Handicraft was for the ancients a gift of God like
all other knowledge, so that the Israelites naturally
placed its origin in the very earliest ages of humanity.
With the consolidation of the kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon, the Israelites gained access to the cities of the Canaanites and became familiar with their civilization. Greater prosperity naturally brought greater requirements, and special trades were developed for their satisfaction. Above all city life both required and permitted a specialization of labor. In the cities the artisans were grouped together in the bazaars according to their trades. In the rural districts the artisan went from place to place in the exercise of his trade. The maker of agricultural implements wandered from village to village; the goldsmith went to the house of his customer; the armorer always traveled about. The gathering of the work men in gilds and the transmission of their art from father to son took place in the same way as in Babylonia; the organization was that of the family. In the time of Nehemiah the gilds were put upon the same plane as the great families (Neh. iii. 8). The First Book of Chronicles (iv. 14, 21, 23) names the gilds of the carpenters, byssus-weavers, and potters, who lived in separate localities. Usually people of the same trade lived in the same place-potters in Gaza and Ramleh; soap-boilers in Nablus.
Metal-working was already well known to the Babylonians about 3000 s.c. Their weapons were always of bronze or of copper, hardened by an alloy of tin. Since copper is found in Lebanon and was brought thence to the Babylonians, it is not surprising that bronze arrow- and lace-heads, axes, knives, chisels, and nails, dating from about 2000 B.C. and later, have been found in Gaza, Megiddo, and Taanach. Iron, on the other hand, was known to the Canaanites and Babylonians only from about 1000 B.C., and it only gradually took the place of bronze. When the "iron" chariots of the Canaanites are mentioned, the writer had in mind the conditions of his own time; chariots sheathed with bronze must be meant. According to the results of the excavations and to the Biblical accounts, bronze was the metal most in use during the earlier years of the monarchy. Helmet, shield, breast-plate, greaves, and sword are of bronze (I Sam. xvii. 5-7; II Sam. xxii. 35). Goliath's iron spear-head is remarked as something unusual (I Sam. xvii. 7). Only later is there frequent mention of iron, as of doors sheathed with iron and iron bolts (Isa. xlv. 2), breast-plates (Job xx. 24), axes, and hatchets (Deut. xix. 5, xxvii. 5). The ore came from Lebanon (cf. Jer. xv. 12), and furnaces for its smelting are mentioned (Deut. iv. 20; Jer. xi. 4; I Kings viii. 51). The Israelites did not advance as far as the casting of iron. For artistic work only bronze was used (cf. the vessels of Solomon's Temple, I Kings vii. 13 sqq.).
The Phenicians always had a, kind of monopoly of the fabrication of vases, dishes, etc., and it can not be determined in the case of such objects whether they were made by the Israelites or were brought from Phenicia. The same may be said of ornaments and other objects made of the precious metals. The goldsmith (zoreph) is often mentioned. That the people were familiar with his work is shown by the metaphors referring to this craft used by the prophets, such as the melting of gold in the crucible, its purification with alkaline salt (bor, Isa. i. 25), soldering (Isa. xli. 7), polishing, and the like. Hammer and anvil, tongs and chisel, crucible and bellows, and especially the graver are the gold smith's tools. The art of applique in gold was in great favor. Idols formed of wood or metal and overlaid with gold were much fancied (Isa. xxx. 22; II Hings viii. 16). The golden calves of Dan and Bethel were probably made in this style (I Kings xii. 28). Fine gold thread was also produced to be interwoven in costly garments (Ex. xxviii. 6). Gold was brought from southern Arabia (Ophir, Havilah, etc.) by the Sabeans (Ezek. xxvii. 22).
Information concerning the potter's art is quite
full through the rich results of the excavations at
Tell el-Hesy. From about 1400 B.C.
can be traced the influence exercised
by the art of Mycenae, through the
medium of Phenicians from Cyprus, upon the rude
art of the Canaanites. This appears in the engraved
and stamped patterns, consisting of wave
lines, crosses, straight lines, curves, etc., and also
in the painted decorations in the style of Mycenae;
geometric figures (circles, wave lines, etc.) and representations
of birds and ibexes, all executed in the
very best manner. In the early Israelitic period
Phenician influence is dominant both in the form
and in the style of decoration. Later, about 700
B.C., Greek influence asserts itself and brilliant
yellowish-brown or black ware is found, usually
decorated with concentric circles. It is, of course,
difficult to determine what was made by the Israelites
in their villages and what was brought in by
Phenician merchants, but it is known that the
Israelites quickly assimilated this art. The prophets
took their metaphors from the potter's art, and
they speak of kneading the clay (Jer. xviii.6),which
was trodden by the feet (Isa. xli. 25), and of the
potter's wheel, upon which the vessel was formed
(Jer. xviii. 3). This wheel, as its name (obhnayim,
dual) indicates, consisted of two disks, which revolved