If you’re new to this series, catch up @
https://polination.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/the-seven-churches-of-revelation-part-eighteen/ (and prev)
I make jewelry, so I figured these gemstone references would be a quick study. Ha! Silly me.
- Revelation 4 says, “On the throne sat one whose appearance sparkled like JASPER and CARNELIAN. Around the throne was a halo as brilliant as an EMERALD.”
- Exodus 24 says, “Moses beheld the God of Israel. Under his feet there appeared to be SAPPHIRE tilework, as clear as the sky itself.”
It seems mineralogy didn’t even exist until the 16th c. AD, so the gem names we use don’t correspond to the ones used in the Bible. On top of that, different translators choose different modern gem names, depending on what they think the original authors might have meant. Said translators don’t seem to know much about the history of gems in the Middle East, since “sapphire” is common in Bible translations, but the gemstone we know as sapphire was unknown to the people who wrote the originals. Ahem.
Unlike sapphires, emeralds were very well known among the people of the Bible lands. One of the earliest known emerald mines were located near the Red Sea in Egypt. Cleopatra is said to have been particularly fond of them.
We also need to remember that whatever Bible writers meant by “sparkle” isn’t the dazzling display we see in our faceted gemstones. As you can see above, ancient jewelers could do some faceting, but the type that makes transparent and translucent gems really flash wasn’t invented until the 14th century AD and the “Father of Modern Diamong Cutting”, Louis de Berquen of Flanders, lived in the 15th century AD.
The gems (and settings) with which both the Old and New Testament writers were familiar looked more like the 10th c. AD Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire:
Learning these things made the scripture passages above both more and less puzzling. Yes, emeralds can sparkle brilliantly, if they’re facet cut. Cabochons? Meh. Not so much.
I have particular trouble with “sparkled like jasper and carnelian”, seeing as jasper and carnelian are both opaque stones, so “shine” yes, “sparkle” no.
Not to mention that “sapphire tilework” (or lapis lazuli for that matter) is never, to my knowledge, “as clear as the sky itself.” As far as my visualizing goes, I’m at the point of assuming the stones refer to color and signify high status, royalty, wealth. It seems fairly certain that emerald means green, sapphire (lapis lazuli) means blue, and carnelian means orangey-red.
Hmm … come to think … those colors make up three parts of the four natural elements – green for EARTH, blue for WATER, orange-red for FIRE — which leaves jasper for AIR.
Jasper proved to be a gigantic puzzle. Mineralogy defines jasper as an opaque, impure variety of silica that was a favorite gem in the ancient world.
One site says the name means “spotted or speckled stone.” Another notes the Hebrew word that gets translated to jasper – “yashepheh” – comes from a root word meaning “to polish.” Either works, since jaspers are multi-colored and capable of taking a high polish.
“Jasper” is also a variation of the Persian name Kaspar or Gaspar, meaning ‘treasurer or treasure bringer.” This is considered to be the source for the name “Casper” for the Magus who brought Baby Jesus a gift of frankincense. The proper names given the Magi are not biblical; they date from the early Middle Ages. This one is fun, though, since it connects up the visions of heaven with Baby Jesus, wealth and the incense that carries our prayers.
Pliny the Elder, who lived and wrote around the same time that the book of Revelation was written, describes “iaspis” (the Greek word in Revelation that gets translated into “jasper”) as “being green and often transparent.” Color me confused! Jaspers come in an astonishing variety of colors, but they’re all basically opaque.
To be sure, “green and often transparent” works a heckuva lot better for AIR than any of the opaque stones we properly classify as jasper. But … the other two familiar greenish, transparent gemstones, were (like emerald) known in ancient times and had their own names (that weren’t yashepheh or iaspis).
The only gemstone I could find that might fit what Pliny was describing is now known as “hiddenite.” It ranges from light to dark green and is transparent. Although it was only recently discovered (ca. 1879 in North Carolina), deposits have since been found in Brazil, China, Madagascar, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Note the AFGHANISTAN. Lapis lazuli was being mined in Afghanistan as early as the 3rd millennium BC. Lapis jewelry has been found in archeological digs much older than our Bible passages and in places as far from Afghanistan as Mauritania, on the far western side of Northern Africa.
It seems very possible to me that what we now call hiddenite was mined somewhere, maybe Afghanistan, back in 1st c. AD, when it was known as “iaspis”, but that the mine played out and knowledge of the gem itself was lost until the 19th century. It sure fits the bill! And I really like it for AIR.
Revelation 4 says, “On the throne sat one whose appearance sparkled like hiddenite/AIR and carnelian/FIRE. Around the throne was a halo as brilliant as an emerald/EARTH.”
Exodus 24 says, “Moses beheld the God of Israel. Under his feet there appeared to be lapis lazuli/WATER tilework, as clear as the sky itself.”
Wow … now THAT I can visualize!