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Precious Stones (in the Bible)

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]

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