Jewel

JEWEL, JEWELRY. Orientals are much more given to adorning themselves with jewelry than Occidentals are. This was true in ancient times as well as now. Consequently there are many allusions to jewelry in Scripture. Among the articles of jewelry in OT times were diadems, bracelets, necklaces, anklets, rings for the fingers, gold nets for the hair, pendants, gems for head attire, amulets and pendants with magical meanings, jeweled perfume and ointment boxes, and crescents for camels. Many were acquired as booty in war. Many were personal gifts, especially at betrothals. At the court of every king there were special quarters for goldsmiths, and silversmiths were a familiar sight in the silver markets of large cities. Jewelry was used not only for personal adornment and utility, but also for religious festivals. Custom required the use of rich, festal garments and a gorgeous display of jewelry when one approached the deity. When the worship was over, these items were taken off. What became of all these jewels? Many were buried in the ground for safekeeping in time of war and were never recovered; others were carried away as booty by conquerors. A surprisingly large number have been unearthed.

Among the oldest jewels discovered in Bible lands are those found in a.d. 1927 by the archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley in the Sumerian city of Ur, the heathen city that Abraham left for the Promised Land. In his excavations he found a hoard of jeweled wealth in the royal tombs in which Queen Shub-ad, her husband, and her faithful court had been buried about 2500 b.c. Buried with the queen were sixty-eight court ladies, who in full regalia had walked alive into the tomb and had sat in orderly rows to die, thus showing their loyalty to her. In the royal tombs were found the queen’s personal ornaments, including her diadem, a cape of polished gold and precious stones, rings, seals, earrings, amulets, and pins of gold. With the court ladies were found hair ribbons made of fine beaten gold. Ancient Sumerian artisans were capable of producing filigree work with gold at least equal in delicacy to the best done by goldsmiths today.

When the servant of Abraham went to Mesopotamia to find a bride for Isaac, he gave Rebekah an earring and two bracelets made of gold after she had watered his camels. At her betrothal to Isaac he gave her jewels of silver and of gold, and to others in the family he also gave precious things (Gen.24.22, Gen.24.30, Gen.24.53).

When the Israelites left Egypt with Moses, they “asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold” (Exod.12.35). Not much later, while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the law, they took the golden earrings worn by men and women and gave them to Aaron to make a golden calf (Exod.32.2-Exod.32.4). As evidence of their repentance, they were commanded by Moses to strip themselves of their ornaments (Exod.33.4-Exod.33.6). For the building of the first tabernacle, the people contributed, at Moses’ request, bracelets, earrings, rings, tablets, and jewels of gold (Exod.35.22).

Exodus 39 gives a description of the official garments of the Jewish high priest, worn when discharging his peculiar duties. They were gorgeous in their jeweled splendor. The robe of the ephod, a long, blue sleeveless garment, was adorned with a fringe of alternate pomegranates and bells of gold. Over the robe the ephod was worn, a shorter, richly embroidered vestment intended for the front and back of the body. It was made of two parts clasped together at the shoulders by onyx stones. Over the ephod there was a breastpiece, described as square, made of gold thread and finely twisted linen, set with four rows of precious stones, three in a row, each inscribed with the name of a tribe of Israel. In the first row was a ruby, a topaz, and a beryl; in the second, an emerald, a sapphire, and a turquoise; in the third, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and in the fourth, a chrysolite, an onyx, and a jasper (but see footnote on 39:13 in niv). Each stone was set in a gold mounting. Golden chains and rings fastened the breastpiece to the ephod of the priest at his shoulders and to the blue lacers of the woven bands. The “sacred diadem was made of pure gold, on which was engraved the words, “Holy To The Lord.”

In the period of the judges, Gideon, after turning down the offer of kingship, requested that every man cast into a spread garment all the gold earrings, crescents, necklaces, and camel chains captured from the Midianites. With these he made an ephod, which later became a snare to Israel when the people came to regard it idolatrously (Judg.8.24-Judg.8.27).

Until about 1000 b.c. gold and silver were not common in Palestine, and even iron was so scarce that jewelry was made of it for kings. Archaeology has uncovered comparatively little indigenous Palestinian art. Fragments of jewelry that have been found in excavated palaces of kings is the work of imported artists. Such finds have been made at Megiddo, a fortress-city guarding the Plain of Esdraelon that was destroyed in the period of the judges.

David accumulated a large mass of jewels, mostly won in conquests against Syrians, Moabites, Ammonites, Amalekites, and Philistines. All these he dedicated to the Lord (2Sam.8.7-2Sam.8.8) and passed on to Solomon for the building of the temple in Jerusalem. When his nobles saw what he was donating, they brought for the same purpose gold, silver, brass, and iron; and the common people added what they could (1Chr.28.1-1Chr.28.21). We are told that the Queen of Sheba brought to Solomon gold and precious stones. The throne of Solomon was overlaid with gold; the steps leading to it were of gold; his footstool was of gold; his drinking cups were all of gold; and “all the household articles in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold” (2Chr.9.20). In the succeeding reigns of the kings of Judah and Israel both monarchs and people gave increasing regard to accumulations of jewelry. Repeatedly OT prophets warned the Israelites that apostasy would be punished with the loss of their gems (Ezek.23.26).

Not a great deal is said about jewelry in the NT, and what is said is mostly condemnatory. Jesus twice mentioned jewels, in the parable of the pearl merchant (Matt.13.45-Matt.13.46) and in the saying about casting pearls before swine (Matt.7.6). Paul exhorts Christian women not to rely for adornment on “braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” (1Tim.2.9). James warns his readers not to give preference to a man who comes into their assembly with a gold ring and fine apparel, as though he were better than a poor man (Jas.2.2). In the Revelation of Jesus to John the destruction of Babylon is described in terms of merchants who can no longer sell “cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones, and pearls” (Rev.18.12). The new Jerusalem is described in Rev.21.1-Rev.21.27 as having a wall made of jasper, and the foundations of the walls decorated “with every kind of precious stone” (Rev.21.19)—jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst—a list recalling the list of precious stones in the breastpiece of the high priest.

See also Minerals.——SB

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


See, further, ORNAMENT; DRESS; STONES, PRECIOUS.