Metal Sources and
In the Biblical World
Department of History
Oxford, OH 45056
From: PSCF 45 (December 1993): 252-259.
There are numerous intriguing references to metals and to metal technology in the Old Testament.1 Some important field studies during the last thirty years shed new light on these subjects. Let me first cite a number of these biblical references, and then review the geological and archaeological evidence for the following metals: copper, tin, bronze, iron, gold, and silver. The following references are cited from the NIV Version.
Genesis 2:10-12a: "A river watering the garden flowed from Eden, and from there it divided; it has four headstreams. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good.2
Genesis 4:22: "Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.3"
Numbers 21:9: "So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived."
Deuteronomy 3:11: "Only Og king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaites. His bed was made of iron and was more than thirteen feet long and six feet wide. It is still in Rabbah of the Ammonites."
Deuteronomy 8:9: "A land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills."
Judges 1:19: "The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots."
1 Samuel 3:19-20: "Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, 'Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!' So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plowshares, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened."
1 Samuel 17:5-7: "He (Goliath) had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing 5,000 shekels [78 to 156 pounds]; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver's rod, and its iron point weighed 600 shekels [about 15 pounds]. His shield bearer went ahead of him."
1 Kings 10:11, 14-16: "Hiram's ships brought gold from Ophir...The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents [about 25 tons], not including the revenues from merchants and traders and from all the Arabian kings and the governors of the land. King Solomon made 200 large shields of hammered gold; 600 bekas [about 7 1/2> pounds] of gold went into each shield."
Ezra 1:7, 9-11: "Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god<|>º <|> This was the inventory: gold dishes 30, silver dishes 1,000, silver pans 29, gold bowls 30, matching silver bowls 410, other articles 1,000. In all there were 5,400 articles of gold and of silver. Sheshbazzar brought all these along when the exiles came up from Babylon to Jerusalem."
Job 28:1-6,9-10: "There is a mine for silver and a place where gold is refined. Iron is taken from the earth, and copper is smelted from ore. Man puts an end to the darkness; he searches the farthest recesses for ore in the blackest darkness. Far from where people dwell he cuts a shaft, in places forgotten by the foot of man; far from men he dangles and sways. The earth, from which food comes, is transformed below as by fire; sapphires come from its rocks, and its dust contains nuggets of gold....................................,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Man's hand assaults the flinty rock and lays bare the roots of the mountains. He tunnels through the rock; his eyes see all its treasures."
Isaiah 44:12: "The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint."
Ezekiel 22:18, 19-21: "Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to me; all of them are the copper, tin, iron and lead left inside a furnace. They are but the dross of silver<|>º <|> As men gather silver, copper, iron, lead and tin into a furnace to melt it with a fiery blast, so will I gather you in my anger and my wrath and put you inside the city and melt you. I will gather you and I will blow on you with my fiery wrath, and you will be melted inside her."
Ezekiel 27:12: "Tarshish did business with you [Tyre] because of your great wealth of goods; they exchanged silver, iron, tin and lead for your merchandise."
Daniel 2:32-33: "The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay."
Anthropologists and archaeologists of the Near East have become accustomed to speaking of various stone ages (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic), and of using the following parameters: Chalcolithic (i.e. copper) Age (4000-3000 B.C.), Early Bronze Age (3000-2000), Middle Bronze Age (1500-1200), Late Bronze Age (1500-1200), and Iron Age (1200-), from the relative prominence of these respective metals.4 But as we shall see upon a more detailed examination, these labels are rather misleading generalizations.
Copper (Cu) is a highly ductile and malleable metal. It occurs in 55 parts per million (ppm). It was probably the earliest metal used inasmuch as it can be cold hammered. It can also be annealed, or tempered, by being softened in an open fire at about 500 deg. C and then slowly cooled. Copper's melting point is 1083 deg. C. To smelt copper from malachite a temperature of only 700-800 deg.C is sufficient. Egyptians of the Vth Dynasty (c. 2500 B.C.) were able to obtain this temperature by blowing into pipes. Bellows were first developed in Mesopotamia, and are not attested in Egypt until the XVIIIth Dynasty (15th to 14th centuries B.C.).
Copper occurs in carbonates such as green malachite and blue azurite. These ores were ground in slate palettes by Egyptians from the prehistoric era for use as eyeshadow. Copper also occurs in sulphides such as chalconite and covellite, and oxides such as cuprite and melaconite. Copper in its native state was used as early as the ninth millennium B.C. as in a piece found at a cave in Shanidar in Iran. Copper tubes were found at «atal H¸y¸k (6000 B.C.) in Turkey. In Palestine, prehistoric copper was found at Tell Abu Matar near Beersheba. Though copper had to be imported into Mesopotamia, metallurgy developed rapidly there from 5500 B.C.5
One of the key sources of copper was the island of Cyprus. Copper's name, in Latin, Cuprum, is derived from Cypros, the name of the island. Copper was found in abundance along the pillow lava layers of the Troodos Mountains. These cupriferous sulphide ores yielded about 4 percent copper. This was extracted as early as the 18th century B.C. More than forty slag heaps totaling over four million tons have been identified. As three hundred kilograms of charcoal were needed to obtain one kilogram of copper, it has been estimated that over a period of 3,000 years, two hundred million pine trees were consumed in these endeavors.
Cypriote copper was exported to Babylonia.6 The king of Cyprus wrote to the pharaoh of Egypt with a gift of ten talents of copper, promising two hundred more. In another letter he apologized that he could not send more copper:
My brother should not take it to heart that I am sending herewith only five hundred pounds of copper ó I am sending this solely as a present for my brother ó because, my brother, it is so little. I swear that pestilence, the disease of my lord Nergal, was in the land, and has killed all the people of my land, so there was nobody to produce copper. So my brother should not take it to heart (that it is so little copper). Send back quickly your messenger together with my messenger, then I will send you, my brother, all the copper which my brother wants.7
Cyprus still remains a major source of copper. In the last sixty years, the island has produced a million tons of copper.
Other interesting ancient sources were the copper and turquoise mines of western Sinai, especially at Serabit el-Khadim.8 These mines were worked during the Middle and the New Kingdoms (2000-1200 B.C.). There Egyptian texts at the temple of Hathor record the presence of "Asiatic," i.e. Semitic, miners, who left behind very important Proto-Sinaitic texts with twenty-seven signs. These, along with contemporary Proto-Canaanite texts, were the precursors of the Phoenician alphabet, the fountainhead of all alphabetic systems.9
As indicated in Deuteronomy 8:9, iron and copper were to be found in the land promised to the Israelites. Iron ore is relatively limited, and is to be found in the Ajlun region of Gilead to the northeast. It is perhaps significant that Og's iron bedstead, which was kept on exhibit in an ancient "Believe It or Not" museum in Amman, came from Bashan, in this very area.
Copper is found in some abundance in the Arabah Valley, stretching one hundred miles between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqabah (called by the Israelis the Gulf of Elath). Extensive copper mining and refining were conducted here from as early as 2000 B.C. The famous archaeologist, Nelson Glueck, explored this area in the 1930s. From 1938 to 1940 he excavated the site of Tell el-Kheleifeh, which he identified as Solomon's port of Ezion-Geber. This site is just inland from the Gulf of Aqabah just across the Israeli-Jordanian border on the Jordanian side.
Glueck identified a large building (thirteen by thirteen meters) with two rows of holes as a large smeltery, and in books published in 1940 and 1959, interpreted the site as the "Pittsburgh" of Palestine. After criticism of this interpretation by Beno Rothenberg, Glueck conceded in 1965 that the holes were probably the remains of burnt-out logs.10 The recent reexamination of the site by Gary Pratico has also cast doubt on its identification with Ezion-Geber, as Glueck had misinterpreted the pottery.11
Timna is a site in the Arabah where tourists were taken to see the so-called "Pillars of Solomon," a rather striking geological formation. A year after I had visited the site in 1968, Beno Rothenberg discovered an Egyptian temple dedicated to Hathor at the base of these pillars. Inscriptions were recovered from Seti I to Ramesses V (14 to 12th century B.C.). One of the most striking discoveries was a copper snake, which reminds us of Moses' brazen snake.
Rothenberg and his colleagues have investigated the area for two decades and have determined that the abundant evidence of copper mining and refining should be credited to the Egyptians, and not to Solomon (10th century B.C.). Though there is some evidence of renewed activity at the site in the 10th century,12 this is credited by Rothenberg to Shishak, the Egyptian pharaoh of this period.13
In the Timna area, as early as the 4th millennium B.C. shafts and galleries were being used to extract the ores. The furnaces found in the area were cylindrical in shape, 24" x 24." There were numerous examples of tuyeres, the ceramic tubes through which air was pumped into the furnaces by bellows.14 Experiments have indicated that pot bellows as depicted in Egypt could be sustained at a rate of sixty strokes per minute for up to thirty minutes to obtain the necessary temperatures.
Widespread trade in copper during the Late Bronze Age, especially from Cyprus throughout the Mediterranean is attested by texts. The vizier Rekhmire under Tuthmosis III (15th century) reported the importation of 108 ingots of copper, "Bringing Asiatic copper, which his Majesty carried off from his (Syrian) victory in the land of Retenu, in order to cast two doors of the temple of Amun." Reliefs in Egypt also depict men from Keftiu (Crete) bearing ox-hide ingots of copper (ingots which take the shape of ox-hides) as gifts to the pharaohs. Ox-hide ingots with Cypro-Minoan signs have been found as far west as the island of Sardinia. In Crete they have been found at numerous sites including Hagia Triada, Mochlos, and Zakro. They have also been discovered at Boghazk–y in Turkey and at Tell Beit Mirsim in Palestine.15
Off the south central coast of Turkey George Bass and his associates investigated the Cape Gelidoniya shipwreck, discovered in 1960. This is the oldest shipwreck ever discovered, dated c. 1200 B.C. It carried a cargo of thirty-four copper ox-hide ingots, each weighing over fifty pounds. Also discovered were bronze tools, scrap metals, and tin ingots.16 To the west of Gelidoniya at Kas another shipwreck was investigated by Bass in 1984. This also had been carrying tin.
The earliest copper alloy was made with arsenic. It was probably obtained as a by-product of the smelting of copper sulphides. This was a product which was quite comparable to bronze in hardness and utility. Its main disadvantage was the hazard of arsenic fumes released in the smelting process.
Some scholars would call this alloy arsenic bronze. This type of alloy was favored in Egypt until 2000 B.C. A remarkable hoard of cultic objects was found at Nahal Mishmar near Ein Gedi by the Dead Sea in 1961. These included 80 scepters, 240 pear-shaped mace heads, and 20 chisels or axes, many of which were made of arsenic-copper.
Tin and Bronze
True bronze, an alloy of about 10 percent tin and 90 percent copper, was developed in some areas (such as Crete) after about 3000 B.C., but not in other areas (such as Palestine and Egypt) until after 2000. Such an alloy has a lower melting point than copper, and makes a more fluid melt for casting. Bronze is also much harder than copper. Many of the bronzes were used in the cire perdue (lost wax) process to make cultic figurines. 17 (The cire perdue process involves first filling a hollow with wax, then replacing it with metal.)
Tin (Sn = from Latin stannum; Greek kassiteros) is a soft metal, with a very low melting point (232 deg. C). It is a very rare metal, occurring in only two parts per million. Tin is found as cassiterite (tin oxide) in alluvial deposits in areas of granitic rocks.
Old Assyrian (early 2nd millennium B.C.) texts of merchants in Cappadocia (eastern Turkey) speak of the transport of tin from Mesopotamia. Texts record that some 13,500 kilograms of tin were transported on 200 donkey loads from Ashur to Kanesh. Over a fifty year period, it has been estimated that about eighty tons of tin may have been shipped to the north from Mesopotamia.
Cuneiform texts from Mari on the Euphrates18 record the storage of 500 kilograms of tin, and shipment to cities such as Ugarit on the Syrian coast,19 to Dan and Hazor in Palestine,20 and even to Captara, i.e. Crete.21 Ingots of tin with Cypro-Minoan marks were found off the coast of Haifa in Palestine.22 Also, as noted earlier, evidence of the transport of tin has been found in the Gelidoniya and Kas shipwrecks off the southern coast of Turkey.
Textual sources from Mesopotamia seem to indicate that the tin came from points to the east. Yet investigations of Iran have yielded no credible source of tin. Tin is found in Thailand, where a very early bronze technology was developed at Non Nok Tha and Ban Chiang in the 4th millennium B.C. Yet apart from an isolated cinnamon seed (perhaps from the Moluccas), there is no evidence of trade between ancient Mesopotamia and any ports further east than the area of Gujerat in northwest India. The actual source of tin for Near Eastern bronze still remains a mystery.
The biblical reference in Ezekiel 27:12 to Tarshish may indicate that tin ores were obtained from the Iberian peninsula. Tarshish, which is a name derived from the Phoenician word for "smelter" according to W. F. Albright, may be identified with the Phoenician colony of Tartessus.23 Though scholars have doubted an early expansion to the western Mediterranean prior to the 8th century B.C., F. Cross has recently identified a Phoenician inscription from Nora in Sardinia as coming from the 11th century B.C.24 This raises the possibility that the Tarshish ships of Solomon may also have traveled to Spain.25
James Muhly has argued that for the Late Bronze Age the Mycenaean Greeks obtained tin overland from Britanny in northwestern France and Cornwall in southwestern England. There is certainly evidence of trade overland in amber obtained from the Jutland area on the Baltic Sea for this period.
Iron (Ferum) is one of the most common of elements, occurring in one in 50,000 parts, or 4.2 percent of the earth's surface. Iron is found in such ores as dark red hematite, yellowish brown limonite, and black magnetite. Unlike copper, iron cannot be cold hammered. Iron ore can be reduced at 1100 deg. C, but its melting point is 1540 deg. C. Such temperatures were not achieved until the development of blast furnaces c. 1400 A.D., which were able to render iron in liquid form for casting. The earliest iron was probably a byproduct of copper smelting, as copper ores almost always contain iron. Chalcopyrite, for example, contains about thirty percent iron. When iron ore was smelted, what would be produced would be a spongy mass of iron, slag, and cinders which has to be hammered to remove the slag and air bubbles. This was so-called wrought iron. Wrought iron was forged while still in its heated, soft, and ductile state.
Anthony Snodgrass has proposed that the east Mediterranean world turned to iron, not because of its superiority, but because the disturbances of 1200 B.C. so disrupted international trade that supplies of copper and tin were disrupted. During the first two or three centuries after 1200 bronze continued to be used for utilitarian purposes, though iron with its hardness and strength was used increasingly for weapons and agricultural implements.
Iron working is mentioned frequently in Hittite texts (14 to 12th century B.C.) of Anatolia. Classical traditions (Herodotus, Xenophon, Strabo) localized ironworking in northern Anatolia. The Black Sea coast has self-fluxing iron sand, which is eighty percent pure magnetite. (Self-fluxing iron sand contains elements which promote the fusing of the metal when it is heated.) Other scholars believe that the Levant took the lead in developing iron technology. Texts from Alalakh in Syria refer to a batch of 400 iron swords. A fine example of iron technology is an axe blade in a bronze hilt found at Ugarit dated to 1400 B.C. From the Tutankhamen (14th century B.C.) tomb archaeologists recovered a ceremonial iron knife. Iron is also mentioned three times in Ugaritic texts.26 Ironworking was then developed c. 1200 B.C. in Cyprus, from whence it spread to the Aegean.
Some of the earliest examples of iron, such as those mentioned in Homer, were prized items such as Iliad VI.48 and Odyssey XIV.324. Homer mentions only bronze swords and spearheads but no iron examples. It is true that among the forty-eight times iron is mentioned in the Homeric epics, some iron weapons such as axes and maces are included. The dramatic imagery of Odysseus' blinding of Polyphemus's one eye indicates that Homer (8th century B.C.) was familiar with the practice of quenching iron to develop steel.
The blast and scorch of the burning ball singed all his eyebrows and eyelids, and the fire made the roots of his eye crackle. As when a man who works as a blacksmith plunges a screaming great ax blade or adze into cold water, treating it for temper, since this is the way steel is made strong, even so Cyclops' eye sizzled about the beam of the olive. (Odyssey 9.389-94, tr. R. Lattimore)
In Palestine there were relatively few iron sources. An iron mine at Timna in the Arabah dates back to 1100 B.C. Another ancient iron mine was uncovered at Magharat Warda in Transjordon. The iron bed of Og of Bashan was obviously a curiosity.27 Though it is true that the key passage in 1 Samuel 3:19-20 does not specifically indicate that the Philistine technology was superior in iron metallurgy, and though some scholars think that too much has been made of this passage,28 it is quite clear that the Philistines did have a clear advantage. As J. Muhly concludes, "Based on excavated evidence, it appears that the Philistines did have a monopoly of sorts on ironworking, as reflected in the passage from 1 Samuel."29
Agricultural iron objects have been found at numerous Israelite sites including Tell el-Ful (ancient Gibeah), Saul's capital, where an iron plow was discovered. The one iron weapon mentioned in Goliath's panoply was his iron spearhead. It is significant that as Muhly points out, all of the iron weapons have been found at Philistine sites, such as an iron knife from Tell Qasile and iron daggers from Tell el Farah south. The Old Testament mentions eighty-three bronze weapons as against only four references to iron weapons. It was only in the 10th century that iron weapons became more numerous than bronze weapons. Actual remains from the Aegean from the 11th to the 8th centuries B.C. include four bronze swords but over fifty iron swords, thirteen bronze spearheads but over fifty iron spearheads.30
One of the earliest examples of carburized iron or steel is a pick, which was discovered at Mt. Adir in Galilee in 1976.31 This dates to the 13th to the 11th century B.C. Until men learned to carburize iron, that is add a certain percentage (.7 to 2 percent) of carbon, wrought iron was inferior to bronze. Carburization was achieved by heating and reheating the iron in a charcoal fire. This steel was then further refined by heating and then quenching in water. The supremacy of iron over bronze was not a sudden or a swift development. As A. Snodgrass concludes, "Certainly the old statements, often made in a deterministic vein ó that the arrival of iron weapons explains the success of ancient conquests and migrations, that iron precipitated the decline of Egypt, and so on ó seem today quite unjustified."32
Gold (Latin aureum, Greek chrysos), which is the first metal named in Scripture (Gen. 2:11), is a relatively rare metal, .004 ppm. Gold occurs in so-called "reef" formations in veins, or as alluvial (in water-borne sediment) gold. Most ancient gold was derived from the latter through placer mining. The legend of Jason's golden fleece may refer to the use of fleece to catch the grains of gold in a sluicing operation. Much gold is found as electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver. The six Hebrew names given to gold in the Old Testament may reflect the varieties of its colors.
The largest supply of gold in antiquity was that obtained by the Egyptians from Nubia, the area to the south of Egypt. These fields were to be found in three main areas: (1) the gold of Coptos (Wadi Hammamat, Wadi Abbad), (2) the gold of Wawat (Wadi Allaqi, Wadi Cabgaba), and (3) the gold of Kush (from the Nile Valley between Wadi Halfa and Kerma).
In Nubia there are remains of more than 100 ancient Egyptian mines. The Egyptians sent some shafts to depths of nearly 300 feet in trying to extract reef gold. Their galleries extended up to 1500 feet into the hillside. The ores would be crushed with mills, and then washed with water. Gold was refined through the process of cupellation. Gold melts at a temperature of 1063 deg. C. To extract gold the ore would be heated in a cupella of clay with lead. The resulting dross of oxides would be absorbed by the porous cupella, leaving the nearly pure deposit of gold.
The Mereruka relief depicts goldsmiths blowing through long tubes to melt the gold, with others weighing and recording the gold. The dazzling gold metalwork of Egypt is most notably illustrated in some of the objects from Tutankhamen's tomb, discovered in 1922. His solid gold sarcophagus weighed 243 pounds. It has been estimated that there may have been a total of 400 pounds of gold objects in his tomb. And Tutankhamen was a relatively minor king who died at the age of eighteen. The abundance of gold in Egypt was internationally known. Tushratta, the king of Mitanni, in northern Mesopotamia, wrote to Amenophis II of Egypt (14th century), "Send gold quickly, in very great quantities, so that I may finish a work I am undertaking, for gold is as dust in the land of my brother."
As Mesopotamia was devoid of gold sources, it had to import gold.33 But its technicians achieved extraordinary skill, as demonstrated by the exquisite gold objects which Leonard Woolley recovered from the royal graves of Ur, which date to the early 3rd millennium B.C. The later Persians, who obtained 360 talents of gold dust annually from India, produced outstanding works of gold and silver metallurgy.34
The reality of the gold of Ophir, which Solomon imported, has been confirmed by an ostracon found at Tell Qasile with the phrase, "Ophir gold for Beth Horon, thirty shekels." We are still not certain where Ophir was. Suggestions include east Africa, west Arabia, and India.
Solomon was not the only king who boasted in his gold. Assyrian kings speak of walls "covered with gold like plaster." An Assyrian king, Sargon II, seized six golden shields from Urartu, each weighing twelve times the weight of the shields Solomon hung in his palace.35
Another famous source of gold were the sands of the Pactolus River, which ran through the Lydian city of Sardis. This is what made the Lydian king Croesus (561-546) so wealthy. In 1968 excavators found nearly 300 crucibles for refining gold, thus lending substance to the ancient tradition. Among the very few gold objects which have been recovered from Sardis are a tiny gold ram and gold thread from a textile of the Roman period.36 The Lydian king Gyges (687-652 B.C.) was credited by Greek tradition with the invention of our earliest coinage. Though Lydian electrum coins are among our earliest, we do not have coins that go back as early as the date of Gyges. Some scholars have therefore discounted the Gygian tradition. I have argued, on the other hand, that the early invention of coinage is a sound tradition.37
Silver occurs in .07 ppm. Its melting point is 961 deg. C. Silver (Latin argentum; Greek arguros) is most plentifully found in galena, the principal ore of lead.38 Lead sulphide ores will yield thirty to 300 ounces of silver per ton. In the roasting process the sulphur is eliminated as sulphur dioxide gas.
The Hebrew word keseph was used for silver or for money. In Mesopotamia people were paid an average of a shekel of silver or 1/4 ounce for a month's wage. Based on a sexagesimal system, a mina or pound of silver was made up of sixty shekels; a talent, which was sixty minas, equaling 3600 shekels, would have weighed about sixty pounds. The later Old Testament books such as Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles refer to coins which may be interpreted either as the Persian gold darics or the Greek silver drachmas.39 Egypt, though rich in gold, lacked silver, which explains why Egypt was slow to adopt coinage.
The most famous silver mines of antiquity were located twenty-five miles south of Athens near Laurion and Thorikos on the tip of the Attic peninsula. Here more than 2000 shafts were sunk; the deepest extended 386 feet.40 These were of great significance in classical Athens, in particular as a bonanza in 483 B.C. enabled Themistocles to build a fleet of 200 triremes which he used to defeat Xerxes' fleet.41
The extensive Laurion galleries are never more than a meter high, and are often as low as sixty centimeters. They are only sixty to ninety centimeters wide. Slaves in chains would advance on hands and knees quite laboriously, perhaps taking ten hours to advance ten centimeters. The site of Thorikos has many mining and refining installations, including elaborate circular and rectangular sluices. There are an estimated two million tons of slag in the area.
The Old Testament speaks about the importance of silver from Tarshish (1 Kings 10:22; 2 Chron. 9:21; Jer. 10:9). As noted before, the latter may have been Tartessus in Spain. After conquering the Iberian peninsula from the Carthaginians in the 3rd century B.C. the Romans exploited the mineral resources of Spain, especially near Rio Tinto. These mines were worked by slaves under terribly harsh conditions as described by Diodorus Siculus:
The slaves engaged in the operation of the mines secure for their masters profits in amounts which are almost beyond belief. They themselves, however, are physically destroyed, their bodies worn down from working in the mine shafts both day and night. Many die because of the excessive maltreatment they suffer. They are given no rest or break from their toil, but rather are forced by the whiplashes of their overseers to endure the most dreadful of hardships; thus do they wear out their lives in misery...although they often pray more for death than for life because of the magnitude of their suffering.
A similar picture of extreme cruelty is given to us by Agarthacides (2nd century B.C.) of the gold mines in Ptolemaic Egypt.42
Of the many references to metals and metallurgy, the earliest are problematic. One of the major difficulties in understanding some of the opening chapters of Genesis literally is the reference to Tubal-Cain as an artificer of "bronze and iron" (Gen. 4:22).43 The difficulty is somewhat tempered by the fact that the Hebrew word nehoshet can be translated as either bronze or copper. (Greek Chalkos can also indicate either copper or bronze.) Some meteoric iron was used long before the Iron Age; about a dozen pieces are dated before 3000 B.C.
Many other references to metals and metallurgy have been confirmed and illustrated by archaeological discoveries. At times, however, the desire to correlate the archaeological materials with the Scriptural text have led to erroneous conclusions, as in the case of Nelson Glueck's interpretation of a building at Tell el-Kheleifeh as Solomon's smeltery.
Metals were among the many good things which God created. He declares, "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine" (Hag. 2:8). Because of man's corrupt nature, desire for such metals has led to greed and exploitation. Conditions in today's South African gold mines are probably not much better than they were in ancient mines.
But far more valuable than silver and gold is God's word (Ps. 19:10). We were redeemed not with silver and gold but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18-19). God sends us trials so that our faith, "of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire," might inspire us until we find ourselves in the city of God, which is paved with streets of gold (Rev. 21:21).
1A. Guillaume, "Metallurgy in the Old Testament," Palestine Exploration Quarterly (1962), 129-32.
2On its location, see E. Yamauchi, "Havilah," in R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, and B. K. Waltke, eds., Theological Workbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), I, 269-70.
3The name Cain is cognate with Arabic qayin "smith." Cf. the name "Kenites," the Midianite tribe among whom Moses lived (Exod. 2:18). See J. F. A. Sawyer, "Cain and Hephaestus: Possible Relics of Metalworking Traditions in Genesis 4," Abr-Nahrain 24 (1986), 155-66.
4For a general discussion, see T. A. Wertime, "Man's First Encounters with Metallurgy," Science 146 (1964), 1257-67; idem, "The Beginnings of Metallurgy," Science 182 (1973), 857-87.
5On Mesopotamian metallurgy, see P. R. S. Moorey, "The Archaeological Evidence for Metallurgy and Related Technologies in Mesopotamia 5500-2100 B.C.," Iraq 44 (1982), 13-38.
6A. R. Millard, "Cypriot Copper in Babylonia c. 1745 B.C.," Journal of Cuneiform Studies 25 (1973), 211-13.
7Cited by J. Muhly, "The Bronze Age Setting," in T. A. Wertime and J. D. Muhly, eds., The Coming of the Age of Iron (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), 41.
8I. Beit-Arieh, "New Discoveries at Serabit el-Khadim," Biblical Archaeologist 45 (1982), 13-18; idem, "Serabit el-Khadim: New Metallurgical and Chronological Aspects," Levant 17 (1985), 89-116.
9M. Sprengling, The Alphabet: Its Rise and Development from the Sinai Inscriptions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931); F. M. Cross," A Ugaritic Abecedary and the Origins of the Proto-Canaanite Alphabet," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 160 (1960), 21-26; W. F. Albright, The Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions and Their Decipherment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969).
10N. Glueck, Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev (New York: Grove Press, 1968).
11G. D. Pratico, "Where is Ezion-Geber? A Reappraisal of the Site Archaeologist Nelson Glueck Identified as King Solomon's Red Sea Port," Biblical Archaeology Review 12.5 (1986), 24-35.
12J. J. Bimson, "King Solomon's Mines," Tyndale Bulletin 32 (1981), 123-49.
13See E. Yamauchi, "Shishak," in E. M. Blaiklock and R. K. Harrison, eds., The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 412-13.
14R. F. Tylecote, "From Pot Bellows to Tuyeres," Levant 64 (1981), 107-18.
15T. Wheeler et at., "Ingots and the Bronze Age Copper Trade in the Mediterranean," Expedition 17.4 (1975), 31-39; J. D. Muhly, "The Copper Ox-Hide Ingots and the Bronze Age Metals Trade," Iraq 39 (1977), 73-82.
16P. Throckmorton, "Oldest Shipwreck Ever Found," National Geographic 117.5 (1960), 682-703.
17O. Negbi, Canaanite Gods in Metal (Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, 1976); J. D. Muhly, "Bronze Figurines and Near Eastern Metalwork," Israel Exploration Journal 30 (1980), 140-61.
18G. Dossin, "La route de l'Ètain en Mesopotamie au temps de Zimri-Lim," Revue d'Assyriologie 64 (1970), 97-106.
19M. Heltzer, "The Metal Trade of Ugarit and the Problem of Transportation of Commercial Goods," Iraq 39 (1977), 203-11.
20A. Malamat, "Syro-Palestinian Destinations in a Mari Tin Inventory," Israel Exploration Journal 21 (1971), 31-38.
21For further contacts between Crete and Mari, see E. Yamauchi, Greece and Babylon (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967), 29-30.
22T. S. Wheeler, "The Ancient Tin Trade in the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East," Temple University Aegean Symposium 2 (1977), 23-36.
23 W. F. Albright, "The Role of the Canaanites in the History of Civilization," in G. E. Wright, ed., The Bible and the Ancient Near East (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1961), 346-47.
24F. M. Cross, "Early Alphabetic Scripts," in F. M. Cross, ed., Symposia Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Founding of the American Schools of Oriental Research (1900-1975) (Cambridge: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1979), 103-05.
25 See E. Yamauchi, "Solomon," in Blaiklock and Harrison, 419-22.
26F. C. Fensham, "Iron in the Ugaritic Texts," Oriens Antiquus 8 (1969), 209-13.
27A. R. Millard, "King Og's Iron Bed: Fact or Fancy?," Bible Review 6 (1990), 16-21.
28 T. Dothan, The Philistines and Their Material Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), 20, 91.
29J. D. Muhly, "How Iron Technology Changed the Ancient World and Gave the Philistines a Military Edge," Biblical Archaeology Review 8.6 (1982), 54.
30A. Snodgrass, Early Greek Armor and Weapons (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, 1964), 174.
31D. Davis et al., "A Steel Pick from Mt. Adir in Palestine," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 44 (1985), 41-51.
32A. Snodgrass, "Iron and Early Metallurgy in the Mediterranean," in Wertime and Muhly, The Coming of the Age of Iron, 368.
33K. R. Maxwell-Hyslop, "Sources of Sumerian Gold," Iraq 39 (1977), 83-86.
34 E. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 222-23.
35A. R. Millard, "Does the Bible Exaggerate King Solomon's Golden Wealth?" Biblical Archaeology Review 15.3 (1989), 29.
36 E. Yamauchi, New Testament Cities in Western Asia Minor, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), 65.
37E. Yamauchi, "Two Reformers Compared: Solon of Athens and Nehemiah of Jerusalem," in G. Rendsburg et al., eds. The Bible World (New York: KTAV, 1980), 269-92.
38Lead (Latin plumbum) became especially important for the making of pipes. See J.D. C. Boulakia, "Lead in the Roman World," American Journal of Archaeology 76 (1972), 139-44.
39See E. Yamauchi, "Ezra, Nehemiah," in F. E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), IV, 619-21.
40D. A. Kounas, ed., Studies on the Ancient Silver Mines at Laurion (Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1972); H. Mussche et al., Thorikos and the Laurion in Archaic and Classic Times (Ghent: Belgian Archaeological Mission, 1975); H. Kalcyk, "Der Silberbergbau von Laureion in Attika," Antike Welt 14.3, (1983), 12-29.
41Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible, 211.
42S. M. Burstein, tr., Agatharchides of Cnidus (London: Hakluyt Society, 1989), 58-68.
43G. J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 113.