CLAY ("ḥomer," "ṭiṭ"):
A word used in the Old Testament to denote several kinds of soil, including the clays of the East as well as the loam of the Nile valley. Clay, in its technical sense, is "a mixture of decomposed minerals of various kinds. Alumina, silica, and potash are the principal constituents; but along with these may be variable quantities of lime, magnesia, and iron, which give variety both to the quality and color" (Hull, in Hastings' "Dict. of the Bible," s.v.). Clay was used among ancient peoples and in Biblical times for at least three specific purposes: (1) for making bricks; (2) for making pottery; (3) as writing-material.
- (1) For Making Bricks: The great mounds of earth marking the remains of ancient cities testify to the prevalent use of clay bricks as building-material. Throughout Babylonia, and mainly in Assyria, sun-dried and kiln-burnt bricks were the chief materials of which the people built their magnificent palaces and huge and massive city walls. Lower Egypt, according to the representations in the pictures of ancient life, and to the remains discovered by Naville at Tell el-Maskhuta, has always been a place where brickmaking was an important industry. Most of its villages, ancient and modern, have been constructed of sun-dried brick.
- (2) For Making Pottery: Among the ruins of the most ancient cities of Egypt, Babylonia, Palestine, and Assyria remains are found of the potter's art. In the Old Testament the potter at his wheel is used as a symbol of divine power over the fate of men (compare Jer. xviii. 1-3; Isa. lxiv. 8; Rom. ix. 2).
- (3) As Writing-Material: This was the most remarkable use made of clay in ancient times. The tens of thousands of tablets found in the ruins of ancient cities testify to the prevalence of this curious custom. On the soft material, carefully selected for its freedom from hard bodies, cuneiform characters were impressed; and to preserve the tablet from ruin it was carefully baked. Some tablets were not only impressed with cuneiform signs, but sealed by rolling over the soft clay the private seals of the principals or witnesses: such tablets are called "contract tablets." Others when written were enclosed within an envelope of clay, upon which the matter of the inner document was more or less faithfully reproduced. It is not improbable that "the evidence" mentioned in connection with Jeremiah's transfer of land bought before the fall of Jerusalem refers to a clay document (compare xxxii. 10-14; also Job xxxviii. 14). Up to the present (1902) only one cuneiform tablet has been found in Palestine, that at Tell al-Ḥasi. It dates from the fourteenth century B.C.—the so-called Amarna period (see Bliss, "A Mound of Many Cities," pp. 52-60).