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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Handicraft

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In the early periods to which the Scriptural history refers we do not meet with those artificial feelings and unreasonable prejudices against hand-labor which prevail and are so banefully influential in modern society. The primitive history which the Bible presents is the history of hand-laborers. Adam dressed the garden in which God had placed him (), Abel was a keeper of sheep, Cain a tiller of the ground (), Tubal-cain a smith (). The general nature of this article does not require any extensive or detailed inquiry into the hand-labors which the Israelites practiced before their descent into Egypt; but the high and varied culture which they found there must have contributed greatly to increase their knowledge of the practical arts of life, though the herdsman-sort of life which the Hebrews continued to lead was not favorable to their advancement in either science or art.

Another source of knowledge to the Hebrews of handicrafts were the maritime and commercial Phoenicians. Commerce and navigation imply great skill in art and science; and the pursuits to which they lead largely increase the skill whence they emanate. It is not, therefore, surprising that the origin of so many arts has been referred to the north-eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea; nor is there any difficulty in understanding how arts and letters should be propagated from the coast to the interior, conferring high advantages on the inhabitants of Syria in general, as well before as after the settlement of the Hebrew tribes in the land of promise.

The skill of the Hebrews during their wanderings in the desert does not appear to have been inconsiderable; but the pursuits of war and the entire absorption of the energies of the nation in the one great work of gaining the land which had been given to them, may have led to their falling off in the arts of peace; and from a passage in I Samuel () it would appear that not long after they had taken possession of the country they were in a low condition as to the instruments of handicraft. A comparatively settled state of society, however, soon led to the revival of skill by the encouragement of industry. A more minute division of labor ensued. Trades, strictly so called, arose, carried on by persons exclusively devoted to one pursuit. Thus in and , 'the founder' is mentioned, a trade which implies a practical knowledge of metallurgy; the smelting and working of metals were well known to the Hebrews (); brass was in use before iron; arms and instruments of husbandry were made of iron. In Exodus () a passage occurs which may serve to specify many arts that were practiced among the Israelites, though it seems also to intimate that at the time to which it refers artificers of the description referred to were not numerous. From the ensuing chapter () it appears that gilding was known before the settlement in Canaan. The ark () was overlaid with pure gold within and without. The cherubim were wrought ('beaten,' ) in gold. The candlestick was of beaten gold (; ). Wire-drawing was probably understood (; ). Covering with brass () and with silver () was practiced. Architecture and the kindred arts do not appear to have made much progress till the days of Solomon, who employed an incredible number of persons to procure timber (, sq.); but the men of skill for building his temple he obtained from Hiram, king of Tyre (1 Kings 5 sq.; ; ). The intercourse which the Babylonish captivity gave the Jews seems to have greatly improved their knowledge and skill in both the practical and the fine arts, and to have led them to hold them in very high estimation. The arts were even carried on by persons of learning, who took a title of honor from their trade. It was held a sign of a bad education if a father did not teach his son some handicraft.

In the Apocrypha and New Testament there are mentioned tanners (), tent-makers (); in Josephus, cheese-makers, domestics; in the Talmud, with others we find tailors, shoe-makers, blood-letters, glaziers, goldsmiths, plasterers. Certain handicraftsmen could never rise to the rank of high-priest, such as weavers, barbers, fullers, perfumers, cuppers, tanners; which pursuits, especially the last, were held in disesteem. In large cities particular localities were set apart for particular trades, as is the case in the East to the present day. Thus in Jeremiah () we read of 'the bakers Street.' So in the Talmud mention is made of a flesh-market; in Josephus, of a cheese-market; and in the New Testament () we read of a sheep-market.

 

 

 

 


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Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Handicraft'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/kbe/h/handicraft.html.

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