Old Testament Gemstones: A Philological, Geological, And Archaeological Assessment Of The Septuagint -- By: James A. Harrell

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 21:2 (NA 2011)
Article: Old Testament Gemstones: A Philological, Geological, And Archaeological Assessment Of The Septuagint
Author: James A. Harrell


Old Testament Gemstones: A Philological, Geological, And Archaeological Assessment Of The Septuagint

James A. Harrell

University Of Toledo

The earliest witness to the entirety of the Old Testament is the Septuagint (LXX), dating to the third through first centuries B.C., during the Hellenistic period. This was translated into Greek from an earlier and now largely lost version of the Hebrew Bible. After the ca. 315 B.C. book On Stones by the Greek scholar Theophrastus, the LXX has more references to gemstones than any other surviving Hellenistic manuscript. A total of 22 gemstones are mentioned in 55 passages of the LXX. The objective of this study is to determine the geologic identities of these stones based on their descriptions in all available ancient textual sources that are contemporaneous (or nearly so) with the LXX and on the archaeological record of gemstones used in the Eastern Mediterranean/Western Asia region during the first millennium B.C.

Key Words: gemstones, precious stones, Aaron’s breastplate, Septuagint, LXX, Old Testament

Author’s note: I am especially grateful to Prof. V. Max Brown (formerly of the University of Toledo) for an introduction to Aaron’s breastplate and his assistance in a survey of breastplate descriptions in English-language Bibles. Thanks are also due to Lisbet Thoresen (formerly of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California), who shared her vast knowledge of ancient gemstones with me and also offered many useful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Introduction

This study is concerned with the geologic identities of gemstones mentioned in the OT. The term gemstone as used here is broadly defined to include all rocks, minerals, and biogenic materials employed for jewelry (beads, pendants, and inlays), engraved cylinder and stamp seals, and other decorative arts (for example, amulets, figurines, and small vessels).

Much has been written about the OT gemstones, and virtually all of this literature has been concerned solely with the 12 stones of Aaron’s priestly breastplate as described in Exod 28:17-20 and also, depending on the OT version, in either Exod 36:17-20 or 39:10-13. The same gemstones appear again in Ezek 28:13, where they are jewels belonging to the king of Tyre. The earliest of these treatises is the so-called ‘De Gemmis’ of Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, written in the fourth century A.D.1 Subsequently, many other works on b...

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