By: Emil G. Hirsch
Precious stones, usually cut or polished for ornamental or other uses. Gems were not indigenous to Palestine; they were imported, under Solomon, in ships from Ophir (I Kings x. 11; II Chron. ix. 10), or brought by wandering merchants from Arabia and Phenicia (Ezek. xxvii. 22). Precious stones were among the Queen of Sheba's gifts (I Kings x. 2, 10), as well as among the riches for which Hezekiah provided treasuries (II Chron. xxxii. 27). Together with gold, they were esteemed the most costly and rare possessions (Job xxviii. 15 et seq.; Prov. xvii. 8, xxvi. 8; Wisdom vii. 9). Therefore the restored city of Zion (Isa. liv. 11, 12) will be founded and beautified with precious stones (comp. Rev. xxi. 18 et seq.); even the vision of God's glory recalls the glow of gems (Ezek. i. 26, 27). They were in use as ornaments at a comparatively early period (in the crown of the Ammonite monarch: II Sam. xii. 30; on robes and canopies: Ezek. xxviii. 13; Apocr. Esther iv. 6; on golden vessels: Ecclus. [Sirach] 1. 9-10). They were especially employed for signet-rings and seals, cylinders and cones (see Engraving;
Gems are designated as (Ezek. xxviii. 13; I Kings x. 2, 11; Assyrian, "abnua aḳartu" = : Prov. xvii. 8; : Isa. liv. 12; Ecclus. [Sirach] xlv. 11; : Ex. xxv. 7; : I Chron. xxix. 2; Talmudic, : B. B. 10b; also in the plural , in the frequent expression = "gems and pearls"). In addition to a few other specific references, the twelve stones in the breastplate of the high priest and the two in his ephod are specifically enumerated (Ex. xxviii. 9, 17-20; xxxix. 10 et seq.), from which lists that given by Ezekiel in the description of Tyre's glory ("cherub") (Ezek. xxviii. 13; comp. Rev. xxi. 9-11) is in all probability an adaptation; some extreme critics have even assumed the reverse relation between Ezekiel and Exodus (see Guthe, "Kurzes Bibelwörterb." s.v. "Edelsteine"). The exact determination of the value of the names given is extremely difficult, in some cases impossible. It has rightly been held (Flinders-Petrie, in Hastings, "Dict. Bible"; and J. L. Myres, in Cheyne and Black, "Encyc. Bibl." both s.v. "Stones, Precious") that the Septuagint represents the Greek knowledge on the subject in the Alexandrian period as summed up in Theophrastus' treatise (περί Aίθων), while Rev. xxi. 9-11 reflects Pliny's views ("Historia Naturalis," xxxvii.). The Targumim throw light on the views traditionally held in their time by the Jews, but there is no reason to believe that they preserve accurate knowledge of the stones in use before their day. Josephus' description ("Ant." iii. 7, § 5; "B. J." v. 5, § 7) is valuable only as giving his personal interpretation. Modern versions, as far as they do not follow the Septuagint, resort to equivalents based on the practise of their day. It is noteworthy in this connection that Sirach contents himself with a general description without details (Ecclus. [Sirach] xlv. 11).
On the well-grounded supposition that the Hebrews could not have been familiar with stones unknown to the peoples with whom they came in contact and from whom they drew their stock of gems, Myres has compiled a table of stones in actual use among Egyptians, Babylonians, etc., at various periods. In the following, Myres' compilation has been consulted. Dividing the twelve stones intofour rows of three each, Exodus (xxviii. 17-20) enumerates them thus:Sard.
- (1) : σάρδιον = "sardius"; A. V. and R. V. "sardius" or "ruby" (Ex. xxviii. 17, xxxix. 10; Ezek. xxviii. 13; Rev. xxi. 20); Targ. Onḳ. ; Targ. Yer. i. , ii. ; Ex. R. xxxviii. ; Josephus, "Ant." iii. 7, § 5, "sardonyx." This, as the name implies and according to the Targumim and Num. R. vi. 7, was of red color, though possibly its name meant merely to suggest its Edomite origin. It is thus safe to identify it with the modern sard, which, according to Pliny (l.c. xxxvii. 106), was very common among the engraved stones in antiquity. Petrie holds it to be the opaque blood-red jasper, which was valued as a charm against bleeding, and was indeed common in Egypt, Babylonia, and Assyria. While the sardonyx is a variety of agate in which white or semiopal chalcedony alternates with sard, the latter is a very compact variety of chalcedony, transparent, and much esteemed by ancient lapidaries. The reading in Ex. R. xxxviii, should be emended to , the sardonyx or carnelian, possibly the same stone as that which occurs elsewhere in rabbinical writings under the name or (Sanh. 59b; Ab. R. N., Text A, i. and xxxviii.; Targ. to Job xxviii. 18), which Levy derives from σανδαράκη, and Kohut identifies with a Persian word meaning "ruby" (see Bacher in "R. E. J." xxix. 83). On this stone in the breastplate was engraved "Reuben" (Ex. R. l.c.).
- (2) : τοΘάζιον = "topazius"; A. V. and R. V. "topaz" (Ex. xxviii. 17, xxxix. 10; Ezek. xxviii. 13; Job xxviii.19); Rev. xxi, 20, σβρδόνυξ; Targ. Onḳ. ; Targ. Yer. i. and ii. , Ex. R. l.c. ; Josephus l.c. "topaz." These renderings agree in identifying the "piṭdah" with the "topaz" (for the reading in Exodus Rabbah is doubtless a corruption of ; comp. the Syriac in Job xxviii. 19; see Monatsschrift," 1882, p. 334; Bacher, in "R. E. J." xxix. 84), and in making it a stone of yellow-green color. By modern scholars it is identified as the Assyrian "ḥipindu," a "flashing" stone. Thus the piṭdah could scarcely represent our modern topaz. But it may have been the "false topaz," that is, a yellow rock-crystal, or with still greater probability the modern chrysolite, which is a green-colored, vitreous, transparent or translucent mineral, of which there are two kinds, the common and the precious. The precious, of a pale yellowish-green color, is found in the Levant. In Pliny the description of the topaz fits the modern chrysolite, and that this corresponds to the Hebrew "piṭdah" is the opinion of Myres, Petrie, Cheyne, and Fraas (see Riehm, "Handwörterb." 2d ed., p. 338b, note). According to Job xxviii. 19 this stone came from Cush (Ethiopia). This seems to agree with the report (Pliny, l.c. vi. 34 and xxxvii. 32, where it is described as green; Targum to Job, l.c.; Diodorus Siculus, iii. 39) about the topaz island in the Red Sea. This stone was engraved "Simeon."
- (3) : Septuagint and Josephus, σμάραγδος; A. V. "carbuncle"; R. V. "carbuncle" or "emerald"; Targ. Onḳ. ); Yer. i., ii. ; Ex. R. . In Ezek. xxviii. 13 the Septuagint retains σμάραγδος, but the Masoretic text has "ya-halom." As the Hebrew name etymologically indicates, this was a "flashing, brilliant" stone. Its identification, however, is doubtful. According to the Greek writers, the Greek σμάραγδος (Lewy, "Die Semitischen Fremdwörter," p. 57) was a crystal found in immense columns and was of intense brilliancy. This would apply to the rock-crystal and the beryl. In favor of the former see Rev. iv. 3, and Petrie in Hastings, "Dict. Bible" (l.c.). In Egypt colorless, brilliant rock-crystal was extensively used for engraving, as it was from the later Babylonia time onward in Mesopotamia (Myres); hence the presumption is that the Biblical represents this crystal. The reading in Exodus Rabbah expresses the Greek ήάκινϑος (Syriac of Rev. xxi. 20). This would make it a stone of the color of the hyacinth, or the jacinth, one of the many varieties of zircon. It is mentioned in Revelations, but not in the Old Testament. Pliny (l.c. xxxvii. 41 et seq.) names Ethiopia as the source of its supply. In rabbinical literature it is frequently named (Gen. R. ixxix; Yaḳ. to Deut. 854; Yalḳ. to Gen. 134; Maḥzor Vitry, pp. 312, 336; comp. "R. E. J." xxix. 84). This stone was engraved with Levi's name.
- (4) : A. V. and R. V. "emerald"; R. V., margin, "car-buncle"; Septuagint and Josephus, ἄνϑραξ; Targ. Onḳ. ; Yer. i. ; Yer. ii. ; Ex. R. (ῥόδινος = "ruby," "rose-stone"). The Hebrew name has the appearance of being a loan-word. W. M. Müller ("Orient, Lit." ii. 39) identifies it with Egyptian "M-f-k-t," and thus in turn with the "lupaaku" stone of the El-Amarna tablets (see Muss-Arnolt, "Concise Dict." p. 801b). This, however, is doubted by Knudson ("Assyr. Beiträge," iv. 324). It must have belonged to the green stones, and the Sinaitic peninsula and Philistia have furnished it in quantities. Fifty of these stones were part of the tribute sent from Ashkalon, just as the "nofek" was among the goods sent from Syria (Masoretic text ; or, if reading is , from Edom) enumerated in Ezek. xxvii. 16. Onḳelos and Targ. Yer. i. support this value of nofek as a green stone (emerald) often mentioned in Jewish writings (Lev. R. ii. 5; Pesiḳ. R. X. [p. 39b] as quoted in the 'Aruk, which connects the later name with the Arabic "zumurrud"). The modern identification of the nofek with the red garnet, or that by the Septuagint with the carbuncle and ruby, has the support of Targ. Yer. ii. and of Exodus Rabbah. It was assigned to Judah.
- (5) : A. V. and R. V. "sapphire" (Ex. xxiv. 10, xxviii. 18, xxxix. 11; Isa. liv. 11; Lam. iv. 7; Cant. v. 14; Job xxviii. 6, 16; Ecclus. [Sirach] xliii. 19; Ezek. i. 26). The same word is employed in the Septuagint, in the Vulgate, and by Josephus (comp. Lewy, l.c. p. 56); Targ.Onḳ. , Yer.i. , Yer.ii. , Exodus Rabbah ("sapphire"). This stone probably represented in Biblical usage the opaque blue lapis lazull, according to W. M. Müller the "uḳnu" of the El-Amarna tablets (see Rev. xxi. 19, R. V., margin). It has the appearance of being sprinkled with gold-dust (Theophrastus, l.c. p. 692). This is due to the presence of iron pyrites, and harmonizes with both Ex. xxiv. 10 and Ezek. i. 26 (comp. Toy, "Ezekiel," in "S. B. O. T."). Others, however, have contended that the Biblical sapphire is identical with the modern sapphire, the blue corundum (hence Onḳelos, "shabziz"), though this was almost unknown before the Roman empire, and was regarded by the classical mineralogists as a jacinth or hyacinth. The sapphire (probably the true one) occurs in rabbinical books (Tan., Ki Tissa, 29; Eccl. R. x. 20; Yelamdenu to Ex. xxxiii, 1 [quoted in the 'Aruk]; Ex. R. viii. 3; Cant. R. v. 14; and frequently; see Krauss, "Lehnwörter," pp. 398-399). On this stone was engraved "Issachar."
- (6) : A. V. "diamond"; R. V. "diamond" or "sardonyx" (sec No. 12). The rendering of the old versions is in doubt, as, owing to transpositions, the Septuagint ἴασπις and Latin "iaspis" (Ex. xxviii. 18, xxxix. 11) may correspond to another Hebrew term ("yashefeh" according to Petrie and Myres). The readings in Targum, , Yer. i. , Yer. ii. , EXR. "smaragd" (emerald), , confirm the suspicion of a confusion. in Onḳelos might suggest "yahalom," but see under No. 9; "kadkodi" is the ruby; and "'en'egla," elsewhere the rendering for , is the hyacinth ("vaccinium"). Moreover, the Greek ἴασπις is linguistically the equivalent of the Hebrew "yashefeh," which, according to Benfey, is of Egyptian origin (Lewy, l.c. p. 56). As Josephus also mentions the jasper, though as the second, not as the third stone of the second row, it is advised to put "yashefeh" in place of the "yahalom" here. This stone was known to the Assyrians ("yashpu"), and was used for the royal seal. The Greek ἴασπις was a dull, opaque stone, generally green, but occurred also in red and opalescent varieties. The modern jasper is an impure variety of silica, opaque, and of many colors and shades. Pliny (l.c. xxxvii. 9) reports that in the East the variety of jasper which resembled the emerald was especially affected (hence Ex. R. has "emerald"). In the Greek of Isa. liv. 12 ἴασπις corresponds to the Hebrew "kadkod," which identification underlies the rendering of Targ. Yer. i. Symmachus, "charchedonion" is another rendering agreeing with the Targum (see Krauss, "Lehnwörter," p. 299). Fraas contends that the jasper of the Bible was the opal found often in Egyptian tombs, and which even furnished the material for a delicately chiseled statuette of Isis (Riehm, "Handwörterb." 2d ed., p. 335, note). All things point to the conclusion that in the breastplate the last place in the second row was occupied by an opaque stone of rich green color. On it was engraved the name" Zebulun."
- (7) : Septuagint, λιγύριον (so also Josephus) = "ligurius"; A. V. "ligure"; R. V. "jacinth," margin "amber"; Targ. Onḳ. ; Yer. i. ; Yer. ii. ; Ex. R. . As these various renderings show, tradition emphasizes the ignorance concerning the true value of the Hebrew word. The only fact made prominent is that the stone was brilliant and of an intense luster. Hence the Midrash makes it of the white tin-like color of antimony; Yer. ii. merely calls it "shiny." Onḳelos and Yer. i. name it by the Greek κέγχρινον ("with little grains"), which also is the Syriac equivalent. Based on Pliny'sdescription of the ligure (l.c. viii. 57, xxxvii. 11-13), it has been identified with the amber, while the fact that in the apocalyptic enumeration (Rev. xxi.) the hyacinth appears in its stead has suggested the rendering "jacinth." The only conclusion warranted is that the "leshem" was a lustrous gold-colored stone. It is the stone of Dan (comp. Hommel, "Altisraelitische Ueberlieferung," p. 283).
- (8) : Septuagint and Josephus, ἀχάτης; Targ. Onḳ. ; Yer. i. ; Yer. ii. ; Ex. R. ; A. V. and R. V. "agate." Tradition confirms the modern identification with the agate, one of the cryptocrystalline varieties of quartz, according to Dana of one class, therefore, with chalcedony, carnelian, onyx, and jasper. It is found in many varieties, some banded, or in clouds, others with hues due to impurities. Its use is well attested for Egypt and Assyria, the Hebrew name even appearing to be borrowed from the latter, if it is not a place-name (ΨεΦω). Exodus Rabbah's reading is either a corruption or a variant of ("R. E. J." xxix. 87); the peculiar of Yer. ii. consists of a series of successive corruptions of = , which is ; and thus Yer. ii. agrees with the Peshiṭta of Ex. xxviii. 19, xxxix. 12, meaning under this name a variety of the agate. The of Yer. i. must be corrected into of Onḳelos. This is the Thracian stone, the "turḳis" or turquoise (Gen. R. xii. 13; Maḥzor Vitry, "turḳiza" [p. 163]: Yer. Ber. 2c. [according to Serillo]; not as Bacher [in "R. E. J." xxix. 87] has it, the "anthrakion" = "carbuncle" see Krauss, "Lehnwörter," pp. 278 et seq.). According to this rendering a sky-blue stone would be meant. The agate—Naphtali's stone—was regarded as potent in procuring divine aid (Schwab, "Vocabulaire de l'Angélologie," p. 53).
- (9) : R. V. and A. V. "amethyst"; Septuagint and Josephus, ἀμέϑυστον; Targ. Onḳ., Yer. i., and Yer. ii. ; Ex. R. , which is a misreading for "amethyst," and not "the bloodstone" (see "Monatsschrift," 1882, p. 335; "R. E. J." xxix.87). For the meaning of the "calf's eye" of the Targumim see above. The amethyst, which name is connected with the stone's supposed power to quench inordinate thirst for strong drink, is a variety of quartz, of a clear purple or bluish-violet color, and was extensively known and used by the Egyptians; many specimens with engravings are among the finds from the coast of Syria. It has been suggested that the Hebrew name points to some folk-lore connection between the "aḥlamah" and dreams ("ḥalom"). The etymology seems to imply the idea of being strong (Halévy, in "Journal Asiatique," 7th series, x. 426), or it may beindicative of the place (Aḥlamu) where the stone was found (see Gesenius, "Thesaurus," s.v.). Targum Yer. ii. gives to "yahalom" (No. 6) the same rendering as it, together with the two other Aramaic paraphrases, gives to "aḥlamah," i.e., "the calf's eye," that is, "vaccinium" or hyacinth. But Onḳelos' translation for the sixth stone () must be "amethyst." Its first syllable certainly refers to "strong drinking" (from , "to drink to excess," whatever the second be—perhaps = "strong"), recalling thus the superstition implied also in the Greek term. This was Gad's stone.
- (10) : A. V. "beryl"; R. V. "beryl" or "chalcedony"; χρυσόλιϑος (also Josephus), "chrysolithus" (Ezek. x. 9; Septuagint has ἄνϑραξ = "carbuncle," but Vulgate "chrysolithus"); Targ. Onḳ. and Yer. ii. ; Yer. i. the same with the addition of ; Ex. R. . This must have been a stone believed to be imported from Tarshish. It has been variously identified with the beryl (R. V.), with amber, with the modern pale-green topaz (see No. 2). To a green stone, not to amber, the rendering of the Targumim "of the color of the sea" refers (Krauss, "Lehnwörter," p. 297; comp. Ber. 6b; Cant. R. i. 14; Targ. to Esth. viii. 15; Sachs, "Beiträge," ii. 41). The word of Exodus Rabbah is a corruption of the Greek χρυσόλιϑος. What may be meant by the Greek term is very doubtful, and the best rendering is that of the Septuagint (to Ezek. i. 6; Cant. v. 14): "Tarshish" stone, without attempt at greater definiteness. This stone was reserved for Asher's name.
- (11) : A. V. "onyx"; R. V. "onyx" or "beryl"; βηρύλλιον (Josephus gives "beryl" for No. 12), "onychinus"; Targ. Onḳ ; Yer. i. ; Yer. ii. ; Ex. R. . The Jewish tradition identifies this stone with the beryl, Yer. ii. being the exception, naming the "bedolaḥ" (Gen. ii. 12), usually an aromatic plant, but here and in Syriac an Indian crystal (Lagarde, "Gesammelte Abhandlungen," xx. 39; "Orientalia," ii. 44; Gen. R. xvi.). The beryl, of which the readings in Yer. i. and Exodus Rabbah give the name in corrupt form, is also by later Jewish commentators said to be the Biblical "shoham" (see Ḳimḥi, s.v. ). The Septuagint translates the word in other passages by "onyx" (see Josephus, "B. J." v. 5, § 7), by "emerald" (Ex. xxviii. 9, xxxv. 27, xxxix. 6), in Gen. ii. 12 by "the leek-green stone," by "sard" (Ex. xxxix. 9), while in Chron. v. 1 the Hebrew is simply transliterated. This shoham-stone is frequently mentioned in Biblical writings. Havilah is its home (Gen. ii. 11). Two such stones with six tribal names engraved on each were fastened to the ephod (Ex. xxviii. 9). This stone is described in Job xxviii. 16 as very precious. If it was the beryl, it must have been that variety distinguished by the modern mineralogists from the beryl proper (which is of a bright emerald-green), namely, the chrysophras (leek-green golden). It is very likely that the word "shoham" was a generic term covering a large number of varieties of different colors, which fact may account for the wide range in the Greek equivalents for it. Myres' identification of it with the malachite seems to meet every implication of the various traditional equivalents ("green emerald," "cloudy beryl," and "opaque" and "striped" enough to be described as an onyx). This was Joseph's stone.
- (12) (but see No. 6; "yahalom" should replace "yashefeh"): in Septuagint "beryl," but more frequently "onyx"; Vulgate "beryl," probably, as in Josephus, due to a transposition of 11 and 12; Targ. Onḳ. ; Yer. i. the same, preceded by ; just as in Yer. ii.; Ex. R. ; Onḳelos' "panther-stone," a "yellow, light-flecked stone," may render the "yashefeh" (ἴασπις, jasper), but the other Targumim use the word which frequently denotes pearls and precious stones in general. "Yahalom" might very properly be translated by a general term, as its identification was involved in doubt. The diamond, because "the hard stone" (yahalom, from , "to be hard," "to hammer"), has been suggested, but the art of cutting diamonds is of a much later date, and the list of stones in use among the ancients fails to name it. Nor does onyx occur early enough to look for its being known among the Hebrews of Ex. xxviii. All that may be safely said is that this was a hard stone, probably used in the making of whole rings ("onyx" = Assyrian "unḳu" = "ring"), according to Myres; therefore the Assyrian "elmeshu," the "ring-stone." This is Benjamin's stone.
Of other stones mentioned the "kadkod" (A. V. "agate," R. V. "ruby," in Isa. liv. 12 and Ezek. xxvii. 16; the Septuagint gives ἴασπις Isa. liv. 12) undoubtedly was the "karkedon" stone quoted by the Rabbis (Pesiḳ. 136a; Yalḳ. Shimeoni to Isa. § 339 et passim), the (Carthaginian) carbuncle. The "shamir" in Ezek. iii. 9, said to be "harder than flint" (R. V. and A. V. "adamant"), was not a precious stone, and the traditional identification, "diamond," should be abandoned (Loew, "Graph. Requisiten," i. 181). The legendary character given the shamir by the Rabbis (Soṭah ix. 10, 48b; Yer. Soṭah ix. 24b; Git. 68a) indicates that the exact determination of its value had been lost. Etymologically it is related to the Egyptian "asmer," which passed, probably through Semitic channels, into the Greek σμίρις (Lewy, "Fremdwörter," p. 59), and signifies "emery" or "corundum"; possibly "diamond-dust." It is the Targumic , identified (see above) with the in Onḳ. to Ex. xxviii, 18, xxxix. 11 (Targ. Yer. to Num. ii. 10, Ezek. xxviii. 13, Job xxviii. 6, 16, Lam. iv. 7, and Cant. v. 14); the Arabic "sunbadaj" = "emery" (Krauss, l.c. p. 579). It has been noticed that of all the stones used for engraving among the ancients, the turquoise alone is not mentioned in the Biblical enumerations. As shown above, Targ. Onḳ. to Ex. xxviii. 19 (comp. Targ. Yer. to Num. ii. 18) evidences that in post-Biblical times this stone was known to the Jews.
To recapitulate, according to the above the following were the order and character of the stones on the high priest's breastplate:
- I. Sardonyx or sard, red.Topaz, pale-yellowish green.Rock-crystal, brilliant white (colorless).
- II. Emerald, green.Lapis lazuli, blue with gold (yellow-reddish) dots.Yashefeh, rich green.
- III. Leshem, lustrous gold.Agate, sky-blue.Amethyst, bluish violet.
- IV. Tarshish stone.Malachite, bright green.Yahalom, yellowish to dark blue.
This seems, on the whole, to correspond to the color scheme of the Egyptian reports (see Müller, in "Orient, Lit." ii. 39). In post-Biblical writings the following gems appear: amethyst; amiantus (a green stone, a fibrous kind of chrysolite); ruby; agate; beryl; chalcedony; sapphire; sardonyx; emerald; topaz; jacinth; chrysolite; turquoise; "panther-stone" (for "yashefeh" in Targ. Ezek. xxviii. 13); diamond, probably designated by and ; crystal, (Abba Gorion i. 1; see also Perles, "Thron und Circus," p. 13; comp. Acts iv. 6, xx. 1). The (Ezek. i. 22) may possibly denote a crystal; (Job xxviii. 18) certainly does (Lagarde, "Reliquiæ Juris Ecclesiastici Syriaci," xxii., Leipsic, 1856). The art of fabricating false gems seems to have been known (Tan., Bemidbar, 23; Num. R. iv. 2; see Krauss, "Lehnwörter," p. 132).
- Löw, in Krauss, Lehnwörter, Berlin, 1899;
- Winer, B. R. s.v. Edelsteine;
- Riehm, Handwörterb. s.v. Edelsteine;
- Schenkel, Bibellexicon, s.v. Edelsteine;
- Myres, in Cheyne and Black, Eneye. Bibl. s.v. Stones, Precious;
- Petrie, in Hastings, Dict. Bible, s.v. Stones, Precious;
- Lewy, Die Semitischen Fremdwörter im Griechischen, pp. 53-62, Berlin, 1895;
- Nowack, Hebr. Archäologic, i. 130 et seq.;
- Kluge, Handbuch der Edelsteinkunde, Leipsic, 1860.