Conservative Judaism/Waterpots

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QUESTION: I would like to know all you can tell me about the waterpots mentioned in John 2, specifically in verse 6.  What was the purpose for those particular waterpots and how do you know?  All information you can give me surrounding the topic of waterpots used in Jewish customs/history will be much appreciated.

ANSWER: Dear Lisa,

Thank you for writing.

It would appear that you are answering a question and we don't on Allexpert participate in any form of school assistance.

With regard to John 2, I don't comment on the meaning ascribed to any NT text nor do I feel that Jewish background affords any greater proof or purpose in the NT citation.

Nonetheless, if it is for your own information and study, consider the following from the new 2007 Encyclopedia Judaica - also available in libraries.

For the relative background information and its importance, speak with your faith leader.

Thanks

Rabbi Dov

POTTERY

Pottery appears for the first time in the Neolithic period, around the middle of the sixth millennium B.C.E. For two reasons, it serves as a major tool for the archaeological study of the material culture of ancient man: first because of its extensive use in everyday life and second because of its durability; for although the vessels break easily, the material survives as potsherds. Pottery is of great value for acquiring the knowledge of the technological progress of various periods, the trends in the development of early plastic art, and international cultural and commercial relations which form the basis of the comparative chronology of different cultures in the ancient Near East. On the basis of stratigraphic finds at archaeological excavations, pottery is seen to have undergone changes in different periods as well as in different phases of the same period – changes in form, decoration, techniques of working the clay, and firing. As a result, pottery serves as a major index of the relative chronological framework of a given culture. For protohistoric cultures and periods containing no written remains or coins, which are the primary sources of absolute chronology, the relative chronology constructed on pottery sequence serves as a substitute. Once the absolute date of a potsherd is established, the stratum in which it was found can be dated, and thus it also becomes an aid in fixing the absolute chronology


POTTERY MANUFACTURE

The clay from which pottery is produced is an aluminum silicate mixed with various additions such as iron oxides, alkalies, quartz, and  lime. Two kinds of clay have been differentiated: clean clay, of pure aluminum silicate, which is not found in Ereẓ Israel, and a rich clay, consisting of aluminum silicate mixed with iron ozides, carbon compounds, etc. The material was prepared for use by sifting and removing foreign matter, mixing it with water and levigating it. If the clay was too rich and not sufficiently plastic, it was tempered by the addition of substances such as sand and quartz grit. The wet sifted clay was then wedged by hand or treaded; after it was well mixed it was ready for shaping. The earliest pottery was handmade. In the Neolithic period, pottery was made by joining together coils of clay, smoothing the junction line by hand. The pottery was shaped on a base or stand of wood, stone, or matting. A technical innovation was shaping pottery from a ball of clay. In the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze periods primitive potter's wheels consisting of a turning board (tournette) were used. Examples of the next stage in the development of the potter's wheel have been found in excavations in Palestine. It consists of two horizontal stone disks placed one on top of the other, the lower one with a conical depression and the upper with a conical projection which could be turned by hand. Several types of pottery were thrown on the wheel in the Early Bronze Age but it was used extensively only in the Middle Bronze Age. After the pot was shaped it was removed from its stand and set aside to dry until its water content was not more than 15%. The pot was then of a leather hard consistency and handles, base, spout, projecting decorations, etc. were applied and various types of ornamentation were added: slips and burnishing, paint, incisions, relief and impressed markings. When the pot was completely fashioned it was dried a second time until it retained only about 3% of its water content. Afterwards it was fired in an open or closed kiln at a temperature of 450°–950° C. The best wares were produced at the highest temperatures. The earliest pottery was fired in open pits, in which combustible material was laid over the pottery, leaving blistering or patches on the sides of vessels. At a later stage the pottery was separated from the fuel by a perforated clay partition built above the fuel compartment. With the invention of the closed kiln it was possible to use an oxidizing fire, which produced pottery of a red color, or a reducing fire, without oxygen, which turned the pottery black. . . .

Late Bronze II

In the Late Bronze II period the previous pottery tradition continues on the whole but shows a certain degeneration in form and quality. The workmanship of the carinated bowls is cruder. The bowls are mainly simple flat vessels with flat or disk bases. The storage jar now shows a sharp shoulder and thickened button base (this type of storage jar was exported from Ereẓ Israel and has been found, together with imitations, in countries in the Aegean Sea and Egypt). The typical jug has a prominent neck with the handle from the rim to the shoulder,  and the most common juglet is a dipper juglet generally with trefoil mouth. A new style of painted pottery develops in this period. The ornamented ware – biconical vessels, jugs, kraters – are painted in a single color, red, black, or brown, and a typical decoration has two gazelles facing each other with a palm tree between them. This style degenerates in the second half of the period, Late Bronze IIB, and becomes more schematic and cruder. The pilgrim flasks are flattened and generally decorated with painted concentric circles. In the Late Bronze IIA the neck is attached to the handles of the flask like a flower among leaves while in the second half of the period the flasks are lentoid shaped and the attachment of the neck to the handles is effaced. The lamps have an elongated sharply pinched rim; the cooking pots are shallow with a rounded base and have an ax rim and no handles


HELLENISTIC PERIOD

Palestine in the Hellenistic period (330–63 B.C.E.) was for most of the time part of an empire and under its cultural influence. The local pottery made for ordinary domestic use was on the whole coarse and clumsy, with regional production centers, but two groups of imported ware are found: fine luxury ware and amphorae for storing imported goods, especially wine. The most characteristic of the local ware are bowls with inverted or outward flaring rims and ring or flat bases; spindle-shaped juglets; cooking pots with two handles and a low erect neck which are reminiscent of the Iron Age pots. There is also a group of open pinched lamps with one wick hole. Both classes of imported ware are widely distributed in this period, the most widespread being the Rhodian wine amphora with stamped handles. The luxury ware included Megarian bowls which were cast in molds; various types of black-glazed bowls ("fish plates") with impressed or roulette decoration. At the end of the period appears the terra sigillata ware – fine red-glazed pottery with impressed and roulette decoration. . . .

ROMAN PERIOD

The pottery of the Roman period (63 B.C.E.–325 C.E.), is divided into the Early Roman period (63 B.C.E.–135 C.E.), with some types disappearing with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and the Middle Roman and/or Late Roman (135–325 C.E.). The typical local pottery of the Herodian period (first century C.E.) includes pilgrim flasks with twisted handles; bottles with high necks and thick bodies; juglets with flaring rims; closed lamps cast in molds with pared horned nozzles. The cooking pots follow the tradition of the previous period. Changes occur in the storage jars which divide into elongated bag-shaped jars and bell-shaped jars. Of the imported ware the most common type is the terra sigillata ware, mainly platters and flat bowls with ring bases; they are covered with a red glaze and have a roulette and impressed decoration. Both eastern and western sigillata appear in Palestine. The western, Arretine style (30 B.C.E.–30 C.E.) is outstanding in workmanship and finish. Nabatean Ware also appears in this period – eggshellthinPage 426  |  Top of Article bowls decorated with red floral patterns on an orange background. A local painted variety of bowl – resembling slightly Nabatean examples – appears in Jerusalem. In the Late Roman period these shapes continue to develop – the discus lamps are round and closed, cast in a mould, with a handle or a knob. Numerous Mediterranean types of amphorae appear in the region.  
THE BYZANTINE PERIOD

Pottery types of the previous period continue into the Byzantine period (325–640 C.E.). From the beginning of the period, red gloss bowls ("Late Roman Wares") make their appearance. Hayes (1972) produced a dated series of these LRW types (but changes in this dating system is now being assumed by scholars). Local examples, such as bowls with rouletted decorations on their rims, also make their appearance. Various kinds of storage jars are typical of the period, particularly the so-called "Gaza" jar which was made at kilns sites along the lower coast region, from Ashkelon towards north Sinai. Numerous imported jars are also known for this period. Closed cooking pots with two ear-like handles give way to shallow cooking pots with two horizontal handles and a lid. There are also clay pans with only one horizontal handle. The lamps are closed, cast in molds, and elongated in form. Most of them are decorated. The pottery of the Byzantine period did not change with the invasion of the Hejaz Arabs in the early seventh century C.E., but continued with very small changes until the Abbasid period, i.e., in the mid-eighth century. It is at this point that major changes in the pottery assemblages of the Islamic period first become apparent.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: You> It would appear that you are answering a question and we don't on Allexpert participate in any form of school assistance.

I have no idea what you mean by that.  I was actually asking a question, not answering question and I don't understand how you would interpret my asking to be answering.  I also don't understand what you mean by participating in a form of school assistance.  What does my question have to do with school? I am not even in school.  

You> With regard to John 2, I don't comment on the meaning ascribed to any NT text nor do I feel that Jewish background affords any greater proof or purpose in the NT citation.

I am not looking to you for meaning or proof or purpose in this NT text.  That would be a religious query and why would I query a Rabbi about the NT?  That doesn't make sense.  I am simply looking for what type of waterpots might have been used in such a home for what purpose in that time period according to Jewish custom/history.  I am simply studying this passage in the Bible and noting the particular description of the waterpots of stone to be "after the purifying of the Jews" and able to hold 2 or 3 firkins apiece.  Thus it leads me to wonder if there were any Jewish customs/history that would tell me what the purpose of those particular waterpots were.  I am aware of the historical hospitality use of waterpots for footwashing, but I am unaware if waterpots were used in any other Jewish customs.  Thus I turned to a Rabbi on this site that I expected would be able to answer such a question, especially as your profile states "Write to me with questions about Jewish customs and law, history, philosophy and tradition for answers from a Conservative perspective or conversion."

You> Nonetheless, if it is for your own information and study, consider the following from the new 2007 Encyclopedia Judaica - also available in libraries.

It is for my own information and study.  I am informed of how pottery was made through the ages and I am aware of a variety of uses for pottery.  And I even read the information you copied in your answer that had nothing to do with my question.  I'm looking for the use of water pots in Biblical times in specific Jewish custom.


You> For the relative background information and its importance, speak with your faith leader.

For importance, I can study that myself.
For relative background information on Jewish custom with such items, I thought your profile indicated you could help.  Apparently not.  This has been a disappointing and confusing exchange and somewhat insulting exchange.

ANSWER: Dear Lisa,

I am sorry for your disappointment and your judgement.

Please understand that I could have and perhaps should have not answered your question - that is an option to all of us who are volunteers. But I did respond.

Secondly, you provided no background as to the nature of your question, for what purpose(s), with what background (high school, college, post-graduate, professional, etc.) and that might have helped me understand more specifically what information you were seeking.

For the record, we receive MANY questions in which students at various levels seek research and answers for either examinations or research papers. I had no way to distinguish what you were seeking.

Thirdly, I don't attempt to interpret NT texts although I have a doctorate and my doctoral studies were in Second Temple period and Biblical exegesis. It would be inappropriate for me as a Rabbi to comment of how to understand the Gospel of John.

Therefore I provided some background that is normally not available - information that I looked up for you and entered from the newest encyclopedia. I also checked several research references on John 2, commentaries in English from both Catholic and Protestant sources. Nothing I found was helpful in transferring information from general water jugs of Jewish life to the Book of John.

Wine and water were kept in pottery jugs. Water might have been at Cana for either drinking or for washing before eating. Beyond that there is nothing outstanding on that subject. I hope that this clarifies the situation. Whether the number of water-pots or water-jugs is significant, I can't answer. The size I also can't confirm as this is a narrative from John's perspective.

Lastly, that you were "insulted" is beyond me. I don't know who knows what about pottery, the making and storage of water or wine or the actual events at Cana - which ultimately are speculative.

I respect you and your faith tradition, and I was careful not to intrude. I believe that my profile informs you that these answers are the most that you can find in terms of cultural information. After that, it becomes an issue of interpretation, Biblical typology, John's theological perspective and how your faith tradition understands John. If you are insulted, then I apologize for what was unintended.

If you are disappointed, I am sorry once again.

If you were "insulted" because of my reticence to deal with NT, please understand that I receive far too many questions which either are missionary efforts to me or to be posted on my site, or are openly disrespectful of me as a Rabbi, a Jew or my own acknowledgement that I can only answer from my own perspective as a Conservative Rabbi and practicing Jew for more than 70 years. I understand now that this was not your intention, but this was not the first time I have been asked to "accept" the "proof" of the "signs" as John brings in his Gospels.

I am adding one further note - I did additional research on "water-pots" and water in general in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. I now know more than I ever did about sources, reservoirs, cisterns, irrigation, water-pumps and various techniques for storing and moving water. But, nothing about water-pots in a home or at an event. I also double-checked "Cana" in the same source quickly with no additional information except that it was probably a Jewish village, had abundant cisterns for collection and saving of water, may have had administrative importance in the area and was on the road to Capernaum.

I also went into my archives of Bible Review, Biblical Archaeology Review and the BAS - and found only the following two articles - neither of which addressed your question.

Strata: The Bible in the News
BAR 37:04, Jul/Aug 2011
By Leonard J. Greenspoon

Biblical Views: Was the Wedding at Cana Jesus’ Nuptials?
BAR 32:05, Sep/Oct 2006
By Ben Witherington III

That's it from the fields of Bible and archaeology.

If there is a particular question in mind, then I am willing to try once again. Beyond drinking or washing before eating, there is nothing especially significant about water-pots being in a home or at a wedding to the best of my knowledge. I am sorry for anything which misled you and I wish you well.

Respectfully

Rabbi Dov

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Lisa,

You> Secondly, you provided no background as to the nature of your question, for what purpose(s), with what background (high school, college, post-graduate, professional, etc.) and that might have helped me understand more specifically what information you were seeking.

I did not provide my own post-graduate background in special education because it did not occur to me that my background had any bearing on my question about Jewish historical/custom uses of waterpots.  I just very simply wanted to know about the use of waterpots in historical Jewish customs that might apply to a household.  This question was just for my own information and had no hidden agenda nor intent.

You> For the record, we receive MANY questions in which students at various levels seek research and answers for either examinations or research papers. I had no way to distinguish what you were seeking.

I have used allexperts.com only twice in the past for legal questions regarding finances and legal questions regarding education.  I have never had to provide background information to ensure I wasn't a student, which I am not, so I was unaware that this was a requirement to obtain answers from an expert on this site.  A simple question from you before deciding to answer my question, could have easily cleared that up.


You> Thirdly, I don't attempt to interpret NT texts although I have a doctorate and my doctoral studies were in Second Temple period and Biblical exegesis. It would be inappropriate for me as a Rabbi to comment of how to understand the Gospel of John.

Again, I was certainly not asking for any interpretation of NT text and if I was it wouldn't make any sense in my mind to ask a Rabbi for that interpretation.  I was simply looking for historical background information.  Just as in all period literature that I read, I find studying the history of the time to make comprehension much easier.  I was just looking for historical custom information.  I referenced the text simply because of the description included there "after the manner of the purifying of the Jews" and perhaps their size.  (You have made me aware that maybe I should also pay attention to the number, whereas before your correspondence I was thinking the number listed would just be in relation the number of guests in the house at the time.  But I see now that the specific number could also have potentially given me historical clues, and I ignored it due to an assumption, so thank you.)


You> Wine and water were kept in pottery jugs. Water might have been at Cana for either drinking or for washing before eating. Beyond that there is nothing outstanding on that subject. ...

This is the type of information I was looking for.  Thank you.


You> Lastly, that you were "insulted" is beyond me. I don't know who knows what about pottery, the making and storage of water or wine or the actual events at Cana - which ultimately are speculative.

I was "somewhat insulted" because you made assumptions about me and my question that wasn't true and insinuated underhandedness and then provided me information that had nothing to do with my original question.  I wasn't looking at all for information on "the making and storage of water or wine or the actual events at Cana" but just some information on Jewish custom that could match the written phrase describing waterpots that seems to specifically reference the Jewish community.


You> I respect you and your faith tradition, and I was careful not to intrude.

I didn't include the presence or absence of any faith tradition on my part, because it is not pertinent to my seeking historical custom information.  In fact, I do not wish to include personal religion or faith in this discussion at all.  I am not even looking for personal religious significance or non-significance.  Actually, I'm not even thinking that the specific use of the waterpots in this narration is going to bring religious significance to the story.  I simply was interested in the description that stated "after the manner of the purifying of the Jews."  Thus I turned to a Rabbi because I thought a Rabbi would know what that phrase referring to waterpots meant.


You> If you were "insulted" because of my reticence to deal with NT, please understand that I receive far too many questions which either are missionary efforts to me or to be posted on my site, or are openly disrespectful of me as a Rabbi, a Jew or my own acknowledgement that I can only answer from my own perspective as a Conservative Rabbi and practicing Jew for more than 70 years. I understand now that this was not your intention, but this was not the first time I have been asked to "accept" the "proof" of the "signs" as John brings in his Gospels.


With your above statement I can now understand the assumptions you made about my intent.  I can assure you that I am in no way trying to use this question as a "missionary effort" and certainly am not trying to get you to accept anything.  I just want some historical information from someone I thought would know.  I was not even seeking any type of Biblical commentary information, (which you mentioned you did use in your response -- thank you for your diligence in research), but was seeking just straight historical information on Jewish customs in the home that would fit the description "after the manner of the purifying of the Jews" and require a waterpot.


You> I am adding one further note - I did additional research on "water-pots" and water in general in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. .....

The information you provided in the above paragraph is exactly what I was looking for.  Thank you!  I also appreciate that you included where you got your information so I too could look to such tools for research.


You> If there is a particular question in mind, then I am willing to try once again. Beyond drinking or washing before eating, there is nothing especially significant about water-pots being in a home or at a wedding to the best of my knowledge. I am sorry for anything which misled you and I wish you well.


Thank you for your above stated willingness.
I have read of the hospitality custom of washing visitors' feet upon their arrival in Biblical times, but did not think that was a custom specific to the Jewish people and so would not be described as "after the manner of purifying of the Jews."  I have read of ritual washing in Jewish custom but in their places of worship, not in their homes, so that didn't 'seem' to apply either.  But that is the extent of my knowledge of customs that would fit with the phrase "after the manner of the purifying of the Jews" and with my limited knowledge of Jewish custom, it is very possible that even those were false assumptions on my part.  So, I was just wondering what the "purifying of the Jews" meant in relation to waterpots in a home and/or for a wedding.  So, I believe your answer to my question is that there is no specific Jewish custom that would particularly match that descriptive phrase in a home/event environment.  I believe you are saying that according to what you know/found, these waterpots were most likely for the normal human (not specifically Jewish) needs for drinking or washing.  If I am incorrect in restating your answer, please let me know, otherwise I thank you for your response, your time, and for the information you provided.

Answer
Dear Lisa,

There is a Jewish custom today of ritual washing before beginning a meal - most often with a "blessing" over bread. However, this was a much later post-Temple custom to my knowledge in an effort to "eat our non-sacred foods" as the "priests in the Temple" would wash before - and after - eating from that which was sacrificed. Ritual cleanliness by the priest is one issue. The practical issue for the priest was that the salting of the meat was potentially dangerous to the individual should they touch their eyes or mouths or have a cut - but this custom of imitating the priests began much later as a general Jewish pattern, post-Temple and hence post-Jesus. John however was writing after the destruction of the Temple and later interpolations might have added "for the purifying" into the text of John.

Check also "The Five Gospels" of the Jesus Seminar and you will see what these 100 Christian Bible scholars regard as "reliable"-partly to possibly to "unreliable" in quoting Jesus.

Glad we have clarified our "meanings" and I am relieved to not have left us at odds in any fashion.

Best wishes

Rabbi Dov

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Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner

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Write to me with questions about Jewish customs and law, history, philosophy and tradition for answers from a Conservative perspective or conversion. I am a graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary and a member of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly. Having served in congregational pulpits since 1970, I now am President of the Foundation For Family Education, Inc. a non-profit educational endeavor. I established it to create new formats of hands-on programs and provide free educational downloads at www.jewishfreeware.org. In addition to general informational questions I welcome your questions about programs for social action, outreach to dual-faith families, inter-faith clergy projects, healing services, education for conversion, adult education for the congregation and the community. If you have questions about Informal and Formal Education I am ready to share my extensive experience with Youth Activities, Camping and Religious School/Hebrew High School on a congregational, community and national/international level.

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I have served on the National Youth Commission for more than 25 years and serve on the Boards of the Conservative Zionist movement MERCAZ and the World Council of Synagogues. I have always dual-families and taught candidates for conversion with a great sense of fulfillment. I am very proud of 25 years on the Jewish camping staff of Camps Ramah. My greatest source of pride is my family! Ask me about them, please!:-)

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