Friday, March 10, 2006

parshat Tetzaveh: Identifying the Stones: bareqeṯ - בָרֶקֶת

The post is the third in a series identifying the stones as defined by Midrash Rabba (and then further defined by Jastrow and finally be Wikipedia or other online sources). Here is the first one, identifying odem, and here is the second, identifying piteda. The pesukim listing the gemstones in the choshen are in Shemot 28:17-21:
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.

The third stone is בָרֶקֶת.
According to JPS, this is "smaragd," but this smaragd is what Midrash Rabba (according to Jastrow translation of the same) identifies as yahalom, the gemstone for Zevulun at the end of the next row.

Now, smaragd is just another name for emerald. According to Wiktionary, emerald comes from:
Middle English emeraude, from Old French esmeraude, from Vulgar Latin *esmaralda, *esmaraldus, variant of Latin smaragdus, from Greek σμάραγδος, μάραγδος (smaragdos, maragdos), from Sanskrit मरकत (marakata).
It is a green transparent form of beryl.

Perhaps one can connect the Hebrew term bareqet to beryl, Greek βήρυλλος.

However, according to Midrash Rabba, this stone, for Levi, is דייקינתין. What is this? According to Jastrow (pg 305), deyaqintin is huachinthos - and he suggests the דיי is being used to avoid writing letters of the Divine Name. huachinthos is hyacinth.

What is hyacinth? Nowadays (but we cannot rely on modern terminology) it refers to yellow zircon. From a wikipedia article on zircon,
Yellow zircon is called hyacinth, from a word of East Indian origin; in the Middle Ages all yellow stones of East Indian origin were called hyacinth, but today this term is restricted to the yellow zircons.
Thus it would seem to be a yellow gem. On the other hand, this website claims that hyacinth is blue zircon. I would suggest that a shiny yellow gem might fit well with the Hebrew description bareket. Perhaps it is possible to identify it more accurately, if we knew more about the Greek term. The ancient greeks applied the term to a flower and to a mythological figure. According to one myth, a blue hyacinth flower sprang from the blood of the slain Hyacinth.

According to one website, the ancient Greeks used the term hyacinth to refer to red zircon.

However, according to the 1911 Edition Encyclopedia:
The hyacinthus of ancient writers must have been our sapphire, or blue corundum, while the hyacinth of modern mineralogists may have been the stone known as lyncurium (Xu1Koi~ifoe).
Assuming this is so -- and I do not know any better, and this seems like an authorative source about the ancient Greek definition, as well as matching the blue color of the flower -- then we have an identification - sapphire, which is also known as blue corundum. The red variety of corundum is known as ruby.

From the Wikipedia article on sapphires:
Sapphire is the single-crystal form of aluminium oxide (Al2O3), a mineral known as corundum. It can be found naturally as gemstones or manufactured in large crystal boules for a variety of applications.
And here is an image of blue sapphires from Kashmir, both rough and cut:

Naturally, the person adding Rebbenu Bachya references did so for the sapphire article, connecting it with סַפִּיר. Perhaps I should add Midrash Rabba's identification to this article.

This completes the first row of the choshen. Stay tuned for the second row!

Update: However, this assumes that the midrash in question was composed in Talmudic times. However, Shemot Rabba, according to what seems to be modern scholarly consensus, was redacted in the eleventh to twelfth century. This presents us with a dilemma. While Shemot Rabba was redacted then, it still contains material from earlier times. For example, it often will cite Amoraim, and in fact, the section in which the midrash occurs cites such early sources. If so, our identification of hyacinth as blue sapphire is good. However, it is also quite possible that this particular midrash was composed later, around the time of redaction. Besides having an impact in terms of deciding how much weight to give to the midrash, there is a greater issue. That it, in the Middle Ages, hyacinth meant something completely different - as I cited Wikipedia before:
Yellow zircon is called hyacinth, from a word of East Indian origin; in the Middle Ages all yellow stones of East Indian origin were called hyacinth, but today this term is restricted to the yellow zircons.
Update: Thus, if this specific Midrash dates from the appropriate time in the Middle Ages, it might be a yellow stone of East Indian origin, and (if I read the article correctly), perhaps yellow zircon. Here is an image of a yellow zircon:

Again according to wikipedia,
The name derives from the Arabic word zarqun, meaning vermilion, or perhaps from the Persian zargun, meaning golden-colored.
which makes be wonder, since the root is zrq, if there is some relation to the Hebrew bareqeṯ, brq.

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