[b-hebrew] silver refining-cupellation?

Ben Crick ben.crick at argonet.co.uk
Mon Oct 30 12:07:17 EST 2006

On Mon 30 Oct 2006 (00:46:27 +0000), greifer at hotmail.com wrote:
> In Psalm 12 and many other quotes in the Torah, the refining of  silver
> is mentioned. Can anyone explain how silver was refined in Biblical times.
> I tried to look it up and every article mentions cupellation, but none of
> them explain what it means or how it was done. Thank you.

 The root ZQQ is used in Ps 12:6; but the usual root for purify is CRP
 (C=tsodhe). ZQQ in the Piel/Pual means to refine, purge, purify.

 The method used was to build a conical furnace with a forced air draught
 conduit underneath. The clay crucible (fining pot, Proverbs 17:3, 27:21)
 containing the metal to be refined rested on a bed of coals or charcoal.
 The smoke and flames issued from the chimney at the apex of the cone.
 A copper smelting furnace of this type was found at Tell Qasileh, circa
 1000 BC, about the time of David (Psalm 12, title). See JB Pritchard,
 /The Ancient Near East in Pictures/, 1954, p40, figs 133-136.

 Which "other quotes in the Torah"?  Other references are in Judges 17:4;
 1 Chronicles 28:18, 29:4; Isaiah 40:19, 41:7, 46:6; Jeremiah 10:8-9, 51:17;
 Nehemiah 3:8, 31-32. Also Malachi 3:2-3 and other places where refining
 is a metaphor for the purification of heart, mind and soul. The refiner
 sat down with his crucible in front of him, skimming off the dross until
 the pure metal reflected his face like a mirror: then the job was done.

 Cupellation is a process whereby a mixture of base and precious metal
 is heated in a porous ceramic cup ("cupel") until the base metals oxidise,
 and their oxides absorbed into the clay of the cupel. The precious metal
 does not oxidise, and remains as a free liquid in the cup, from whence
 it can be poured off and cooled for the making of jewellery, etc.

 Revd Ben Crick, BA CF                                       ZFC Ta
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