LAMP. An instrument used for artificial lighting. Lamps are often mentioned in Scripture, but no description of their form and structure is given. Archaeology has recovered many specimens in a great variety of forms, from the early simple, shallow, saucerlike bowl (with one side slightly pointed for the lighted wick) to the later closed bowl (with only a hole on top to pour in the oil, a spout for the wick, and a handle to carry it). Lamps for domestic use were generally of terra-cotta or of bronze. KJV often has “candle” and “candlestick” and NEB has “standing lamp” where NIV has “lamp” and “lampstand.”
The common household lamp is never described in the Bible, although the twisted flax wick is mentioned (
Lamps found in Pal. from the OT period were made almost entirely of pottery. In some cases certain features indicate that metal prototypes were copied. In the Late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Ages (3300-2100 b.c.) shallow round-based bowls for holding the oil seem—from marks of wicks burning on the rims—to have been used as lamps. Probably the incoming Amorite tribesmen c. 2000 b.c. (MB I) introduced the first true lamps; these are invariably fourspouted (i.e., the rim is pinched in four places to form wide lips for holding wicks). From c. 1850 b.c. onward the ordinary lamp had a single lip. This became increasingly pinched together.
When the Israelites entered the Promised Land they simply copied the Canaanite lamp shapes for many centuries. In the time of the prophets potters in Judah added a base to make the lamp more stable. While the lip became more elongated, through the Pers. period the lamp remained an open vessel, with always the danger of the oil slopping over when carried.
Imported Gr. lamps were so practical, however, that in the Hel. age local potters soon switched from the open saucer lamp to the wheel-made lamp with a central filling hole in the top of the round, enclosed body, to which a long projecting nozzle was attached. In the Rom. period, the so-called Herodian lamp became popular in Jerusalem and the hill country, simple and small with round body and short, flaring nozzle. Undoubtedly Jesus had this style in mind in His parable of the woman who lighted a lamp to search for her lost coin (
The form of the individual lamps (
In practice, the ordinary lamp in OT times held enough oil to burn through the night, but the wick had to be adjusted every few hours as it burned down. Hence, the virtuous housewife (
The OT lamp was not adapted for night travel. Therefore torches were used whenever light was needed, as in Gideon’s attack on the Midianite camp (
R. H. Smith, “The Household Lamps of Palestine in OT Times,” BA, XXVII (1964), 1-31; “...in Intertestamental Times,” BA, XXVII, 101-124; “...in NT Times,” BA, XXIX (1966), 1-27.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
1. Forms and History:
Lamps were in use in very remote times, though we have few allusions to them in the early history of Egypt. There are indications that they were used there. Niches for lamps are found in the tombs of Tell el-Amarna (Archaeological Survey of Egypt, Tell el-Amarna Letters, Part IV, 14). Lampstands are also represented (ibid., Part III, 7). Torches were of course used before lamps, and are mentioned in Ge (15:17 the Revised Version (British and American)), but clay lamps were used in Canaan by the Amorites before the Israelites took possession. The excavations in Palestine have furnished thousands of specimens, and have enabled us to trace the development from about 2000 BC onward. The exploration carried out at Lachish (Tell Hesy) and Gezer (Tell Jezer) by theFund has given ample material for the purpose, and the numerous examples from tombs all over Palestine and Syria have supplied a great variety of forms.
2. Figurative Use:
"Lamp" is used in the sense of a guide in
The early Canaanite or Amorite lamp was a shallow, saucer-like bowl with rounded bottom and vertical rim, slightly pointed or pinched on one side where the lighted end of the wick was placed. This form continued into Jewish times, but was gradually changed until the spout was formed by drawing the rim of the sides together, forming a narrow open channel, the remainder of the rim being rolled outward and flattened, the bottom being also flattened. This was the early Hebrew pattern and persisted for centuries. The open bowl was gradually closed in, first at the spout, where the rim of one side was lapped over the other, and finally the whole surface was closed with only an orifice in the center for receiving the oil, and at the same time the spout was lengthened. This transformation is seen in lamps of the Seleucid period, or from around 300 BC. These lamps have usually a circular foot and sometimes a string-hole on one side. The next development was a circular bowl with a somewhat shorter spout, sometimes being only a bulge in the rim, so that the orifice for the wick falls in the rim, the orifice for filling being quite small at the bottom of a saucer-like depression in the center of the bowl. There is sometimes a loop handle affixed on the side opposite to the spout. Sometimes the handle is horizontal, but commonly vertical. This form is called Roman, and the bowl is often ornamented with mythological human or animal figures (Fig. 5). Other forms are elongated, having numerous wick holes (Fig. 6). The mythological and animal forms were rejected by the Jews as contrary to their traditions, and they made lamps with various other designs on the bowl, such as vine leaves, cups, scrolls, etc. (Figs. 7-11). One very marked Jewish design is the seven-branched candlestick (
These terra-cotta lamps are found in the tombs and burial places throughout Palestine and Syria, and they were evidently deposited there in connection with the funeral rites. Very few are found in Canaanite tombs, but they become numerous in later times and especially in the early Christian centuries. The symbolism in their use for funeral purposes is indicated by the inscriptions above mentioned (see PEFS, 1904, 326 ff; Explorations in Palestine, by Bliss. Maclister and Wunsch, 4to, published by the Palestine Exploration Fund). These lamps were used by the peasants of the country down to recent times, when petroleum has superseded olive oil for lighting. The writer has seen lamps of the Jewish and Roman period with surface blackened with recent usage. Olive oil was commonly used, but terebinth oil also (Thomson, LB, III, 472).