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Brazen Error in the KJV?

“Right there in Deuteronomy chapter 8, verse 9, your bible has a glaring error.” So said a ‘bible school graduate’ to me. He continued, “Your version says “out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.”

Then, with a straight and stern face he admonished me to look it up….”Brass is an alloy (a combination of metals) and is not naturally occurring in hills, or valleys, or anywhere on the earth! “ He continued, “The NIV and others have it right: ‘…you can dig copper out of the hills.”’

(I realize brass is typically a blend (the result of processes) of copper and zinc; both are naturally occurring elements, and both are found on the Periodic Table. I also realize that bronze is a blend of copper and tin: harder than brass, but with a duller appearance.)

So, I asked this student if perhaps it was understood that brass was a product of processed elements dug from the mountain; and instead of listing the elements, they simply stated the product and not the processes. Furthermore, we understand that the Israelites were quite familiar with foundry processes: for we see a molten calf, tabernacle items, and even a serpent was made in their journey. “No,” he replied, “brass is not an element. The KJV is wrong.”

“Oh, then I’m sorry to tell you that your NIV is also wrong! I see olive oil: that’s the result of a harvesting and pressing process. I see bread: the result of several processes, starting with harvesting of grain, and then cleaning it, and then grinding it, and then mixing it with other elements, baking, etc. But the word Bread is used. (Even in the NIV! )”

Monosaccharides fructose and glucose; formic, lactic, malic acids; hydrocarbons, ketones, terpenes and other ’naturally occurring elements’ are components of...honey. If you say honey (as both the NIV and KJV do), we get it, we understand. It’s not a mistake! Additionally, we may also know that the main elements of brass are dug from the earth (Deut. 8:9). It would be a mistake (and the NIV is guilty), to list only copper and not list zinc, in an age where brass is used! – harken back to Numbers 21:9: it’s a brass serpent (not a copper serpent).

“Did I see the word “land” in your NIV?” Oh boy… should it say: carbons, minerals, nitrogen, hydrogen, water (H2O), etc?

There is nothing inconsistent about the KJV – when the land is described, is it a land of milk and honey? or a land of fluids including triacylglycerols, small amounts of di- and monoacylglycerols, cholesterol esters, free fatty acids, phospholipids, protein and, of course, carbohydrates; and the previously mentioned elements of honey? It’s a matter of translation: the word brass is clear to the reader; whereas the word copper (alone) isn’t as clear, isn’t as accurate.

Bottom line: no error!

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The issue is not just that "Brass is an alloy" and therefore can't be dug directly from the hills. The issue is that brass is an alloy not known by humans until 500 BC (and not known by Ancient Israel at all). So even if Israelites did mean to say the alloy rather than the metal, the KJV should have said "bronze". If the KJV were written today, it would have used "bronze". "The one Hebrew word for copper and bronze was rendered brass by the King James translators because at the time the word bronze had not yet been introduced into the English language." The above quote offers you a more reasonable excuse.

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"Bronze" doesn't make it's way into the english language until 1640. The KJV was written in 1611. So this isn't an issue in accuracy so much as it's an issue of "English in the 1600s meant something different than modern English. Copper and/or bronze is always the better translation in the OT though if your goal is to have modern readers walk away with the right understanding.

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