Where are the copper mines?

Eilat, on the north shore of the Gulf of Eilat (or Aqaba), has been our base for a couple of days. This area is significant in biblical history.

  • Israel camped at Ezion-geber. They journeyed from Ezion-geber and camped in the wilderness of  Zin at Kadesh (Numbers 33:35-36).
  • Ezion-geber and Elath (or Eloth) are linked together in some references (Deuteronomy 2:8; 1 Kings 9:26).
  • King Solomon built a fleet of ships in Ezion-geber. The Bible says it is near Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom. (1 Kings9:26)

Last evening I made this photo looking east from my hotel balcony. We face the marina; the gulf is to the right (south) of this photo. The lights, behind the large hotels, are in Jordan.

East view from Eilat to Aqaba. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

East view from Eilat to Aqaba. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The “promised land” was described to the Israelites as “a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper” (Deuteronomy 8:9). Copper was mined in the Negev (called the south in older English translations) as far back as the time of Solomon. Copper is still mined at Timna about 17 miles north of Eilat. Some years ago Belgian engineers made a survey proving the presence of 100,000 tons of metallic copper. Iron ore has been found in the Negev and in eastern Upper Galilee (Vilnay, The Israel Guide, 17).

The Bible does not say that Solomon had copper mines at Ezion-geber, but the presence of mining facilities dating to the time before Solomon indicates that this may have been one of the reasons why the King built a port and had a navy stationed there (1 Kings 9:26-28). Ezion-geber was more than 220 miles from Jerusalem. The copper provided a good medium of exchange for gold, spices, and other items that Israel needed.

In 1938, Nelson Glueck, reported that he had found a copper-refining plant at Tell el-Kheleifeh, which he identified as Ezion-geber, on the north shore of the Gulf of Aqaba (the Israelis call it the Gulf of Eilat).  The hotel in which we are staying in Eilat, Israel, is very near the border. Glueck identified Tell el-Kheleifeh as King Solomon’s copper mines, and explained that the apertures in the buildings served as flueholes. Through them, he thought, “the strong winds from the north-northwest entered into the furnace rooms of this structure,” which he called a “smelter, to furnish a natural draft to fan the flames.”

There is no question that copper smelting was done in the Negev in the time of Solomon, but Glueck later changed his mind about the building he had formerly identified as the refining plant. He later stated that the apertures in the building “resulted from the decay and or burning of wooden beams laid across the width of the walls for bonding or anchoring purposes.”

This does not affect any statement of the word of God, but it does mean that the old argument about the copper refining plant found in the Arabah is no longer valid. Glueck’s identification of Tell el-Kheleifeh with Ezion-geber is no longer accepted.

The tendency now is to identify Tell el-Kheleifeh with Elath (Eloth). Pharaoh’s Island (Jezirat Faraun) or Coral Island is suggested as the location of Ezion-geber. This island is located about 8 miles south of Eilat. It is now in Egyptian control so I was unable to see it on this trip, but I saw it a few
years ago.

It may be that our comfortable hotel is located on a spot where Israelites once camped.

This morning we visited Timna Park which is located 17 miles north of Eilat. The Egyptians mined and smelted copper here in the 13th-12th centuries B.C. We saw the excavations conducted by Beno Rothenberg that provided evidence of the copper smelting. I don’t have enough time tonight to give a full explanation, and I have already written a lot for one day.

Timna Park is filled with beautiful, colorful, desert landscapes. One of the formations is known as Solomon’s Pillars. Of course, it has nothing to do with Solomon, but the name is nice.

The so-called Solomon's Pillars at Timna. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The so-called Solomon's Pillars at Timna. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

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