Skip to main content

Precious Stones (in the Bible)


Humankind has always and everywhere been fond of using precious stones as personal ornaments. Whether a small stone was considered precious or not depended partly on its relative rarity and partly on custom or taste in any given culture. In the ancient Near East precious or semiprecious stones were commonly worn as necklaces. Gems were also cut and engraved in the form of seals (Sir 38.27) and scarabs. Since such valuable possessions were often buried with their owners, precious stones are frequently found in ancient tombs.

In Palestinian archeology it is generally only in the tombs of wealthy people that jewelry, consisting of precious metal and gems, is found. Hardly any precious stones are native to Palestine, so those that are found in Palestinian archeological sites must have been imported, mostly from south Arabia (Gn 2.12; 1 Kgs 10.2, 1011; Ez 27.22), with the Edomites often acting as middlemen in the traffic (Ez 27.16). Actually, precious stones are mentioned rather rarely in the Bible. The longest list of gems is that given in connection with the description of the "breastpiece of decision" worn by the Israelite high priest (Ex 28.1719; 39.1012). This breastpiece consisted of a square of richly woven cloth on which were mounted 12 precious stones, in four rows of three stones each. On each stone the name of one of the 12 tribes of Israel was engraved. The meaning of most of the Hebrew words for these gems is obscure.

Nine of these gems are mentioned in the gloss that is added to the phrase addressed to the "Paradise man" in Ez 28.13: "Every precious stone was your covering." This gloss is apparently connected with Ex 28.1719, since these nine gems are the same, although in somewhat different order, as the stones in the first, second, and fourth rows of the high priest's breastpiece.

The Hebrew names of other gems mentioned in the Old Testament, together with terms used for them in the Confraternity Old Testament are: penînîm, coral (Prv3.15; 8.11; Lam 4.7; etc.); rā'môt, coral (Jb 28.18); kadkōd, ruby (Is 54.12; Ez 27.16); 'eqdā carbuncle (Is 54.12); šāmîr, diamond (Jer 17.1; Ez 3.9: Zec 7.12). In the New Testament pearls (μαργαρ[symbol omitted]ται) are mentioned in Mt. 7.6; 13.4546; 1 Tm 2.9; Rv 17.4; 18.16; 21.21.

In Rv 21.1920 there is a list of 12 precious stones "adorning the foundations of the walls of the city" of the heavenly Jerusalem. The exact meaning of most of the Greeks names of these gems is uncertain.

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 190607. k. galling, Biblisches Reallexicon (Tübingen 1937) 139140. f. nÖtscher, Biblische Altertumskunde (Bonn 1940) 233.

[l. f. hartman]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Precious Stones (in the Bible)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . 21 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Precious Stones (in the Bible)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . (February 21, 2019).

"Precious Stones (in the Bible)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 21, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.