the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(בִּרְזֶל , barzel'; Chald. פִּרְזֶל, parzel'; Gr. σίδηρος, Lat. ferrum). There is not much room to doubt the identity of the metal denoted by the above terms. Tubal-Cain is the first-mentioned smith, "a forger of every instrument of iron" (Genesis 4:22). As this metal is rarely found in its native state, but generally in combination with oxygen, the knowledge of the art of forging it, which is attributed to Tubal-Cain, argues an acquaintance with the difficulties that attend the smelting of this metal. Iron melts at a temperature of about 3000° Fahrenheit, and to produce this heat large furnaces supplied by a strong blast of air are necessary. But, however difficult it may be to imagine a knowledge of such appliances at so early a period, it is perfectly certain that the use of iron is of extreme antiquity, and that therefore some means of overcoming the obstacles in question must have been discovered.
What the process may have been is left entirely to conjecture; a method is employed by the natives of India, extremely simple and of great antiquity, which, though rude, is very effective, and suggests the possibility of similar knowledge in an early stage of civilization (Ure, Dict. Arts and Sciences, s.v. Steel). The smelting furnaces of AEthalia, described by Diodorus (5, 13), remains of which still exist in that country, correspond roughly with the modern bloomeries (Napier, Metallurgy of the Bible p. 140). Malleable iron was in common use, but it is doubtful whether the ancients were acquainted with cast-iron. (See METAL).
The mineral wealth of Canaan is indicated by describing it as "a land whose stones are iron" (Deuteronomy 8:9), a passage from which it would seem that in ancient times it was a plentiful production of that vicinity (compare Job 28:2), as it is still in Syria, especially in the region of Lebanon (Volney's Tray. 1, 233). There appear to have been furnaces for smelting at an early period in Egypt (Deuteronomy 4:20; comp. Hengstenberg, Mois. u. Aeq. p. 19). Winer, indeed (Realo. s.v. Eisen), understands that the basalt which predominates in the Hauran (Burckhardt, 2, 637) is the material of which Og's bedstead (Deuteronomy 3:11) was made, as it contains a large percentage of iron. But this is doubtful. Pliny (36, 11), who is quoted as an authority, says, indeed, that basalt is "ferrei coloris atque duritise," but does not hint that iron was ever extracted from it. The book of Job contains passages which indicate that iron was a metal well known. Of the manner of procuring it, we learn that "iron is taken from dust" (38, 2). Iron was prepared in abundance by David for the building of the Temple (1 Chronicles 22:3), to the amount of one hundred thousand talents (1 Chronicles 29:7), or, rather, ‘ without weight" (1 Chronicles 22:14). Working in iron was considered a calling (2 Chronicles 2:7). (See SMITH).
In Sirach 38:28, we have a picture of the interior of an iron-smith's (Isaiah 44:12) workshop: the smith, parched with the smoke and heat of the furnace, sitting beside his anvil, and contemplating the unwrought iron, his ears deafened with' the din of the heavy hammer, his eyes fixed on his model, and never sleeping till he has accomplished his task. The superior hardness and strength of iron above all other substances is alluded to in Daniel 2:40; its exceeding utility, in Sirach 39:31. It was found among the Midianites (Numbers 31:22), and was part of the wealth distributed among the tribes at their location in the land (Joshua 22:8).
The market of Tyre was supplied with bright or polished- iron by the merchants of Dan and Javan (Ezekiel 27:19). Some, as the Sept. and Vulg., render this "wrought iron" so De Wette " geschmiedetes Eisen." The Targum has "bars of iron," which would correspond with the stricture of Pliny (34, 41). But Kimchi (Lex. s.v.) expounds עָשׁוֹת, ‘ ashoth, as "pure and polished" (= Span. acero, steel), in which he is supported by R. Sol. Parchon, and by Ben-Zeb, who gives "glanzend" as the equivalent (comp. the Homeric αῖΟωᾷ οαιλποτ, ΙΙ . 7, 473). If the Javan alluded to were Greece, and not, as Bochart (Phaleg, 2, 21) seems to think, some place in Arabia, there might be reference to the iron mines of Macedonia, spoken of in the decree of AEmilius Paulus (Livy, 45, 29); but Bochart urges, as a very strong argument in support of his theory, that, at the time of Ezekiel's prophecy, the Tyrians did not depend upon Greece for a supply of cassia and cinnamon, which are associated with iron in the merchandise of Dan and Javan, but that rather the contrary was the case. Pliny (34, 41) awards the palm to the iron of Serica, that of Parthia being next in excellence. The Chalybes of the Pontus were celebrated as workers in iron in very ancient times (AEsch. Prom. 733). They were identified by Strabo with the Chaldee of his day (12, 549), and the miles which they worked were in the mountains skirting the seacoast. The produce of their labor is supposed to be alluded to in Jeremiah 15:12, as being of superior quality. Iron mines are still in existence on the same coast, and the ore is found "in small nodular masses in a dark yellow clay which overlies a limestone rock" (Smith's Dict. of Class. Geog. s.v. Chalybes).
From the earliest times we meet with manufactures in iron of the utmost variety (some articles of which' seem to be anticipations of what are commonly supposed to be modern inventions). Thus iron was used for chisels (Deuteronomy 27:5), or something of the kind; for axes (Deuteronomy 19:5; 2 Kings 6:5-6; Isaiah 10:34; comp. Homer, II. 4:485); for harrows and saws (2 Samuel 12:31; 1 Chronicles 20:3); for nails (1 Chronicles 22:3), and the fastenings of the Temple; for weapons of war (1 Samuel 17:7; Job 20:24), and for war chariots (Joshua 17:16; Joshua 17:18; Judges 1:19; Judges 4:3; Judges 4:13). The latter were plated or studded with it, or perhaps armed with iron scythes at the axles, like the currus falcati of the ancient Romans. Its usage in defensive armor is implied in 2 Samuel 23:7 (compare Revelation 9:9), and as a safeguard in peace it appears in fetters (Psalms 105:18), prison gates. (Acts 12:10), and bars of gates or doors (Psalms 107:16; Isaiah 45:2), as well as for surgical purposes (1 Timothy 4:2). Sheet-iron was used for cooking utensils (Ezekiel 4:3; compare Leviticus 7:9), and bars of hammered iron are mentioned in Job 40:18 (though here the Sept. perversely renders σίδηρος χυτός, "cast-iron"). We have also mention of iron instruments (Numbers 35:7); barbed irons, used in hunting (Job 41:7); an iron bedstead (Deuteronomy 3:11); iron weights (shekels) (1 Samuel 17:7); iron tools (1 Kings 6:7 : 2 Kings 6:5); horns (for symbolical use, 1 Kings 22:11); trees bound with iron (Daniel 4:15); gods of iron (Daniel 5:4), etc.
It was used by Solomon, according to Josephus, to clamp the large rocks with which he built up the Temple mount (Ant. 15:11, 3), and by Hezekiah's workmen to hew out the conduits of Gihon (Sirach 48:17). Images were fastened in their niches in later times by iron brackets or clamps (Wisdom of Solomon 13:15). Agricultural implements were early made of the same material. In the treaty made by Porsena was inserted a condition like that imposed on the Hebrews by the Philistines, that no iron should be used except for agricultural purposes (Pliny, 34:39). It does not follow from Job 19:24, that it was used for a writing implement, though such may have been the case (comp. Isaiah 17:1), any more than that adamant was employed for the same purpose (Jeremiah 17:1), or that shoes were shod with iron and brass (Deuteronomy 33:25). Indeed, iron so frequently occurs in poetic figures that it is difficult to discriminate between its literal and metaphorical sense. In such passages as the following, in which a "yoke of iron" (Deuteronomy 28:48) denotes hard service; "a rod of iron" (Psalms 2:9), a stern government; "a pillar of iron" (Jeremiah 1:18), a strong support; "and threshing instruments of iron" (Amos 1:3), the means of cruel oppression: the hardness and heaviness (Sirach 22:15) of iron are so clearly the prominent ideas, that, though it may have been used for the instruments in question, such usage is not of necessity indicated. "The furnace of iron" (Deuteronomy 4:28; 1 Kings 8:51) is a figure which vividly expresses hard bondage, as represented by the severe labor which attended the operation of smelting.
Iron is alluded to in the following instances: Under the same figure, chastisement is denoted (Ezekiel 22:18; Ezekiel 22:20; Ezekiel 22:22); reducing the earth to total barrenness by turning it into iron (Deuteronomy 28:23); strength, by a bar of it (Job 40:18); affliction, by iron fetters (Psalms 107:10); prosperity, by giving silver for iron (Isaiah 60:17); political strength (Daniel 2:33); obstinacy, by an iron sinew in the neck (Isaiah 48:1); giving supernatural fortitude to a prophet, making him an iron pillar (Jeremiah 1:18); destructive power of empires, by iron teeth (Daniel 7:7); deterioration of character, by becoming iron (Jeremiah 6:28; Ezekiel 22:18), which resembles the idea of the iron age; a tiresome burden, by a mass of iron (Sirach 22:15); the greatest obstacles, by walls of iron (2 Maccabees 11:9); the certainty With which a real enemy will ever show his hatred, by the rust returning upon iron (Sirach 12:10). Iron seems used, as by the Hebrew poets, metonymicaliy for the sword (Isaiah 10:34), and so the Sept. understands it μάχαιρα . The following is selected as a beautiful comparison made to iron (Proverbs 27:17), "Iron (literally) uniteth iron; so a man uniteth the countenance of his friend," gives stability to his appearance by his presence.
It was for a long time supposed that the Egyptians were ignorant of the use of iron, and that the allusion in the Pentateuch were anachronisms, as no traces of it have been found in their monuments; but in the sepulchers at Thebes butchers are represented as sharpening their knives on a round bar of metal attached to their aprons, which, from its blue color, is presumed to be steel. The steel weapons on the tomb of Rameses III are also painted blue; those of bronze being red (Wilkinson, Anc. Eg. 3, 247). One iron mine only has been discovered in Egypt, which was worked by the ancients. It is at Hammami, between the Nile and the Red Sea; the iron found by Mr. Burton was in the form of specular and red ore (ibid. 3:246). That no articles of iron should have been found is readily accounted for by the fact that it is easily destroyed by exposure to the air and moisture. According to Pliny (34, 43), it was preserved by a coating of white lead, gypsum, and liquid pitch. Bitumen was probably employed for the same purpose (35, 52).
The Egyptians obtained their iron almost exclusively from Assyria Proper in the form of bricks or pigs (Layard, Nineveh, 2, 415). Specimens of Assyrian ironwork overlaid with bronze were discovered by Mr. Layard, and are now in the British Museum (Nin. and Bab. p. 191). Iron weapons of various kinds were found at Nimrfid, but fell to pieces on exposure to the air. Some portions of shields and arrow-heads (ib. p. 194, 596) were rescued, and are now in England. A pick of the same metal (ib. p. 194) was also found, as well as part of a saw (p. 195), and the head of an axe (p. 357), and remains of scale-armor and helmets inlaid with copper (Nineveh, 1, 340). It was used by the Etruscans for offensive weapons, as bronze for defensive armor. The Assyrians had daggers and arrow-heads of copper mixed with iron, and hardened with an alloy of tin (Layard, Nineveh, 2, 418). So in the days of Homer war-clubs were shod with iron (I. 7, 141); arrows were tipped with it (II. 4, 123); it was used for the axles of chariots (II. 5, 723), for fetters (Od. 1, 204), for axes and bills (I1. 4, 485; Od. 21:3, 81). Adrastus (II. 6, 48) and Ulysses (Od. 21, 10) reckoned it among their treasures, the iron weapons being kept in a chest in the treasury with the gold and brass (Od. 21, 61). In Od. 1, 184, Mentes tells Telemachus that he is traveling from Taphos to Tamese to procure brass in exchange for iron, which Eustathius says was not obtained from the mines of the island, but was the produce of piratical excursions (Millin, Mineral. Hon. p. 115, 2nd ed.).
Pliny (34, 40) mentions iron as used symbolically for a statue of Hercules at Thebes (comp. Daniel 2:33; Daniel 5:4), and goblets of iron as among the offerings in the temple of Mars the Avenger, at Rome. Alyattes the Lydian dedicated to the oracle at Delphi a small goblet of iron, the workmanship of Glaucus of Chios, to whom the discovery of the art of soldering this metal is attributed (Herod. 1, 25). The goblet is described by Pausanias (10, 16). From the fact that such offerings were made to the temples, and that Achilles gave as a prize of contest a rudely-shaped mass of the same metal (Homer, II. 23, 826), it has been argued that in early times iron was so little known as to be greatly esteemed for its rarity. That this was not the case in the time of Lycurgus is evident, and Homer attaches to it no epithet which would denote its preciousness (Millin, p. 106). There is reason to suppose that the discovery of brass preceded that of iron (Lucret. 5, 1292), though little weight can be attached to the line of Hesiod often quoted as decisive on this point (Op. et Dies, 150). The Dactyli Idaei of Crete were supposed by the ancients to have the merit of being the first to discover the properties of iron (Pliny, 7:57; Diod. Sic. 5, 64), as the Cyclopes were said to have invented the ironsmith's forge (Pliny, 7:57). According to the Arundelian marble Iron was known B.C. 1370, while Larcher (Chronologie d'Herod. p. 570) assigns a still earlier date, B.C. 1537. (See STEEL).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Iron'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​i/iron.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.