Tubal-Cain Genesis 4:22


The son of Lamech by Zillah supported well the renown of his family for discoveries in the arts. His name was Tubal-Cain. He was “an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron.” For “brass” read “copper;” brass being a factitious metal of certainly much later invention. Was then the use of metals wholly unknown in the eight or nine centuries of not savage life which had passed since Adam received his being? Perhaps not. It is hard to conceive that extensive agricultural operations could have been carried on, that cities could have been built, or the useful and elegant arts brought into use without this knowledge. We might indeed conceive that the use of iron was of this late, or even later, origin. That metal is hard to find, and difficult to bring into that condition which fits it for use. It is usually the last of the metals to be brought into man’s service; and nations which have possessed all the other metals have wanted that. This is not the case with copper. It is often found on or near the surface in its metallic shape; it is soft and easily wrought; and nations, whose instruments were only of this metal, have been known to execute great works, and to have attained an advanced state of civilization. All antiquity, indeed, vouches for the remotely ancient (but not earliest) discovery of iron; but all antiquity also affirms, that although iron was known, the difficulty of the first operations in rendering it available greatly restricted its use, and a large number of implements, utensils, and weapons, which we should expect to be of iron wherever that metal was known, are found to have been nevertheless of copper. On the other hand, it must be admitted, that the ancients, being obliged to rely so much upon copper, labored diligently in overcoming the inconvenience which its natural softness could not but occasion. By certain amalgamations and  manipulations, they seem to have succeeded in imparting to copper some of the hardness of iron: and it is certain, that with their tools of this material, they were able to perform operations which we cannot execute without instruments of iron. It is probable that the ancients possessed some secret in hardening copper, which has been lost since the more general use of iron threw it out of use for such purposes.

Not to pursue this theme further at this time, we may remark that copper is here placed before iron, and that, taking all things into account, the probability is that Tubal-Cain’s improvements were more in copper than in iron. The text itself seems to intimate that great and important discoveries in the working of metals were made by him, rather than that he was the first to apply them to any use. He is not, like his brothers Jabal and Jubal, called “the father,” or originator, of the art he taught, but an “instructor” of those that wrought in it. So strong is our impression respecting the earlier use of copper, and the comparatively limited employment of iron, that we would almost venture to conjecture that Tubal-Cain’s researches in metallurgy, which led him to great improvements in the working of copper, also led him to the discovery of iron. Du Bartas, who, in his poem on The Handicrafts, has exercised much ingenuity upon the origin of inventions, appears to have felt great difficulty in accounting for the discovery of iron, and seems to have found it only possible to do so by supposing that it had been seen in a state of fusion, and afterwards hardening as it cooled, in the operations of nature.

“While through the forest Tubal (with his yew
And ready quiver) did a boar pursue,
A burning mountain from its fiery vein
An iron river rolls along the plain:
The witty huntsman, musing, thither hies
And of the wonder deeply ’gan devise.
And first, perceiving that this scalding metal,
Becoming cold, in any shape would settle,
And grow so hard, that with its sharpened side
The firmest substance it would soon divide, 
He cast a hundred plots, and ere he parts
He moulds the ground-work of a hundred arts.”

After describing Tubal-Cain’s successful working out of the ideas thus suggested, the poet breaks forth into an eulogium upon this metal—which if merited in his time may now be uttered with ten-fold emphasis—

“Happy device! We might as well want all
The elements as this hard mineral.
This to the ploughman for great uses serves;
This for the builder wood and marble carves;
This arms our bodies against adverse force;
This clothes our backs; this rules the unruly horse;
Thus makes us dry shod dance in Neptune’s hall;
This brightens gold, this conquers self and all;
Fifth element, of instruments the haft,
The tool of tools, the hand of handicraft.”

Certain it is that whatever was the precise nature and extent of Tubal-Cain’s inventions in metallurgy, they were of such great use and service to mankind as rendered him famous in his day, and attached honorable distinction to his name in all succeeding generations, so that there is scarcely any ancient nation which has not preserved some traditional notices of his character and improvements. There is even reason to think that he was eventually worshipped by various ancient nations, and under names which, however different, signify an “artificer in fire.” In the name and character of Vulcan, the blacksmith-god of the Greeks and Romans, it requires no great penetration to discover the Tubal-Cain of Genesis. Omitting the Tu, which was likely to be regarded as a prefix, and making the exceedingly familiar change of . into ., and you have Vulcain or Vulcan. This, and other analogies of a like nature, might tempt us into investigations from which we must at present refrain.

It is also worthy of note that the Mosaical narrative is not the only ancient record which ascribes the invention or improvement of metallurgy to this seventh generation of mankind. Thus the Phoenician annalist, Sanchoniatho, says of  this generation: “Of these [the leaders of the preceding generation] were begotten two brothers, who discovered iron and the forging thereof.” He says that one of these was called Chrysor, “who is the same with Hephaestos”—both names derived from “fire.” The Hindu records—the Puranas—furnish no facts, but only names. Yet the names are significant, and in this seventh generation the name is Sumarti, a word which signifies a fiery meteor: and in this we have the brothers of the Phoenician annalist designated by terms which signify “heating” and “hammering.”