International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
(1) Western Semites in general, according to the monuments, wore full round beards, to which they evidently devoted great care. The nomads of the desert, in distinction from the settled Semites, wore a clipped and pointed beard (see Jeremiah 9:26: "all that have the corners of their hair cut off, that dwell in the wilderness"; and compare 25:23; 49:32, etc.).
(2) Long beards are found on Assyrian and Babylonian monuments and sculptures as a mark of the highest aristocracy (compare Egyptian monuments, especially representations by W. Max Muller, Asien und Europa, 140). It is not clear that it was ever so with the Jews. Yet it is significant that the Hebrew "elder" (zaqen) seems to have received his name from his long beard (compare bene barbatus).
(3) The view of some that it was customary among the Hebrews to shave the upper lip is considered by the best authorities as without foundation. The mustache (Hebrew sapham, "beard"), according to 2 Samuel 19:24, received regular "trimming" (thus English Versions of the Bible after the Vulgate, but the Hebrew is generic, not specific: "He had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard").
(4) In one case (1 Samuel 21:13, 14) the neglect of the beard is set down as a sign of madness: "(He) let his spittle fall down upon his beard. Then said Achish,. Lo, ye see the man is mad."
(5) It was common. Semitic custom to cut both hair and beard as a token of grief or distress. Isaiah 15:2, describing the heathen who have "gone up to the high places to weep," says "Moab waileth over Nebo, and over Medeba; on all their heads is baldness, every beard is cut off." Jeremiah (Jeremiah 41:5), describing the grief of the men of Samaria for their slain governor, Gedaliah, says, "There came men from. Samaria (his sorrowing subjects) even four score men, having their beards shaven and their clothes rent," etc. And Amos, in his prophecy of the vision of the "basket of summer fruit" (Amos 8:1), makes Yahweh say to His people: "I will turn your feasts into mourning;. I will bring sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head" (Amos 8:10). On the other hand it was even more significant of great distress or fear to leave the beard untrimmed, as did Mephibosheth, the son of Saul, when he went to meet King David, in the crisis of his guilty failure to go up with the king according to his expectation: "He had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came home in peace." (Compare 1 Samuel 21:13, 14 2 Samuel 19:24.)
(6) Absalom's hair was cut only once a year, it would seem (2 Samuel 14:26; compare rules for priests, Levites, etc., Ezekiel 44:20). But men then generally wore their hair longer than is customary or seemly with us (of Songs 5:2, 11, "His locks are bushy, and black as a raven"). Later, in New Testament times, it was a disgrace for a man to wear long hair (1 Corinthians 11:6-15). To mutilate the beard of another was considered a great indignity (see 2 Samuel 10:4; compare Isaiah 50:6, "plucked off the hair"). The shaving of the head of a captive slave-girl who was to be married to her captor marked her change of condition and prospects (Deuteronomy 21:12; W. R. Smith, Kinship, 209).
Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, II, 324, 349; Herod. i0.195; ii0.36; iii0.12; Josephus, Antiquities, VIII, viii, 3; XVI, viii, 1; W. R. Smith, Kinship, 209; RS, 324; Wellhausen, Skizzen, III, 167,
George B. Eager