It only takes a power outage or a blown fuse to make us appreciate the invention of modern lighting. And while we all know that our grandparents still used kerosene and gas lamps, what do we really know about lighting earlier than that—in Biblical times? In those days, people would illuminate their homes and shrines with oil-fueled lamps that consisted of a font and a wick to burn vegetable or olive oil.
Over millennia, oil lamps were made of different materials (fired clay, metal, glass, etc.), by different techniques and in different shapes, which reveal their place and time of origin. Sometimes decorated with symbols and inscriptions, lamps can also express peoples’ religious or ethnic identities.
This timeline shows examples of lamps from the Levant and Egypt.
(Middle Bronze Age I)
This wheel-made footed ceramic lamp with four wick-rests comes from Qedesh in modern Syria and dates to the Middle Bronze Age.
(Iron Age IIA)
A wheel-made shell-shape Iron Age lamp from Beth Shean south of the Sea of Galilee.