Albert Barnes says: “Bochart in Hieroz. t. ii. lib. iii. c. xi. pp. 408-419, has examined the meaning of the word [qip·pohz’] at length, and comes to the conclusion that it means the serpent which the Greeks called acontias, and the Latins jaculus:—the arrow-snake.”—The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, pp. 339, 340.
Art, as it relates to painting, sculpture and design, receives relatively little attention in the Bible. Yet man’s life began, not in a barren field, but in a garden, a paradise with trees not only “good for food” but also “desirable to one’s sight.” (Gen. 2:9) Man was made to appreciate beauty, and the unsurpassed beauty, artistry and design manifest in creation—flowers, trees, mountains, valleys, lakes, waterfalls, birds, animals, as well as in the human form itself—evoke praise of their divine Creator. (Ps. 139:14; Eccl. 3:11; Song of Sol. 2:1-3, 9, 13, 14; 4:1-5, 12-15; 5:11-15; Rom. 1:20) Art, as here discussed, implies, basically, the representation of such things by use of various materials and the use of different forms and expression.
Already in Abraham’s time the Bible makes mention of gifts of a “gold nose ring,” golden bracelets, and other articles of silver and gold, bestowed on Rebekah. (Gen. 24:22, 53) The Royal Tombs of Ur, in which city Abraham once lived, have given up many exquisite ornaments of high artistic skill. However, most of the art objects recovered through archaeological explorations in the lands of Mesopotamia, Assyria, Palestine, Egypt and adjacent regions seem to bear some relation to the idolatrous pagan religions or the proud political rulers, thus indicating an early perversion of the use of art.
Sumeria is suggested as the area where sculpture or carving in relief or in the round began. Also, in southern Mesopotamia, in a temple, were found the earliest fresco paintings (that is, painting on a freshly plastered surface before it dries). Terra-cotta figurines found in an early stratum of the city of Ur manifest excessive emphasis placed on sex. Astarte figurines uncovered in all lands of the Fertile Crescent manifest the lewdness associated with pagan cultic rites. The ancient Assyrians carved out enormous stone reliefs depicting the exploits of their monarchs, and produced massive winged statues for their royal palaces.
The Egyptians, by contrast, were exceptionally skillful in depicting lifelike people and scenes and showed enthusiasm and verve for drawing and making designs of all manner of animals, birds, plants and objects of the Nile valley. Their bright-colored paintings on walls often presented cheerful scenes of feasting and social activities, work and play, as drawn from city and farm.
The island of Crete with its Minoan culture produced abundant fresco paintings during the second millennium B.C.E. In Palestine itself, excavations at Teleilat Ghassul in the lower Jordan valley revealed the use of mineral pigments to produce fresco wall paintings of geometric patterns in black, red and yellow ocher, dark red and white. The work is considered to be from before the time of Abraham.
VARIETY OF MATERIALS
Glass appears to have been produced as far back as the second millennium B.C.E. by the Egyptians and perhaps the Phoenicians. Yet, evidently it originated in Mesopotamia, where pieces of well-made glass have been found believed to date from as early as the third millennium B.C.E. Job (c. 1600 B.C.E.) spoke of glass as being very precious. (Job 28:17) Though opaque, it was used in making animal figurines, perfume boxes, necklaces and other jewelry. The Romans were among the first to produce transparent glass.—Compare Revelation 4:6; see GLASS.
Thus the ancient artists worked with a considerable variety of materials, including clay, terra-cotta, wood, bronze or copper, iron, gold, silver, precious and semiprecious gems, glass, ivory, limestone and marble.
There is little material evidence remaining to present any clear picture of Hebrew art, yet art appreciation is manifest in the Bible record. On coming out of Egypt the people brought with them gold and silver articles obtained from the Egyptians. (Ex. 12:35) They gladly contributed such items for the decoration of the tabernacle in the wilderness. (Ex. 35:21-24) The work of producing the tabernacle with its decorations and equipment gave outlet for their artistic ability in woodworking, metalworking, embroidery, jewel work and design, Bezalel and Oholiab particularly taking the lead and instructing. It is notable that credit for their artistic ability is given to Jehovah.—Ex. 35:30-35; 36:1, 2.
Prior to the tabernacle work, Aaron had employed artistic ability for a perverse use in using a graving tool to make a molten image of a calf for worship. (Ex. 32:3, 4) Moses (or someone assigned by him) also showed such ability, though properly, when making the serpent of copper at a later time. (Num. 21:9) However, the provisions in the Law forbidding the making of images for worship, while not prohibiting all representational art, doubtless exercised a restrictive influence on painting or sculpturing among the Hebrews. (Ex. 20:4, 5) In view of the gross idolatry so prevalent in all nations and the widespread use of art to foster such idolatry, it is evident that paintings or carvings of figures, human or animal, would be viewed as suspect by those keeping the Law provisions and those charged with enforcing it. (Deut. 4:15-19; 7:25, 26) Even the cherubs of the tabernacle were covered over with a cloth when being transported and thus were hid from the gaze of the populace (Num. 4:5, 6, 19, 20), while those of the later temple were seen only by the high priest on one day a year. (1 Ki. 6:23-28; Heb. 9:6, 7) Additionally, after their entry and establishment in the Promised Land, the basically agricultural life of the Israelites was seldom such as allowed for the leisure time and funds necessary for extensive artwork.
Artwork under the monarchy
While the ancient nation of Israel is not renowned today for its works of art, yet the evidence indicates that, when occasion arose, they were able to produce work of artistic quality such as gained wide attention and admiration. The prophet Ezekiel depicts the manner in which Jehovah adorned and beautified Jerusalem so that “‘a name began to go forth among the nations because of your prettiness, for it was perfect because of my splendor that I placed upon you,’ is the utterance of the Lord Jehovah.” (Ezek. 16:8-14) However, the succeeding verses (15-18, 25) show that such prettiness was put to a perverted use, as Jerusalem prostituted herself with the surrounding political nations. Jeremiah, too, describes those looking on Jerusalem after her fall to Babylon as saying: “Is this the city of which they used to say, ‘It is the perfection of prettiness, an exultation for all the earth’?” (Lam. 2:15; compare Psalm 48:2; 50:2; Isaiah 52:1.) The temple built by Solomon was evidently an artistic work of consummate beauty and is called a “house of holiness and beauty.”—Isa. 64:11; 60:13.
In dealing with the construction of the temple in King Solomon’s time, much comment has been made in reference works of the assumed lack of artistic skill on the part of the Israelites, to the point of giving practically all the credit to the Phoenicians. The record, however, shows that only one artisan was requested of the Phoenicians by Solomon, aside from the lumbermen employed in King Hiram’s own forests of Lebanon and the stone quarriers. (1 Ki. 5:6, 18; 2 Chron. 2:7-10) This artisan, also named Hiram, was an Israeli-Phoenician skilled in working with