The word does not occur in the Bible, but that mining operations were familiar to the Hebrew people from an early age is evident from many Scriptural allusions. SEE METAL. A remarkable description of the processes of ore mining occurs in the book of Job (28:1-11):
Why, [there] exists for silver a vein; And a place for gold, [which] they may filter: Iron from clod can be taken, And stone will pour forth copper. An end has [one] put to the [subterranean] darkness, And to every recess [is] he prying [after] The stone of gloom and death-shade. He has pierced a shaft [down] away from, [any] sojourner. [Where] the [miners] forgotten of foot [hold] Have hung [far] from man, [and] swung. Earth-from it shall issue [means to procure] bread, Though under it [its bosom] has been overturned as [by] fire: A sapphire-place [are] its stones And gold-clods [are] his [that explores it]. A beaten [path thither]-bird of prey has not known it, Nor hawk's eye scanned it; Sons of rampancy [fierce beasts] have not trodden it. Roarer [lion] has not wended over it. On the flint he has stretched forth his hand; He has overturned from [the] root mountains: In the cliffs channels has he cleft, And every precious [thing] has his eye seen. From trickling [the adjacent] rivers has he stopped, While [the] concealed [thing] he shall bring forth [to] light.
The following comments on this passage (which maybe a later addition of the time of Solomon), as well as the remarks on metallurgy in general, are indicative of its pertinence to the subject. SEE JOB, BOOK OF.
It may be fairly inferred from the description that a distinction is made between gold obtained in the manner indicated, and that which is found in the natural state in the alluvial soil, among the debris washed down by the torrents. This appears to be implied in the expression "the gold they refine," which presupposes a process by which the pure gold is extracted from the ore, and separated from the silver or copper with which it may have been mixed. What is said of gold may be equally applied to silver, for in almost every allusion to the process of refining the two metals are associated. In the passage of Job which has been quoted, so far as can be made out from the obscurities with which it is beset, the natural order of mining operations is observed in the description. The whole point is obviously contained in the contrast, "Surely there is a source for the silver, and a place for the gold which men refine; but where shall wisdom be found, and where is the place of understanding?" No labor is too great for extorting from the earth its treasures. The shaft is sunk, and the adventurous miner, far from the haunts of men, hangs in mid-air (5:4): the bowels of the earth — which in the course of nature grows but corn — are overthrown as though wasted by fire. The path which the miner pursues in his underground course is unseen by the keen eye of the falcon, nor have the boldest beasts of prey traversed it, but man wins his way through every obstacle, hews out tunnels in the rock, stops the water from flooding his mine, and brings to light the precious metals as the reward of his adventure. No description would be more complete. The poet might have had before him the copper mines of the Sinaitic peninsula. In the Wady Magharah, "the valley of the Cave," are still traces of the Egyptian colony of miners who settled there for the purpose of extracting copper from the freestone rocks, and left their hieroglyphic inscriptions upon. the face of the cliff. That these inscriptions are of great antiquity there can belittle doubt, though Lepsius may not be justified in placing them at a date B.C. 4000 (Letters from Egypt, page 346, Eng. tr.). In the Magharah tablets, Mr. Drew (Scripture Lands, page 50, note) "saw the cartouche of Suphis, the builder of the Great Pyramid, and on the stones at Sarabit el-Khadim there are those of kings of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties." But the most interesting description of this mining colony is to be found in a letter to the Athenceum (June 4, 1859, No. 1649, page 747), signed Μ.Δ., and dated from "Sarabit el-Khadim, in the desert or Sinai, May 1859." The writer discovered on the mountain exactly opposite the caves of Magharah traces of an ancient fortress, intended, as he conjectures, for the protection of the miners. The hill on which it stands is about 1000 feet high, nearly insulated, and formed of a series of precipitous terraces, one above the other, like the steps of the Pyramids. The uppermost of these was entirely surrounded by a strong wall, within which were found remains of 140 houses, each about ten feet square. There were, besides, the remains of ancient hammers of green porphyry, and reservoirs "so disposed that when one was full the surplus ran into the others, and so in succession, so that they must have had water enough to last for years. The ancient furnaces are still to be seen, and on the coast of the Red Sea are found the piers and wharves whence the miners shipped their metal in the harbor of Abu Zeniineh. Five miles from Sarabit elKhadim the same traveller found the ruins of a much greater number of houses, indicating the existence of a large mining population, and, besides, five immense reservoirs formed by damming up various wadys. Other mines appear to have been discovered by Dr. Wilson in the granite mountains east of the Wady Mokatteb. In the Wady Nasb the German traveller Ruppell, who was commissioned by Mohammed Ali, the viceroy of Egypt, to examine the state of the mines there, met with remains of several large smelting furnaces, surrounded by heaps of slag. The ancient inhabitants had sunk shafts in several directions, leaving here and there columns to prevent the whole from falling in. In one of the mines he saw huge masses of stone rich in copper (Ritter, Erdkunde, 13:786). The copper mines of Phaeno, in Idumaea, according to Jerome, were between Zoar and Petra: in the persecution of Diocletian the Christians were condemned to work them.
The gold mines of Egypt in the Bishart desert, the principal station of which was Eshuranib, about three days' journey beyond Wady Allaga, have been discovered within the last few years by M. Linant and Mr. Bonomi, the latter of whom supplied Sir G. Wilkinson with a description of them, which he quotes (Anc. Eng. 3:229, 230). Ruins of the miners' huts still remain as at Sarhbit elKhadim. "In those nearest the mines lived the workmen who were employed to break the quartz into small fragments, the size of a bean, from whose hands the pounded stone passed to the persons who ground: it in hand-mills, similar to those now used for corn in the valley of the Nile, made of granitic stone; one of which is to be found in almost every house at these mines, either entire or broken. The quartz, thus reduced to powder, was washed on inclined tables, furnished with two cisterns, all built of fragments of stone collected there; and near these inclined planes are generally found little white mounds, the residuum of the operation." According to the account given by Diodorus Siculus (3:12-14), the mines were worked by gangs of convicts and captives in fetters, who were kept day and night to their task by the soldiers set to guard them. The work was superintended by an engineer, who selected the stone and pointed it out to the miners. The harder rock was split by the application of fire, but the softer was broken up with picks and chisels.The miners were quite naked, their bodies being painted according to the color of the rock they were working, and in order to see in the dark passages of the mine they carried lamps upon their heads. The stone as it fell was carried off by boys; it was then pounded in stone mortars with iron pestles by those who were over thirty years of age, till it was reduced to the size of a lentil. The women and old men afterwards ground it in mills to a fine powder. The final process of separating the gold from the pounded stone was intrusted to the engineers who superintended the work. They spread this powder upon a broad slightly-inclined table, and rubbed it gently with the hand, pouring water upon it from time to time so as to carry away all the earthy matter, leaving the heavier particles upon the board. This was repeated several times; at first with the hand, and afterwards with fine sponges gently pressed upon the earthy substance, till nothing but the gold was left. It was then collected by other workmen, and placed in earthen crucibles, with a mixture of lead and salt in certain proportions, together with a little tin and some barley bran. The crucibles were covered and carefully closed with clay, and in this condition baked in a furnace for five days and nights without intermission. Three methods have been employed for refining gold and silver: 1, by exposing the fused metal to a current of air; 2, by keeping the alloy in a state of fusion and throwing nitre upon it; and, 3, by mixing the alloy with lead, exposing the whole to fusion upon a vessel of bone- ashes or earth, and blowing upon it with bellows or other blast; the last appears most nearly to coincide with the description of Diodorus. To this process, known as the cupelling process, SEE LEAD, there seems to be a reference in Ps 12:6; Jer 6:28-30; Eze 23:18-22, and from it Mr. Napier (Metals of the Bible, page 24) deduces a striking illustration of Mal 3:2-3, He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver," etc. "When the alloy is melted upon a cupel, and the air blown upon it, the surface of the melted metals has a deep orange-red color, with a kind of flickering wave constantly passing over the surface. As the process proceeds, the heat is increased and in a little time the color of the fused metal becomes lighter. At this stage the refiner watches the operation, either standing or sitting, with the greatest earnestness, until all the orange color and shading disappears, and the metal has the appearance of a highly-polished mirror, reflecting every object around it; even the refiner, as he looks upon the mass of metal, may see himself as in a looking-glass, and thus he call form a very correct judgment respecting the purity of the metal. If he is satisfied, the fire is withdrawn, and the metal removed from the furnace; but if not considered pure, more lead is added and the process repeated." Silver mines are mentioned by Diodorus (1:33), with those of gold, iron, and copper, in the island of Meroe, at the mouth of the Nile. But the chief supply of silver in the ancient world appears to have been brought from Spain. The mines of that country were celebrated (1 Macc. 8:3). Mount Orospeda, from which the Guadalquivir, the ancient Baltes,, takes its rise, was formerly called "the silver mountain," from the silver mines which were in it (Strabo, 3, page 148). Tartessus, according to Strabo, was an ancient name of the river which gave its name to the town that was built between its two mouths. But the largest silver mines in Spain were in the neighborhood of Carthago Nova, from which, in the time of Polybius, the Roman government received 25,000 drachmae daily. These, when Strabo wrote, had fallen into private hands, though most of the gold mines were public property (3, page 148). Near Castulo there were lead mines containing silver, but in quantities so small as not to repay the cost of working. The process of separating the silver from the lead is abridged by Strabo from Polybius. The lumps of ore were first pounded, and then sifted through sieves into water. The sediment was again pounded, and again filtered, and after this process had been repeated five times the water was drawn off, the remainder of the ore melted, the lead poured away, and the silver left pure. If Tartessus be the Tarshish of Scripture, the metal workers of Spain in those days must have possessed the art of hammering silver into sheets, for we find in Jer 10:9, "silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz." We have no means of knowing whether the gold of Ophir was obtained from mines or from the washing of gold streams. Pliny (6:32), from Juba, describes the littus Hammceum on the Persian Gulf as a place where gold mines existed, and in the same chapter alludes to the gold mines of the Sabaeans. But in all probability the greater part of the gold which came into the hands of the Phoenicians and Hebrews was obtained from streams; its great abundance seems to indicate this. At a very early period Jericho was a centre of commerce with the East, and in the narrative of its capture we meet with gold in the form of ingots (Jos 7:21, A.V. "wedge," lit. "tongue"), in which it was probably cast for the convenience of traffic. That which Achan took weighed twenty-five ounces.
As gold is seldom if ever found entirely free from silver, the quantity of the latter varying from two per cent. to thirty per cent, it has been supposed that the ancient metallurgists were acquainted with some means of parting them, an operation performed in modern times by boiling the metal in nitric or sulphuric acid. To some process of this kind it has been imagined that reference is made in Pr 17:3, "The fining-pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold;" and again in Pr 28:21. "If, for example," says Mr. Napier, "the term fining-pot could refer to the vessel or pot in which the silver is dissolved from the gold in parting, as it may be called with propriety, then these passages have a meaning in our modern practice" (Metals of the Bible, page 28); but he admits that this is at best but plausible, and considers that "the constant reference to certain qualities and kinds of gold in Scripture is a kind of presumptive proof that they were not in the habit of perfectly purifying or separating the gold from the silver." A strong proof of the acquaintance possessed by the ancient Hebrews with the manipulation of metals is found by some in the destruction of the golden calf in the desert by Moses: "And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink" (Ex 32:20). As the highly malleable character of gold would render an operation like that which is described in the text almost impossible, an explanation has been sought in the supposition that we have here an indication that Moses was a proficient in the process known in modern times as calcination. The object of calcination being to oxidize the metal subjected to the process, and gold not being affected by this treatment, the explanation cannot be admitted. M. Goguet (quoted in Wilkinson's Anc. Eg. 3:221) confidently asserts that the problem has been solved by the discovery of an experienced chemist that "in the place of tartaric acid, which we employ, the Hebrew legislator used natron, which is common in the East." The gold so reduced and made into a draught is further said to have a most detestable taste. Goguet's solution appears to have been adopted without examination by more modern writers. but Mr. Napier ventured to question its correctness, and endeavored to trace it to its source. The only clew which he found was in a discovery by Stahll, a chemist of the 17th century, "that if one part gold, three parts potash, and three parts sulphur are heated together, a compound is formed which is partly soluble in water. If," he adds, "this be the discovery referred to, which I think very probable, it certainly has been made the most of by Bible critics" (Met. of the Bible, page 49). The whole difficulty appears to have arisen from a desire to find too much in the text. The main object of the destruction of the calf was to prove its worthlessness and to throw contempt upon idolatry, and all this might have been done without any refined chemical process like that referred to. The calf was first heated in the fire to destroy its shape, then beaten and broken up by hammering or filing into small pieces, which were thrown into the water, of which the people were made to drink as a symbolical act. "Moses threw-the atoms into the water as an emblem of the perfect annihilation of the calf, and he gave the Israelites that water to drink, not only to impress upon them the abomination and despicable character of the image which they had made, but as a symbol of purification, to remove the object. of the transgression by those very persons who had committed it" (Kalisch, Comm. on Exodus 32:20). SEE CALF, GOLDEN.
How far the ancient Hebrews were acquainted with the processes at present in use for extracting copper from the ore, it is impossible to assert, as there are no references in Scripture to anything of the kind, except in the passage of Job already quoted. Copper smelting, however, is in some cases attended with comparatively small difficulties, which the ancients had evidently the skill to overcome. Ore composed of copper and oxygen, mixed with coal and burned to a bright red heat, leaves the copper in the metallic state, and the same result will follow if the process be applied to the carbonates and sulphurets of copper. Some means of toughening the metal, so as to render it fit for manufacture, must have been known to the Hebrews as to other ancient nations. The Egyptians evidently possessed the art of working bronze in great perfection at a very early time, and much of the knowledge of metals which the Israelites had must have been acquired during their residence among them.
Of tin there appears to have been no trace in Palestine. That the Phoenicians obtained their supplies from the mines of Spain and Cornwall there can be no doubt, and it is suggested that even the Egyptians may have procured it from the same source, either directly or through the medium of the former. It was found among the possessions of the Midianites, to whom it might have come in the course of traffic; but in other instances in which allusion is made to it, tin occurs in conjunction with other metals in the form of an alloy. The lead mines of Gebel er- Rossass, near the coast of the Red Sea, about half-way between Berenice and Kossayr (Wilkinson, Handb. for Egypt, page 403), may have supplied the Hebrews with that metal, of which there were no mines in their own country, or it may have been obtained from the rocks in the neighborhood of Sinai. The bills of Palestine are rich in iron, and the mines are still worked there, though in a very simple, rude manner, like that of the ancient Samothracians: of the method employed by the Egyptians and Hebrews, we have no certain information. It may have been similar to that in use throughout the whole of India from very early times, which is thus described by Dr. Ure (Dict. of Arts, etc., art. Steel): "The furnace or bloomery in which the ore is smelted is from four to five feet high; it is somewhat pear-shaped, being about five feet wide at bottom and one foot at top. It is built entirely of clay... There is an opening in front about a foot or more in height, which is built up with clay at the commencement, and broken down at the end of each smelting operation. The bellows are usually made of a goat's skin... The bamboo nozzles of the bellows are inserted into tubes of clay, which pass into the furnace... The furnace is filled with charcoal, and a lighted coal being. introduced before the nozzles, the mass in the interior is soon kindled. As soon as this is accomplished, a small portion of the ore, previously moistened with water to prevent it from running through the charcoal, but without any flux whatever, is laid on the top of the coals, and covered with charcoal to fill up the furnace. In this manner ore and fuel are supplied, and the bellows are urged for three or four hours. When the process is stopped, and the temporary wall in front is broken down, the bloom is removed with a pair of tongs from the bottom of the furnace." It has seemed necessary to give this account of a very ancient method of iron smelting, because, from the difficulties which attend it, and the intense heat which is required to separate the metal from the ore, it has been asserted that the allusions to iron and iron manufacture in the Old Testament are anachronisms. But if it were possible among the ancient Indians in a very primitive state of civilization, it might have been known to the Hebrews, who may have acquired their knowledge by working as slaves in the iron furnaces of Egypt (comp. De 4:20). The question of the early use of iron among the Egyptians is fully disposed of in the following remarks of Sir Gardner Wilkinson (Ancient Egyptians, 2:154-156): "In the infancy of the arts and sciences, the difficulty of working iron might long withhold the secret of its superiority over copper and bronze; but it cannot reasonably be supposed that a nation so advanced, and so eminently skilled in the art of working metals as the Egyptians and Sidonians, should have remained ignorant of its use, even if we had no evidence of its having been known to the Greeks and other people.; and the constant employment of bronze arms and implements is not a sufficient argument against their knowledge of iron, since we find the Greeks and Romans made the same things of bronze long after the period when iron was universally known... To conclude from the want of iron instruments, or arms, bearing the names of early monarchs of a Pharaonic age, that bronze was alone used, is neither just nor satisfactory; since the decomposition of iron, especially when buried for ages in the nitrous soil of Egypt, is so speedy as to preclude the possibility of its preservation. Until we know in what manner the Egyptians employed bronze tools for cutting stone, the discovery of them affords no additional light, nor even argument; since the Greeks and Romans continued to make bronze instruments of various kinds long after iron was known to them; and Herodotus mentions the iron tools used by the builders of the Pyramids. Iron and copper mines are found in the Egyptian desert, which were worked in old times; and the monuments of Thebes, and even the tombs about Memphis, dating more than 4000 years ago, represent butchers sharpening their knives on a round bar of metal attached to their apron, which from its blue color can only be steel; and the distinction between the bronze and iron weapons in the tomb of Rameses III, one painted red, the other blue, leaves no doubt of both having been used (as in Rome) at the same periods. In Ethiopia iron was much more abundant than in Egypt, and Herodotus states that copper was a rare metal there; though we may doubt his assertion of prisoners in that country having been bound with fetters of gold. The speedy decomposition of iron would be sufficient to prevent our finding implements of that metal of an early period, and the greater opportunities of obtaining copper ore, added to the facility of working it, might be a reason for preferring the latter whenever it answered the purpose instead of iron." SEE METAL.