The famous and costly Tyrian purple, the royal color of the ancients, is said to have been discovered by the Tyrian Hercules, whose dog having by chance eaten a shellfish called Purpura, and returning to his master with his lips tinged with a purple color, occasioned the discovery of this precious dye. Purple, however, is much more ancient than this, since we find it mentioned by Moses in several places. Two kinds of purple are mentioned in the Old Testament:
1. Argamon, rendered in our version "purple," denoting a reddish purple obtained from a species of muscle or shellfish found on the coasts of the Mediterranean.
2. Techieleth, rendered in the English Bible "blue." This was a bluish or cerulean purple, likewise obtained from another species of shellfish. The "scarlet" or "crimson," for the two words denote essentially the same color, was produced from the coccus in sect, coccus ilicis. All these were sacred colors among the Jews; and the latter was used for the highpriest's ephod, and for veils, ribbons, and cloths, Ex 26:1,4,31,36; 28:31; Nu 4:6-12; 15:38.
The "purple" of the ancients seems to have included many different tints derived originally from the shellfish, and modified by various arts in which the Tyrians excelled. As each fish yielded but a few drops of coloring matter, the choicest purple bore a very high price. Purple robes were worn by the kings and first magistrates of ancient Rome, and Nero forbade their use by his subjects under pain of death. Our Savior was clothed with a royal robe of purple, in mockery of his title, "The King of the Jews" Joh 19:2,5. Compare also Jg 8:26; Es 8:15; Pr 31:22; Da 5:7; Lu 16:19. Moses used much wool dyed of a crimson and used much wool dyed of a crimson and purple color in the work of the tabernacle, and in the ornaments of the high priest, Ex 25:4; 26:1,31,36; 39:1; 2Ch 3:14. The Babylonians also clothed their idols in robes of a purple and azure color, Jer 10:9; Eze 23:15; 27:7,16.
A colour often mentioned with blue and scarlet in connection with the tabernacle. Ex 25:4, etc. Among the spoils taken from the Midianites under Gideon was "purple raiment that was on the kings," and it is used as a symbol of royalty. Jg 8:26. In derision the soldiers put a crown of thorns and a 'purple' robe on the Lord, as king of the Jews. Mr 15:17,20; Joh 19:2,5. The rich man in Lu 16:19 was clothed in purple; and papal Rome is seen as a woman clothed in purple and scarlet, royalty and splendour. Re 17:4; 18:12,16.
PURPLE, ?????, Ex 25:4, &c; ???????, Mr 15:17,20; Lu 16:19; Joh 19:2,5; Re 17:4; 18:12,16. This is supposed to be the very precious colour extracted from the purpura or murex, a species of shell fish; and the same with the famous Tyrian dye, so costly, and so much celebrated in antiquity. The purple dye is called in 1 Macc. 4:23, "purple of the sea," or sea purple; it being the blood or juice of a turbinated shell fish, which the Jews call ?????. (See Scarlet.) Among the blessings pronounced by Moses upon the tribes of Israel, those of Zebulun and Issachar are, "They shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of the treasures hid in the sand," De 33:19. Jonathan Ben Uzziel explains the latter clause thus: "From the sand are produced looking glasses, and glass in general; the treasures, the method of finding and working which, was revealed to these tribes." Several ancient writers inform us, that there were havens in the coasts of the Zebulunites, in which the sand proper for making glass was found. The words of Tacitus are remarkable: "Et Belus amnis Judaico mari illabitur, circa ejus os lectae arenae admixto nitro in vitrum excoquuntur." "The river Belus falls into the Jewish sea, about whose mouth those sands mixed with nitre are collected, out of which glass is formed." But it seems much more natural to explain "the treasures hid in the sand," of those highly valuable murices and purpurae which were found on the sea coast, near the country of Zebulun and Issachar, and of which those tribes partook in common with their Heathen neighbours of Tyre, who rendered the curious dyes made from those shell fish so famous among the Romans by the names of Sarranum ostrum, Tyrii colores. In reference to the purple vestment, Lu 16:19, it may be observed that this was not appropriately a royal robe. In the earlier times it was the dress of any of high rank. Thus all the courtiers were styled by the historians purpurati. This colour is more properly crimson than purple; for the LXX, Josephus, and Philo, constantly use ???????? to express the Hebrew ?????, by which the Talmudists understood crimson; and that this Hebrew word expressed, not the Tyrian purple, but that brought to the city from another country, appears from Eze 27:7. The purple robe put on our Saviour, Joh 19:2,5, is explained by a Roman custom, the dressing of a person in the robes of state, as the investiture of office. Hence the robe brought by Herod's or the Roman soldiers, scoffingly, was as though it had been the pictae vestes usually sent by the Roman senate. In Ac 16:14, Lydia is said to be "a seller of purple." Mr. Harmer styles purple the most sublime of all earthly colours, having the gaudiness of red, of which it retains a shade, softened with the gravity of blue.