The Oriental is a natural expert in appropriate and expressive gesture. To his impulsive and emotional temperament, attitude and action form a more apt vehicle for thought and feeling than even speech. Movement of feature, shrug of shoulder, turn of hand, express much, and suggest delicate shades of meaning which cannot be put in words. Conversation is accompanied by a sort of running commentary of gestures. Easterns conduct argument and altercation at the pitch of their voices; emphasis is supplied almost wholly by gestures. These are often so violent that an unskilled witness might naturally expect to see bloodshed follow.
The word does not occur in Scripture, but the thing, in various forms, is constantly appearing. Bowing the head or body marks reverence, homage, or worship (Ge 18:2; Ex 20:5; 1Ch 21:21; Ps 95:6; Isa 60:14). The same is true of kneeling (1Ki 19:18; 2Ki 1:13; Ps 95:6; Mr 1:40). This sign of homage the tempter sought from Jesus (Mt 4:9). Kneeling was a common attitude in prayer (1Ki 8:54; Ezr 9:6; Da 6:10; Lu 22:41; Eph 3:14 etc.). The glance of the eye may mean appeal, as the upward look in prayer (Job 22:26; Mr 6:41 etc.), anger (Mr 3:5), or reproach (Lu 22:61). A shake of the head may express scorn or derision (2Ki 19:21; Ps 109:25; Mr 15:29 etc.). A grimace of the lip is a sign of contempt (Ps 22:7). Shaking the dust off the feet, or shaking, however gently, one's raiment, indicates complete severance (Mt 10:14 etc.), denial of responsibility (Ac 18:16), and often now, total ignorance of any matter referred to. Rending the garments betokens consternation, real (Ge 37:29; Jos 7:6; Ac 14:14 etc.) or assumed (2Ch 23:13; Mt 26:65), and grief (Jg 11:35; 2Sa 1:11 etc.). Joy was expressed by dancing (Ex 15:20; 1Sa 30:16; Jer 31:4 etc.) and clapping the hands (Ps 47:1; Isa 55:12 etc.). Spitting upon, or in the face, indicated deep despite (Nu 12:14; Isa 50:6; Mt 26:67, etc.). See Hand, Mourning Customs, Salutation.
Some gestures in common use are probably ancient. One who narrowly escapes danger, describing his experience, will crack his thumb nail off the edge of his front teeth, suggesting Job's 'with the skin of my teeth' (Job 19:20). One charged with a fault will put his elbows to his sides, turn his palms outward, and shrug his shoulders, with a slight side inclination of the head, repudiating responsibility for an act which, in his judgment, was plainly inevitable.