POTTERY. Pottery making is one of the oldest crafts in Bible lands. James L. Kelso and J. Palin Thorley have termed pottery “the first synthetic to be discovered by mankind...an artificial stone produced by firing clay shapes to a temperature sufficiently high to change the physical and chemical properties of the original clay into a new substance with many of the characteristics of stone” (“Palestinian Pottery in Bible Times,” BA, 8, 1945, p. 82). References, both literal and figurative, to the potter and his products occur throughout the Scriptures.
After drying to a leathery consistency the vessel was replaced on the wheel for “turning,” cutting and paring off excess clay as on a lathe. To fill the pores and beautify the vessel the potter could coat the pot with “slip,” clay of the consistency of cream, often with a mineral color added. Next he might burnish or rub the surface with a smooth stone to produce a sheen, or he might paint on a design. Finally, the jar was “fired” by heating it, usually between 700 and 1,050 degrees Celsius in an open fire or in a kiln. Firing was the most difficult art for the apprentice to master, and this skill was probably passed on from father to son as a trade secret. Such potters’ installations have been found in a cave at Lachish (c. 1500 b.c.), within the Essene community center at Qumran, and by the Nabatean city of Avdat (Eboda) in the Negev.
II. Historical Development of Pottery Styles in Palestine. Ceramic vessels, like clothing and automobiles, have been changing in fashion down through the centuries of human existence. Recognizing this fact, the Egyptologist Flinders Petrie in a.d. 1890 catalogued the sequence of broken pottery according to the varying shapes and decorations at Tell el-Hesi in SW Palestine. He succeeded in assigning dates to several of his pottery periods by identifying certain wares with wares previously discovered in datable Egyptian tombs. Today when an archaeologist uncovers no more precise evidence (e.g., inscriptions on clay tablets, monuments, or coins), he depends on dominant pottery styles from an occupation level of an ancient city to furnish the clue to the date. On the second day of excavation in 1953 the Wheaton Archaeological Expedition verified that Dothan was settled in Joseph’s time (
A. Neolithic Age (?-4000? b.c.). Depending on the accuracy of dating methods and assumptions, pottery—all handmade—can be dated to around 4500 b.c. But scores of generations before the first pottery appeared at Jericho, people who practiced irrigation and constructed massive city fortifications settled the town. The vessels were either exceedingly coarse or else made with much finer clay, usually with painted decorations, and well-fired.
B. Chalcolithic Age (4000?-3100 b.c.). When copper came into use, the peculiar pottery styles included swinging butter churns; jars with small “cord-eye” handles; cups with a long, tapering, spikelike “cornet” base; and ossuaries for human bones, made of pottery in the shape of miniature houses.
C. Early Bronze Age (3100-2100 b.c.). In this millennium potters began to use the stone disc tournette or turntable, predecessor of the potter’s wheel. Characteristic features of the pottery of this age are flat bottoms, hole-mouth pots, spouts on jars, inward-projecting bowl rims, ledge handles on water jugs, and bands of parallel, wavy, or crisscross lines painted over the jar’s surface.
D. Middle Bronze Age I (2100-1900 b.c.). A transition period in pottery styles, these centuries saw the coming of Abraham to Palestine and an irruption of seminomadic Amorites from Syria, who destroyed many towns and depopulated much of Canaan.
E. Middle Bronze Age II (1900-1550/1480 b.c.). The Hyksos, descendants of the Amorites and native Canaanites, dominated Palestine in this era. Hazor was their chief city. They were already entering Egypt as merchants or Egyptian slaves in the nineteenth century when Jacob came to Goshen. Later they ruled in Egypt, 1730-1570. In the nineteenth century the fast-spinning potter’s wheel revolutionized the industry in the Near East. Virtually all Middle Bronze II pottery was wheel-made. Distinctively Hyksos were the pear-shaped juglets with “button” base, double- or triple-strand handles, chalk-filled pinprick designs, and highly burnished vessels with orange or black coating. Bowls and jars with ring or disc bases were introduced in Palestine, as well as dipper flasks and chalices. Hyksos cities in southern Palestine fell before the pursuing Egyptians about 1550, whereas cities in northern Palestine remained in Hyksos hands until the campaigns of Thutmose III (c. 1480).
F. Late Bronze Age (1500-1230 b.c.). With the Hyksos’s power broken, numerous petty kings ruled in Canaan. The native pottery declined in gracefulness and technique as the prosperity slumped. Thus, imported vessels from Cyprus are all the more striking: milk bowls with wishbone handles, and “bilbils,” jugs with a metallic ring when tapped. From 1400 to 1230 b.c. Mycenean pottery imports were common: stirrup vases, squat pyxis (cylinder-shaped) jars, and large craters with horizontal loop handles. While the nomadic Israelites invaded Canaan about 1400, they continued using wooden bowls, goatskins, and cloth sacks (
G. Iron Age I (1230-925 b.c.). In the latter time of the judges Israel was more settled, and iron came into common use. Typical pottery objects were the traveler’s water canteen, many-handled wine craters, and lamps with a thick, disclike base. The decorative features are the most distinctive: hand burnishing and gaudy, painted designs, even on rims and handles. After 1150 Philistine painted-ware, very similar to late Mycenean pottery elsewhere, is outstanding with its designs of swans pluming themselves, dolphins, spirals, loops, and maltese crosses. In Israel the period ended when Pharaoh Shishak destroyed many towns on his Palestinian campaign.
H. Iron Age II (925-586 b.c.). During the divided monarchy the cities of Israel prospered materially, and their potters excelled. Most helpful for dating a town to this period are the ring-burnished water decanters; wheel burnishing on banquet bowls; twisted, ridged handles on storage jars; black perfume juglets; and the beautiful red, highly burnished Samaria ware. Archaeologists have unearthed Hebrew writings in ink on potsherds, such as the seventy-odd Samaria ostraca from the palace of and the twenty-one Lachish Letters dated to 589/8. From Isaiah’s time onward in Judah belong many inscribed handles of jars for wine, olive oil, or grain. In some cases, as on those found at Gibeon, the name of the owner of a vineyard was inscribed. On others the letters lmlk (“belonging to the king”) appear together with the name of one of four cities, probably where royal potteries were established to make jars of the correct capacity for the payment of taxes in produce (cf.
I. Iron Age II (538-333 b.c.). During this Persian period locally made storage jars had pointed bases rather than the earlier rounded style. The lip of the lamp evolved into an elongated spout. The most distinctive pottery in the sixth century was imported Greek black-figured ware, and in the fifth, Greek red-figured ware. Coins, which began to appear in Palestine in the fifth century, aid the archaeologist in dating.
J. Hellenistic Age (333-63 b.c.). Alexander’s conquest began the Hellenization of Palestine. The double potter’s wheel, with a large footpower wheel to turn the thrower’s wheel (
K. Roman Age (63 b.c.-a.d. 325). Pompey’s capture of Jerusalem in 63 b.c. brought Palestine under Roman domination. Significant pottery styles are the beautiful red-glazed (terra sigillata) bowls and plates, jugs and pots with horizontally corrugated surfaces, and the exquisitely painted, extremely thin Nabatean pottery from about 50 b.c. to a.d. 150.
III. Identification of Biblical Terms for Pottery Objects. The Hebrew and Greek words, about which there is some degree of understanding, are classified under several main groups:
A. Bowls, basins, and cups. The “cups” of biblical times were usually small bowls without handles. Flat dinner plates were unknown, shallow bowls serving as platters and dishes.
2. Tselōhîth. Only in
3. Tsallahath. Similar to no. 2, this must have been the well-known ring-burnished bowl of Iron Age II. It had no handles to hang it up, hence it was turned over to dry (
4. ‘Aggān. A banquet bowl, ring- or spiral-burnished on the interior, with two or four handles, similar in size and purpose to our punch bowls (
5. Sēphel. Probably an earlier style of no. 4, since the Arabic word for a large four-handled bowl in Palestinian villages today is sifl. Since it was called a “bowl fit for nobles,” Jael may have offered Sisera curdled milk in one imported from Mycenae or Cyprus, decorated with painted designs and having pushed-up horizontal loop handles, holding from four to ten pints (nineteen to forty-seven dl.) (
6. Tryblion. A large deep dish or bowl, either of metal or fine Roman sigillata pottery, from which all could take out food (
7. Niptēr. A basin or vessel for washing the hands and feet (
B. Cooking pots. Sherds of these common vessels are very numerous in excavated cities since every household needed several such pots. Because these vessels broke or cracked easily, they were often “despised,” considered the lowliest type of pottery; hence they are seldom found in tombs.
1. Sîr. The wide-mouth, broad, round-bottom cooking pot, in Iron Age I handleless, in Iron Age II and later with two handles. The large diameter of its mouth permitted it to be used as a washbasin (
2. Pārûr. A one- or two-handled cooking pot, deeper and with a narrower mouth than the sîr. With one hand Gideon carried a pārûr containing broth, in the other hand a basket containing bread and meat (
3. Marhesheth. A ceramic kettle used for deep-fat frying (
4. ‘Etsev. The despised vessel of
C. Jars. These include the large stationary jars for water (Arabic zîr), apparently not mentioned in the Bible, as well as the smaller jars for carrying water from well to house and for the storage of grain, of olive oil, and of wine.
3. ’Āsûk. In
D. Decanters, flasks, and juglets.
1. Baqbûq. The handsome ring-burnished water decanter of Iron II. Its narrow neck caused a gurgling sound when the water was poured; hence its name. It came in graduated sizes from four to ten inches (ten to twenty-six cm.) high. James L. Kelso says, “It is the most artistic and expensive member of the pitcher family. It was thus well-fitted to typify Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s illustrated sermon (
2. Tsappahath. The two-handled traveler’s flask or canteen so popular from the Late Bronze Age until the middle of Iron Age II. “It was made of a lightly baked clay, which gives a certain porosity to the jar so that the air blowing on the moist surface of the canteen cools the water within [by evaporation]. The mouth of the canteen is shaped both for drinking and for easy stoppering” (Ibid., p. 30). See
3. Pak. A small juglet for holding perfumed anointing oil (
4. Keramion. The one-handled ribbed water jug, eight to twelve inches (twenty-one to thirty-one cm.) high, by which Jesus’ disciples were to identify the owner of the house with the
E. Other vessels
2. Lampas. Also a hand-sized clay lamp but with considerable change in shape from the OT lamps. By the first century a.d. the pinched rim had given way to a nozzle for the wick. This type was carried by the ten virgins (
3. Lychnos. The lamp placed on a lampstand (lychnia) (
4. Menôrâh. Usually a reference to the golden lampstand in the tabernacle and temple. But in
5. Tannûr, klibanos. Chiefly, the common oven in every home, for baking flat bread (
6. ’Âh. The small brazier for holding burning coals. King Jehoiakim’s winter house may have had a metal or a ceramic brazier or firepot (
7. Mahăvath. Probably the nearly flat disclike baking tray or griddle mentioned in
8. Paropsis. The side dish for relishes and other delicacies. Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees of cleaning the outside of this dish but filling the inside with greed and self-indulgence (
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