Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun χαλκος (chalkos) means copper, a reddish, yellowish metal and the third and lowest of the three proverbial precious metals — the others being silver, αργυρος (arguros) and gold, χρυσος (chrusos). Gold and copper are somewhat similarly colored, and in that regard, silver goes with iron, σιδηρος (sideros), the strongest but least noble and highly reactive metal that allowed humanity to embrace the horrors and blessings of its Iron Age. The Iron Age began after the 12th century BC Bronze Age Collapse, and see our article on Hellas for much more on that.
In the Bible, these four metals obviously represent levels of wisdom, or perhaps rather stations in the development of mankind as a collective social being, initially governed by an innate wisdom class, then kings and their military, and then, finally perhaps a feeble senate or sorts (Daniel 2:32-33). Modern humanity's celebrated sapiens is based wholly on language, and language emerged slowly from very large populations interacting and imitating each other's expressions and getting into each other's heads. Language is very similar to money, as both congeal like mists in the ever turbulent atmosphere of the actual economy (see our articles on the nouns ανεμος, anemos, wind, and νεφελη, nephele, cloud, and note that the words ψυχη, psuche, soul, and πνευμα, pneuma, come from verbs that mean to breathe).
Language relates to human minds the way wine relates to grapes; see our article on αμπελος (ampelos), vine. But words are like silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times (Psalm 12:6). Iron, likewise, covers the whole of the dynamic collective, but is not purified but rather violently smithed into modular objects that can easily be replaced. Iron means legislation and violent enforcement, but is utterly corruptible and quickly rusts away.
Gold does not react with anything, and represents nature's eternal laws, which can't be corrupted (Matthew 5:18). The Greek word for gold, χρυσος (chrusos), is Semitic, but doesn't stem from the regular Hebrew word for gold, which is זהב (zahab), but rather from the word for processed and finely crafted gold, namely חרוץ (harus), which makes a gold artifact like a natural truth crafted into human language to form a pleasing piece of eternal profundity. The noun חרוץ (harus), crafted gold, literally means to discern, decide or split things apart. Our English word "science", likewise, relates to the verb σχιζω (schizo), to break, split or divide. Unlike silver and iron, gold is specific, like wisdom, mastered by the most elite craftspeople only.
Copper too is not common but the realm of an elite. It was the first metal ancient engineers learned to smelt, and became the primary component of an alloy — a hybrid, a manifest impure mixture — called bronze (copper and tin), that ushered in the modern age. Gold and copper are both yellow rather than white (as silver and iron are), but copper is more reddish than gold and, unlike gold, tarnishes red or green. Copper relates to the beginnings of modern humanity (see our articles on the names Red Sea and Adam), and mentally to intuitive wisdom, artistic discernment and spontaneous visions. The Hebrew word for copper, namely נחש (nahash), also means snake or to divine or soothsay: see our article on the name Nehushtan.
It's unclear where our noun χαλκος (chalkos) came from, but here at Abarim Publications we figure that since the Greek alphabet is essentially an adaptation of the Phoenician one, the chances are excellent that this miracle of information technology was imported along with the basics of the Semitic take on wisdom, and that includes the progressive system of precious metals. The word for gold derives from a verb that means to discern, and another verb of similar meaning, namely חלק (halaq), to divide and apportion, appears suspiciously similar to our noun χαλκος (chalkos). It's also suspiciously similar to another word of unknown origin, namely χαλιξ (chalix), pebble (as used in an abacus), from which we get our words calculus, and via the Latin calx, lime, our English word chalk (which in Latin was called creta, hence the Dutch word krijt, and which looks suspiciously similar to the name Crete, which was the Minoan capital).
In the Greek classics, copper, being the first smelted metal, was proverbial for its smoothness, and sure enough, a second and identical verb חלק (halaq II) means to be smooth, specifically of pebbles. In the classics, and particularly the earlier ones, our noun χαλκος (chalkos) did not so much specifically describe copper, but rather "metal" in general: copper, bronze, brass, or anything shiny, polished and hard, or anything made from metal: weapons and armor but also pots, pans and cauldrons, mirrors, copper money and records written on copper plates (see the noun χαλκευς, chalkeus, below). The poet Homer, nearly consistently, spoke of νηλει (nelei) or "merciless" bronze.
Our word metal, come to think of it, is also of obscure origin, although it's common knowledge that it came to us via the Latin metallum, from the Greek μεταλλον (metallon), meaning mine or quarry, which in turn seems related to the verb μεταλλαω (metallao), to diligently or carefully search (some scholars dispute the etymological connection between this noun and verb, but remain opposed by a huge popular momentum of those who don't). But whatever came first, the verb or the noun, the trail runs cold there. Unless of course, we here at Abarim Publications are rightly charmed by the Hithpael (reflexive) participle of the verb הלל (halal), to shine or praise, which would link our noun μεταλλον (metallon) conveniently to the name Ελλας or Hellas.
This reflexive participle, מתהלל (mitehalel), "which shines upon itself" or "who praises himself", occurs a few times in the Bible, consistently in contexts that emphasize wisdom and information technology: "Let all those be ashamed who serve graven images, "who boast themselves" (mitehalelim) of idols; Worship Him, all you gods" (Psalm 97:7 ). "Let "he who boasts" (mitehalel) boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am YHWH" (Jeremiah 9:24). "Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts (mitehalel) of his gifts falsely" (Proverbs 25:14 ).
Our noun χαλκος (chalkos) is used a modest 5 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- The adjective χαλκεος (chalkeos), copper or made of copper (Revelation 9:20 only).
- The noun χαλκευς (chalkeus), literally meaning copper-man, but used to denote any metalworker, from refined goldsmith to iron-blasting blacksmith. This word occurs in the New Testament in 2 Timothy 4:14 only, as epithet of one Alexander the Coppersmith. Since Paul's writings are riddled with poetic code (and see our article on the names Philemon and Onesimus for a discussion on why this would be), Alexander the Coppersmith may very well have been a reference to the pernicious legacy of Alexander the Great and ultimately Aristotle and the Greek philosophical tradition (see our article on πασχω, pascho, to experience).
- The noun χαλκιον (chalkion), denoting any kind of copperware or thing made from copper or bronze (or metal), from a piece of copper money to a kind of administrative tag, musical instruments or pots, bowls and cauldrons. It occurs in Mark 7:4 only.
- Together with the noun λιβανος (libanos), meaning frankincense (from the Hebrew לבן, laben, meaning white): the noun χαλκολιβανον (chalkolibanon), of wholly unknown meaning (scholarly guesses range from fine brass to Lebanese brass to yellow frankincense). It occurs in Revelation 1:15 and 2:18 only, consistently descriptive of the "feet" (ποδες, podes) of the Son of Man, and associated with fire. Here at Abarim Publications we don't know either, but since לבן (laben) means white, and white is the "color" of the public metals of silver and iron, we guess that χαλκολιβανον (chalkolibanon) denotes a popular form of esotericism, like the proverbial public secret. Our further guess is that it has to do with mass literacy, since literacy was once the prerogative of the priestly class but was given like Promethean fire to the masses upon the completion of the alphabet (Exodus 19:6).
The noun χαλκηδων (chalkedon) denotes a kind of gemstone: chalcedony (Revelation 21:19 only). Although it looks like this word has something to do with the noun χαλκος (chalkos), bronze — reminiscent of χρυσολιθος (chrusolithos), chrysolite or gold-stone, and χρυσοπρασος (chrusoprasos), or chrysoprase — it's named after the town Chalcedon (now within modern Istanbul), or Καλκηδων (Kalkedon), whose name in turn derived from the Phoenician word for New City (not unlike the names Neapolis, Naples and Newton).
The Battle of Chalcedon (74 BC) was pretty much the last stand of the sovereign states of the eastern Mediterranean against the expanding but sorely destabilizing Roman Republic. This battle was the first battle of the Third Mithridatic War, whose high stakes attracted allies to both sides, until it had mushroomed into a classic equivalent of a world war. The battle was won by king Mithridates but the war was won by the Romans, most specifically by general Pompey, who kept going until he had subdued the entire region, including Judea in 64 BC. Not long after, Pompey's impudence in Rome impelled Julius Caesar to march his legion across the Rubicon, which effectively euthanized the Republic and spawned the disastrous Roman Empire, by which the world suffers until today.