by Mathew Abraham
Moses had given a precisely detailed account of how the priestly vestments should be prepared. But several words used by the Jews have no accurate translation in other languages. Initial Bibles were translated in Greek and there have been several doubts and misunderstandings concerning the meaning of many terms and phrases. This has resulted in differences of opinion of the actual gems mentioned in the priestly vestments of Aaron.
In order to fully appreciate the value of gems in a Biblical context, one would do well to keep in mind the words of Saint Paul in the chapter on faith in his letter to the Hebrews. He states that all things seen are created out of things that cannot be seen. Here he makes two points very clear: first that there is an invisible element in all material forms, and second that there is a creator for all things - whether visible or invisible. In order to truly enjoy the visible beauty of a precious stone, one must first have an internal experience of the majesty of the creator. Like any magnificent creation, the aesthetic essence of the creator and the beholder are decisive in determining its inherent quality. No matter how exquisitely beautiful an object may be, a base person would only attach wrong values to it if he is unable to discern the mind of its creator. But its true beauty would reach out and attract the soul of the person who is aware of the nature of its creator. This is how we should express our admiration and appreciation of precious stones.
Gems referred to in the Bible
Though a large number of precious stones are mentioned in the various books of the Bible, there is an element of doubt concerning the translation of the names of some of them. But that is relatively immaterial as it concerns only a couple of minor stones. In his poetic book of prophecy, the Prophet Isaiah uses the words 'jewels', 'crown' and 'diadem' to give descriptive examples of spiritual realities. Some of the major precious stones mentioned include diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphire, pearl, crystal, quartz, amethyst, agate, topaz, carnelian, turquoise, beryl, jasper, alabaster, chalcedony, onyx, flint, jacinth, carbuncle, Chrysolite, sardius, malachite and chrysoprase.
Famous Biblical Rulers and Gems
Even from ancient Biblical times, it is evident that more importance was attached to the precious metals - gold and silver. Rulers would accumulate large quantities of gold and silver to display their wealth. Precious stones were valued for their inherent beauty and used as personal adornments. Both men and women would have precious gems embedded in their personal ornaments of gold and silver in order to enhance their beauty. It is recorded in the Bible that when the famed Queen of Sheba visited the even more renowned King Solomon, she carried a large quantity of precious stones along with her gold and silver and other merchandise. The king himself is believed to have had a vast collection of priceless gems.
Thus gold and silver rings, necklaces, bangles, bracelets, ear rings, etc. were decorated with precious gems in order to increase their value. This consequently elevated the status of the wearer. And the finest and most exquisite gems were prominently displayed on the crowns of the kings, queens and other rulers. The beauty and value of the artistically created gold crowns was considerably enhanced by the magnificence of the precious stones with which they were studded. The crown worn by King David, the father of King Solomon, was taken from the head of the King of Rabbah, whom David had defeated in battle. The gold crown was beautifully decorated with precious stones.
Religion and Gems
It was a common practice for Jews and other races to ensure that their temples had a large stock of gold and silver. The precious metals were accumulated to keep the religious leaders financially strong and powerful. Gold was used lavishly to decorate the temples and gems were also used to beautify the adornments. King David had provided a large quantity of precious stones for the decoration of the temple.
Gems in the priestly vestments of Aaron
Moses had given a precisely detailed account of how the priestly vestments should be prepared. But several words used by the Jews have no accurate translation in other languages. Initial Bibles were translated in Greek and there have been several doubts and misunderstandings concerning the meaning of many terms and phrases. This has resulted in differences of opinion of the actual gems mentioned in the priestly vestments of Aaron. The parts of the vestments that were decorated with precious stones were the "Ephod" and the "Rational of Judgment", also called the "Breastpiece of Decision" and the "Breastplate of Judgment".
The Ephod had two onyx stones on which were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, six on each stone. The Breast piece was adorned with twelve stones in four rows of three stones each. These gems have been referred to as "The Stones of Fire" brought by Moses from the Mountain of God. The chart below gives an idea of what these precious stones could be:
1st row: sardius/carnelian - topaz - emerald/carbuncle
2nd row carbuncle/emerald/garnet - sapphire - jasper/diamond/beryl
3rd row ligurius/jacinth - agate - amethyst
4th row Chrysolite/beryl - onyx - beryl/jasper
The Revelation Gems
The book of Revelations - The Apocalypse - lists twelve layers of precious stones as being the foundations of the spiritual city of the New Jerusalem. There is an opinion that they are the same twelve gems as those in the vestments of Aaron. Here also there is an element of confusion where the translation is concerned:
1 - jasper 2 - sapphire 3 - chalcedony 4 - emerald 5 - Sardonyx 6 - sardius / carnelian
7 - Chrysolite 8 - beryl 9 - topaz 10 - chrysoprasus 11 - jacinth 12 - amethyst.
The Gems of the Apostles
There is a line of thought that the twelve gems mentioned in the book of Revelations are directly connected with each of the twelve Apostles. There is a passage that symbolically links the names of the Apostles to the foundations of the spiritual city of the New Jerusalem, and it is this that gives rise to the theory that each of the Apostles has been ascribed a specific gem.
Throughout the Bible there is evidence of the value attached to gems by different kinds of people. Their fascinating attraction drew the admiration of kings and commoners alike. Their beauty enhanced the prestige of the wearers. They were even used by religious leaders. Though the Bible is a book concerned with spiritual matters and gems have a very limited place in it, the symbolism attached to precious stones in indeed significant. This is evident in the final chapters of the book of Revelations, the concluding book in the Bible. It would appear that more value should be attached to the inherent quality of the precious stones rather than their outward attraction.