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Craftsmen grouped into guilds after the time of Nehemiah (Neh 3:8) and the localization of a particular guild in one or another city marked it out particularly, as Debir was known for dyeing and weaving (1 Chron 4:14). In other cases certain parts of some cities were known as the quarter of this or that craft, as in Jerusalem where was “the valley of the craftsmen” (1 Chron 4:14); elsewhere the potter was located (Matt 27:7). By Nehemiah’s time one’s membership in a craft was designated by “a son” of his craft (Neh 3:8, 31). Crafts requiring skill should be distinguished from the common duties which required no particular skill. Slaves were not usually taught the particular skills.

The Israelites were largely uneducated in the crafts. When they went to Egypt, they were herdsmen (Gen 46:32) and continued as such for Pharaoh. About the only craft they did learn in Egypt was that of brickmaking and building of mud-brick structures (Exod 1:14). Archeological evidence from Pal. indicates their lack of understanding of better construction methods and materials by the poor character of the remains of their houses. (See Architecture.) They did not know iron making, therefore they resorted to the Philistines for iron implements and files (1 Sam 13:20). David’s sojourn there is credited with bringing knowledge of iron smelting and working into Israel.

For finer stone work Solomon called in stone masons from Hiram, king of Tyre (1 Kings 5:15), and for other finer craftwork Hiram (var. Huram) was given, a man knowledgeable in many crafts to guide, oversee the whole and train others also. When later Ahab built his palace at Samaria, his wife Jezebel must have provided the connection by which he secured craftsmen to perform the building work, for, judged by the cessation of fine stone-work after this time until the Gr. period, not many learned the art of stone-cutting in order to maintain in Israel the quality of work of Solomon’s Temple.

Work in both copper and iron developed before the Flood (Gen 4:22), but afterward copper was not again worked significantly until the advent of the Chalcolithic Age, and bronze did not come into use until after 4000 b.c. Tools up to the Iron Age were of hardened copper, or later of bronze. It was only through David that iron working was brought into Israel and that good tools of iron became plentiful (1 Kings 6:7), as the axe and similar tools. Both in the Bronze Age and Iron Age, axes, swords, daggers, spear points and other tools were made in Syria-Pal and traveled as far as Greece (J. Van Seters, The Hyksos [1966], 54, 55). Most occurrences of the word brass (נְחֹ֫שֶׁת, H5733) should be tr. copper; the only occurrence of actual brass (alloy of zinc and copper) is in Ezekiel 1:4 (ḥasmal) which designates it by the “gleaming” character. There is no word in the OT for steel; that word in KJV 2 Samuel 22:35, etc., should be copper.

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 Jeremiah 18:3. Clay was trodden by the feet in the pit to refine it for better quality vessels. The pit and kiln at Qumran are easily distinguished.

Building was done according to a plumb line (Amos 7:7, 8), and measuring was done with a reed (Eng. rod), marked by the cubit (cf. Ezek 40:3). The plumb line tested for verticality, metaphorically a test of the truth.

Carpentry was the trade of Jesus (Mark 6:3), and tools consisted of a marking tool, adz (Isa 44:13), saw files, bow drill, wooden mallet (Judg 5:26) and chisels and awls. These were used to construct beds, couches, tables, chairs, footstools, and carved work for decoration.

The smith learned to cast by the lost wax method (see Jerusalem Temple) as well as in clay (2 Chron 4:17). The remains of preliminary stage smelters are found in the Wadi Surhan and in the Arabah S of the Dead Sea. Solomon’s kingdom had its largest revenue through the export of copper. See also Potter.


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)


1. Written Records and Discoveries of Craftsmanship

(1) Jewish

(2) Canaanitish and Phoenician

(3) Assyrian and Babylonian

(4) Egyptian

2. Post-Biblical Writings

3. Present Methods in Bible Lands


1. Brickmaking

2. Carpentering (Wood-Working)

3. Carving (Engraving)

4. Ceramics

5. Dyeing and Cleansing

6. Embroidering (Needlework)

7. Glass-Making

8. Grinding

9. Mason Work

10. Metal-Working (Mining)

11. Oil-Making

12. Painting

13. Paper-Making

14. Perfume-Making

15. Plastering

16. Spinning and Weaving

17. Tanning

18. Tent-Making

19. Wine-Making



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.

(1) Jewish.

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 (1Ki 5:6; 1Ch 14:1; 2Ch 2:7,14; Ezr 3:7). Some of the simpler operations, such as the spinning and weaving of the common fabrics and the shaping of domestic utensils, were performed in the household (Ex 35:25,26) but the weaving and dyeing of fine fabrics, carving, inlaying, metal-working, etc., was the work of foreigners, or was learned by the Jews after the Exodus, from the dwellers in Palestine

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 (Ne 3:8,31,32). In post-Biblical times the Jews obtained monopolies in some of the industries, as for example, glass-making and dyeing. These trades remained the secrets of certain families for generations. It is because of this secrecy and the mystery that surrounded these trades, and is still maintained in many places, that we know so little as to how they were conducted. Until recently the principal indigo dyers in Damascus were Jews, and the Jews shared with Moslem craftsmen the right to make glass. In some of the Syrian cities Jewish craftsmen are now outnumbering other native workmen in certain trades.

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 (Eze 27) gives some idea of the reputation of that city for craftsmanship: "Thy builders have perfected thy beauty" (Eze 27:4); "Syria was thy merchant .... Damascus was thy merchant for the multitude of thy handiworks" (Eze 27:16,18). Adad-nirari III (812-783 BC), the Assyrian king, enumerates the tribute which he exacted from the king of Damascus.

"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:

(4) Egyptian.

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.)

1. Brickmaking:

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.

See Brick.

2. Carpentering (Wood-Working):

See Tools; Carpenter.

3. Carving (Engraving):

The terms "carving" and "engraving" are used interchangeably in translating Old Testament passages. The first mention made of engraved objects is the signet of Judah (Ge 38:18). The art of engraving on various hard objects, such as clay, bone, ivory, metals and precious stones, probably came from Mesopotamia. The Hebrews learned engraving from the Canaanites. The nature of this engraving is shown by the Assyrian cylinders and Egyptian scarabs. It is doubtful how many of the signets found in Palestine are Hebrew work, as the engraved devices are mostly Phoenician or Egyptian. From the earliest times it has been the custom in the Orient for men of affairs to carry constantly with them their signets. The seal was set in a ring, or, as was the case with Judah, and as the Arabs do today, it was worn on a cord suspended about the neck. One of the present-day sights in a Syrian city street is the engraver of signets, seated at his low bench ready to cut on one of his blank seals the buyer’s name or sign.

The second form of carving is suggested by the Decalogue (Ex 20:4). The commandment explains why sculpturing remained undeveloped among the Jews, as it has to this day among the Moslems. In spite of the commandment, however, cherubim were carved on the wooden fittings of the temple interior (1Ki 6:23).

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.

See Carving.

4. Ceramics:

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.

See Pottery.

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 (Ex 25:5; 26:14), and

(b) Jud 5:30.

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.

See Color; Dye; Fuller.

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 Eze 27:7 we learn that it was one of the exports of Egypt.

See Embroidery.

7. Glass-Making:

In De 33:19 "hidden treasures of the sand" is interpreted by some to mean the making of glass objects from the sand. There can be no question about the Hebrews being acquainted with glass-making, as its history extends back to very early times. The Egyptians and Phoenicians made bottles, glass beads, idols, etc. These objects are among those usually found in the tombs. Glass beads of very early manufacture were found in the mound at Gezer. Some of the pigments used for painting were made of powdered colored glass. In the New Testament we read of the "sea of glass like unto crystal" (Re 4:6).

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 Mt 24:41 and Lu 17:35. Grinding of meal was a menial task, considered the employment of a concubine; hence, setting Samson to grinding at the mill was intended as a disgrace.

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.

See Mason.

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.

See Mining; Metal Working.

11. Oil-Making:

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.

See Oil.

12. Painting:

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.

See Painting.

13. Paper-Making:

The word "paper" occurs twice, once in the Old Testament (Isa 19:7 the King James Version) and once in New Testament (2Jo 1:12). In Isa 19:7 the Revised Version (British and American) renders "paper reeds," "meadows." PAPYRUS (which see) occurs in Isa 18:2 and the Revised Version, margin of Ex 2:3. The nearest approach to our paper which the ancients possessed was that made from a species of papyrus. The process consisted in spreading out, side by side, long strips of the inner lining of the papyrus reed, then over these other strips at right angles to the first, afterward soaking with some adhesive material and finally pressing and drying. Sheets made in this way were fastened together with glue into a long scroll. The Greek for papyrus plant is "biblos," from which the English word "Bible" is derived. Parchment, leather and leaves were also used as paper. The natives of Syria and Palestine still call a sheet of paper a "leaf" (Arabic waraqet).

14. Perfume-Making:

The art of perfume-making dates back to the ancient Egyptians. In Ex 30:35 we have the first mention of scented anointing oils. The perfumers’ (the King James Version "confectioner" or "apothecary") products were used

(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).

See Perfume.

15. Plastering:

(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.

See Plaster.

16. Spinning and Weaving:

The arts of spinning and weaving were early practiced in the household (Ex 35:25). Many different fibers were spun and woven into cloth. Fabrics of wool, cotton, flax, silk, wood fiber have been preserved from Bible times. In the more progressive communities, the weaving of the fabrics was taken over by the weavers who made it their profession. In 1Ch 4:21 it is stated that many of the families of the house of Asbea were workers in fine linen. The modern invasion of European manufacturers has not yet driven out the weavers who toil at looms much like those described by the ancient Egyptian drawings.

See Spinning; Weaving.

17. Tanning:

Although it is known that tanning was practiced, the only reference to this trade mentioned in the Bible is to Simon the tanner (Ac 9:43; 10:6,32). Leather girdles are mentioned in 2Ki 1:8; Mt 3:4. Relics taken from the tombs show that the ancients understood the various methods for preserving skins which are used in present-day practice.

See Tanner.

18. Tent-Making:

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.

See Tent.

19. Wine-Making:

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.

III. Craftsmen.

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 (Isa 41:6,7). This same feeling is observed among Syrian workmen today. The Arab has many phrases of encouragement for a man at his work, such as, "Peace to your hands," "May God give you strength." A crowd of men pulling at a pulley rope, for example, shout or sing together as they pull.


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