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GEMSTONES IN BREASTPLATE
by Stephen J. Cole

 

        It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine what stones, according our modern understanding, are meant by the Hebrew names of the twelve stones the breattplate. The aproach the ancients took to naming stones was to treat color as the principal property. The modern approach is generally to name stones according to their composition. Thus "sapphire" may have meant, to the ancients, any of a number of blue stones, while today it refers to gems of the mineral corundum, regardless of color<unless they are red, in which case they are called "rubies").

        There are so many different accounts now given of what the twelve stones are, it is hopeless to try to sort them all out. If one begins, however, from the belief that the names and descriptions of the stones given in the Writing are Divinely inspired, and not simply Swedenborg's 18th century understanding then much progress can be made. One then assumes, for instance, that if the Arcana uses the word "sapphire" for what is called "sapphire" in the Hebrew, then the blue stone referred to in the Word is, after all, the same as the modern sapphire.

        Many biblical commentators have rejected this sort of identification because they work from the assumption that if the breatplate contained engraved gems (with the names of the 12 tribes) then none of the harder gems (ruby, sapphire, diamond, etc.) could be meant. The Writings, however, seem to go along with the idea that even the hardest of stones could have been so engraved. Therefore, we must part company from many accounts of the 12 stones

        The first step in identifying the stones of the breastplate is to be clear about the names. Examining the charts of Latin and English translations, we find that three of the names are consistent throughout (with some minor variations in spelling): topaz, sapphire, and agate, with amethyst almost as clear. "Sapphire" has been carried right over from the Hebrew, while "topaz," "agate," and "amethyst" all reflect the Greek of the Septuagint version (LXX). These names are the most straight-forward and certain.

        Clearly if one simply transliterates the Hebrew words, there can be no argument about the names, but only about what they mean. In the Arcana, we ha besides "sapphire," three other names carried over directly from Hebrew, the stones of the last row: tarshish, schoham, and jasper.

        For the remaining five stones, to find the names used in the Arcana, we must turn to the later Latin and English translation. Three of these last five are used in Schmidius (1696) and can be found as early as Treme11ius (1579): Chrysoprase, diamond, and cyanus. Two others turn up in the Geneva Bible (l579): Ruby and Carbuncle.

The names of the twelve stones, as given in the Arcana, are these:

Ruby(Geneva)

Topaz (LXX)

Carbuncle(Geneva)

Chrysoprase(Tremellius)

Sapphire(Hebrew)

Diamond(Tremellius)

Cyanus (Tremellius)

Agate (LXX)

Amethyst (LXX)

Tarshish(Hebrew)

Schoham(Hebrew)

Jasper(Hebrew)

        One cannot simply take these names for their modern meanings, however. Now that the names have been clarified, the more difficult question of their meaning must be addressed. We will now take them one by one:

Ruby     The Hebrew word translated as ruby is "Odhem," which is a Hebrew word for red (from which the word for ground and the names "Adam" and "Edom" also derive). "Ruby" has the same role in English: it means the premire red stone. All commentator seem to agree that the first stone must be red. But they differ as to which red stone is meant. Many call the first "sardius," the modern meaning for which is a species of red cryptocrystal1ine quartz. The Writings call one of the twelve foundations of the Holy City "sardius," but the term is not used for the any of the stones on the breastplate. The Word Explained specifically states that the name of the first stone is "translated by others, though wrongly, a 'sardius' (WE 4845). The is nothing in the Writings to suggest that we should not accept this judgement. However, the Word Explained allows that the first stone is either ruby or pyrope (this name deriving from the Greek word for fire and commonly regarded as a kind of garnet). The Arcana (and the corresponding treatment in AE) holds to the ruby identification, but TCP 218 agrees with the Schmidius terminology in calling i a pyrope. This does not force one to identify the stone as garnet, however.

        The term pyrope could be applied to the ruby by way of emphasizing its fiery appearance. It would not make sense the other way about, however, applying as plain a term as "ruby"(plain at least by the time the Writings were written) to garnet. The most satisfactory choice for the first stone is "ruby" as it is understood in its modern sense(red corundum).

Topaz     While there is little argument as to the name, there is great uncertainty as to the meaning. Most authorities suggest that the ancients did not have modern topaz in mind when they used the term, but rather what we now call chrysolite or peridot. The Arcana says that the derivation of the Hebrew is not clear, but some commentators relate it to the Sanskrit word for yellow, which would suggest modern topaz(usualiy golden) as opposed to peridot (1ight green). That Swedenborg was thinking in terms of the modern meaning is evident in the Word explained were he says that topaz "is of a pale or bright yellow color"(WE 4845). This makes it al1 the more surprising when the Arcana says that the first row of the breastplate was of red stones and more specifical1y of the name in Hebrew "that it was from flaming red color is probable" (AC 9865e). However, although modern topaz is usually golden, it also occurs in shades of red. Recognizing that Swedenborg was aware of what stone is referred to by the modern term "topaz," the most satisfactory choice for the second stone is topaz, but of a reddish cast.

Carbuncle     The Hebrew word here, as noted in the Arcana<9866) derives fron a root that means "flashing." The most frequent identification of this stone in the versions is as "smaragdus", that is to say,"emerald." This is accepted without question in the Word Explained(4845), to the point of speaking of its green color, but then is definitely cast aside in the Arcana. Not only is it included in the first(red) row and called a "carbuncle," it is further said that the flashing implied by its name is "flashing as from fire." The word "carbuncle" is from the Latin for "little coal," suggesting a glowing red stone. The most satisfactory choice for this stone, as named in the Arcana, is red garnet (the stone generally meant by carbuncle).

Chrysoprase     This is the stone that most traditions call the "carbuncle" or "ruby." The use of the term "chrysoprase" is surprising in the Arcana, not only for this reason, but also because the three stones of the second row are supposed to be "blue which is from red," while chrysoprase is, by definition, green quartz. That Swedenborg was not ignorant of this is again confirmed by the Word Exp1ained (4847), which not only mentions its green color, but also suggests that perhaps on a gold background the green would appear blue. Despite the green color, it is clear that the intended and most satisfactory choice for the fourth stone is chrysoprase.

Sapphire     There is no doubt that this is from a Hebrew word meaning a blue stone. Its color is compared to that of the sky in Exodus 24:10, which is cited by the Arcana as evidence of its blue color. Some commentators suggest that the ancient sapphire was lapis lazuli, which identification seems almost certain in Pliny. But because the Writings hold to the term sapphire, apparently in its modern sense and because the modern sapphire is the premier blue stone, therefore it would seem the most satisfactory choice for the fifth stone.

Diamond     Most authorities call the sixth stone the diamond(or adamas). Color here is no problem, because diamond, although usually fairly clear, can be of any color. Many, however, would reject the diamond, as it is understood today, as a possibility because of its hardness (and thus the consequent difficulty in engraving it), but hardness actually seems to be an argument in favor of the diamond. For in three places in the Word(Jer. 17:1, Eze. 3:9, and Zec. 7:12) the hardness of the diamond(or adamas) is it distinguishing feature. <It should be noted that in these three cases the Hebrew word used is different than that used for the sixth stone of the breastplate, but the Latin translation in the Writings is the same(adamas), indicating that the same stone is to be understood). The other distinguishing feature of this stone is described in the Arcana(9868:5): "That the diamond, which is the third stone in this row, denotes the truth of celestial love, is from its transparency, which verges toward an inward blueness." The most satisfactory choice for the sixth stone is the diamond as now understood, because it so beautifully combines

[NOTE:  The above text is incomplete.]

TABLE OF BREASTPLATE GEMSTONE NAMES

Vulgate Wycliff Tyndale Coverdale Matthew Great Geneva Bishops' KJV Tremelius
& Jupius
Schmidius
(=TCR 218)

Castellio Arcana Word Exp.
4845-4847

sardius stoon sardius
sardo stoon

Sardius Sardis Sardios Sardios ruby
MN: "or, sardoine"

sardius Sardius
MN: "or Ruby"

pyropus pyropus sardonyx rubinus pyropus, rubinus red (not sardius)
topazius topazyus
topazi

topas topas topas topas topaze topas Tasdopaz topazius topazius topazius topazius topazius yellow
smaragdus smaragdus
smaragdo

Smaragdus Smaragde Smaragdus
MN: "emeraude"

Smaragdus carbuncle
MN: "or carbuncle"

smaragdus Carbuncle smaragdus smaragdus smaragdus carbunculus smaragdus green
carbunculus charbuncle
carboncle

Rubyn Ruby Rubye
MN: "Some rede a carbuncle"

Ruby emeraude
MN:
"or carbuncle"

rubi Emeraude chrysoprasus chrysoprasus carbunculus chrysoprasus chrysoprasus verges to green
sapphirus safir
saphijr

Saphir Saphyre Saphir Saphir saphir saphir

Saphir sapphirus sapphirus sapphirus sapphirus  
jaspis iaspis
iasp

Diamonde Dymonde Diamonde Diamonde diamond
MN: "or iasper"

diamonde Diamond adamas adamas adamas adamas  
ligurius ligurie
ligyre

Lygurios Ligurios Lygurios Ligurios turkeis Lyncurius Lygure cyanus cyanus ligyrius cyanus  
achates achetes Acatt Achatt Achat Achat achate Achat Agate achates achates achates achates  
amethystus ametiste
amatyst

Amatist Ametyst Amatist
(! "Jaspis"! in 1549 ed.)

Amatist hematite Amethyst Amethist amethystus amethystus amethystus amethystus  
chrysolytus crisolitus
crisolide

Turcas Turcas Turcas Turcas chrysolite
MN: "Ebr. tarshish"

Turcas Berill beryllus thalassius chrysolithus tarshish  
onychinus onochyn
onychen

Onix Onix Onix Onix onix Onyx Onix sardius sardius onyx schoham  
beryllus berille
beril

Iaspis Iaspis Jaspis Jaspis iasper Jaspis Jasper jaspis jaspis jaspis jaspis