THE GOLD OF THAT LAND: Biblical Minerals & Rocks  


61.     silver

Hebrew: keceph, silver metal or silver coins. Genesis 13:2, etc.

Greek: arguros, silver metal. Matthew 10:9; Acts 17:29; James 5:3; Revelation 18:12.

The root word also occurs in argurion or silver coin, argureous, made of silver, and argurokopos or silversmith.

Probable Identification: metallic silver.


    Native silver, element 47 in the periodic table, is a minor but widely-occurring source of silver that may occur in hydrothermal vein deposits with other silver ores or as the product of weathering of ore deposits. A fresh surface is silvery with a metallic luster, but it quickly tarnishes black or dark brown. Free-forming crystals may be cubic, dodecahedral, or octahedral, but native silver usually forms branching and arborescent masses of interlocking and malformed crystals or plates, scales, or wire. Native silver is recognizable by its softness, malleability, and ductility.

    Some silver comes from argentite (AgS) and cerargyrite (AgCl), but about 70% of the world's silver has historically come from the sulfide ores of lead, copper, zinc, nickel, arsenic, or antimony. The Silver Institute reports that primary silver mines accounted for 26% of the 1998 world silver output of 545.5 million ounces (15,497 metric tons).

Lead and zinc were probably discovered accidentally as by-products of smelting galena (PbS), cerussite (PbCO3), or sphalerite (ZnS) for their associated silver. Native gold also usually contains at least a trace of silver.


    By about 3500 BC, silver miners had devised a two-step method of extracting silver from lead ores. They first smelted galena under oxidizing conditions or cerussite under reducing conditions to obtain lead. They then extracted silver from the lead bullion by cupellation under strongly oxidizing conditions in a cupel or porous crucible made of bone ash and potsherds. The crude process released toxic lead fumes to the atmosphere. Repeated cupellation also freed the silver of antimony, arsenic, copper, iron, tin, and zinc.

Historical Background:

    All ancient cultures valued silver for jewelry, ornaments, and ceremonial vessels and as a medium of exchange. Mesopotamian cultures associated silver with the moon and a Moon-goddess.

    The use of silver rings and coils as a medium of exchange and investments dates from the third millennium BC, and the Akkadian word for silver became synonymous with money, just as in modern French. The Book of Genesis mentions silver as a medium of exchange seven times. Neither native silver nor silver ores occur in Syria, Palestine, or Egypt, although some Egyptian galena has a nominal content of silver. Silver was so rare in ancient Egypt that the Egyptians valued it above gold and called it nub hetch or "white gold."

    Galena deposits in Greece, Anatolia, Armenia, the Caucasus, and western Asia were the most famous sources of silver in the ancient Middle East. The Greeks worked silver-bearing galena mines at Laurium (the modern Lavrion), southeast of Athens well before 1000 BC, and these mines financed the fleets of Athens during its Golden Age. The Laurium mines were reopened in 1860 for their zinc and manganese ores, and modern processing methods have extracted the remaining lead and silver from ancient mine wastes.

    The Nabateans mined silver in the Arabian peninsula on the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba.

    Two inscribed silver scrolls found in a burial cave at Ketef Hinnom in Jerusalem in 1975 have been dated to the seventh century BC.

    Most of the world's silver today comes from mines in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Peru. About 70% is obtained as a by-product of mining lead, copper, or zinc sulfide deposits. The demand for silver in photography far exceeds its traditional uses in coinage and jewelry. People early in the first millennium BC recognized that silver vessels would keep water, wine, or vinegar fresh longer than any other kind of container. Silver's antibacterial properties make it commercially useful on an increasing scale today for antibacterial products and in disinfecting water. Silverís low strength has historically limited its use in cases where mechanical strength is a consideration, but recent advances in alloying are overcoming this limitation. Silver is now finding more new industrial uses in tableware, electrical and electronic equipment, alloys, chemistry, dentistry, and medicine.

Biblical Background:

    The forty massive silver sockets used in assembling the tabernacle (Exodus 36:24) symbolically represent the firm foundations of Godís plan of redemption. However, silver finds few other uses in worship and the list of precious materials in the Holy City in Revelation 21 omits silver, possibly because of its use as a medium of exchange or its association with the Moon in pagan cultures. The thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas Iscariot, the price of a slave, became a byword for the price of treachery.


Darling, op. cit.; 68-72.

Hurlbut, 1952, op. cit.; 174-175.

_____, 1970, op. cit.; 150-153.

Los Alamos National Laboratories.

Lucas & Harris, op. cit., 245-253.

Muhly, op. cit.; 1501-1521.

Ralph, Jolyon, 1993-2004.

Romano, op. cit.; 1605-1621

Tennisen, op. cit.; 97, 378-379.


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