Vessels and containers made of intertwined and woven strips of flexible materials are called by the generic term “basket” in Eng. VSS of the Bible. The baskets of ancient times were made of many different sizes and shapes to satisfy a great variety of purposes. Specific names were used for many of these different baskets, four of which are found in OT usage. In the LXX at least seven terms are used as trs. of these four Heb. words. The NT, with fewer occasions for referring to the use of a basket, uses three terms.
Basketry and weaving, which were not separated in ancient times, were common household crafts, but the demand for containers was important enough to make basketry a widespread industry. In most parts of Pal. some kind of natural fiber was readily available. Commonly used were the fronds of palms, straw, reeds, rushes, sedges and grasses. A popular style of basketry was somewhat imitative of pottery. Starting with a woven base, horizontal coils were placed upon each other and held in position by tying them to vertical strips. These shaped baskets could be strengthened by plaiting the materials. The powerful legs of the hippopotamus are said to be plaited like the coils in a strong basket (Job 40:17). Another common type of basketry was wickerwork in which strands of material were woven in and out of a stake frame. Such a basket would be more angular and allow for larger containers.
The Heb. word dūdh can best be thought of as the generic word for a receptacle or container. In many references it is used as a cooking pot (1 Sam 2:14; 2 Chron 35:13), while in other places it serves as a container for a liquid. The term also can be tr. as “basket” (Jer 24:1, 2) where it is a container for carrying figs and for carrying bricks (Ps 81:6).
The ordinary word for basket, sal, seems to refer to a vessel that can be carried on the head. In modern Heb. סָלַל, H6147, means “to lift up.” Thus we have a basket built up in coils from a small base, which is conveniently carried upon the head.
The word ṭene’ is used infrequently. In all four occurrences it is seen as a large storage receptacle for products of the field. (See Deut 26:4 and 28:5, 17.)
Two references are made to a kolūḇh in the OT. In Jeremiah 5:27, a bird cage having a trap door is described and in Amos 8:1, 2 a basket with a similar kind of a cover is mentioned. The type of basketry seems to be the rectangular wickerware referred to above.
In the NT, after the feeding of the 5,000 and again after the feeding of the 4,000, the leftover fragments are placed in baskets. The authors of the gospels carefully distinguish between the kóphinos used to gather the remains in the first miracle and the spurís used the second time. The distinction may be the one suggested earlier between smaller plaited baskets and larger woven baskets with a handle. Paul was lowered from the wall of Damascus in a basket (Acts 9:25) similar to the type used after the feeding of the 4,000. Later when Paul himself speaks of this incident (2 Cor 11:33), he says he was lowered in a särgánē, which prob. is a synonym referring to a strong hamper type of basket. See ARK OF THE BULRUSHES.
M. Jastrow Jr., “Baskets,” Jew. Enc. (1916), vol. II, 578f; R. J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology (1956), vol. IV, ch. 5.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
bas’-ket: Four kinds of "baskets" come to view in the Old Testament under the Hebrew names, dudh, Tene’, cal and kelubh. There is little, however, in these names, or in the narratives where they are found, to indicate definitely what the differences of size and shape and use were. The Mishna renders us some help in our uncertainty, giving numerous names and descriptions of "baskets" in use among the ancient Hebrews (see Kreugel, Dasse Hausgerat in der Mishna, 39-45). They were variously m ade of willow, rush, palm-leaf, etc., and were used for various purposes, domestic and agricultural, for instance, in gathering and serving fruit, collecting alms in kind for the poor, etc. Some had handles, others lids, some both, others neither.
1. Meaning of Old Testament Terms:
(1) Dudh was probably a generic term for various kinds of baskets. It was probably the "basket" in which the Israelites in Egypt carried the clay for bricks (compare Ps 81:6, where it is used as a symbol of Egyptian bondage), and such as the Egyptians themselves used for that purpose (Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, I, 379), probably a large, shallow basket, made of wicker-work. It stood for a basket that was used in fruit-gathering (see Jer 24:1), but how it differed from Amos’ "basket of summer fruit" (Am 8:1) we do not know. Dudh is used for the "pot" in which meat was boiled (1Sa 2:14), showing probably that a pot-shaped "basket" was known by this name. Then it seems to have stood for a basket tapering toward the bottom like the calathus of the Romans. So we seem forced to conclude that the term was generic, not specific.
(2) The commonest basket in use in Old Testament times was the cal. It was the "basket" in which the court-baker of Egypt carried about his confectionery on his head (Ge 40:16). It was made in later times at least of peeled willows, or palm leaves, and was sometimes at least large and flat like the canistrum of the Romans, and, like it, was used for carrying bread and other articles of food (Ge 40:16; Jud 6:19). Meat for the meat offerings and the unleavened bread, were placed in it (Ex 29:3; Le 8:2; Nu 6:15). It is expressly required that the unleavened cakes be placed and offered in such a "basket." While a "basket," it was dish-shaped, larger or smaller in size, it would seem, according to demand, and perhaps of finer texture than the dudh.
(3) The Tene’ was a large, deep basket, in which grain and other products of garden or field were carried home, and kept (De 28:5,17), in which the first-fruits were preserved (De 26:2), and the tithes transported to the sanctuary (De 26:2 f). It has been thought probable that the chabya, the basket of clay and straw of the Palestine peasantry of today, is a sort of survival or counterpart of it. It has the general shape of a jar, and is used for storing and keeping wheat, barley, oats, etc. At the top is the mouth into which the grain is poured, and at the bottom is an orifice through which it can be taken out as needed, when the opening is again closed with a rag. The Septuagint translates Tene’ by kartallos, which denotes a basket of the shape of an inverted cone.
(4) The term kelubh, found in Am 8:1 for a "fruit-basket," is used in Jer 5:27 (the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) "cage") for a bird-cage. But it is not at all unreasonable to suppose that a coarsely woven basket with a cover would be used by a fowler to carry home his feathered captives.
2. Meaning of New Testament Terms:
In the New Testament interest centers in two kinds of "basket," distinguished by the evangelists in their accounts of the feeding of the 5,000 and of the 4,000, called in Greek kophinos and spuris (Westcott-Hort sphuris).
(1) The kophinos (Mt 14:20; Mr 6:43; Lu 9:17; Joh 6:13) may be confidently identified with the kuphta’ of the Mishna which was provided with a cord for a handle by means of which it could be carried on the back with such provisions as the disciples on the occasions under consideration would naturally have with them (of Kreugel, and Broadus, Commentary in the place cited.). The Jews of Juvenal’s day carried such a specific "provision-basket" with them on their journeys regularly, and the Latin for it is a transliteration of this Greek word, cophinus (compare Juvenal iii.14, and Jastrow, Dictionary, article "Basket"). Some idea of its size may be drawn from the fact that in CIG, 1625, 46, the word denotes a Beotian measure of about two gallons.
(2) The sphuris or spuris (Mt 15:37; Mr 8:8) we may be sure, from its being used in letting Paul down from the wall at Damascus (Ac 9:25, etc.), was considerably larger than the kophinos and quite different in shape and uses. It might for distinction fitly be rendered "hamper," as Professor Kennedy suggests. Certainly neither the Greek nor ancient usage justifies any confusion.
(3) The sargane (2Co 11:33) means anything plaited, or sometimes more specifically a fish-basket.
George B. Eager