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Precious Stones in the Bible

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Precious stones are stones remarkable for their colour, brilliancy, or rarity. Such stones have at all times been held in high esteem everywhere, particularly in the East. We gather from various passages of Sacred Scripture that very early the Orientals appropriated them for divers ornamental uses: rings, bracelets, collars, necklaces; the crowns of kings as also their garments and those of their officers and of the priests were set with precious stones. The Hebrews obtained their precious stones from Arabia, India, and Egypt. At the time of the Exodus Egypt was flooded with riches, and we know how the Israelites on leaving the land possessed themselves of many precious stones, according to the commandment of God (Exodus 3:22; 12:35-36). Later when they were settled in Palestine they could easily obtain stones from the merchant caravans travelling from Babylonia or Persia to Egypt and those from Saba and Reema to Tyre (Ezekiel 27:22) Solomon even equipped a fleet which returned from Ophir laden with precious stones (1 Kings 10:11).

The precious stones of the Bible are chiefly of interest in connexion with the breastplate of the high-priest (Exodus 28:17-20; 39:10-13), the treasure of the King of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13), and the foundations of the New Jerusalem (Tobit 13:16-17, in the Greek text, and more fully, Revelation 21:18-21). The twelve stones of the breastplate and the two stones of the shoulder-ornaments seem to have been considered by the Jews as the most precious; they undoubtedly serve as the standard of whatever is beautiful and rich beyond measure; both Ezekiel 28:13, and Apocalypse 21:18-21, are patterned after the model of the rational; no wonder therefore that the stones entering its composition should have been the objects of a considerable amount of literature from the fourth century. That such a literature should have arisen is of itself convincing proof that the identification of the stones was no easy problem to solve. It must be remembered too that at the time of the Septuagint translation the stones to which the Hebrew names apply could no longer be identified, and the translators rendered the same Hebrew name by different Greek words. So also did Josephus who, however, claimed he had seen the actual stones. This, coupled with the fact that the late Biblical lists, although visibly depending on that of Exodus, exhibit here and there notable changes, makes the task of identifying the stones a very arduous one. It should be noticed that the ancients did not classify their precious stones by analyzing their composition and crystalline forms: names were given them from their colour, their use, or the country from which they came. Thus it happens that stones of the same or nearly the same colour, but of different composition or crystalline form, bear identical names. Another difficulty is due to the names having changed in the course of time: thus the ancient chrysolite is our topaz, the sapphire is our lazuli, etc. However, we know most of the stones accounted precious in Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia. Owing to the neighbourhood and to the influence of these countries on Palestine, it is highly probable that the score of substances called in the Bible "desirable stones" (Isaiah 54:12) must be contained in the fairly long list of the precious and ornamental stones of the Assyro-Babylonians and the Egyptians.

This is not the place to enter upon a critical and exegetical discussion of the Biblical passages above referred to, where lists of precious stones are given. It will be sufficient to treat briefly of these stones according to the alphabetical order of the English names.

AGATE, Hebrew shbw; Septuagint achates; Vulgate achates (Exodus 28:19; 39:12, in Heb. and Vulg.; also Ezekiel 28:13, in Sept.). — This is the second stone of the third row of the rational, where it very probably represented the tribe of Aser. The derivation of the Hebrew is doubtful, but the stone has generally been acknowledged to be the agate. Fürst (Hebr. u. Chald. Wörterb.) derives shbw from shbb, "to flame"; it may also be related to Saba (shba), whence caravans brought the stone to Palestine. The Greek and Latin names are taken from the river Achates, the modern Dirillo, in Sicily, where this stone was first found (Theophrastus, "De lapid.", 38; Pliny, "Hist. nat.", XXXVII, liv). The stone belongs to the silex family (chalcedony species) and is formed by deposits of siliceous beds in hollows of rocks. To this mode of formation are due the bands of various colours which it contains. Its conchoidal cleavage is susceptible of a high polish. To this stone various medicinal powers were attributed until far into the Middle Ages. It was supposed to render the action of all poisons void, to counteract the infection of contagious diseases; if held in the hand or in the mouth it was believed to alleviate fever. The eagle, it was said, placed an agate in its nest to guard its young against the bite of venomous animals. The red agate was credited with the power of sharpening the vision. At present agate and onyx differ only in the manner in which the stone is cut; if it is so cut as to show the layers of colour, it is called agate; if cut parallel to the lines, onyx. Formerly an agate that was banded with well-defined colours was the onyx. The banded agate is used for the manufacture of cameos.

AMETHYST, Hebrew ahlmh; Septuagint amethystos, also Apocalypse 21:20, where it is the twelfth and last stone of the foundation of the New Jerusalem. It is the third stone in the third row of the rational, representing the tribe of Issachar (Exodus 28:19; 39:12); the Septuagint enumerates it among the riches of the King of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13). The Greek name alludes to the popular belief that the amethyst was a preventive of intoxication; hence beakers were made of amethyst for carousals, and inveterate drinkers wore amulets made of it to counteract the action of wine. Abenesra and Kimchi explain the Hebrew ahlmh in an analogous manner, deriving it from hlm, to dream; hlm in its first meaning signifies "to be hard" (Fürst, Hebr. Handwörterbuch). We have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the translation since we find a general agreement among the various versions; Josephus (Ant. Jud., III, vii, 6) also has "amethyst"; the Targum of Onkelos and the Syriac Version have "calf's eye", indicating the colour. The amethyst is a brilliant transparent stone of a purple colour resembling that of diluted wine and varying in shade from the violet purple to rose. There are two kinds of amethysts: the oriental amethyst, a species of sapphire, is very hard (cf. Heb., hlm), and when colourless can hardly be distinguished from the diamond; the occidental amethyst is of the silex family, hence different in composition from the oriental stone. But the identity of names is accounted for by the identity of colour. The occidental amethyst is easily engraved. It is found of various sizes. Its shape is different from the round pebble to the hexagonal, pyramid-capped crystal.

BERYL, Hebrew yhlm; Septuagint beryllos; Vulgate beryllus. — In the breastplate this stone occupied the third place of the second row and was understood to represent Nephtali (Exodus 28:19; 39:13); according to the Septuagint it is the second of the fourth row, and third of the fourth according to the Vulgate; Ezekiel 28:13, mentions it in the third place; it is cited also in the Greek text of Tob., xiii, 17, but is wanting in the Vulgate; Apocalypse 21:20 gives it as the eighth stone of the foundation of the New Jerusalem. There is great difference of opinion as to the exact Hebrew correlative of this word. The best supported is yhlm, though shhm also does not lack probability. Yshpht has likewise been suggested, but without sufficient reason, it seems, for to this Hebrew yshpht must correspond jasper, Gr. iaspis, Lat. jaspis. This mistaken idea most probably arose from the supposition that the translated words must have occupied the same position as in the original. This is not the case, as a comparison of the Greek and Latin translations shows; in the Vulgate, indeed, we find jasper in the same position as yshpht, whereas the Greek beryllos does not correspond to the Latin beryllus; the same may have happened as regards the translation of the Hebrew into Greek, especially as in the old manner of writing the two words yshlm and shlm might be easily confused. The authority of Josephus is here of little weight, for he most likely quoted from memory, the position of the words being at variance even in his two lists (Bell. Jud., V, v, 7; Ant. Jud., III, vii). Our choice, therefore, is limited to the two words yshlm and shlm. By comparing various texts of the Vulgate — the Greek is very inconsistent — we find that shlm is always translated by onyx: this alone seems sufficient to render fairly probable the opinion that beryl corresponds to Hebrew yhlm. That the beryl was among the stones of the rational appears beyond doubt since all translations mention it. The etymology giving us no special help, by elimination we come to the generally accepted conclusion that beryl and yhlm stand for each other. The beryl is a stone composed of silica, alumina, and glucina. The beryl and the emerald are of the same species. The difference between the beryl, the aqua marine, and the emerald is determined by the colouring matter and the peculiar shade of each. The beryl, though sometimes white, is usually of a light blue verging into a yellowish green; the emerald is more transparent and of a finer hue than the beryl; as a gem, it is more beautiful, and hence more costly; the aqua marine is a beautiful sea-green variety. The emerald derives its colour from a small quantity of oxide of chromium; the beryl and aqua marine from a small quantity of oxide of iron. The beryl occurs in the shape either of a pebble or of an hexagonal prism. It is found in metamorphic limestone, slate, mica-schist, gneiss, and granite. In ancient times it was obtained from Upper Egypt and is still found in the mica slate of Mt. Zaborah, The largest beryls known have been found in Acworth and Grafton, New Hampshire, and in Royalston, Massachusetts, United States of America; one weighs 2900 lb., measures 51 inches in length, 32 inches through in one direction and 22 in another transverse. The beryl has been employed for cabalistic uses (Aubrey, "Miscellanies").

CARBUNCLE, Heb., gphr; Septuagint anthrax (Exodus 28:18; 39:11; Ezekiel 28:13; omitted in Ezekiel 27:16); Vulg., carbunculus (Exodus 28:18; 39:11; Ezekiel 28:13), gemma (Ezekiel 27:16), the first stone of the second row of the rational; it represented Juda, and is also the eighth stone mentioned of the riches of the King of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13), being, not a native product, but an object of importation (Ezekiel 27:16); it is perhaps the third stone of the foundation of the celestial city (Revelation 21:19). The ancient authors are far from agreeing on the precise nature of this stone. It very probably corresponds to the anthrax of Theophrastus (De lap., 18), the carbunculus of Pliny (Hist. nat., XXXVII, xxv), the charchedonius of Petronius, and the ardjouani of the Arabs. If so it is a red glittering stone, probably the Oriental ruby, though the appellation may have been applied to various red gems. Theophrastus says of it: "Its colour is red and of such a kind that when it is held against the sun it resembles a burning coal." This description tallies fairly well with that of the Oriental ruby. He relates also that the most perfect carbuncles were brought from Carthage, Marseilles, Egypt, and the neighbourhood of Siena. Carbuncles were named differently according to the places whence they came. Pliny (Hist. nat., XXXVII, xxv) cites the lithizontes, or Indian carbuncles, the amethystizontes, the colour of which approached that of the amethyst, and the sitites. Most probably, then, the name of carbuncle applied to several stones.

CARNELIAN, Hebrew arm, to be red, especially "red blooded"; Sept. and Apoc. sardion; Vulgate sardius; the first stone of the breastplate (Exodus 28:17; 39:10) representing Ruben; also the first among the stones of the King of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13); the sixth foundation stone of the celestial city (Revelation 21:19). The word sardion has sometimes been rendered sardonyx; this is a mistake, for the same word is equivalent to carnelian in Theophrastus (De lap., 55) and Pliny (Hist. nat., XXXVII, xxxi), who derive the name from that of the city of Sardes where, they say, it was first found. The carnelian is a siliceous stone and a species of chalcedony. Its colour is a flesh-hued red, varying from the palest flesh-colour to a deep blood-red. It is of a conchoidal structure. Usually its colour is without clouds or veins; but sometimes delicate veins of extremely light red or white are found arranged much like the rings of an agate. Carnelian is used for rings and seals. The finest carnelians are found in the East Indies.

CHALCEDONY, Apocalypse 21:19, chalkedon; Vulgate chalcedonius, the third foundation stone of the celestial Jerusalem. Some claim the writing chalkedon is erroneous, and that it should be charkedon, the carbuncle. Though this view is countenanced by but few Manuscripts, yet it is not devoid of reason; for whilst the other eleven stones correspond to a stone in the rational it is singular that this should be the only exception. Moreover the ancients very often confounded the names of these two stones. The chalcedony is a siliceous stone. Its name is supposed to be derived from Chalcedon, in Bithynia, whence the ancients obtained the stone. It is a species of agate and bears various names according to its colour. It is usually made up of concentric circles of various colours. The most valuable of these stones are found in the East Indies. Sets for rings, seals, and, in the East, cups and beakers are made of chalcedon.

CHODCHOD, kdkd (Isaiah 54:12; Ezekiel 27:16); Septuagint iaspis (Isaiah 54:12), chorchor (Ezekiel 27:16); Vulgate jaspis (Isaiah 54:12), chodchod (Ezekiel 17:16). — This word is used only twice in the Bible. The chodchod is generally identified with the Oriental ruby. The translation of the word in Isaiah both by the Septuagint and the Vulgate is jasper; in Ezech. the word is merely transliterated; the Greek chorchor is explained by considering how easy it is to mistake a resh for a daleth. "What chodchod signifies", says St. Jerome, "I have until now not been able to find" (Comment. in Ezech., xxvii, 16, in P.L., XXV, 255). In Isaiah he follows the Septuagint and translates chodchod by jaspis. The word is probably derived from phyr, "to throw fire"; the stone was therefore brilliant and very likely red. This supposition is strengthened by the fact that the Arabic word kadzkadzat, evidently derived from the same stem as chodchod, designates a bright red. It was therefore a kind of ruby, likely the Oriental ruby, perhaps also the carbuncle (see above).

CHRYSOLITE, Hebrew trshysh (Exodus 28:20; 39:13; Ezekiel 1:16; 10:9; 28:13; Song of Songs 5:14; Daniel 10:6); Sept., chrysolithos (Exodus 28:20; 39:13; Ezekiel 28:13); tharsis (Cant., v, 14; Daniel 10:6); tharseis (Ezekiel 1:16; 10:9); Vulgate chrysolithus (Exodus 28:20; 39:13; Ezekiel 10:9; 28:13; Daniel 10:6), hyacinthus (Cant., v, 14); quasi visio maris (Ezekiel 1:16); Apocalypse 21:20, chrysolithos; Vulgate chrysolithus. — This is the tenth stone of the rational, representing the tribe of Zabulon; it stands fourth in the enumeration of Ezekiel 28:13, and is given as the seventh foundation stone of the celestial city in Apocalypse 21:20. In none of the Hebrew texts is there any hint as to the nature of this stone; however, since the Septuagint habitually translates the Hebrew by chrysolithos, except where it merely transliterates it and in Ezekiel 10:9, since, moreover, the Vulgate follows this translation with very few exceptions, and Aquila, Josephus, and St. Epiphanius agree in their rendering, we can safely accept the opinion that the chrysolite of the ancients, which is our topaz, was meant. The word tharsis very likely points to the place whence the stone was brought (Tharsis). The modern chrysolite is a green oblong hexagonal prism of unequal sides terminated by two triangular pyramids. The topaz, or ancient chrysolite, is an octangular prism of an orange-yellow colour; it is composed of alumina, silica, hydrofluoric acid, and iron. It is found in Ceylon, Arabia, and Egypt, and several species were admitted to exist (Pliny, "Hist. nat.", XXXVII, xlv). In the Middle Ages it was believed to possess the power of dispelling the fears of night and of driving away devils; it was also supposed to be an excellent cure for the diseases of the eye.

CHRYSOPRASUS, Greek chrysoprasos, the tenth foundation stone of the celestial Jerusalem (Revelation 21:20). This is perhaps the agate of Exodus 28:20, and 39:13, since the chrysoprasus was not very well known among the ancients. It is a kind of green agate, composed mostly of silica and a small percentage of nickel.

CORAL, Hebrew ramwt (Job 28:18; Proverbs 24:7; Ezekiel 27:16); Septuagint meteora, ramoth; Vulgate excelsa, sericum. — The Hebrew seems to come from tas, "to be high", probably connoting a resemblance to a tree. It may be also that the name came from a strange country, as did the coral itself. It is obvious that the ancient versions have completely missed the sense; they even felt it so well that in one place they merely transliterated the Hebrew. In Ezekiel 27:16, coral is mentioned as one of the articles brought by the Syrians to Tyre. The Phœniclans mounted beads of coral on collars and garments. These corals were obtained by Babylonian pearl-flshers in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. The Hebrews made apparently very little use of this substance, and hence it is seldom mentioned in their writings; this explains also the difficulty felt by the translators in rendering the word. Gesenius (Thesaurus, p. 1113) translates phnynys (Job 28:18; Proverbs 3:15; 8:11; 20:15; 31:10; Lamentations 4:7) by "red coral"; but many maintain that the pearl is meant in these passages. The coral spoken of in the Bible is the precious coral (corallum rubrum), the formation of which is well known. It is a calcareous secretion of certain polyps, having a tree-like formation. At present coral is found in the Mediterranean, the northern coast of Africa furnishing the dark red, Sardinia the yellow or salmon-coloured, and the coast of Italy the rose-pink coral. One of the greatest coral-fisheries of the present day is Torre del Greco, near Naples.

CRYSTAL, Hebrew ghbsh (Job 28:18), qrh (Ezekiel 1:22): both words signify a glassy substance; Septuagint gabis; Vulgate eminentia (Job 28:18); krystallos, crystallus (Ezekiel 1:22). — This was a transparent mineral resembling glass, most probably a variety of quartz. Job places it in the same category with gold, onyx, sapphire, glass, coral, topaz, etc. The Targum renders the qrt of Ezech. by "ice"; the versions translate by "crystal". We find crystal again mentioned in Apocalypse 4:6, 21:11 and 22:1. In Psalm 147:17, and Sirach 43:22, there can be no question but that ice is meant. The word zkwkyh (Job 28:17) which some translate by crystal, means glass.

DIAMOND, Hebrew shmyr; Septuagint adamantinos; Vulgate adamas, adamantinus (Ezekiel 3:9; Zechariah 7:12; Jeremiah xvii 1). — Whether or not this stone is really the diamond cannot be ascertained. Many passages in Holy Writ point indeed to the qualities of the diamond, especially its hardness (Ezekiel 3:9; Zechariah 7:12; Jeremiah 17:1). In the last Jeremias informs us of a use to which this stone was put, which agrees admirably with the use to which the diamond is put at this day: "The sin of Juda is written with a pen of iron, with the point of a diamond". But although diamond is used to engrave hard substances, yet it should be remarked that other stones may serve the same purpose. The Septuagint omits the passages of Ezech. and Zach., while the first five verses of Jeremiah 17, are missing in the Cod. Vaticanus and Alexandrinus, but are found in the Complutensian edition and in the Syriac and Arabic Versions. Despite the qualities mentioned in the Bible, the stone spoken of in the places referred to may be the limpid corindon, which exhibits the same qualities, and is used in India for the same purposes as we use the diamond. The diamond was not very well known among the ancients; and if we add to this reason the similarity between the words smiris, the Egyptian asmir, "emery", a species of corindon used to polish precious stones, and shmyr, the Hebrew supposed to mean the diamond, we may conclude with probability that the limpid corindon was intended. Aben-Esra and Abarbanel translate yhlm by "diamond"; but yhlm we have shown above to be the beryl. The diamond is made up of pure carbon, mostly of a white transparent colour, but sometimes tinted. The white diamond is the most precious, owing to its beauty and rarity. South Africa contains the largest diamond fields.

EMERALD, Hebrew brqm; Septuagint smaragdos; Vulgate smaragdus; the third stone of the rational (Exodus 28:17; 39:10), where it represents the tribe of Levi; it is the ninth stone in Ezekiel 28:13, and the fourth foundation stone of the celestial Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19). The same precious stone is also mentioned in Tob., xiii, 16 (Vulgate 21); Jud., x, 21 (Vulgate 19); and in the Greek text of Sirach 32:8, but there is no indication of it in the Manuscript B. of the Hebrew text, found in the Genizah of Cairo in 1896. That brhm stands for "emerald" is verified by the fact that practically all versions, as well as Josephus (Ant. Jud., III, vii, 5; Bell. Jud., V, v, 7) translate it thus. The Hebrew root brq, from which it is probably derived, signifies "to glitter", which quality agrees eminently with the emerald. The word may also come from the Sanskrit marakata which is certainly the emerald; the Greek form smaragdos is not so distant from the Hebrew that no similarity can be found between them. In Job 13:21; Jud., x, 19; Sirach 32:8; and Apocalypse 21:19, the emerald is certainly the stone spoken of. The word bphr also has sometimes been translated by smaragdus; but this is a mistake, for bphr is the carbuncle. The emerald is a green variety of beryl and is composed of silicate of alumina and glucina. Its form is a hexagonal crystal; its colour is a brilliant reflecting green. The stone admits of a high polish. The emerald is found in metamorphic rocks, granites, and mica schists; the finest specimens come from Muzo, Bogotá, South America. The ancients obtained the stone from Egypt and India. It has sometimes been asserted that they knew nothing of the emerald; but this is plainly refuted by Pliny, Theophrastus, and others, though the name may have been used possibly for other stones. In the Middle Ages marvellous powers were attributed to the emerald, the most conspicuous being the power to preserve or heal the sight.

HYACINTH, Greek hyakinthos; Vulgate hyacinthus (Revelation 21:20); the eleventh stone of the foundation of the heavenly city. It corresponds very probably to Heb., the ligurius of Exodus 28:19 and 39:12 (St. Epiphan., "De duodecim gemmis" in P.G., XLIII, 300). The stone spoken of in Cant., v, 14, and called hyacinthus in the Vulgate is the Hebrew hrshysh, which has been shown above to be the chrysolite. The exact nature of the hyacinth cannot be determined, the name having been applied to several stones of similar colours, and most probably designating stones of the same colours as the flower hyacinth. Hyacinth is a zircon of a crimson, red, or orange hue. It is harder than quartz and its cleavage is undulating and sometimes lamellated. Its form is an oblong quadrangular prism terminated on both ends by a quadrangular pyramid. It was supposed to be a talisman against tempests.

JASPER, Hebrew yshphh; Septuagint iaspis; Vulgate jaspis; the twelfth stone of the breastplate (Exodus 28:18; 39:11), representing Benjamin. In the Greek and Latin texts it comes sixth, and so also in Ezekiel 28:13; in the Apocalypse it is the first (21:19). Despite this difference of position jaspis is undoubtedly the yshphh of the Hebrew text. The jasper is an anhydrate quartz composed of silica, alumina, and iron. There are jaspers of nearly every colour. It is a completely opaque stone of a conchoidal cleavage. It seems to have been obtained by the Jews from India and Egypt.

LIGURUS, Hebrew lshs; Septuagint ligyrion; Vulgate ligurius; the first stone of the third row of the rational (Exodus 28:19; 39:12), representing Gad. It is missing in the Hebrew of Ezekiel 28:13, but present in the Greek. This stone is probably the same as the hyacinth (St. Epiphan., loc. cit.). This identification, admitted by tradition, rests on the remark that the twelve foundation stones of the celestial city in Apocalypse 21:19-20, correspond to the twelve stones of the rational, from which it would appear that the ligurus is the same as the hyacinth. Some have identified it with the turmaline, a view rejected by most scholars.

ONYX, Hebrew shhm; Septuagint onychion; Vulgate lapis onychinus; the eleventh stone of the breastplate in the Hebrew and the Vulgate (Exodus 28:20; 39:13), representing the tribe of Joseph; in the Septuagint it is the twelfth stone: it is the fifth in Ezekiel 28:13, in the Heb., but the twelfth in the Greek; it is called sardonyx and comes in the fifth place in Apocalypse 21:20. The exact nature of this stone is disputed. Many think, because the Greek word beryllos occurs instead of the Hebrew shhs that the beryl is meant; but this is not so (see BERYL above). The Vulgate indeed gives onyx as the equivalent of the Hebrew shhm. True, this alone would be a very weak argument; but we have other and stronger evidences in the fact that the Hebrew occurs frequently in Holy Writ (Genesis 2:12; Exodus 25:7; 25:9, 27; 1 Chronicles 29:2; etc.) and on each occasion, save Job 28:16, it is translated in the Vulgate by lapis onychinus (lapis sardonychus in Job 28:16). The Greek is very inconsistent in its translation, rendering shhs differently in various texts; thus in Genesis 2:12, it is lithos prasinos, sardios in Exodus 25:7 and 35:9; smaragdos in Exodus 28:9; 35:27; 39:6; soam, a mere transcription of the Hebrew in 1 Chronicles 29:2; and onyx in Job 28:16. The other Greek translators are more uniform: Aquila has sardonyx Symmachus and Theodotion have onyx; the paraphrase of Onkelos had burla, the Syriac berula, both of which evidently are the Greek beryllos, "beryl". Since the translations do not observe the same order as the Hebrew in enumerating the stones of the rational (see BERYL above), we are in no way bound to accept the Greek beryllos as the translation of shhm, and relying on the testimony of the various versions we may safely hold the onyx is the stone signified by shhm. The onyx is a variety of quartz analogous to the agate and other crypto-crystalline species. It is composed of different layers of variously coloured carnelian much like banded agate in structure, but the layers are in even or parallel planes. Hence it is well adapted for the cutting of cameos and was much used for that purpose by the ancients. The colours of the best are perfectly well defined, and are either white and black, or white, brown, and black. The best specimens are brought from India. Sardonyx has a structure like onyx, but is composed usually of alternate layers of white chalcedony and carnelian, although the carnelian may be associated with layers of white, brown, and black chalcedony. The ancients obtained the onyx from Arabia, Egypt, and India.

PEARL. — The pearl can hardly be termed a stone; we may nevertheless, by giving the word "stone" a broad meaning, treat here of the pearl, as we have treated above of coral. It is comparatively certain that the pearl (Greek margarite, Vulgate margarita) was known among the Jews, at least after the time of Solomon, as it was among the Phœnicians. What word designated it is uncertain. The following have been suggested: ghbysh, which, however, signified "crystal" (see above; also Furst, "Hebr. u. Chald. Wörterb."); phnynym, which Gesenius renders by "red coral"; dr, Esth., i, 6, which is translated in the Vulg. by lapis parius, "marble"; the Arabic dar, however, means "pearl", and thus also Furst renders the Hebrew. In the New Testament we find the pearl mentioned in Matthew 13:45-46; 1 Timothy 2:9; etc. The pearl is a concretion consisting chiefly of carbonate of lime found in several bivalve mollusks, but especially in the avicula margaritifera. It is generally of a whitish blue, sometimes showing a tinge of pink; there are also yellow pearls. This gem was considered the most precious of all among the ancients, and was obtained from the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Persian Gulf.

RUBY. — This may have been either the carbuncle or the chodchod (see above). There is, however, a choice between the oriental ruby and the spinel ruby; but the words may have been used indiscriminately for both. The former is extremely hard, almost as hard as the diamond, and is obtained from Ceylon, India, and China. It is considered a most precious gem.

SAPPHIRE, Hebrew mghry Septuag. sappheiron; Vulgate sapphirus. — The sapphire was the fifth stone of the rational (Exodus 28:19; 39:13), and represented the tribe of Dan. It is the seventh stone in Ezekiel 28:14 (in the Hebrew text, for it occurs fifth in the Greek text); it is also the second foundation stone of the celestial Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19). The genuine sapphire is a hyaline corindon of a beautiful blue colour; it is composed of nearly pure alumina, its colour being due to the presence of oxide of iron. The ancients gave the name of sapphire also to our lapis-lazuli, which is likewise a blue stone, often speckled with shining pyrites which give it the appearance of being sprinkled with gold dust. It is composed of silica, alumina, and alkali; it is an opaque substance easily engraved. Which of these two is referred to in the Bible? Both may be meant, but the lapis-lazuli seems more probable, for as often as its qualities are described, it is spoken of as being easily engraved (Lamentations 4:7; Exodus 28:17; 39:13). The sapphire was obtained from India.

SARDONYX; SARD. — These two words are often confounded by interpreters. The sard is the carnelian, while the sardonyx is a species of onyx.

TOPAZ, Hebrew ghtrh; Septuagint topazion; Vulgate topazius, the second stone of the rational (Exodus 28:17; 39:19), representing Simeon; also the second stone in Ezekiel 28:13; the ninth foundation stone of the celestial Jerusalem (Revelation 21:20); also mentioned in Job 28:19. This topaz is generally believed to have been the chrysolite rather than our topaz. The oriental topaz is composed of nearly pure alumina, silica, and fluoric acid; its shape is an orthorhombic prism with a cleavage transverse to its long axis. It is extremely hard and has a double refraction. When rubbed or heated it becomes highly electric. It varies in colour according to the country from which it comes. The Australian topaz is green or yellow; the Tasmanian clear, bright, and transparent; the Saxon pale violet; the Bohemian sea-green and the Brazilian red, varying from a pale red to a deep carmine. The ancients very probably obtained it from the East.


ST. EPIPHANIUS, De duodecim qemmis in P.G., XLIII, 294-304; ST. ISIDORE, De lapidibus in Etymol., xvi, 6-15, in P.L. LXXXII, 570-580; KING, Antique Gems (2d ed., London, 1872); IDEM, The Natural History of Gems or Decorative Stones (2d ed., London, 1870); BRAUN, Vestitus sacerdotum hebræorum (Leyden, 1680); BABELON in DAREMBERG AND SAGLIO, Dict. des antiquités grecques et romaines, s.v. Gemmæ; LESÉTRE in VIGOUROUX, Dict. de la Bible, s.v. Pierres précieuses; ROSENMÜLLER, Handbuch der biblischen Alterthumskunde (Leipzig); WINER in Biblisches Realwörterbuch (Leipzig, 1847), s.v. Edelstine.

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APA citation. Souvay, C. (1912). Precious Stones in the Bible. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Souvay, Charles. "Precious Stones in the Bible." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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