Tag Archives: copper

Copper production in the time of Solomon

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 Arabah of Israel as far back as the 13th-12th century B.C. Copper is still mined at Timna about 25 miles north of Eilat (close to Ezion-geber). 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 10th century B.C. 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.

These massive pillars at Timna have been associated with Solomon for a long time. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Pillars of Solomon. These massive pillars at Timna have been associated with Solomon for a long time. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

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 Aqabah (the Israelis call it the Gulf of Eilat). This site is now within Jordanian territory. Glueck identified the copper-refining plant 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.”

It is true that copper smelting was done in the Arabah in the time of Solomon, but Glueck later changed his mind about the building he had formerly identified as the refining plant. In 1962 Beno Rothenberg demonstrated that the installation at Tell el-Kheleifeh could not have been for copper smelting.

Glueck was convinced by the findings of Rothenberg 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statement of the Bible, but it does mean that the old argument about the copper refining plant found in the Arabah is no longer valid.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. We plan to follow this post with one on Solomon’s seaport.

A recent excavation and study, including archaeometric dating (of Site 30 of the southern Arabah) conducted by Erez Ben-Yosef, et al. has provided a new chronological framework for Iron Age copper production at Timna (Israel). Ben-Yosef says the study,

resulted in a new chronological framework for Iron Age copper production in this region. The main period of copper smelting in the southern Arabah was during the 10th century B.C.E., and the extent of New Kingdom Egyptian control over copper production in Timna was more limited than previously believed. (“A New Chronological Framework for Iron Age Copper Production at Timna (Israel).” BASOR 367 (2012), p. 65.

Egyptians welcome visitors to Timna Park. It is true that Egyptians worked in the area during the 13th-12th centuries B.C., but Ben-Yosef says their control over the copper production “was more limited than previously believed.”

Entrance to the Timna Park. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Egyptians welcome visitors to the Timna Park. Perhaps some Israelites should be added. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Other post having to do with copper may be read here, here, and here.

This paragraph provides documentation for some of the material mentioned above. For more information one may check the following books or articles by Nelson Glueck: “The First Campaign at Tell el-Kheleifeh,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Oct., 1938; The Other Side of the Jordan, 1940; Rivers in the Desert, 1949; the change was announced in “Ezion-geber,” The Biblical Archaeologist, Sept., 1965.

Copper smelting in 10th century B.C. Edom

Several sources are reporting the discovery of copper smelting operations in Jordan dating to the 10th century B.C. This is the time of Solomon. The discovery was made at a site called Khirbat en-Nahas about 30 mile south of the Dead Sea on the eastern side of the Arabah. The photo below is by Thomas Levy, UC San Diego.

Industrial copper slag mound at Khirbat en-Nahas. Photo Thomas Levy.

Industrial copper slag mound at Khirbat en-Nahas. Photo Thomas Levy.

This is the ancient territory of Edom. Scholars have known for 30 or more years that there was metalworking there in the 7th century B.C. Researchers, led by Professor Thomas E. Levy of the Department of Anthropology at UC San Diego, and Mohammad Najjar of Jordan’s Friends of Archaeology, dug deeper into the site to find evidence of smelting from the 9th and 10th century.

Naysayers who seem frightened that some modern archaeological discovery might “confirm” the biblical record are already at work. Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University is quoted as saying that the stories of the Old Testament “depict the concerns, theology and background of the time of the writers” which he says belong to the 5th century B.C. They cannot be accepted as factual according to Finkelstein.

From his study in Florida, Ferrell Jenkins said,

Instead of immediately linking a discovery such as this to a biblical character or event, would it not be better to think of the discovery in the terms of shedding light on the biblical record?

An Egyptian scarab from Tanis or the eastern delta and an amulet of the Egyptian goddess Mut caused Levy to suggest that these artifacts might be associated with the Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonq I. Pharaoh Sheshonq I is known as Shishak in the Bible. Here is a summary of the biblical references to Shishak.

  • Provided refuge to Jeroboam for a few years prior to the death of Solomon (1 Kings 11:40).
  • Invaded Israel (Canaan) in the fifth year of King Rehoboam (926 B.C.) and took away treasures from the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 14:25-26; 2 Chronicles 12:2-9).

Shishak left a record of his invasion of Canaan on the walls of the temple of Amum at Karnak (modern Luxor, Egypt). Here is a photo of the relief at Karnak showing Shishak holding lines to the 156 Canaanite cities he claims to have captured.

Pharaoh Shishak I of Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pharaoh Shishak I of Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Bible says that Israel would be able to dig copper from the hills of the country to which they were going (Deuteronomy 8:9). See also Job 28:1-2.

We have known for some time that copper was smelted by the Egyptians at Timna, about 25 miles north of Eilat. Here is a photo showing a reconstruction of the process for copper smelting there in the 13-12th century B.C.

Model of copper smelting installation at Timna. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Model of copper smelting installation at Timna. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

More details about this discovery may be found at the following sites: UC San Diego News Center. At the Los Angeles Times there is a nice 12 minute video about the discovery narrated by Thomas Levy.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Update [later in the day]: Todd Bolen has added three great photos taken at Khirbat en-Nahas at his Bible Places Blog.