THE GOLD OF THAT LAND: Biblical Minerals & Rocks  


 12.     brimstone, sulfur

Hebrew: gophyrîth, derived from a root meaning to cover, possibly because of the resemblance of molten sulfur to pitch. Genesis 19:24, Deuteronomy 29:23, Job 18:15, Psalm 11:6, Isaiah 30:33; 34:9, Ezekiel 38:22.

Greek: theion, theiodes. Luke 17:29, Revelation 9:17-18; 14:10; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8.

Probable Identification: native sulfur.


    Native sulfur, number 16 in the periodic table, is a bright yellow element which usually occurs in irregular crystalline masses. Sulfur has a hardness of 1.5 to 2.5 and a specific gravity of 2.05 to 2.09. Sulfur deposits form around volcanic vents and fumaroles by reduction of hydrogen sulfide in volcanic gases, and notable examples of beautifully-formed orthorhombic crystals from the ancient sulfur mines near Girgenti in Sicily are of this origin. Sulfur also forms in limestones and evaporites by the reduction of gypsum or anhydrite. Sulfur in the caprock of salt domes in the US Gulf Coast region and in Sicilian gypsum deposits formed by the bacterial reduction of gypsum in the presence of petroleum or natural gas, and anaerobic bacteria precipitate sulfur from sulfate-bearing waters.

    A similar mechanism probably accounts for the sulfurous smell of sulfur dioxide at many hot springs around Lake Kinnereth and the Dead Sea and for the native sulfur around the Dead Sea. Geologist Friedrich Bender describes the widespread occurrence of sulfur in the Lisan Marl within the lower Jordan valley and the Dead Sea area. Finely-crystalline sulfur dusts joints and fracture planes in the marl, and it often diffuses along bedding planes. Pockets of sulfur fill gypsum concretions, and it abounds in friable, pea- to fist-sized nodules. Dead Sea asphalt contains about 10 percent sulfur.

    Sulfur melts at 110oC and burns at low temperatures with a pale blue flame, accounting for its biblical association with fire, destruction, and eternal punishment. We use raw sulfur today in dyes, explosives, fertilizers, heavy chemicals, paints, pulp and paper, vulcanized rubber, matches, insecticides, and medicines. Huge quantities go into making sulfuric acid for the chemical industry.

Biblical Background:

    People since Roman times have burned sulfur indoors as a fumigant and disinfectant, though the Bible contains no definite allusion to the practice. Biblical references to burning sulfur from Genesis to Revelation consistently picture divine judgment and retribution against the wicked.



Bender, Friedrich, 1974. Geology of Jordan. Berlin: Gebrüder Borntrager; 95, 167.

Hurlbut, 1952, op. cit.; 181.

Los Alamos National Laboratories.

 Lucas & Harris, op. cit.; 269.

 Ralph, Jolyon, 1993-2004.

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