Holman Bible Dictionary
Minerals and Metals
Inorganic elements or compounds found naturally in nature. A number of minerals and metals are mentioned in the biblical record.
Precious Stones Stones are desirable because of rarity, hardness, and beauty, the latter expressed in terms of color, transparency, luster, and brilliance. The Bible has three main lists of precious stones: the twelve stones of Aaron's breastplate (Exodus 28:17-20 ; Exodus 39:10-13 ), the treasures of the king of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13 ), and the stones on the wall foundation of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:18-21 ). Other lists are found in Job 28:15-19 ; Isaiah 54:11-12 ; and Ezekiel 27:16 . The precise identification of some of the terms is unclear, unfortunately, as can be seen by comparing these lists in various translations.
1. Adamant Appears in KJV, RSV, REB of Ezekiel 3:9 and Zechariah 7:12 . The Hebrew word is sometimes translated “diamond” (Jeremiah 17:1 KJV, NRSV, REB, NAS). The stone was “harder than flint” ( Ezekiel 3:9 ) and may be emery ( Ezekiel 3:9 NAS) or an imaginary stone of impenetrable hardness. It is perhaps best translated “the hardest stone” ( Ezekiel 3:9 NIV, NRSV).
2. Agate A multicolored and banded form of chalcedony. It served on Aaron's breastplate (Exodus 28:19 ) and by some translations as the third stone on the New Jerusalem foundation (Revelation 21:19 NRSV).
3. Amethyst (Exodus 28:19 ; Exodus 39:12 ; Revelation 21:20 ) Identical with modern amethyst, a blue-violet form of quartz.
4. Beryl (beryllium aluminum silicate) Most translations show beryl to be the first stone in the fourth row of the breastplate (Exodus 28:20 ; Exodus 39:13 ; REB, “topaz”; NIV, “chrysolite”). The word also occurs in the list of the king of Tyre's jewels (Ezekiel 28:13 ; RSV, NIV, “chrysolite”; NRSV, “beryl”; REB, “topaz”). The RSV translates another and the NIV a third word in the list as beryl. More certainty surrounds the use of beryl in Revelation 21:20 .
5. Carbuncle In KJV, RSV the third stone of Aaron's breastplate (Exodus 28:17 ; Exodus 39:10 ; REB, “green feldspar;” NAS, NRSV “emerald;” TEV, “garnet”; NIV, “beryl”) and material for the gates of the restored Jerusalem (Isaiah 54:12 ; REB, “garnet”; NIV, “sparkling jewels”). RSV also appears to translate a third word as carbuncle in Ezekiel 28:13 by reversing the KJV order of emerald and carbuncle. NRSV omits carbuncle.
6. Carnelian (KJV and sometimes RSV, NASB, “sardius”) A clear to brownish red variety of chalcedony. NRSV reading for one of the stones of the king of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13 ; NAS, TEV, NIV, “ruby”; REB, “sardin”) and the sixth stone on the foundation of the new Jerusalem wall (Revelation 21:20 ; compare Revelation 4:3 ).
7. Chalcedony An alternate translation for agate as the third stone decorating the New Jerusalem foundation (Revelation 21:19 KJV, NAS, REB, NIV). This noncrystalline form of quartz, or silicone dioxide, has many varieties including agate, carnelian, chrysoprase, flint, jasper, and onyx.
8. Chrysolite (Revelation 21:20 ) Represents various yellowish minerals. It replaces the KJV rendering beryl frequently in the RSV (Ezekiel 1:16 ; Ezekiel 10:9 ; Ezekiel 28:13 ) and throughout the NIV but not in NRSV. REB reads, “topaz.”
9. Chrysoprase or Chrysoprasus (KJV) An apple-green variety of chalcedony, the tenth stone of the foundation for the New Jerusalem's wall (Revelation 21:20 ).
10. Coral (Job 28:18 ; Ezekiel 27:16 ) Calcium carbonate formed by the action of marine animals. NRSV, REB, NAS translated a second word as coral (Lamentations 4:7 KJV, NIV, “rubies”).
11. Crystal Refers to quartz, the two Hebrew words so translated being related to “ice.” In Job 28:18 , KJV has “pearls”; the NIV, “jasper”; but NRSV, NAS, read, “crystal,” while REB has “alabaster.” The glassy sea (Revelation 4:6 ) and river of life (Revelation 22:1 ) are compared to crystal.
12. Diamond The third stone of the second row of the high priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:18 ; Exodus 39:11 ; REB, “jade”; NIV, “emerald”) and one of the jewels of the king of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13 ; NRSV, REB, “jasper”; NIV, “emerald”). It is not clear, however, if diamonds were known in the Ancient Near East, and the translation is uncertain.
13. Emerald A bright green variety of beryl, readily available to the Israelites. It is the usual translation of the fourth stone of the high priest's breastplate and one of the stones of the king of Tyre (Exodus 28:18 ; Exodus 39:11 ; Ezekiel 28:13 ; REB, “purple garnet”; NAS, NIV, NRSV, “turquoise”), with NRSV translating another word as “emerald.” The rainbow around the throne is compared to an emerald (Revelation 4:3 ), which also served as the fourth stone in the foundations of the New Jerusalem wall (Revelation 21:19 ).
14. Jacinth A transparent red to brown form of zirconium silicate. It appears in Aaron's breastplate (Exodus 28:19 ; Exodus 39:11 ; KJV, “ligure”; REB, TEV, “turquoise”) and the New Jerusalem wall foundation (Revelation 21:20 ).
15. Jasper (Exodus 28:20 ; Exodus 39:13 ; Revelation 21:11 ,Revelation 21:11,21:18-19 ) A red, yellow, brown, or green opaque variety of chalcedony. In the RSV for Ezekiel 28:13 , jasper translates the word elsewhere rendered “diamond” (REB, “jade”), but NRSV reads moonstone with the sixth stone jasper as in other translations.
16. Lapis Lazuli Not a mineral, but a combination of minerals which yields an azure to green-blue stone popular in Egypt for jewelry. It is an alternate translation for sapphire (NAS in Ezekiel 28:13 ; NIV marginal notes).
17. Onyx A flat-banded variety of chalcedony; sardonyx includes layers of carnelian. Onyx was used on the ephod ( Exodus 25:7 ; Exodus 28:9 ; Exodus 35:27 ; Exodus 39:6 ) and in the high priest's breatplate (Exodus 28:20 ; Exodus 39:13 ). It was provided for the settings of the Temple (1 Chronicles 29:2 ) and was one of the precious stones of the king of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13 ).
18. Pearl (Job 28:18 NAS, NRSV; KJV, NIV, “rubies”; REB, “red coral”) Formed around foreign matter in some shellfish. In the New Testament, pearl serves as a simile for the kingdom of God ( Matthew 13:46 ), a metaphor for truth (Matthew 7:6 ), and a symbol of immodesty (1 Timothy 2:9 ; Revelation 17:4 ; Revelation 18:16 ). Pearl is also material for the gates of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:21 ).
19. Ruby A red variety of corundum, or aluminum oxide. The first stone of Aaron's breastplate is sometimes translated “ruby” (Exodus 28:17 ; Exodus 39:10 NAS, NIV; KJV, RSV, REB “sardius”; NRSV “carnelian). It also appears as a stone of the king of Tyre ( Ezekiel 28:13 NAS, NIV; REB, KJV, “sardius”; NRSV, “carnelian”).
20. Sapphire (Exodus 24:10 ; Exodus 28:18 ; Exodus 39:11 ; Job 28:6 ,Job 28:6,28:16 ; Isaiah 54:11 ; Lamentations 4:7 ; Ezekiel 1:26 ; Ezekiel 10:1 ; Ezekiel 28:13 ; Revelation 21:19 ) The Hebrew sappir is a blue variety of corundum. Despite the name, it is possible that sappir refers to lapis lazuli (NIV marginal notes) rather than true sapphire.
21. Topaz Second stone of Aaron's breastplate (Exodus 28:17 ; Exodus 39:10 ); also mentioned in the wisdom list (Job 28:19 ) and the list of the king of Tyre's precious stones (Ezekiel 28:13 ). True topaz is an aluminum floro silicate and quite hard, but the Old Testament topaz may refer to peridot, a magnesium olivine. The ninth decorative stone of the New Jerusalem wall foundation is topaz (Revelation 21:20 ). See Beryl, Chrysolite above.
22. Turquoise Sky-blue to bluish-green base phosphate of copper and aluminum was mined in the Sinai by the Egyptians and was a highly valued stone in antiquity. Turquoise is sometimes substituted for emerald (Exodus 28:18 NAS, NIV); or jacinth ( Exodus 28:19 ; Exodus 39:11 REB, TEV).
1. Alabaster In modern terms a fine grained gypsum, but Egyptian alabaster was crystalline calcium carbonate with a similar appearance. Alabaster may be mentioned once in the Song of Solomon (Exodus 5:15 NRSV, NAS; “marble” in KJV, REB, NIV). In the New Testament ( Matthew 26:7 ; Mark 14:3 ; Luke 7:37 ), it refers to containers for precious ointment.
2. Brimstone Refers to sulfur (NRSV, NIV). Buring sulfur deposits created extreme heat, molten flows, and noxious fumes, providing a graphic picture of the destruction and suffering of divine judgment ( Deuteronomy 29:23 ; Job 18:15 ; Psalm 11:6 ; Isaiah 30:33 ; Ezekiel 38:22 ; Luke 17:29 ).
3. Salt Sodium chloride is an abundant mineral, used as a seasoning for food (Job 6:6 ) and offerings (Leviticus 2:13 ; Ezekiel 43:24 ). As a preservative, salt was symbolic of covenants (Numbers 18:19 ; 2 Chronicles 13:5 ). Both meanings are present in Jesus' comparison of the disciples to salt (Matthew 5:13 ). Salt was also a symbol of desolation and barrenness, perhaps because of the barrenness of the Dead Sea, the biblical Salt Sea. The “saltpits” of Zephaniah 2:9 were probably located just south of the Dead Sea. Sodium chloride could leech out of the generally impure salt from this area, leaving a tasteless substance ( Luke 14:34-35 ).
4. Soda (Proverbs 25:20 NAS, NIV; Jeremiah 2:22 REB, NIV), or nitre (KJV), is probably sodium or potassium carbonate. Other translations prefer lye ( Jeremiah 2:22 NRSV, NAS). In Proverbs 25:20 the Hebrew text refers to vinegar or lye or soda, but some modern translations follow the earliest Greek translation in reading “vinegar on a wound” (NRSV, REB; “salt in a wound,” TEV).
Metals Many metals occur naturally in compound with other elements as an ore which must be smelted to obtain a usable product. Biblical lists of metals (Numbers 31:22 ; Ezekiel 22:18 ,Ezekiel 22:18,22:20 ) mention gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, and lead.
1. Brass A relatively modern alloy of copper and tin. Brass in the KJV should be rendered copper or bronze. RSV substitutes bronze, retaining brass only in a few places (Leviticus 26:19 , Deuteronomy 28:23 ; Isaiah 48:4 ; NRSV using brass only in Isaiah 48:4 ). NIV does not use brass.
2. Bronze The usual translation of the Hebrew word which can indicate either copper or bronze. An alloy of copper and tin, and stronger than both, bronze was the most common metal used for utensils in the Ancient Near East. The Bible mentions armor (1 Samuel 17:5-6 ), shackles (2 Kings 25:7 ), cymbals (1 Chronicles 15:19 ), gates (Psalm 107:16 ; Isaiah 45:2 ), and idols (Revelation 9:20 ), as well as other bronze objects.
3. Copper Usually alloyed with tin to make bronze which possessed greater strength. The KJV uses copper only in Ezra 8:27 (NRSV, NIV “bronze”). See Ezion Geber.
4. Gold Valued and used because of its rarity, beauty, and workability. It can be melted without harm and is extremely malleable. Thus it can be used for cast objects, inlays, or overlays. A number of Israel's worship objects were solid gold or gilded (Exodus 37:1 ). Gold occurs in the Bible more frequently than any other metal, being used for jewelry (Exodus 12:35 ; 1 Timothy 2:9 ), idols, scepters, worship utensils, and money (Matthew 10:9 ; Acts 3:6 ). The New Jerusalem is described as made of gold (Revelation 21:18 ,Revelation 21:18,21:21 ).
5. Iron A more difficult metal to smelt than copper, it did not come into widespread use until about the time of Israel's conquest of Canaan. Prior to this time, metal weapons and agricultural tools were of bronze. For some time thereafter iron technology was not widespread. The Canaanites' “chariots of iron” (Joshua 17:16 ,Joshua 17:16,17:18 ; Judges 1:19 ; Judges 4:3 ) represent a technological advantage over Israel, while the Philistines may have enjoyed an iron-working monopoly (1 Samuel 17:7 ; 1 Samuel 13:19-21 ). See 2 Samuel 12:31 ; 1 Chronicles 20:3 ; 1 Chronicles 22:14 ), though it remained valuable (2 Kings 6:5-6 ). It was used where strength was essential and became a symbol of hardness and strength (Deuteronomy 28:48 ; Psalm 2:9 ; Isaiah 48:4 ; Jeremiah 17:1 ; Revelation 2:27 ).
6. Lead A gray metal of extremely high density (Exodus 15:10 ) used for weights, heavy covers (Zechariah 5:7-8 ), and plumblines (compare Amos 7:7-8 ). Lead is quite pliable and useful for inlays such as lettering in rock (Job 19:24 ). It was also used in the refining of silver (Jeremiah 6:27-30 ).
7. Silver Used in the Near East from quite early times; though not occurring often in a natural state, silver is easily extracted from its ores. Silver was originally more valuable than gold, usually occurring before it in lists. It became a measure of wealth (Genesis 13:2 ; Genesis 24:35 ; Zephaniah 1:18 ; Haggai 2:8 ). By Solomon's day it was common in Israel (1 Kings 10:27 ) and was the standard monetary unit, being weighed in shekels, talents, and minas (Genesis 23:15-16 ; Genesis 37:28 ; Exodus 21:32 ; Nehemiah 7:72 ; Isaiah 7:23 ). See Exodus 26:19 ; Exodus 36:24 ; Ezra 8:26 ,Ezra 8:26,8:28 ), idols (Exodus 20:23 ; Judges 17:4 ; Psalm 115:4 ; Isaiah 40:19 ), and jewelry (Genesis 24:53 ; Song of Song of Solomon 1:11 ).
8. Tin, (Numbers 31:22 ; Ezekiel 22:18 ,Ezekiel 22:18,22:20 ), Sometimes confused with lead; articles of pure tin were rare. It was principally used in making bronze, an alloy of tin and copper. See Mines and Mining .
Daniel C. Browning, Jr.
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Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers: Holman Old Testament Commentary [HOTC]