Four kinds of "baskets" come to view in the Old Testament under the Hebrew names, dudh, Tene', cal and kelubh. There is little, however, in these names, or in the narratives where they are found, to indicate definitely what the differences of size and shape and use were. The Mishna renders us some help in our uncertainty, giving numerous names and descriptions of "baskets" in use among the ancient Hebrews (see Kreugel, Dasse Hausgerat in der Mishna, 39-45). They were variously m ade of willow, rush, palm-leaf, etc., and were used for various purposes, domestic and agricultural, for instance, in gathering and serving fruit, collecting alms in kind for the poor, etc. Some had handles, others lids, some both, others neither.
1. Meaning of Old Testament Terms:
(1) Dudh was probably a generic term for various kinds of baskets. It was probably the "basket" in which the Israelites in Egypt carried the clay for bricks (compare Psalms 81:6, where it is used as a symbol of Egyptian bondage), and such as the Egyptians themselves used for that purpose (Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, I, 379), probably a large, shallow basket, made of wicker-work. It stood for a basket that was used in fruit-gathering (see Jeremiah 24:1), but how it differed from Amos' "basket of summer fruit" (Amos 8:1) we do not know. Dudh is used for the "pot" in which meat was boiled (1 Samuel 2:14), showing probably that a pot-shaped "basket" was known by this name. Then it seems to have stood for a basket tapering toward the bottom like the calathus of the Romans. So we seem forced to conclude that the term was generic, not specific.
(2) The commonest basket in use in Old Testament times was the cal. It was the "basket" in which the court-baker of Egypt carried about his confectionery on his head (Genesis 40:16). It was made in later times at least of peeled willows, or palm leaves, and was sometimes at least large and flat like the canistrum of the Romans, and, like it, was used for carrying bread and other articles of food (Genesis 40:16; Judges 6:19). Meat for the meat offerings and the unleavened bread, were placed in it (Exodus 29:3; Leviticus 8:2; Numbers 6:15). It is expressly required that the unleavened cakes be placed and offered in such a "basket." While a "basket," it was dish-shaped, larger or smaller in size, it would seem, according to demand, and perhaps of finer texture than the dudh.
(3) The Tene' was a large, deep basket, in which grain and other products of garden or field were carried home, and kept (Deuteronomy 28:5,17), in which the first-fruits were preserved (Deuteronomy 26:2), and the tithes transported to the sanctuary (Deuteronomy 26:2). It has been thought probable that the chabya, the basket of clay and straw of the Palestine peasantry of today, is a sort of survival or counterpart of it. It has the general shape of a jar, and is used for storing and keeping wheat, barley, oats, etc. At the top is the mouth into which the grain is poured, and at the bottom is an orifice through which it can be taken out as needed, when the opening is again closed with a rag. The Septuagint translates Tene' by kartallos, which denotes a basket of the shape of an inverted cone.
(4) The term kelubh, found in Amos 8:1 for a "fruit-basket," is used in Jeremiah 5:27 (the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) "cage") for a bird-cage. But it is not at all unreasonable to suppose that a coarsely woven basket with a cover would be used by a fowler to carry home his feathered captives.
2. Meaning of New Testament Terms:
In the New Testament interest centers in two kinds of "basket," distinguished by the evangelists in their accounts of the feeding of the 5,000 and of the 4,000, called in Greek kophinos and spuris (Westcott-Hort sphuris).
(1) The kophinos (Matthew 14:20; Mark 6:43; Luke 9:17; John 6:13) may be confidently identified with the kuphta' of the Mishna which was provided with a cord for a handle by means of which it could be carried on the back with such provisions as the disciples on the occasions under consideration would naturally have with them (of Kreugel, and Broadus, Commentary in the place cited.). The Jews of Juvenal's day carried such a specific "provision-basket" with them on their journeys regularly, and the Latin for it is a transliteration of this Greek word, cophinus (compare Juvenal iii.14, and Jastrow, Dictionary, article "Basket"). Some idea of its size may be drawn from the fact that in CIG, 1625, 46, the word denotes a Beotian measure of about two gallons.
(2) The sphuris or spuris (Matthew 15:37; Mark 8:8) we may be sure, from its being used in letting Paul down from the wall at Damascus (Acts 9:25, etc.), was considerably larger than the kophinos and quite different in shape and uses. It might for distinction fitly be rendered "hamper," as Professor Kennedy suggests. Certainly neither the Greek nor ancient usage justifies any confusion.
(3) The sargane (2 Corinthians 11:33) means anything plaited, or sometimes more specifically a fish-basket.
George B. Eager