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MINERALS. The present science of mineralogy with its names and exact terminology is a young science, younger even than physics, chemistry, astronomy, or mathematics. Mineralogy as a science certainly did not exist at the time the Bible was written. It is impossible to be certain in all cases that when a mineral is named in the Bible it is the same mineral designated by that name in modern mineralogy. The gemstones or precious stones of the Bible are minerals with identities that are presently in a state of uncertainty and confusion. There are, of course, a number of minerals that present no problems. Water is a mineral whose identity we have always been certain about. No one questions the meaning of gold, silver, or iron.
Mineralogists find it somewhat difficult to define the word “mineral,” but its scientific meaning can be clarified by the use of specific examples. A granite boulder belongs to the mineral kingdom as contrasted to the animal or vegetable kingdoms, but it is a rock and not a mineral. It is composed of a number of minerals most of which are of microscopic size. The minerals in granite, visible to the naked eye, are the clear, glassy particles of quartz, one or more of the white or pink feldspars, and the darker biotite or hornblende. Quartz is classified as a mineral for a number of reasons: it is formed in nature, it is not formed by plant or animal, it has a uniform composition throughout the particle, and it always crystallizes in a hexagonal system of crystals. Quartz is always composed of 46.7 percent silicon and 53.3 percent oxygen. Slight amounts of impurities may impart a wide variety of colors. This results in precious stones with different names, such as yellow quartz, which is false topaz or citrine, and purple quartz, which is amethyst. Pure water-clear quartz is rock crystal. Yet these precious stones crystallize into identical hexagonal forms. The chemist may make silicon dioxide in the laboratory, which has the same percentage of silicon and oxygen as that of natural quartz, but it is not a mineral. It does not pass the test of having been formed in nature unattended by man. It is referred to as a synthetic. Alcohol in dilute form was certainly known by the ancients, but it cannot be considered a mineral, since it can be traced back to the sugar present in grapes. Quartz has a definite composition, but this is not a rigorous requirement for all minerals. The biotite or black mica of granite is a mineral that varies somewhat in composition. This mineral contains chiefly the elements hydrogen, potassium, magnesium, iron, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen. Hydrogen and potassium may replace each other in the crystal pattern; they may also interchange. The shape of the crystal remains essentially the same as does the general appearance.
The minerals will be grouped as follows:
I. Precious stones.
III. Common minerals such as salt, sulfur, and water.
I.. The reaction of the human race to beauty and to the things that endure does not change. We share certain criteria with the ancients for evaluating precious stones. There must be beauty of color, transparency, luster, and brilliance. There must be some degree of durability, at least if the gem is to be worn or handled. Selenite, a clear crystalline variety of gypsum, may be beautiful, but it is so soft that it can easily be scratched by the thumbnail. We now use a scale of hardness called the Mohs scale which rates the hardness of gems on the basis of the ease or difficulty of scratching. On this scale the hardness of thumbnail is 2 1/2.
The Mohs Scale of Hardness (H) are 1. Talc, 2. Gypsum, 3. Calcite, 4. Fluorite, 5. Apatite, 6. Orthoclase, 7. Quartz, 8. Topaz, 9. Corundum, 10. Diamond.
The most precious stones are those that have a hardness of 7, 8, 9, and 10. All of these could easily scratch glass, which has a hardness of 5 1/2 to 6. Many of the precious stones of the Bible belong to the quartz or chalcedony family with a hardness of 7. Emerald is a green beryl (H 7 1/2 to 8); topaz has a hardness of 8; the ruby and sapphire, both forms of the mineral corundum, have a hardness of 9.
There are four principal lists of minerals recorded in the Scriptures. They are as follows:
1. The twelve precious stones of Aaron’s breastplate. Each stone represented one of the tribes of Israel (
2. The wisdom of Job (
3. The gems of the king of Tyre (
4. The precious stones of the Holy City (
The precious stones of the Bible are as follows:
A. Agate (ăg'at) (
B. Amethyst (ăm'e*ch-thĭst) (
C. Beryl (bĕr'yl) (
D. Carnelian (kar-nēl'yan) (
E. Chalcedony (kăl-sĕd'ō-nĭ) (
The following are some of the varieties of chalcedony.
1. Agate. Agate is chalcedony with colors unevenly distributed, often banded, with the bands curved. Petrified wood is often a form of agate in which the silicon dioxide has replaced the original wood. Agates are very common and many varieties exist. They have become one of the most popular minerals for cutting and polishing. The moss agates found along the Yellowstone River from Glendive, Montana, to Yellowstone Park are particularly well known. The “thunder eggs” of Idaho and Oregon may look like drab gray stones, but when sawed in two with a diamond saw, they may reveal a center of lovely agate.
2. Carnelian, sard, or sardius. Carnelian is chalcedony with colors usually clear red to brownish red. Iron oxide imparts the color.
3. Chrysoprase. This is an apple-green variety of chalcedony, sometimes called green jaspar. A small percentage of nickel may account for the green color. Beads of genuine chrysoprase dating to 1500 b.c. have been taken from an Egyptian grave.
4. Flint. This is usually a dull gray to black form, not prized or classified as a precious stone, but highly prized by primitive peoples for arrowheads, spear points, skinning knives, etc.
5. Jaspar. Jaspar pebbles may be found in many gravel deposits. The petrified wood of Arizona is largely jaspar. Jaspar is hard, opaque, and takes a beautiful polish. It is sufficiently abundant so that it must have been used by ancient man as a gem stone. Although this gem has many shades, the chief colors are red, yellow, brown, and green. Green jaspar is also known as chrysoprase. The colors largely result from the presence of iron oxide.
6. Onyx. Onyx is similar to banded agates, except that the bands are flat. Specimens are usually cut and polished parallel to the layers. This enables cameo production. Objects of Mexican onyx, beautifully cut and polished and available in a number of Mexican border cities, are really not onyx at all. The composition is calcium carbonate instead of silicon dioxide. A little hydrochloride acid added to Mexican onyx will cause effervescence, whereas all forms of silica react to this negatively.
7. Sardonyx. Sardonyx is merely onyx that includes layers of carnelian or sard.
G. Chrysoprase (krĭs'ō-prāz) (
H. Coral. (
When the writer of Job speaks of the priceless value of wisdom, he compares it to a number of precious stones and metals. One of these is coral. The inclusion of coral, which grows in the sea, is difficult to understand on the basis of modern classifications of precious stones. This indicates that in the ancient world other factors were taken into account in the classification of gem stones. Factors that contributed to the value of coral probably included its beauty; its use in the production of jewelry, creating an economic demand for it; and its workability.
In Ezekiel, coral is associated with turquoise and ruby.
I. Crystal (
J. Emerald (
K. Flint (
L. Jacinth (jā’sĭnth) (
M. Jaspar (
N. Lapis lazuli (lăp'ĭs lăz'ū-lī). (niv margin for sapphire in OT.) The lapis lazuli is a gem of deep azure-blue. It is a soft stone composed of sodium aluminum silicate. It was fashioned by the ancients into various types of ornaments (see Sapphire).
In three of the references given above, there is a strong implication that the mineral referred to was blue (
In Lamentations sapphire is linked to ruby, the other highly prized form of corundum.
S. Sardonyx (sar-dŏn'ĭks) (
T. Topaz (tō'păz) (
The topaz was the second stone of the first row of the priest’s breastplate and is listed as the ninth foundation stone of the Holy City.
U. Turquoise (tûr'koiz) (
II. Metals. Of the 103 elements now known to man, 78 are metals. Of these only gold, silver, iron, copper, lead, tin, and mercury were known to the ancients. A metal is an element with a metallic luster; it is usually a good conductor of heat and electricity. Metals such as gold, silver, and copper may occur in nature as the free recognizable metal, or as is true of most metals, they may occur in compound form, chemically united with other elements in such a way that the ore appears dull and nonmetallic.
Metallurgy is the science of separating the metal from its ore and the subsequent refining and treating for adapting it to its many and varied uses. The earliest reference to a man skilled in iron and bronze work is to Tubal-Cain in
Human progress in metal working has provided anthropologists and archaeologists with a chronological structure for dating various periods in ancient history. This structure includes the Chalcolithic, or Copper Age (4000-3000 b.c.), the Bronze Age (3000-1200), and the Iron Age (1200-586). There is, of course, much overlapping, and none of these ages has really ended. In fact, when one considers the tonnages used, it should be apparent that we are still living in the Iron or Steel Age.
The metals mentioned in the Bible are as follows:
A. Bronze. A metal alloy composed of varying amounts of copper and tin. It is generally believed that bronze had its origin in Mesopotamia. The discovery and production of bronze marked a turning point in human history because of its degree of hardness. The softer copper, which continued to be used for some purposes, was replaced to a great extent by bronze in the production of utilitarian objects. However, nails, knives, statuettes, and other objects continued to be made of pure copper far into the Bronze Age. Cyprus bronze usually contained from 2 to 4 percent tin, while a cup from Nineveh, dated about 1000 b.c., tested over 18 percent tin.
In Hebrew the same word refers to both bronze and pure copper, doubtless because of their similarity. The KJV uses the word brass, which at the time of its writing denoted any alloy of copper.
B. Copper. Copper is a heavy, reddish-yellow metal. It is frequently found on or near the surface of the ground. Its malleability and accessibility account for its being one of the first metals to be used by early man.
Pliny claimed that copper was found first on the island of Cyprus. He also indicated that it was sometimes alloyed with silver and gold.
In the Bible the presence of copper ore in Canaan is cited as one of the benefits of that land (
C. Gold. Gold was used freely and skillfully in the oldest of civilizations. A multitude of gold ornaments in the museums of the world verify this. The earliest evidence of gold mining may be found in rock carvings of Egypt, depicting the washing of gold sands and the melting of gold in a small furnace. This went back to at least 2500 b.c. Strabo describes the country of the Iberians (Spain) as full of metal such as gold, silver, copper, and iron. He tells of mining gold by digging for it in the usual way and also by washing for it (hydraulic mining). Pliny the Elder accurately described the occurrence of placer gold in stream beds, including the finding of nuggets. He also described the process of hydraulic mining. He claimed that a river was brought from a distance and from the heights, with enough fall to wash away whole mountain sides, leaving the gold in sluice baffles. Most surprising of all, Pliny described in some detail the use of mercury to capture the gold from the ore by amalgamation.
Gold is mentioned very early in the Bible (
Why has man valued gold so highly? Why is gold good? Gold is good and highly prized because it is warmly beautiful. It is enduring, for it never rusts or dissolves away. It retains its beauty. Of the common acids, only a mixture of concentrated nitric and hydrochloric acids (aqua regia) will dissolve it. Strong acid alone will have no effect. Pliny mentions gold as the only metal unharmed by fire. In fact Pliny said each time it went through a fire it came out better or more refined than before. Gold is good because it is so adaptable to shaping. It can be melted without harm; it can be hammered into thin leaves because it is extremely malleable. It may easily overlay large objects thus imparting beauty and protection to the whole. It may readily be alloyed with other metals with an improvement of the degree of hardness while still retaining the beauty of gold. In fact Pliny noted correctly that gold comes naturally alloyed with silver. Finally gold has been valued because of its scarcity. It seems reasonable to presume that if the core of the earth is largely iron, the free metals such as gold, platinum, and even cobalt and nickel have been depleted to a great extent because they have dissolved in this core.
Gold is also mentioned at the end of the Bible in
There are so many references to gold in the Bible that one must use a concordance to find them all.
When the writer of Job asks where wisdom can be found (
D. Iron. In spite of advances in the use of light metals such as aluminum, magnesium, and beryllium, we are still living in the Iron Age. No other metal rivals iron in the amount produced. The reason for this is that iron ores, chiefly the oxides and carbonates, are abundant in concentrated deposits, the metal is easily won from the ore and varies over a wide range in its properties. By removing impurities, by heat treatment, and by alloying, the strength, hardness, ductility, malleability, resistance to corrosion, appearance, and retention of temper may be varied.
Iron does not occur free in nature. When it is so found it is on such a minute scale that it may be considered a curiosity. Terrestrial-free iron is very likely secondary, having been formed from regular ores by hot carbon or carbon-containing materials, a process that is carried out in blast furnaces today. It is clear that ancient man found meteoric iron and shaped it for utilitarian purposes. Iron beds taken from a grave in Egypt dating from about 4000 b.c. contain a nickel analysis corresponding favorably to that of meteorites. In fact, the Egyptians and people of other cultures referred to iron as the metal from heaven. In ancient religious literature the Egyptians claimed that the firmament of heaven was made of iron. An iron object dating to about 3000 was blasted out of the masonry at the top of the Great Pyramid of Gizeh and is now in the British Museum. No one knows who first discovered the way to reduce iron from ore in a furnace. Evidently the discovery was made in the undetermined past. Egyptian frescoes dated at about 1500 depict small furnaces with men operating bellows or mouth blowpipes. This is the essential principle of the modern blast furnace. The first reference to iron in the Bible is found in
The bed of Og, the Amorite king of Bashan, was made of iron (
The Israelites feared the Canaanites because they had iron chariots (
The spear shaft of Goliath weighed six hundred shekels (roughly fifteen pounds) (
There is ample evidence that many types of fetters and other implements for binding captives and slaves were made of iron. In addition to these references the term is used in a figurative sense (
Pliny in his thirty-fifth book of natural history discusses the working of iron at considerable length. He introduces his discussion with this comment: “Iron serves as the best and the worst of the apparatus of life, inasmuch as with it we plough the ground, plant trees, trim the trees...with it we build houses and quarry rocks, and we employ it for all other useful purposes, but we likewise use it for wars and slaughter and brigandage.” His further discourses are reminiscent of
E. Lead. Free metallic lead is extremely rare. The chief ore is lead sulfide (galena), which often occurs as bright glistening clusters of cubic crystals. The metal is readily obtained from the ore and was known long before it came into common usage. The British Museum had a lead figure of Egyptian origin dated at about 3000 b.c. Lead plates and statuettes have been found in Egyptian tombs of 1200.
References to lead in the Scriptures are as follows:
The high density of lead is noted in
F. Silver. At the present time much more silver is obtained as a by-product of the refining of copper and lead than by mining native silver or silver ore. The methods used in this refining were not available to the Hebrews, since it requires the extensive use of electricity, cyanide, zinc, and aluminum. However, silver is ten times as abundant in the crust of the earth as is gold, and much of it was mined by the ancients. Pliny says, “Silver is only found in deep shafts, and raises no hopes of its existence by any signs, giving off no shining sparkles such as are seen in the case of gold.” He describes its use for making mirrors and notes that, “the property of reflecting is marvelous; it is generally agreed that it takes place owing to the repercussion of the air which is thrown back into the eyes.”
The shekel and talent of silver were used as mediums of exchange. At first this was done by weighing out the silver pieces. This is apparent in
Silver was used in conjunction with gold because of its beauty. A great many references to silver and gold are found in the Bible. Only occasionally are the terms reversed as in
Many objects made of silver are referred to in the Scriptures. The cup that Joseph had hidden in Benjamin’s sack of food was a silver cup (
III. The Common Minerals.
A. Alabaster (
B. Glass (
C. Marble (
D. Salt. Salt is extremely abundant. The evaporation of one cubic mile of sea water would leave approximately 140 million tons of salts, most of which would be sodium chloride or common salt. The “salt sea” of the Bible was no doubt the Dead Sea. In most of the many references to salt, either the preservative property or else the savor it adds to food is the point of interest. Jesus states that the children of the kingdom are the salt of the earth (
E. Soda (
In the Bible sulphur is nearly always associated with fire and metaphorically with punishment or devastation. No natural product readily available to the ancients would so completely symbolize the awful punishment to be meted out to the wicked. The flame of burning sulphur is very hot, and the sulfur dioxide gas has a suffocating stench. Hot sulfur eventually turns to a bubbling, dark red, sticky liquid.
G. Water. This is the most marvelous and exciting mineral of the Bible. Every modern textbook of mineralogy includes a section on the oxides of nature such as those of silicon, copper, iron, aluminum, etc., but hydrogen oxide heads the list. This extremely abundant mineral is found either in liquid or in solid forms, such as snow and ice. There are more references to this mineral in the Bible than to any other.
As a chemical it is an unusual compound with unusual properties. When it freezes to ice it expands so that it floats. The chemist accounts for most of its odd properties by explaining that hydrogen bonds form between oxygen atoms holding particles together in a framework. Were it not for these hydrogen bonds water would boil away at 150 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.
In the Bible the chaotic condition that existed before God formed the earth is described as a watery mass. Water was important for various ceremonies of washing found in Leviticus. Elaborate cisterns and water systems may be found at the sites of certain ancient cities in Israel. The importance of water for life is reflected in its metaphorical usage, such as the water of life in
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)