In Biblical times shoes were made from animal skins which were difficult to clean. This may explain why shoes came to represent all that was unclean to the agricultural societies of the Old Testament. These emblems of filth were left outside homes and considered quite unsuitable for holy places. Feet encased in footwear required to be purified and this responsibility usually fell to the lowest house servant. Baring feet signified the status of an honored guest and washing feet put them at ease and comfort not to mention kept floors and bedding clean. Foot washing was viewed as an honor or service and became a common Jewish custom and at banquets. This took place either on arrival or before the feast.
'Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:'
'And the man came into the house : and he ungirded his camels, and gave straw and provender for the camels, and water to wash his feet, and the men's feet that were with him.'
'So he brought him into his house, and gave provender unto the asses : and they washed their feet, and did eat and drink.'
'And she rose, and bowed herself on her face to the earth, and said, Behold, let thine handmade be a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.'
1 Sam 25: 41
When anyone other than the lowest servant took to wash another's feet this was taken as an act of humility, a mark of respect or deliberate self-humiliation.
'Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I was thee not, thou hast no part with me.'
In feet washing ceremonies marking the toe with blood or oil symbolized either consecration or the cleansing of the entire person.
'And the priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering, and the priest shall put it upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of the right foot:'
Lev 14 :14 - 28
This ritual was considered important before priests could enter God's presence.
'For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat:'
The prospect of wealth was also described as bathing feet in oil.
'And of Asher he said, Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil.'
Mary Magdalane washed the feet of Christ with her tears and dried them with her hair, and anointed them with expensive ointment. For this token of devotion, Christ forgave her sins then proceeded to remind his host that he had not been extended the same courtesy as would be appropriate to a welcome guest.
'And stood at his feet behind him , and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with ointment.'