Artisans of the past were occasionally commissioned by their benefactors to create works of art that delivered messages and captured beauty. One mode of delivery was engraving: the incising of words or images into clay, wood, stone, or metal. The process of engraving began with the purchase or production of the necessary tools for the job. The engraving tool could be a reed stylus, metal chisel, or flint point (Job 19:24; Jer 17:1), depending on the hardness of the
medium to be inscribed and the amount of detail expected in the finished piece. But the tools alone could not produce art apart from the hands of the artist. Only when such tools were skillfully wielded by practiced hands did the most refined pieces of art appear from the raw materials (Exod 35:30-35). This process was painstakingly slow as snippets of debris were removed from the raw materials. In most cases, if any error occurred, the artisan had two options: either incorporate the error into the design or start over.
Not just anyone was well versed in the art of engraving and not just anything was engraved. This process was reserved for special items. In the archaeological record from Bible times, we have examples of stamps seals that were engraved. Most of these are stone seals that called for special visualization skills by the artist. Stamp seals were designed to leave an impression in wet clay or wax; consequently the seal itself had to be incised in reverse so the stamp impression would appear properly oriented. Such stamp seals were used to authorized documents in the same way we may give authorization via a signature today. We also have examples of stone stelae that are inscribed with the images and exploits of ancient kings-sort of an ancient blog left for posterity to read. The common connotations that underlie these and other cultural example of engraving are their special status.
In the Bible, specific mention of engraved items is rare, but all of them are intimately linked to worship of the Lord. The uniform of Israel’s high priest had a number of components; three of them contained engraving. The ephod was a robe or apron that covered the upper body of the high priest. END OF PART 1