A techie note from church

This morning in Church it was my turn to read the lesson from the Hebrew scriptures, about Joseph being sold to the Ishmaelites for 20 pieces of Silver (Genesis 37). I also read the assigned part of Psalm 105, where this story also comes up.

17 He sent a man before them, *
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 They bruised his feet in fetters; *
his neck they put in an iron collar.

I saw the phrase “iron collar” and my mind immediately went “Anachronism!”. The story of Joseph is set in the Bronze Age. Iron smelting was very difficult then, and much of the iron known was from meteorites. An object made from such was a gift fit for a King. Literally! There was a meteoritic iron dagger in Tutankhamun’s tomb. An “iron collar” would have been worth far more than any slave wearing it.

The answer, of course, is that Psalm 105 was written much later, perhaps around 500 B.C.
This is well into the iron age. Iron is more abundant than copper and far more abundant than tin, the ingredients of bronze. Once iron smelting became widespread, iron objects became much cheaper than their bronze predecessors, and could be used in circumstances that would have unthinkable earlier, e.g. collars to restrain prisoners and slaves. The psalm reflect the practice of when it was written, not the time it was describing.

There are references to iron in Homer. Like Psalm 105 (and the Pentateuch) the Iliad and the Odyssey talk about events of the Bronze Age, but reflect the Early Iron Age when they were written.

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