Was Paul a Tallit-Maker?
Many times over the last 15 years, I have heard the assertion that the Apostle Paul (Rav. Sha'ul) was not a tent-maker, as most Bibles render it. Rather, he was a tallit-maker. This assertion is even popularized in some Hebrew Roots Bible versions and HR-flavored commentaries. Indeed, so common is the acceptance of this belief, that few even question it. But one should be compelled to ask…why? Why does one need Paul to be a tallit-maker? Does it render him somehow more Jewish? Does it, in some way, make him any more of an Apostle? What do we gain by claiming this understanding? I'll let those questions hang there for a moment, while addressing the issue at hand.
In addition to the above stated belief that many assert that Paul was a tallit-maker, the following verses are often quoted in support of this:
7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. 8 And it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. 9 Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. – Ex. 33:7-10 (NASB95)
So, they say, that when each man was "at the doorway of his tent" (in the NASB95 above, rendered as "entrance") it actually means, "wearing his tallit." They say that since Jews claim the tallit is a tent or doorway, that it means every man stood nearby, with his tallit on. Further, some sites, such as ngabo.org*, claim:
The word Tallit in Hebrew means a small tent, a Tabernacle or a dwelling place in the presence of God, which also was given a name as a prayer shawl in English. The scripture in Acts 18:3; talks about Apostle Paul being a tent maker, which simply meant that he was making tallits (prayer shawls).
[* Note: in 2016 this site was active. As of 1/7/2022 however, it is not.]
So there is the background. Now let's work on definitions.
First, what is a tallit? What is the purpose of it? The purpose of a tallit is merely to be a "four-cornered garment" that holds tsitsiyot (tassels/fringes). That is all. There is no Biblical command to wear a tallit, only to wear tsitsiyot (Numbers 15). The tallit, however, was invented as a way to hold the tsitsiyot and thus fulfill the command of the fringes.
Next, what word is used when it calls Paul a tent-maker? This is the Greek word σκηνοποιός (skeno-poios). This word appears only one time, and that is in Acts 18:3. The word is a noun, composed of two other Greek words. These are the noun σκηνή (skene), meaning "tabernacle, booth, tent, dwelling;" and the verb ποιέω (poieoh), meaning "to make, do, manufacture." Indeed, in the Greek Septuagint, the word translated as "tent" in Ex. 33:8 is, yet again, skene.
So this word, skenopoios, means "a maker of skene." As far as I can tell, prior to the rise of the Messianic movement in the mid-80s, no one ever doubted that skene meant "tent." However, due to a desire to see the Jewishness in the New Testament, many have begun to look further into things. At this juncture, I believe it is necessary to state that there is not a single lexicon or dictionary out there that I can find which lists "tallit" as a possible definition for the Greek skene. (And I have dozens)
Also, the claim above regarding tallit meaning "little tent" is also, as best as I can tell, false. For starters, tallit is an Aramaic word, not a Hebrew word. It is derived from the word טלל (talal), which means "to shade, to cover." Further, there is no support for believing Ex. 33 refers to each man being under his tallit. This is further evidenced by the fact that the prayer shawl (tallit) of today did not exists in Paul's day. They wore outer garments, yes, and those garments bore their tsitsiyot. But the tallit as a prayer shawl that one wears like a tent "began to take on the form known today beginning around 1,000 CE."  This is nearly a millennia after the death of Paul and the other Apostles. Now to be fair, Lupia also notes that a type of tallit began to take shape towards the end of the first century CE. This started as merely a standardized garment to hold the tsitsiyot, as mentioned earlier (similar to the Bedoiun abayya). Over time, it became the "prayer shawl" that it is known as today, around 1,000 CE.
But let's go further. Let's look at the logic presented here. Not only was Paul a skene-maker, but so were Priscilla and Aquilla. This means that this was an actual trade or business. This was a way to make a living. These three individuals were all Jews and all frequented the areas of the Diaspora, especially Priscilla and Aquila. This means that whatever they were selling, they could make a living. This is not the case with selling talitot to Jews, especially those in the Diaspora, who were far more Hellenistic than those in Jerusalem. Further, since the custom of the tallit was not yet a requirement, there is no reason to assume that every observant Jew would have needed one.
Further still, let's look at how some of the early translations of the Greek texts render this word, "tent-maker" to find out how the various people understood it.
The Latin Vulgate, in Acts 18:3, reads: et quia eiusdem erat artis manebat apud eos et operabatur erat autem scenofactoriae artis.
Translated, this is: And because he was of the same trade, he remained with them and wrought. (Now they were tentmakers by trade.)
Note that in the Latin text, the word second from the end (scenofactoriae), basically says, "sceno factory." Sound familiar? That is because the Latin borrowed the word skene from Greek, and the word factoriae means "to manufacture." So this doesn't offer much help. Clearly, though, the translation given is still "tent-maker." The early Latin translators seemed to have known it to be a tent.
The Syriac Aramaic Peshitta, in Acts 18:3, reads: ומֵטֻל דּבַר אוּמָנוּתהוּן הוָא שׁרָא לֵה לוָתהוּן ופָלַח הוָא עַמהוּן בֻּאומָנוּתהוּן דֵּין לָולָרֵא הוַו
This translates to: (and) because he was a son of their art, he dwelt with them and wrought with them: but in their art they were tentmakers.
However, the Peshitta translation by George Lamsa makes one interesting clarification: And because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked with them: for they were saddle makers by trade.
Saddle-makers? How did they end up with that? Well, simply put, Lamsa was looking for a more literal translation of the Syriac word used. In this case, it is לָולָרֵא (lawlarei), which is defined by the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon as, "a maker of rough cloth." Where do they derive this definition? The J. Payne Smith Compendious Syriac Dictionary reads, "a maker of rough cloth for tents, or horsecloths." We find perhaps more information in William Jennings' Lexicon to the Syriac New Testament, which reads, "Latinism […], perhaps corrupt from aulaerii, or from lorarii. A saddle- or harness-maker does not make curtains or tent-cloth. Latin lorum with sense saddle, housing, trappings."
Jennings seemed convinced that it derived from a Latin source. It should be noted that each of these Latin words, all related to lorum, relate to "straps, thongs, flogs." This was, in that time, a reference only to leather products. Still, however, we find no reference to saddles or any creature that needed one. Indeed, the difficulty being that this word is nowhere used anywhere else in ancient Syriac literature. In fact, even the Greek and Latin terms are not used anywhere else, outside the NT. However, by comparing the ancient understandings, along with logic and the culture of the time, we can get a clearer picture of what really was happening.
(It may also be of note that in his Hebrew New Testament, Franz Delitzsch rendered the word as a form of ohel, meaning "tent.")
As noted earlier, Tallit is already an Aramaic word. If Paul was making Tallitot, why would the Peshitta, being Syriac and therefore of Aramaic derivationt, at the very least not read, "tallit maker"? Rather, it furthers the idea that Paul was one who worked with harsher fabrics (possibly even leather), which has never been a material for tallit-making.
So piecing the information together I find it much more logical (and believable) that Paul was indeed a maker of tents. Picture a Native American tee-pee, or a Bedouin tent. These were common in the Ancient Near East. The tallit is a later invention of Judaism, that did not exist two thousand years ago as it does today, and it certainly did not exist in the time of Moses. We must remember that wishful thinking and eisegesis (reading our own opinions into the Bible) do not render good exposition. And such vitriolic support of unfounded claims only serves to damage the reputation of Messianic scholarship.
I pray this study has blessed you.
Be Berean. Shalom.
 Lupia, John N. The Ancient Jewish Shroud At Turin. Regina Caeli Press. 2010.
7/7/2016 09:34:34 pm
Thank you so much!
7/8/2016 09:15:59 am
Thank YOU for taking the time to read through it. Feel free to share.
9/28/2020 09:18:17 pm
Bro J.A. Brown I live in Jasper, AL. I such a desire to follow Torah. The scales are off my eyes and I was wondering if you could help me on my journey? I want to follow Gods laws and festivals and need direction please. My family thinks I’m crazy but I know this is the will of God is to follow His commandments!!!!
9/1/2017 09:32:26 am
Thanks for this insight and clarification.
2/7/2020 07:21:10 pm
this was a very interesting read ! I also believe Priscilla wrote the book of Hebrews anciate feedback on thisd if asked in those days, Paul would have graciously given the words of the Book of Hebrews to her. Would appreciate feedback on this
1/6/2021 04:22:58 pm
I believe your spot on I can't see why the Apostle would be making prayer shawls I know in Corinthians he talks about the women covering their head for prayer but he said the men shouldn't cover their heads God bless you
11/18/2016 10:00:25 pm
Well, all I can say, is that when I wear a my prayer shawl, I sense God's presence in a greater measure, and because of this I believe it is special to God.
Jonathan A Brown
12/1/2016 05:10:01 pm
1/25/2017 11:09:00 pm
Your article has no grounds for truth since in Matthew 9:20 a wwoman with an issue of blood touched the hem of Yeshu's garment. I guess tizzit did not exist then either. What was his tzizit attached to?
1/26/2017 10:47:29 am
10/14/2017 03:10:20 pm
Absolutely stellar article! I am blessed to teach high-schoolers the Hebrew Roots of Western Christianity! You really did you do your homework, your premises are true therefore rendering your conclusion airtight! Good job! As to the response to Mr. BenDavid, well done. You went on the defense in an inoffensive way. Great use of logic, critical thinking and debate! Very well answered in a very Messiah-like way! Thank you for this article. I am looking forward to many more from you! Gratefully grafted in,
7/18/2019 12:22:29 pm
I have the question of how would Shaun have carried all those supplies around with him? If this was his trade and he traveled so much how could he drag all the tools and animal skins and such everywhere he went?
Dr. Al Huba
11/5/2019 09:04:06 am
How, as a tent maker, could Paul carry all the animal skins and tools around with him? Much the same way that a roofer does not carry shingles with him.Tools are minimal and shingles or cloth is purchased locally.
3/4/2020 08:32:48 am
Paul was Jewish and probably as good with the Tanakh as he was in business. He only had to carry around his work instruments, needed, scissors, and American Express so he could buy the skins locally and wouldn't have to shlep them all over. Shalom
3/4/2020 08:28:05 am
Thank you, dear.brother, for this well researched article. It has blessed me and, I pray, it has blessed the one who hung for us, in our place, on a tree. The enemy uses distraction to get us off the path that blesses Yeshua, and then us, by focusing on nonsense. Self (Pride) is one its (not his but its) favorite tactics. Hermeneutics, research and word study have their place but so does evangelism, intercession and charity. Paul, Aquila, Priscilla were not hirelings but individuals that took the Word of God from the worldly to the eternal. Thanks for your article. Baruch haba b'ahem adonai
4/12/2020 12:06:50 pm
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9/29/2020 02:58:13 pm
It is generally preferable to enter a discussion on material, to have familiarized oneself with said material. Your pasted quotes make claims they cannot support, and ignore the evidence in what I presented.
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J. A. Brown