LEAD (Heb. עֹפֶ֫רֶת, H6769; LXX μόλυβρον), a metal which is very soft, more than eleven times as dense as water (cf. Exod 15:10), fusible with a melting point of 327oC and forms alloys with silver (cf. Ezek 22:18, 20) and tin (solder). It can be inlaid to form letters (cf. Job 19:24), or patterns, particularly when heated, as above 300oC it is plastic. If perfectly pure, lead is silvery white in color. However, the metal is usually gray to bluish gray. Native lead is of rare occurrence. The main ore is galena (lead sulphide) which usually is found associated with minerals of zinc and generally contains up to 0.1 percent silver. Most workable lead deposits occur as veins or lodes cutting across or replacing sedimentary rocks, particularly limestone and dolomite.

The discovery of lead antedates recorded history. It is produced from lead ore simply by roasting in an oxidizing atmosphere and it is possible that this was the first metallurgical process practiced by man. Lead coins were used in ancient Egyp. times as was lead in the glazing of pottery and the making of solder. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were floored by lead sheets soldered together to retain moisture.

The Phoenicians worked the lead deposits of Rio Tinto, Spain and traded in the metal (Ezek 27:12), possibly from Cornwall (q.v. tin) as well as from Spain. In Gr. times lead was mined and smelted at Laurion, Greece, and by the time of the Rom. civilization, the use of lead was widespread.


J. R. Partington, A Textbook of Inorganic Chemistry, 6th ed. (1950), 833, 834; R. L. Dodd, “Lead Industry,” Collier’s Encyclopedia, 14 (1964), 401-404.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Lead was one of the first metals to be used in the free state, probably because it was so easily obtained from its ores. Lead was found in ancient times in Egypt and the Sinaitic peninsula. There is no lead found in Palestine proper, but in Northern Syria and Asia Minor it occurs in considerable quantities, usually associated with silver. These sources no doubt furnished an important supply in Bible times. It was also brought by the Phoenicians from Spain (Tarshish) (Eze 27:12) and the British Isles.

Lead was used, as it still is, all along the Mediterranean shores for sinkers. Pieces of Egyptian fishnets probably dating from 1200 BC are now preserved in the British Museum, with their lead sinkers still attached. Since lead was the heaviest metal known to the ancients, gold excepted, it was generally used for fish-lines and sounding lines (compare Ac 27:28), especially in the dense waters of the Mediterranean. Moses mentioned the sinking qualities of lead in the sea in his simile of the sinking of Pharaoh’s hosts "as lead in the mighty waters" (Ex 15:10).

Lead was used by the ancients for binding stones together. In most of the ancient ruins of Syria the Arabs have dug holes at the seams between stones in walls and columns in order to remove the iron, bronze, or lead thus used. In the museum of the Syrian Protestant College, Beirut, there are several specimens of cast-lead sarcophagi dating from the time of Christ.

See Metals; Refiner.

James A. Patch

See also

  • Minerals