In the Bible, a “fuller” refers to someone who fulls or thickens cloth. The fuller’s field is mentioned a few times in the Old Testament as a geographic reference point. Understanding the role of a fuller provides insight into the culture and commerce of ancient Israel.
In the King James Version of the Bible, the word “fuller” appears four times, all in the Old Testament. The fuller’s field is referenced specifically twice, while fullers are mentioned in general twice more (2 Kings 18:17, Isaiah 7:3). So what exactly did these fullers do?
Simply put, fulling was part of the clothmaking process. After wool was spun into yarn and woven into cloth, it was taken to a fuller. Through a process of moistening, beating, and agitating the cloth, the fuller would felt the fibers together, making the material thicker, softer, and more dense.
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The fuller’s field was likely located outside the city near a water source, where the fullers could easily obtain the water they needed for their trade. We can glean several key insights from examining the biblical mentions of fullers and the fuller’s field:
- Fullers were clothworkers who thicken and soften woven wool through moistening and agitating the cloth.
- The fuller’s field was probably located near a water source outside the city gates.
- References to the fuller’s field in the Bible help reveal details about commerce and culture in ancient Israel.
- Understanding the fuller’s trade provides insight into the processes involved in making wool garments in Biblical times.
- Fullers represent one of the many trades and crafts that existed in an ancient Biblical city.
Now let’s take a deeper look at what the Bible says about fullers and the fuller’s field.
Fuller’s Field as Geographic Reference Point
The fuller’s field is referenced specifically twice in the Old Testament as a meeting place and geographic point of reference:
2 Kings 18:17 (NKJV):
Then the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh from Lachish, with a great army against Jerusalem, to King Hezekiah. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they had come up, they went and stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool, which was on the highway to the Fuller’s Field.
Isaiah 36:2 (NKJV):
And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. Then he stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field.
These verses place the fuller’s field outside Jerusalem along an aqueduct between the upper pool and the city. This fits with what we know about the fuller’s trade, which required ample water. The fuller’s field was a well-known landmark and gathering place, demonstrating that fullers were common enough in ancient Israel for their fields to be used as local reference points.
Social Role of Fullers
Beyond being identified by their craft, fullers as individuals are not directly mentioned in the Bible. But we can learn about their social standing and reputation based on a few observations:
- Fullers worked outside city walls, probably due to need for space, water, and drainage for washing fabrics. This set them apart from urban trades located inside the city.
- In Ancient Israel, clothmaking and clothing production fell under women’s work. The specific tasks of fullers reflect specialized skills and labor intensive work, likely performed by men.
- No regulations or descriptions are given in the Mosaic law about fullers, implying fulling was common enough to not require explanation.
- The fuller’s field was notable enough to be used symbolicly. When meeting envoys, Rabshakeh chooses it as a location to make pronouncements and demoralize Jerusalem’s defenders (2 Kings 18:17).
So while fullers probably represented a common trade in ancient Israel, archaeological and textual evidence suggests they occupied a unique space both geographically and socially.
The Process of Fulling
The actual craft of fulling involved specialized knowledge of treating woolen cloth:
- After shearing, sorting, washing, carding, and spinning, wool would be woven into textiles using warp and weft techniques on a loom.
- Newly woven wool cloths would be quite thick but loose and prone to unraveling. The fulling process treated the cloth to make it more compact, durable, and weather resistant.
- Cloth would be soaked and scrubbed in a solution of water mixed with an alkali “fuller’s earth” and natural oils or fats. The combination of moisture, heat, and agitation causes the fibers to entangle, shrink and bond together.
- Fullers used their feet to trample the wet cloth and their hands to rub and wring the material. This labor intensified the physical friction needed to felt the woolen fibers.
- Once shrunken, thickened, and felted, fabrics were rinsed, dried, brushed, and sheared to remove surface fibers. This produced a strong, dense, water-resistant cloth.
So in summary, fullers used specialized skills, tools, and treatments to transform wool fabrics into cloth hardy enough for garments, tents, rugs, and other uses. Their craft was essential to providing finished textiles in ancient cultures.
Other Biblical Mentions
Aside from the fuller’s field, fullers are mentioned two other times in figurative contexts:
2 Kings 18:17 (NKJV):
And the king of Assyria sent Tartan, Rabsaris, and Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah with a great army to Jerusalem. So they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they had come up, they went and stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool, which was on the highway to the Fuller’s Field.
This verse describes Rabshakeh and his cohorts as being “from Lachish”, a town southwest of Jerusalem that the Assyrians had recently conquered. Lachish was known for its textile dyeing industry, so some interpret this as meaning Rabshakeh’s contingent included fullers. Thus the passage emphasizes that even textile workers were part of Assyria’s military might.
Isaiah 7:3 (NKJV):
Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-Jashub your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field
Isaiah gives Ahaz instructions to meet at the fuller’s field. Some see this as a symbolic command for Ahaz to seek cleansing as a fuller cleanses cloth. More literally, it references a well-known landmark where the prophet can convey God’s message.
While these figurative uses show fullers were familiar enough to draw symbolic meaning, they don’t reveal much about actual fulling practices. The geographic mentions in Kings and Isaiah give us the best cultural context for understanding fullers’ occupation and social status.
Insights into Biblical Culture
Looking more broadly, examining the fuller’s trade sheds light on several aspects of Biblical history and culture:
- Textile production: Fullers represent one of the many specialized crafts needed to produce finished garments from wool. Archaeological evidence reveals advanced textile technology in ancient societies.
- Industrial location: Fullers worked on the outskirts of settlements due to infrastructure requirements. This reflects how space was organized based on trades requiring heavy labor or waste disposal.
- Water dependence: Fullers needed reliable water sources, usually provided by wells, pools, or aqueducts. Access to water influenced where fullers could ply their trade.
- Trade specialization: Fullers relied on other crafts like shepherds, weavers, and merchants to provide raw materials and move finished goods. This interdependence was crucial for thriving commerce.
- Treatment processes: Fulling demonstrates ancient expertise in treating raw fibers to create sturdy, useful textiles without modern chemicals and machinery.
So while fullers receive sparse direct mention, they represent an important industry that enables us to reconstruct the economy, infrastructure, and society of biblical-era cities. The fuller’s field anchors their trade in a specific locale.
In summary, the biblical fuller was a specialized craftsman who performed an essential step in the production of woolen textiles – the process of cleansing, shrinking and bonding the cloth through moisture, pressure and agitation. This thickened and strengthened the fabric.
The association of fullers with a designated field along a water source outside Jerusalem provides a glimpse into both the importance of their trade and the way urban spaces were organized according to function.
Though they appear only briefly in Scripture, fullers were integral to ancient commerce and demonstrate the interdependence of crafts like shepherding, spinning, weaving, and fabric production. Careful attention to details like the fuller’s field allows us to piece together the social, economic, and materialsetting of the Biblical world.
Understanding the role of fullers thus sheds light on the everyday trades and crafts that supported the cultures in which the sweeping Biblical narrative unfolds. They form part of the rich backdrop of a society that relied on specialized skills like fulling to produce the goods necessary for ancient life.