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|| 1. Ancient and Modern Names
2. Change of Signification of Names
3. Three Important Lists of Stones
4. Interpretation of Greek Names Used by John
5. Interpretation of Hebrew Names
6. Greek and Latin Equivalents of Hebrew Names
7. Inconsistencies of Text or Translation
8. Vulgate and Septuagint
9. Hebrew Texts of Septuagint andof the Bible
10. Equivalence of Hebrew and Greek Names
11. Interpretation of Greek Names Used by Septuagint
12. List of Names with Biblical References
1. Ancient and Modern Names:
Great difficulty is met with in any attempt to translate the Greek and Hebrew names mentioned in the Bible into names that would be used for the same minerals in a particular country at the present day. It is only within the last century, through the development of the sciences of chemistry and crystallography, that it has become possible to define mineral species with any considerable approach to precision. In ancient times various minerals were regarded as belonging to a single kind, and indicated by a single name, that are now distributed into different kinds and mentioned under different names.
For example, 2,000 years ago the Greek term anthrax was used to signify various hard, transparent, red stones that are now known to differ much from one another in chemical composition, and are therefore assigned to different species and given different names; among them are oriental ruby (red corundum), balas ruby (red spinel), almandine and pyrope (red garnets); a stone designated anthrax by the ancient Greeks might thus belong to any one of a number of various kinds to the assemblage of which no name is now given, and the word anthrax has no simple equivalent in a modern language.
2. Change of Signification of Names:
Confusion is introduced in another way. The English names of most of the precious stones mentioned in the Bible are adaptations of Greek names through the Latin; for instance, the English word "topaz" is a modification of the Latin word topazius, itself merely a Latin form of the Greek word topazion. It would at first sight appear that the Greek word topazion must be translated into English by the word "topaz"; but, strangely, although the words are virtually identical, the stones indicated by the words are quite different. The topazion of the ancient Greeks was a green stone yielding to the action of a file and said to be brought from an island in the Red Sea, whereas the topaz of the present day is not a green stone, does not yield to the action of a file, and has not been brought from an island in the Red Sea. The topazion of the ancient Greeks is really the peridot, not the topaz, of modern mineralogy; topazion and topaz are different kinds of stone. For the interpretation of the Bible it is thus necessary to ascertain, if possible, the kind of stone to which a Greek or Hebrew name was applied at the time when the word was written.
3. Three Important Lists of Stones:
Most of the names of the precious stones mentioned in the Bible are contained in the Hebrew description of the breastplate of the high priest and the Greek description of the foundations of the
The stones of the breastplate according to our Hebrew text (
The foundations of the New Jerusalem are (
Only 4 of the latter stones are mentioned elsewhere in the, also in the , namely: iaspis (4:3; 21:18), smaragdos (4:3), sardion (4:3) and huakinthos (9:17).
4. Interpretation of Greek Names Used by John:
For the interpretation of the Greek names used by John, much help is given by Pliny’s great work on, published 77 AD, for it records what was known about precious stones at the very time when John himself was living. The Greek names of stones and their Latin verbal equivalents had presumably the same signification for both these writers; it is thus possible, in some cases at least, to ascertain what name is now assigned to a stone mentioned in the New Testament if the name and description are recorded in the treatise of Pliny; the results are given in the alphabetical list below. All twelve stones, except chalkedon, are mentioned by Pliny; the few important stones described by him, but not mentioned by John as foundations, are crystallum and adamas, both of them colorless; onyx, remarkable rather for structure than color; electrum (amber), a soft material; carbunculus, fiery red; callaina, pale green, probably turquoise; cyanus, dark blue; and opalus (opal); ranked in Pliny’s time immediately after smaragdus in value. Achates (agate) is omitted, but was no longer precious.
5. Interpretation of Hebrew Names:
In the interpretation of the Hebrew names of the stones of the breastplate there is much greater difficulty, for no Hebrew literature other than thehas been preserved, and little help is afforded by the contexts of other verses in which some of the Hebrew names of precious stones occur. If we could assume that the Septuagint and the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) versions of the description of the breastplate were made from Hebrew texts absolutely identical in respect of the names of the stones with those used for the preparation of the English Versions of the Bible, and that the versions were correctly made, the Greek equivalents of the Hebrew terms for the time of the Septuagint translators (about 280 BC) and their Latin equivalents for the time of Jerome (about 400 AD) would be directly determinable by collation of the Hebrew original with the Greek and Latin translations.
It must be remembered, however, that a Hebrew writer, in describing the arrangement of a row of stones, began with that on his right and mentioned them in the order right to left, while a western writer begins with the stone on his left and mentions them in the reverse order. Hence, in translating a Hebrew statement of arrangement into a western language, one may either translate literally word by word, thus adopting the Hebrew direction of reading, or, more completely, may adopt the western direction for the order in the row. As either method may have been adopted by the Septuagint translators, it follows that ’odhem and bareqeth, the first and last stones of the 1st row according to our Hebrew text, may respectively be equivalent either to sardion and smaragdos, or, conversely, to smaragdos and sardion; and similarly for the other rows. The number of the middle stone of any row is the same whichever direction of reading is adopted. ’Odhem being red, and sardion and smaragdos respectively red and green (see below), ’odhem must be equivalent to the former, not the latter, and the Septuagint translators must have adopted the Hebrew direction of reading the rows.
6. Greek and Latin Equivalents of Hebrew Names:
Other sets of possible equivalents are derivable by collation of the Biblical description with each of the two descriptions given by Josephus (Ant., III, vii, 5; BJ, V, v, 7). The possible Greek and Latin equivalents of Hebrew names are thus as follows:
It may be remarked, as regards the 1st stone of the 1st row, that in the time of Josephus the stone sardonux could be signified also by the more general term sardion; and, as regards the 1st stone of the 2nd row, that anthrax and carbo being respectively Greek and Latin for "glowing coal," anthrax and carbunculus, diminutive of carbo, were used as synonyms for certain red stones.
7. Inconsistencies of Text or Translations
From the inconsistencies of the above table of possible equivalents it may be inferred that either
(1) essentially different translations were given in several cases for the same Hebrew word, or
(2) the Hebrew texts used in the preparation of the Septuagint and the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) versions were, in respect of the precious stones, different from each other and from that used in the preparation of English Versions of the Bible, or
(3) the breastplate differed at different epochs, or
(4) one or other, or both, of the descriptions by Josephus are incorrect. Conceivably differences may have arisen in all the above-mentioned ways.
(1) Inconsistency of Septuagint Translators
These differences suggest that there were different Septuagint translators, even for different chapters of the same book, and that little care was taken by them to be consistent with one another in the translation of technical terms.
(2) Differences of Hebrew Texts
That the Hebrew texts used for the Septuagint, Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) and English Versions of the Bible were not identical in all the verses in which there is mention of precious stones is especially clear from an analysis of the respective descriptions of the ornaments of the king of Tyre (
(3) Changes in the Breastplate
That the breastplate in use in the time of the Septuagint translators (about 280 BC) may have been different from the one described in theis manifest if we have regard to the history of the Jewish nation; for Jerusalem was captured by Shishak, king of Egypt, about 973 BC, by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, about 586 BC, and by Ptolemy Soter, king of Egypt, about 320 BC. The original breastplate may have been part of the spoil on one or other of these occasions, and have then disappeared forever.
Again, between the times of the Septuagint translators and Josephus, Jerusalem was more than once in the hands of its enemies; in 198 BC the city was captured by Antiochus the Great; in 170 BC it was stormed, and its temple plundered, by; in 54 BC the temple was desecrated by Crassus. The breastplate familiar to Josephus (for he was long a priest in the temple of Jerusalem) may thus not have been identical with that in use when the Septuagint version was made.
And if the signification of the Hebrew names of the stones had not been carefully passed down from one generation to another while the breastplate was no longer in existence (for instance, during the Babylonian captivity), or if stones like those of the original breastplate were not available when a new breastplate was being made, there would inevitably be differences in the breastplate at different times.
The probability of this hypothesis of one or more replacements of the breastplate is still further increased if we have regard to the large stones that were set in gold buttons and fastened to the shoulderpieces of the ephod, the vestment to which the breastplate itself was attached (
(4) Descriptions Given by Josephus
That in respect of the breastplate it is unsafe to collate the Hebrew texts of the various versions with that of Josephus may be demonstrated as follows. The 2nd stone of the 2nd row, termed cappir in our Hebrew text, is termed sappheiros in the Septuagint and sapphirus in the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) Wherever else cappir occurs in our Hebrew text, sappheiros occurs in the corresponding place in the Septuagint and sapphirus in the Vulgate; it may thus be inferred that in respect of the word cappir our Hebrew text and the Hebrew texts used for the Septuagint and Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) versions were in complete accord with one another. Also, it is certain that the Latin word sapphirus was derived from the Greek word sappheiros, and that either the latter had its origin in the Hebrew word cappir or that both words had the same source. There is no reason to think that from the time of the Septuagint translators to that of Jerome the word sappheiros was ever used to signify any other than one kind of stone or that the kind was ever called iaspis. But in both the descriptions given by Josephus the middle stone of the 2nd row is given as iaspis, not as sappheiros, which he makes the last stone of the row. Hence, for the middle stone of the 2nd row, the Hebrew texts were concordant in giving the name cappir, but they fundamentally differed from that of Josephus whose two descriptions agree in giving the name iaspis; it is not a difference of mere nomenclature or translation, but of the kind of stone set in a definite part of the breastplate. This being the case, collation of the Hebrew, Septuagint and Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) descriptions of the breastplate with those given by Josephus cannot be relied on to give a true Greek or a true Latin equivalent for the Hebrew name of any of the stones.
It may be added that the two descriptions given by Josephus differ from each other only as regards the order of the stones in the last two rows; in the 3rd row, the order is precisely reversed; in the 4th row the order is chrusolithos, onuchion, berullion for Ant, and onuchion, berullion, chrusolithos for BJ. Josephus, Antiquities was written at greater leisure than BJ, and was not completed till 18 years later; Josephus had thus more time for the consultation of old manuscripts. Speaking generally, it is more accurate than his earlier treatise as regards the history of those times of which he had no direct knowledge; its description of the breastplate is more precise as regards the arrangement of the stones, and is therefore the one to which the greater weight must be given. It differs from the Septuagint only through the interchange of the 2nd and 3rd stones in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th rows; and possibly Josephus gave the order from his memory either of the Septuagint or of the actual breastplate.
The only difference between the descriptions given in the Septuagint and the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) is that the last two stones, namely berullion (beryllus) and onuchion (onychinus), are interchanged.
8. Vulgate and Septuagint:
As already pointed out, the Hebrew texts of the Septuagint and English Versions of the Bible must have differed completely as regards the descriptions of the ornaments of the king of Tyre; it is thus not at all certain that they were in complete accord as regards the descriptions of the breastplate. In fact, it is generally accepted that the Hebrew word yashepheh and the Greek word iaspis are virtually identical, and that they were used to signify the same kind of stone.
9. Hebrew Texts of Septuagint and English Versions of the Bible:
Hence, it follows that the Hebrew text of English Versions of the Bible is not identical with the Hebrew texts of the Septuagint and the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) versions in respect of the stones in the 2nd and 4th rows; if our Hebrew text is correct as regards yashepheh, that stone was the last stone in the last row; if the Hebrew texts of the Septuagint and Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) versions were correct, yashepheh, which had for its Greek equivalent iaspis, must have been the last stone in the 2nd row; further, onuchion (Septuagint) and beryllus (Vulgate) must be equivalent, not to yashepheh, but to some other stones of the breastplate.
10. Equivalence of Hebrew and Greek Names:
Taking these matters into consideration, the following have considerable claims to be regarded as equivalents:
The remaining three stones, tarshish, shoham and yahalom, are thus equivalent to chrusolithos, onuchion and berullion, but it is uncertain which Greek name corresponds to any of those Hebrew names.
11. Interpretation of Greek Names Used by Sepuagint:
For the interpretation of the Greek names of stones mentioned in the Septuagint (and thus of the Hebrew names in the original text), the work of Theophrastus, a contemporary of the Septuagint translators, is very useful. That author mentions, besides krustallos and margarites which occur elsewhere than in the description of the breastplate, nine of the Septuagint names of the breastplate stones, namely: achates, amethustos (as amethuson), anthrax, iaspis, ligurion (as lugkurion), onuchion, sappheiros, sardion, smaragdos. The three stones mentioned in the Septuagint but not by Theophrastus are berullion, chrusolithos, and topazion. Since he mentions only four stones that are not referred to in the Septuagint, namely chrusokolla, hualoeides, kuanos and omphax, it follows that the Septuagint translators at Alexandria introduced every important name that was then in use at Athens for a precious stone.
In the following alphabetical list references are given to all the verses in which each name of a precious stone occurs, and for each use of a translated name the corresponding word in the original text.
12. List of Names with Biblical References:
Achates (achates): probably Septuagint translation of shebho (
Adamant (see also special article): in
’Achlamah: in Ex 28:19; 39:12: 3rd stone, 3rd row, of the breastplate. Septuagint translates amethustos; Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) translates amethystus; English Versions of the Bible "amethyst."
The Septuagint rendering amethustos is generally accepted as correct, but the late Professor N. S. Maskelyne, F.R.S., formerly (1857-80) Keeper of Minerals in the British Museum, gave reasons for regarding the ’achlamah of breastplate times as possibly an onyx in which white bands alternated with waxy-yellow to reddish-yellow bands.
Amethustos (amethustos): in
Anthrax (anthrax): in Tobit 13:17; Ecclesiasticus 32:5, English Versions of the Bible translates "carbuncle." According to the Septuagint, anthrax was also a stone of the breastplate, 1st stone, 2nd row, but there is uncertainty as to the Hebrew text of the Septuagint in respect of this word. The anthrax of Theophrastus included different kinds of hard, red stone used by the gem engravers. It is the carbunculus of Pliny’s time, and probably included the oriental ruby (corundum, alumina), the balas ruby (spinel, aluminate of magnesium), the almandine (a kind of garnet, alumino-silicate of iron) and pyrope (another kind of garnet, alumino-silicate of magnesium) of the present day.
Bareqeth: in Ex 28:17; 39:10; Eze 28:13: 3rd stone, 1st row, of breastplate. Septuagint probably translates smaragdos, but there is uncertainty as to the Hebrew text of the Septuagint in respect of this word: English Versions of the Bible translates "carbuncle"; the Revised Version margin translates "emerald." The rendering smaragdos may be correct, but no emeralds of very early age have been found in Egypt. From the similarity of the words bareqeth and baraq ("lightning"), it has been suggested that possibly the breastplate stone was not green but of bluish-red color, in which case it may have been an almandine (garnet). English Versions of the Bible has interchanged the names given by Septuagint, to the 3rd stone of the 1st row (smaragdos, "emerald") and the 1st stone of the 2nd row (anthrax, "carbuncle").
Bdellium (see also special article): in
Bedholach: The Septuagint translates anthrax in
Berullos (berullos): in Tobit 13:17;
In the time of Pliny 8 varieties were recognized; he says that beryllus was already thought by some to be "of the same nature as the smaragdus, or at least closely analogous. India produces them, and they are rarely to be found elsewhere. The lapidaries cut all beryls of a hexagonal form because the color which is deadened by a dull uniformity of surface is heightened by the reflections resulting from the angles. If they are cut in any other way, these stones have no brilliancy whatever. The most esteemed beryls are those which in color resemble the pure green of the sea. Some are of opinion that beryls are naturally angular."
This description suggests the identity of the seagreen beryllus of Pliny’s time with the sea-green beryl (alumino-silicate of beryllium) of the present day.
Chalkedon (chalkedon): in
Pliny refers to a kind of smaragdus (a green stone) as having been found near Chalcedon, but adds that the stones were of very small size and value. They were "brittle, and of a color far from distinctly pronounced; they resembled in their tints the feathers that are seen in the tail of the peacock or on the neck of the pigeon. More or less brilliant, too, according to the angle at which they were viewed, they presented an appearance like that of veins and scales." In another place he refers to a stone from Chalcedon or Calchedon (another reading) as being an iaspis of turbid hue. It is possible that at Patmos or Ephesus, at one of which John was living when he wrote the Book of Revelation, the word chalkedon was used to specify the particular kind of smaragdus or iaspis that had been found near the town of that name. It is uncertain what name would be given to such a stone in the present day, but the signification now attached to the name "chalcedony" (cryptocrystalline silica) cannot be traced farther back than the 15th century.
Chrusolithos (chrusolithos): in
It may perhaps have included the yellow sapphire (alumina), the yellow quartz (citrine, silica) and the yellow jargoon (zircon; silicate of zirconium) of the present day. The term "chrysolite" is now applied to a different mineral, namely, to a yellow variety of olivine (silicate of magnesium and iron), a species that includes the green precious stone peridot as another of its varieties.
Chrusoprasos (chrusoprasos): in
Chrysolite, chrysolyte: "chrysolite" in
Chrysoprase, chrysoprasus: "chrysoprase" in
Coral, red coral (see special article): "coral" in
Crystal (see special article): in
Electrum (see special article):
Huakinthos, (huakinthos): in
Hyacinth, jacinth (see also special article on HYACINTH): "hyacinth" in
Iaspis (iaspis): in
He adds that "many countries produce this stone: that of India is like smaragdus in color; that of Cyprus is hard and of a full sea-green; and that of Persia is skyblue. Similar to the last is the Caspian iaspis. On the banks of the river Thermodon the iaspis is of an azure color; in Phrygia it is purple; and in Cappadocia of an azure-purple, somber and not refulgent. The best kind is that which has a shade of purple, the next best being the rose-colored, and the next the stone with the green color of the smaragdus," etc.
The term "jasper" is now restricted to opaque stones; the green transparent kind of iaspis may have been identical with the green chalcedony (crypto-crystalline silica) called plasma at the present day.
Krustallos (krustallos): in
Lapis lazuli: in
Leshem: in Ex 28:19; 39:12: 1st stone, 3rd row, of the breastplate. Septuagint probably translates ligurion, but there is uncertainty as to their Hebrew text; Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) probably translates ligurius; the King James Version translates "ligure"; the Revised Version (British and American) translates "jacinth"; the Revised Version margin translates "amber."
The ligurion of the Septuagint is probably identical with the lugkurion of Theophrastus; this was a yellow to yellowishred stone used by seal engravers, and was transparent and difficult to polish. The yellow ligurion may be the yellow jargoon of the present day (zircon, silicate of zirconium), a stone much used by the ancient Greek and Roman engravers; but as the jargoon has not been found among ancient Egyptian work, it has been suggested that the ligurion of the breastplate may have been a yellow quartz (citrine) or agate. The yellowish-red ligurion may have been one of the stones to which the name "jacinth" (also a zircon) is now applied. Professor Maskelyne, rejecting the Septuagint translated, suggests that the leshem was identical with the neshem of the Egyptians, namely the green feldspar now called amazon stone; as an alternative rendering to this he suggests yellow jasper. The translation "amber" (Revised Version, margin) is not likely to be correct, for that material would have been too soft for use as a stone of the breastplate; its properties do not accord with those assigned by Theophrastus to the lugkurion.
Ligurion (ligurion): in Septuagint
Margarites (margarites): in
Nophekh, in Ex 28:18; 39:11; Eze 27:16; 28:13: 1st stone, 2nd row, of the breastplate. There is uncertainty as to the Hebrew text used by the Septuagint, but probably nophekh is translated anthrax (except in
’Odhem, in Ex 28:17; 39:10; Eze 28:13: 1st stone, 1st row, of the breastplate. Septuagint probably translates sardion, Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) probably translates sardius; English Versions of the Bible translates "sardius"; EVm translates "ruby." The Hebrew word is related to [’adham], "to be red," and signifies a reddish stone; it may have been sard (a name given not only to red, but also to pale reddish-yellow or brown, translucent chalcedony), but was more probably carnelian, a red stone closely allied to sard, and much used by the ancient Egyptians and Assyrians.
Onuchion, (onuchion, onux): "onux," Septuagint translation of Hebrew shoham (
PiTedhah, in Ex 28:17; 39:10; Job 28:19; Eze 28:13: 2nd stone, 1st row, of the breastplate. Septuagint translates topazion in
Sappheiros (sappheiros): in Tobit 13:16;
Sardine (stone), sardius: "sardine" (stone) in
Sardion (sardion): in
Sardonux (sardonux): in
Pliny says that later three colors were considered essential, but that they might be repeated indefinitely. The Arabian sardonyx was "characterized by several different colors, black or azure for the base and vermilion surrounded with a line of rich white for the upper part, not without a certain glimpse of purple as the white passes into the red."
The sardonux of John’s time is included in the sardonyx of the present day.
Smaragdinos, smaragdos (smaragdinos): in
Topazion (topazion): in
The topazion of Pliny’s time was "held in very high estimation for its green tints; when it was first discovered it was preferred to every other kind of precious stone." It was said to be brought from an island in the Red Sea, off the coast of Arabia. It was the only stone of high value that yielded to the action of the file. Topazion is not mentioned by Theophrastus. Pliny’s account corresponds to the peridot of the present day (silicate of magnesium and iron), not to our topaz (fluosilicate of aluminium).