BOWL. A number of Hebrew and Greek words are rendered “bowl.”

1. Sēphel, a large, flat earthenware dish for holding a liquid, such as milk (Judg.5.25).

2. Mizrāq, sometimes also translated “basin.” Large costly bowls, like the silver bowls presented by the princes of the congregation (Num.7.13-Num.7.14).

3. Gāvia‘, translated “pot” by the KJV in Jer.35.5; a large silver bowl like the kind used at banquets to replenish drinking cups.

4. Gullâh, the receptacle for oil in the candlestick of Zechariah’s vision (Zech.4.3), and the bowl-shaped capitals of the temple pillars Jachin and Boaz (1Kgs.7.41-1Kgs.7.42; 2Chr.4.12-2Chr.4.13).

5. Kubba‘ath kôs, RV “bowl of the cup”; KJV “dregs of the cup” (Isa.51.21-Isa.51.22).

6. Phialē, RSV, NEB, NIV “bowl,” KJV “vial” (Rev.5.8; Rev.15.7; Rev.16.1).

BOWL. A hollow vessel for daily and ceremonial use, having a great variety of shapes and sizes. It is the most common ceramic form found in Near Eastern excavations, and dates from the earliest Neolithic manufacture. Doubtless gourds and wooden bowls preceded the ceramic types, and continued in use, but are not preserved for archeology. A variety of stones, as steatite, limestone, alabaster, and basalt, were shaped, ground and polished into bowls. Metals as iron, bronze, silver and gold, were widely used in the making of bowls, the latter for ceremonial and treasury purposes.

In general, there are ten words for bowls in the OT (including cups, which were often of the shape we would today call bowls):

1. אַגָּן, H110, a large banquet bowl or basin, also frequently called κρατήρ. It was used to hold that part of the blood which Moses sprinkled on the people at the reading of the Covenant (Exod 24:6). It was seen as a heavy vessel which could be hung from a peg, although it might pull it out, fall and break (Isa 22:24, 25). The earlier bowls (Iron I) had two handles, and were hand-burnished, while those of a later period (Iron II) had four handles, with ring-burnishing.

2. כִּיּוֹר, H3963, a pottery bowl for carrying burning charcoal for starting fires (Zech 12:6). It might also refer to a laver (Exod 30:18; 1 Kings 7:38); or to a cooking pot (1 Sam 2:14).

3. כּוֹס, H3926, in this case, a general term referring to both the cup (with a spherical profile), and a broad, shallow wine bowl (cf. 2 Sam 12:3; 1 Kings 7:26; Ezek 23:32).

4. מִשְׁאֶ֫רֶת, H5400, both wooden and ceramic ware may be referred to by this term. A broad, shallow, medium-sized vessel with no handles. Frequently designates a kneading trough or bread bowl (cf. Exod 8:3; 12:34; Deut 28:5, 17).

5. מִזְרָק, H4670, a large banquet bowl (Amos 6:6), practically synonomous with ’aggān (agarṭāl= the postexilic synonym for mizrāq. Cf. Ezra 1:9; Neh 7:70-72).

6. קֻבַּ֫עַת, H7694, a small bowl for serving relatively large portions of wine to the individual, thus contributing to drunkenness (Isa 51:17, 22).

7. סַף, H6195, a small bowl, ceramic or metal, for (a) sacrificial, for blood (Exod 12:22); and for (b) drinking (Zech 4:2, etc.).

8. צַלַּ֫חַת, H7505. This is a medium sized bowl, similar but smaller than the ’aggān and sēfel, with no handles. Cf. 2 Kings 21:13.

9. סֵ֫פֶל, H6210, the large banquet bowl of ceramic ware, an expensive type (cf. Judg 5:25). Also used in the account of Gideon’s fleece (Judg 6:38).

10. צְלֹחִית, H7504, an Iron II bowl, small or medium small. Elisha asked for this kind with salt to be cast into the spring (2 Kings 2:20; cf. Ezek 43:24).

Several additional terms appear, generally referring to one of these ten kinds of bowls. The modification of the basic bowl form may be seen in the cup, the lamp, and the cooking pot.


J. Kelso, “The Ceramic Vocabulary of the Old Testament,” BASOR, Supplementary Studies Nos. 5-6 (1948), 1-48; H. Frankfort, The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient (1963), Plates 141-143; A. Honeyman, “The Pottery Vessels of the Old Testament,” PEQ (April, 1939), 76-90; J. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East in Pictures (1954), 41, 46.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


(1) The primitive Hebrews, like the wandering Bedouin of today, probably used bowls of wood, as less breakable than earthenware. Some hollow dish of the sort would be indispensable, even in the lowest stage of nomad life, to receive the milk of the flock, and as the common dish in which to serve the family meal. We have abundant proof, however, that vessels of earthenware of various sorts were in use by the settled peoples of Canaan in the earliest times. Many interesting specimens, characteristic of different peoples and ages, have been found by excavators of the PEF, especially recently by Flinders Petrie and Fred. Bliss at Tell el-Hesy (see Tell el-Hesy (Lachish), by Petrie, and A Mound of Many Cities, by Bliss) and by Macalister and others at Gezer, Taanach, Megiddo, etc. (see PEFS).

It was probably in some such dish--"a bowl fit for lords" (English Versions, "a lordly dish")--that Jael offered. Sisera a draught of sour milk (Jud 5:25; compare Arabic leben), and the bowl into which Gideon wrung the water from his fleece (Jud 6:38) is denoted by the same word (cephel; Septuagint lekane), though this may have been of earthenware instead of wood. Certainly the cephel was a dish of goodly size.

(2) Another word rendered sometimes "bowl" and sometimes "basin" is mizraq. It is used of the large silver bowls presented by "the princes of the congregation" (Nu 7:13 f). See Basin. It is also applied by Amos 6:6 to the costly bowls used by the nobles of Samaria in their debaucheries.

(3) A still larger bowl is mentioned by Jer 35:5, the King James Version "pot" (gabhia`). This same word is used of Joseph’s cup (Ge 44:2 f): "Put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack’s mouth." As used at banquets it corresponds to the crater, from which the drinking cups (kocoth) were replenished. The material seems to have been uniformly silver. But see (4).

(4) Bowl is used in the King James Version to translation gabhia`, "the bowls made like almonds" (Ex 25:33 the King James Version), as applied to the "cups" (Revised Version), or calyxes, used to ornament the golden candlestick (see Tabernacle). It seems to have been an elastic term.

(5) The bowl of Zec 4:3 (gullah, found also in 5:2 correct text), is represented as the receptacle for oil in the candlestick of the prophet’s vision. It is likewise used of "the lamp of life" (Ec 12:6) and to designate the bowl- shaped capitals of nodetitle (1Ki 7:41,42; 2Ch 4:12,13).

(6) Bowl is found in Isa 51:17,22 the Revised Version (British and American), "bowl of the cup" (the King James Version "dregs of the cup"). Some think the second word here (qubba`ath koc) is a gloss to explain the unusual preceding word.

(7) In Re where the King James Version has "vial" (phiale) the Revised Version (British and American) has "bowl."

See nodetitle.

George B. Eager