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English Bible Dictionary

Metals

 

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 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,000. Seventeen hundred shekels of gold (worth more than,000) in nose jewels (Authorized Version "ear-rings") alone were taken by Gideon's army from the slaughtered Midianites, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. (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 Ephron's 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 10:21,27) 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 17:5,6,38) 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.

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