Friday, March 10, 2006

parshat Tetzaveh: Identifying the Stones: piṭeḏah - פִּטְדָה

This is the second post in a series, attempting to identify the stones of the choshen, as defined by Midrash Rabba. The first post in the series is here.

The second stone, that of Shimon, is piṭḏah. (Or, better, piṭeḏah -- after all, ט and ד are similar sounding letters, and a rule specifies that sheva between certain similar sounding letters becomes a sheva na'. Furthermore, there is no dagesh in the daled, implying that the sheva before it is either na' or merachef.)
יז וּמִלֵּאתָ בוֹ מִלֻּאַת אֶבֶן, אַרְבָּעָה טוּרִים אָבֶן: טוּר, אֹדֶם פִּטְדָה וּבָרֶקֶת--הַטּוּר, הָאֶחָד. 17 And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, four rows of stones: a row of carnelian, topaz, and smaragd shall be the first row;
יח וְהַטּוּר, הַשֵּׁנִי--נֹפֶךְ סַפִּיר, וְיָהֲלֹם. 18 and the second row a carbuncle, a sapphire, and an emerald;
יט וְהַטּוּר, הַשְּׁלִישִׁי--לֶשֶׁם שְׁבוֹ, וְאַחְלָמָה. 19 and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst;
כ וְהַטּוּר, הָרְבִיעִי--תַּרְשִׁישׁ וְשֹׁהַם, וְיָשְׁפֵה; מְשֻׁבָּצִים זָהָב יִהְיוּ, בְּמִלּוּאֹתָם. 20 and the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper; they shall be inclosed in gold in their settings.
כא וְהָאֲבָנִים תִּהְיֶיןָ עַל-שְׁמֹת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, שְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה--עַל-שְׁמֹתָם; פִּתּוּחֵי חוֹתָם, אִישׁ עַל-שְׁמוֹ, תִּהְיֶיןָ, לִשְׁנֵי עָשָׂר שָׁבֶט. 21 And the stones shall be according to the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names; like the engravings of a signet, every one according to his name, they shall be for the twelve tribes.
JPS identifies piṭḏah it as topaz, and in fact all the phonological elements of the word are there. The פ matches the p, the ט matches the t, and the ד without the dagesh matches the z, because such a daled is pronounced dh like the "the" in "either." Besides this, way, way back, there was a third letter, between ד and ז, that was pronounced dh, and which different languages recorded in different ways, because the Hebrew alphabet lacked a symbol for it. Generally, Hebrew uses a ז for this letter and Aramaic uses a ד for it. Thus, זו in Hebrew is דא in Aramaic. Later, when the ד had both plosive and fricative versions, in both Hebrew and Aramaic ד with no dagesh was pronounced dh. Perhaps we can claim some sort of metathesis for the swapping of the פ and ט.

Or, perhaps the two words' etymologies are entirely unrelated. Read on, towards the end of this post, for more information on this.

Midrash Rabba identifies Shimon's stone, piṭeḏah, as שימפוזין, shimpozin. Ignoring the in/os Greek ending, which every stone seems to have, perhaps we can say this is equal to topaz, since we have the pz ending, the sh is similar in sound to the ṭ, and the mem as a labial (as is בומפ) like peh perhaps developed as a transition between sounds.

Indeed, Jastrow identifies שומפוזין as a corruption of טומפוזיון, in Greek tompazion. ( lists the Greek topazos.) (Could the fact that it was the stone of Shimon have influenced this corruption?)

According to the Wikipedia article on topaz,
The mineral topaz is a silicate of aluminium and fluorine with the chemical formula Al2SiO4(F,OH)2. It crystallizes in the orthorhombic system and its crystals are mostly prismatic terminated by pyramidal and other faces, the basal pinacoid often being present. It has an easy and perfect basal cleavage and so gemstones or other fine specimens should be handled with care to avoid developing cleavage flaws. The fracture is conchoidal to uneven. Topaz has a hardness of 8, a specific gravity of 3.4-3.6, and a vitreous lustre. Pure topaz is transparent but is usually tinted by impurities; typical topaz is wine or straw-yellow. They may also be white, gray, green, blue, or reddish-yellow and transparent or translucent. When heated, yellow topaz often becomes reddish-pink.
So it is hard to tell what its specific color was. Here is the picture included in the article:

Of course, this means almost nothing, as it can be any color, and, as we are about to see, it means less than nothing. For...

Later in the same article, we read that
The name "topaz" is derived from the Greek topazos, "to seek," which was the name of an island in the Red Sea that was difficult to find and from which a yellow stone (now believed to be a yellowish olivine) was mined in ancient times. In the Middle Ages the name topaz was used to refer to any yellow gemstone, but now the name is only properly applied to the silicate described above.

According to Rebbenu Bachya, the word "Leshem" in the verse Exodus 28:19 means "Topaz" and was the stone on the Ephod representing the tribe of Dan.

In general, someone has added a Rabbenu Bachya identification on many of these minerals. But no mention of a midrash rabba identification. Perhaps something for me to do when I go through all of these.

Anyhow, see that people now identify ancient topaz as a yellowish olivine. Olivine is so named because it has a greenish, olive-like color. So what is this olivine of which the article speaks? Let us see the Wikipedia aricle on Olivine:
The mineral olivine is a magnesium iron silicate with the formula (Mg,Fe)2SiO4 in which the ratio of magnesium and iron varies between the two endmembers of the series: forsterite (Mg-rich) and fayalite (Fe-rich). It gives its name to the group of minerals with a related structure (the olivine group) which includes monticellite and kirschsteinite. Olivine occurs in both mafic and ultramafic igneous rocks, and as a primary mineral in certain metamorphic rocks. It is one of the most common minerals on Earth, and has also been identified on the Moon.
Alas, the article, while it has a picture, does not have one of yellow olivine. And it could be in theory any of these minerals with the related structure.

However, it gets better. From the same article:
Transparent olivine is sometimes used as a gemstone, often called peridot, the French word for olivine. It is also called chrysolite from the Greek words for gold and stone.
So let us look up this transparent olivine, called peridot, in Wikipedia. Because we seem to have found an excellent match. Because peridot, if we eliminate the liquid r, is pidot, perhaps piṭeḏah - פִּטְדָה. Of course, the modern etymology only traces this back to Old French, but perhaps it goes back father than that.

Indeed, it is not transparent, but a yellowish color. In the Wikipedia article on peridot, a type of transparent yellow olivine, we read:
The chemical composition of peridot is (Mg, Fe)2SiO4. Peridot is one of the few gemstones that come in only one color. The depth of green depends on how much iron is contained in the crystal structure, and varies from yellow-green to olive to brownish green. Peridot is also often referred to as "poor man's emerald". Olivine is a very abundant mineral, but gem quality peridot is rather rare. Peridot crystals have been collected from iron-nickel meteorites.
From the same article, we see it was a gemstone used by the Egyptians.
Peridot has been found in Egyptian jewellery from the early second millennium BCE and was mined from the volcanic island of Zebirget, or St. Johns Island, in the Red Sea.
It makes sense that the olivine that was used as a gemstone would be the one in the chosen.

Presumably Chazal, besides quite possibly having a tradition on the matter, knew that what contemporary Greeks were calling topaz was called in other languages something akin to peridot, similar to piteda. Alternatively, this was a tradition that this was piṭeḏah, and the French witness confirms the tradition.

Here are pictures of peridot.

So it is a transparent yellow green, with the green content defined by how much iron is in the crystal structure.

Overall, the JPS's translation of topaz (and Jastrow's same identification) is perhaps misleading, since in modern terminology it identifies aluminum or fluorine silicate, rather than the ancient topaz which seems (if Wikipedia is to be trusted) as being olivine, and particularly peridot, which is a magnesium iron silicate.

Once again, I am an amateur, and I am sure there have been professionals researching this, but to me, at this point, it seems that peridot is the most likely candidate for piṭeḏah.

Update: However, this all depends on when the Midrash was composed. As I note regarding the next stone (bareqet), Shemot Rabba was redacted in 11th to 12th century, though it cites much earlier sources as well. Determining the date of this particular piece of Shemot Rabba not only has impact on how much credence we grant it, but also has an impact on how we identify the stones it named. This is because various names of stones meant different things in ancient times, in the middle ages, and in modern times. If this is a rather ancient midrash, then olivine, and peridot, seem like a good identification. If this midrash was initially composed during the Middle Ages, then it is possible they meant the topaz of the Middle Ages, which, as I mentioned above, was "used to refer to any yellow gemstone." (This is a similar story to the one for bareqet, hyacinth, which in the Middle Ages referred to yellow gemstones from East India, rather than blue sapphire.)

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin