A container made of such materials as palm-leaf fibers, reeds, rushes, rope, twigs, and willows was often used by persons in ancient times for agricultural, domestic, or other purposes. Their baskets varied greatly in shape, size, and construction. There were those with an open weave and others with a close weave. Some had handles and lids, whereas other baskets lacked either or both of these things.
The Scriptures do not provide detailed descriptions of the different kinds of baskets used in antiquity in Bible lands, and various Hebrew and Greek words are used for baskets. The Hebrew word most often employed to denote a basket is sal. It is used for the three baskets containing white bread that Pharaoh’s chief of the bakers dreamed he was carrying on his head, a dream Joseph rightly interpreted as signifying death for the dreamer. (Ge 40:16-19, 22) Sal is also used for the basket in which unfermented bread, cakes, and wafers were placed for use when installing Israel’s priesthood, it further being called “the installation basket.” (Ex 29:3, 23, 32; Le 8:2, 26, 31) This same Hebrew term was used for the basket containing the unfermented cakes and wafers used ceremonially on the day that one’s Naziriteship came to the full. (Nu 6:13, 15, 17, 19) Also, it was into a sal that Gideon put the meat he set before Jehovah’s angel. (Jg 6:19) While the Scriptures do not describe the sal, it seems that this type of basket was of fine weave and, in later times at least, was made of peeled willows or palm leaves. It may have been fairly large and flat, thus being a type convenient for carrying bread, as in the royal baker’s prophetic dream. In the British Museum there is a painted wooden model of an Egyptian woman balancing on her head a large flat and open basket filled with food provisions supposedly for the dead.
During the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt and their “hard slavery at clay mortar and bricks” (Ex 1:14), they evidently used baskets to carry construction materials, clay for bricks, and bricks themselves. Reflecting on the way in which Jehovah effected the release of Israel from Egyptian slavery, the psalmist Asaph represents God as saying: “His own hands got to be free even from the basket [mid·dudhʹ].” (Ps 81:4-6) This same Hebrew term (dudh) is applied to a basket for carrying figs. (Jer 24:1, 2) It also denotes a type of cooking pot (“two-handled cooking pot” [1Sa 2:14]; ‘round-bottomed pot’ [2Ch 35:13]) and “a furnace.”
The Hebrew teʹneʼ was the basket in which the harvest firstfruits were placed for presentation to God, being deposited before the altar of Jehovah. (De 26:2, 4) This basket served as a container for products of the soil and was probably a large, deep receptacle. Moses used the Hebrew term teʹneʼ for “basket” when he apprised Israel of the consequences of obedience and of disobedience to Jehovah. He said, “Blessed will be your basket and your kneading trough,” if a course of obedience was pursued, but, “Cursed will be your basket and your kneading trough,” if Israel was disobedient.
The Hebrew word keluvʹ may denote a basket woven of rushes or leaves. This term is employed for “basket” at Amos 8:1, 2, where the prophet reports that Jehovah caused him to see “a basket of summer fruit.” It is also used to refer to “a cage” for birds in Jeremiah 5:27.
One other Hebrew word referring to a kind of basket is kar, rendered “woman’s saddle basket” in Genesis 31:34.
After Jesus Christ miraculously multiplied loaves and fishes to feed about 5,000 men, besides women and young children, there were 12 baskets full of surplus fragments. (Mt 14:20; Mr 6:43; Lu 9:17; Joh 6:13) For the type of basket used to gather the leftovers, all four Gospel writers use the Greek word koʹphi·nos. This type may have been a relatively small wicker hand basket in which one could carry provisions on a journey, or, possibly, it had a cord serving as a handle by which the basket could be carried on one’s back. Its general capacity may be deduced from the fact that this Greek term is also used for the Boeotian measure of approximately 7.5 L (2 gal).
After Matthew and Mark tell that Jesus fed about 4,000 men, besides women and young children, from the seven loaves and a few little fishes, they show that seven baskets of surplus fragments were collected. But they use a different Greek word, sphy·risʹ (or, spy·risʹ); this denotes a large provision basket or hamper. (Mt 15:37; Mr 8:8) Whereas the smaller koʹphi·nos would suffice when one was traveling in Jewish territory and away from home only a short time, a larger basket would be needed when going on an extended journey through foreign areas. At times this type was quite large, big enough to hold a man. Gospel writers draw a distinction between the koʹphi·nos and sphy·risʹ (NW using “baskets” for the former and “provision baskets” for the latter) when reporting Jesus Christ’s later references to his acts of miraculously multiplying food.
The sphy·risʹ is the kind of basket in which Paul was lowered to the ground through an opening in the wall of Damascus. (Ac 9:25) In telling the Corinthian Christians about this escape, the apostle used the Greek word sar·gaʹne, which denotes a plaited or “wicker basket” made of rope or entwined twigs. Both of these Greek terms can be used for the same type of basket.
Jesus Christ, after identifying his disciples as “the light of the world,” told them: “People light a lamp and set it, not under the measuring basket, but upon the lampstand, and it shines upon all those in the house.” Such a “measuring basket” (Gr., moʹdi·os) was a dry measure that had a capacity of about 9 L (8 dry qt), but Christ used it illustratively as a covering. Jesus encouraged his disciples not to hide their spiritual light under a figurative “measuring basket.” Instead, he admonished them: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.”