International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
kol (pecham, "charcoal"; compare Arabic fachm, "charcoal"; gacheleth, "burning coal" or "hot ember"; compare Arabic jacham, "to kindle"; shechor, "a black coal" (Lam 4:8); compare Arabic shachchar, "soot" or "dark-colored sandstone"; retseph (1 Ki 19:6), and ritspah (= Rizpah) (Isa 6:6), margin "a hot stone"; compare resheph, "a flame" (Song 8:6; Hab 3:5); anthrax, "a live coal" (Rom 12:20) (= gacheleth in Prov 25:22); anthrakia, "a live coal" (Jn 18:18; 21:9)): There is no reference to mineral coal in the Bible. Coal, or more properly lignite, of inferior quality, is found in thin beds (not exceeding 3 ft.) in the sandstone formation (see GEOLOGY OF PALESTINE, under Nubian Sandstone), but there is no evidence of its use in ancient times. Charcoal is manufactured in a primitive fashion which does not permit the conservation of any by-products. A flat, circular place (Arabic beidar, same name as for a threshing-floor) 10 or 15 ft. in diameter is prepared in or conveniently near to the forest. On this the wood, to be converted into charcoal, is carefully stacked in a dome-shaped structure, leaving an open space in the middle for fine kindlings. All except the center is first covered with leaves, and then with earth. The kindlings in the center are then fired and afterward covered in the same manner as the rest. While it is burning or smoldering it is carefully watched, and earth is immediately placed upon any holes that may be formed in the covering by the burning of the wood below. In several days, more or less, according to the size of the pile, the wood is converted into charcoal and the heap is opened. The charcoal floor is also called in Arabic mashcharah, from shachchar, "soot"; compare Hebrew shechor. The characteristic odor of the mashcharah clings for months to the spot.
In Ps 120:4, there is mention of "coals of juniper," the Revised Version, margin "broom," rothem. This is doubtless the Arabic retem, Retama roetam, Forsk., a kind of broom which is abundant in Judea and Moab. Charcoal from oak wood, especially Quercus coccifera, L., Arabic sindyan, is much preferred to other kinds, and fetches a higher price.
In most of the passages where English versions have "coal," the reference is not necessarily to charcoal, but may be to coals of burning wood. Pecham in Prov 26:21, however, seems to stand for charcoal:
"As coals are to hot embers, and wood to fire,
So is a contentious man to inflame strife."
The same may be true of pecham in Isa 44:12 and 54:16; also of shechor in Lam 4:8.
Alfred Ely Day
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'COAL'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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