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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Jewels And Precious Stones

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JEWELS AND PRECIOUS STONES . The greater number of the precious stones in the Bible occur in three lists which it will be instructive to tabulate at the outset. These are: (A) the stones in the high priest’s breastplate ( Exodus 28:17-20 ; Exodus 39:10-13 ); (B) those in the ‘covering’ of the king of Tyre ( Ezekiel 28:13 ); (C) those in the foundation of the New Jerusalem ( Revelation 21:19-20 ). The three lists are to some extent mutually connected. A contains 12 stones. B in Heb. has 9, all taken from A, with traces of A’s order in their arrangement. In LXX [Note: Septuagint.] the two lists are identical, and possibly the Heb. of B is corrupt. C also has 12 stones, and is evidently partly dependent on the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] of A and B.

It seems likely that in List A as well as in List B the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] iaspis corresponds to the Heb. yashepheh , and that the sixth and twelfth names in the Heb. of A have been interchanged.

A. The High Priest’s Breastplate

Exodus Hebrew LXX [Note: Septuagint.] AV [Note: Authorized Version.] RV [Note: Revised Version.] Exodus 28:17 ; Exodus 39:10 1. ’Odem Sardion Sardius (mg. Ruby) Sardius (mg. Ruby) 2. Pitdah Topazion Topaz Topaz 3. Bareqeth Smaragdos Carbuncle Carbuncle (mg. Emerald) Exodus 28:18 ; Exodus 39:11 4. Nophek Anthrax Emerald Emerald (mg. Carbuncle) 5. Sappir Sappheiros Sapphire Sapphirs 6. Yahalom (Yashepheh?) Iaspis Diamond Diamond (mg. Sardonyx) Exodus 28:19 ; Exodus 39:12 7. Leshem Ligurion Ligure Jacinth (mg. Amber) 8. Shebo Achates Agate Agate 9. ’Achlamah Amethystos Amethyst Amethyst Exodus 28:20 ; Exodus 39:13 10. Tarshish Chrysolithos Beryl Beryl (mg. Chalcedony) 11. Shoham Beryllion Onyx Onyx (mg. Beryl) 12. Yashepheh (Yahalom?) Onychion Jasper Jasper Reference to these tables will simplify the use of the following notes, which include other precious stones of the Bible besides those mentioned above. In endeavouring to identify the stones in List A, three things have to be kept in view. From the dimensions of the breastplate a span (8 Or 9 inches) each way ( Exodus 28:16 ) the 12 stones which composed it must, even after allowing space for their settings, have been of considerable size, and therefore of only moderate rarity. Further, as they were engraved with the names of the tribes, they can have been of only moderate hardness. lastly, preference should be given to the stones which archæology shows to have been actually used for ornamental work in early Biblical times. In regard to this point, the article by Professor Flinders Petrie (Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] iv. 619 21) is of special value.

B. The ‘Covering’ of the King of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13 )

Hebrew LXX [Note: Septuagint.] AV [Note: Authorized Version.] RV [Note: Revised Version.] 1. ’Odem 1. Sardion Sardius (mg. Ruby) Sardius (mg. Ruby) 2. Pitdah 2. Topazion Topaz Topaz 9. Bareqeth 3. Smaragdos Carbuncle Carbuncle (mg. Emerald) 8. Nophek 4. Anthrax Emerald (mg. Chrysoprase) Emerald (mg. Carbuncle) 7. Sappir 5. Sappheiros Sapphire Sapphire 6. Yashepheh 6. Iaspis Jasper Jasper 7. Ligurion 8. Achates 9. Amethystos 4. Tarshish 10. Chrysolithos Beryl (mg. Chrysolite) Beryl 5. Shoham. 11. Beryllion Onyx Onyx 3. Yahalom 12. Onychion Diamond Diamond Adamant ( Ezekiel 3:9 , Zechariah 7:12 ). See Diamond below.

Agate (List A 8 [Heb. shebo ]). The Gr. equivalent achates (whence ‘agate’) was the name of a river in Sicily. The modern agate is a form of silica, occurring in nodules which when cut across show concentric bands of varying transparency and colour. The ancient achates (Pliny, HN xxxvii. 54) probably included the opaque coloured varieties of silica now distinguished as jasper (see Jasper below). Flinders Petrie suggests that shebo may be the carnelian also a form of silica (see Sardius below). ‘Agates’ (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘rubies’) stands for Heb. kadkod in Isaiah 54:12 (LXX [Note: Septuagint.] iaspis ), Ezekiel 27:16 . Red jasper is perhaps to be understood.

C. The Foundations of the New Jerusalem

Rev. Greek AV [Note: Authorized Version.] RV [Note: Revised Version.] Revelation 21:19 1. Iaspis Jasper Jasper 2. Sappheiros Sapphire Sapphire (mg. Lapis-lazuli) 3. Chalkedon Chalcedony Chalcedony 4. Smaragdos Emerald Emerald Revelation 21:20 5. Sardonyx Sardonyx Sardonyx 6. Sardion Sardius Sardius 7. Chrysolithos Chrysolyte Chrysolite 8. Beryllos. Beryl Beryl 9. Topazion Topaz Topaz 10. Chrysoprasos Chrysoprasus Chrysoprase 11. Hyakinthos Jacinth Jacinth (mg. Sapphire) 12. Amethystos Amethyst Amethyst Rev. Greek AV [Note: Authorized Version.] RV [Note: Revised Version.] Revelation 21:19 1. Iaspis Jasper Jasper 2. Sappheiros Sapphire Sapphire (mg. Lapis-lazuli) 3. Chalkedon Chalcedony Chalcedony 4. Smaragdos Emerald Emerald Revelation 21:20 5. Sardonyx Sardonyx Sardonyx 6. Sardion Sardius Sardius 7. Chrysolithos Chrysolyte Chrysolite 8. Beryllos. Beryl Beryl 9. Topazion Topaz Topaz 10. Chrysoprasos Chrysoprasus Chrysoprase 11. Hyakinthos Jacinth Jacinth (mg. Sapphire) 12. Amethystos Amethyst Amethyst Amber . Doubtful tr. [Note: translate or translation.] In Ezekiel 1:4 ; Ezekiel 1:27 ; Ezekiel 8:2 of chashmal (AVm [Note: Authorized Version margin.] ‘electrum,’ Amer. RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘glowing metal’); cf. also Ligure below.

Amethyst (List A 9 [Heb. ’achlamah , LXX [Note: Septuagint.] amethystos ], C 12 [ amethystos ]). It is agreed that the common amethyst, properly called amethystine quartz, is meant. This is rock-crystal (transparent silica) coloured purple by manganese and iron. The Oriental amethyst is a much rarer gem, composed of violet corundum (oxide of aluminium), in short, a purple sapphire. The name of the amethyst is derived from its supposed property, no doubt associated with its wine-like colour, of acting as a preventive of intoxication.

Beryl (List A 10, B 4; also Song of Solomon 5:14 , Ezekiel 1:16 ; Ezekiel 10:9 , Daniel 10:6 [Heb. tarshish ]). What the ‘ tarshish stone ’ was is difficult to say. LXX [Note: Septuagint.] renders it variously, but never by beryllion or beryllos . Topaz (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] in Song of Solomon 5:14 ), yellow rock-crystal (false topaz), yellow serpentine, jacinth, and yellow jasper (Flinders Petrie) have been suggested as possible identifications. It is generally agreed that beryl is more likely to correspond to shoham (List A 11, B 5; Genesis 2:12 , Exodus 25:7 ; Exodus 28:9 ; Exodus 35:9 ; Exodus 35:27 ; Exodus 39:6 , 1 Chronicles 29:2 , Job 28:16 ), which LXX [Note: Septuagint.] renders beryllion in A, EV [Note: English Version.] always ‘ onyx ,’ but RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] generally ‘beryl.’ Beryl is a silicate of aluminium and beryllium, with a wide range of tints from yellow, through green, to blue, according to the proportion of the colouring matter (oxide of chromium). The commonest form of the crystal is a six-sided prism. Now each of the two shoham stones in Exodus 28:9-10 ; Exodus 39:6 was engraved with the names of six of the tribes of Israel. A hexagonal prism such as beryl would best lend itself to this purpose. In NT beryllos occurs in List C 8.

Carbuncle (List A 3, B 9 [Heb. bareqeth or -ath , LXX [Note: Septuagint.] smaragdos ]). Bareqeth is simply a ‘lightning’ or ‘flashing’ stone.’ But ‘carbuncle’ (from carbunculus , a small glowing coal) denotes a red or fiery stone, and cannot correspond to the smaragdos , which was green (Pliny, HN xxxvii. 16). It is rather the equivalent of Gr. anthrax (Heb. nophek , List A 4, B 8). Pliny names 12 varieties of smaragdos , the most important of which is doubtless our emerald . This stone should probably be substituted for ‘carbuncle’ in A and B; so RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] (see Emerald below). Flinders Petrie, however, thinks that the smaragdos was greenish rock-crystal (silica). ‘Carbuncle’ occurs more appropriately in Isaiah 54:12 for Heb. ’abhnç’eqdach (‘stones of burning,’ RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘rubies’). Any red stone like the garnet may be meant.

Chalcedony (List C 3). The modern stone of this name is semi-opaque or milky silica, but the ancient one was probably the green dioplase (silicate of copper). This at least seems to have been the kind of smaragdos that was found in the copper mines of Chalcedon (Pliny, HN xxxvii. 18). There was some confusion, however, between the ‘stone of Chalcedon’ and the carchedonia (stone of Carthage), which was red (Pliny, ib. xxxvii. 25, 30). Carchedon occurs as a various reading for chalcedon in Revelation 21:19 .

Chrysolite (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ; AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘chrysolyte’; List C 7). In modern mineralogy this is the peridote (see Topaz below). The ancient gem was some other golden-coloured stone. Yellow quartz, yellow corundum, jacinth, or some variety of beryl may possibly be understood.

Chrysoprase (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ; AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘chrysoprasus,’ List C 10). The prasius of Pliny ( HN xxxvii. 34) was a leek-green chalcedony (from Gr. prason , a leek), of which there was a golden-tinted variety. The latter may be the NT Chrysoprase. Possibly, however, both Chrysoprase and chrysolite in List C refer to yellowish shades of beryl. The modern Chrysoprase is a slightly translucent silica, coloured a beautiful apple-green by oxide of nickel.

Coral ( Job 28:18 , Ezekiel 27:16 ) is the calcareous ‘skeleton’ secreted by some of the compound actinozoa. Red coral ( corallium rubrum ) is common in the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. In the living state the branching calcareous framework is covered by the ‘cœnosarc’ or common tissue of the organism, from which the individual polyps protrude. In the coral of commerce the living tissue has of course disappeared, and only the solid ‘skeleton’ remains. ‘Coral’ is also a possible rendering of peninim (so RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] in the passages under Ruby below).

Crystal . In Job 28:17 , AV [Note: Authorized Version.] thus renders Heb. zekukith , but RV [Note: Revised Version.] understands ‘glass.’ In the next verse, however, RV [Note: Revised Version.] has ‘crystal’ for Heb. gabish , instead of AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘pearls.’ In Ezekiel 1:22 ‘crystal’ stands for Heb. qerach (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘ice’). In NT krystallos appears in Revelation 4:6 ; Revelation 21:11 ; Revelation 22:1 . In all these cases except the first the reference is probably to rock-crystal (colourless transparent quartz).

Diamond (List A 6, B 3). The Heb. yahalom probably stood in the twelfth place in List A, where LXX [Note: Septuagint.] has onychion . Hence in this list RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] has ‘sardonyx’ for ‘diamond.’ The latter is in any case an impossible rendering. The diamond was unknown in ancient times. It would have been too hard to engrave, and a diamond large enough to have borne the name of a tribe and to have filled a space in the high priest’s breastplate would have been of incredible value. The yahalom was most likely the onyx , a banded form of silica (see Onyx below). ‘Diamond’ also occurs in Jeremiah 17:1 as the material of an engraving tool. The Heb. is shamir , which is rendered ‘ adamant ’ in two other passages where it is found ( Ezekiel 3:9 , Zechariah 7:12 ). The reference is probably to corundum or emery (aluminium oxide), a very hard mineral.

Emerald (List A 4, B 8; also Ezekiel 27:16 [Heb. nophek , LXX [Note: Septuagint.] anthrax , RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘ carbuncle ’]). Some red fiery stone is plainly intended, the red garnet being the most likely. ‘Emerald’ is more probably the equivalent of Heb. bareqeth in List A 3, B 9 (see Carbuncle above). The common emerald is identical in composition with the beryl, but differs from it in hardness and in its bright green colour. The Oriental emerald (green corundum) is very rare. In NT ‘emerald’ stands for smaragdos ; in List C 4, and in Revelation 4:3 , where the rainbow is compared to it. The latter passage is among Flinders Petrie’s grounds for supposing that smaragdos is rock-crystal, which produces by its refraction all the prismatic colours.

Jacinth (Gr. hyakinthos , List C 11). In Revelation 9:17 the breastplates of the visionary horsemen are compared to jacinth (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘ hyacinth ’). There is no doubt that hyakinthos denoted the modern sapphire (blue corundum). So RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] in List C. The modern jacinth is a silicate of zircon. RV [Note: Revised Version.] reads ‘jacinth’ for Heb. leshem in List A 7 (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘ligure’).

Jasper (List A 12, B 6). The Heb. is yashepheh , and in B this corresponds to the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] iaspis . Probably yashepheh should stand sixth in A also, in which case iaspis would again be the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] equivalent. In NT iaspis occurs in List C 1, and also in Revelation 4:3 ; Revelation 21:11 ; Revelation 21:18 . In 21:11 the ‘jasper stone’ is luminous and clear as crystal. The iaspis of Pliny was primarily a green stone ( HN xxxvii. 37), but he enumerates many other varieties. It was also often transparent, and we must apparently take it to mean the green and other shades of chalcedony or semi-transparent silica. In modern terminology jasper denotes rather the completely opaque forms of the same substance, which may be of various colours black, brown, red, green, or yellow.

Ligure (List A 7). The Heb. leshem is rendered by LXX [Note: Septuagint.] ligurion , an obscure word which is possibly the same as lyngkurion , the latter being a yellow stone which was supposed to be the congealed urine of the lynx (Pliny, HN xxxvii. 13). Some identify the lyngkurion with the modern jacinth or yellow jargoon (silicate of zircon). So RV [Note: Revised Version.] . Others take the ligurion to be amber , which the Greeks obtained from Liguria (so RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). Flinders Petrie identifies it with the yellow agate .

Onyx (List A 11. B 5; also Genesis 2:12 , Exodus 25:7 ; Exodus 28:9 ; Exodus 35:9 ; Exodus 35:27 ; Exodus 39:6 , 1 Chronicles 29:2 , Job 28:16 ). The Heb. shoham is rendered variously in LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , but in List A by beryllion , and it is probable that shoham is the beryl; so generally RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] (see Beryl above). Flinders Petrie suggests that green felspar may be intended. It would seem more correct to make ‘onyx’ the twelfth stone in List A, where LXX [Note: Septuagint.] has onychion . If, as is probable, the Heb. yahalom (A 6) and yashepheh (A 12) should change places, onychion would thus stand for the former, which RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] renders ‘sardonyx.’ We should then substitute ‘onyx’ or ‘sardonyx’ for ‘diamond’ in List B 3 also. The onyx was a banded semi-transparent silica similar to the modern agate, the name being suggested by the contrast between the white and flesh-coloured zones of the finger-nail. In the special variety called the Roman onyx the modern nicolo (onlculus) the layers are opaque, and alternately whitish-blue and black.

Ruby (always in pl. ‘rubies’ [Heb. peninim or peniyyim ], Job 28:18 , Proverbs 3:15 ; Proverbs 8:11 ; Proverbs 20:15 ; Proverbs 31:10 [in all which passages RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] has ‘red coral’ or ‘pearls’], Lamentations 4:7 [RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘corals’; in this last passage the context shows that some red stone is meant]). The true or Oriental ruby is red corundum (aluminium oxide), a very precious stone. The spinel ruby is an aluminate of magnesium. Both would be included along with red garnets under the general name ‘carbuncle.’

Sapphire (List A 5, B 7, also Exodus 24:10 , Job 28:6 ; Job 28:16 , Song of Solomon 5:14 , Isaiah 54:11 , Lamentations 4:7 , Ezekiel 1:26 ; Ezekiel 10:1 [Heb. sappir , LXX [Note: Septuagint.] sappheiros ]). Sappheiros occurs in NT in List C 2. Pliny ( HN xxxvii. 32) describes this stone as of an azure colour, opaque, refulgent, with spots of gold. This cannot apply to the transparent modern sapphire, which was the ancient hyakinthos (see Jacinth above). It exactly fits the lapis lazuli (mainly a silicate of calcium, aluminium, and sodium), which is of a bright blue colour and is often speckled with yellow iron pyrites (sulphide of iron). In powdered form it is known as ‘ultramarine.’

Sardius (List A 1, B 1 [Heb. ’odem , LXX [Note: Septuagint.] sardion ]). In NT sardion occurs in list C 6, and also in Revelation 4:3 (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘sardine stone,’ RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘sardius’). The root meaning of ’odem is ‘red,’ and sardion , though popularly derived from Sardis (Pliny, HN xxxvii. 31), is rather the Persian sered (‘yellowish red’). AVm [Note: Authorized Version margin.] and RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] have ‘ ruby ’ in Lists A and B, but it is most likely that the ‘sardius’ is carnelian (semi-transparent silica, coloured red by oxide of iron). Flinders Petrie suggests red jasper , which is much the same in composition, but opaque.

Sardonyx (List C 5; also RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] for ‘diamond’ in list A 6). A variety of onyx or banded silica in which red layers of sardius were present. The typical sardonyx was that in which the bands were alternately black, white, and red, for Pliny ( HN xxxvii. 75) describes how the genuine stone was imitated by cementing layers of these colours together.

Topaz (List A 2, B 2; Job 28:19 [Heb. pitdah , LXX [Note: Septuagint.] topazion ]). Topazion stands also in List C 9. The stone so named by the Greeks was not the modern topaz (silicate of aluminium in which some of the oxygen is replaced by fluorine), but the peridote (yellowish-green silicate of magnesium). Flinders Petrie thinks that the name may have been given still earlier to green serpentine , which was actually used in Egyptian work, and is a hydrated form of the same substance as peridote. The Oriental topaz is yellow corundum, and the so-called ‘false topaz’ is yellow quartz. RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] has ‘topaz’ for ‘beryl’ ( i.e. the ‘tarshish stone’) in Song of Solomon 5:14 .

If the stones above mentioned be classified according to their composition, it will appear that, in spite of the bewildering variety of names, the principal groups are comparatively few.

The largest number of stones come under silica , the crystallized form of which is distinguished as quartz. When colourless or nearly so, quartz is called ‘rock-crystal.’ Yellow quartz is the false topaz, violet or amethystine quartz the common amethyst. The amorphous semi-opaque varieties of silica are grouped under the modem term ‘chalcedony.’ This may be red (sardius, carnelian), leek-green (prasius, ancient jasper), or banded (onyx, sardonyx, modern agate). Opaque silica gives the modern jasper (ancient agate), which may be coloured red, green, yellow, etc.

A second group is formed by the silicates (silica in combination with metallic oxides). Thus we have modern jacinth (silicate of zircon), peridote or ancient topaz (silicate of magnesium), dioptase or ancient chalcedony (silicate of copper), modern topaz (mainly silicate of aluminium), felspar (silicate of aluminium with sodium, potassium or calcium), beryl and common emerald (silicate of aluminium and beryllium), lapis lazuli or ancient sapphire (silicate of aluminium, calcium and sodium), garnet (silicate of aluminium and calcium, or a similar combination).

A third group consists of aluminium oxide (alumina), and includes the opaque corundum, of which emery is an impure form, and the transparent modern sapphire (blue), Oriental ruby (red), Oriental topaz (yellow), Oriental amethyst (violet), and Oriental emerald (green).

Lastly, we have an aluminate (alumina in combination with a metallic oxide) in the spinel ruby (aluminate of magnesium).

Alabaster in the modern sense is gypsum or sulphate of lime. The ancient or Oriental alabaster, however, was a form of carbonate of lime, and was largely used for vases, which were thought to be specially adapted for preserving unguents (Pliny, HN xiii. 3). The term ‘alabaster’ seems to have been applied in a general sense to vases even when not made of this material. There are two well-known instances in NT in which an alabaster ‘box’ (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ) or ‘cruse’ (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) of ointment was used ( Luke 7:37 , Matthew 26:7 , Mark 14:3 ).

James Patrick.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Jewels And Precious Stones'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/j/jewels-and-precious-stones.html. 1909.

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