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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Lamp Lampstand

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Recent excavation in Palestine has greatly increased our knowledge of the types of lamps in use during the various epochs of antiquity. The recently published Memoir, The Excavation of Gezer (R. A. S. Macalister, 3 vols., 1912), has multiplied examples, and, together with Excavations in Palestine during 1898-1900 (F. J. Bliss and R. A. S. Macalister, 1902), allows us to trace the development very fully. We may now classify the lamps of the Apostolic Age under the head of ‘closed’ lamps, with divisions according to shape and ornamentation. It is likely that the most interesting forms lie outside our period (i.e. after a.d. 100)-those that bear Christian inscriptions, and others that show the conventional ‘candlestick’ pattern. Allowance must be made for the older ‘open’ type, which here and there persisted. It must also be remembered that Greek influence had to a large extent modified the national types. Roman forms are forthcoming, but they are rare. These remarks apply to lamps of the ordinary material, i.e. clay. Bronze lamps play little part in Palestine, and even terra-cotta forms are uncommon. All forms agree in certain general features, viz. the receptacle for oil, and the orifice for the wick. But there are many peculiarities in regard to shape, the mode of base and of handle, the number of wick-holes, the size of the reservoir opening, the presence of a slit for raising the wick, etc. In the type that retains the old saucer form, account must be taken of the number of points-one, four, and even seven (‘multiple radiating’ lamps)-which implies a corresponding number of wicks. The lamp is for the most part dissociated from its stand. Lampstands, for table and for floor, and candelabra, with ground base, as appearing in classical illustrations pertaining to the 1st cent. a.d., are highly ornate. It cannot be said that Palestine has produced many examples of these, although they were in use, fashioned from materials of wood, stone, and metal. Hanging lamps were also known, as can be judged by the form of the handles. For outdoor purposes the more primitive torch was used, consisting of a handle surmounted by a saucer-shaped protective disc, and having a receptacle for a bundle of wicks. These were saturated with oil, supplied from a separate vessel. The oil used was chiefly olive.

When we examine the biblical literature of the Apostolic Age we find that the essential words under this head are λύχνος, λυχνία, λαμπάς, ‘lamp,’ ‘lampstand,’ and ‘torch,’ according to the above description. In spite of our increased knowledge regarding specific forms, we cannot add much towards elucidation of the passages about to be enumerated. The ‘lights’ of Acts 16:29 (Revised Version ) (φῶτα, neut. plur.-not ‘a light’ as in the Authorized Version ) cannot well be defined. The λαμπάδες (Acts 20:8) in the upper chamber might as reasonably be lamps as torches, notwithstanding the term employed (on the reading ὑπολαμπάδες [D] see H. Smith in Expository Times xvi. [1904-05] 478, and J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan in Expositor, iv. [1912] 566). In Revelation 4:5 the same word is translated in the Revised Version ‘lamps,’ and in Revelation 8:10 ‘torch,’ which shows the perplexity attaching. R. C. Trench (NT Synonyms8, 1876, p. 159) is of opinion that the invariable rendering in the NT should be ‘torches,’ Matthew 25:1 being no exception. The point need not be pressed.

The generic term λύχνος has been consistently rendered ‘lamp’ in the Revised Version , ‘candle,’ which is erroneous, having been dropped (Revelation 18:23; Revelation 22:5), and ‘light,’ which is indefinite, having been displaced (2 Peter 1:19, Revelation 21:23). No information can be gathered from these passages as to the type of lamp.

Although candle has been dropped, candlestick (ἡ λυχνία-with one exception plur.) has been retained, and ‘lampstand’ placed in the margin (Revelation 1:12-13; Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:1; Revelation 2:5; Revelation 11:4). Hebrews 9:2 stands apart from this, ‘candlestick’ alone being employed. The reference in this case is to the furniture of the tabernacle (for a description of the Golden Candlestick [Lampstand] see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iv. 663f.). The remaining instances quoted, all in Rev., also hark back to OT parallels (Exodus 25:37; Exodus 37:23, Zechariah 4:2). There is, however, difference amid similarity. By the necessity of the case, since there are seven churches (Revelation 1:4 etc.), the lampstands are single and number seven, instead of being one shaft, divided into seven branches. The parallel to Zechariah 4:2 does not extend to the number of the lampstands (two in Revelation 11:4, one in Zec.), although the number of the olive trees is the same. This point is elaborated in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iv. 255.

In conclusion, reference may be made to the representation of the seven-branched lampstand on the Arch of Titus, often reproduced, which is probably a copy of the original (Encyclopaedia Biblica , article ‘Candlestick’); to contemporary Roman practice in lighting (see H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John, 1907, p. 240); and to the abundant materials for studying the development of the lamp within Christian times provided by H. Leclercq, Manuel d’archéologie chrétienne, 1907, ii. 509ff., 556ff.

W. Cruickshank.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Lamp Lampstand'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/l/lamp-lampstand.html. 1906-1918.

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