Jump to: Smith'sISBEEaston'sWebster'sConcordanceThesaurusGreekHebrewLibrarySubtopicsTerms
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

pot'-er, pot'-er-i:

1. Historical Development

2. Forms

3. Methods of Production

4. Uses

5. Biblical Terms

6. Archaeological Significance


1. Historical Development:

(1) Prehistoric.

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.

(2) Babylonia.

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 B.C. the shaping of vessels of clay had become well developed. Fragments of pottery bearing the name of Esarhaddon establish the above dates.

(3) Egypt.

With the close of the neolithic period in Egypt and the beginning of the historical or dynastic period (4500-4000 B.C.) 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.

(4) Palestine.

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.

2. Forms:

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 B.C.).

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 B.C.).

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 B.C.).

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.

(4) Seleucidan.

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," Matthew 27:7) and allowed to weather for weeks. The dry material is then dumped into a cement-lined tank or wooden trough and covered with water. When the lumps have softened they are stirred in the water until all have disintegrated and a thin slimy mud or "slip" has been formed. In coast cities-the potteries are all near the sea, as the sea-water is considered better for the "slipping" process. The slip is drawn off into settling tanks. All stones and lumps remain behind. When the clay has settled, the water is drawn off and the plastic material is worked by treading with the feet (compare Isaiah 41:25; The Wisdom of Solomon 15:7). The clay used on the Syrian coast is usually a mixture of several earths, which the potters have learned by experience gives the right consistency. The prepared clay is finally packed away and allowed to stand another six months before using, during which time the quality, especially the plasticity, is believed to improve.

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 (Jeremiah 18:1-6). The wheel or, to be more exact, wheels (compare Jeremiah 18:3) are fitted on a square wooden or iron shaft about 3 ft. long. The lower disk is about 20 inches in diameter, and the upper one 8 inches or 12 inches. The lower end of the shaft is pointed and fits into a stone socket or bearing in which it rotates. A second bearing just below the upper disk is so arranged that the shaft inclines slightly away from the potter. The potter leans against a slanting seat, bracing himself with one foot so that he will not slide off, and with the sole of his other foot he kicks the upper face of the lower wheel, thus making the whole machine rotate. The lower wheel is often of stone to give greater momentum. With a marvelous dexterity, which a novice tries in vain to imitate, he gives the pieces of clay any shape he desires.

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 Proverbs 26:23). In firing pottery there are always some jars which come out imperfect. In unpacking the kiln and storing the product others get broken. As a consequence the ground in the vicinity of a pottery is always strewn with potsherds (see also separate article). The ancient potteries can frequently be located by these sherds. The potter's field mentioned in Matthew 27:7, 10 was probably a field near a pottery strewn with potsherds, thus making it useless for cultivation although useful to the potter as a place in which to weather his clay or to dry his pots before firing.

4. Uses:

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 (Isaiah 30:14). The evaporation of the water which oozes through the porous material cools down the contents of a jar, whereas a metal or leathern vessel would leave it tepid or tainted. They were also used for holding shoemaker's glue or wax; for filling up the cracks of a wall before plastering; ground up they are used as sand in mortar.

5. Biblical Terms:

Only a few of the Hebrew words for vessels of different sorts, which in all probability were made of pottery, have been translated by terms which indicate that fact (For cheres, and yatsar, see EARTHEN VESSELS; OSTRACA.) kadh, is translated "pitcher" in Genesis 24:14 ff;; Judges 7:16 ff;; Ecclesiastes 12:6 (compare keramion, Mark 14:13 Luke 22:10); "jar" in 1 Kings 17:12 (compare hudria, John 4:28). The kadh corresponded in size and use to the Arabic jarrah (compare English derivative "jar"). The jarrah is used for drawing and storing water and less frequently for holding other liquids or solids. It is used as an proximate standard of measure. For example, a man estimates the capacity of a cistern in jirar (plural of jarrah). baqbuq, "a bottle," usually leathern, but in Jeremiah 19:1, 10 of pottery. This may have been like the Arabic ibriq, which causes a gurgling sound when liquid is turned from it. Baqbuq is rendered "cruse" in 1 Kings 14:3.

keli "vessel," was of wood, metal or earthen-ware in Leviticus 6:28 Psalm 2:9; Psalm 31:12 Isaiah 30:14 Jeremiah 19:11, etc.; compare ostrakinos, 2 Corinthians 4:7, etc.

pakh, is translated "vial" in 1 Samuel 10:1 2 Kings 9:1; see so-called pilgrim bottles.

koc 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 Jeremiah 35:5.

parur, translated "pots" in Numbers 11:8; compare Judges 6:19 1 Samuel 2:14; compare chutra, which is similar to Arabic.

kidr, commonly used for cooking today.

'etsebh, "pot," Jeremiah 22:28 the American Revised Version margin.

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.

Figurative: The shaping of clay into pottery typified the molding of the characters of individuals or nations by a master mind (Jeremiah 18:1-6 Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9; Isaiah 64:8 Romans 9:20); commonplace (Lamentations 4:2 2 Timothy 2:20); frailness (Psalm 2:9 Isaiah 30:14 Jeremiah 19:11 Daniel 2:41 2 Corinthians 4:7 Revelation 2:27).


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

3749. ostrakinos -- earthen
... earthen. 3749 (the root of the English term, "ostraca," ie baked-clay shaped
into pottery, etc.) -- properly, made of clay (earth). ...
//strongsnumbers.com/greek2/3749.htm - 7k
Strong's Hebrew
2789. cheres -- earthenware, earthen vessel, sherd, potsherd
... earthen, potsherd, stone. A collateral form mediating between cherec and cheresh;
a piece of pottery -- earth(-en), (pot-)sherd, + stone. see HEBREW cherec. ...
/hebrew/2789.htm - 6k

2777. charsuth -- potsherd
... east. From cherec (apparently in the sense of a red tile used for scraping); a potsherd,
ie (by implication) a pottery; the name of a gate at Jerusalem -- east. ...
/hebrew/2777.htm - 6k

2635. chasaph -- clay, potsherd
... Word Origin (Aramaic) from a root corresponding to that of chaspas Definition
clay, potsherd NASB Word Usage clay (7), pottery (2). clay. ...
/hebrew/2635.htm - 6k

3627. keli -- an article, utensil, vessel
... 1), goods (6), implements (2), instruments (14), items (1), jar (2), jars (1), jars*
(1), jewels (3), jewels* (1), object (3), pots (1), pottery (1), sack (1 ...
/hebrew/3627.htm - 6k


Pagan Cemeteries.
... feet, in a trench a trifle longer and larger than itself, and the space between
the coffin and the sides of the trench was filled with archaic pottery, of the ...
/.../lanciani/pagan and christian rome/chapter vi pagan cemeteries.htm

The Scaffolding Left in the Body
... wandering in foreign lands, brings back all manner of curios to remind him where
he has been"clubs and spears, clothes and pottery, which represent the ways ...
/.../the lowell lectures on the ascent of man/chapter ii the scaffolding left.htm

The Assumption of Moses
... I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.' And again he saith: I am as smoke from
the pottery.'" [102] The last clause is deemed by Hilgenfeld to be cited ...
//christianbookshelf.org/deane/pseudepigrapha/the assumption of moses.htm

The Christians Distinguish God from Matter.
... And as we do not hold the pottery of more worth than him who made it, nor the vessels
of glass and gold than him who wrought them; but if there is anything ...
/.../a plea for the christians/chapter xv the christians distinguish god.htm

The So-Called Letter to Diognetus
... Yet another one is made of iron, eaten by rust, and another of pottery, no more
attractive than something provided for the most ignoble purpose. ...
/.../richardson/early christian fathers/the so-called letter to diognetus.htm

The New Heart
... I will put my hand a second time to the work; once more shalt thou revolve upon
the pottery wheel, and I will make thee a vessel of honor, fit for my gracious ...
/.../spurgeon/spurgeons sermons volume 4 1858/the new heart.htm

Joy and Peace in Believing
... You can take a porous pottery vessel, wrap it up in waxcloth, pitch it all over,
and then drop it into mid-Atlantic, and not a drop will find its way in. ...
/.../romans corinthians to ii corinthians chap v/joy and peace in believing.htm

John and Daniel have Predicted the Dissolution and Desolation of ...
... with the baked clay, there shall be minglings among the human race, but no cohesion
one with the other, just as iron cannot be welded on to pottery ware." [4680 ...
/.../irenaeus/against heresies/chapter xxvi john and daniel have.htm

The Story of Job
... of Jehovah, and afflicted Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head
with leprosy so terrible that Job took a piece of broken pottery with which to ...
//christianbookshelf.org/sherman/the childrens bible/the story of job.htm

A Picture of Conversion. 2 Kings ii. 19-22.
... which heals. Have we salt? It is not a question as to the quality or style
of pottery; it is salt that is needed. A common flower ...
/...//christianbookshelf.org/champness/broken bread/lvii a picture of conversion.htm

Smith's Bible Dictionary

The art of pottery is one of the most common and most ancient of all manufactures. It is abundantly evident, both that the Hebrews used earthenware vessels in the wilderness and that the potter's trade was afterward carried on in Palestine. They had themselves been concerned in the potter's trade in Egypt, (Psalms 81:6) and the wall-paintings minutely illustrate the Egyptian process. The clay, when dug, was trodden by men's feet so as to form a paste, (Isaiah 41:25) Wisd. 15:7; then placed by the potter on the wheel beside which he sat, and shaped by him with his hands. How early the wheel came into use in Palestine is not known, but it seems likely that it was adopted from Egypt. (Isaiah 45:9; Jeremiah 15:3) The vessel was then smoothed and coated with a glaze, and finally burnt in a furnace. There was at Jerusalem a royal establishment of potters, (1 Chronicles 4:23) from whose employment, and from the fragments cast away in the process, the Potter's Field perhaps received its name. (Isaiah 30:11)

Easton's Bible Dictionary
The art of, was early practised among all nations. Various materials seem to have been employed by the potter. Earthenware is mentioned in connection with the history of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18), of Abraham (18:4-8), of Rebekah (27:14), of Rachel (29:2, 3, 8, 10). The potter's wheel is mentioned by Jeremiah (18:3). See also 1 Chronicles 4:23; Psalm 2:9; Isaiah 45:9; 64:8; Jeremiah 19:1; Lamentations 4:2; Zechariah 11:13; Romans 9:21.
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
1. (n.) The vessels or ware made by potters; earthenware, glazed and baked.

2. (n.) The place where earthen vessels are made.

Pottery (11 Occurrences)
... Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia. POTTER; POTTERY. pot ... Prehistoric. The making
of pottery ranks among the very oldest of the crafts. ...
/p/pottery.htm - 27k

Pottery-gate (1 Occurrence)
Pottery-gate. Pottery, Pottery-gate. Pouch . Multi-Version
Concordance Pottery-gate (1 Occurrence). Jeremiah 19:2 and ...
/p/pottery-gate.htm - 6k

Potter (14 Occurrences)
... Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia. POTTER; POTTERY. pot ... Prehistoric. The making
of pottery ranks among the very oldest of the crafts. ...
/p/potter.htm - 28k

Brick (10 Occurrences)
... If burnt bricks had been generally used in Palestine, races of them would have been
found with the pottery which is so abundant in the ruins (see POTTERY). ...
/b/brick.htm - 15k

Memphis (8 Occurrences)
... If any traces yet exist, they are buried beneath the vast mounds of crumbling
bricks and broken pottery which meet the eye in every direction. ...
/m/memphis.htm - 14k

Tahpanhes (7 Occurrences)
... refugees. The pottery found at Tahpanhes "shows on the whole more evidence
of Greeks than Egyptians in the place..... Especially ...
/t/tahpanhes.htm - 14k

Capernaum (16 Occurrences)
... Professor Macalister is on surer ground in discussing the pottery found
on the rival sites. At Khan Minyeh he found nothing older ...
/c/capernaum.htm - 23k

Canaan (102 Occurrences)
... Professor Petrie laid the foundations of Palestine archaeology by fixing the
chronological sequence of the Lachish pottery, and tracing the remains of six ...
/c/canaan.htm - 64k

Zion (169 Occurrences)
... curves and rock-cuttings, cave-dwellings and tombs, and enormous quantities of early
"Amorite" (what may be popularly called "Jebusite") pottery show that the ...
/z/zion.htm - 49k

Canaanites (63 Occurrences)
... Professor Petrie laid the foundations of Palestine archaeology by fixing the
chronological sequence of the Lachish pottery, and tracing the remains of six ...
/c/canaanites.htm - 55k

Bible Concordance
Pottery (11 Occurrences)

Romans 9:21 hath not the potter authority over the clay, out of the same lump to make the one vessel to honour, and the one to dishonour?
(See NIV)

Revelation 2:27 and he shall shepherd them with an iron rod; as vessels of pottery are they broken in pieces, as I also have received from my Father;

2 Samuel 17:28 Came with beds and basins and pots, and grain and meal, and all sorts of dry foods,

Job 2:8 And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself therewith; and he sat among the ashes.
(See NIV)

Psalms 2:9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.'
(See NIV)

Psalms 31:12 I am forgotten from their hearts like a dead man. I am like broken pottery.

Isaiah 30:14 And He shall break it as a potter's vessel is broken, breaking it in pieces without sparing; so that there shall not be found among the pieces thereof a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water out of the cistern.
(See NIV)

Jeremiah 19:2 and go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the pottery-gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee,

Jeremiah 25:34 Wail, you shepherds, and cry; and wallow in ashes, you principal of the flock; for the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are fully come, and you shall fall like a goodly vessel.
(See NIV)

Daniel 2:42 As the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken.
(See NAS)

Daniel 2:43 Whereas you saw the iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men; but they shall not cling to one another, even as iron does not mingle with clay.
(See NAS)



Pottery of Weakness, in the Idol in Nebuchadnezzars Vision

Pottery: Clay Prepared For, by Treading

Pottery: Figurative

Pottery: Place for Manufacture of, Outside the Wall of Jerusalem, Bought As a Burying Ground for Poor People

Pottery: Vessels Made of

Related Terms

Pottery-gate (1 Occurrence)

Potter (14 Occurrences)

Brick (10 Occurrences)

Memphis (8 Occurrences)

Tahpanhes (7 Occurrences)

Capernaum (16 Occurrences)

Canaan (102 Occurrences)

Zion (169 Occurrences)

Canaanites (63 Occurrences)

Gihon (6 Occurrences)

Buying (12 Occurrences)


Potter's (16 Occurrences)

Pouch (3 Occurrences)

Crafts (2 Occurrences)

Egypt (596 Occurrences)

Assyria (124 Occurrences)


Phoenicia (6 Occurrences)

Babylonia (17 Occurrences)


Jericho (59 Occurrences)

Glaze (1 Occurrence)

Gerar (10 Occurrences)

Glass (12 Occurrences)

Firing (3 Occurrences)

Fire (602 Occurrences)

Furnace (35 Occurrences)

Refining (8 Occurrences)

Refractory (7 Occurrences)

Refiner (10 Occurrences)

Potsherd (6 Occurrences)

Pigeon (3 Occurrences)

Phenicia (1 Occurrence)

Burn (206 Occurrences)

Cage (3 Occurrences)

Cup (86 Occurrences)

Color (18 Occurrences)

Clay (50 Occurrences)

Colors (12 Occurrences)

Derbe (4 Occurrences)

Assur (2 Occurrences)


Writing (194 Occurrences)

Forgotten (69 Occurrences)

Gilgal (39 Occurrences)

Aqueduct (4 Occurrences)

Pergamum (2 Occurrences)

Asshur (133 Occurrences)

Cistern (21 Occurrences)

Pergamos (1 Occurrence)

Palm (49 Occurrences)

Genealogy (29 Occurrences)

Weaving (4 Occurrences)

Euphrates (36 Occurrences)

Well (2882 Occurrences)

Fortified (79 Occurrences)

Fort (8 Occurrences)

Fortress (75 Occurrences)

Fortification (5 Occurrences)

Pool (25 Occurrences)

Palestine (1 Occurrence)

Hebron (71 Occurrences)

Tree (245 Occurrences)

Gezer (14 Occurrences)

Cities (427 Occurrences)

Messenger (235 Occurrences)

Vessels (210 Occurrences)

Earthen (19 Occurrences)

Proclaimed (114 Occurrences)

Philistines (224 Occurrences)

Books (16 Occurrences)

Chronicles (45 Occurrences)


Minor (2 Occurrences)

Asia (22 Occurrences)

Language (112 Occurrences)

Bible ConcordanceBible DictionaryBible EncyclopediaTopical BibleBible Thesuarus
Top of Page
Top of Page