There can be no doubt that the Israelites first learned the art of making pottery on Palestinian soil. The nomad in his continual wanderings can not use the breakable wares of the potter; and the proper vessels for the latter's use are the leathern bag and hollowed fruits or wooden bowls. Even after their settlement the Israelites seem to have maintained for some time a disinclination to the use of earthen vessels; and mention of earthenware occurs in only one passage in early literature (II Sam. xvii. 28). Naturally the Canaanites were the teachers of the Israelites; but no doubt the Canaanites in their turn learned the potter's art from the Phenicians, who supplied foreign countries with pottery, and who, perhaps, even went through Palestine peddling their wares. The handicraft does not appear to have developed until the time of the later kings.
The process by which pottery is made was familiar to the Prophets and to the people. They understood the kneading of the potter's clay ("ḥomer"), which was trodden by the feet (Isa. xli. 25); and Jeremiah mentions the potter's disks ("obnayim"), which, as the name indicates, were two in number, revolving one above the other. The lower and larger disk was set spinning by the feet, while the clay, placed on the upper disk, which followed the motion of the lower one, but could be turned in the opposite direction also, was molded with the hands into the desired shape. The process of burning and glazing vessels is not mentioned until considerably later (comp. Prov. xxvi. 23; Sirach [Ecclus.] xxviii. 34); but there can be little doubt that the Canaanites, and through them the Israelites, learned this part of the craft from the Phenicians at a rather early period. In Jeremiah's time a potter's workshop was probably located in one of the valleys in the neighborhood of the Potters' Gate (comp. Jer. xviii. 1 et seq., xix. 1).
The custom of making colored drawings on the vessels was probably also of Phenician origin, and was known at an early period, certainly in pre-exilic times. Some finds at Jerusalem, showing careful execution, must, from their location in the lowest strata, be assigned to the time of the Kings. Compared with these the finds at Tell al-Ḥasi seem very primitive. Perhaps the former are of Phenician workmanship and the latter are domestic imitations. The ornaments in both cases are purely geometric.
It is known that earthenware was frequently used as a symbol of fragility and of that which may be quickly and completely destroyed (comp. Ps. ii. 9; Isa. xxii. 34; Jer. xix. 11). God, as the Creator, especially as the Creator of man and as the Lord who decides the fate of individuals and nations according to His judgment, is often likened to a potter (Isa. xxix. 16, xlv. 9, lxiv. 8; Jer. xviii. 6, xix. 11; Sirach [Ecclus.] xxxiii. 13). It is probable that the reference in Zech. xi. 13 is to the Temple treasure ("ha-oẓar") and not to the potter ("yoẓer").
Various Strata. This period begins with the earliest known pottery (probably before 1700
The beginning of this period is marked by the appearance of the above-mentioned foreign influence on the pottery of Palestine, about 1500
Characteristics of Jewish Pottery. It has been intimated that the line of demarcation between this period and the preceding one is not distinct. By Jewish pottery are meant those types in which the foreign influence is almost lost, or at best appears in deteriorated forms, and which certainly prevailed during the later years of the Jewish kingdom, though some of them also survived its overthrow. The forms are, as a rule, rude and ungainly, and decoration, except in the style of burnished lines, is rare. Some of the minute flasks are hand-made; but the pottery is generally wheel-turned. Greek importations occur. The most interesting features of this period are the stamped jar-handles, falling into the following two groups: (1) Handles stamped with the Hebrew seal of the potter or owner. On some of these the Phenician characters are exquisite. Though the Divine Name ( or ) often occurs in compounds, yet in the same stratum with these handles are often associated heathen teraphim and other symbols. (2) Royal stamps. The oval stamped on the handles contains one of two symbols, both of which are Egyptian in origin. The first represents a scarabæus with four extended wings; the second, a winged disk. In all cases are found two lines of writing; above the symbol occurs the word ("to the king"); below, the name of a town. Although these handles have been found at seven sites, only four place-names occur: (Hebron), (Ziph), (Shocho), and (Memshath?). The first three are Scriptural names; the last appears nowhere in the Bible. Bliss regards the place-names as indicating the sites of royal potteries (see the obscure reference in I Chron. iv. 23). Macalister would consider them to be the centers of districts in which taxes in kind destined for the capital were collected (comp. I Kings iv. 7-19 with II Chron. xxxii. 28). According to the first supposition, the inscription would represent a dedication of the jars to the king by the royal potters; according to the second, a dedication of their contents by the taxed districts. The jars to which the handles were affixed are dated tentatively between 650 and 500
While some of the Jewish types come down to this period, it is chiefly characterized by Greek importations and imitations. Among the former are the well-known Rhodian amphoræ with inscribed handles.
The post-Seleucidan pottery has not been systematically studied; but it may be roughly divided into Roman, Byzantine, and Arab. Stamps of the tenth legion (Fretensis) are common near Jerusalem. Byzantine times show lamps with Christian inscriptions. The geometrical decoration of the Arab period should be carefully distinguished from the pre-Israelitic ornamentation, to which it bears a superficial resemblance.
The pottery of southern Palestine from early pre-Israelitic times to the close of the Seleucidan period has been systematically studied in a series of excavations undertaken by the Palestine Exploration Fund. Petrie led the way in 1890, in a reconnaissance of Tell al-Ḥasi (Lachish), where he was fortunate in finding the steep eastern slope so encroached upon by the stream that the various strata of the mound (60 feet in height) were practically laid bare. Both Phenician and Greek types were found, serving to date approximately the local types with which they were associated or which they overlaid. Bliss, systematically cutting down (1891-93) one-third of the mound, was able not only to verify Petrie's general chronological scale, but also to add to the material available for study. Owing to the disturbed nature of the soil, the excavations at Jerusalem (conducted by Bliss and Dickie, 1894-97) were of little help in the systematization; but the latter was greatly forwarded by the finds in the four stratified mounds of Tell Zakariya, Tell al-Ṣafi, Tell al-Judaidah, and Tell Sandaḥannah, excavated by Blissand Macalister in 1898 and 1900. In 1902 Macalister began the excavation of Gezer, where much early pottery has also been found. On the basis of these discoveries (prior to the campaign still  in progress) Bliss and Macalister have classified the pre-Roman pottery of southern Palestine under the four chronological groups mentioned above: (1) early pre-Israelitic; (2) late pre-Israelitic; (3) Jewish; and (4) Seleucidan.
- W. M. Flinders Petrie, Tell-el-Hesy (Lachish), London, 1891;
- F. J. Bliss, A Mound of Many Cities, or Tellel-Hesy Excavated, ib. 1894;
- idem and R. A. S. Macalister, Excavations in Palestine, 1898-1900, ib. 1902;
- F. B. Welch, The Influence of the Ægean Civilization on Southern Palestine, in Pal. Explor. Fund, Quarterly Statement, 1900, p. 342. A collection of Palestinian pottery, arranged and classified by Bliss, may be seen in the government museum in Jerusalem.