Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Rows of Black Tents Create a Nomadic Village in the Negev

Hello My Friend and Welcome.

Saul, renamed Paul, spent a considerable amount of time working in the Church at Antioch. He also visited Antioch while on his missionary journeys. Sound contradictory? It isn’t. In those days, there were a number of greater and lesser Antiochs scattered about Asia Minor…all named in honor of Antiochus, father of Seleucus who founded the Seleucid Empire. Te most important of these was Antioch on the Orentes, the Western capitol of the Seleucid Empire, the seat of the Roman Province Syria and the third largest city in the Roman Empire, after Rome and Alexandria.

Christianity came to Antioch early. Believers began leaving Jerusalem following the persecution which resulted in Stephen’s death. The new faith was preached to and accepted by the Greeks of the city and it was in Antioch that the name Christian, or Christianos, originated. Antioch served as a base for the missionary journeys of Paul, Barnabus, Silas and others. The Church at Antioch played a preeminent role in the First and Second Century, especially after 70 AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem.

One of the things we know about Saul/Paul is that he was a Jewish tentmaker from Tarsus in Cilicia. Cilicia was part of the larger area known to the Romans as Asia Minor in what is now southern Turkey. Its western boundary was the Taurus mountain range, a generally inaccessible area. A mountain pass, known as the Cilician Gate provided a way through the mountains to Cappadocia. The eastern half of Cilicia consisted of broad, fertile plains. Tarsus lay a short distance inland from the Mediterranean Sea astride the road leading to the Cilician Gate. It probably saw a lot of traffic as trading caravans and other merchants transported goods between the port and Cappadocia.

We know from the epistles that Paul took great pride in being self-supporting. This would imply that he practiced his trade both at home and away. By home we, of course, mean Antioch, which was the closest thing Paul had to a permanent residence after his conversion to Christianity.

How much time did he actually spend there? Acts 11 tells us that after Barnabus returned from Tarsus with Paul, they spent a year in the city preaching and teaching. They then took famine relief to Jerusalem and returned with John Mark. There appears to be an unspecified period of time prior to their leaving on the first missionary journey. 

Paul and Barnabus were gone two years. Then they returned and stayed in Antioch for between two and three years…autumn of 46 – 49 AD. Acts 14 They left for the Council of Jerusalem and, as soon as they got back, began preparing for the second missionary journey, which began about 50 AD. We know from Acts that Paul refused to all John Mark accompany them on the second mission. John Mark was Barnabas’s cousin, and this decision created a rift between the two men. Paul took Silvanus (Silas) instead and Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyrpus, which was Barnabas’ home.

Paul returned two years later for a period of R & R that lasted another year, and then set off on his third missionary journey. He never returned to Antioch. Instead, he sailed to the Judean capitol of Caesarea at the end of his third mission, was arrested in Jerusalem, and subsequently taken to Rome. Still, from the narrative above, we can easily credit Paul with between six and seven years in Antioch during which time he would have supported himself by making tents.

Tents of that era were quite different from the quick up/quick down Coleman variety with adjustable aluminum poles, zippered flap and windows, and sewn-in floor. The tents of Paul’s day had no floor. The sides consisted of curtains that hung to the ground. They could be rolled back to admit the breeze during the day and pulled down to completely enclose the tent at night.

Close-up of the Finished Tent Cloth
New tents were typically only made when a young groom and his bride set up housekeeping for themselves. The tents consisted of long strips of fabric about three feet wide. These strips were sewn together to make any and all sizes of tents. The tent was regularly inspected and worn or ripped sections were removed and a new one sewn in its place. The piece they removed could be cut down and used for a side curtain. If the family grew and more space was required, additional strips were added to make the tent deeper or wider as necessary. Isaiah referred to this practice when he wrote, “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; hold not back, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.” (Isaiah 54:2)

These strips of tent cloth were woven on a simple horizontal loom. Some of these looms required the weaver to sit or kneel on the floor as they worked. Since Paul spent long hours at the loom, he most probably used a model that provided a seat. The illustration below shows a man in Senegal using a loom similar to one that Paul most likely used. The frame is set up at the proper width of the fabric. A roller near the user’s knees accumulates the finished fabric. The incoming threads are secured to a roller far in front of the loom.

A double harness loom is most efficient when weaving a single colored fabric. Weaving consists of passing a single weft thread back and forth between multiple warp threads. The warp threads are long and close, forming the body of the fabric. Their overall width determines the width of the finished piece and the finished piece can be no longer that the warp threads. The weft thread is wound on a spool, known as a shuttle. It binds the opposing warp threads together as it is passed back and forth. In order to weave, individual warp threads must be separated (lifted) from their neighbors. Odd numbered threads are attached to one harness and even to the other. When one pedal is depressed, half of the threads rise allowing the shuttle to pass between the threads.  When the other is depressed, the opposite threads rise for the shuttle’s return pass.

The tent fabric was woven from black goat hair. This resulting fabric was coarse and heavy, providing protection during the cold months and at night. The goat hair cloth used for tents remained porous when dry. This facilitated airflow and dissipated heat in a desert-like environment. During periods of higher moisture —heavy dew or winter rains— the thread quickly swelled, making the tent waterproof. Solomon referenced the color of the tents when he wrote, “I am very dark, but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar…” (Song of Solomon 1:5)

Antioch lay between the road running from Boerea, known as the Silk Road, to the port of Pieria Seleucia. Caravans from as far away as China and India must have passed through the city on a regular basis. These merchants all lived in tents while on the move. Antioch was surely as good a location for a tentmaker as he could hope to find.

 Next time we’ll be examining the First Century game the Romans called Tabula.

 Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings.

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1 comment:

kathrynwarmstrong said...

Hi! I have written a devotional commentary on Song of Solomon, which I'm posting week by week on Sundays. I was googling for a picture of "the tents of Kedar" and your pictures and post came up. May I use the pictures of your tents and goats this Sunday with a credit at the bottom giving them a link to your blog? If you're willing, you can reach me at or kathrynwarmstrong at My blog is called Summer Setting and is a potpourri of meditations and reflections from a Christian perspective.Thanks for considering this!