Goliath of Gath (1 Samuel 17:4-7) would have worn bronze armor rather than brass. The Hebrew "nechôsheth" makes no distinction between copper and bronze. Readers must therefore depend on the historical context to determine the correct choice. Manufactured objects such as the altar and ceremonial vessels of Solomon's Temple were bronze, but references to ores or unworked metal indicate copper.
The first bronzes were natural alloys of copper and arsenic obtained by the smelting of arsenic-bearing copper sulfide ores. Like tin, 4 to 8% arsenic increases the hardness of copper tools and weapons during cold working and it improves the casting properties of copper. As arsenical bronze cools, it forces a small amount of arsenic to the surface and gives it a silvery patina. The ancient Sumerians and Egyptians of the fourth and third millennia appreciated the superior hardness and durability of arsenical copper, which they obtained from the vicinity of Margana in Oman, although it is not certain whether they selected copper ores with a high level of arsenic or whether they added an arsenic-rich mineral to their copper during smelting.
The earliest bronzes with about 2.5% tin appeared in the mountainous region of Tepe Giyan in western Iran in the fourth millennium, and they may have been the accidental product of adding cassiterite, SnO2, as a flux during copper smelting. Like arsenic, tin makes copper artifacts harder and simplifies casting. Bronzes with 8 to 10% tin suddenly appeared in Sumeria in the first half of the third millennium as the result of rapid progress in the arts of smelting and alloying after the Sumerians made trading contacts.
Bronze metallurgy spread into the western Mediterranean in the second millennium, leading to the mining of tin deposits in Spain, Brittany, Cornwall, and Saxony by the middle of the millennium. The Egyptians began to exploit cassiterite mines in the Eastern Desert about 2300 BC, and bronze artifacts with 8 to 10% tin became common around 2000 BC. An Egyptian wall painting of this period depicts a group of wandering Semites with their donkeys and gear which includes a bellows. The bellows suggest that these Semites were coppersmiths like the biblical Kenites (Numbers 24:21).
The Greeks standardized the tin ratio of bronze about 360 BC by specifying that it should contain eleven parts copper to one of tin.
As symbols of human strength in Psalm 107:16, neither bronze gates nor iron bars can withstand the Lord's might. Job 41:27, Isaiah 48:4 and Daniel 2:39 make similar comparisons. As figures of divinely endowed strength in Micah 4:13, horns of iron and hooves of bronze will enable the restored Israel to overcome many nations. The two bronze pillars at the entrance to Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:15-22) and the two mountains of bronze in Zechariah 6:1 may stand for the power of the Lord's message to the four quarters of earth. Jesus alludes in John 3:14-15 to the bronze serpent of Numbers 21:4-9 and figuratively likens its display to his own crucifixion and its place in his work of redemption.
Darling, op. cit.; 57-68.
Lucas & Harris, op. cit.; 217-223.
Muhly, James D., 1995. Mining and metalwork in ancient Western Asia. In Sasson, op. cit.; 1501-1521.
Ozment, Katherine, 1999. Journey to the Copper Age. National Geographic; 195-4: 70-79.
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