The Hebrew Bible (Tanakh, Christian Old Testament) recorded women wearing veils as early as Rebekah in Genesis (Breshith). See Judaism stack exchange

However, there is debate over whether women wore veils in public for modesty as currently done in the Middle East. As often the issue, historic records assumed the reader knew the customs and didn't describe the customs in detail.

Are there other ancient records (e.g. Egyptian pictures, text, cuneiform tablets, etc.) that give clearer indication of early Middle Eastern customs on wearing veils that can answer this question?

  • Babylon and Persia. As for Egypt, the five volume Gale Encyclopedia of Fashion, Costume, and Culture makes little secret that transparent or see-through clothes were quite common for both sexes. I also doubt, based on comparative linguistics, that covering one's face literally referred to the frontal part of one's head, but that's somewhat speculative.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 1:43
  • See through veils worked well with Palestinian Christian woman in the twentieth century. During the day, you could see out, but not see in. They covered the entire head.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 9:15
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    "Assyrian law dictated that wives, daughters, and widows must wear a veil, but prostitutes and slave women were forbidden from wearing a veil." fashionencyclopedia.com/fashion_costume_culture/…
    – Jan
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 9:19
  • 1
    Linen could be made so thin, or sheer, that it was transparent. Egyptians were not modest and enjoyed showing off their bodies. Women and men are frequently depicted in hieroglyphs, or picture stories, wearing see-through garments. (First volume, page 23).
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 13:00
  • 1
    @PerryWebb: Yes. But not with regard to head or face veils. Egyptians preferred less-densely-woven clothes, and understandably so, given Africa's (much) warmer climate.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 16:39

1 Answer 1


Still waiting for a more complete answer, but embarrassed that the book referenced is on my computer.

Neither wives of seigniors nor [widows] nor [Assyrian women], who go out on the street [may have] their heads [uncovered]. The daughters of a seignior … whether it is a shawl or a robe or [a mantle], must veil themselves; [they must not have] their heads [uncovered]. Whether … or … or … they must [not veil themselves, but] when they go out on the street alone, they must veil themselves. A concubine who goes out on the street with her mistress must veil herself. A sacred prostitute whom a man married must veil herself on the street, but one whom a man did not marry must have her head uncovered on the street; she must not veil herself. A harlot must not veil herself; her head must be uncovered; -- ("The Middle Assyrian Laws," Translator: Theophile J. Meek, Tablet A) Pritchard, J. B. (Ed.). (1969). The Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (3rd ed. with Supplement, p. 183). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[Dating above] The tablets themselves date from the time of Tiglath-pileser I in the 12th century B.C., but the laws on them may go back to the 15th century. -- Pritchard, J. B. (Ed.). (1969). The Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (3rd ed. with Supplement, p. 180). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Heads covered. Does this indicate "head" only or "from the head down"? Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 0:23

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