THE GOLD OF THAT LAND: Biblical Minerals & Rocks  


42.     lead 

Hebrew: 'ôphereth, dusty colored metal. Exodus 15:10; Numbers 31:22; Job 19:24; Jeremiah 6:29; Ezekiel 22:18, 20; 27:12; Zechariah 5:7, 8.


    Lead is a dull grey, soft, heavy metallic element, number 82 in the periodic table, which melts at 327oC. Native lead is a rarity that may occur in metamorphosed limestones or as nuggets in gold placer deposits. Lead’s principal ore is galena (PbS), which occurs as isometric cubic crystals with a bright metallic luster in vein deposits around igneous intrusions. Associated vein minerals include pyrite, quartz, fluorite, calcite, sphalerite, marcasite, chalcopyrite, cerussite, anglesite, and silver ores or zinc ores. Secondary lead ores form in the weathered zone of galena deposits and include cerussite, anglesite, phosgenite, pyromorphite, mimetite, vanadinite, crocoite, and wulfenite.

Historical Background:

    The earliest metallic lead artifacts were found in Iraq in the sixth millennium levels of Yarim Tepe and the fifth millennium site of Arpachiyeh. The ancient Egyptians used powdered galena in kohl from Predynastic times onward, and they used lead oxides in pigments. They mined galena at Gebel Rosa, Ranga, Safaga Bay, Zug el Bahr, and Um Reig. Egyptian lead was probably a by-product of mining and smelting silver ores, but they nonetheless learned to use tchhet as roof sheathing, in figurines, weights and sinkers, and ornaments, and to lower the melting point of copper alloys. Their earliest lead artifacts date from the fourth millennium. The Mesopotamians used lead for the cores of statues and figurines, and they made lead sheeting, vessels, weights, and piping.

    The Romans kept thousands of slaves at work in the lead mines of Greece and Spain, and they used lead as roofing for public buildings, plumbing and plummets, clamping masonry, and toy soldiers. Roman plumbers made lead pipes 30 to 40 mm in diameter by folding 5 mm sheet lead around a core and soldering the joints and seams with lead. They also used lead fluxes in glass and acetate and lead salts to preserve wine and improve the flavor of inferior wines--practices that induced lead poisoning and exacerbated the irrational tendencies of their rulers.

    Lead salts were used in pigments for paints until recently despite their toxicity. Orange and red-orange paints used minium (Pb3O4) or "red lead,” and white paints used white lead oxide until the introduction of superior white pigments based on zinc oxide, titanium oxide, and barium sulfate.

    Zechariah 5:7 alludes to the use of lead in standard weights and measures, as defined in Ezekiel 45:10-15.

    Contemporary uses of lead include storage batteries, pigments, sheathing for cables, X-radiation shielding, solder, pewter, and glass and ceramics. Recent recognition of the effects of lead poisoning has resulted in bans on lead plumbing and shot, and on lead-based paints and pigments.

    Pewter, an alloy of tin and lead, was known to the Egyptians.



Darling, op. cit.; 68-69.

Hurlbut, 1952, op. cit.; 192.

Los Alamos National Laboratories.

Lucas & Harris, op. cit.; 243-244.

Moorey, op. cit.; 294-297.

Muhly, op. cit.; 1501-1521.

Jolyon, Ralph, 1993-2004.

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