Lead was one of the first metals to be used in the free state, probably because it was so easily obtained from its ores. Lead was found in ancient times in Egypt and the Sinaitic peninsula. There is no lead found in Palestine proper, but in Northern Syria and Asia Minor it occurs in considerable quantities, usually associated with silver. These sources no doubt furnished an important supply in Bible times. It was also brought by the Phoenicians from Spain (Tarshish) (Ezekiel 27:12) and the British Isles.
Lead was used, as it still is, all along the Mediterranean shores for sinkers. Pieces of Egyptian fishnets probably dating from 1200 BC are now preserved in the British Museum, with their lead sinkers still attached. Since lead was the heaviest metal known to the ancients, gold excepted, it was generally used for fish-lines and sounding lines (compare Acts 27:28), especially in the dense waters of the Mediterranean. Moses mentioned the sinking qualities of lead in the sea in his simile of the sinking of Pharaoh's hosts "as lead in the mighty waters" (Exodus 15:10).
Lead was used by the ancients for binding stones together. In most of the ancient ruins of Syria the Arabs have dug holes at the seams between stones in walls and columns in order to remove the iron, bronze, or lead thus used. In the museum of the Syrian Protestant College, Beirut, there are several specimens of cast-lead sarcophagi dating from the time of Christ.
In Job 19:23,14, lead is mentioned as used in the engraving of permanent records. Two inferences might he drawn from this passage:
either that the letters were cut with a chisel (pen) and then the cutting was filled with lead, or that sheets of lead were used as tablets on which to grave the record with an iron tool. Lead is frequently referred to along with iron, brass, silver and tin (Numbers 31:22; Ezekiel 22:18,20; 27:12). The use of lead for plumblines is implied in Amos 7:7,8; Zechariah 4:10; as a weight in Zechariah 5:7,8. That Old Testament writers understood the use of lead for purifying gold is shown by Jeremiah 6:29 and Ezekiel 22:18-22 (compare Malachi 3:2,3).
See METALS; REFINER.
James A. Patch