Gold is widely distributed in the earth’s crust, but generally only in small amounts, with the average proportion in the crust being one part per thousand million. It is found in various igneous rocks, particularly those containing quartz, and their metamorphic derivatives, including the Precambrian Aqaba Granite Complex which occurs on either side of the Red Sea and from which much of the sedimentary rocks of the Holy Lands were derived. Gold also occurs in many such sedimentary rocks, particularly those resulting from deposition in river channels and along old shore lines. The gold used in ancient times largely or entirely came from alluvial deposits. These occur on the slopes of hills not too far distant from the source of gold-bearing veins or as sands and gravels deposited by rivers in regions with auriferous bed rock; e.g. rich gold deposits were known in the valley of the River Pactolus in Lydia, Asia Minor. In such deposits, the gold is separated from the sand and gravel using a current of water which carries off the particles of lower density leaving the high-density gold flakes, which sink. The gold is then separated from any remaining material by amalgamation with mercury. The gold-mercury amalgam is then heated to vaporize the mercury leaving a crude bullion (see Metals and Metallurgy).
Even in pre-dynastic times the Egyptians made use of gold to embellish stone vessels and to make the handles of flint knives. The washing of gold ores is depicted on Egypt. monuments of the 1st dynasty (2900 b.c.) with gold occurring in Egypt between the Nile and the Red Sea (Mine, Mining, q.v.). Gold also occurs in Arabia (Gen 2:11; cf. 1 Kings 10:2) and was imported by Solomon from Ophir (1 Kings 10:11). While this locality is often considered to be in Arabia, in the time of Solomon it was thought of as an overseas Eldorado (cf. Ps 45:9; Isa 13:12) to which joint Heb.-Phoen. expeditions sailed in the “ships of Tarshish.” Punt in Somaliland, Zimbabwe in Rhodesia and Surparaka in India have been suggested as possible locations. Rich gold deposits were also known in ancient times in Lydia, in the lands of the Aegean and in Persia. Later, deposits were worked in Italy, Sardinia and Spain while in the time of the Rom. empire the chief source of supply appears to have been Transylvania.
E. S. Dana, A Textbook of Mineralogy, 4th ed. (revised by W. E. Ford) (1932), 401-403; J. R. Partington, A Text-book of Inorganic Chemistry, 6th ed. (1950), 745-747; E. M. Blaiklock (ed.), The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Atlas (1969), 438-443; R. D. Barnett, “Ophir,” E Br 16 (1970), 991, 992.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
No metal has been more frequently mentioned in Old Testament writings than gold, and none has had more terms applied to it. Among these terms the one most used is zahabh. The Arabic equivalent, dhahab, is still the common name for gold throughout Palestine, Syria and Egypt. With zahabh frequently occur other words which, translated, mean "pure" (Ex 25:11), "refined" (1Ch 28:18), "finest" (1Ki 10:18), "beaten" (1Ki 10:17), "Ophir" (Ps 45:9).
The late origin of the geological formation of Palestine and Syria precludes the possibility of gold being found in any quantities (see Metals), so that the large quantities of gold used by the children of Israel in constructing their holy places was not the product of mines in the country, but was from the spoil taken from the inhabitants of the land (Nu 31:52), or brought with them from Egypt (Ex 3:22). This gold was probably mined in Egypt or India (possibly Arabia), and brought by the great caravan routes through Arabia to Syria, or by sea in the ships of Tyre (1Ki 10:11,22; Eze 27:21,22). There is no doubt about the Egyptian sources. The old workings in the gold-bearing veins of the Egyptian desert and the ruins of the buildings connected with the mining and refining of the precious metal still remain. This region is being reopened with the prospect of its becoming a source of part of the world’s supply. It might be inferred from the extensive spoils in gold taken from the Midianites (œ100,000 HDB, under the word) that their country (Northwestern Arabia) produced gold. It is more likely that the Midianites had, in turn, captured most of it from other weaker nations. The tradition that Northwestern Arabia is rich in gold still persists. Every year Moslem pilgrims, returning from Mecca by the Damascus route, bring with them specimens of what is supposed to be gold ore. They secure it from the Arabs at the stopping-places along the route. Samples analyzed by the writer have been iron pyrites only. No gold-bearing rock has yet appeared. Whether these specimens come from the mines mentioned by Burton (The Land of Midian Revisited) is a question.
(1) The use of gold as the most convenient way of treasuring wealth is mentioned above.
(3) Making and decorating objects in connection with places of worship: In the description of the building of the ark and the tabernacle in Ex 25 ff, we read of the lavish use of gold in overlaying wood and metals, and in shaping candlesticks, dishes, spoons, flagons, bowls, snuffers, curtain clasps, hooks, etc. (one estimate of the value of gold used is œ90,000; see HDB). In 1Ki 6 ff; 1Ch 28 f; 2Ch 1 ff are records of still more extensive use of gold in building the temple.
James A. Patch