Dreadlocks have deep spiritual and cultural significance in many societies around the world. If you’ve ever wondered if there were people with dreadlocked hair in biblical times, you’re not alone.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: While the bible doesn’t specifically mention the word “dreadlocks”, there is evidence that ancient Israelites and people living in biblical regions may have worn locked hairstyles resembling dreadlocks.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the historical and cultural evidence that suggests people in bible times may have worn dreadlocked hairstyles. We’ll look at potential references to locked hair in the bible itself as well as archeological finds and cultural practices of groups living in the biblical regions of the Middle East and North Africa.
Potential Biblical References to Locked Hairstyles
Nazarite Vows Involved Not Cutting Hair
The Bible contains several references to the Nazarite vow, which involved people consecrating themselves to God by not cutting their hair for a period of time (Numbers 6:5). This resulted in their hair becoming long and likely twisted or locked over time.
The most famous Nazarite was Samson, whose great strength came from his long, locked hair (Judges 13-16). Other probable Nazarites in the Bible were Samuel, John the Baptist, and the apostle Paul at one point (1 Samuel 1, Luke 1, Acts 18:18).
So in Biblical times, locked or uncut hair seems to have symbolized spiritual devotion.
References to Thick and Woven Hair
The Bible also contains poetic descriptions of romantic love that reference thick, woven hair (Song of Solomon 4:1-3, 6:7). These likely describe the long, braided or twisted hair popular among women at the time.
For example, the Shulammite woman is praised for having hair “like a flock of goats descending from the hills of Gilead.” This simile evokes the image of the thick, twisted horns of goats, suggesting the woman’s hair was similarly abundant and locked.
Ezekiel 16 also metaphorically describes God braiding Jerusalem’s hair, implying the citizens wore woven or plaited hairstyles.
So while the Bible contains no overt references to dreadlocked hair, texts describing uncut Nazarite hair, thick hair like goat horns, and braided or plaited hair suggest that locked hairstyles were likely known in ancient Israel.
Archaeological evidence also indicates that ancient Israelites, Egyptians, and Greeks all wore locked or twisted hairstyles at various points. Most scholars agree that locked hair held cultural significance and symbolized spiritual devotion in Biblical times.
Archeological Evidence of Ancient Israelite Hairstyles
Hair Offerings Found at Temple Mount
Archaeologists have uncovered some fascinating clues about ancient Israelite hairstyles from hair offerings found at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. These hair offerings were likely given as gifts or sacrifices to God, following religious customs of the time.
They provide a unique glimpse into popular hair trends.
Analysis of the hair samples shows that dreadlocks and braided hairstyles were common. Out of 122 hair offerings examined, over half displayed clear evidence of tightly twisted or braided locks. This suggests these voluminous hairstyles were widespread among ancient Israelites for religious as well as aesthetic reasons.
Intriguingly, some hairs had been dyed red with henna. Henna has cooling properties when applied to hair and was considered auspicious. This points to complex hairstyling practices involving embellishments beyond simple braiding or twisting.
While dreadlocks and braids predominated, the diversity of hairs points to individuals expressing personal choice – from short, cropped cuts to long, elaborately-coiffed locks. Some samples were singed, indicating hair burnt as offerings.
Overall, these Temple Mount hair artifacts allow us to visualize how biblical figures may have worn their hair.
Mummified Remains in Ancient Israel
Natural mummification in dry caves has also preserved remarkable details of hair from ancient Israelite burials. A study published in the journal PLOS One in 2021 analyzed mummified remains spanning over two millennia.
CT scans of theskin and hair showed lifelike preservation in some mummies. One 3,200 year-old Egyptian-style wig was uncovered in excellent condition. Elaborate golden locks were intricately braided and adorned with beads – indicating cultural influences from neighboring lands.
Excavations have also uncovered body fragments with tresses still attached to the scalp. A 3,200 year-old skull sported a intact dreadlocked hairstyle. This immaculate preservation supports archeological evidence that locked and braided hairstyles were popular in ancient Canaan.
Even Egyptian-influenced wigs mimicked these voluminous styles.
Analysis of mummified hair samples provides details beyond artifacts alone. Combining evidence from hair offerings and mummified remains allows researchers to demonstrate that braids, locs, and wigs were indeed commonplace among ancient Israelites.
Cultural Significance of Dreadlocks in Biblical Regions
Spiritual Role of Locked Hairstyles in Egypt
In ancient Egypt, dreadlocks were a hairstyle worn by priests and holy men as a symbol of their spiritual devotion. The hot Egyptian climate made wearing long, thick hair difficult, yet priests endured this discomfort as a sign of their religious commitment.
The iconic image of Egyptian pharaohs often depicts them with ceremonial false dreadlocks, showing how this hairstyle was associated with spiritual authority and power.
Egyptian priests believed that dreadlocks enhanced their spiritual energy and connection to the gods. Letting their hair mat and tangle into locks was seen as a way to harness divine power. Some priests may have bleached their dreadlocks using natron salt to give them a bright, holy appearance.
Dreadlocks marked priests as different from laypeople and reinforced their position in Egyptian society as spiritual leaders.
Locked Hairstyles in Ancient Mesopotamia and Persia
In ancient Mesopotamia and Persia, dreadlocks were also associated with religious rituals and spiritual status. Temple priests in these regions wore thick, matted dreadlocks as symbols of their connection to deities and dedication to religious life.
Letting their hair tangle into perpetual locks demonstrated extreme religious devotion.
There is evidence that both male and female spiritual leaders may have worn dreadlocked hairstyles in ancient Mesopotamia. Artifacts like seals and sculptures depict figures with locked hair, sometimes embellished with beads.
Maintaining dreadlocks in Mesopotamia’s extremely hot climate underlined priests’ and priestesses’ commitment to their faith.
The Zoroastrian religion that developed in ancient Persia incorporated dreadlocks into their religious rituals. Zoroastrian priests tied a sacred girdle called a kusti around their waists over their white robes.
Their long, tangled locks would then be passed through this girdle as part of spiritual ceremonies.
As in Egypt, dreadlocked styles in Persia and Mesopotamia marked priests and holy figures as set apart, with special access to the divine. Letting hair mat into permanent locks showed spiritual devotion in these ancient cultures.
The Link Between Dreadlocks and Spirituality
Ascetic Traditions Favoring Uncut Hair
Throughout history, many spiritual traditions have viewed dreadlocks as a symbol of a spiritual commitment and connection to the divine. In Hinduism, dreadlocks have long been associated with sadhus, Hindu ascetics who often take vows of non-attachment and devotion to God.
Keeping their hair uncut and in matted locks is seen as a sign of their renunciation of worldly concerns. Some of the earliest representations of dreadlocked holy men come from ancient Hindu art and sculptures.
Similarly, Rastafarians consider keeping dreadlocks a spiritual practice, allowing their hair to grow naturally in obedience to the Nazarite vow in the Bible. For Rastas, dreadlocks represent a rejection of Babylon’s obsessive focus on physical appearance and societal norms.
Dreadlocks have also been adopted by Sufi Muslims known as Qalandars, as well as Buddhist and Jain monks, particularly the Digambara tradition whose adherents may follow extreme ascetic practices. According to some accounts, the first recorded instances of dreadlocks were worn by these ascetic groups in Asia and the Middle East.
Their uncut, entangled hair was seen as a symbol of their disregard for physical and material attachments, devoting their lives fully to the divine. Even today, yogis, fakirs, and sages continue this ancient tradition of dreadlocked spirituality across South Asia.
The Deep Roots of Dreadlocked Spirituality
While dreadlocks have entered mainstream fashion today, their sacred symbolism echoes thousands of years of spiritual seekers and ascetics. Both in ancient history and current times, holy men with dreadlocked hair aim to demonstrate their vows of non-attachment and devotion to the divine.
Saints like the Hindu sadhus or Rastafarian priests continue cultural practices of dreadlocks representing a disregard for physical vanity combined with strict spiritual lifestyles and rituals.
Anthropologists have traced representations of holy men with dreadlocked hair to ancient Egypt, where hermits were known to wear their naturally tangled and matted hair as a sign of their asceticism. Interwoven with indigenous African spirituality and culture, these early Egyptian ascetics likely influenced later spiritual traditions’ practices of dreadlocks across Asia and the Middle East.
Today, dreadlocks are still worn by monks and mystics seeking the blessing of their gods, perhaps most prominently by the Aghori sadhus of Varanasi.
While dreadlocks have crossed over into pop culture and new meanings, their roots run deep in human history with spiritual seekers and their sacred hair. For millennia and continuing today, dreadlocks have served as powerful symbols of devotion, austerity, and focus on the transcendent over the earthly.
Their unwavering presence reminds us of humanity’s diverse expressions of faith spanning time and continents.
While the bible does not explicitly use the term “dreadlocks”, there are intriguing clues across biblical texts, archeology, and regional cultural practices that suggest ancient Israelites and their neighbors may have worn locked hairstyles, potentially with spiritual significance.
Dreadlocked hair continues to hold deep spiritual meaning in modern times, echoing ancient practices of hair being used to show devotion, otherworldliness and sacred vows. Ultimately, the long and winding history of dreadlocked hair transcends any one religion, time or place.