Bible Occupations: The Market Place

As we have already learned in this series, the occupations and tasks carried out by men and women were many and varied. And we also learned that because many trades were a mix of cottage industry and manufacturing on a larger scale, the home and field section tends to cross over with jobs in the marketplace.

This section covers the various employments carried on in the marketplace. Most of which involved the sale of goods, largely made by craftsmen.

Occupations in the marketplace

The marketplace denotes anywhere merchandise or services were sold and trade. In ancient Oriental society it consisted of two parts. The bazaar, which was usually a covered portico, arcade, or walkway with rows of shops or stands on each side. These shops were often divided into sections or even located in different districts of the city. For instance, in the bakers’ street or at the fish gate.

Markets, on the other hand, were not an ongoing activity but held when goods were available. After harvest, for example. Or when caravans (usually foreign) carrying goods from afar arrived. Markets were usually set up in front of the town’s shops and stores. Or in a plaza or open space near the city gates.

But the marketplace was also a gathering place. Where children played and people met to exchange views or give speeches. The unemployed gathered there, hoping to be hired for the day. And it also served as a sort of preliminary courthouse (Acts 16:19), and even an open air hospital (Mark 6:56).

Craftsmen (in alphabetical order):


Experts differ as to whether the apothecary was a perfumer, pharmacist, or both. But all agree that he was a perfumer, making scented oils, ointments, spices, and incense, used to perfume people, clothing, beds, and couches, as well as in worship and burial.

His pharmacuetical duties included compounding drugs and medical ointments. Usually from herbs and other natural ingredients like frankincense, myrrh, hyssop, garlic, fennel, and pomegranates, among others.


Basket weaving was a recognized and useful trade among the Hebrews. Baskets were among some of the most versatile and common items found in the home. So much so that 10 different Greek and Hebrew words existed for baskets!

Various materials like willows, rushes, twigs, palm leaves, and leather were coiled or woven into baskets of various types and sizes. Some had handles or lids, others had ropes attached for carrying them like a backpack. Some coiled baskets were nearly waterproof.

Baskets were used for domestic and agricultural purposes, such as serving, gathering, and storing food and grains. Or for carrying clothing, clay for bricks, and even as cages for capturing birds and fish. Basketmakers made mats, room partitions, and sandals as well.


The building profession comprised an essential element of society. As most homes, buildings, and city walls were made of stone and brick, these artisians were in high demand. Following is a list of the various steps involved in the building process.

Carpenters near the sea often became involved in building ships and boats as well.

  • STONEMASONRY – Stonemasons had the important task of setting cornerstones and laying solid foundations, which were usually placed into dug out trenches for greater stability. But their cutting skills were also necessary because homes were sometimes cut into rocky hillsides.
  • BRICKMAKING – The walls of most common homes and buildings were of clay bricks, mixed with straw to make them durable, so brickmakers were also in high demand. Bricks were baked by leaving the shaped bricks to dry under the hot mideastern sun.
  • BRICKLAYING – Walls were built either by stacking stones, or built with bricks, cemented into place with mud or clay. A good brick layer, with his plumbline, measuring reed, leveling line, and hammer built solid walls for homes, shops, and even ovens.
  • PLASTERING – Last of all, he would finish the walls with a layer of broken limestone or gypsum as waterproofing.

Carpenters and woodworkers:

Carpenters played an important role making numerous necessary and beautiful items. Yet the village carpenter usually held a lowly, humble position. Partly perhaps because of the stigma that most city carpenters were Greek, but also because work was not plentiful.

Yet sooner or later everyone needed the carpenter. For he turned out a wide variety of goods, from small items like keys, locks, spoons, and bowls. To big things like furniture, windows, farm implements, coffins, and roof beams. And although his tools were few and primitive, the carpenter was also able to turn out fancy work like roof panelling, window lattices, and decorative pieces.

Glass Makers:

Phoenicia was the great glass making center of ancient times, where the needed materials were readily available.

Both sand and potash were used in the glass making process. They burned marine (and other) plants to make postash. Other nations made their own glass as well, but it seems that the Israelites imported most of their glass.

Glass was not used for mirrors or windows, as it was difficult to remove all the impurities. So the earliest glass was not very transparent, but had a greenish or purplish tint. It was mostly used for cups, bottles, vases, sacred emblems, and ornaments. Over time, glass became more refined and transparent, but most mirrors continued to be made from polished metals. However, glass did not become widely used until New Testament times, mostly among the wealthy.


Metalsmiths held an important role and high social standing, with goldsmiths and silversmiths ranking higher than common blacksmiths.

With no mines of their own, the Israelites had to import their metal. Although they may have sometimes controlled mines near the Red Sea.

Gold, silver, lead, tin, copper, iron, bronze, and brass were utilized to make tools, weapons, jewelry, decorations, coins, and other useful objects, including vessels for the temple. Gold and silver were also used as a measure of wealth and position, and as a means of payment.


Although potters usually did a thriving trade providing essential goods, they usually held a low place in society.

The potter was responsible for every step of pottery making, from gathering the clay, forming the pots, and baking them in his kiln.

Potters made a wide variety of vessels used for carrying, storing, cooking, and serving food, liquids, grains, and even for carrying hot coals. As well as clay ovens, tablets, drainage pipes, and lamps. Pots were sometimes glazed, polished, or given decorative finishes or details.


Tents were widely used, not only during the nomadic Patriarchal and Mosaic periods, but at all times by travelers, soldiers, and during the annual pilgrimages.

These tents, made of goats’ hair cloth, usually had a few rooms, with sides which could be opened to let air in. This heavy and coarse fabric, also known as sackcloth, shrunk together after the first rains, making it water and windproof. The apostle Paul, who worked as a tentmaker came from the province of Cilicia, an area known for its goats’ hair cloth.

A busy and diverse place

As we have seen, the market place in Bible times was definitely a busy, diverse, and important place. Most goods were sold from storefronts or small stalls. Just as with most of service related occupations which were also carried out there.

The marketplace in Bible times was a busy, diverse, and important place. It was there one could purchase needed items, find a job, or even get a haircut!

Images from Marketplace by The Edge Group/Lion Hudson Ltd | Olive tree & Carpenter by David Padfield | House by Good News Prod. | Money by | Tent by | Hyssop plant by Mareefe | Vase by Luis Garcia | Potter by LubosHouska.

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