[b-hebrew] Coat of sleeves, or many colors?

Robert Heard Christopher.Heard at pepperdine.edu
Mon Aug 8 23:02:47 EDT 2005

Dora Smith wrote:
>What do you make of the fact that the people in the drawings are wearing
>coats of many colors?


First, I'm "Chris" or "Christopher," please. Right now I am consigned 
to using my University's web-based e-mailer, which stamps on my legal 
first name, "Robert." But all my friends call me "Chris" or 

Second, to answer your question directly, I make _nothing_ of the 
"fact" that the people in the drawings are wearing "coats of many 
colors," for at least the following reasons:

(1) Most importantly, I haven't seen the referenced drawing with my own 
eyes (at least not recently), and I therefore cannot make any 
inferences from it whatsoever until that changes (right now I am away 
from home and away from my library).

(2) An Egyptian drawing has no bearing on the semantics of Hebrew 
words, and _as far as I can tell_ the best case can be made for 
translating KTNT PSYM as "long-sleeved tunic." The Hebrew word itself 
appears only in that construction, so if we can't determine what it 
means from the context--and we can't--then we have go looking somewhere 
else for help. I think looking to biblical Aramaic PS "palm/sole" is 
better than relying on the LXX here, because PS is at least (a) in a 
cognate Semitic language, Aramaic, and (b) in the Tanakh, so we're not 
going too far afield.

(3) The phrase "coats of many colors" is provided by someone _viewing 
and interpreting_ the drawing in question. I'm quite sure that the 
drawing does not have a caption like "(BRYM BKTNWT PSYM"! I am 
guessing, but it is a pretty safe bet that whoever characterized the 
Semites in the drawing as wearing "coats of many colors" was conciously 
reflecting the LXX and traditional European translations of KTNT PSYM. 
To then say that this somehow illuminates the biblical KTNT PSYM would 
be circular, since it was the biblical phrase that led to the label in 
the first place. I don't know for sure if that description was Ben's or 
W. F. Albright's, though I wouldn't put it past Albright.

(4) Even if we were to ignore (3), if Semites _customarily_ dressed in 
"coats of many colors," then why on earth would Joseph's brothers be 
angry or jealous? The KTNT PSYM must be something special, something 
rare. In 1 Sam 13 is the dress of the king's daughters. It's clearly 
intended in Gen 37 and 1 Sam 13 to be something rather _extraordinary_, 
certainly _not_ the average laborer's garb.

I suspect that resolving (1) above will by no means change the other 
three, especially (2) and (4).

Best wishes,


R. Christopher Heard
Assistant Professor of Religion
Pepperdine University
Malibu, CA 90263-4352

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