What Were The Gemstones Of The Breastplate of Aaron?


Although jacinth or hyacinth is named as one of the gemstones of the breastplate of Aaron, its gemological identity is uncertain. In modern gemological terms, hyacinth refers to an orange-red to brown-red variety of zircon. However, in biblical times, hyacinth may have referred to a blue gemstone, such as sapphire or perhaps lapis lazuli. “Zircon Octahedral Crystal” by candiru is licensed under CC By 2.0
Although jacinth or hyacinth is named as one of the gemstones of the breastplate of Aaron, its gemological identity is uncertain. In modern gemological terms, hyacinth refers to an orange-red to brown-red variety of zircon. However, in biblical times, hyacinth may have referred to a blue gemstone, such as sapphire or perhaps lapis lazuli. “Zircon Octahedral Crystal” by candiru is licensed under CC By 2.0

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 jasper.

I 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. I would like to know what other International Gem Society (IGS) members think the gems of the breastplate of Aaron might have been.

Sincerely,

Francine Schuster

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. “Aaron by Giovanni Maria Morlaiter” by Wolfgang Moroder is licensed under CC By-SA 3.0
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. “Aaron by Giovanni Maria Morlaiter” by Wolfgang Moroder is licensed under CC By-SA 3.0

The Identity Of The Jacinth Of The Breastplate Of Aaron

The name jacinth, or hyacinth, is now applied 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 classical hyacinthus was generally referred to 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. Blue is used in the English versions. 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,

Hank

The Identities of The Chrysolite And Sapphire Of The Breastplate Of Aaron

I must respectfully disagree with Francine. 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?

Gregory

“Lapis4936,” lapis lazuli egg, by Bob Richmond is licensed under CC By 2.0
“Lapis4936,” lapis lazuli egg, by Bob Richmond is licensed under CC By 2.0