Bildad’s Speech & The Potsherd: Pottery in the Bible

Four HandsWow, that’s a heavy load you allowed Satan to place on Job.  I mean come on now, we are only people, we can’t compete with You or Your angels, or not even with the devil and his cronies. 

But I guess You have a plan here, and of course, nobody went through as much mental or physical anguish as Jesus did.

1. genealogy of job
Placing the characters in Job chronologically and geographically.
The names and genealogies in the book of Job contribute to establishing its chronological placement. There is only one time in Biblical history in which one can coincidentally find the five tribal names of the drama: Teman; Shuah; Naaman; Uz and Buz. This is about four generations after Abraham.

Does this place the book of Job at this time, about four generations after Abraham? No, it does not, and some expositors stumble here by finding the names and then automatically assigning the chronology of Job as coincident. Each of the principal figures: Teman, Shuah, Naaman, Uz and Buz need first to become tribal names before the account of Job begins, not just individual ones, because they appear as tribal names in the Joban tale. This can only be established some significant time after each individual man has lived and his family expanded into a large number of people.

Job’s description of the Red Sea crossing
I believe this is the single most important detail in establishing the timing of the book of Job. Job says:

“The pillars of the heavens quake, aghast at his rebuke. By his power he churned up the sea; by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces. By his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the gliding serpent” (Job 26:11-13, NIV).

At first glance the above quote seems no help in determining Job’s chronology — or anything for that matter! But Isaiah unambiguously translates this as a reference to the Red Sea crossing. First, Isaiah translates the name Rahab:

“An oracle concerning the animals of the Negev: Through a land of hardship and distress, of lions and lionesses, of adders and darting snakes, the envoys carry their riches on donkeys’ backs, their treasures on the humps of camels, to that unprofitable nation, to Egypt, whose help is utterly useless. Therefore, I call her Rahab the Do-Nothing” (Isa 30:6, 7, NIV).

So “Rahab” is Egypt.
Isaiah assists us further in a later prophecy. He utilizes the same language as Job, but, by saying more than Job does, Isaiah leaves us in no doubt that the language refers to the Red Sea crossing, where the Egyptians are destroyed by God.

“Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days gone by, as in generations of old. Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces, who pierced that monster through? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over?” (Isa 51:9,10, NIV).

This is invaluable in dating Job’s chronology. Comparing Job’s quote above (26:11-14) with these prophecies of Isaiah, we can see beyond doubt they are describing the same scenario.

Thanks to the extra details Isaiah employs, we can confidently conclude that this scenario is the Red Sea crossing; and thus the book of Job must date later than the Exodus from Egypt.

“Then answered Bildad the Shuhite, and said,

How long wilt thou speak these things? and how long shall the words of thy mouth be like a strong wind?

Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice?

If thy children have sinned against him, and he have cast them away for their transgression;

If thou wouldest seek unto God betimes, and make thy supplication to the Almighty;

If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous” (Job 8:1-6).

Bildad reasons are as follows: God can’t be unjust, so Job and his family must be suffering as a result of sinfulness.  Job should plead for mercy and if he has been upright God will restore him.

We know God’s verdict from vs 1:8 and 2:3, but Bildad is confident that Job is a hypocrite – vs 13.

“Though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase” (Job 8:7).

Bildad asserts that God would make Job prosperous if he were truly righteous.  He spoke more accurately than he realized – (Job 42:10-17).

“For enquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of their fathers:

(For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow:)

Shall not they teach thee, and tell thee, and utter words out of their heart?” (Job 8:8-10)

Eliphaz had appealed to revelation from the spirit world (4:12-21), while Bildad appeals to the accumulated wisdom of tradition of previous generations.

“Can the rush grow up without mire? can the flag grow without water?

Whilst it is yet in his greenness, and not cut down, it withereth before any other herb.

So are the paths of all that forget God; and the hypocrite’s hope shall perish:

Whose hope shall be cut off, and whose trust shall be a spider’s web.

He shall lean upon his house, but it shall not stand: he shall hold it fast, but it shall not endure.

He is green before the sun, and his branch shooteth forth in his garden.

His roots are wrapped about the heap, and seeth the place of stones.

If he destroy him from his place, then it shall deny him, saying, I have not seen thee.

Behold, this is the joy of his way, and out of the earth shall others grow” (Job 8:11-19).

The papyrus and the reed.  Bildad uses these plants as an example of the fate of the wicked.  They grow tall in a short time but wither just as quickly.  As it is stated in Psalm 1:3-4:

“And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whosoever he dooeth shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away” (Ps 1:3-4).

“Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil doers” (Job 8:20).

Eliphaz had only insinuated that Job was an evil doer.  Bildad was blunt and to the point stating that Job was an evildoer.

“Till he fill thy mouth with laughing, and thy lips with rejoicing.

They that hate thee shall be clothed with shame; and the dwelling place of the wicked shall come to nought” (Job 8:21-22).

Bildad was incorrect about Job being evil, but correct in what God will do for the righteous and what He will do to the evil:

“And he said I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very forward generation, children in whom is no faith.

I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them.

And he shall say, Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted,

Which did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink-offerings?  Let them rise up and help you and be your protection.

See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.

For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live forever.

If I whet my glittering sword and mine hand take hold on Judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me.

I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy” (Deut 32:20, 23, 37-42),

“Because I have called and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;

But ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof:

I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;

When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.

Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:

For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD” (Prov 1:24-29).

The Potsherd:
Pottery in the Bible

3. Ostrakon of Cimon
Ostrakon of Cimon, an Athenian statesman, showing his name
An ostracon is a piece of pottery (or stone), usually broken off from a vase or other earthenware vessel.

In archaeology, ostraca may contain scratched-in words or other forms of writing which may give clues as to the time when the piece was in use.

In Athens, the voting public would write or scratch the name of a person in the shard of pottery.

When the decision at hand was to banish or exile a certain member of society, citizen peers would cast their vote by writing the name of the person on the piece of pottery; the vote was counted and if unfavorable the person was exiled for a period of ten years from the city, thus giving rise to the term ostracism.

Job, his body covered with boils, sat in an ash heap seeking to relieve his pain through a counterirritant – scraping himself with a broken piece of pottery (Job 2:7-8).

2. Ninurta
Ninurta (Nin Ur: God of War) in Sumerian and the Akkadian mythology of Assyria and Babylonia, was the god of Lagash, identified with Ningirsu with whom he may always have been identified.

In older transliteration the name is rendered Ninib and Ninip, and in early commentary he was sometimes portrayed as a solar deity.

A number of scholars have suggested that either the god Ninurta or the Assyrian king bearing his name (Tukulti-Ninurta I) was the inspiration for the Biblical character Nimrod.

In Nippur, Ninurta was worshiped as part of a triad of deities including his father, Enlil and his mother, Ninlil.

In variant mythology, his mother is said to be the harvest goddess Ninhursag.

The consort of Ninurta was Ugallu in Nippur and Bau when he was called Ningirsu.

Ninurta often appears holding a bow and arrow, a sickle sword, or a mace named Sharur: Sharur is capable of speech in the Sumerian legend “Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta” and can take the form of a winged lion and may represent an archetype for the later Shedu.

In another legend, Ninurta battles a birdlike monster called Imdugud; a Babylonian version relates how the monster Anzû steals the Tablets of Destiny from Enlil.

The Tablets of Destiny were believed to contain the details of fate and the future.

Ninurta slays each of the monsters later known as the “Slain Heroes” (the Warrior Dragon, the Palm Tree King, Lord Saman-ana, the Bison-beast, the Mermaid, the Seven-headed Snake, the Six-headed Wild Ram), and despoils them of valuable items such as Gypsum, Strong Copper, and the Magilum boat.

Eventually, Anzû is killed by Ninurta who delivers the Tablet of Destiny to his father, Enlil.

Earthenware vessels, used for storing, cook­ing and serving food and for shipping com­modities, were the common containers dur­ing antiquity.

Most lamps and artistic and cult objects were earthenware as well. Since pottery is brittle, vessels often broke into pieces called potsherds.

Isaiah alluded to sherds (i.e., fragments) being used for carry­ing burning coals and for scooping water from a cistern (Isa 30:14). Notes and letters were often written on potsherds.

Sir Flinders Petrie, in his excavations at Tell el-Hesi in 1890, recognized the archaeological significance of pottery and began classifying pottery and potsherds.

His work was carried forward by others, including William Albright, Kathleen Kenyon and Ruth Amiran.

The nature of pottery makes it indis­pensable for archaeol­ogy. Clay vessels were fired rock-hard in a kiln, allowing the pieces to survive the ages.

Changes through time in the shape, decoration and manufacturing methods of pots can be documented and used for dating pur­poses. In fact, pottery is the pri­mary means of dating in Palestinian archaeology.

Through knowledge of regional and national variations, pottery can also tell the archaeolo­gist something about trade, cultural connec­tions and the movements of people groups.

Ancient habitation sites are littered with pot­sherds, and simply by examining this surface pottery an archaeologist can form a historical picture.

Complete vessels are often recovered from tombs, and sometimes a broken pot can be reconstructed.

4. Tell el Hesi
Tell el-Hesi is a 25 acre archaeological site in Israel.
It was the first major site excavated in Palestine, first by Flinders Petrie in 1890 and later by Frederick Jones Bliss in 1891 and 1892, both sponsored by the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF).

Petrie’s excavations were one of the first to systematically use stratigraphy and seriation to produce a chronology of the site.

Tell el-Hesi is located southwest of the modern Israeli city of Qiryat Gat.

The site was occupied from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period to the Hellenistic period, though not continuously.

The city reached a size of 25 acres in the Early Bronze Age during the middle of the 3rd Millennium B.C.

It then fell into disuse until the middle of the 2nd millennium during the Late Bronze Age when it was rebuilt, staying in use for around a thousand years.

A military trench system was dug into the top of the mound during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.

Petrie identified Tell el-Hesi as the Biblical site of Lachish, and Bliss accepted this identification, but it is no longer accepted.

In 1924 W. F. Albright proposed that Tell el-Hesi was Biblical Eglon, an identification still accepted by Yohanan Aharoni in the 1970s.

This identification, too, is unlikely and the site should be considered unidentified.

A trained archaeologist can take pieces of the rim, handle of base (“indicator” or “diagnostic” sherds) and identify the type of vessel from whcih they came.

In recording data about pottery at a dig, pre­cision is critical. It is important to know, for example, exactly where a piece was found.

Specialists analyze pottery finds and pains­takingly sketch or photograph each piece. Color is significant too, and a sherd’s hue and chroma (color saturation) are precisely recorded.

Even though its type may be known, the archaeologist may still be hard pressed to explain a vessel’s use.

But tomb paintings from ancient Egypt depict vessels in everyday use. Ethnoarchaeology, which examines the links between a soci­ety’s material culture and its social and economic customs, can help, and k       the Bible itself offers clues.

When Rebekah met Ab­raham’s servant at the well in Nahor, she was carrying a water jar on her shoulder (not, as in many cultures, on her head; Gen 24:15).

First Kings 17:14 indicates that flour was kept in a jar but oil in a flask (a tsappa-hath).

Jars were also used to preserve documents (Jer 32:14), a practice well attested at Qumran.

Scholars have developed an extensive inventory of the jars, bowls, cups, decanters, figurines, flasks, urns and lamps discovered from antiquity.

Types of pottery from differ­ent cultures and eras have distinguishing fea­tures, including type of rim or base; presence, absence or type of handles; coloration; and presence of incised or painted decorations.

5. Heracles and Geryon
Heracles and Geryon on an Attic black-figured amphora with a thick layer of transparent gloss, c. 540 BC, now in the Munich State Collection of Antiquities.
Black-figure pottery painting, also known as the black-figure style or black-figure ceramic is one of the styles of painting on antique Greek vases.

It was especially common between the 7th and 5th centuries B.C., although there are specimens dating as late as the 2nd century B.C.

Stylistically it can be distinguished from the preceding orientalizing period and the subsequent red-figure pottery style.

Some vessels have a ribbed texture, while some bowls are carinated (keel-shaped). A container’s mouth may be straight or flared, and pottery may have been burnished by rubbing or polishing.

By observing the evolution of styles and techniques, archaeologists can date a piece and from this evidence proceed to date an entire excavation stratum or layer.

Carefully documenting stylistic changes, scholars have assembled a fairly complete typology of pottery for the ancient Holy Land.

Types and styles have been docu­mented through the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the exilic period, the Persian and Hellenistic periods and the Roman and Byzantine periods.

Pottery analysis is also critically impor­tant in Greco-Roman studies. Early Greek pot­tery (c. 1050-700 B.C.) featured painted decorations in the form of geometric shapes. Such decoration eventually developed into pottery with highly naturalistic, painted scenes involving people, animals and various objects.

Around 720 B.C. black-figure decora­tion was invented, with silhouettes incised onto vessels and black, red and white paint applied.

Around 525 B.C. the red-figure tech­nique was invented, in which the decoration was left in the natural red color of the day, with thin painted lines in various colors pro­viding highlighting; the background was painted black.

Scholars have learned the names of some of the craftsmen and can describe the distinctive characteristics of their work.

For example, Greek artisans often painted small inscriptions, such as “Psiax made me, “on their pottery.

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