The Hebrews, in common with other ancient nations, were acquainted with nearly all the metals known to modern metallurgy, whether as the products of their own soil or the results of intercourse with foreigners. One of the earliest geographical definitions is that which describes the country of Havilah as the land which abounded in gold , and the gold of which was good. ( Genesis 2:11-12 ) "Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold," ( Genesis 13:2 ) silver, as will be shown hereafter, being the medium of commerce, while gold existed in the shape of ornaments, during the patriarchal ages. Tin is first mentioned ( Numbers 31:22 ) and lead is used to heighten the imagery of Moses triumphal song. ( Exodus 15:10 ) Whether the ancient Hebrews were acquainted with steel , properly so called, is uncertain; the words so rendered in the Authorized Version, ( 2 Samuel 22:35 ; Job 20:24 ; Psalms 18:34 ; Jeremiah 15:12 ) are in all others passages translated brass , and would be more correctly copper . The "northern iron" of ( Jeremiah 15:12 ) is believed more nearly to correspond to what we call steel [STEEL] It is supposed that the Hebrews used the mixture of copper and tin known as bronze. The Hebrews obtained their principal supply from the south of Arabia and the commerce of the Persian Gulf. ( Joshua 7:21 ) The great abundance of gold in early times is indicated by its entering into the composition of all articles of ornament and almost all of domestic use. Among the spoils of the Midianites taken by the Israelites in their bloodless victory when Balaam was slain were earrings and jewels to the amount of 16,750 shekels of gold, ( Numbers 31:48-54 ) equal in value to more than $150,000. Seventeen hundred shekels of gold (worth more than $15,000) in nose jewels (Authorized Version "ear-rings") alone were taken by Gideons army from the slaughtered Midianites. ( Judges 8:26 ) But the amount of treasure accumulated by David from spoils taken in war is so enormous that we are tempted to conclude the numbers exaggerated. Though gold was thus common, silver appears to have been the ordinary medium of commerce. The first commercial transaction of which we possess the details was the purchase of Ephrons field by Abraham for 400 shekels of silver . ( Genesis 23:16 ) The accumulation of wealth in the reign of Solomon was so great that silver was but little esteemed. ( 1 Kings 10:21 1 Kings 10:27 ) Brass, or more properly copper, was a native product of Palestine. ( 8:9 ; Job 28:2 ) It was plentiful in the days of Solomon, and the quantity employed in the temple could not be estimated, it was so great. ( 1 Kings 7:47 ) No allusion is found to zinc; but tin was well known. Arms, ( 2 Samuel 21:16 ; Job 20:24 ; Psalms 18:34 ) and armor, ( 1 Samuel 17:5 1 Samuel 17:6 1 Samuel 17:38 ) were made of copper, which was capable of being so wrought as to admit of a keen and hard edge. Iron, like copper, was found in the hills of Palestine. Iron-mines are still worked by the inhabitants of Kefr Hunch , in the sought of the valley of Zaharani .
met'-alz (Latin metallum, "metal," "mine"; Greek metallon, "mine"):
The metals known by the ancients were copper, gold, iron, lead, silver and tin. Of these copper, gold and silver were probably first used, because, occurring in a metallic state, they could be separated easily from earthy materials by mechanical processes. Evidence is abundant of the use of these three metals by the people of remotest antiquity. Lead and tin were later separated from their ores. Tin was probably used in making bronze before it was known as a separate metal, because the native oxide, cassiterite, was smelted together with the copper ore to get bronze. Because of the difficulties in getting it separated from its compounds, iron was the last in the list to be employed. In regard to the sources of these metals in Bible times we have few Biblical references to guide us. Some writers point to Deuteronomy 8:9, "a land whose stones are iron," etc., as referring to Palestine. Palestine can be disregarded, however, as a sourc e of metals, for it possesses no mineral deposits of any importance. If it was expected that Israel would possess Lebanon also, then the description would be more true. There is some iron ore which was in ancient times worked, although present-day engineers have declared it not to be extensive enough to pay for working. There is a little copper ore (chalcopyrite, malachite, azurite). In the Anti-Lebanon and Northern Syria, especially in the country East of Aleppo now opened up by the Bagdad Railroad and its branches, there are abundant deposits of copper. This must have been the land of Nuhasse referred to in the Tell el-Amarna Letters. If Zechariah 6:1 is really a reference to copper, which is doubtful, then the last-mentioned source was probably the one referred to. No doubt Cyprus (Alasia in Tell el-Amarna Letters (?)) furnished the ancients with much copper, as did also the Sinaitic peninsula.
Tarshish is mentioned (Ezekiel 27:12) as a source of silver, iron, tin, and lead. This name may belong to Southern Spain. If so it corresponds to the general belief that the Phoenicians brought a considerable proportion of the metals used in Palestine from that country. Havilah (Genesis 2:11), Ophir (1 Kings 10:11), Sheba (Psalms 72:15) are mentioned as sources of gold. These names probably refer to districts of Arabia. Whether Arabia produced all the gold or simply passed it on from more remote sources is a question.
From the monuments in Egypt we learn that that country was a producer of gold and silver. In fact, the ancient mines and the ruins of the miners' huts are still to be seen in the desert regions of upper Egypt. In the Sinaitic peninsula are deposits of copper, lead, gold, and silver. The most remarkable of the ancient Egyptian mines are situated here (J. Sarabit el Khadim, U. Sidreh, W. Magharah). The early Egyptian kings (Sneferu, Amenemhat II, and others) not only mined the metals, but cut on the walls of the mines inscriptions describing their methods of mining. Here, as in upper Egypt, are remains of the buildings where miners lived or carried out their metallurgical operations. It is hardly to be conceived that the large deposits of lead (galena) in Asia Minor were unworked by the ancients. No nearer deports of tin than those in Southeastern Europe have yet been found. (For further information on metals see separate articles.)
James A. Patch
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