1. zâhâb, something a shimmering yellow in color, gold. "The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there." Genesis 2:4. The word zâhâb appears 342 times in the Old Testament.
2. dehab. "He even removed from the temple of Babylon the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadrezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to the temple in Babylon." Ezra 5:14, occurs 23 times.
3. betzer, gold hoard. "... assign your nuggets to the dust, your gold of Ophir to the rocks in the ravines, ..." Job 22:24.
4. segôwr. "It cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed in silver." Job 28:15.
5. kethem, pure or fine gold. "It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir, with precious onyx or sapphires." Job 28:16, 19, 31:24; Psalm 45:9; Proverbs 25:12; Isaiah 13:12; Lamentations 4:1; Daniel 10:5.
6. pâz, pure or fine gold. "Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it, nor can it be had for jewels of gold." Job 28:17, 31:24; Psalm 19:10, 21:3, 119:127; Song of Songs 5:11 & 15; Isaiah 13:12; Lamentations 4:2.
7. châruts, pure or fine gold. Psalm 68:13; Proverbs 3:14, 16:16; Zechariah 9:3.
8. madhêbâh, city of gold. Isaiah 14:4.
Greek: chrusos, chrusion, chruseos, gold, golden, or a golden article. The three forms of chrusos occur 40 times altogether. "The street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass." Revelation 21:21.
Arabic: tzahab, dhahab
Gold, number 79 in the periodic table of elements, probably attracted human attention well over 20,000 years ago, before copper, because, although scarcer, its occurrence as a native metal, its bright yellow color, malleability, ductility, and resistance to chemical changes make it attractive, simple to recover, and easy to fashion into ornaments. Gold is the most malleable and ductile of metals, and a single ounce can be beaten into a sheet of 300 square feet.
Single gold crystals are octahedral, but gold crystals usually form flattened arborescent and dendritic intergrowths. Gold in vein deposits occurs mostly as finely divided and well-dispersed flakes. Most gold occurs as a native metal in either primary gold-quartz veins (or "reefs") of hydrothermal origin in granitic and associated metamorphic rocks or in secondary placer deposits derived from the weathering of these host rocks. The gold may originate with magmas in the earth's mantle, or hydrothermal solutions may extract it from crustal rocks.
Gold nuggets in placer deposits are lumps and even masses of vein gold that have been eroded from their veins and moved by streams. The largest surviving gold nugget is the 36 kg (79 pounds) "Big Triangle" in the collection of the Russian State Depository. The largest recorded nugget was the 78 kg (172 pound) "Welcome Stranger," found in 1869 at Black Head, Victoria, Australia.
A small fraction of gold occurs in contact metamorphosed deposits, the telluride minerals calaverite (AuTe2) and sylvanite [(Au,Ag)Te2], or electrum, a natural alloy of gold and 20 to 50% silver. Electrum is harder than pure gold and withstands wear better. The mining and refining of base metals such as copper yields much gold today as a by-product.
Ancient goldsmiths learned to remove copper and other metals from native gold by cupellation or repeated meltings in a clay vessel in an oxidizing atmosphere. Lydian goldsmiths in the sixth century BC, the time of King Croesus, learned to separate silver from gold alloy by adding salt to a molten mixture. Salt frees gaseous chlorine to react with iron compounds in the clay crucibles, producing ferric chloride gas. The ferric chloride reacts with silver to form silver chloride, which passes through the crucible into the furnace, leaving behind gold with less than 2 percent silver.
Gold does not occur in the Holy Land, Syria, or Mesopotamia. Ancient Egyptians, who perfected every method of working gold and believed nub was the blood of the Sun-god and the flesh of other gods, mined "gold of Coptos" in the eastern desert near Wadi Hammamat and Wadi Abad, "gold of Wawat" at no less than 45 locations in the Red Sea Hills of Egypt's eastern desert around Wadi Allaqi and Wadi Cabgaba, and "gold of Kush" along the Nile valley from Wadi Halfa to Kerma in Sudan. They recognized several grades of purity of nub and called the finest katam. The small size of most ancient workings suggests that the total quantity of gold extracted in Pharonic times was limited. However, Pharonic miners knew their job so well that they left practically nothing for modern prospectors to glean. The Turin papyrus, one of the world's earliest known maps, shows a gold-bearing area of Wadi Hammamet in the eastern desert. The Egyptians forced prisoners and slave laborers to dig as deep as 300 feet for gold-bearing quartz and to crush it by hand.
Delfour reports that the most extensive gold (of Coptos) deposits in the Red Sea Hills occur on the west flank of a granite-cored uplift in lenticular quartz veins up to 1,500 m long. The veins are injected into either a complex of Precambrian metamorphic rocks or the roots of a granitic intrusion. Gold-bearing quartz veins at the El Sid mine are about 90 m long, 30 to 55 cm thick, and extend 50 to 150 m deep. They contain about 11 to 29 grams gold per metric ton (0.35 to 0.9 oz/ton) with up to 22% silver. In comparison, the world’s largest gold deposit, the Rand of South Africa, averages 12 grams per metric ton. Egyptian gold usually contains 16% or more silver. Much had over 20% silver, which forms a natural white alloy known as electrum that the Egyptians at first thought was another metal, tcham. Gold occurs as fine particles irregularly dispersed through vein sulfide minerals including pyrite, sphalerite, galena, chalcopyrite, arsenopyrite, and rare stibnite.
Recent investigations in the Red Sea Hills of northeastern Sudan have revealed gold (of Wawat) mineralization associated with copper and zinc sulfides in belts of metamorphosed Late Precambrian basalts and andesites. Gold and barite occur in oxidized and silicified ironstones that replace crushed and altered andesites. Bakheit and Matheis report gold assays of 13 to 52.4 grams per metric ton and a maximum of 443 grams. They conclude that these deposits originated as seafloor hydrothermal systems comparable to gold-bearing areas around hot springs on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Explorer Ridge in the Pacific Ocean.
The Hebrews knew that gold came from Havilah (Genesis 2:11), Ophir (1 Kings 9:28), and Uphaz (Jeremiah 10:9). Adventurers have sought the forgotten site of King Solomon's mines, the biblical Ophir, in India, south Arabia, and central and southern Africa. Geologists of the U.S. Geological Survey and Saudi Arabian Directorate General of Mineral Resources, who investigated the ancient Mahd adh Dhahab or "Cradle of Gold" mining district between Mecca and Medina from 1972 to 1975, concluded that it is a more realistic candidate for the site of King Solomon's mines. 1 Kings 4:10 records that Solomon's expeditions, financed by his copper industry, brought him a total of 1,086 talents or about 30,950 kg of gold. The U.S.-Saudi team reported that the size of the ancient workings, the largest in Saudi Arabia, the volume of waste rock, and analyses of old workings and wastes support the hypothesis that Mahd adh Dhahab produced over 31 metric tons of gold in ancient times. Farra and Spencer illustrate samples from Madh adh Dhahab that contain finely disseminated gold telluride in association with pyrite and chalcopyrite in quartz veins cutting volcanic rhyolite. The site is accessible from Solomon's port of Ezion Geber in the Gulf of Aqaba.
Gold has served as a medium of exchange for probably well over five millennia. Gold ingots and rings appeared first, and weighing them made a business transactions a ceremonious affair until the introduction of gold shekels in the Middle East, late in the second half of the second millennium BC. Shekels were simple gold pieces that weighed a standard 11.3 grams. The first coins followed about 620 BC. They were actually small disks of electrum, a pale yellow alloy with 55 percent gold and 45 percent silver, and their inscriptions defined their value and guaranteed their gold content. Despite recent reductions, the Gold Institute estimates that central banks and governments still hold about 33,500 tons or two thirds of all gold as monetary reserves.
The world's gold production was 2,541 tons in 1998 and 2,576 tons in 1999. Industrial uses of gold include jewelry, art objects, gold leaf and plating, electronics, and reflective plate glass. The electronics industry worldwide now consumes more than 150 tons of gold annually. Dentistry and medicine have also used gold to a limited extent since early times, but the development of entirely new medical and pharmacological applications is in progress. Certain gold compounds have light emission properties that make them potentially useful in sensors for detecting genetic diseases.
Experiments with a catalyst consisting of carbon-supported gold nanocrystals have found that it selectively oxidizes alkenes into commercial organic compounds without generating toxic byproducts. This development raises prospects for using gold as a catalyst on an industrial scale in pollution-free chemical processes.
Such a development would present an overdue contrast with the ancient legacy of pollution caused by gold mining.
Gold mining and the use of mercury or cyanide to extract it from its ores have ravaged goldfields worldwide, ruining rivers at a fearsome cost in environmental damage and public health. The success of polluters in evading payment for the environmental cost of their operations has reached the point that environmental leaders increasingly conclude that gold mining has become unsustainable and unnecessary.
The value and physical properties of gold made it the usual point of reference for comparing things of value. Numerous texts in the Psalms (e.g., Psalm 19:10) and Proverbs (e.g., Proverbs 3:14) place a higher value on wisdom than gold. The Apostle Peter valued faith even more than gold (1 Peter 1:7).
The refining of gold and silver to remove base metals and other impurities inspired famous biblical pictures of divine testing and purging (e.g., Proverbs 17:3; Malachi 3:2-3). Such pictures are implicit in the apostle Paul’s explanation of why Christians can rejoice in their sufferings (Romans 5:1-5).
Audetat, op. cit.: 2091-2094.
Bakheit, A.K., & G. Matheis, 1993. Gold-productive volcanogenic sulphide mineralization in the Ariab Belt, Red Sea Hills/Sudan. In Thorweihe, Ulf, & Heinz Schandelmeier, eds. Geoscientific Research In Northeast Africa. Rotterdam: A.A. Balkema; 533-540.
Bernstein, Peter L., 2000. The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession. New York: J. Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 432 p.
Canby, op. cit.; 1673-1682.
Delfour, J., 1976. Comparitive Study of Mineralization in the Nubian and Arabian Shields. Jiddah: Directorate General of Mineral Resources Bulletin 15, 15-16.
Farra, Octave, & Christopher Spencer, 1986. Mineral Wealth of Saudi Arabia. London: Immel Publishing; 73-75.
Hurlbut, 1952, op. cit.; 171-174.
Los Alamos National Laboratories. http://periodic.lanl.gov/elements/79.html
Lucas & Harris, op. cit.; 224-235.
Muhly, op. cit.; 1501-1521.
Ralph, Jolyon, 1993-1994. http://www.mindat.org/min-1720.html
Romano, op. cit.; 1605-1621.
Said, op. cit.; 264.
The Gold Institute. http://www.goldinstitute.org
Whiteman, A.J., 1971. The Geology of the Sudan Republic. Oxford: Clarendon Press; 217-218, fig. 83.
Copyright 2004, 2005, 2006 by Richard S. Barnett, Virtual Curator of