(זָקָן, zakan'; Gr. πώγων). The customs of nations in respect to this part of the human countenance have differed and still continue to differ so widely that it is not easy with those who treat the beard as an incumbrance to conceive properly the importance attached to it in other ages and countries.
I. The ancient nations in general agreed with the modern inhabitants of the East in attaching a great value to the possession of a beard. The total absence of it, or a sparse and stinted sprinkling of hair upon the chin, is thought by the Orientals to be as great a deformity to the features as the want of a nose would appear to us; while, on the contrary, a long and bushy beard, flowing down in luxuriant profusion to the breast, is considered not only a most graceful ornament to the person, but as contributing in no small degree to respectability and dignity of character. So much, indeed, is the possession of this venerable badge associated with notions of honor and importance, that it is almost constantly introduced, in the way either of allusion or appeal, into the language of familiar and daily life. In short, this hairy appendage of the chin is most highly prized as the attribute of manly dignity; and hence the energy of Ezekiel's language when, describing the severity of the Divine judgments upon the Jews, he intimates that, although that people had been as dear to God and as fondly cherished by him as the beard was by them, the razor, i.e. the agents of his angry providence, in righteous retribution for their long-continued sins, would destroy their existence as a nation (Eze 5:1-5). With this knowledge of the extraordinary respect and value which have in all ages been attached to the beard in the East, we are prepared to expect that a corresponding care would be taken to preserve and improve its appearance; and, accordingly, to dress and anoint it with oil and perfume was, with the better classes at least, an indispensable part of their daily toilet (Ps 133:2). In many cases it was dyed with variegated colors, by a tedious and troublesome operation, described by Morier (Journ. p. 247), which, in consequence of the action of the air, requires to be repeated once every fortnight, and which, as that writer informs us, has been from time immemorial a universal practice in Persia. That the ancient Assyrians took equally nice care of their beard and hair is evident from the representations found everywhere upon the monuments discovered by Botta and Layard. From the history of Mephibosheth (2Sa 19:24), it seems probable that the grandees in ancient Palestine "trimmed their beards" with the same fastidious care and by the same elaborate process; while the allowing these to remain in a foul and dishevelled state, or to cut them off, was one among the many features of sordid negligence in their personal appearance by which they gave outward indications of deep and overwhelming sorrow (Isa 15:2; Jer 41:5; comp. Herod. 2:36; Suet. Caligula, 5; Theocr. 14:3). The custom was and is to shave or pluck it and the hair out in mourning (Isa 1; Isa 6; Jer 48:37; Ezr 9:3; Bar. 6:31). David resented the treatment of his ambassadors by Hanun (2Sa 10:4) as the last outrage which enmity could inflict (comp. Lucian, Cynic. 14). The dishonor done by David to his beard of letting his spittle fall on it (1Sa 21:13) seems at once to have convinced Achish of his being insane, as no man in health of body and mind would thus defile what was esteemed so honorable. It was customary for men to kiss one another's beards when they saluted, for the original of 2Sa 20:9, literally translated, would read, "And Joab held in his right hand the beard of Amasa, that he might give it a kiss;" indeed, in the East, it is generally considered an insult to touch the beard except to kiss it (comp. Homer, Iliad, 1, 501; 10:454 sq.). Among the Arabs, kissing the beard is an act of respect; D'Arvieux observes (Coutumes des Arabes, ch. 7) that "the women kiss their husbands' beards, and the children their fathers', when they go to salute them" (see Harmar, Obs. 2, 77, 83; 3, 179; Bohlen, Indien, 2, 171; Deyling, Obs. 2, 14; Lakemacher, Obs. 10, 145; Tavernier, 2, 100; Niebuhr, Beschr. p. 317; Kitto, Pict. Bible, notes on 1Sa 31:13; 2Sa 10:4; 2Sa 19:24; 2Sa 20:9; 1Ch 19:4, Volney, 2:118; Burckhardt, Arabia, p. 61; Lane, Mod. Egyptians, 1, 322). SEE HAIR.
The Egyptians, on the contrary, sedulously, for the most part, shaved the hair of the face and head, and compelled their slaves to do the like. Herodotus (1, 36) mentions it as a peculiarity of the Egyptians that they let the beard grow in mourning, being at all other times shaved. Hence Joseph, when released from prison, "shaved his beard" to appear before Pharaoh (Ge 41:14). Egyptians of low caste or mean condition are represented sometimes, in the spirit of caricature apparently, with beards of slovenly growth (Wilkinson, 2:127). The enemies of the Egyptians, including probably many of the nations of Canaan, Syria, Armenia, etc., are represented nearly always bearded. The most singular custom of the Egyptians was that of tying a false beard upon the chin, which was made of plaited hair, and of a peculiar form, according to the person by whom it was worn. Private individuals had a small beard, scarcely two inches long; that of a king was of considerable length, square at the bottom; and the figures of gods were distinguished by its turning up at the end (Wilkinson, 3, 362). No man ventured to assume, or affix to his image, the beard of a deity; but after their death, it was permitted to substitute this divine emblem on the statues of kings, and all other persons who were judged worthy of admittance to the Elysium of futurity, in consequence of their having assumed the character of Osiris, to whom the souls of the pure returned on quitting their earthly abode. The form of the beard, therefore, readily distinguishes the figures of gods and kings in the sacred subjects of the temples; and the allegorical connection between the sphinx and the monarch is pointed out by its having the kingly beard, as well as the crown and other symbols of royalty (Wilkinson, Anc. Eg. suppl. plate 77, pt. 2).
From the above facts, it is clear that the Israelites maintained their beard and the ideas connected with it during their abode among the Egyptians, who were a shaven people. This is not unimportant as one of the indications which evince that, whatever they learned of good or evil in that country, they preserved the appearance and habits of a separate people. As the Egyptians shaved their beards off entirely, the injunction in Le 19:27, against shaving "the corners of the beard" must have been levelled against the practices of some other bearded nation. The prohibition is usually understood to apply against rounding the corners of the beard where it joins the hair; and the reason is supposed to have been to counteract a superstition of certain Arabian tribes, who, by shaving off or rounding away the beard where it joined the hair of the head, devoted themselves to a certain deity who held among them the place which Bacchus did among the Greeks (Herodot. 3, 8; comp. Jer 9:26; Jer 25:23; Jer 49:32). The consequence seems to have been altogether to prevent the Jews from shaving off the edges of their beards. The effect of this prohibition in establishing a distinction of the Jews from other nations cannot be understood unless we contemplate the extravagant diversity in which the beard was and is treated by the nations of the East. SEE CORNER. The removal of the beard was a part of the ceremonial treatment proper to a leper (Le 14:9). There is no evidence that the Jews compelled their slaves to wear beards otherwise than they wore their own; although the Romans, when they adopted the fashion of shaving, compelled their slaves to cherish their hair and beard, and let them shave when manumitted (Liv. 34:52; 45:44).
In 2Sa 19:24, the term rendered "beard" is in the original שָׂפָם, sapham', and signifies the mustache (being elsewhere rendered "upper lip"), which, like the beard, was carefully preserved.
II. The 44th canon of the council of Carthage, A.D. 398, according to the most probable reading, forbids clergymen to suffer the hair of their heads to grow too long, and at the same time forbids to shave the beard. Clericus nec comam nutriat nec barbam radat. According to Gregory VII, the Western clergy have not worn beards since the first introduction of Christianity; but Bingham shows this to be incorrect. — Bingham, Orig. Eccl. bk. 6, ch. 4, § 15.