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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Fig. 237—Egyptian Lamps

Lamps are very often mentioned in Scripture; but there is nothing to give any notion of their form. Almost the only fact we can gather is, that vegetable oils were burnt in them, and especially, if not exclusively, olive-oil. This, of the finest quality, was the oil used in the seven lamps of the Tabernacle (). It is somewhat remarkable, that while the golden candlestick, or rather candelabrum, is so minutely described, not a word is said of the shape, or even the material, of the lamps (). This was, perhaps, because they were to be of the common forms, already familiarly known to the Hebrews, and the same probably which were used in Egypt, which they had just departed. They were in this instance doubtless of gold, although metal is scarcely the best substance for a lamp. The golden candlestick may also suggest that lamps in ordinary use were placed on stands, and where more than one was required, on stands with two or more branches. The modern Orientals, who are satisfied with very little light in their rooms, use stands of brass or wood, on which to raise the lamps to a sufficient height above the floor on which they sit. Such stands are shaped not unlike a tall candlestick, spreading out at the top. Sometimes the lamps are placed on brackets against the wall, made for the purpose, and often upon stools. Doubtless the same contrivances were employed by the Hebrews.

From the fact that lamps were carried in the pitchers of Gideon's soldiers, from which, at the end of the march, they were taken out, and borne in the hand (; ), we may with certainty infer that they were not, like many of the classical lamps, entirely open at top, but so shaped that the oil could not easily be spilled. This was remarkably the case in the Egyptian specimens, and is not rare in the classical. Gideon's lamps must also have had handles; but that the Hebrew lamps were always furnished with handles we are not bound to infer: in Egypt we find lamps both with and without handles.

Although the lamp-oils of the Hebrews were exclusively vegetable, it is probable that animal fat was used, as it is at present by the Western Asiatics, by being placed in a kind of lamp, and burnt by means of a wick inserted in it. This we have often witnessed in districts where oil-yielding plants are not common.

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Lamp'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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