THE GOLD OF THAT LAND: Biblical Minerals & Rocks  


 11.     brass


    The Authorised (King James) Version, with one exception (Ezra 8:27), renders "necôsheth" as "brass" or "brazen." This translation may have been acceptable in 1611, but it misleads today's readers because brass was unknown until late in Old Testament times.

Historical Background:

    Brass, an alloy of copper with about one third zinc, first appeared in the Middle East during the seventh century BC. Zinc lowers the melting point of copper and makes it easier to cast. Zinc and copper ores do not usually occur together, although certain copper ores contained traces of zinc that roasting and smelting under oxidizing conditions would remove. The copper ores of Cyprus contained enough zinc to inadvertently produce a natural copper alloy with 3% to 5% zinc.

    Early Chinese brasses from Shantung province date from 2200 to 2000 BC. The first Greek reference to "oreichalkos" or "mountain copper" dates from the seventh century BC. The Greeks evidently borrowed the secret of making brass from northwest Asia Minor, where they had learned that "false silver" or metallic zinc could be smelted from its ores. The conquests of Alexander the Great spread the knowledge of brass making throughout the Greek world. The Romans began adding zinc to their bronze coins in the first century BC, and they added more and more zinc when tin from Britain and Spain became too expensive. Roman bronzes of the middle second century AD contained equal quantities of zinc and tin.

    Although “brass” implies an inferior “base metal” substitute for a precious metal in modern usage, bronze is a biblical symbol of strength. Copper and bronze articles are considered treasures in the Old Testament. However, in Isaiah 48:4 brass represents a state of rebellion against God.

    Although the rendering "sounding brass" resonates in 1 Corinthians 13:1, the Greek "chalkos" does not imply either brass or a displeasing noise. 


Darling, A.S., 1990. Non-ferrous metals. In McNeil, Ian, ed., 1990, An Encyclopaedia of the History of Technology. London: Routledge ; 72-80.

Lucas & Harris, op. cit.; 223-224.

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