The oil lamp served the simple function of providing light indoors and at night. Oil lamps were, therefore, a basic implement in the life of the ancient world; the word “lamp”, in one form or another, appears nearly fifty times in the Hebrew Old Testament.

The burning lamp became a metaphor of the Covenant with God:

(Psalm 119:105):  105: Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path, and also a metaphor for the truth of the Gospels (Luke 8:16-17):

16   No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.

17  For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

People who made oil lamps were human beings, of course, and each one surely had his or her own personal opinions and beliefs. We are not surprised to see these differences of belief reflected in their creative work. The first centuries of the Common Era witnessed a titanic clash of cultures in the Middle East. The ancient Jewish tradition met up with and was challenged by the outside world of the pagans, while both were confronted by the new Gospel of the Christians. As the polemic developed and sharpened, communities saw a way to propagate their own beliefs through their art and crafts works.  Thus oil lamps also were made to serve a polemical as well as a practical purpose; a way for the community to promote itself.  We have found ancient lamps with the symbols of the different faiths: classic scenes for the pagans, a cross for the Christians, and a menorah for the Jews.  The replica offered here, an oil lamp with a cross,  by Biblical Reproductions,  is of a lamp from the  fourth century CE, 8 cm at its widest point and 12 cm long, found in the Israeli city of Nahariyya.
This exquisite oil lamp reproduction bears a large cross, symbol of the devotion of its maker. is licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Author: Walter Zanger