Copper (נחשֶׁת, necho'sheth [whence also properly as an adjective, נָחוּשׁ, nachush', brazen, fem. נחוּשָׁה, nechushah']; Greek χαλκός) occurs in the common translation of the Bible only in Ezr 8:27 ("two vessels of copper, precious as gold," i.e. probably of a purer kind or more finely wrought than ordinary), being elsewhere incorrectly rendered "brass," and occasionally even "steel" (2Sa 22:35; Jer 15:12), i.e. hardened so as to take a temper like iron). "The expression ' bow of steel' (Job 20:24; Ps 18:34) should therefore be rendered 'bow of copper,' since the term for steel is פִּלדָּה, or בִּרזֶל מַצָּפוֹן (northern iron). The ancients could hardly have applied copper to these purposes without possessing some judicious system of alloys, or perhaps some forgotten secret for rendering the metal harder and more elastic than we can make it. It has been maintained that the cutting-tools of the Egyptians, with which they worked the granite and porphyry of their monuments, were made of bronze, in which copper was a chief ingredient. The arguments on this point are found in Wilkinson (Anc. Eg. 3. 249, etc.), but they are not conclusive. There seems to be no reason why the art of making iron and excellent steel, which has for ages been practiced in India, may not have been equally known to the Egyptians. The quickness with which iron decomposes will fully account for the non-discovery of any remains of steel or iron implements. For analyses of the bronze tools and articles found in Egypt and Assyria, see Napier (Ancient Workers in Metal, p. 88). This metal is usually found as pyrites (sulphuret of copper and ironr), malachite (carb. of copper), or in the state of oxide, and occasionally in a native state, principally in the New World. It was almost exclusively used by the ancients for common purposes, for which its elastic and ductile nature rendered it practically available (see Smith's Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v.
Acs). It is a question whether in the earliest times iron was known. In India, however, its manufacture has been practiced from a very ancient date by a process exceedingly simple, and possibly a similar one was employed by the ancient Egyptians (Napier, ut sup. p. 137). There is no certain mention of iron in the Scriptures; and, from the allusion to it as known to Tubal-Cain (Ge 4:22), some have ventured to doubt whether in that place בִּרזֶל means iron (Wilkinson, Anc. Eg. 3, 242). The vessels of 'fine copper,' mentioned in Ezr 8:27 (comp. 1 Esdras 8:57, 'vases of Corinthian brass'), were perhaps similar to those of 'bright brass' in 1Ki 7:45; Da 10:6. They may have been of orichalcum, like the Persian or Indian vases found among the treasures of Darius (Aristot. De Mirab. Auscult.). There were two kinds of this metal, one natural (Serv. ad AEn. 12:87), which Pliny (H. Nat. 34. 2, 2) says had long been extinct in his time, but which Chardin alludes to as found in Sumatra under the name calmbac; the other artificial (identified by some with' electrium, ἤλεκτρον, whence the mistaken spelling 'auzichalcum), which Bochart (Hieroz. 6, ch. 16, p. 871 sq.) considers to be the Hebrew חִשׁמָל, chashmal', a word compounded (he says) of נחָשׁ (copper), and Chald. מלָלָא (? gold, Eze 1:4,27; Eze 8:2). On this substance, see Pausan. 5- 12; Plin. 33:4, § 23. Gesenius considers the χαλκολίβανον, of Re 1:15, to be χαλκὸς λιπαρός῟חִשׁמָל; he differs from Boehart,' and argues that it means merely smooth or polished; brass." SEE AMBER. "Many of the ancient copper alloys had to stand working by the hammer; and their working was such, either for toughness or hardness, that we cannot at the present-day make anything like it" (Napier, ut sup., p. 54). The Mexicans and Peruvians, when first visited by the Spaniards, were in possession of tempered implements of copper, and had the means of smelting, refining, and forging this metal. They were also able to harden it by alloying. "The metal used for this latter purpose was tin; and the various Peruvian articles subjected to analysis are found to contain from three to six per cent. of that metal" (Silliman's Journal, 2:51). SEE METAL.
Tubal-Cain is recorded as the first artificer in brass and iron (Ge 4:22). In the time of Solomon, Hiram of Tyre was celebrated as a worker in brass (1Ki 7:14; comp. 2Ch 2:14). To judge from Hesiod (Op. et Dies, 134) and Lucret. (v. 1285), the art of working in copper was even prior to that in iron, probably from its being found in larger masses, and from its requiring less labor in the process of manufacture. Palestine abounded in copper (De 8:9), the mines being apparently worked by the Israelites (Isa 51:1); and David left behind him an immense quantity of it to be employed in building the Temple (1Ch 22:3-14). Of copper were made all sorts of vessels in the tabernacle and temple (Le 6:28; Nu 16:39; 2Ch 4:16; Ezr 8:27), weapons, and more especially helmets, armor, shields, spears (1Sa 17:5-6,38; 2Sa 21:16), and bows (2Sa 22:35), also chains (Jg 16:21), and even mirrors (Ex 38:8; Job 37:18). The larger vessels were moulded in foundries, such as lavers, the great one being called "the copper sea" (2Ki 25:13; 1Ch 18:8); also the pillars for architectural ornaments (1 Kings 7). It would, however, appear (1Ki 7:14). that the art of copperfounding was, even in the time of Solomon, but little known among the Jews, and was peculiar to foreigners, particularly the Phoenicians, who seem to have imported the material and even wrought articles from a distant quarter (Eze 27:13), probably' from the Moschi, etc., who worked the copper mines in the neighborhood of Mount Caucasus. Michaelis (Mos. Recht, 4:217, 314) observes that Moses seems to have given to copper vessels the preference over earthen (Le 6:28), and on that ground endeavors to remove the common prejudice against their use for culinary purposes. From copper, also, money was coined (Eze 16:36; Mt 10:9). SEE BRASS.