Monday, March 13, 2006

parshat Tetzaveh: Identifying the Stones: סַפִּיר - sappîr

The next stone on the chosen is the סַפִּיר - sappîr. The identification of this stone should be obvious, but it is not, because of a likely shift in the meaning of "sapphire."

In Shemot 28:17-21, which describes the stones of the chosen:
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 translates "sapphire." So does Rabbenu Bachya. And the midrash rabba (on Shemot) writes:

יששכר סנפירינון

Now, sanpirinon is Greek sapphire. Jastrow's entry on the word (pg 1008) refers refers us to סמפירונין (pg 1003), which is sapphire, which in general = lapis lazuli.

The problem here is that there seems to have been another shift in terms. To cite Wikipedia on lapiz lazuli:
In ancient times, lapis lazuli was known as sapphire, which is the name that is used today for the blue corundum variety sapphire. It appears to have been the sapphire of ancient writers because Pliny refers to sapphirus as a stone sprinkled with specks of gold. A similar reference can be found in the Hebrew Bible in Job 28:6.
and indeed, lapis lazuli is blue sprinkled with specks of gold. Earlier in the article:
The finest color is intense blue, lightly dusted with small flecks of golden pyrite.
A picture:
The composition of lapis lazuli:
The main component of lapis lazuli is lazurite (25 to 40 percent), a feldspathoid silicate mineral composed of sodium, aluminium, silicon, oxygen, sulfur, and chlorine. Most lapis also contains calcite (white), sodalite (blue) and pyrite (yellow). Other possible constituents are augite, diopside, enstatite, mica, hauynite, hornblende and nosean. Lazurite's formula is (Na,Ca)8(AlSiO4)6(S,SO4,Cl)1-2
and here is an image of lapis lazuli, from the same article:

Now, the article in Wikipedia mentioned two points. Firstly, Pliny uses the term "sapphire" to refer to lapis lazuli, since he talks of gold specks in it, which matches the flecks of golden pyrite in lapis lazuli.

Secondly, another pasuk in Tanach, where the Hebrew is also סַפִּיר - sappîr strongly suggests that it also had specks of "gold" therein, and is thus lapis lazuli.

They referred to Iyyov 28:6:
ו מְקוֹם-סַפִּיר אֲבָנֶיהָ; וְעַפְרֹת זָהָב לוֹ. 6 The stones thereof are the place of sapphires, and it hath dust of gold.
which then matches Pliny's description.

Thus, this ancient definition of sapphire may well be different than the more recent one, of blue corundum (unless the ancient blue sapphire was equal to our modern sapphite). The modern other sapphire is entirely different. According to the Wikipedia article on sapphire,
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.
On the previous row, for bareqeṯ, I suggested sapphire, as in our modern sapphire. This is because "hyacinth," which was Midrash Rabba's translation of bareqeṯ, was most likely equal to our modern sapphire. But "hyacinth" also shifted in meaning, and in the Middle Ages meant yellow zircon, or yellow gems from East India. Here is a picture of modern sapphire, but remember, the sapphire here seems to be the lapis lazuli pictured above.


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