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"Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter” — the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter." Zechariah 11:12-13 (ESV)

Why does 'the potter' suddenly appear in Zechariah 11 - what is the significance of the 30 pieces of silver being 'thrown' to him? Do we have any idea why there was a 'potter' in the house of the Lord at all?

Update: I note that some translations such as the JPS and ISV replace the word 'potter' with 'treasury', which would resolve the curiosity of its place in the text. Is this a better translation of the Hebrew?

Zechariah 11:13 (JPS)

And the LORD said unto me: 'Cast it into the treasury, the goodly price that I was prized at of them.' And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them into the treasury, in the house of the LORD.

Zechariah 11:13 (ISV)

Then the LORD told me, "Throw the money into the treasury —that magnificent value they placed on me!" So I took the 30 shekels of silver and threw them into the treasury of the Temple of the LORD.

  • The version of the LXX that I have has "smelting furnace" (χωνευτήριον), in case that helps. – Ruminator Aug 20 '17 at 1:39
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'The potter' being in the house of the Lord is not as strange as it may seem. Men of many different trades could be in the temple at any given time, whether offering their sacrifices or for other reasons.

12 Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

14 Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant.... -Matthew 21:12-15 (NKJV)

Note that several different types of people are mentioned being in the temple:

  • Jesus (along with His disciples, John 2:17)
  • those who bought and sold
  • money changers
  • the blind and lame
  • the chief priests and scribes

Jesus' disciples included fishermen: Peter & Andrew, James & John (Matt. 4:18-22); and a tax collector: Matthew (Matt. 9:9), all of which were in the temple at this time. So a potter being in the house of the Lord would be no more unusual than a fisherman or some other type of tradesman.

The Lord tells Zechariah to throw the 30 pieces of silver to the potter as a foreshadowing of Jesus' betrayal by Judas, who, in Matthew 27:1-10, throws 30 pieces of silver down in the temple (v5), which the chief priests use to buy a field from a potter (v7). John Gill notes that the field was

a field of no great value, or it could not have been bought so near Jerusalem for so small a sum as thirty pieces of silver. Grotius's conjecture seems to be a good one, that it was a field the potter had dug up for his use, and had made the most of it; so that it was good for nothing, but for the purpose for which these men bought it, "to bury strangers in"....


Response to question update: Concerning potter versus treasury, I side with potter (יוֹצֵר) because the only real reason for putting treasury (אוֹצָר) is if you thought יוצר was spelled incorrectly and should have been אוצר instead. I have purposely left off the vowel pointings for the previous two words to show just how similarly they are spelled, differing by only the first letter (the Hebrew was originally written unpointed).

  • יצר means to form or fashion, with יוצר meaning 'one who forms.' See John Parkhurst's definition below:
    Parkhurst - potter
  • אצר means to store or treasure up, with אוצר meaning 'a treasury or storehouse.' See John Parkhurst's definition below:
    Parkhurst - treasury

Gesenius also brings this out in his lexicon (note that the words enclosed in brackets [ ] were added by the translator, Samuel Prideaux Tregelles):
Gesenius1

The above entry says to see page CCCXLIII (343) for his entry for יוֹצֵר concerning Zechariah 11:13 (again, note that the words enclosed in brackets [ ] were added by the translator, Samuel Prideaux Tregelles):
Gesenius2

I have also included Gesenius' entry for אׇצַר below:
Gesenius3

I am of the same mindset as Samuel Tregelles in that the New Testament contains the true meanings of the Old Testament words and phrases. Additionally, there are many other places where יוצר is without question referring to a potter, such as:

  • Psalm 2:9
    • בשבט ברזל ככלי יוצר תנפצם
    • Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. -KJV
  • Isaiah 41:25
    • העירותי מצפון ויאת ממזרח שמש יקרא בשמי ויבא סגנים כמו חמר וכמו יוצר ירמס טיט
    • I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come: from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name: and he shall come upon princes as upon morter [mortar], and as the potter treadeth clay. -KJV
  • Jeremiah 18:2 (et al v3-6, where it speaks of the potter working with clay)
    • קום וירדת בית היוצר ושמה אשמיעך את דברי
    • Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. -KJV
      • היוצר
        • ה = the
        • יוצר = potter
  • Lamentations 4:2
    • בני ציון היקרים המסלאים בפז איכה נחשבו לנבלי־חרש מעשה ידי יוצר
    • The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter! -KJV

Translating יוצר as treasury in Zechariah 11:13 is more of an interpretative attempt at reconciling the obvious strangeness of a potter being in the house of the Lord. A potter being in this sequence of events does seem somewhat out of place and cryptic, but only because it foreshadowed the future event of Judas betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, which wouldn't have been understood until after it occurred.

  • Thanks Brian - I've updated the question with the observation that several translations replace 'potter' with 'treasury', if you had any additional thoughts you wished to add. – Steve Taylor Jan 30 '17 at 8:51
  • 1
    @SteveTaylor - Thanks for the notification. I added my thoughts on the matter. – Bʀɪᴀɴ Jan 31 '17 at 23:09
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If you accept that the passage is prophetic as Matthew suggests, it may be a reference to the passing of the gospel into the custodianship of the Gentiles, ie "potter" as a cryptic reference to the Rechabites who were of Midianite descent. (The Talmud identifies the potters of 1 Chronicles 4:23 as the sons of Jonadab.) And of course their star turn in Jeremiah takes place "in the temple" in which God promises that they would always stand before Him.

What privileges would God's promise to the sons of Jonadab entail? Well they might just possibly be entitled to special notification of the Messiah's coming. If you want to go a little further down this rabbit hole, the shepherds to whom the angels appeared to announce Jesus' birth may well have been Rechabites. (Beth Haccarem was only a few kilometers away from Bethlehem on the other side of a small range of hills). It is notable that the in this account angels announce only "peace toward men of good will and have nothing to say about promises to Israel.

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Throughout the Bible there are references to potters, pottery, and clay.

According to this resource ( http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Clay ) there are at least 34 references in the Bible concerning these things. Among them of course is the verse you mention in your inquiry.

According to the same resource the Matthew reference to Jeremiah reference is understood to be intentional based on the nature of the prophecy.

As far as I can tell from this resource ( http://www.gotquestions.org/Zechariah-11-12-13-Messianic.html ) it is unknown whether the reference in Zechariah is intentional or coincidental. Pottery would have been used by the priests and its possible that it was made in house rather than purchased. 30 pieces of silver was the price of a slave in Exodus, and so this was insulting amount to be paid. It is possible that this was an event which was merely prophetic in nature that Zechariah participated in, rather than it being a true prophecy.

According to this resource ( http://thirdmill.org/answers/answer.asp/file/40445 ) it's likely that the direct reference to Jeremiah in Matthew 27 is from the Jewish custom of dividing the Hebrew texts into three sections: The Law, The Writing, and The Prophets. Since Jeremiah was listed first in the rabbinical order, the entire section known as The Prophets was referred to as the Book of Jeremiah. According to that same resource there are four other places in the new testament which quote Zechariah but do not mention his name.

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Chances are greatly against any author foreshadowing a text written several centuries later. So, let's ignore that, and look to older texts, like Gilgamesh, with its potter's quarter, written many centuries previous to Zechariah. The potter's quarter was a place frequented by the drunkards and prostitutes of Uruk. The quarter pots were made in was impoverished. It was named for the broken vessels of terra cotta littering the area, representing flawed people leading tragic lives, whom, we might compare to cracked vessels with no value.

  • Hey Phil, welcome to BHSE, glad to have you here! If you have time, make sure to take the tour to get yourself familiarised with this site and to see how we are different than other sites. Thanks! hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour – sara Aug 18 '19 at 5:21

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