Oil Lamps From the Time of Jesus Remind Us of the Ten Virgins

“These oil lamps are a unique memento of biblical times”

By Aviel Schneider | | Topics: archaeology

Last week we were back in Jerusalem’s Old City with Lenny Wolfe to choose more oil lamps for our readers. This time our focus was on the most beautiful oil lamps from the time of Jesus. My father, the founder of Israel Today, also had an almost complete, inspiring collection of oil lamps in his study, from the time of Abraham to the Roman period in the Holy Land.

There we sat, on Lenny’s sofa, surrounded by jars, oil lamps from all eras, pots, shards, coins and countless other archaeological finds from the time of Abraham up to the Byzantine period. We talked about Jerusalem in Bible times and what it has become today. Little has changed, we agreed on that. Politically and spiritually, the city is a source of constant tension for its inhabitants and the world.

And then Lenny reminded me of the New Testament story of the ten virgins. The parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins written in Matthew 25 talks about these very oil lamps. “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins going up with their lamps to meet the bridegroom.”

Thanks to these lamps, you could take light with you wherever you went. The oil lamps used by the people of Israel in Jesus’ day are called “Herodian oil lamps” after King Herod. The oil lamp itself is made of clay and was formed on a potter’s wheel. A wick of flax fiber or string of rushes was placed in the beak, and then the lamp was filled with olive oil. When the wick was soaked with oil, the lamp was lit.

For millennia, the people of the Land of Israel used light sources of this type in their tents and homes. “These oil lamps are a unique memento of biblical times. They have incredible value, they are real,” Lenny underscored. Tourists usually buy all sorts of replicas in the Holy Land as souvenirs, but most of them are made in China. “A real piece of history like a coin or oil lamp from Jesus’ time in Jerusalem is actually cheaper than many people think. Especially when you factor in the thousands of years underground where the oil lamps or coins were stored,” says Lenny.

Lenny is considered a living legend in his field. He scrutinizes every piece of history before he can guarantee its authenticity. While we were still sitting together, an elderly Arab suddenly entered his apartment and emptied two brown plastic bags on the table in front of us. About ten different oil lamps from different eras in Eretz Israel came to light. Each individual oil lamp was examined using certain tricks and techniques by Lenny. “I have many Christian friends in North America who have purchased archaeological pottery or biblical coins from me over the years. Now I would also like to send oil lamps from biblical times to Christians in Europe, not just to Americans. This is not too good to be true, but this really is true: the oil lamps of Jesus’ day.”

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