Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Leviticus 19:27

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Ye shall not round the corners your heads - This and the following verse evidently refer to customs which must have existed among the Egyptians when the Israelites sojourned in Egypt; and what they were it is now difficult, even with any probability, to conjecture. Herodotus observes that the Arabs shave or cut their hair round, in honor of Bacchus, who, they say, had his hair cut in this way, lib. iii., cap. 8. He says also that the Macians, a people of Libya, cut their hair round, so as to leave a tuft on the top of the head, lib. iv., cap. 175. In this manner the Chinese cut their hair to the present day. This might have been in honor of some idol, and therefore forbidden to the Israelites.

The hair was much used in divination among the ancients, and for purposes of religious superstition among the Greeks; and particularly about the time of the giving of this law, as this is supposed to have been the era of the Trojan war. We learn from Homer that it was customary for parents to dedicate the hair of their children to some god; which, when they came to manhood, they cut off and consecrated to the deity. Achilles, at the funeral of Patroclus, cut off his golden locks which his father had dedicated to the river god Sperchius, and threw them into the flood: -

Στας απανευθε πυρης ξονθην απεκειρατο χαιτην,π

Την ῥα Σπερχειῳ ποταμῳ τρεφε τηλεθοωσαν·π

Οχθησας δ ' αρα ειπεν, ιδων επι οινοπα ποντον·π

Σπερχει 'αλλως σοι γε πατηρ ηρησατο Πηλευς. κ. τπ . λπ .

Iliad, 1. xxiii., ver. 142, etc.

But great Achilles stands apart in prayer,

And from his head divides the yellow hair,

Those curling locks which from his youth he vowed,

And sacred threw to Sperchius' honored flood.

Then sighing, to the deep his looks he cast,

And rolled his eyes around the watery waste.

Sperchius! whose waves, in mazy errors lost,

Delightful roll along my native coast!

To whom we vainly vowed, at our return,

These locks to fall, and hecatombs to burn

So vowed my father, but he vowed in vain,

No more Achilles sees his native plain;

In that vain hope these hairs no longer grow;

Patrocius bears them to the shades below.


From Virgil we learn that the topmost lock of hair was dedicated to the infernal gods; see his account of the death of Dido: -

"Nondum illi flavum Proserpina vertice crinem

Abstulerat, Stygioque caput damnaverat orco

- Hunc ego Diti Sacrum jussa fero; teque isto corpore solvo.

Sic ait, et dextra crinem secat."

Aeneid, lib. iv., ver. 698.

The sisters had not cut the topmost hair,

Which Proserpine and they can only know.

Nor made her sacred to the shades below -

This offering to the infernal gods I bear;

Thus while she spoke, she cut the fatal hair.


If the hair was rounded, and dedicated for purposes of this kind, it will at once account for the prohibition in this verse. The corners of thy beard - Probably meaning the hair of the cheek that connects the hair of the head with the beard. This was no doubt cut in some peculiar manner, for the superstitious purposes mentioned above. Several of our own countrymen wear this said hair in a curious form; for what purposes they know best: we cannot say precisely that it is the ancient Egyptian custom revived. From the images and paintings which remain of the ancient Egyptians, we find that they were accustomed to shave the whole hair off their face, except merely that upon the chin, which last they cut off only in times of mourning.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 26-28

Certain pagan customs, several of them connected with magic, are here grouped together. The prohibition to eat anything with the blood may indeed refer to the eating of meat which had not been properly bled in slaughtering (Leviticus 7:26; Leviticus 17:10, etc.): but it is not improbable that there may be a special reference to some sort of magical or idolatrous rites. Compare Ezekiel 33:25.

Leviticus 19:26

Observe times - It is not clear whether the original word refers to the fancied distinction between lucky and unlucky days, to some mode of drawing omens from the clouds, or to the exercise of “the evil eye.”

Leviticus 19:27

Round the corners of your heads - This may allude to such a custom as that of the Arabs described by Herodotus. They used to show honor to their deity Orotal by cutting the hair away from the temples in a circular form. Compare the margin reference.

Mar the corners of thy beard - It has been conjectured that this also relates to a custom which existed among the Arabs, but we are not informed that it had any idolatrous or magical association. As the same, or very similar customs, are mentioned in Leviticus 21:5, and in Deuteronomy 14:1, as well as here, it would appear that they may have been signs of mourning.

Leviticus 19:28

Cuttings in your flesh for the dead - Compare the margin reference. Among the excitable races of the East this custom appears to have been very common.

Print any marks - Tattooing was probably practiced in ancient Egypt, as it is now by the lower classes of the modern Egyptians, and was connected with superstitious notions. Any voluntary disfigurement of the person was in itself an outrage upon God‘s workmanship, and might well form the subject of a law.