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Holman Bible Dictionary


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(paht' sshuhrd) Fragment of a baked, clay vessel, “potsherd” (more commonly called a “sherd” by archaeologists) is used in the Old Testament with both a literal and symbolic or figurative meaning. Job used a potsherd (Genesis 2:8 ) to scrape the sores that covered his body; the underparts of the mythological monster, Leviathan, are said to be “jagged potsherds” (Genesis 41:30 NIV). The latter is a particularly arresting image for anyone familiar with the jagged, sharp sherds always encountered in archaeological excavations where clay vessels were in use, as in the Near East.

Isaiah (Isaiah 30:14 ) used the image of a sherd as a sign of the worthlessness of ancient Judah. The psalmist (Psalm 22:15 ) used the image of a dry potsherd as a simile for some physical illness he was experiencing.

Since the Hebrew word translated “potsherd” in the above passages can also mean “earthen vessel” in other contexts (compare Leviticus 14:5 ,Leviticus 14:5,14:50 ; Numbers 5:17 ), it is not always clear as to which meaning is to be preferred. Such is the case in Proverbs 26:23 where a comparison of the NRSV translation (“earthen vessel”) with the KJV (“potsherd”) highlights the problem. Elsewhere, textual confusion compounds the problem. In Isaiah 45:9 , the Hebrew text literally reads: “a potsherd (or “earthen vessel”) with potsherds (or “earthen vessels”) of ground.” In neither case is the text clear, though the symbolism of the futility of a person striving with God is obviously intended.

Finally, the obscure text in Ezekiel 23:24 assigned Judah the same fate as her sister, Samaria. She would not only drink the cup of wrath but also “gnaw its sherds” (NRSV). See Pottery; Archaeology.

John C. H. Laughlin

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Potsherd'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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