THE GOLD OF THAT LAND: Biblical Minerals & Rocks  


22.    copper


    1. nechwshh, nechshh, copper. Job 28:2, 40:18, 41:27; Leviticus 26:19; 2 Samuel 22:35; Job 20:24; Psalm 18:34; Micah 4:13.

    2. nechsheth, an article made of copper. Ezra 8:27, Jeremiah 15:12, and 130 other references.

    3. nchwsh, copper. Job 6:12.


    1. chalkos: copper or copper objects. 1 Corinthians 13:1; Revelation 9:20.

    2. chalkeos: coppery or made of copper. Matthew 10:9; Revelation 18:12.

    3. chalkolibanon: burnished copper or bronze. Revelation 1:15, 2:18.

    4. chalkion, a copper or bronze vessel. Mark 7:4.

Probable Identification: copper or bronze, or anything made of copper or bronze.

    Brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, was unknown until Roman times.


    Copper, element 29 in the periodic table, is a soft, malleable, ductile metal with a reddish orange color and a melting point of 1,083oC. Copper is the most efficient electrical conductor of all non-precious metals. Native copper was discovered about 20,000 years ago, but it is a minor source of copper and does not occur in the Holy Land or Egypt.

    The kings of Israel and Judah obtained their copper by smelting malachite [Cu2CO3(H2O)2] from mines in the Aravah. Native copper in northern Michigan occurs in veins cutting interbedded basalt flows and conglomerates. Sheets of native copper occur sandwiched between layers of shale in Ontonagon County, Michigan. Copper crystals are usually deformed and intergrown in dendritic and arborescent masses, but well-formed isometric crystals take cubic, octahedral, dodecahedral, or hexoctahedral forms.

    The principal copper ores mined today are chalcopyrite, bornite, chalcocite, covellite, enargite, tetrahedrite, tennantite, cuprite, tenorite, malachite, azurite, chrysacolla, antlerite, brochantite, and atacamite.

Historical Background:

    Copper was the first industrial metal and the basis of King Solomon's wealth, and it continues to be one of the most important industrial metals, particularly in the electrical industry. Beads and pins of hammered native copper in Anatolia and western Iran date from 9000 to 6000 BC, and native copper was the first metal that Egyptian craftsmen used in making jewelry. The first copper slags at Catal Hyk in Anatolia date between 7000 and 6000 BC.

    Copper alloys with tin in bronze and with zinc in brass. Tin hardens and strengthens copper, lowers its melting point, and makes it easier to cast. The discovery of bronze came about in Asia in the middle of the fourth millennium BC, and spread from there to Egypt around 1500 BC. Modern bronze contains 9 or 10% tin, but ancient bronzes contain 2 to 16% tin with traces of lead, iron, nickel, arsenic, or antimony because their metallurgy was rather haphazard and their tin impure. Brass became known only in Roman times and evidently originated in the Black Sea region through the accidental smelting of copper ore with zinc carbonate (smithsonite, ZnCO3).

    Bright blue and green copper compounds furnished pigments for paints from the earliest times. Cuprorivaite (CaCuSi4O10) was the base for Egyptian blue, and azurite made a darker blue.

Ores and ancient mines:

    The last throes of Miocene volcanic activity in the Sinai and the Aravah included mineralization by hot solutions enriched in iron and copper. Injected into sandstones in the upper part of the Cambrian Netafim Formation, they formed the turquoise and malachite deposits at Serabit el-Khadem, about 10 km (6 miles) east of Umm Bogma, and Maghara, about 20 km (12 miles) away. Lesser ancient workings occur nearby at Gebel Um Rimna, Wadi Malha, and Wadi Kharit.

Other evidence of an ancient copper industry exists in Jordan near Punon (todays Feinan or Faynan), 35 kilometers (22 miles) north of Petra, and in southeastern Sinai near Senned, Nebk, and Wadi Ramthi. The Punon sites are at Khirbet en-Nahas in the Wadi al-Ghuwayh and at Khirbet Hamra Ifdan in the Wadi Ifdan (Fidan). Nelson Glueck dated the mining and smelting operations at Khirbet en-Nahas (the Copper Ruin) to Solomonic and post-Solomonic times. Thomas Levy and other archeologists of the University of California-San Diego have recently dated the destruction of an older factory complex at Khirbet Hamra to 2700 BC.

The Egyptians began mining turquoise and copper ore in southwest Sinai before 3000 BC, and they drove mine shafts over a hundred feet deep. They also extracted hemt from malachite at Atshan and Maliuki in the Red Sea Hills of Egypt's Eastern Desert.

    The hills of the Holy Land yielded copper ore long before the Exodus. Copper made its first appearance there about 4500 BC, and the hoard of beautifully-cast copper temple treasures found in a cave at Nahal Mishmar, overlooking the southern end of the Dead Sea, points to the presence of a thriving copper smelting and casting industry by at least the middle of the fourth millennium. That copper contains a high level of arsenic that distinguishes it from copper from ores mined in the Aravah at either Feinan, the ancient Punon, or Timnah. Archeologist Amihai Mazar traces its source to Armenia.

    Punon (Feinan), the larger and older mining center, lies on the east side of the Aravah about 82 miles (135 km) north of Eilat, while Timnah lies only 20 miles (32 km) north of Eilat.

    At Timnah, the ores occur as sandstone nodules containing 10 to 50 per cent copper in the form of malachite, a bright green copper carbonate, as well as chalcocite, cuprite, and azurite. The nodules occur at the base of a white sandstone, the Cambrian Timnah Formation, which overlies a weathered vein deposit containing 2% copper in the form of chrysocolla, a hydrated copper silicate, the ore exploited by the modern mining operation at Timnah. Archeologists have identified eleven ancient mining camps in the 60 square kilometer area of Mount Timnah.

    The copper ores near Punon so closely resemble the Timnah ores in their mineralogy and geology that geologists conclude that they originated as a single ore complex. The Pliocene faulting that opened the Gulf of Aqabah and the Rift Valley divided the complex and moved the Punon section nearly 80 km (56 miles) north.

    The mines at Timnah and Punon supplied ores for smelters at Ezion Geber, the largest and most advanced copper works of their time. Nelson Glueck discovered that engineers harnessed the prevailing winds to give their smelters a forced draft. While Glueck initially accepted the traditional interpretation that King Solomon built these smelters, he and later workers now attribute them to Egyptian miners and metalworkers who worked there between 4000 and 1156 BC.

    Copper minerals also occur in Sinai at Abu el-Nimran, Regeita, and Samra. These deposits are vein fillings of chalcocite in metamorphic rock or granite which were precipitated from hot, mineralized brines during the late stages of intrusion of granites. Groundwater and surface weathering have since oxidized the original chalcocite, cuprous sulfide, to cuprite and other copper oxides.

Biblical Background:

    The Israelites may well have passed the Egyptian copper mines in the Sinai, and Dopkah in Numbers 33:12-13 could have been Serabit el Khadem or another Egyptian mining camp in the Sinai. These workings certainly fit the grim description of mining in Job 28:1-11.

    Ezekiel 27:13 alludes to the import of Greek bronze ware.


Audetat, Andreas, Detlef Gunther, & Christopher A. Heinrich, 1998. Formation of a magmatic-hydrothermal ore deposit: Insights with LA-ICP-MS analysis of fluid inclusions. Science; 179: 2091-2094.

Bender, op. cit.; 147-154.

Darling, op. cit.; 47-57.

Glueck, 1959. op. cit.

Los Alamos National Laboratories.

Lucas & Harris, op. cit.; 199-217.

Mazar, op. cit.

Muhly, op. cit.; 1501-1521.

Ozment, op. cit.; 70-79.

Ralph, Jolyon, 1993-2004.

Romano, op. cit.; 1605.

Rothenberg, B., 1978. Timna'. In Ari Yonah, Michael, & Ephraim Stern, eds., Encyclopedia of Archeological Excavations in the Holy Land. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall; IV:1184-1203.

Rybakov et al., 1996. op. cit.

Said, op. cit. 265, 270-271.

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