Stones

STONES, pieces of rock of any shape, usually detached from bedrock and of no great size, as in stream beds (1 Sam 17:40). They have been much used by man for various constructional purposes (e.g. Gen 35:14). Unless separated by human activity, such as quarrying (1 Chron 22:15), stones are detached from bedrock and shaped by the action of various processes of weathering, such as frost and running water. The term “stone” is commonly used as a synonym for “rock,” particularly where man has put it to some practical purpose. It is also used with reference to ores in mineral deposits (Deut 8:9), in relation to ground water bearing acquifers (Num 20:11) and to gems—precious stones (q.v. jewels and precious stones).


Both the nature and age of the bedrock of the ancient Near E varies greatly. Over much of the southern part of the region, Precambrian rocks of the Arabo-Nubian Massif appear (Fig. 1). These are more than 600 million years old and granite is common. Adjacent to this crystalline massif is a zone of flat-lying sedimentary strata in which sandstones, varying in age from 570-100 million years, predominate. Further NW, N and NE the strata are gently folded, with limestones common, and vary in age from 38-100 million years. In the region of northern Syria, eastern Kurdistan and western Persia, the rocks are complexly folded and form part of the Alpine mountain belt. Younger sedimentary rocks occur in the Jordan Rift Valley and under the coastal plain of Pal., while in Syria and down to the region of Lake Tiberias, volcanic activity (brimstone, q.v.) took place spasmodically over the past thirty-eight million years. Thick piles of basalt lava flows developed, one of the youngest flows in Syria having been dated by radiocarbon analysis of carbonized organic matter as being only some 4,000 years old.

This great variation in rock type and rock structure combined with the extremes of climatic condition from desert in the S to snowcapped mountain peaks in the N has resulted in great contrasts in the stones found in various parts of the region.

On either side of the Red Sea, the joint pattern of the granitic and related crystalline rocks exercised a strong control on the shapes of the exposed pieces of rock. The Red Sea Mountains supplied Egypt, and later Imperial Rome, with monumental stones and some metals. There, as in the mountains of the Sinai Peninsula, frost wedging is active at high altitudes. The freezing of water that has seeped down through joints splits the granitic rocks into rough thin rectangular blocks (cf. tables of stone—Exod 24:12), many of which are easily pried off (Exod 34:4). While much of the granite is coarse grained and even grained, graphic granite also occurs. In this, quartz intergrowths with feldspar (q.v.) resemble hieroglyphs (Fig. 2) and this could be a possible explanation of Deuteronomy 4:13 and 5:22.

In the district from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea which includes Edom, wind played an important role in erosion, particularly in carving wide valleys between mountains of sandstone which often can be seen to rest on a plinth of the Aqaba Granite Complex. Narrow gorges, following faults or master joints, are also found in the district, including the vicinity of Petra and the Wadi Yitan where “the King’s road” of Biblical times ascended from Egypt to Jordan and on to Damascus and Mesopotamia (cf. Num 20:14-18). However, there has been sufficient water, particularly during periodic floods, to carry off much of the products of weathering. This has resulted in the exposure of very thick masses of sandstone with many spectacular cliffs. Deposits of both copper (q.v.) ore and iron (q.v.) ore occur, the latter playing an important role in Israel’s history in the times of David and Solomon while some of the sandstones are aquifers for ground water.

The plateau of Jordan, E of the River Jordan, is open and flat, with much of the higher ground covered by flint gravels, residuals after wind erosion of the chalk strata that once enclosed the flints (q.v.). Occasional flat-topped hills break the monotony of the stony plateau, with the limestones of the Belqa Series (Fig. 3) that cap the hills used as building stone. Lightly incised wadis drain eastward to inland depressions that are filled with gravels, sands, salts and muds. Toward the N there are some volcanic cones and in Syria thick basalt lava flows form the Hauran Plain. They break down to yield good red soil. In the S, adjacent to the Dead Sea, canyons, such as the Wadi Hasa, have cut down as much as 1750 meters, generally along fault lines. In the canyon walls are exposed the whole sequence of geological formations, from the Aqaba Granite Complex upward.

The greater part of the hill country W of the River Jordan is hewn from hard wellbedded limestones and dolomites of the Judean Limestone (Figs. 3, 4). This rock formation contains aquifers feeding springs and wells and in it many caves (q.v.) have been formed by the action of ground water. These caves have provided places of refuge (1 Sam 13:6) as well as tombs for burial. The various strata of limestone and dolomite have been readily utilized for various constructional purposes and with their strong vertical jointing rock falls would take place at times of earthquake (cf. Rev 6:16). In both northern Samaria and in various parts of western Galilee, white chalk (chalkstone q.v.) and chalky limestone of the Belqa Series are prominent rock types. The result is generally rounded or hummocky topography with white building stone readily available as rectangular blocks which parted along joint and bedding planes, e.g. in the district around Nazareth.

A series of depressions, many of them fault bounded, cut through the hill country. They include the Beer-sheba plain, with Beer-sheba the principal oasis of the Negeb, and the Esdraelon plain. These depressions, and the coastal plain with which they join, are underlain mainly by recently deposited alluvium, much of which is covered by blown sand and dunes. The few small stones that do occur are pieces of soft shale. Mt. Carmel divides the coastal plain into two, N and S of Haifa. It is made up of a faulted block of Judean Limestone, with various strata of well-jointed limestone and dolomite providing flat rectangular blocks easily erected into an edifice, such as an altar (1 Kings 18:26).

The floor of the Jordan Rift Valley (earthquake q.v.) is barren and arid by contrast with the bordering mountain areas. The River Jordan meanders through its flood plain, incised to about fifty meters below the main plain of the valley and flanked on either side by badlands formed by the erosion of the very soft strata making up the main valley floor. South of the Dead Sea some of the rocks are white due to the presence of rock salt. This salt is interbedded with clays (q.v.) and the district is prone to landslides, particularly when earthquakes (q.v.) occur. This together with erosion channeling resulting from thunderstorm precipitation has meant the production of odd erosional forms, including some with the appearance of pillars of salt (cf. Gen 19:26). Earthquake activity which is common along the length of this rift valley, is prob. also responsible for the rockfalls from limestone cliffs which have temporarily blocked the River Jordan near Adam, about twenty-four m. N of its entrance into the Dead Sea (Josh 3:13-16).

Bibliography

E. M. Blaiklock (ed.), The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Atlas (1969), 1-35, 438-452.