Posted on April 02, 2015 by Mary Hood | 0 Comments
Gemstones in the Bible
As we move towards Easter and Passover, many of us are reminded of the powerful symbolism laced through sacred texts. Some of these symbols still populate our modern daily lives. Precious stones make multiple appearances in the Bible and still serve as religious and spiritual emblems today.
A Brief Look at Precious Stones in the Bible:
Ancient Jews most likely acquired precious stones from the Middle East, India, and Egypt. Stones were not only associated with wealth but also with holy righteousness. For example, when the Israelites were fleeing oppressive (and wealthy) Egypt, God commanded his chosen people to take with them the riches of the land.
The breastplate of Aaron is one of the most famous appearances of gems in the bible, occuring in Exodus:
You shall make a breast piece of decision, worked into a design; make it in the style of the ephod [a sleeveless garment worn by Jewish priests]: make it of gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen. It shall be square and doubled, a span in length and a span in width. Set in it mounted stones, in four rows of stone. The first row shall be a row of carnelian, chrysolite, and emerald; the second row: a turquoise, a sapphire, and an amethyst; the third row: a jacinth, an agate, and a crystal; and the fourth row: a beryl, a lapis lazuli, and a jasper. The stones shall correspond [in number] to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve, corresponding to their names. They shall be engraved like seals, each with its name, for the twelve tribes. Exodus 28: 15-21, Tanakh Translation.
The breast piece was part of a collection of adornments commissioned by God to signify the dignity of Aaron, a Jewish priest noted for his love of peace. Modern biblical scholars explain that the breast piece would have been structured like a square pouch made to carry the instrument of decision, the Urim and Thummin, a device used to consult God on important questions that man alone could not solve, illustrating that, in some cases, precious stones allowed the bearer more direct access to God.
The breast piece became the precursor of modern-day birthstones.
A rendition of Aaron wearing his breastplate, circa 1871.
Biblical Jewelry for Modern Times:
Contemporary designers have made biblical jewelry that anyone may wear. One can even purchase a breastplate sticker or shower curtain from cafepress!
A note about stone in the Bible and other ancient texts: Our present descriptions of gems in the Bible are merely contemporary interpretations. The nomenclature of precious stones has shifted across time and translations. Moreover, the ancients didn’t classify their stones by their crystalline structure (as we do today). Rather, the stones were named by their color.
For a more detailed description of stones in the Bible, consult Stones of the Bible.
Photos: Mark via Flickr, Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr, The Judaica Store, Fatakat, Shukis Judaica via Etsy