Before They Were Sherds: Pottery in the Bible -- By: Bryant G. Wood

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 01:4 (Autumn 1988)
Article: Before They Were Sherds: Pottery in the Bible
Author: Bryant G. Wood

Before They Were Sherds:
Pottery in the Bible

Bryant G. Wood

*Bryant G. Wood, Ph.D. is an ABR staff member, researcher and writer.


The finds from an archaeological excavation, apart from architectural remains, are almost exclusively pottery. Except in rare instances, this pottery is in the form of broken fragments, or sherds.

By themselves, sherds say very little about their former lives. Nevertheless, these sherds are valuable. Their shape, decoration and method of manufacture allow the archaeologist to date the pieces, and identify the historical context from which they came; sometimes even determining who made the pottery and where. In fact, the primary, means of dating in Palestine is through pottery. Thus, archaeologists spend a great deal of time and money excavating, processing, evaluating and publishing lowly potsherds.

Since we have many examples of whole pots, if the sherd happens to be part of a rim, or a substantial part of the body, the type of vessel cart usually be determined. Although tombs are the primary source of unbroken pots, some pots are reconstructed from broken pieces much like a puzzle.

Even though the type of vessel is known, the archaeologist may still be hard pressed to explain exactly how a particular vessel was used in antiquity. We can gain an insight into the use of some vessels, however~ by studying tomb paintings from ancient Egypt. Like a photograph from the past, many paintings portray scenes from everyday life, and pottery is often depicted in these scenes. In addition to tomb pictures from Egypt, we also have word pictures from the Bible. Pottery figures prominently in many of the incidents and illustrations of the Bible.

Sherds in the Bible

Since pottery was an intricate part of everyday life in Bible times, it is only natural that the Bible should have much to say about it. Even the humble sherd is mentioned a number of times in the Bible, generally as an illustration of a spiritual truth. Take Isaiah 30:12–14 for example:

Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, “Because you despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and rely on them; therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a break in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose crash comes suddenly, In an instant; and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel which is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a sherd is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern” (R...

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