—Biblical Data:

In the Old Testament this word has two meanings; in one group of passages it signifies a garment; in another, very probably an image. In the former the ephod is referred to in the priestly ordinances as a part of the official dress of the high priest, and was to be made of threads "of blue and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen," and embroidered in gold thread "with cunning work" (Ex. xxviii. 4 et seq., xxix. 5, xxxix. 2 et seq.; Lev. viii. 7). The description of the garment in these passages is not detailed enough to give a clear picture of its shape, nor does the description of Josephus do so ("B. J." v. 5, § 7; "Ant." iii. 7, § 5). All that can be gleaned from the text is the following: The ephod was held together by a girdle () of similar workmanship sewed on to it (Ex. xxviii. 8); it had two shoulder-pieces, which, as the name implies, crossed the shoulders, and were apparently fastened or sewed to the ephod in front (Ex. xxviii. 7, 27). In dressing, the shoulder-pieces were joined in the back to the two ends of the ephod. Nothing is said of the length of the garment. At the point where the shoulder-pieces were joined together in the front "above the girdle," two golden rings were sewed on, to which the breast-plate was attached (see Breastplate).

As a Garment.

In other passages from the historical books, dating back to an early period, "ephod" probably means a garment set apart for the priest. In I Sam. xxii. 18 the eighty-five priests of Nob are designated as men that "did wear a linen ephod" ("efod bad"). In this passage the Septuagint omits the word "bad," and if this omission is correct, the passage might be explained as referring to the wearing of the ephod by the priests. The word "bad" is also omitted in the Septuagint I Sam. ii. 18, where it is said that Samuel was girded with a linen ephod, and likewise of II Sam. vi. 14, which relates how David, girded only with a linen ephod, danced before the Lord. Here certainly reference must have been made to a species of garment worn only by the priest on ceremonial occasions; but even this passage gives the reader no idea of what its appearance was.

As an Image.

The word "ephod" has an entirely different meaning in the second group of passages, all of which belong to the historical books. It is certain that the word can not here mean a garment. This isevident in Judges viii. 26-27, where it is recorded that Gideon took the golden earrings of the Midianites, weighing 1,700 shekels of gold, and made an "ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah," where it was worshiped by all Israel. In Judges xvii. 5 Micah made an ephod and teraphim for his sanctuary. I Sam. xxi. 9 records that an ephod stood in the sanctuary at Nob, and that Goliath's sword was kept behind it. In these passages it is clear that something other than a mantle or article of attire is meant. Even where the phrase "to carry" the ephod occurs, it is evident from the Hebrew "nasa'" that reference is made to something carried in the hand or on the shoulder (comp. I Sam. xxiii. 6).

The most natural inference from all these passages is that "ephod" here signifies an image that was set up in the sanctuary, especially since the word is cited with Teraphim, which undoubtedly refers to an image (comp. Hosea iii. 4). This assumption obtains strong confirmation from the fact that in Judges xvii. 3 et seq., which is compiled from two sources, the words "pesel" and "massekah" (graven image and molten image) are used interchangeably with "ephod" and "teraphim."

Connection Between Ephod and Oracle.

The ephod is frequently mentioned in close connection with the sacred oracle. When Saul or David wished to question Yhwh through the oracle, they commanded the priest, "Bring hither the ephod" (I Sam. xiv. 18 [A. V. "ark of God"], xxiii. 9, xxx. 7). This connection between the ephod and the oracle may also be seen very clearly in the combination of Urim and Thummim with the ephod in the official robes of the high priest. It is the prerogative of the priests to carry and to question this ephod with the oracle. The sentence "Ahiah was at that time carrying the ephod before Israel" actually means that Ahiah was then the chief among the priests of Shiloh (I Sam. xiv. 3, xiv. 18 [LXX.]; compare xxiii. 6). On the oracle compare Urim and Thummim.

This juxtaposition of "ephod" and "oracle" has led to the assumption that in the last-mentioned passages "ephod" originally meant a kind of receptacle for the sacred lots, similar to the oracle pocket in the robe of the high priest (comp. Cheyne and Black, "Encyc. Bibl." and Foote in Johns Hopkins University Circulars). This assumption would harmonize all the early passages of the historical books, for if the word "bad" be omitted, the above-mentioned passages (I Sam. ii. 18, xxii. 18) may also be taken to mean that the priests "girded" this pocket about them. But this interpretation is impossible in II Sam. vi. 14, and is not very suitable in the stories concerning the ephods of Gideon and Micah. It might be adopted, however, where "ephod" is mentioned in connection with the oracle, for the image called "teraphim" is associated with the oracle in the same way (comp. Ezek. xxi. 26 [21]; Zech. x. 2). "Ephod" would then refer to a portable image, before which the lots were cast.

It can not be definitely ascertained what connection, if any, there was between the two meanings, "image" and "priestly robe." If the designation for "image" is connected with the original meaning of "ephod" as a covering or a dress, it may be inferred that these images were made of wood, clay, or some inferior metal, and covered with a "mantle" of gold or silver (comp. Isa. xxx. 22). Smend endeavors to prove an inner connection between the two meanings by assuming ("Religionsgesch." p. 41) that the image itself was originally clothed with an "ephod bad": witness the ancient custom of the Arabs of hanging garments and swords upon their idols (Wellhausen, "Skizzen," iii. 99).

  • Benzinger, Arch. p. 382;
  • Nowack, Archäologie, ii. 21 et seq., 118 et seq.;
  • Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl.;
  • Hastings, Dict. Bible;
  • Foote, in Johns Hopkins University Circulars, May, 1900;
  • idem, in Journal of Biblical Literature, 1902, pp. 1-48.
E. G. H. I. Be.—In Rabbinical Literature:

Although the high priest in the Herodian temple wore an ephod (Ḳid. 31a), tannaitic tradition has little to say regarding its character. The material of which the ephod was made was a texture consisting of twenty-eight threads, one thread of leaf gold being spun with six threads of each of the four textures mentioned in Ex. xxviii. 6 (Yoma 71b). Rashi, closely following the Bible, describes the shape of the ephod as follows:

(Rashi to Ex. l.c.; similarly, also, Maimonides, "Yad," Kele ha-Miḳdash, ix. 9-10).

"The ephod was made like a girdle which women wear in riding, and was fastened in the back, against the heart, under the arms. In breadth it was somewhat wider than the back, and in length it reached to the heels; a girdle, long enough to be used as a belt, was fastened lengthwise above. The shoulder-bands, which were fastened to this girdle, were made of the same material as the ephod, and fell in front a little below the shoulders. The 'shoham' [A. V. "onyx"] stones were then fastened to the shoulder-bands, and golden threads connected the edges of the shoham stones with the breastplate () by means of the rings on the latter"

Even in the tannaitic tradition there was a difference of opinion as to the order in which the names of the twelve tribes were put on the "shoham" stones (Soṭah 36a). According to Rashi's explanation of the passage, the Tannaim differ in that according to the one opinion the names followed in the sequence of the ages of the Patriarchs, with the exception of Judah, who headed the list; while according to the other opinion, the names of Leah's sons were on the stones of the right shoulder-band, and on the left side the name of Benjamin came first, followed by those of the four sons of the concubines , with Joseph's name at the end. Maimonides, however, probably basing his reasons on a lost baraita, says (l.c.) that there were 25 letters on each side and that the sequence was as follows:


According to this opinion, if the list was read from right to left, the names were arranged in the sequence of the ages of the Patriarchs, with the exception, however, that Naphtali's name, instead of following Dan's, preceded it. That Joseph's name was spelled in the unusual form Yehosef is assertedin the Talmud (l.c. 36b). In conformity with the view that the garments of the high priest possessed the power of absolving from sin (compare High Priest in Rabbinical Literature), it is asserted that the ephod was used in atoning for idolatrous sins, "ephod" meaning also "the idol" (Zeb. 87b). The ephod of the high priest must be distinguished from the linen ephod which is mentioned in Scripture as a common garment of priests and of the disciples of prophets (Maimonides, l.c. x. 13; Ibn Ezra on Ex. l.c.; but compare Yer. Sanh. x. 29a). Compare Breastplate of the High Priest; Gems; Urim and Thummim.

  • Epstein, Mi-Ḳadmoniyyot, pp. 83-90;
  • A. Portaleone, Shilṭe ha-Gibborim, xliv.
S. S. L. G.
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