Ancient craftsmanship (Exodus 31)

Since prehistoric times artistic people have used both natural resources and materials aquired by trade to create beautiful artifacts and then passed along their techniques to others. As ancient technology advanced, the materials used included the following:

  • Clay. Sun-dried or kiln-fired clay was the most common material used both in lage scale building projects and in crafting vessels for daily, household use. Mass production of mud brick (i.e. Genesis 11:3, Exodus 1:11-14) enabled ancient craftsmen to create monumental feats of architecture. As early as Neolithic times (ca. 8000 B.C.*) potters crafted fire-clay pottery. The invention of the potter’s wheel in approximately 4000 B.C.* rendered pottery making so widespread that archaeologists are able to infer dates of archaeological strata based solely upon the designs and material characteristics of pottery sherds.
  • Stone. Stonemasons and sculptors used quarried stones in monumental construction projects, as well as in statuary. They utilized iron picks for rough shaping, then hammers and chisels for the finer work of reliefs and inscriptions. Jerusalem’s temple and royal palace were constructed of large limestone blocks “cut to size and trimmed with a saw” (1 Kings 7:9). The prized “Siloam inscription” celebrates the astonishing achievment of stonecutters who carved a tunnel through rock to  divert the spring waters of the Gihon into Jerusalem (cf. 2 Chronicles 32:30). Artisans also worked with precious and semiprecious stones to create cylinder seals (stone cylinders engraved in intaglio – engraved or incised figures in stone depressed below the surface so the impression yields an image in relief – and used in ancient Mesopotamia to roll impressions on wet clay), amuletts (charms and ornaments, often inscribed with magic incantations or symbols to protect against evil), pendants and inlays. Ornamental stones were typically finished in a rounded form, with smooth and polished sides and engravings (Exodus 28:11, 21).
  • Wood. Used structurally for building flat roofs, doors and columns (1 Kings 7:1-8), wood was also used decoratively in such building projects as the Jerusalem temple, the interior of which was panelled in carved wood and overlaid with sheet gold (1 Kings 6:15-20). Wooden furniture for sacred or royal use also was frequently overlaid with gold or inlaid with ivory (Exodus 25:10-11, 1 Kings 10:18, Amos 6:4). Carpenters used such tools as chisels (Isaiah 44:13), hammers (Isaiah 44:12, Jeremiah 10:4), workman’s hammers (or mallets, Judges 5:26), axes (Isaiah 10:34) and measuring lines (2 Samuel 8:2).
  • Metal. Ancient peoples principally used copper, silver, lead and gold prior to the introduction of iron. Naturally occurring copper, used since 3200 B.C., was later alloyed with other metals like tin and arsenic to achieve different levels of hardness and flexibility. The Israelites learned ironworking from the Philistines (1 Samuel 13:20). Iron was the material of choice for tools and weapons (e.g. 1 Samuel 17:7, 2 Kings 6:5-6), bronze for large sculptures and pillars (1 Kings 7:15-16) and gold for overlays and Jewelry (e.g. Genesis 25:22, Exodus 25:17-18, 28:11-13, Judges 8:24). The two most common techniques in metalworking were casting and hammering. Casting was preferred for the process of crafting multiple similar objects like tools. Molten metal was poured into a mold, which took the shape of the cavity as it solidified. Hammering was used for shaping earrings, appliques, sheet overlays – and idols (Isaiah 44:12).
  • Textiles. Women spun wool and linen cloth by hand or spindle (Exodus 35:25, Proverbs 31:19). Tombs discovered at Beni Hasan contain pictures both of horizontal ground looms and of vertical looms. Evidence of warp-weighed looms (looms that use weights to hold the warp tight for weaving) has been established at such sites as Beth Shan, Gezer and Ekron, where loom weights (weights that hold the warp threads in tension during weaving) have also been recovered. Plants were the source of most dyes (e.g. indigo for blue and henna for red), but the most famous and expensive dye, Phoenician purple, was made of pigment from the murex snail. Fabrics like those worn by the high priests were richly embroidered (Exodus 28) and sometimes finished with fringed hems (Numbers 15:38, Matthew 23:5). Metal needles stored in ivory boxes found at Hazor and Megiddo attest to the arts of sewing and needlework.
* These are secular dates, and have not been changed into a young earth view of history.

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