POTTER (See Occupations and Professions: Pottery)
POTTER (יָצַר, H3670, to form, frame, make, fashioner; κεραμεύς, G3038, potter). The product of the “fashioner,” the potter, is the most significant artifact in the Near E for archeological purposes. Pottery is a synthetic stone. At Jericho, Wadi Fallah on Mt. Carmel, Buddha near Petra, and Byblos in Syria, a well-developed industry in stone vessels has been found dating back to the period prior to 6500 b.c.
Because of the small amount of prehistoric excavation carried out at the present time, there is no common consecutive pattern of the stone age shifting into the beginning of the pottery period. Sometime at the end of the seventh, or beginning of the sixth millennium, the art of making pottery and baked clay figurines was introduced to Syria and Palestine. This ability seems to have come from the Anatolian Plateau when groups of people brought in the new ceramic culture.
Regional peculiarities are distinguishable in the pottery from the sixth and fifth millennia. Variations in pottery may be observed such as forms, texture of the ware, and decorative technique including both burnishing and painting. Once the art of making pottery was discovered, artisans quickly developed great skill in all phases of ceramic production. There was a great demand for pottery as it was much superior to the baskets, which could not hold liquid and were easy prey to rodents. It was much cheaper than leather, which required an involved process in preparation.
By the time of Abraham, the Palestinians had not only the stone and clay jar but also expensive copper ones and the still more expensive bronze artifacts with which to cope with life. Man’s tools, weapons, ornaments, and figurines could then be made out of a wide choice of materials. Pottery, however, because of its cheapness and versatility, remained basic in industry.
By the time of Joseph, Pal. was producing the finest pottery ever manufactured in that land. The strong outside influence upon this making of pottery ware was the world unrest. This brought from Mesopotamia by way of Syria the best craftsmen into the Near E. All through history Palestinian ceramics were also influenced to a greater or lesser degree by Egypt. The poorest period of Palestinian ceramics was in the days of the Judges. The cent. preceding Joshua’s invasion saw Mycenean and esp. Cypriot waves of influence entering Pal. from the W. The last of these western ceramic influences was the Philistine, which came in forcefully shortly after Joshua’s time. From then on Palestinian pottery was essentially local until the intertestamental period. At that time Gr. importations modified some Palestinian forms. By NT times imported ware was also coming from Italy.
Clay is a substance from the earth that the chemist describes as a hydrated silicate of alumina mixed with a variety of impurities in varying proportions. Sometimes the essential clay factor is less than fifty per cent of the earth material used by the potter. If the clay is too pure it is not very plastic. Such a clay is called a primary clay, because it is found at the place of origin. It is produced by chemical action upon rocks from which come the chemical constituency of clay. Kaolin is the best known primary clay. Porcelain, the finest pottery, is produced from it.
The clays used in Pal., however, were for the most part secondary clays, which are transported, or sedimentary, clays. In their travels, such clays have been ground fine by friction and have picked up numerous impurities that influence the finished ware in a variety of ways. The mixing of the clay with water, the fashioning of a piece of pottery, the drying, and firing process are all influenced by the nature of the clay.
After the clay has been cleaned and brought to the proper plasticity, it can then be fashioned into any desired shape. The shaped vessel can be finished off with any selected surface pattern and it will retain that pattern no matter how crude or how delicate. The vessel is then dried, after which it is fired in the kiln. The shape and the markings are then permanent. The chemical change from the heat in the kiln actually turns the clay into a new substance—a synthetic stone. Not only does the plastic clay become rock-like but the vessel will take on a color dictated by the contents of the impurities in the clay. Iron oxide will produce a vessel that has colors from red to brown. Iron hydrates give shades from yellow to cream. Iron carbonate yields shades of gray. Organic matter may produce in the clay shades of black to brown. The color of the fired vessel usually differs from that of the unfired ware.
The most common way of making early pottery was by hand. This method usually was abandoned after the invention of the wheel. The former method commonly used coils of clay to form the shape of the vessel, which was then smoothed off into finished form. Most of the pottery used in Bible times was thrown on the wheel. Pottery could also be made in a press mold. In this process the clay is carefully pressed into the mold. After drying it shrinks from the mold. This method was used chiefly in the making of figurines. Beginning in Hel. times it was used also in the making of lamps.
Pottery could be decorated in various ways. The most common technique was that of impressing a pattern on the vessel before it was set out to dry. The patterns were numerous. They might be combings, bands and rows of incisions, chevrons, or beadings. Patterns or pictures could be painted upon the unfired ware with a brush. This type of decoration was most common in the Late Bronze Age, the period preceding Joshua’s conquest. The Philistine ware is the only important painted ware after the conquest.
The better vessels were finished off with a slip, which is an extra pure grade of clay that will produce the finest of colors. It was the consistency of cream and was applied to the vessel before firing. An additional technique, which produced one of the most pleasing patterns, was burnishing. This was at its best in the Middle Bronze and Iron II periods. To burnish a vessel the potter used a hard instrument, such as a piece of bone, and pressed it against the original vessel or the slipped vessel, producing the desired pattern. This method gave a play of light and shadow to the fired vessel.
There are references in the OT that describe the process of pottery manufacturing.
Reference is also made to the treading of the clay as it is prepared for the fashioning process (
Although most of the pottery in Biblical times was shaped on the potter’s wheel, the one specific reference to the wheel in the OT is
Clay toys such as animal figures and dolls were fashioned from clay by means of freehand modeling. Jars and bowls could be formed by this method, but archeological evidence indicates that this was the situation only in the early days of the OT. In the Bronze Age and in the time of the prophets of Israel, the bodies of the Astarte figurines were formed by freehand modeling.
A third method by which clay was fashioned in Biblical times was the use of the press mold. A design was prepared in a mold, which was made of metal, wood, or pottery. This design was left on the wet clay when it was pressed into the mold. Reference is made to the power of God in the words, “It is changed like clay under the seal” (
The final product of the potter is dependent upon the firing process in the kiln. As much skill is required here as in throwing the best ware. Profit or loss depended upon the skill of the kilnman in controlling the varied temperatures of the kilns at all times. No reference is found in the OT to the technique involved, but this is not surprising since such trade secrets were not shared. “The
According to Kelso’s study of the ceramic vocabulary used in the OT, some thirty-four Heb. and Aram. words are used for pottery vessels. Ten different terms are used for vessels in what is generally described as the “bowl family.” There are banquet bowls, or kraters, which would be very large. In the earlier history of Israel these bowls were frequently hand burnished and had two handles. Later they were ring burnished and four handles were attached. According to
Another class of ceramic vessels designated in the OT includes all the cooking pots. The most common of these was the סִיר, H6105. This was a widemouth cooking pot that was broad and shallow. At first this was a vessel without handles. Later two handles were attached to it. It was used both for cooking (
There are references in the OT to many specialized ceramic vessels. One group is composed of storage jars. In this classification is the jar used for the storage of oil. Such a container is described as being in the home of the widow of a prophet (
The Israelites produced and used a common ceramic pitcher that could hold either wine or water. Usually about eight or ten inches high, the earlier Iron Age pitchers generally had a pinched mouth whereas those of the Iron II period had a round mouth. According to
Two very common household ceramic objects that appear in the OT are perfume juglets and lamps. Perfumed ointment was kept in a small juglet, which was from three to six inches high. When Elisha sent a prophet to anoint Jehu he gave him this particular type of ceramic vessel (
These ceramic vessels of the OT and the NT give the major clues to an insight into the culture of the people that used them. Other factors aiding in the interpretation of a culture are to be found in weapons, tools, jewelry, and other items made of such substances as metal, wood, bone, and glass. These cultures, of course, must always be interpreted in terms of the building and houses in which the items are found.
Because of the cheapness of pottery, all archeological sites in Pal. have tens of thousands of fragments of pottery. From the characteristic forms of vessels, the ware, and the decoration, archeologists have been able to make out a time table. This chronology is based on the length of time that the various forms remained in circulation.
The following chart was prepared by Paul W. Lapp:
R. Amiran, Ancient Pottery of the Holy Land (1970), 1-306; J. L. Kelso, Ceramic Vocabulary of the(1948), 1-48; P. W. Lapp, “Palestine in the Early Bronze Age,” Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century, J. Sanders, ed. (1970), 101-131.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
1. Historical Development
3. Methods of Production
5. Biblical Terms
6. Archaeological Significance
1. Historical Development:
The making of pottery ranks among the very oldest of the crafts. On the rocky plateaus of Upper Egypt, overlooking the Nile valley, are found the polished red earthenware pots of the prehistoric Egyptians. These are buried in shallow oval graves along with the cramped-up bodies of the dead and their chipped flint weapons and tools. These jars are the oldest examples of the potter’s article It is inconceivable that in the country of Babel, Egypt’s great rival in civilization, the ceramic arts were less developed at the same period, but the difference in the nature of the country where the first Mesopotamian settlement probably existed makes it unlikely that relics of the prehistoric dwellers of that country will ever be recovered from under the debris of demolished cities and the underlying deposits of clay and silt.
The oldest examples of Babylonian ceramics date from the historical period, and consist of baked clay record tablets, bricks, drainage pipes, household shrines, as well as vessels for holding liquids, fruits and other stores. (See Perrot and Chipiez, History of Art in Chaldea and Assyria, I, figures 159, 160, II, figures 163, 168.) Examples of pottery of this early period are shown in the accompanying figures. By the 9th to the 7th century BC the shaping of vessels of clay had become well developed. Fragments of pottery bearing the name of Esarhaddon establish the above dates.
With the close of the neolithic period in Egypt and the beginning of the historical or dynastic period (4500-4000 BC) there was a decline in the pottery article The workmanship and forms both became bad, and not until the IVth Dynasty was there any improvement. In the meantime the process of glazing had been discovered and the art of making beautiful glazed faience became one of the most noted of the ancient Egyptian crafts. The potter’s wheel too was probably an invention of this date.
The making of pottery in the land which later became the home of the children of Israel began long before this people possessed the land and even before the Phoenicians of the coast cities had extended their trade inland and brought the earthenware vessels of the Tyrian or Sidonian potters. As in Egypt and Babylonia, the first examples were hand-made without the aid of the wheel.
It is probable that Jewish potters learned their art from the Phoenicians. They at least copied Phoenician and Mycenaean forms. During their wanderings the children of Israel were not likely to make much use of earthenware vessels, any more than the Arabs do today. Skins, gourds, wooden and metal vessels were less easily broken.
To illustrate this, a party, of which the writer was a member, took on a desert trip the earthenware water jars specially made for travel, preferring them to the skin bottles such as the Arab guides carried, for the bottles taint the water. At the end of six days only one out of eight earthenware jars was left. One accident or another had broken all the others.
When the Israelites became settled in their new surroundings they were probably not slow in adopting earthenware vessels, because of their advantages, and their pottery gradually developed distinctive though decadent types known as Jewish.
Toward the close of the Hebrew monarchy the pottery of the land again showed the effect of outside influences. The red and black figured ware of the Greeks was introduced, and still later the less artistic Roman types, and following these by several centuries came the crude glazed vessels of the Arabic or Saracenic period--forms which still persist.
It is not within the limits of this article to describe in detail the characteristics of the pottery of the various periods. The accompanying illustrations taken from photographs of pottery in the Archaeological Museum of the Syrian Protestant College, Beirut, give a general idea of the forms. Any attempt at classification of Palestinian pottery must be considered more or less provisional, due to the uncertainty of origin of many forms. The classification of pre-Roman pottery here used is that adopted by Bliss and Macalister and based upon Dr. Petrie’s studies.
(1) Early Pre-Israelite, Called also "Amorite" (before 1500 BC).
Most of the vessels of this period are handmade and often irregular in shape. A coarse clay, turning red or black when burned, characterizes many specimens. Some are brick red. Specimens with a polished or burnished surface are also found.
(2) Late Pre-Israelite or Phoenician (1500-1000 BC).
From this period on, the pottery is all wheel-turned. The clay is of a finer quality and burned to a brown or red. The ware is thin and light. Water jars with pointed instead of fiat bases appear. Some are decorated with bands or lines of different colored meshes. Cypriote ware with its incised decorations was a like development of the period.
(3) Jewish (1000-300 BC).
Foreign influence is lost. The types which survive degenerate. New forms are introduced. Ordinary coarse clay burning red is used. Cooking pots are most characteristic. Many examples bear Hebrew stamps, the exact meaning of which is uncertain.
Foreign influence again appears. Greek and other types are imported and copied. Ribbed surfaces are introduced. The old type of burnishing disappears.
(5) Roman and Saracenic.
Degenerate forms persisting till the present time.
(6) Present-day Pottery.
3. Methods of Production:
The clay as found in the ground is not suitable for use. It is dug out and brought to the vicinity of the pottery (the "potter’s field,"
Before the invention of the potter’s wheel the clay was shaped into vessels by hand. In all of the countries previously mentioned the specimens representing the oldest work are all hand-made. Chopped straw was usually added to the clay of these early specimens. This material is omitted in the wheel-shaped objects. In a Mt. Lebanon village which is noted for its pottery the jars are still made by hand. Throughout the country the clay stoves are shaped by hand out of clay mixed with straw.
The shaping of vessels is now done on wheels, the use of which dates back to earliest history. Probably the Egyptians were the first to use such a machine (IVth Dynasty). In their original form they were stone disks arranged to be turned by hand on a vertical axis. The wheel stood only a few inches above the ground, and the potter sat or squatted down on the ground before it as he shaped his object (see Wilkinson, Ancient Egypt, II, figure 397). The wheels used in Palestine and Syria today probably differ in no respect from those used in the potter’s house visited by Jeremiah (
After the vessel is shaped it is dried and finally fired in a furnace or kiln. The ancient Egyptian kiln was much smaller than the one used today (Wilkhinson, II, 192). Most of the kilns are of the crudest form of the "up-draught" variety, i.e. a large chamber with perforated bottom and a fireplace beneath. The fire passes up through the holes, around the jars packed in tiers in the chamber, and goes out at the top. An interesting survival of an early Greek form is still used in Rachiyet-el-Fakhar in Syria. In this same village the potters also use the lead dross, which comes from the parting of silver, for glazing their jars (compare
Pottery was used in ancient times for storing liquids, such as wine or oil, fruits, grains, etc. The blackened bottoms of pots of the Jewish period show that they were used for cooking. Earthenware dishes were also used for boiling clothes. Every one of these uses still continues. To one living in Bible lands today it seems inconceivable that the Hebrews did not readily adopt, as some writers disclaim, the porous earthen water jars which they found already in use in their new country. Such jars were used for carrying live coals to start a fire, and not only for drawing water, as they are today, but for cooling it (
5. Biblical Terms:
"vessel," was of wood, metal or earthen-ware in
pakh, is translated "vial" in
also qasah "cup" or "bowl," translated "cup" in many passages, like Arabic ka’s, which was formerly used for drinking instead of modern cups.
gabhia, translated "bowl" in
parur, translated "pots" in
kidr, commonly used for cooking today.
6. Archaeological Significance:
The chemical changes wrought in clay by weathering and firing render it practically indestructible when exposed to the weather and to the action of moisture and the gaseous and solid compounds found in the soil. When the sun-baked brick walls of a Palestinian city crumbled, they buried, often intact, the earthenware vessels of the period. In the course of time, perhaps after decades or centuries, another city was built on the debris of the former. The brick walls required no digging for foundations, and so the substrata were left undisturbed. After long periods of time the destruction, by conquering armies or by neglect, of succeeding cities, produced mounds rising above the surrounding country, sometimes to a height of 60 or 100 ft. A typical example of such a mound is Tell el-Chesy (? Lachish). Dr. Flinders Petrie, as a result of the study of the various strata of this mound, has formed the basis of a classification of Palestinian pottery (see ''''2, above). With a knowledge of the forms of pottery of each period, the excavator has a guide, though not infallible, to the date of the ruins he finds.
See also CRAFTS, II, 4.
Publications of PEF, especially Bliss and Macalister, Excavations in Palestine; Excavations of Gezer; Bliss, A Mound of Many Cities; Flinders Petrie, Tell el-Ghesy; Bliss and Dickie, Excavations at Jerusalem; Perrot and Chipiez, History of Art (i) in Chaldea and Assyria, (ii) Sardinia and Judea, (iii) Cyprus and Phoenicia, (iv) Egypt; King and Hall, Egypt and Western Asia in Light of Modern Discoveries; S. Birch, History of Ancient Pottery; Wilkinson, The Ancient Egyptians; PEFQ; EB; HDB.
James A. Patch