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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.

II. Metals.

III. Common minerals such as salt, sulfur, and water.

I. Precious Stones. 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 (Exod.28.17-Exod.28.20; Exod.39.10-Exod.39.13).

2. The wisdom of Job (Job.28.16-Job.28.19). Listed are onyx, sapphire, crystal, coral, jaspar, ruby, and topaz.

3. The gems of the king of Tyre (Ezek.28.13). Listed are ruby, topaz, emerald, chrysolite, onyx, jaspar, sapphire, turquoise, and beryl.

4. The precious stones of the Holy City (Rev.21.18-Rev.21.21). There is a precious stone for each of twelve foundations.

The precious stones of the Bible are as follows:

A. Agate (ăg'at) (Exod.28.19; Exod.39.12). This member of the chalcedony family is described under Chalcedony. It was the second stone in the third row of the priest’s breastplate.

B. Amethyst (ăm'e*ch-thĭst) (Exod.28.19; Exod.39.12; Rev.21.20). A purple to blue-violet form of quartz. This is one of the loveliest forms of quartz, and there is general agreement that the amethyst of the Bible is our present amethyst. The LXX translates the term by amethystos (amethyst). Natural cubic crystals of fluorite in transparent blues and purples match amethyst for beauty, but this mineral has a hardness of only 4 and is easily split by the tap of a knife blade. Amethyst was the third stone of the third row of the priest’s breastplate and will be the twelfth of the foundation stones of the Holy City.

C. Beryl (bĕr'yl) (Exod.28.17; Exod.39.10; Ezek.28.13; Rev.21.20). A beryllium aluminum silicate. It is now mined and valued as a source of beryllium, a light metal unknown until a.d. 1828. A single crystal taken from the Black Hills of South Dakota weighed as much as seventy-five tons. Gem varieties include yellow or golden beryl; emerald, which is a highly prized translucent to transparent sea-green stone; aquamarine, which is blue; and morganite, a rose-red variety. Beryl was the third stone in the top row of the priest’s breastplate, and will be the eighth of the foundation stones of the Holy City.

D. Carnelian (kar-nēl'yan) (Rev.4.3; Rev.21.20). (See carnelian under Chalcedony.) Carnelian is also known as sard or sardius. (See Sardius.) It is to be the sixth foundation stone of the Holy City.

E. Chalcedony (kăl-sĕd'ō-nĭ) (Rev.21.19). The third foundation stone of the Holy City. Quartz and chalcedony are both composed of silicon dioxide, but chalcedony does not crystallize into the bold hexagonal forms taken by quartz. Any crystalline character that the various forms of chalcedony have is of microscopic size. The lighter colored varieties are named chalcedony in contrast to such names as carnelian and jaspar.

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) (Rev.21.20). (See under Chalcedony.) The tenth foundation stone of the Holy City.

H. Coral. (Job.28.18; Ezek.27.16). Although coral has its origin in the animal world, it is considered here because it is included along with gem stones in the Bible, and gem coral is used in the production of jewelry today.

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 (Job.28.17; Rev.4.6; Rev.21.11; Rev.22.1). In the OT the word “crystal” is derived from a verb that means “bright,” “pure.” In the NT it is derived from the word for “ice” and thus connotes a mineral that is bright and transparent. It is generally understood to refer to glass or clear quartz. This type of quartz is remarkably brilliant and beautifully shaped, even as it is found in nature. However, the word could connote other brilliant colorless minerals. The Book of Job says that wisdom cannot compare with it. It is used in Revelation to depict the brilliance of the objects with which it is compared, such as the “sea” of glass (Rev.4.6), the Holy City (Rev.21.11), and the water of life (Rev.22.1).

J. Emerald (Exod.28.18; Exod.39.11; Ezek.28.13; Rev.4.3; Rev.21.19). The emerald is a transparent to translucent deep green form of beryl (beryllium aluminum silicate). The meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain. It is probably derived from a root that means “to hammer” and may refer to the hardness of this gem. The Greek word connotes a light green gem and is almost certainly the emerald. The emerald was the last stone in the second row of the priest’s breastplate and is listed as the fourth foundation stone of the Holy City.

K. Flint (Exod.4.25; Josh.5.2-Josh.5.3; Isa.5.28; Isa.50.7; Jer.17.1; Ezek.3.9; Zech.7.12). (See under Chalcedony.) In all its occurrences in the Bible the emphasis is on its hardness and its ability to hold a sharp edge.

L. Jacinth (jā’sĭnth) (Exod.28.19; Exod.39.12; Rev.21.20). In modern mineralogy the jacinth is the transparent red, yellow, orange, or brown form of the mineral zircon (zirconium orthosilicate). The meaning of the word in Hebrew is uncertain. However, in the Greek the word connotes a dark blue stone. It is possible that it is the sapphire; if so, the NIV renderings of “sapphire” may represent the lapis lazuli (see Sapphire). The jacinth was the first stone in the third row of the priest’s breastplate and will be the eleventh foundation stone of the Holy City.

M. Jaspar (Exod.28.20; Exod.39.13; Job.28.18; Ezek.28.13; Rev.4.3; Rev.21.11, Rev.21.18-Rev.21.19). (See under Chalcedony.) The jaspar was the third stone in the fourth row of the priest’s breastplate and is listed as the first foundation stone of the Holy City.

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 (Exod.24.10; Ezek.1.26; Ezek.10.1).

In Lamentations sapphire is linked to ruby, the other highly prized form of corundum.

S. Sardonyx (sar-dŏn'ĭks) (Rev.21.20). The sardonyx is an onyx layered with red sard or carnelian. It is the fifth foundation stone in the Holy City.

T. Topaz (tō'păz) (Exod.28.17; Exod.39.10; Job.28.19; Ezek.28.13; Rev.21.20). The modern topaz is an aluminum fluoro hydroxy silicate with a hardness of 8, thus harder than the quartz and chalcedony groups. The most highly prized is the yellow topaz; but colorless, pink, blue, and green varieties occur as well.

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) (Exod.28.18; Exod.39.11; 1Chr.29.2; Isa.54.11; Ezek.27.16; Ezek.28.13). A blue to bluish-green mineral which is a hydrous phosphate of aluminum and copper. It has a hardness of 5 to 6. The stone polishes well and is commonly fashioned into beads. It was the first stone in the second row of the priest’s breastplate.

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 Gen.4.22.

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 (Deut.8.9). The process of smelting copper and other metals is used illustratively in its other references in the OT (Job.28.2; Ezek.22.18, Ezek.22.20; Ezek.24.11). In the NT reference is made to the use of copper only in coinage (Matt.10.9; Mark.12.42; Luke.21.2).

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 (Gen.2.11-Gen.2.12). We are told that in the land of Havilah, in the vicinity of the Garden of Eden, there was gold, and that the gold was good.

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 Rev.21.15, Rev.21.18, Rev.21.21. Here the most precious of metals is envisioned as constituting the Holy City and its streets. The rod used to measure the city was a gold rod.

There are so many references to gold in the Bible that one must use a concordance to find them all. Exod.37.1-Exod.37.29 describes the construction of the ark of the covenant and other appointments of the tabernacle, all made of gold or overlaid with gold.

When the writer of Job asks where wisdom can be found (Job.28.12), he responds by observing that wisdom is so priceless that gold, silver, and precious stones cannot buy it (Job.28.15-Job.28.19). It is worthy to note that gold is mentioned five times in this passage, whereas each of the other precious items is mentioned only once.

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 Gen.4.22 where Tubal-Cain is cited as a worker of iron. In Deut.4.20; 1Kgs.8.51; and Jer.11.4 there is evidence that the Hebrews were familiar with furnaces for the making of iron. There is evidence that as slaves in Egypt they had to work at these furnaces. Their lot must have been difficult. The smith and his forge were well known to Isaiah (Jer.44.12 and 54:16). The Philistines hindered the Hebrew occupation of the whole of Canaan because they were skilled in iron working. They prevented the Hebrews from making and maintaining their own tools and weapons by refusing to allow a single smith in all the land. The Israelites were forced to go to the Philistines to sharpen their plowshares, mattocks, axes, and sickles (1Sam.13.19-1Sam.13.20). But the great victories of David ended all this. When David came to power, iron was used freely by the Israelites. Additional items of iron not previously mentioned are as follows:

The bed of Og, the Amorite king of Bashan, was made of iron (Deut.3.11). Og was a giant and needed a large strong bed. It was about thirteen feet (four m.) long and six feet (two m.) wide.

The Israelites feared the Canaanites because they had iron chariots (Josh.17.16, Josh.17.18).

The spear shaft of Goliath weighed six hundred shekels (roughly fifteen pounds) (1Sam.17.7).

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 (Ps.2.9; Ps.107.10; Jer.28.13-Jer.28.14).

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 Isa.2.4 concerning beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

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 Exod.15.10. In Num.31.22 lead is listed along with gold, silver, bronze, iron, and tin. Its use for lettering in rock is noted in Job.19.24. Jer.6.29 speaks of the use of bellows in the processing of the metal. Lead is listed with copper, tin, and iron as metals melted in a furnace (Ezek.22.18, Ezek.22.20) and again with silver, iron, and tin as metals used for monetary exchange (Ezek.27.12). See also Zech.5.7-Zech.5.8.

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 Job.28.15: “...nor can its price be weighed in silver.”

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 Esth.1.6, which refers to couches made of gold and silver. When Christ sent out the Twelve, he commanded them to carry neither gold nor silver nor brass in their purses (Matt.10.9).

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 (Gen.44.2). Demetrius, the silversmith of Ephesus, made silver shrines for Diana (Acts.19.24).

III. The Common Minerals.

A. Alabaster (Matt.26.7; Mark.14.3; Luke.7.37). These passages refer to an alabaster box or jar used to contain a precious ointment. Modern alabaster is a form of gypsum (hydrated calcium sulfate). It is soft, with a hardness of 2, and may be scratched by the thumbnail. It is easily carved and many larger decorative articles like book ends, vases, and paper weights are made of this material. It is usually very light in color, but may be mottled or veined with various colors. The ancients may have used a calcite or aragonite mineral resembling our modern alabaster in its general appearance. A simple test with the thumbnail will distinguish between the two varieties. Calcite has a hardness of 3 and cannot be scratched with the thumbnail. Alabaster is usually formed by the process of water deposition in caves.

B. Glass (Rev.4.6; Rev.15.2; Rev.21.18, Rev.21.21). Glass is a product of the fusion of silicates, borates, or phosphates. Although its use appears to have been widespread in the ancient world, its place of origin is unknown. The ancient Egyptians were, to the best of our knowledge, the first to make small vessels of glass. It appears in the Bible only in the Book of Revelation where it describes the appearance of the “sea” before the throne, and the purity and transparency of the gold of which the street and wall of the Holy City are made.

C. Marble (1Chr.29.2; Esth.1.6; Song.5.15; Rev.18.12). Marble is recrystallized limestone, capable of receiving a high polish. Limestone is somewhat impure calcium carbonate. Dolomitic marble contains a considerable amount of magnesium carbonate as well as the calcium compound. Marble is used for decorative purposes such as statuary, pillars, and walls of buildings. There is no reason to think that the marble of the Bible was different from the marble of modern times, except in the sense that marble from different quarries varies in color and texture.

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 (Matt.5.13). He uses the analogy of salt losing its “saltiness.” The implication is that Christians must not lose that which makes them distinctive. How could salt lose its “saltiness”? It has been suggested by some that as salt was stored it would eventually react chemically and be salt no more. Under any conditions salt would remain salt. But if stored salt was contaminated with other salts, such as magnesium chloride or sulfate, these salts would attract moisture. In due time enough salt might leach away to leave behind the less soluble contaminants, and this would result in a salt of much poorer quality. The container might then be emptied on a foot path to inhibit the growth of weeds.

E. Soda (Job.9.30; Prov.25.20; Jer.2.22). Soda is a term applied today to several forms of sodium. In the Bible it probably refers only to sodium carbonate. This forms a gas with vinegar and effervesces freely. It thus fits the description of the process described in Prov.25.20 where it speaks of vinegar poured on soda. In Job.9.30 and Jer.2.22 it is associated with soap. Sodium carbonate would be useful in washing with soap because it acts as a softener of water. It is used today in the making of soap. It is found either in solution in salty seas or in the mud that surrounds such seas.

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 Rev.21.6. Cleansing with water is also used to depict the process of regeneration (Eph.5.26).——TEM

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


See Metals; Precious Stones.