Crowns, Decorative Headdresses, and Wreaths

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CROWNS, DECORATIVE HEADDRESSES, AND WREATHS

In the Bible

A crown is an ornate headdress which serves as a symbol of monarchy, high office, or some other position which marks its wearer as a distinguished person. Three different terms are used for such a headdress in the Bible: nezer, ʿaṭarah and keter. The first, nezer (from nzr), is also used to describe someone who is "God's chosen" by virtue of self-abnegation or complete devotion to worship (see *Nazirite). In biblical poetry the term is used to emphasize the dignity and independence of Israel. The loss of this nezer can symbolize the destruction of national and religious sovereignty, "Cut off your hair (Heb. nizrekh), and cast it away," (Jer. 7:29). The second term, ʿaṭarah (the root ʿtr means "to encircle"), is not used exclusively to indicate social position. Thus, in the phrase, "Beautiful crowns upon their heads" (Ezek. 23:42), it merely indicates an elaborate headdress. In other contexts, however, it is synonymous with the royal crown, e.g., "He took the crown of their king from his head" (ii Sam. 12:30). The term also applies to the crown worn by a queen (Jer. 13:18), nobles (Esth. 8:15), and the bridegroom at his wedding (Song 3:11), and is often used in the Bible as a metaphor for anything conferring honor or authority, such as grandchildren (Prov. 17:6), or wisdom (Prov. 14:24). In Ezekiel 21:31 ʿaṭarah appears as part of the priestly headgear. ʿAṭarot were apparently made of precious materials – gold, silver, expensive cloths, and skins – as indicated in Zechariah 6:11, "Take from them silver and gold, and make crowns…." In biblical poetry, ʿaṭarah represents personal pride, "A good wife is a crown to her husband" (Prov. 12:4); and like the term nezer it also symbolizes national glory, "You shall also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord…" (Isa. 62:3). The third term, keter (from ktr, "to encircle"), appears only in the Book of Esther where it clearly denotes royalty, "He set the royal crown on her head and made her queen…" (Esth. 2:17).

Excavations in Ereẓ Israel have yielded some decorative headdresses mainly of the ʿaṭarah type. Such a headdress of the Israelite period, made of gold, and probably originally attached to a strip of cloth meant to be bound around the head, was found in Tell Jemmeh (Yurza of the Egyptian sources?; W.M.G. Petrie, Gerar (1928), pl. 1:1). A gold band used as ʿaṭarah was also found in Gaza (Petrie et al., Ancient Gaza, 4 (1934), pl. 14). An ivory palette on which is carved a woman wearing a decorative headdress, possibly of Assyrian origin and dating from the Israelite period, was found in Megiddo (G. Loud, The Megiddo Ivories (1939), pl.4).

[Ze'ev Yeivin]

In Post-Biblical Literature

The technical distinction between crowns and wreaths – the former designating a symbol of royalty and of majesty, made of gold, and the latter signifying a circlet of leaves and twigs worn as a festive symbol – is often confused in talmudic literature, the two terms being used, sometimes indiscriminately, as synonymous. Thus the Talmud makes the Mishnah (Avot 4:5), "make not of them [the words of the Torah] a wreath [ʿaṭarah] to magnify thyself therewith," to refer to "him who makes [worldly] use of the crown [keter] of the Torah" (Ned. 62a).

By transference the crown was made the symbol of dignity in other cases, and R. Simeon states, "there are three crowns, the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the royal crown, but the crown of a good name excels them all" (Avot 4:13; cf. the elaborate treatment of this passage in arn2 4, 3b).

The aggadah places a crown on the head of the Almighty, the "Supreme King of Kings." The archangel Sandalfon stands behind the divine chariot and wreathes a crown for his Maker, and pronouncing the divine name over it, places it on His head (Ḥag. 13b). The Midrash states that despite the fact that prayers take place at different times in different synagogues, when they are finished "the angel appointed over prayers takes all the prayers uttered in all the synagogues and makes of them a wreath which he places on the head of the Holy One, blessed be He" (Ex. R. 21:4). Although the word in that passage is ʿaṭarah, it is the basis of the Kedushah in the Musaf prayers of Sabbaths and festivals, according to the Sephardi ritual: "The hosts of angels above, together with Thy people Israel assembled below, make Thee a crown, O Lord our God." That wreath or crown the Holy One is destined to place on the head of the Messiah (ibid., 8:1). The phrase keter Torah ("crown of the Torah") is also used for the ornament placed as an embellishment on top of the scroll of the law (see *Ceremonial Art, Torah Ornaments). The phrase keter Torah was particularly apposite because the numerical value of keter – כתר – is 620, which represents the 613 biblical commandments and the seven Noaḥide laws which constitute the primary message of the Torah. On this basis David Vital published his Keter Torah listing these commandments in Constantinople, 1536 (D. Sperber, Minhagei Yisrael 2, Jerusalem 1991, pp. 112–13).

The wreath belongs to a lower category of distinction than the crown, though like the crown, it has its place in otherworldly as in worldly matters. "In the world to come there is neither eating nor drinking but the righteous sit with wreaths on their heads" (Ber. 17a). Wreaths were worn on all joyous occasions. In the Apocrypha they are mentioned as being made of rosebuds (Wisd. 2:8) and of olives (Judith 15:13). In Temple times it was the universal custom for both brides and bridegrooms to don them, but according to the Mishnah the custom, with regard to bridegrooms, was abolished after the destruction of the Temple ("during the war of Vespasian") as a sumptuary measure or sign of mourning (Sot. 9:14). In the Talmud (Sot. 49b) Rav states that the prohibition applied only to a wreath made of "salt and brimstone," which Rashi explains as a crown made of a block of salt upon which figures were traced in brimstone. A wreath of roses or myrtle, however, was permitted. His colleague, R. Samuel, forbade the latter but permitted wreaths of reeds and rushes, while R. Levi forbade those. After the "war of Quietus" the prohibition was extended to brides, whose wreath was "a golden city" (Sot. 49a), probably a golden crown with a design of Jerusalem (cf. Shab. 59a). According to Shabbat 7d this was a three-layered gold crown (not wreath) (Abramson, Leshonenu, 29 (1965), pp. 75–76; cf. D. Sperber, Leshonenu, 40 (1976), p. 168), which R. Akiva was credited with having given to his wife. Nevertheless, at least in Babylonia the custom continued for brides to wear them. Mar, son of R. Ashi, explained to Ravina, who queried the correctness of his making a garland for his daughter, that the prohibition applied to bridegrooms (Git. 7a). The flowers used for making crowns and garlands were called in Greek στεφανþματα (Hesychius), and this term in medieval times was used for nuptials (אישטיפנומטא, responsum of Isaiah of Trani, no. 39, Bari xiii cent.), indicating that the custom of garlanding the bride continued to be in use.

In the Mishnah (Ket. 2:1) it is stated that if a married woman could prove that on her wedding day she "went out with a hinnumah," it was accepted as evidence that she was a virgin. According to one opinion in the Talmud (Ket. 17b) the hinnumah is a myrtle wreath, and according to another a veil, but a suggestion has been made that it means "dyed with henna" (Bonfil).

Not only human beings were garlanded with wreaths. At the procession of the first fruits both horns of the sacrificial ox were garlanded with a wreath of olive leaves, and a garland consisting of either the seven species, according to R. Akiva or, according to R. Simeon b. Nanos, other species, was placed around the fruits themselves (Bik. 3:3 and 9). Wreaths of corn, which were used to adorn idols (cf. Acts 14:13), were forbidden for use by Jews (Av. Zar. 4:2).

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

bibliography:

in the bible: M.G. Houston, Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Persian Costume and Decoration (19542), figs. 1, 6, 13, 15, 17, 18, 27–32, 38–40, 45, 128a, 129, 138, 140, 148, pls. 2, 4, 7, 9; Pritchard, Pictures, 72, 296, 297; S.M. Paul, in: iej, 17 (1967), 259–63. in post-biblical literature: Krauss, Tal Arch, 1 (1910), 185f., 203 (no. 93); Bonfil, in: Hagut Ivrit be-Eiropah, ed. by M. Zohori and A. Tartakower (1969), 57–70. add. bibliography: H. Feuchtwanger, "The Coronation of the Virgin and the Bride," in: Jewish Art, 12/13 (1986–87), 213–24.