The open ceramic lamp is characteristic of the pottery of the Land of Israel from the second and first millennium BCE. Throughout this long period one discerns the potters paid close attention to the design of the wick-hole. In Judah in the eighth-seventh centuries BCE they used lamps that have a heavy base which afforded the object stability.
From the beginning of the Hellenistic period closed lamps treated with a lustrous black glaze are imported into the country from Greece. The innovation was accepted by the country’s population and the local potters began to market locally produced imitations that were usually slipped red or black. In Asia Minor in the second century BCE they started to produce mold-made clay lamps using the technique that was utilized in the manufacture of figurines. Ephesus and Cnidus type lamps have been discovered in the excavations at Samaria. The local potters caught on to the innovation and the lamps that are characteristic of this time period are composed of an upper part that is decorated with simple patterns and a lower part in which the base is molded.
In the Hasmonean period the potters in Judah manufactured small open lamps that have a pinched wick-hole. Is this a case of competition that was meant to supply inexpensive lamps or perhaps the type also reflects conservative intentions? The competition between the mold-made lamps and those fashioned on a wheel continued until the end of the Second Temple period.
The pared lamp (that is the Herodian lamp) is mostly characteristic of the Jewish settlements. Attractive lamps, made of black clay in a mold and adorned with a geometric or floral ornamentation, were produced in Judah from the first century CE until the destruction of the Temple. After 70 CE the market was exclusively dominated by mold-made lamps. The lamps that were used in Judah in the period between the Great Revolt and the Bar Kokhba uprising have different patterns which are manifestations of popular Jewish art. These are referred to as “Southern Lamps”.
In the second-fourth centuries CE the stylistic influences that are customary in the manufacture of lamps in Roman Caesarea, and especially in the eastern empire, are apparent. Excellent quality lamps were discovered in excavations in a potter’s storeroom in Jerash. In the second-third centuries CE locally produced round lamps are commonly found at sites in the country. It seems that from the second century onward they no longer imported lamps from abroad. In the third-fourth century an interesting change becomes apparent – styles develop that are characteristic of certain geographic regions, for example the Beit Natif style lamps which appear in Judah. In the north of the country and in Phoenicia they used the lamps which we are familiar with from the excavations at Bet She’arim. The regional differences also standout in the Byzantine period. In Judah and Jerusalem they also used lamps that are decorated with a cross and oftentimes with a Greek inscription. The Samaritans developed a lamp style that was adorned with geometric and floral patterns, as well as patterns of various objects such as the seven branch candelabrum, which is characteristic of their settlement regions in the Sharon and Samaria in the fourth-sixth centuries CE. Compared to them, the lamps that are decorated with a menorah, lulav, etrog etc which were produced for Jewish customers are rare. It seems that after the end of the Bar Kokhba uprising they no longer manufactured lamps which are characteristic of the Jewish population.