One of the most common colours is tola’at shani (e.g. Ex. 28:6). The translations render the Hebrew as “scarlet”. The first of the two Hebrew words, tola’at, means a worm, which must be an indication of the source of the colour. The Brown, Driver and Briggs lexicon identifies it as “coccus ilicis yielding scarlet colour” (p. 1069).
A researcher at Bar Ilan University reported that he had worked out exactly what it was. As reported by Arutz Sheva News Service, 30 December, 2002, Dr Zohar Amar of Bar Ilan’s Department of Land of Israel Studies, says: “Shani is one of the most valued colouring materials of the ancient world, often mentioned in the Bible together with the more familiar t’chelet (blue) and argaman (purple), (but) we never knew what it was. It was thought that it was some kind of coccid from outside the Land of Israel, but we have now shown that it is made from something commonly found in the Land of Israel, right under our noses.”
Dr Amar says he has extracted the colour from a coccid (scale insect) he discovered in N’vei Tzuf in south-western Shomron. He learned from medieval Arab manuscripts that they would harvest the coccids at the right time, dry them and boil them up with certain other materials.
From this procedure he found that the shani was orange, not scarlet. This accorded with what was said by Josephus, who described the shani in the Temple and said its colour symbolised fire, which is orange, not red as commonly thought. Dr Amar is understandably excited that his work has solved a Biblical problem after 2000 years.