bot'-'-l (chemeth, no'-dh, nebhel, baqbuq, 'obh; askos): The most literal rendering of all the words for bottle in English Versions of the Bible is "skin," or "wine-skin," the Revised Version (British and American). The primitive bottle among eastern peoples was really a bag made from skins, tanned or untanned, of kid, goat, cow, camel or buffalo--in most cases drawn off of the animal entire, after the legs and head were cut off, and, when filled, grotesquely retaining the shape of the animal. The skins in common use today, as in ancient times no doubt, for holding water milk, butter and cheese, have the hair left on and are far from cleanly-looking. Those used for wine and oil are tanned by means of oak bark and seasoning in smoke, a process that gives a peculiar astringency of flavor to the wine kept in them, and gave rise to the parable of Jesus about putting new wine into old wine-skins (Mt 9:17; Mk 2:22; Lk 5:37). The fact that the leather underwent distension once and only once under fermentation, and the further fact that the wine-skins became dried and liable to crack from the smoke and dry heat of the tents and houses, gave point to the parable: "No man putteth new wine into old wine-skins; else the wine will burst the skins, and the wine perisheth, and the skins: but they put new wine into fresh wine-skins." All such "bottles" today are liable to crack and become worthless.
Pliny Fisk used fresh goat-skins to carry water, but he says this gave the water a reddish color and an exceedingly loathsome taste. Harmer tells of carrying liquids in smoked skin-bottles, which when rent "were mended by putting in a new piece, or by gathering up the piece, or by inserting a flat bit of wood." Burckhardt says he saw Arabs keeping water for their horses on journeys in "large bags made of tanned camel-skin." They would sew the skins up well on four sides, but would leave two openings, one to admit the air, one to let out the water. Two such bags made a good load for a camel. Edwin Wilbur Rice says the leather or skin-bottles are of different sizes and kinds, usually made from the skin of the goat, rarely ever from that of the sheep, as it is not considered strong enough. But sometimes they are made from the skin of the camel, or the ox, which is then prepared by tanning. When leather bags are sewed up the joinings are smeared with grease, as the skin-bottles of all sorts are, as they grow older, lest the water, or other liquid, ooze through.
Such bottles, being more portable and less breakable than earthenware, were peculiarly well suited to the use of primitive and nomad peoples, as they are to the roving Bedouin of today. The mention of them, however, in such various accounts and connections as those for instance of the story of Hagar (Gen 21:19), of the Gibeonites (Josh 9:4), and of David (1 Sam 25:18) shows that they were in common use among ancient Orientals, pastoral and peasant alike. Tourists still find that they are admirably suited to travelers in waterless districts, or districts where the water is brackish and bad. One of the characteristic figures even in oriental centers like Damascus today is the waterman who sells from his dripping goat-skin water cooled with the snow of Hermon, flavored with lemon, rose, or licorice, temptingly offered up and down the streets by his clapping his brass cups and crying in the most pleading but pleasing tones, "Drink, drink, thirsty. one" (compare Isa 55:1). But, as Dr. Mackie, of Beirut, says, "While the bottle is thus highly prized, and the water thus kept in it is a grateful necessity, the luxury of the East belongs to the spring itself, to the draught from the fountain of living waters. Hence, the comparison Jesus made at Jacob's well (Jn 4:14), and the one blessed terminus of all, the Shepherd's leading (Rev 7:17). See HDB, under the word
Of course in the settled life of the Orient water, milk, wine and other liquids are often kept in earthen jars or other receptacles. For such "bottles" see PITCHER; VESSEL. Glass bottles are not mentioned in the Bible; but those now found in tombs, for keeping perfume in, may have been known in Old Testament times.
Figurative: (1) For the clouds (Job 38:37). (2) For intoxication, through which, because of their headstrong continuance in sin, Israel shall be helpless to resist the enemy's attack (Jer 13:12). (3) For sorrow: "Put thou my tears into thy bottle" (Ps 56:8). "The Psalmist's sorrows were so many that they would need a great wine-skin to hold them all. There is no allusion to the little lachrymatories of fashionable and fanciful Romans: it is a robuster metaphor by far; such floods of tears had the Psalmist wept that a leathern bottle would scarce hold them" (Treasury of David, III, 39). "God treasures His servants' tears as if they were water or wine." Bernard says, "The tears of penitents are the wine of angels" (Dummelow's Comm., 351).
George B. Eager