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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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TORCH.—In the six passages in which the word ‘torch’ occurs in the Gospels (Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ), once in the text (John 18:3) and five times as an alternative rendering in the margin (Matthew 25:1; Matthew 25:3 f., Matthew 25:7 f.,), it answers to the Greek λάμπας, which in the LXX Septuagint represents the Hebrew lappîd in Genesis 15:17, Exodus 20:18, Judges 7:16; Judges 7:20; Judges 15:4 f., Job 41:19, Isaiah 62:1, Ezekiel 1:13, Daniel 10:6, Nahum 2:4, Zechariah 12:6. Now the regular meaning of lappîd is ‘torch,’ by which it is mostly rendered in the OT either in the text or in the margin. This meaning fits in very well with the context in John 18:3, but seems unsuitable in the other passages, where a light fed with oil is required. Probably we are to think in them of a lamp borne on a pole, and therefore bearing some resemblance to a torch, or of a torch fed with oil in some way from time to time. The use of the former is attested for Arabs in the Middle Ages by a statement to which Lightfoot called attention (Works, ed. 1684, vol. ii. p. 247), found in the mediaeval lexicon ‘Aruch, and, on the authority of Rabbi Solomon, in a gloss on the reference to lappîd in Kelim, ii. 8. It has been often cited or referred to, but a literal translation from the gloss may be of interest:

It is a custom in the land of Ishmael for the bride to be conducted from the house of her father to the house of her husband in the night before she goes into the ḫuppah, (cf. Psalms 19:4), and for ten poles to be borne before her, on the top of each of which is a sort of saucer of brass containing pieces of garments and oil and pitch—these are kindled, and give light before her.

The other custom, the use of torches fed with oil, is said by the German writer, Ludwig Schneller, who was born in Jerusalem, and was for a time a minister in Bethlehem, to be in force in the Holy Land at the present day. These torches consist of long poles, round the upper end of which are wrapped rags saturated with olive oil. Unless fed with fresh oil, they burn down in less than a quarter of an hour (Evangelienfahrten, p. 460). The maidens of Bethlehem, says the same writer (ib. p. 459), assemble at sunset on the occasion of a marriage, and move with dance and song through the street to the house of the marriage festival bearing torches in their hands. Bauer also (Volksleben im Lande der Bibel, p. 94) mentions the use of oily torches by the women who go out to meet the bridegroom. On the other hand, Robinson Lees (Village Life in Palestine2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 87 f.) affirms that small earthenware lamps are still carried in villages by the virgins who go to meet the bridegroom, together with little jars containing an additional supply of oil. He admits, however, that torches are used in the cities. With our presen slender knowledge of the marriage customs of the Jews in the time of our Lord, it is impossible to determine exactly the nature of the torches or lamps of the parable, but the balance of probability seems to incline to some kind of lamp-torch lifted high into the air. See Lamp.

Literature.—Besides the authorities cited above, see Wetstein and Zahn on Matthew 25:1; Edersheim, LT [Note: T Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Edersheim].] ii. 455.

W. Taylor Smith.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Torch'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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