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Precious Stones


I. General Description and Uses.

Under the term "precious stones" the Hebrew included not only the "noble" stones but the less valuable gems. These were obtained not in Palestine but from the outside world, according to tradition from Ophir (I Kings x. 11), and the queen of Sheba presented such to Solomon (I Kings x. 2). Ezek. xxvii. 22, cf. vii. 13, seems to show that the people of Sheba and neighboring tribes were the merchants who supplied the markets of Tyre with these articles (see Arabia), while the Phenicians supplied the Hebrews. The art of mounting and engraving gems, along with the knowledge of industrial arts, came to the Hebrews from Phenicia, though just when this took place is not known. According to the priestly writer (Ex. xxviii. 11), the art of seal engraving was practised by the Hebrews in the wilderness. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the seals which have survived resemble those of the Phenicians in form, writing, and ornamentation, so that discrimination between Hebrew and Phenician gems is not always possible. The only certain criteria. are the place of discovery, or the style of the design, or the name in case that contains a divine name as an element (as in the seals of Obadyahu, Shebhanyahu, Abhiyahu, cf. cuts in Benzinger, Archäologie, pp. 225 sqq., Freiburg, 1907). But wherever these seals were made, they betray the influence of Assyrian-Babylonian art; the lion on the seal embodying the design from Megiddo (Milteilungen and Nachrichten des deutschen Palästina Vereins, ii., 1904) is the same as on Babylonian sculptures. One may therefore speak of a conventional manner of representation; this is further confirmed by the use of such ornaments as the winged disc of the sun, the steinbok, hare, tree of life, etc. Precious atones were employed principally for seals and signets. The latter were at all times important in the East, furnishing as they did a substitute for the signature. Gems may have served also as ornaments in earrings, nose-rings, frontlets, and bracelets (Cant. v. 14). II Sam. xii. 30 may refer to the crown of Moloch (q.v.); precious garments were no doubt adorned with gems (Ezek. xxviii. 13; Judith x. 21); golden vessels also were decorated with them (Ecclus. l. 9 ). This luxury, however, belongs to a late period, being foreign to the simplicity of ancient custom. Precious stones constituted a considerable part of the treasures of Hezekiah, according to the Chronicler (II., xxxii. 27), while the same writer enhances the splendor of Solomon's Temple by describing its walls as adorned with them (I., xxix. 4; II., iii., 6), though the earlier record does not involve this (I Kings iv.) and it seems to be precluded by I Kings xiv. 26; II Kings xiv. 14, xvi. 17, xviii. 16, where the removal of every thing that was valuable in the Temple is recorded. The later high-priestly dress, as described in the priest code, shows a lavish use of precious stones (Ex. xxviii. 9 sqq.). The custom of describing precious possessions in terms of gems (Job xxviii. 15 sqq.; Prov. xvii. 8, xxvi. 8, vii. 9) led to the practise of using the names of precious stones in describing the glories of the future city of God (Isa. liv. 11–12; Rev. xxi. 18 sqq.), even of the very glory of God (Ezek. i. 26; Dan. x. 6; Rev. iv. 3).

II. Names and Varieties:

The following list of precious stones mentioned in the Bible is arranged according to the Hebrew or Greek alphabet. The190 explanation of the Hebrew names can not always be given with certainty, nor can the correspondence of certain stones with the Greek names be always certified (cf. Josephus, Ant., III., vii. 5; War, V., vii.; Pliny, Hist. nat., xxxvii. for treatment of gems known to the ancients). (1) Odhem, Septuagint sardion, Vulgate sardius, is the carnelian, a stone popular in antiquity and often used for signets (a seal from Jerusalem is of this material; Revue biblique, xii. 605). The best specimens come from the vicinity of Babylon (Pliny, xxxvii. 105–106). The Hebrew name is derived from its reddish-brown color, the Greek name from the city of Sardis, where Pliny asserts that it was found. (2) ’Aḥlamah (Ex. xxviii. 19, xxxix. 12) is according to the Septuagint and Vulgate the amethyst (Rev. xxi. 20), a comparatively common transparent, violet, wine-colored, gray-white, or brownish crystalline quartz found according to Pliny (xxxvii. 121 sqq.) especially near Jerusalem, but also in Egypt, Arabia, and Armenia. (3) Eḳdah, "the sparkling" (Isa. liv. 12), probably the carbuncle (see no. 10), unless the Septuagint reading "crystal" be followed (see no. 13). (4) Bareḳeth (Ex. xxviii.17, xxxix. 10; Ezek. xxviii. 13), Septuagint, Josephus, and Vulgate smaragd, A.V. "carbuncle" (Judith x. 21; Tobit xiii. 17; Ecclus. xxxii. 8; Rev. iv. 3, xxi. 19), A.V. "emerald," Sanscrit markata (P. de Lagarde, Gesammelte Abhandlungen, iii. 44, Göttingen, 1896). It is found on the confines of Upper Egypt and Nubia, was highly valued among the ancients, and was used for medical purposes, being regarded as good for the eyes. Herodotus, Pliny, and Theophrastus speak of smaragds of colossal size in certain sanctuaries; they also comprised under that name less valuable green stones like dioptase and green jasper. (5) Gabhish (Job xxvii. 18) is the crystal (Rev. iv. 6, xxii. 1), properly "ice," "the frozen" (P. de Lagarde, Reliquiæ juris, xxii., Leipsic, 1856); the ancients regarded the rock-crystal as ice hardened by vehement cold (Pliny, Hist. nat., xxxviii. 9; cf. Diodorus, ii. 52; see no. 13). (6) Yaḥalom (Ex. xxviii. 18, xxxix. 11; Ezek. xxviii. 13), always yaspis in the Septuagint and Vulgate, A.V. "diamond," mentioned also Rev. iv. 3, xxi. 11, 18, 19, an opaque quartz of diverse coloring (red, brown, yellow, greenish, gray, dark), was much used by the ancients for seals. So the lion seal from Megiddo is "jasper." The common opal and semi-opal may have been included in this category by Pliny (xxxvii. 217). (7) Yashpe (Ex. xxviii. 20, xxxix. 13; Ezek. xxviii. 13) on account of the similarity of the sound of the name is identified with the jasper, though no etymological connection is traceable. The Septuagint and Josephus render it "onyx," the Vulgate "beryl"; an interchange of (6) and (7) may be assumed in the Septuagint. (8) Kadhkodh (Isa. liv. 12, Septuagint yaspis, Symmachus karchedonion; Ezek. xxvii. 16, Septuagint chorchos); Hebrew r and d are interchanged or misread in the versions, so that karchedon is the chalcedony of the ancients (De Lagarde, Reliquiæ juris, x.), a red stone of glittering splendor (Pliny, "Carthaginian carbuncle"), not the common blue flint. It was used for gems and seals (cf. Rev. xxi. 19). (9) Leshem (Ex. xxviii. 19, xxxix. 12), Septuagint ligurion, Vulgate ligurius; according to Pliny (viii. 137, xxxvii. 54) a fire-colored stone like the carbuncle, considered by the ancients a kind of amber (xxxvii. 34–35). (10) Nophek (Ex. xxviii. 18, xxxix. 11; Ezek. xxvii. 16, xxviii. 13), Septuagint anthrax, Vulgate carbunculus, a red stone, the ruby. On account of its hardness it was not cut by the ancients. It is better to identify it with the lappaka of the Amarna Tablets and the Egyptian mphkt, green malachite, obtained by the Egyptians in the mines of Sinai. (11) Sappir, often mentioned (Ex. xxiv. 10; Ezek. xxviii. 13; Job xxviii. 6, 16; Isa. liv. 11; Rev. xxi. 19); when the precious sapphire is mentioned, the blue variety is doubtless meant. Pliny (xxxvii. 120 sqq.) and Theophrastus call the lapis lazuli "sapphire," which is the stone probably meant in the Old Testament. (12) Piṭedhah (Ex. xxviii. 17, xxxi. 10; Ezek. xxviii.13; Job xxviii. 19), Sanscrit pita, "the yellow," according to Job, coming from Ethiopia (see Cush), answers to topaz (Rev. xxi. 20), a transparent stone described by Strabo (xvi. 770) and Diodorus (iii. 38) as "golden" (Pliny, "greenish yellow"), said by the last-named to have come from the topaz island supposed to be in the Red Sea. (13) Ḳeraḥ (Ezek. i. 22), properly "ice," see no. 5. (14) Shebho (Ex. xxviii. 19), according to early tradition the agate, highly appreciated in antiquity, though not in the time of Pliny; there are many varieties, and it is abundant in Syria. (15) Shoham, often named (see below); the Hebrew tradition places its origin in Havilah (q.v.). Two large stones of this variety, each having the names of six tribes of Israel in scribed, were on the shoulders of the high priest. Tradition regarding it vacillates: the Septuagint (Ex. xxviii. 20, xxxix. 13), the Targum, and the Peshito call it "beryl," with which corresponds the Septuagint of Gen. ii. 12, prasinos, "leek-gem," since the leek-green chrysoprase was classed anciently among the beryls (so Pliny, xxxvii. 77, 113). In Ex. xxviii. 9, xxxv. 27, xxxix. 6 the Septuagint renders smaragd, "emerald," in Job xxviii. 16 "onyx," and once sardius. The Vulgate reads sardonyx. The last-named, sardius, and onyx belong to the same species, the chalcedony (cf. Dillmann on Gen. ii. 12). (16) Shamir (Jer. xvii. 1; Ezek. iii. 9; Zech. vii. 12), the diamond, is not numbered among the precious stones; the Hebrews could not polish it, but knew its use as a point and its insuperable hardness (Jer. xvii. 1; Ezek. iii. 9; Zech. vii. 12). (17) Tarshish (Ex. xxviii. 20, xxxix. 13; Ezek. i. 16, x. 9, xxviii. 13; Cant. v. 14; Dan. x. 6), generally rendered "chrysolite" by the versions, but the Septuagint retains tharsis in Ezek. i. 16; Cant. v.14, anthrax in Ezek. x. 9 (see no. 10); the Vulgate renders "hyacinth" in Cant. v. 14. There is no consistent tradition.

The Apocalypse in describing the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem (xxi. 19 sqq.) names twelve precious atones, seven of which can with probability be referred to Old-Testament names (see nos. 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 11, 12 above). In all likelihood these twelve stones are identical with those on the breast-plate of the high priest, so that the other five have a place among those enumerated, but cannot be certainly identified. They are: (18) the 191beryl (Rev. xxi. 20), perhaps identical with no 15, a variety of the emerald of smaller value; the sea-green stone most valued by the ancients came from India. (19) Chrysolite (xxi. 20), often identified in tradition with no. 17 above; the stone so called in modern times is a light green, but that a gold-colored stone exists is stated by Fraas (cf. E. C. A. Riehm, Handwörterbuch, p. 334 note, Bielefeld, 1894–99); Pliny (xxxvii. 90–91, 126–127) also describes it as gold-colored. (20) Chrysoprasus (xxi. 20) may perhaps be identified with no. 15, a gray transparent chalcedony. (21) Hyacinth, A.V. "jacinth" (xxi. 20), came from Ethiopia (Pliny, xxxvii. 125–126), and answers to the stone known to mineralogists as zircon, a changeable red or yellow stone. (22) Sardonyx (xxi. 20) is partly identified by tradition with no. 15 above.

I. Benzinger.

Bibliography: A. Furtwängler, Antike Gemmen, 3 vols., Leipsic, 1900; A. T. Hartmann, Die Hebräerin am Putztisch and als Braut, i. 278 sqq., iii. 27 sqq., Amsterdam, 1809; K. E. Kluge, Handbuch der Edeldsteinkunde, Leipsic, 1860; C. W. King, Natural Hist. of Precious stones: Antique Gems, London, 1866; J. Menant, Les Pierres gravées, 2 parts, Paris, 1883–85; J. H. Middleton, Engraved Gems of Classical Times, Cambridge, 1891; H. Lewy, Die semitischen Fremdwörter im Griechischen, pp. 53–62, Berlin, 1895; Nowack, Archäologie, i. 130 sqq.; DB, iv. 619–621; EB, iv. 4799–4812; JE, v. 593–596; and the commentaries on the passages of Scripture cited in the text.

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