The Oil Lamp

The earliest known lamps were adapted from ordinary, plain pottery bowls filled with oil; the wick was simply placed in the oil and lit. Later on, a pinched rim was devised in order to ensure a steady, controlled supply of oil to the wick. In time, this pinched rim developed into a real spout. During the Middle Canaanite Period most oil lamps had four pinched spouts, whereas in later periods oil lamps seldom had more than one spout.

Traditionally shaped, pinched spouted lamps continued to be used until the late Hellenistic period. At the same time, however, under the influence of imported Greek-style closed lamps, locally manufactured lamps were designed in imitation. This new design gradually replaced the traditional one. From this period onwards, the closed, molded lamps bore decorations in relief.

Archaeological sites in the land of Israel from the Hellenistic period onward have revealed oil lamps that were made for the use of Jews. These lamps have been found in Jewish settlements and cemeteries, and they are decorated in a style that accords with the spirit of the Jewish faith.

The 'Jewish lamps' may be divided into a number of groups:

Herodian lamps
Roman period (1st century BCE early 2nd century CE)

These lamps, which are frequently found in most sites of the period – particularly in the area of Judea – were made during the period of Herod's reign (40-4 BCE) until the end of the Bar-Kochba rebellion (135 CE). Thus the lamp called "Herodian" lamp’ does not actually overlap the period of his rule. It is a closed lamp, manufactured on a potter's wheel in artisans’ homes. For the most part, Herodian lamps lack ornamentation, unlike Roman lamps from the same period. The paucity of decoration is usually attributed to strict observance of the commandments by Jews at that time.

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Southern lamps
Roman period (late 1st century - mid-2nd century CE)

These lamps, discovered in hiding places and refuge caves in the Judean desert and the Judean lowland, were used by the Jewish population during the interval between the Jewish revolts against Rome. The special decorations on these lamps reflect an agricultural way of life as well as longing for Jerusalem and the Temple.

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Transjordan lamps
Roman period (1st-2nd centuries CE)

This group is similar in shape to the southern lamps. They served the Jewish people of Jerash and its environs, who apparently preferred lamps like those that were manufactured in Judea. A limited selection of patterns decorated the lamps produced in Transjordan. As a rule they consisted of plant patterns (like leaves), vine clusters, grapes, and pomegranates.

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Beit-Nattif lamps
Late Roman to early Byzantine period (late 3rd century - early 4th century CE)

These constitute one of the most interesting groups of Land of Israel lamps, distinguished by clear, well-defined character lines testifying to their being produced in a potter's workshop. They are termed according to the name of the site where they were first found, Beit Nattif in the Judean lowlands. All the lamps in this group share a common design and ornamentation, and were made with great care. Their decoration is replete with a variety of patterns, among them Jewish symbols.
Lamps Decorated with the Seven-branch Menorah, Roman-Byzantine Periods
The menorah is described as having either more than or less than seven branches, for according to the Talmud it was forbidden to copy the seven-branched menorah of the Temple. The menorah pattern with seven branches started to appear only in the 3rd century CE as a symbol of renewal and redemption.

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