Craftsmen grouped into guilds after the time of Nehemiah (
The Israelites were largely uneducated in the crafts. When they went to Egypt, they were herdsmen (
For finer stone work Solomon called in stone masons from Hiram, king of Tyre (
Work in both copper and iron developed before the Flood (
Principal crafts are: Pottery making, which appeared first at Jericho c. 5000 b.c., was by hand molding until about 3000 b.c. when the wheel appeared. The process is described in
Building was done according to a plumb line (
Carpentry was the trade of Jesus (
The smith learned to cast by the lost wax method (see Jerusalem Temple) as well as in clay (
I. Mendelshon, “Free Artisans and Slaves in Mesopotamia,” BASOR 89 (1943), 25ff.; A. Lucas, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries (1948); C. Singer, ed. A History of Technology, I (1958); R. J. Forbes. Studies in Ancient Technology, I-VIII (1955-1964); L. S. de Camp, The Ancient Engineers (1963).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
I. SOURCES OF OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE CRAFTS OF THE BIBLE
1. Written Records and Discoveries of Craftsmanship
(2) Canaanitish and Phoenician
(3) Assyrian and Babylonian
2. Post-Biblical Writings
3. Present Methods in Bible Lands
II. CRAFTS MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE
2. Carpentering (Wood-Working)
3. Carving (Engraving)
5. Dyeing and Cleansing
6. Embroidering (Needlework)
9. Mason Work
10. Metal-Working (Mining)
16. Spinning and Weaving
I. Sources of Our Knowledge of the Crafts of the Bible.
1. Written Records and Discoveries of Craftsmanship:
Our knowledge of the arts and crafts of Bible times has come to us through two principal ways. First, from Biblical, Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian written records. Of these the Egyptian are the most illuminating. Second, from examples of ancient handicraft which have been buried and preserved through many centuries and brought to light again by modern discoveries.
The chief written documents from which we may learn about Hebrew handicraft are the Bible records. A study of what few references there are leads us to believe that before the Israelites came in contact with the people of Canaan and Phoenicia they had not developed any considerable technical skill (
The Jews, however, gradually developed skill in many of these crafts. It is believed that as early as Nehemiah’s time, Jewish craftsmen had organized into guilds (
Few examples of Hebrew handicraft have been discovered by the archaeologists which shed much light upon early Hebrew work. Aside from the pottery of the Israelite period, and a few seals and coins, no traces of Hebrew workmanship remain. It is even doubtful how many of the above objects are really the work of this people.
(2) Canaanitish and Phoenician.
It is generally conceded that what technical skill the Hebrews acquired resulted from their contact with the Canaanites and Phoenicians. Frequent mention of the workmanship of these peoples is made in the Bible, but their own records are silent. Ezekiel’s account of the glories of Tyre (
"Variegated cloth, linen, an ivory bed, a seat of inlaid ivory, a table" were among the captured articles. These were probably Phoenician work.
Many examples of Phoenician craftsmanship have been discovered. These are characterized, from the standpoint of art, by a crudeness which distinguishes them from the more delicately and artistically wrought work of their teachers, the Babylonians and Egyptians. The credit remains, however, to the Phoenicians of introducing skilled workmanship into Palestine. The Phoenicians, too, furnished the means of intercourse between the Babylonians and Egyptians. From the very earliest times there was an interchange of commodities and ideas between the people of the Nile and those of the Tigris and Euphrates.
(3) Assyrian and Babylonian.
The Babylonians and Assyrians made few references to their own handicraft in their records, but the explorers of recent years have revealed many examples of the remarkable workmanship of the early inhabitants of Mesopotamia. In referring to a silver vase found in that country (Telloh), dating from the 4th millennium BC, Clay (see "Literature") says "the whole is exceedingly well rendered and indicates remarkable skill, which in no respect is less striking than that of Egyptian contemporaries in this handicraft." Jewelry, weapons, votive images, various utensils, tools of many kinds, statues in the hardest stones, delicately wrought, gems, dating from the times of Abraham and earlier, lead us to ask when these people acquired their skill.
2. and 3. Egyptian and Post-Biblical Craftsmanship:
The written records of Egypt are doubly important, because they not only refer to the various crafts, but also illustrate the processes by drawings which can leave no doubt as to how the workmen accomplished their ends. The extensive explorations in Egypt have given to the world many priceless relics of craftsmanship, some of them dating from the very dawn of civilization. Among the ruins of early Syrian and Palestinian cities are found numerous objects witnessing to the skill of the Egyptians. These objects and the evidences of the influence of their work on the Phoenician arts show the part that the Egyptians played in moulding the ideas of the workmen who were chosen to build the temple at Jerusalem. In the following brief summary of the crafts mentioned in the Bible, it will be noticeable how well they may be illustrated by the monuments of the Nile country. To confirm the knowledge derived from the above sources, post-Biblical writings and some of the present-day customs in Bible lands are valuable. These will be mentioned in discussing the various crafts.
II. Crafts Mentioned in the Bible.
(For a more detailed treatment of the crafts see under separate articles.)
This industry probably originated in Babylonia, but the knowledge of the process was early carried to Egypt, where later the Hebrews, along with other captives, were driven to making the bricks of the Egyptian kings. The making of sun-dried bricks called for little skill, but the firing and glazing of bricks required trained workmen.
2. Carpentering (Wood-Working):
3. Carving (Engraving):
The terms "carving" and "engraving" are used interchangeably in translating
The second form of carving is suggested by the Decalogue (
Among the peoples with whom the Jews came in contact, stone-cutting had reached a high degree of perfection. No stone proved too hard for their tools. In Egyptian and Phoenician tombs the carving was often done on plastered surfaces.
Both the Egyptians and Babylonians were skilled in molding and baking objects of clay. The early Babylonian records consist of burnt clay tablets. Glazed bricks formed an important decorative feature. In Egypt, idols, scarabs and amulets were often made of fired clay, glazed or unglazed. By far the most important branch of ceramic art was the making of jars for holding water or other liquids. These jars have been used throughout the East from earliest times. The Jews learned what they knew about this art from the Phoenicians.
5. Dyeing and Cleansing:
Dyeing is one of the oldest of the crafts. The only references to the act of dyeing in the Bible are
(a) in connection with the dyed skins of animals (
That it was a highly developed trade is implied in the many other references to dyed stuffs both in the Bible and in profane literature. Cleansing was done by the fuller, who was probably a dyer also.
6. Embroidering (Needlework):
Very little is known of the work of embroidering, further than that it was the working-in of color designs on cloth. In
See Glass. 8. Grinding:
Grinding was a domestic task and can hardly be classed as one of the crafts. When flour was needed, the housewife, or more likely the servant, rubbed the wheat or barley between two millstones (see Millstone) or, with a rounded river stone, crushed the wheat on a large flat stone. It is still a common custom in Syria and Palestine for two women to work together as indicated in
9. Mason Work:
The rhythmic sound of the stone cutter at his work never ceases in the prosperous oriental city. It is more common today, however, than in the earlier centuries when only high officials could afford stone houses. Frequently only the temple or shrines or tombs of a city were made of stone. As such buildings were very common, and much attention was paid to every detail of their construction, there was developed an efficient corps of masons, especially in Egypt and Syria. When the Israelites abandoned their nomadic life, among the first things that they planned were permanent places of worship. As these developed into structures more pretentious than mere piles of stones, the builders naturally resorted to the skill of the master builders of the country. A visitor to Jerusalem may still see the work of the ancient masons. The so-called Solomon’s quarries under the city, the great drafted stones of the temple area, belong to an early date. The very shape of the masons’ tools may be determined from the marks on the stones.
10. Metal-Working (Mining):
Among the oldest objects that have been preserved are those of silver, gold and bronze. These are proof that the ancients understood the various processes of mining, smelting, refining and working of metals.
The oil referred to in the Bible is olive oil. Pliny mentions many other oils which were extracted in Egypt. The oils were usually extracted by first crushing the fruit and then pressing the crushed mass. At Gezer, Tell es Cafi and other ancient ruins old oil presses have been discovered.
One who has visited the tombs and temples of Egypt will never forget the use which the ancient Egyptian painters made of colors. The otherwise somber effect produced by expansive plain walls was overcome by sculpturing, either in relief or intaglio, on a coating of stucco, and then coloring these engravings in reds, yellows, greens and blues. Architectural details were also painted. The capitals of columns and the columns themselves received special attention from the painter. Colors were similarly used by the Greeks and Phoenicians. In the Sidon tombs, at Palmyra and similar ruins, traces of painting are still evident.
The word "paper" occurs twice, once in the Old Testament (
The art of perfume-making dates back to the ancient Egyptians. In
(a) for religious rites as offerings and to anoint the idols and
(b) for personal use on the body or clothes. Some perfumes were powders (incense); others were scented oils or fats (ointments).
(The King James Version "Plaistering.") The trade of plastering dates back to the beginning of the history of building. There were two reasons for using plastering or stucco:
(a) to render the buildings more resisting to the weather and
(b) to make the surfaces more suitable for decoration by engraving or painting.
16. Spinning and Weaving:
The arts of spinning and weaving were early practiced in the household (
Although it is known that tanning was practiced, the only reference to this trade mentioned in the Bible is to Simon the tanner (
We think of Paul as the tent-maker. The tents which he made however were probably not like those so frequently referred to in the Old Testament. Tents in Paul’s time were made from Cilician cloth. Paul’s work was probably the sewing together of the proper lengths of cloth and the attaching of ropes and loops. In Old Testament times the tents were made of strips of coarse goat’s hair cloth or of the skins of animals.
This article is being written within sound of festivities about the winepresses of Mt. Lebanon where men and women are gathered for the annual production of wine and molasses (Arabic, dibs). Their process is so like that of Bible times that one is transported in thought to similar festivities that must have attended the wine-making even so far back as the early Egyptian kings. That these workers understood the precautions necessary for procuring a desirable product is evidenced by early writings. The choice of proper soil for the vineyards, the adding of preservatives to keep the wine, boiling the juice to kill undesirable ferments, guarding against putting new wine into old bottles, are examples of their knowledge of wine-making.
See Wine Press.
Craftsmen were early segregated into groups. A trade usually remained in a family. This is true to some extent in the East today. In such cities as Beirut, Damascus, or Aleppo the shops of the craftsmen of a given trade will be found grouped together. There is a silver and goldsmiths’ market (Arabic suq), an iron market, a dyeing quarter, etc. Jewish craftsmen in early times sat separately in the synagogues. Some crafts were looked upon with disfavor, especially those which brought men in contact with women, as for example, the trade of goldsmith, carder, weaver, fuller or tanner. There was a fellow-feeling among craftsmen referred to by Isaiah (
Perrot and Chipiez, History of Art in Sardinia, Judea, etc.; History of Art in Ancient Egypt; History of Art in Phoenicia and Cyprus; Wilkinson, The Ancient Egyptians; Macalister, Bible Side-Lights from the Mound of Gezer; Standard Dict. of the Bible; Bliss, Macalister and Wunsch, Excavations in Palestine; Hilprecht, Explorations in Bible Lands during the 19th Century; Harper, The Bible and Modern Discoveries; Delitzsch, Jewish Artisan Life, etc.; Clay, Light on the Old Testament from Babel; Jewish Encyclopedia.
James A. Patch