breastplate of Aaronbreastplate of Aaron

What Were the Gemstones of the Breastplate of Aaron?

In Exodus, the breastplate of Aaron was said to hold 12 gems. However, the gemological identities of the stones, like jacinth and sapphire, are debatable.

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HomeLearning CenterGemologyQuestions About Gems and JewelryWhat Were the Gemstones of the Breastplate of Aaron?
Question:I'd love to have some feedback on the identity of the gemstones of the breastplate of Aaron. In Exodus 28:15-21, the breastplate of Aaron is described in great detail. In the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, a different gemstone is listed for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. They are, in the 1st row, carnelian, chrysolite, and emerald; in the 2nd row, turquoise, sapphire, and amethyst; in the 3rd row, jacinth, agate, and crystal; in the 4th row, beryl, lapis lazuli, and jasperI figure that chrysolite is chrysoberyl, the crystal is clear quartz, and the beryl is probably aquamarine. These gems were familiar to people in this region at that time. In the King James Version, however, different gems are listed. Any thoughts on what these stones might be?
the breastplate of Aaron
In this sculpture in the Santa Maria del Rosario Church in Venice, Italy, Aaron is depicted wearing the priestly breastplate with the gems arranged in four rows of three. Statue of Aaron by Giovanni Maria Morlaiter (1699-1781). Photo by Wolfgang Moroder. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

Answer: Matching the names ancient people used for gemstones to modern gem names can be difficult. We must contend not only with translations but also the fact that the ancients didn't identify gems the same way we do today.

What is Jacinth?

The name jacinth, or hyacinth, now refers usually to the orange-red and red-brown varieties of zircon. However, the classical Greek name huakinthos (Rev 21:20) appears to have been our blue sapphire. The Greeks generally referred to hyacinthus as blue. (However, the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder speaks of it as golden colored).

In the New American Standard Bible and the New International Version accounts of the breastplate of Aaron (Exodus 28:19; 39:12), hyacinth is used instead of the "ligure" of the King James Version for the Hebrew leshem. In these cases, the name apparently refers to a deep yellow gem, possibly our zircon. Nevertheless, the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, uses huakinthos for the Hebrew tekelet in all the descriptions of the Tabernacle furnishings. The English versions use blue. Since various ancient writers refer to hyacinthus as some shade of blue, there can be little question that jacinth is our sapphire.

Hope this helps,


zircon crystal
Zircon crystal. Photo by candiru. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

The Identities of the Chrysolite and Sapphire of the Breastplate of Aaron

I must respectfully disagree with the original poster's identifications. It is my opinion that the "chrysolite" in the breastplate of Aaron is not chrysoberyl at all. Rather, it's another term for what we now call peridot.

One other item which may be of interest. The biblical term "sapphire" was not always the sapphire we know today. "Sapphire" in the Mediterranean and Middle East in biblical times was almost always what we now refer to as lapis lazuli.

I'm fascinated by the gemstones of the breastplate of Aaron as well as the foundation stones of the New Testament. Interesting subjects, aren't they?


lapis lazuli egg
Lapis lazuli egg. Photo by Bob Richmond. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

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