Jump to content

Steel in Israel?


Recommended Posts

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another"

~~~ Proverbs 27:17

 

This quote has always been a favorite of mine in reference to smithing and otherwise and yet I some how had not put a lot of thought into the actual involved with that quote. Embarrassingly, when pressed for an answer as to exactly when steel was available in the middle east, I only had a rough idea...seeing as how the book of Proverbs itself was supposedly pieced together around the 5th century, I would have figured that steel was flaoting around the area at that time, but then why is iron referenced instead? so I figured I would defer to those with greater knowledge than I (and wikipedia).

 

I figure one of you, or several of you, fine people would have an answer for me. :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

For a super quick overview visit This Link

 

One of the notable points was from the reign Sargon II. Around 700BC King Sargon II built his fortress at Dur-Sharrukin/Nineveh/Mosul this link Archaeologists excavating the site in 1867 reported finding a huge stockpile of iron bars. (Victor Place, Nineve et l'Assyie, in 3 volumes, Imprimerie impériale, 1867-1879)

 

In Mesopotamia, Assyrian documents written about 800 BC use phrases such as putting enemies "to the iron dagger," implying that their armies were equipped with iron weapons. By 720 BC, Sargon II of Assyria was using iron lavishly, and nearly 150 tons of unworked iron bars were found in his palace, presumably as some sort of strategic reserve. There is good indirect evidence that the Assyrians did not smelt their iron themselves, but imported it (perhaps from Anatolia) as ready-made bars for their smiths to work into weapons or tools.

 

That is a mind boggling amount of iron!

Edited by Skip Williams
Link to post
Share on other sites

Files I suppose, scrapers maybe?

Even with iron theres bound to be some that is more like steel, and would hold an edge to help making the other edges? no?

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've read of sythes and sickle being cold-sharpened in the field with a hammer and stake anvil.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think Sean, and Don, have it exactly.

That is very likely referring to work hardening the edge of iron weapons. It was common practice during the early iron age. And all through the Bronze age.

 

Great paper Skip, thanks for sharing.

Mark

Edited by Mark Green
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the info, guys. And Skip, that link is good stuff.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think they really knew the difference between iron and steel at that time (as Skip wrote in his paper).If they did know the difference and had different words for iron and steel, steel and iron are often used interchangeably and synonymously. I dont know when files first appeared, but a steel file could easily sharpen a work hardened wrought iron axe head. The word "sharpen" might also mean "hone", as in honing the shape of a tool pre heat treat (if they had HT at the time). I have had many people ask me how I "sharpened" file knives (stock removal knives made from old files) when they actually mean "How was it ground?".

Edited by Luke Shearer
Link to post
Share on other sites
The word "sharpen" might also mean "hone", as in honing the shape of a tool pre heat treat (if they had HT at the time). I have had many people ask me how I "sharpened" file knives (stock removal knives made from old files) when they actually mean "How was it ground?".

 

Good point, Luke. Also remember we are dealing with a third- or fourth- hand translation, thus the original Hebrew/Aramaic/whatever went through Greek to Latin (at least twice before the Latin Vulgate version) then to English via a committee more concerned with getting the feel of noble language than an exact translation, and that last was around 400 years ago. Always an issue when dealing with the KJV. ;)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Good points all. The paper I linked to above was a bit goofy but it served to emphasize that what we call steel has been part of iron production scene pretty much from the beginning, even if it's value wasn't recognized.

 

 

One of the iron bars from Dur Sharrukin were looked at by Pleiner in 1979, it showed varied carbon content with a large part of the sample being around 0.7% C.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I went and looked at a bunch of translations. One of them used the word "steel". One used "whetted" for "sharpened". I guess it would help to look at the Hebrew. BTW the above translation is not KJV. This is the KJV: Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I went and looked at a bunch of translations. One of them used the word "steel". One used "whetted" for "sharpened". I guess it would help to look at the Hebrew. BTW the above translation is not KJV. This is the KJV: Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

 

If you want accuracy, I suspect the KJV, while lots of good poetry can be found in it (Bacon's influence? Bill S? who knows...) is a dog that really won't hunt. And while quench-hardening was known to often harden iron- and I don't think that in Israel at the time they were at the cutting edge of the tech, pardon the pun- I suspect the Indians were tops in that department-, so I doubt they had seperate words for iron and steel- it was also known to break things into itty bitty pieces. So it may only have been used on things that really needed to be hard- files, for instance- as someone on another thread pointed out, as long as a sword blade is hard enough to cut into flesh and bone, it works just fine at a lower hardness. So the phrase could have referred to a file dressing up an edge, or equally, dressing an edge on a stake/anvil.

Also, I just realised that a short, flat piece of fairly hard iron/steel could very well have been used to dress edges in the manner of a sharpening steel. If memory serves,the Ghurkas do precisely this to dress their knife edges in the field. So, who's to say in ancient times that a short piece of carburised iron, possibly too brittle for a sword or knife blade, might not have been carried by warriors as a "field dressing tool" to realign edges on soft iron blades?

Edited by Al Massey
Link to post
Share on other sites

This is all pretty fantastic info guys. Thanks again. It is good to see other, much better educated souls opinions lining up with what I was basically assuming. This forum and those that frequent it provide a fantastic wealth of knowledge, not to mention the near ridiculous amount of talent here as well.

 

Thanks again. It looks like it is time to hit the books on all things steel/iron/otherwise for this guy.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 year later...

I'm not sure that the word "steel" (or any hebrew word for it) was used until much later. It could've been refined as steel, but still called iron. Besides, the author of Proverbs was most likely not a steel refiner.

Link to post
Share on other sites

When it comes to biblical quotes, I stopped taking it literally a long time ago. Even if the smiths back in that time knew about the difference between iron and steel, that doesn't mean that the writers of the bible knew about it. Consider how much we laugh at stupid tv shows when they show a blacksmith doing something that we as experts know is wrong. Wasn't Conan's sword quenched in a snow bank?

 

And, let's not forget that to sharpen a piece of metal doesn't necessarily mean that you have put a shaving-sharp edge on it. Simply tapering a bar does, in effect, sharpen it as the end is now thinner than the parent stock. Cold-hammering scythes on a stump anvil is an ages-old technique for producing a sharp edge on thin stock. Draw-filing with an iron file will produce a very serviceable cutting edge that any butcher would be glad to use.

 

I can just see a "producer" watching some Aramaic smith draw-filing a long knife.... "Oooh, look at that... See there. Iron sharpens iron, we can use that. That's powerful sounding, make sure that gets in the script!" And the smith just quietly chuckling to himself, "Sheesh, these guys are idiots!"

Link to post
Share on other sites

From Proverbs 27:17...

בַּרְזֶל barzel :

  1. iron

    1. iron

      1. iron ore

      2. as material of furniture, utensils, implements

  2. tool of iron

  3. harshness, strength, oppression (fig.)

 

 

Also, I tend to favor the ESV, and the ESV, KJV, NKJV, etc. have no mention of "steel" anywhere in the text.

 

However the NASB uses it one time:


The shields of his mighty men are colored red,
The warriors are dressed in scarlet,
The chariots are enveloped in flashing steel
When he is prepared to march,
And the cypress spears are brandished.
Nahum 2:3
The ESV renders this word as "metal".
Edited by Don A
Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...