The problem with identifying utensils in the Hebrew Bible is that their common everyday use made it superfluous to provide detailed descriptions of the vessels or implements in written form. Everyone knew from experience what was meant. As a result dictionaries of biblical Hebrew often have to content themselves with non-descript generalisations like “bowl”, “jar”, “pot”, “knife”. Mostly the shape and purpose of a given utensil can not be established on the basis of context alone because the number of occurrences is too low. Archaeology has brought to light large quantities of pottery and implements, but in many cases we do not know which word in ancient Hebrew was used for the object unearthed.
Meanwhile the possibilities for resolving such problems have increased dramatically. Not only archaeology, but also comparative linguistics, iconography, anthropology, improved understanding of the ancient versions of the Bible have enhanced our chances to come closer to the precise nature of the objects.
In the year 2000 the Dutch society for Old Testament study (OTW) decided to start a research project to elucidate the names of utensils in biblical Hebrew making methodical use of partially new approaches. Many members of the society were willing to cooperate and sent in manuscripts on words that were distributed in such a way that one or two authors dealt with all terms that seemed more or less related so that semantic differences, if present, could be detected.
Bob Becking and Johannes de Moor were appointed as editors of what initially was conceived as a volume in the series Oudtestamentische Studiën. Later it was decided to publish the articles in the form of a database of downloadable pdf’s on the website of the OTW. Since 2017 the editorial work is in the hands of Meindert Dijkstra, Raymond de Hoop, Marjo Korpel, Paul Sanders and Klaas Spronk and for the time bing financially supported by the Protestant Theological University. The new editorial team also started cooperation with the Semantics of Ancient Hebrew Database. This implies that in the future the lemmas will be published according to the format of the SAHD.