One of the biblical mysteries that has stumped commentators and scholars over the centuries is the shade of blue known as “Techelet” that is mentioned in the Torah and is mentioned in the construction of the Tabernacle, the color of the priest’s robes and the tassels known as Tzitzit that are on Jewish prayer shawls.
Up until recently, the only known information about Techelet was that it was derived from a sea snail secretion and that Jewish tradition believes it to be a pure blue roughly similar to that of the sky. However, an Israeli scientist states the color is likely to be closer to purple than sky blue.
Dr. Zvi Koren, a professor whose research focuses on the chemistry of ancient dyes, says he has identified what may the oldest sample of Techelet in a 2,000 year old tiny patch of fabric found on Masada, a site known as the location of King Herod’s fortress and a mass suicide by Jews refusing to submit to Roman rule.
According to Professor Koren, the shade appears to be indigo. Koren will present his findings at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design this week.
Up until recently, most of the blue and purple dyes found were made from plant material. The piece which is the focus of Koren’s research was found in the 1960s. He says that he is the first link it to Techelet and that it came from the Murex trunculus snail known to most Israelis.
As for the color of Techelet, it has been the subject of discussion by the wider Jewish community for centuries and is the most important color mentioned in the Torah. The knowledge of how to produce Techelet was lost shortly after the Roman exile in 70 CE. However, a nonprofit organization called Ptil Tekhelet took up the task of spreading awareness about the color and rediscovering its derivation process. The head of the organization, Baruch Sterman said that Koren’s discovery would not affect their process which creates a sky color shade.
The discovery will likely have some effect on Orthodox Jewish circles who are increasingly wearing Techelet in their Tzitzit and Tallits.