פִּשׁתָּה, pishtah' (Ex 9:31; Isa 42:3; "tow," 43:17); and פִּשּׁתֶּה, pishteh' (rendered "flax" or "linen"); Greek λίνον. As regards the latter of these two Heb. terms, there is probably only one passage where it stands for the plant in its undressed state (Joshua ii, 6). Eliminating all the places where the words are used for the article manufactured in 'the thread, the piece, or the made-up garment (q.v. severally), we reduce them to two: Ex 9:31, certain, and Joshua ii, 6, disputed. In the former the flax of the Egyptians is recorded to have been damaged by the plague of hail. The word גִּבעֹל, there rendered "boll," is retained by Onkejos; but is rendered in the Sept. σπερματίζον, and in the Vulg. folliculos germinabat. Rosenmuller renders it "the globule or knob of ripening flax" (Schol. ad loc.). Gesenius makes it the calix or corolla; refers to the Mishna, where it is used for the calix of the hyssop, and describes this explanation as one of long-'steding among the ,more learned Rabbins (Thes. p. 261). SEE BOLLED. As the departure of the Israelites took place in the spring, this passage has reference no doubt to the practice adopted in Egypt, as well as in India, of sowing grain partly inl the months of September and October, and partly in spring, so that the wheat might easily be in blade at the same time that the barley and flax were more advanced. From the numerous references to flax and linen, there is no doubt that the plant was extensively cultivated, not only in Egypt; but also in Palestine. Ritter (Erd/cunde, ii, 916; compare his Vorhalle, etc., p. 45-48) renders it probable that the cultivation of flax for the purpose of the manufacture of linen was by no means confined to these countries, but that, originating in India, it spread over the whole continent of Asia at a very early period of antiquity. For the culture of flax, low alluvial lands which have received deposits left by the overflowing of rivers are deemed the most favorable situations. To this circumstance Egypt must have been indebted for the superiority of her flax, so famous in the ancient world, and which gave to her more elaborate manufactures the subtlety of the most exquisite muslin, well meriting the epithet "woven air." Herodotus mintions (iii,47) as laid up in a temple at Lindus, in Rhodes, a linen corset which had belonged to Amasis, king of Egypt, each thread of which was composed of 360 strands or filaments. In length and in fineness of fibre no country could compete with 'the flax: which produced the "fine linen of Egypt," and which made the Delta "the great linen market of the ancient world" (Ksalisch). By annihilating this crop, the seventh plague inflicted a terrible calamity. It destroyed what, next to corn, formed the staple. of the country, and would only find its modern parallel in the visitation which should cut off a cotton harvest in America. That it was grown in Palestine even before the conquest of that country by the Israelites appears from Jos 2:6, the second of the two passages mentioned above. There is, however, some difference of words פִּשׁתֵּי הָעֵוֹ (Sept. λινοκαλὰμη, Vulg. stipuloe lini, and so A. V. "stalks of flax"); Josephus speaks of λίνου ἀγκαλίδες, armfuls or bundles of flax.; but Arab. Vers. "stalks of cotton." Gesenius, however, and Rosenmuller are in favor of the rendering "'stalks of flax." If this be correct, the place involves an allusion to the customs of drying the flax-stalks by exposing them to the heat of the sun upon the flat roofs of houses; and so expressly in Josephus (Ant. v, i, 2). SEE STALK.
In later times this drying was done in ovens. There is a decided reference to the raw material in the Sept. rendering of Le 13:47 (ἱματίῳ στυππυίνῳ), and Jg 15:14 (στυππίον; comp. Isa 1:31). In several other passages, as Le 13:48,52,59; De 22:11; Jer 13:1; Eze 40:3; Eze 44:17-18, we find it mentioned as forming different articles of clothing, as girdles, cords, and bands. In Pr 31:13, the careful housewife "seeketh wool and flax, and worketh it willingly with her bands." The words of Isaiah (Isa 42:3), "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he snot quench," are evidently. referred to in Mt 12:20, where λίνον is used as the name of flax, and as the equivalent of pishtah. But there can be no doubt of this word being correctly understood, as it has been well investigated by several authors. (Celsius, Hierobot. ii, 283; Yates, Texhrinum Ansiquorum, p. 253). SEE COTTON.
Few plants are at once so lovely and so useful as the slender, upright herb, With taper leaves and large blue-purple flowers, from which are fashioned alike the coarsest canvas and the most ethereal cambric or lawn the sail of the ship and the fairy-looking scarf which can be packed into a filbert shell. It was of linen, in part at least, that the hangings of the. tabernacle were constructed, white, blue, and crimson, with cherubim in woven; and it. was of linen that the vestments of Aaron were fashioned. When arrayed in all his, glory, Solomon could put on nothing more costly than the finest linen of Egypt; and describing "the marriage of the Lamb," the seer of Patmos represents the bride as." arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." As to Egypt, we have proof in the mummny-cloth being made of linen, and also in the representations of the flax cultivation in the paintings of the Grotto of El-Kab, which represent the whole process with the utmost clearness; and numerous testimonies might be adduced from ancient authors of the esteem in which the linen of Egypt c-as held (Wilkinson, Anc. Eg. iii,. 139). From these pictures, preserved at Beni Hassan, it would seem that the Egyptian treatment of the flaxplant was essentially the same as that which was pursued till quite lately by ourselves, which even now is only modified by machinery, and which is thus described by Pliny: "The stalks are immersed in water warmed by the heat of the sun, and are kept down by weights placed upon them, for nothing is lighter than flax. The membrane or rind becoming loose is a sign of their being sufficiently macerated. They are then taken out, and repeatedly turned over in the sun until. perfectly dried, and afterwards beaten by mallets on stone slabs. The tow which is nearest the rind is inferior to the inner fibres, and is fit only for. the wicks of lamps.' It is combed out with iron hooks until all the rind is removed. The inner part is of a finer and Whiter quality. After it is made into yarn, it is polished by striking it frequently on a hard stone, moistened with water; and when woven-into cloth it is Again beaten with clubs, being always improved in propcstiam as it is beaten" (Hist. Nat. 19:1). The various processes employed in preparing the flax for manufacture into cloth are indicated in Scripture.
1. The drying process (see above).
2. The peeling of the stalks and separation of the fibres (the name of flax itself being derivable either, as Parkhurst, from פָּשִׁט, pashat', to strip, peel, or as Gesenius, from פָּשִׁשׁ pashash', 'to separate into parts).
3. The hackling (Isa 19:9; Sept. λίνον τὸ σχιστόν; see Gesenius, Lex. s.v. שָׂרִיק and 'for the combs used in the process, comp.Wilkinsoui, Asnc. Egypt. iii, 140). The flax, however, was not always dressed before weaving (see Ecclus. 11:4, where ὠμόλινον is mentioned as a species of clothing worn by the poor). That the s-se of the coarser fibres was known to the Hebrews may be inferred from the mention of tow (נעֹרֶת) is- Jg 16:9; Isa 1:31. That flax was anciently, one of the most important crops in Palestine appears from Ho 2:5,9; that it continued to be grown and manufactured into linen in N. Palestine down to the Middle Ages se have the testimony of numerous Talmudists and Rabbins. At present it does not seem to be so much cultivated there as the cotton-plant. For the flax of ancient .Egypt, see Herodotus, ii, 37, 105; Cels. ii, p.). 285 sq.; Heerem, Ideesm, ii, 2, p. 368 sq. For that of modern Egypt, see Hasseiquist, Jours-y, p. 500; Ohvier, Voyage, iii, 297; Girard's Observations in Descsipt. de lI'Lypte, 17:98; Paul Lucas, Voyages, ii, 47. SEE LINEN.