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Gemstones of the Bible

The stones of the Foundation of the New Temple of Jerusalem, as mentioned in Revelations A summary by J. Michael Howard

high_priest_garments_of_glory_and_beautyThe ancients were not versed in the science of mineralogy, they did have names for the many commonly used minerals and stones of their day. A number of these can be directly traced back to the mineral, gem, or type of stone they used. However, some are clouded, now and forever, by the veil of time. Lack of specific information about the characteristics, particularly color, is not available. Therefore, you will find much speculation in the literature. The translation of the original Hebrew and then translation by later writers from the ancient Grecian language has added to the confusion.

It is easier to understand why 12 stones are mentioned in Revelations 12 is an important number in the Bible. The 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 apostles, the 12 stones of the foundation of the New Temple of Jerusalem. Our best knowledge of the characteristics of these 12 stones come by considering the 12 stones of the Breastplate of the High Priest of Israel, each representing a tribe of Israel.

One of the earliest writers to associate with the apostles the symbolism of the gems given in Revelations is by Andreas, bishop of Caesurae. ¬†He gives a brief description of the stones, which is recounted in George F. Kunz’s book The Curious Lore of Precious Stones (1913).

  • Jasper , which like the emerald is of a greenish hue, signifies St. Peter. ¬†Jasper: The ancient Hebrew name was Yashpheh. A translucent stone of green hue. Jasper has been known from early times as a fine-grained variety of quartz. It occurs in many different colors and hues, but green was particularly valued. An early variety discovered in India and still mined there today is called bloodstone. It is dark to medium green with small spots of red scattered throughout. It has been said that it originated when Christ’s blood fell to the ground and was scattered on the rocks under the Cross, which is a nice story but was used and prized in India long before Christ’s birth. However, many early Christians wore it to remind them of Christ’s sacrifice.
  • The Sapphire is likened to the Heavens (from this stone is made a color popularly called lazur) and signifies St. Paul. Sapphire or Lapis Lazuli. The Hebrew name of Sappir. The sacred character of this stone was attested by the tradition that the Law given to Moses on the Mount was engraved on tablets of sapphire. This is not the blue sapphire we think of as the faceted gemstone, but instead the rich blue stone now relatively popular in jewelry known as lapis or lapis lazuli. It was well known and often used by the ancients as a blue paint pigment when ground to a powder. Much of what is now sold comes from Afghanistan.
  • The Chalcedony may well have been considered what we now call the carbuncle and represented St. Andrew. Chalcedony or Emerald: Hebrew name of Bareketh. There is some confusion concerning this stone because chalcedony is a milk-white fine-grained variety of quartz and the non-gem form of emerald (beryl) is typically a sea green to grayish to white hard mineral that forms six sided elongate crystals. All emeralds are relatively uncommon in occurrence, whereas chalcedony is common. Both minerals are relatively resistant to weathering and might be found in river gravels or on the surface of the ground. It is known that there were active emerald mines during this time providing this stone to Egypt.

    The carbuncle is a beautiful gem of a rich red color found in the East Indies. When held up to the sun, it loses its deep tinge and becomes the color of a burning coal. Sometimes, the name is applied to the Ruby, Sapphire, Red Spinel and Garnet, also called Firestone.

  • The Emerald which is of a green color, is nourished with oil that its transparency and beauty may not change; this stone signifies St. John the Evangelist. Emerald or Garnet: Hebrew name of Nophek. The literal translation of the ancient Hebrew name means glowing coal. So this could not be the green stone we call emerald, but instead is thought to be a bright red variety of garnet: almandine.
  • The Sardonyx, which shows a certain transparency and purity of the human nail, represents James. Sardonyx or Onyx: Hebrew name of Yahalom. The traditional interpretation is onyx. Some Greek writers considered it to mean diamond as the translation of the Hebrew word means to smite or cut. However, there is no evidence that the Hebrews knew of diamond. However, onyx was a well-known stone, which was carved into seals and used with wax. Therefore, the term to smite may mean to strike as with a seal on hot wax. Onyx is a common soft stone, composed of calcium carbonate and deposited in caves. Much banded onyx today is cut and polished as inexpensive novelty items.
  • The Sardius with its tawny and translucent coloring suggests fire and represents Philip. Sardius or Carnelian: Hebrew name of Odem. Carnelian is a translucent hard fine-grained variety of orangish red quartz that has often been used for ring stones and wax seals.
  • The Chrysolite, gleaming with the splendor of gold, symbolizes Bartholomew.
  • The Beryl, imitating the colors of the sea and air, and not unlike the jacinth, suggests Thomas.
  • The Topaz, (Modern name Peridot) which is of a ruddy color, resembling somewhat the carbuncle, denotes Matthew. Topaz or Peridot: Hebrew name of Pitdah. The Hebrew word appears derived from a Sanscrit word meaning yellow. Some theologians think it could have been serpentine. However, the topazius of ancient writers usually signified the gem variety of olivine called peridot.
  • The Chrysoprase, more brightly tinged with a gold hue than gold itself, symbolizes St. Thaddaeus. Chrysoprase or Citrine: Hebrew name of Tarshish. The original stone of the Hebrews came from Phoenician mines in what is now Spain. Black quartz crystal was heated until it turned a pale golden brown color. The Hebrew word literally means golden stone and was given to the region that produced it : Tartessus.
  • The Jacinth, which is of a celestial hue, signifies Simon. Jacinth or amber. Others suggest a brown variety of sapphire. However, brown agate is known to have been commonly worn by the Hebrews during their early history and, therefore, would seem to have greater significance as one of the New Temple’s foundation stones.
  • The Amethyst, which shows to the onlooker a fiery aspect, signifies Matthew. Amethyst: Hebrew name of Ahlamah. The Hebrew word is directly translated as amethyst. Abundant supplies of this violet to purple variety of crystalline quartzwere available from both Arabia and Syria. Agate: Hebrew name of Shebo. A banded variety of agate, commonly used by Egyptians, had distinctive gray and white alternating bands that would have contrasted well with the other varieties of fine-grained quartz.
  • Onyx or Turquoise: Hebrew name of Shoham. The Catholic translation is onyx, whereas the earlier translators considered this stone beryl. However, there is little to guide us. Some theologians have suggested this stone might have been malachite, a green stone well known to the Egyptians. However, the discovery of ancient turquoise mines on the Sinai Peninsula, which were worked by the Egyptians, reveal the distinct possibility this stone was actually pale green or pastel blue turquoise.

THE 12 STONES OF THE BREASTPLATE

“It was square — a span [22 centimeters] long and a span wide — and folded double. Then they mounted four rows of precious stones on it. In the first row there was a ruby , a topaz and a beryl; in the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and an emerald; in the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; in the fourth row a chrysolite, an onyx and a jasper. They were mounted in gold filigree settings. There were twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.” (Old Testament, New International Version, Exodus, Chpt. 39, vs. 9-14)

NOTE: No matter whose translation of the word or scripture you read – Protestant, Catholic, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, Babylonian or Assyrian – you will note the placement of stones in the breastplate differ – as do the names of each. This was because there were no specific names given to gemstones as there are today. Many were named regionally. Some carried the name of the city or country of origin such as Chalcedony (Turkey). They did not analyze these favored stones by their composition or crystalline form in those days. In addition, to confuse things even more, New Advent tells us their ‘chrysolite is our topaz and sapphire is our lazuli’.