were hollow receptacles used to hold dry or liquid substances. The Bible mentions numerous containers and vessels. They range from pottery dishes, bowls, urns, and jugs to baskets, metalware, cloth and leather bags and on to wooden boxes and bowls and glassware of all shapes and sizes. By far the most common vessel was made of clay. (At least more containers of this substance have survived, and more evidence exists for the manufacture of earthen vessels than any other kind.)
Stoneware was the first to be produced. Archaeologists have found crude stone vessels from the oldest periods of mankind's history, dating them from the Paleolithic (Old Stone) and Epipaleolithic (Middle Stone) Ages (700,000 to 8300 B.C.). The Neolithic (New Stone) and Chalcolithic Ages (8300 to 3100 B.C.) saw advances in the production of stoneware as humans became producers of food rather than merely gatherers and hunters. Larger and deeper vessels were needed. In the Ancient Near East the Egyptians excelled at the craft of making stoneware. Much of their work may be seen today because it was placed in tombs for use in the future life.
As mankind progressed through the Neolithic Age, the most marked change in containers was the ability to form them by mixing clay, water, and fire. The first pottery vessels were simple, unglazed bowls and jars. The coarse shapes were molded as the vessels sat on grass mats, for they have the imprints on their bottoms. However, even the most elementary pots from this period show signs of decoration, incising, and painting. The shapes are limited to pots and bowls. Clay was rolled into string and coiled to make the vessels. Softer clay then was rubbed into the joints to form a solid container that would hold liquid or solids.
Early clay vessels were “fired” simply by letting them stay out in the sun. Unfortunately, they could not be used to hold liquids; for they returned to their muddy stage if they came in contact with a fluid. Firing progressed to the next stage probably by accident when a house burned and the mud-clay pottery inside hardened beyond anything yet produced. This led to a more advanced firing by simply holding the molded vessels over an open flame. This caused the clay to harden more than it would by sitting in the sun and would allow the storage of liquids. At sometime in this period people learned to bake their pottery the same way they did their bread: in an oven. Vessels became larger and more stylized after the invention of the kiln.
The Chalcolithic era brought about another monumental change in pottery making. A slow potter's wheel was introduced. This made production faster and more uniform. The Egyptians claim responsibility for this development. They represent the god Ptah as creating the egg of the world on a potter's wheel. Typical of this period was a cornet with a hollow conical base instead of the pointed end of a standard cornet. This vessel was called an “egg beaker.”
Incense bowls and jars are other large categories of vessels produced during the Chalcolithic period. The bowls usually were broad and half-rounded. The jars ranged from small hole-mouthed and high-necked containers decorated with red bands to the large storage vessels decorated with bands that resemble ropes set in relief.
Bronze Age (3100-1200 B.C.) pottery containers marked a distinct individuality based on different regions. Typical of the vessels from northern Palestine are jars of the grain-wash or band-slip techniques. Potters painted the containers with criss-crossing bands in vivid colors (dark and light brown, red, and yellow). Also indicative of this region are burnished vessels, those polished to a luster. At least two groups have been identified: red slip and gray-burnished, many with diagonal or net painting.
In southern Palestine a different type of pottery emerged during the Bronze Age. Red painted wares have been found in abundance in the south. Vessels of all shapes and sizes, including jugs, juglets, jars, and even “teapots” with long spouts and loop handles exhibit the same decorative characteristics. Also typical of this age were chalices on high feet, low rounded juglets with double handles, and jugs with high narrow necks. A very distinctive pottery, Abydos ware, named for the site in Upper Egypt where it was first discovered, was imported from Canaan to Egypt. The vessels in this group have elongated necks and loop handles that reach from the rim to the top of the shoulder.
During the Middle Bronze Age (2200-1550 B.C.) several new features were introduced to the vessels and containers of Palestine. Carinated (ridged rims) bowls and goblets, deep kraters, and storage jars with rounded shoulders marked a further advance in the potter's skill. Primary to all these advances was the ability to produce the entire vessel on the wheel. This enabled a potter to make the more intricate shapes. Decoration during this period consisted almost entirely of red burnishing. Painted decoration from Middle Bronze is rare, and many containers have no decoration at all, merely the color of the clay.
Toward the end of the Middle Bronze Age the Hyksos ruled Egypt. Thought by many to be Semitic (and therefore distantly related to the Hebrews), these people introduced a special type of juglet. The containers had double loop handles, were burnished in dark brown or black, and decorated with impressed dots arranged in patterns, and filled with white pigment.
The Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 B.C.) saw the introduction of bowls with tapering or rounded sides. Black and red bands painted on the inside were the normal form of decoration. Imports from Cyprus and Mycenae abounded, especially large, rounded bowls with wishbone handles. These came to be known as “milk bowls.” Highly distinctive decorations were used by the Mycenaeans. They painted their ware with bands, spirals, scales, and even leaves.
Major changes marked the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age (1200-586 B.C.). Instead of the rounded shapes, containers became more angular. Burnishing replaced painted decorations. Many potters began putting multiple handles on their ware, often as many as four. Chalices were very popular. With the rise of the monarchy came jar handles stamped with the royal seals. The number and size of jugs and juglets increased dramatically. Vessels for every conceivable purpose abounded.
Philistine ware made its debut during this period. Some of the liquid containers had strainers in the spouts to prevent the dregs (pulp and debris that usually settled to the bottom) from coming out with the liquid. Philistine ware is an amalgamation of Mycenaean types with clear influences from Egypt and Canaan. Red and black decorations, especially people and animals, are typical of this type pottery.
With the destruction of the Southern Kingdom came a marked decline in the variety and quality of pottery in Palestine. Containers from this period have almost no decoration, and the firing techniques used were poor. Some of the earlier designs were attempted but with only marginal results.
Alexander the Great brought to the Middle East the Hellenistic culture and its large variety of ceramic ware. Large, heavy vessels mark this period. They show a uniformity of style owing to the Greek dominance of all major production centers. By 200 B.C. a heavy type of bowl called a mortarium was common. It had a high sand content in the clay. Also appearing were a variety of cooking vessels including casseroles and frying pans. Many of the latter had hollow projections into which a wooden handle could be fitted.
By the time Rome conquered Palestine in 63 B.C., a new type of cylindrical jar with angular to rounded shoulders appeared. It had a ring base and a rim made to receive a lid. This type vessel made an excellent storage jar for solids, especially scrolls. The famous Dead Sea Scrolls were kept in these finely-crafted containers for almost two thousand years.
Metalware has been found in abundance in the lands of the Bible. Although palaces and temples often had vessels made of gold or silver, by far the most common material for metalware was an alloy of copper and tin called bronze. Pure copper rarely was used.
Beginning about 3000 B.C., bronze became the most important metal for civilization. Copper mines in the Sinai were used by the Egyptians, who developed a sophisticated smelting process. Copper-bearing ore mixed with tin was ground by stone mortars and smelted in clay crucibles. The result was a malleable substance that could be formed easily into the desired shapes. Everything from storage jars to bowls to chalices were made of bronze.
Wood was used to produce storage boxes and bowls. Boxes were made by nailing together planks, whereas bowls usually were hollowed from single pieces of wood. More wooden containers have been found in Egypt partly because the climate is more conducive to their preservation than other parts of the Middle East.
Glass has a long history in the Middle East. Obsidian (volcanic glass) was brought into Palestine from Anatolia as early as 5000 B.C. Manufactured glass began to appear after 2500 B.C., but vessels made of glass did not appear until about 1500 B.C.
Glass containers were made by molding the molten material around a solid core of the desired shape. Highly-skilled artisans created pieces that imitated precious stones such as lapis lazuli and turquoise.
Again, only royalty and temples owned glassware. Practically all found so far in Palestine was imported from Egypt. The glass industry reached its zenith there between 1400,1300 B.C. One of the few artifacts not from Egypt is a conical beaker from Mesopotamia, found at Megiddo.
Glass drinking bowls became popular in Palestine by 200 B.C. Most of that found in Palestine originated in Phoenicia. The method used still was molding the glass over an object. About 50 B.C. came the revolutionary invention of glass blowing. This method was quicker and less expensive than creating molds for each desired type of vessel. Discovered probably in Phoenicia, blown glass became the vessels of choice in Palestine during the Roman period. Palestinian artists became famous for their brown glass. Many even began signing their creations—the first known designer products in history.