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COPPER:

The first common metal to come into use, as it is easily obtained and readily worked. Burial-places in which utensils, weapons, etc., of iron are found are ascribed to a later period than are those containing copper or bronze weapons.

Name and Origin.

The word "copper" is derived from the name "Cyprus," the island from which the ancient Greeks obtained this metal; hence the name χάλχος, κύπριος Latin æs cyprium, copper. The Hebrew name "neḥoshet" denotes not only copper, but also copper alloy. Since copper is rather soft and very flexible, it was mixed with other metals, especially with tin, thereby becoming almost as hard as steel. Of such a copper alloy, probably, were made the spear-head (I Sam. xvii. 7), the lance (II Sam. xxi. 16), and the bow (II Sam. xxii. 35), and perhaps also fetters (Judges xvi. 21). In the earliest times swords and axes, doubtless, were cast in copper alloy (I Kings vii. 46); later on they were forged in iron (I Sam. xiii. 19; Isa. ii. 4).

In Palestine itself there were no copper-mines, and probably none in the Lebanon Mountains, though iron ore was found there; hence the Israelites had to import their raw material either from the Egyptians or the Phenicians. The former in very early times worked copper-mines on the Sinai peninsula; and the ruins of immense works may still be seen in Wadi Meghara and Wadi Nasb. The Egyptian inscriptions found there state that even before the time of Cheops or Khufu, who built the great pyramid at Gizeh, copper was mined by Senoferu, a king of the fourth dynasty. The Phenicians probably mined copper first in Cyprus. But Ezek. xxvii. 13 states that later on they obtained ore also from the Colchian Mountains through the Tibareni and Moschi. The Israelites had commercial relations both with the Egyptians and the Phenicians, but not in very early times. Moses, however, is represented as having made a serpent of brass ("neḥushtan," Num. xxi.9), which was later on worshiped in the Temple of Jerusalem, and which Hezekiah "brake in pieces" (II Kings xviii. 4); and Bezaleel, while in the desert, is said to have made partly out of brass the vessels for the Tabernacle.

Images and Altars of Brass.

These instances are anachronisms; for it is shown in I Kings vii. 13 (compare II Chron. ii. 12 et seq.) that in the days of Solomon the process of casting brass was still unknown to the Israelites, since the king had to send to Tyre for a worker in brass (Hiram). Ex. xxxviii. is also an instance of anachronism, the furnishings of Solomon's Temple being taken as a pattern; while the neḥushtan of II Kings xviii. 4, if it actually belongs to early times, must have been imported from elsewhere. That such things were imported may be gathered from the commandment of Yhwh in Ex. xxxiv. 17. If a "molten image" () is here forbidden to the people, it may be assumed that, in contradistinction to the old Hebrew Ephod of wood or stone, the imported image of brass was interdicted, and that in Ex. xxxiv. 17 the term "massekah" () is to be taken in its specific sense of a brazen manufacture; for in early times idols of wood or stone, plated with gold or silver, were worshiped ("efod" or "pesel"; compare Judges viii. 22 et seq., xvii. 1 et seq.). This assumption is all the more probable since there is no longer any doubt that foreign, more especially Phenician, influences affected the construction and furnishing of Solomon's Temple.

In early times the altar of Yhwh was built of earth or of unhewn stone (Ex. xx. 24 et seq.). The brazen altar in the Temple of Solomon indicates a breaking away from this old Israelitic custom; and Ahaz afterward had a new altar built in the Temple, patterned after an altar he had seen at Damascus (II Kings xvi. 10 et seq.). From this time on it probably became the custom in Israel to make their vessels of brass. Unfortunately the costly brazen pillars, calves, vessels, etc., that adorned the Temple since the days of Solomon, were destroyed by the vandalism of the Babylonians, who broke them into pieces and carried the metal to Babylon (II Kings xv. 13 et seq.; Jer. lii. 17 et seq.). In the Second Temple there were also brazen vessels, but not in such quantities; brazen cymbals are mentioned in I Chron. xv. 28 (compare Josephus, "Ant." vii. 12, § 3). The heaven of brass referred to in Deut. xxviii. 23 does not mean that after a long-continued drought the sky gleams like new molten bronze, since in the parallel passage of Lev. xxvi. 19 the earth also is compared to brass. It means rather that the vault of heaven is closed so tight that no drop of rain can descend, and the earth in consequence is turned into brass; that is, becomes hard and unproductive.

Bibliography:
  • O. Schrader, Prehistoric Antiquities of the Aryan Peoples, vi.;
  • Johannes Ranke, Der Mensch, ii. 516-523.
J. Jr. W. N.
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