Out Of The Blue - Tekhelet (2 Videos & Photo Essay)

By BJLIfe/Sharon Altshul
Posted on 05/28/18

Jerusalem, Israel - May 28, 2018 - "Out of the Blue" is the English title of the newest exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem (BLMJ), opening on June 1, 2018. The color Blue is not mentioned in the Tanach, however, tekhelet is mentioned forty-nine times. The new display follows the secrets of tekhelet and argaman, two colors associated with royalty and and priesthood, from ancient to modern times.

The dying of tekheket in Eretz Yisrael was lost for centuries. Biblical tekhelet, the blue thread, ptil tekelet, was tied to garments and the talit, and was the inspiration for the design of the flag of state of Israel. 

BLMJ hosted an event featuring NGO Ptil Tekhelet's Dr. Baruch Sterman prior to opening of "Out of the Blue" to share the new exhibit and the process of obtaining tekhelet from snails. 


The journey to the origins of the color blue begins with a semi-precious blue stone, lapis lazuli, which was imported from distant Afghanistan to the ancient Near East. The stone was prized for its heavenly color, and in Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Canaanite cultures it was associated with the sky, where the gods were believed to reside. 

Rare pieces on display include Blue used on decorative items by the ancient gods Baal and Hadad, and an unique crown embedded with the rare lapis lazuli gemstone, and the only known jar in the world painted entirely in purple, featuring royal inscriptions of Darius I, king of Persia.

Phoenician traders from the Fertile Crescent reached as far as China. With modern technology, traces of cinnamon were found in a vessel, and traces of silver at Tel Dor in a jug decorated with blue dye. There is also archaeological evidence for the purple dye industry from Tel Shikmona and Tel Dor, plus rare prayer shawls and historic flags as Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary year, which round out the theme of renewal, continuance, and relevance that the BLMJ strives to display.

In 1914, Rabbi Dr Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog wrote his doctoral thesis at the University of London on the topic of “Hebrew Porphyrology” a term he coined for the study of Biblical Tekhelet. He proved that the Rebbe of Radzin who thought the blue came from a squid, was wrong. The thesis revived interest in the source of the ancient dying source and process.

Amanda Weiss, Director of BLMJ said, "This special exhibition looks at the magnificence as well as the significance of the color Blue in the ancient world, and ties the blue-dyed threads mentioned in the Bible and extra-Biblical texts, to the very design of the flag of the State of Israel today." 

As you see below, an Israeli flag was prepared for the BLMJ in honor of the 70th anniversary of Israel using tekhelet. Only secondary dye was used to dye the flag, as the dye used for tzitit strings must always be its first use. 

Ptil Takhelet prepares approximately 2000 sets of strings each month.  A the dye for set of strings for tzitit requires using approximately 30 snails.

"Out of the Blue,"is scheduled to run until September 2018, and was curated by Oree Meiri, Dr. Yigal Bloch, and Yehuda Kaplan.

Dr. Baruch Sterman, who authored "The Rarest Blue" with his wife Judy Taubes Sterman, provided BJL with a short explanation of his work and passion on tekhelet.