebekah wearing the veil contain a hidden, esoteric meaning for those who scratch well beyond the surface?

In modern times, the veil has become synonymous with Muslim ladies. Muslims subscribe to pure monotheism; a monotheism which Muslims pride as Abrahamic. Is there something to be told here – an indication via the Bible as to which theology is most closely linked to Abraham (p)?

Banning the veil – secularism gone mad

Syria has introduced a ban on the niqab in universities in a move to “protect” its secular identity. Mainland Europe is taking centre stage in its banning of the veil – France and Belgium have already done so.

France even threatens to levy fines [11] on wearers of the niqab – so much for freedom of religion.

Any banning of the niqab is an affront to Western religious freedom and certainly a smack in the face to those who have a regard for the Bible and Biblical characters.

Christians having dreams and converting to Islam:

Invitation to Islam

Jesus taught people to do the Will of God (according to Mark 3:35) in order to become his brothers, mothers or sisters. A Muslim means one who submits to the Will of God. Do you want to become a brother/sister of Jesus? If yes, become a Muslim.

Learn about Islam:


[1] Hijab refers to the head covering and a modest style of accompanying dress.
1 Corinthians 11:6 (NIV): If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.

[2] The mitpachath (Rth 3:15), tsaiph (Genesis 24:65; Genesis 38:14; Genesis 38:19), and radial (Song of Solomon 5:7; Isaiah 3:23). Moses' veil was the masveh (Exodus 34:33-35), related to suth (Genesis 49:11). An ample outer robe, drawn over the face when required. Mispachot, the false prophets' magical veils or "kerchiefs" (Ezekiel 13:18; Ezekiel 13:21) which they put over the heads of those consulting them as if to fit them for receiving a response, that they might be rapt in spiritual trance above the world; placed "upon the head of every stature," i.e. upon persons of every age and height, young and old.
Re' aloth, light veils worn by females, called "mufflers" (Isaiah 3:19), from rahal "to tremble," i.e. tremulous, referring to their rustling motion. Tzammah, translated "locks" (Song of Solomon 4:1; Song of Solomon 4:3), the bride's veil, a mark of modesty and subjection to her lord. Isaiah 47:2, "take off thy veil," or "thy locks," nature's covering for a woman (1 Corinthians 11:15), a badge of female degradation. Anciently the veil was only exceptionally used for ornament or by women betrothed in meeting their future husbands, and at weddings (Genesis 24:65).
Ordinarily women among the Jews, Egyptians, and Assyrians, appeared in public with faces exposed (Genesis 12:14; Genesis 24:16; Genesis 24:65; Genesis 20:16; Genesis 29:10; 1 Samuel 1:12). Assyrian and Egyptian sculptures similarly represent women without a veil. It was Mahometanism that introduced the present veiling closely and seclusion of women; the veil on them in worship was the sign of subjection to their husbands (1 Corinthians 11:4-15) {Fausset, Andrew Robert M.A., D.D., "Definition for 'Veil' Fausset's Bible Dictionary". Fausset's; 1878.}

[3] There are three general trends of interpretation2: 1. Literal - belief that it should be interpreted literally line by line in its historical setting. 2. Allegorical - thinking that King Solomon symbolized Jehovah's love for Israel or Jesus Christ's love for the Church, the Bride. These give the book higher spiritual meaning and canonical recognition but fail to accept the historical reality of the events. 3. Typical - thinking that it contains types, e.g. Solomon as the type of Jesus Christ and the Shulamite woman as type of the Church.{Merrill Unger, R. K. Harrison ed. The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, (Chicago: Moody Press, Chicago, IL 60610), 1988}

[4] The king attempts to win the Shulamite's affection solely by offering flattering words about her anatomy – Michale S Cole’s commentary on Song of Solomon

[5] How beautiful you are, mydarling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead. {NIV Song of Solomon}

Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; your mouth is lovely. Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate.{NIV Song of Solomon 4:3}

[6] 18In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, 19 the ear-rings and bracelets and veils, { NIV Isaiah 3:18-19 }

2 Take millstones and grind flour; take off your veil. Lift up your skirts, bare your legs, and wade through the streams.{NIV Isaiah 47:2}

[7] Hebrew women generally appeared in public without veils (Gen 12:14; 24:16; 29:10; 1Sa 1:12). - Easton's Bible Dictionary

[8] According to Rabbi Dr. Menachem M. Brayer (Professor of Biblical Literature at Yeshiva University) in his book, The Jewish woman in Rabbinic literature, it was the custom of Jewish women to go out in public with a head covering which, sometimes, even covered the whole face leaving one eye free. 76 He quotes some famous ancient Rabbis saying," It is not like the daughters of Israel to walk out with heads uncovered" and "Cursed be the man who lets the hair of his wife be seen....a woman who exposes her hair for self-adornment brings poverty." Rabbinic law forbids the recitation of blessings or prayers in the presence of a bareheaded married woman since uncovering the woman's hair is considered "nudity". 77 Dr. Brayer also explains that veil of the Jewish woman was not always considered a sign of modesty. Sometimes, the veil symbolized a state of distinction and luxury rather than modesty. The veil personified the dignity and superiority of noble women. It also represented a woman's inaccessibility as a sanctified possession of her husband. 78 - Sherif Abdel Azim, Ph.D.- Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

[9] Hebrew women generally appeared in public without veils (Gen 12:14; 24:16; 29:10; 1Sa 1:12). [Easton's Bible Dictionary]

[10] With regard to the use of the veil, it is important to observe that it was by no means so general in ancient as in modern times. Much of the scrupulousness in respect of the use of the veil dates from the promulgation of the Koran, which forbade women appearing unveiled except in the presence of their nearest relatives. In ancient times the veil was adopted only in exceptional cases, either as an article of ornamental dress (Solomon 4:1; 4:3; 6:7) or by betrothed maidens in the presence of their future husbands, especially at the time of the wedding (Genesis 24:65) or lastly, by women of loose character for purposes of concealment (Genesis 38:14). Among the Jews of the New Testament age it appears to have been customary for the women to cover their heads (not necessarily their faces) when engaged in public worship. {Smith’s Bible Dictionary}

[11] Police in the western city of Nantes said the veil - which showed only her eyes - restricted her vision and could have caused an accident {}

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