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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Egyptian Glassblowers

Glass, according to Pliny, was discovered by what is termed accident. Some merchants kindled a fire on that part of the coast of Phoenicia which lies near Phoenicia, between the foot of Carmel and Tyre, at a spot where the river Belus casts the fine sand which it brings down; but, as they were without the usual means of suspending their cooking vessels, they employed for that purpose logs of niter, their vessel being laden with that substance; the fire fusing the nitre and the sand produced glass. The Sidonians, in whose vicinity the discovery was made, took it up, and having in process of time carried the art to a high degree of excellence, gained thereby both wealth and fame. Other nations became their pupils; the Romans especially attained to very high skill in the art of fusing, blowing, and coloring glass. Even glass mirrors were invented by the Sidonians. This account of Pliny is in substance corroborated by Strabo and by Josephus. Yet, notwithstanding this explicit statement, it was long denied that the ancients were acquainted with glass properly so called; nor did the denial entirely disappear even when Pompeii offered evidences of its want of foundation. Our knowledge of Egypt has, however, set the matter at rest—showing at the same time how careful men should be in setting up mere abstract reasonings in opposition to the direct testimony of history. Wilkinson, in his Ancient Egyptians (iii. 88, sq.), has adduced the fullest evidence that glass was known to and made by that ingenious people at a very early period of their national existence. Upward of 3500 years ago, in the reign of the first Osirtasen, they appear to have practiced the art of blowing glass. The process is represented in the paintings of Beni Hassan, executed in the reign of that monarch. In the same age images of glazed pottery were common. Ornaments of glass were made by them about 1500 years B.C.; for a bead of that date has been found, being of the same specific gravity as that of our crown glass. Many glass bottles, etc. have been met with in the tombs, some of very remote antiquity. Glass vases were used for holding wine as early as the Exodus. Such was the skill of the Egyptians in this manufacture, that they successfully counterfeited the amethyst, and other precious stones. It was sometimes used by the Egyptians even for coffins. They also employed it, not only for drinking utensils and ornaments of the person, but for mosaic-work, the figures of deities, and sacred emblems, attaining to exquisite workmanship, and a surprising brilliancy of color. The art too of cutting glass was known to them at the most remote periods; for which purpose, as we learn from Pliny, the diamond was used. That the ancients had mirrors of glass is clear from the above-cited words of Pliny; but the mirrors found in Egypt are made of mixed metal, chiefly copper. So admirably did the skill of the Egyptians succeed in the composition of metals, that their mirrors were susceptible of a polish which has been but partially revived at the present day. The mirror was nearly round, having a handle of wood, stone, or metal. The form varied with the taste of the owner. The same kind of metal mirror was used by the Israelites, who, doubtless, brought it from Egypt. In , it is expressly said that Moses 'made the laver of brass of the looking-glasses (brazen mirrors) of the women.'

It would be justifiable to suppose that the Hebrews brought glass, and a knowledge how to manufacture it, with them out of Egypt, were not the evidence of history so explicit that it was actually discovered and wrought at their own doors. Whether it was used by them for mirrors is another question. That glass, however, was known to the Hebrews appears beyond a doubt.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Glass'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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