What is Handicraft?
The following is in the main a condensation of the article in Ayre's Treasury of Bible Knowledge: The primitive condition of man being that of agriculturists, his wants were few and easily supplied. Yet even he would want some tools, and as the race became older and extended itself its necessities would stimulate it to greater inventiveness. Hence we find that the Cainites, who were more progressive than the Sethites, early possessed iron articles, Gen 4:22. See Tubal-cain. From this incidental biblical notice we are able to form an idea of that early mode of life. Our notices are, however, extremely scanty. Still, by putting them together, we get this enumeration of tradesmen among the Hebrews and the other peoples mentioned in the Bible. 1. Apothecaries, or, rather, perfumers. Ex 30:25, Ex 25:35; 2 Chr 16:14; Neh 3:8; Eccl 10:1. 2. Bakers. See Bake, Bread, Oven. 3. Barbers. Eze 5:1; Num 6:5, Gen 6:19. 4. Carpenters. The building of Noah's ark implies considerable knowledge of this trade. The various structures ordered by the Lord for his service, such as the tabernacle and its contents, Ex 25:10, etc., and the houses of the people, prove that this useful trade was early practised and afterward maintained among the Hebrews. But when particularly fine work had to be done, foreign artists were employed. 2 Sam 5:11; 1 Kgs 5:6. Yet it is doubtless true that many of the Hebrew carpenters were good and skilful workmen. Isa 44:13-17; Ezr 3:7. Among the carpenters' tools are mentioned in the Bible the rule, the measuring-line, the plane, the compass, the hammer, nails, the saw, the axe, Isa 10:15, the awl, Ex 21:6. Our Lord's reputed father, Joseph, and our Lord himself were carpenters. See Carpenter. 5. Carvers in wood and stone. Bezaleel and Aholiah, who were proficient therein, are individually mentioned in Exodus as leading in the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness, Ex 31:5. So a man sent by Huram is credited with the superintendence of the carved work of the temple, 2 Chr 2:13, etc. 6. Dyers were also known. This fact is easily inferred from the prevalent use of colored fabrics on the part of the early Hebrews. 7. Engravers, both upon stone and metal, Ex 28:9-11. See Engrave. 8. Fullers were probably numerous, in consequence of the prevalence of white in dress. See Fuller. 9. Masons. Cities antedate the Flood, Gen 4:17. The Israelites built cities for their Egyptian master (Rameses), Ex 1:11. It is reasonable to conjecture that the Phoenician masons mentioned as building Solomon's temple were the master-masons, but that Hebrew workmen were also employed, 1 Kgs 5:17-18. The skill of these masons is shown in so exactly fitting the stones of the. temple that the building rose without the sound of a hammer, 1 Kgs 6:7. Plastering was customary within and without, mortar being used. Lev 14:40-42; Matt 23:27. The untempered mortar was perhaps mere mud, Eze 13:10-15. 10. Mining must have been early practised, Job 28:1-6. See Metals. 11. Potters are frequently spoken of; e.g. Jer 18:2-6. See Potter. 12. Ship-builders. This trade was perhaps only carried on for a short period. The Tyrians were the prominent ship-builders, and were the teachers of other nations. 1 Kgs 10:22; 1 Kgs 22:48-49. See Commerce. 13. Smiths or workers in metal were of various kinds, from the diggers or smelters of ore to the skilled artificers in gold and silver. They existed before the Flood, Gen 4:22. Much work of this sort was done in the wilderness. Ex 25:11-13; Gen 26:6,Ex 26:21. Bronze was the metal most employed -- iron much less so. The jewelry worn so commonly, the vessels of the tabernacle, the gold and silver utensils, the ornamentation so profusely used, -- all show that the smiths of the various sorts were much employed by the Hebrews. 14. Tanners and dressers of leather were found in all parts of the land. It was at a tanner's house that Peter lodged when in Joppa, Acts 9:43. 15. Tent-makers. This trade seems to have been a lucrative one. Paul followed it, and supported himself by it, Acts 18:3. 16. Weavers, particularly women, are mentioned frequently. 2 Kgs 23:7; 1 Chr 4:21; Prov 31:13, Num 31:19. A trade was indispensable to a Jewish citizen after the Captivity, but all trades were not held in equal honor. It is probable that as in the East at the present day, so formerly, each trade had its own special locality. Be it ever remembered to the honor of the Jews that they, almost alone among ancient nations, regarded a trade as a fit occupation of a freeman, that therefore their highest citizens could earn their bread if necessary, and that slaves were not depended upon, as in Greece, for the doing of all manual work. Trades among the Jews were also not necessarily hereditary. It was a saying of the Rabbins: "He who does not teach his son a trade makes out of him a footpad."
Bibliography Information Schaff, Philip, Dr. "Biblical Definition for 'handicraft' in Schaffs Bible Dictionary". bible-history.com - Schaff's