COPPER, a nonferrous metallic element which occurs in the free metallic state in nature. It was first used, hammered into shape and as a substitute for stone, by Neolithic man during the late Stone Age (c. 8000 b.c.). After c. 6000 b.c. it was discovered that copper could be melted and cast, and as early as 5000 b.c. copper weapons and implements were left in graves in Egypt, for the use of the dead. The discoveries of the relationship of copper to copper-bearing rock and of the reduction of copper ores to metallic copper using fire and charcoal (see Metals and Metallurgy) led to more widespread use. From c. 3700 b.c. onward the copper-tin alloy of bronze (q.v.) has been used.

Cyprus was a major producer of copper c. 3000 b.c., and the island, with its prized copper deposits, was successively controlled by the Egyptians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Persians and Romans. The metal was known to the Romans as aes cyprium (“ore of Cyprus”), subsequently shortened to cyprium and later corrupted to cuprium from which the English name of “copper” is derived. Modern day workings on Cyprus are at Skouriotissa where a large lens of pyrite (iron sulphide) containing 2.1% copper is being mined.

Records have been found of workings of copper mines on the Sinai peninsula about 3800 b.c. and conditions of life in these mines during summer time is given in an inscr. from the reign of Amenemhet III about 1800 b.c. Moses told the Children of Israel of hills from which could be dug copper (Deut 8:9 NEB) and one of the encampments during the forty years of wandering was Dophkah (Num 33:12) which has been regarded as a “smeltery” and identified with Serabit el-Khadem where the Egyptians had mined turquoise (q.v.) and copper from a very early period. The copper deposits of Arabah were exploited by Solomon with smelting of the ore being carried out near Ezion-geber, at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, and in parts of the Jordan valley. Ezion-geber was also the port from which the metal was exported (cf. 1 Kings 9:26-28). Mining was carried out in the vicinity of Feinan and copper ore mineralization occurs for about forty-two m. southward along the eastern side of Wadi Araba. The ore used was a cupriferous sandstone, with the mineralization concentrated in a shallow marine facies of the Quweira Series, which was deposited in Cambrian times c. 550 million years ago. Malachite (q.v.) was one of the ores mined.

Native copper is copper-red in color, is both ductile and malleable and has a density of 8.8. It sometimes occurs in nature as thin sheets or plates, but is often massive. It is commonly associated with other copper ores, sulphides, oxides and carbonates, such as malachite.


N. Glueck, “The other side of the Jordan,” American School of Oriental Research (1940); A. M. Quennell, “The Geology and Mineral Resources of (former) Transjordan,” Colonial Geology and Mineral Research, II (1951) 86-116; A. Butts, “Copper” E Br, 6 (1970) 468-474.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The word is translated "copper" in only one passage (Ezr 8:27 the King James Version). In the American Standard Revised Version of this passage, "brass" has been substituted. Neither describes the actual alloy according to present definitions so well as the word "bronze." Copper was one of the earliest metals to be known and utilized in alloy, but copper, as a single metal, was probably little used. The remains of spears, balances, arms, vases, mirrors, statues, cooking utensils, implements of all kinds, etc., from Bible times are principally of an alloy of copper hardened with tin known today as bronze (see Brass). In such passages as De 8:9, where reference is made to the native metal or ores, "copper" should be substituted for "brass" as in the American Standard Revised Version (compare Job 40:18). This is true also of coins as chalkos, in Mt 10:9.

Our modern English word "copper" is derived from an old name pertaining to the island of Cyprus. Copper was known to the ancients as Cyprian brass, probably because that island was one of the chief sources for this metal. The Sinai peninsula and the mountains of northern Syria also contributed to the ancient world’s supply (see Tell el-Amarna Letters). No evidences of copper ore in any quantity are found in Palestine proper.

See Metal; Mine.

James A. Patch.


The word is found in New Testament once only, in 2Ti 4:14: "Alexander the coppersmith did (margin "showed") me much evil." As the Bible word rendered "copper" (see Ezr 8:27 the King James Version) is translated "brass" by the Revised Version (British and American), so the word here rendered "c." should be rendered "brazier," or "worker in brass."

See Copper.

See also

  • Minerals