My cup runneth over

In the last post, I suggested that the word אגן (aggan) most likely described a chalice. But there is another word in the Bible, which obviously refers to a drinking vessel. It is the word כוס (kos), often translated as cup.

The most well-known mention of it is in Psalm 23:

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5

The word occurs a couple of times in the Psalms, but usually in the developed meaning of “lot”, “destiny”. People will have to empty their cup, whatever it holds.

On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot (כוס [kos]).
Psalm 11:6

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup (כוס [kos]);
you make my lot secure.
Psalm 16:5

In a similar direction, but more metaphorical, the cup is used as a term of judgment. In it God’s wrath is given to someone to drink. And it has to be taken to its bitter end, right down to the dregs.

In the hand of the Lord is a cup (כוס [kos])
full of foaming wine mixed with spices;
he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth
drink it down to its very dregs.
Psalm 75:8

In this sense the word is also often used in the Prophets. One example will do:

You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!
The cup (כוס [kos]) from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you,
and disgrace will cover your glory.
Habakkuk 2:16

Then there are those verses, where the word just plainly means the cup to drink from.
When the prophet Nathan confronts David, he uses a parable about two men and their animals.

The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup (כוס [kos]) and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
2 Samuel 12:2-3

In the Hebrew text the food and drink are nicely balanced: “sharing his food to eat and his cup to drink.” It’s clear that (כוס [kos]) refers to a drink or a drinking implement.

The sense is also used in the prophets. In the following verse in Jeremiah, the word “cup” has not found it into the translation.

No one will offer food to comfort those who mourn for the dead—not even for a father or a mother—nor will anyone give them a drink to console them.
Jeremiah 16:7

Really, it should read: “And they will not give them a cup (כוס [kos]) to drink.”
The relationship between the (כוס [kos]) and drinking is clear.

Jeremiah uses the word again, this time with reference to drinking wine.

Then I set bowls full of wine and some cups (כוס [kos]) before the Rekabites and said to them, “Drink some wine.”
Jeremiah 35:5

Clearly, the (כוס [kos]) is a drinking vessel, probably not a ritual one, but one used in everyday drinking of wine.

In Proverbs, too, we find it as a vessel for wine.

Do not gaze at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup (כוס [kos]),
when it goes down smoothly!
Proverbs 23:31

The word is also used in Genesis (Genesis 40:11-21) when Pharao’s cup bearer recounts his dream. Here, it seems to be a somewhat more elaborate vessel. After all, the ruler of Egypt drank from it.

We may get some idea of the shape of the (כוס [kos]) by its use in the description of the Sea that stood in the Temple of Jerusalem. There the shape is compared to that of a lily blossom.

The Sea stood on twelve bulls, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south and three facing east. The Sea rested on top of them, and their hindquarters were toward the center. It was a handbreadth in thickness, and its rim was like the rim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It held two thousand baths.
1 Kings 7:25-26

From excavations, the most likely drinking vessel, was a small bowl with relatively steep sides and a thin rim.


It is just the last reference to the lily blossom that makes me hesitate. Could it be yet another word for the chalice?
While such chalices were common in the Early Iron Age, towards the end middle and end of the Iron Age they are less frequent. That’s why I want to suggest that (כוס [kos]) is the generic word for a drinking vessel, not necessarily determining the shape, or maybe even changing shape across the centuries.

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