Word Study: Nehhoshet

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The Hebrew word nehhoshet is translated as copper one time (Ezra 8:27) in the King James Version. Copper is a pure mineral meaning that it is not mixed with any other minerals. The King James Version translates this same word as brass one hundred and three times. Brass is an alloy (mixture) of copper and nickel (another pure mineral). Other translations translate nehhoshet as brass or bronze. Bronze is alloy of copper and tin (another pure mineral). It would appear that the translators are not certain of the meaning of the word nehhoshet as no consensus can be made on how to translate this word.

Jewish Hebrew dictionaries and Jewish translations of the Bible always translate this word as "copper." Why would Christian translations and dictionaries commonly translate nehhoshet as brass or bronze while Jewish dictionaries and translations use "copper?" Which is more accurate? At first glance it may seem like an insignificant problem but on further examination it becomes evident that a proper translation is essential.

In Leviticus 19:19 we find three commands:

  • You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind
  • you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed
  • nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff

Throughout the Torah God is demonstrating that mixtures are not appropriate. This would especially hold true for the items in the tabernacle. The altar was made of acacia wood and overlaid with nehhoshet. Is this nehhoshet brass, bronze or copper? Both brass and bronze are alloys, mixtures of pure minerals, only copper is a pure mineral. Would God call for an alloy, a mixture of different "pure" metals such as brass or bronze in the tabernacle? I doubt it.

Copper is the meaning of nehhoshet so whenever you see the word 'brass' or 'bronze' in your English translation make a mental note that this should be copper.