Monday, March 13, 2006

parshat Tetzaveh: Identifying the Stones: nop̄eḵ - נֹפֶךְ

So far, we have discussed ʾoḏem, piṭeḏah, and bareqeṯ as defined by the JPS translation and as defined by Midrash (Shemot) Rabbah.

Now we turn to the next stone - nop̄eḵ. This is the first stone on the second row, and according to the Midrash was the stone of Yehuda (assuming we progress across one row at a time, in the order of the tribes).

According to 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.
What is nop̄eḵ? According to the JPS translation, it is carbuncle. This is in accord with the Vulgate translation, which renders it carbunculus.

What is carbuncle? Here is wikipedia's main article on Carbuncle. Someone has inserted something about carbuncle in the Bible, and claimed that it is always a translation of bareqeṯ, and is the third gem in the first row. This is the danger of relying upon one translation and then speaking authoritatively. I could edit the article and claim that alternatively, carbuncle is the translation of nop̄eḵ.

There, they write:
The word carbuncle occurs in three places in most translations of the Bible. Each use originates from the same Hebrew word בָּרְקַת בָּרְקַת or bâreqath bâreqath (baw-reh'-keth, baw-rek-ath'). In this sense, a carbuncle is usually taken to mean a gem, particularly a deep-red garnet, unfaceted and convex; however, the Hebrew definition is less definite and the precise color of the gems is not known.
Assuming the same definition will apply to nop̄eḵ, perhaps it is the "deep-red garnet, unfaceted and convex," mentioned above. For scientific identification of garnet, see the Wikipedia article on garnet:
The garnet group of minerals show crystals with a habit of rhombic dodecahedrons and trapezohedrons. They are nesosilicates with the same general formula, A3B2(SiO4)3. The chemical elements in garnet include calcium, magnesium, aluminium, iron2+, iron3+, chromium, manganese, and titanium.
Here is possibly an image of the carbuncle being described, from probertencyclopedia:

Though it matches the aforementioned description, I cannot be sure this is in fact the carbuncle described, because this encyclopedia writes to the side of it:

Carbuncle is a beautiful gem of a deep red colour (with a mixture of scarlet) . It was called by the Greeks anthrax and is found in the East Indies. When held up to the sun, it loses its deep tinge, and becomes of the colour of burning coal. The name belongs for the most part to ruby sapphire, though it has been also given to red spinel and garnet.
Midrash Rabbah gives a different definition of nop̄eḵ. It states:

יהודה ברדינין.

What is baredinin? According to Jastrow (pg 190), the text should instead read כדכדון, kadkedon.

What is kadkedon ? Jastrow (pg 614) states it is the Greek word χαλxηδών, that is, chalcedony. We have actually already mentioned in a a previous post, on the first stone, ʾoḏem. JPS had claimed that ʾoḏem was carnelian, which is red form of chalcedony, while Midrash Rabbah's sardonyx seemed to be onyx with red stripes instead of black stripes alternating with white stripes, and which is also a type of chalcedony.

According to Wikipedia:
Chalcedony is one of the cryptocrystalline varieties of the mineral quartz, having a waxy luster. Chalcedony may be semitransparent or translucent and is usually white to gray, grayish-blue or some shade of brown, sometimes nearly black. Other shades have been given different names. A clear red chalcedony is known as carnelian or sard; a green variety colored by nickel oxide is called chrysoprase. Prase is a dull green and onyx is black and white banded. Plasma is a bright to emerald-green chalcedony that is sometimes found with small spots of jasper resembling blood drops; it has been referred to as blood stone or heliotrope. Flint is also a variety of chalcedony.
I do not know what specific chalcedony, and what specific color, is intended here. We cannot simply rely on the common modern definition of chalcedony, which dictates that "Chalcedony may be semitransparent or translucent and is usually white to gray, grayish-blue or some shade of brown, sometimes nearly black," giving different names to different shades (wikipedia), or

Similarly, while The New Testament Greek Lexicon defines chalcedony (which occurs in Revelations) as "a precious stone of misty grey colour, clouded with blue, yellow, or purple," it seems they are using the modern definition, which perhaps is not the same as the ancient or Middle-Ages one. I would need to see their basis for this identification.

It certainly is not sardonyx, since we already have that. Perhaps it is onyx (with black stripes, matching the red striped chalcedony of the stone above)? Perhaps it is some other form of chalcedony. Thus, I am going to leave the picture out. You can find images of chalcedony over at Wikipedia.

We need to know what chalcedony was in ancient times -- or, if this midrash was composed in the Middle Ages, what it meant in the Middle Ages.

Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary, cited at, states:
Mentioned only in Rev. 21:19, as one of the precious stones in the foundation of the New Jerusalem. The name of this stone is derived from Chalcedon, where it is said to have been first discovered. In modern mineralogy this is the name of an agate-like quartz of a bluish colour. Pliny so names the Indian ruby. The mineral intended in Revelation is probably the Hebrew _nophekh_, translated "emerald" (Ex. 28:18; 39:11; Ezek. 27:16; 28:13). It is rendered "anthrax" in the LXX., and "carbunculus" in the Vulgate.
So according to Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary, Revelations 2:19 uses the same Greek equivalent of nophech as does the Midrash Rabba. Perhaps. But I am not certain we can then use other translations of the same to identify chalcedony - e.g., to claim it is emerald, carbuncle, or anthrax. But perhaps (?) this is part of what led JPS to render this carbuncle.

Pliny's naming of Indian ruby as chalcedony seems promising, because Pliny lives closer to th. Here is an image of an Indian ruby:

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