Friday, March 10, 2006

parshat Tetzaveh: Identifying the Stones: ʾoḏem - אֹדֶם

Parshat Tetzaveh includes a description of the choshen, the Kohen's breastplate, and lists the gemstones on each row. What are these stones? Midrash Rabba (among other sources) gives a definition of each one. The problem with any translation is that, since we are not really familiar with the new term, translation just substitutes one meaningless term with another. Midrash Rabba's contemporary definitions seem to be Aramaic transliterations of Greek names, and Jastrow is helpful in giving the Greek equiavalent for each, together with a modern English definition of the Greek term. This is also not much use, if we simply leave it at this stage, since now we have a modern, scientific, English term with which we are not familiar unless we are minerologists. We have just substituted one meaningless term for another. Luckily, with wikipedia, we can actually see properties and pictures of each gem.

In this series, I wish to focus on each gem in turn, as defined in Midrash Rabba. Note that this is an amateur's attempt, and also a first draft.

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 first stone one the first row, that of Reuven, is אֹדֶם. The JPS translation above gives carnelian. According to Wikipedia, carnelian is "is a red or reddish-brown variant of chalcedony. The word is derived from the Latin word meaning flesh, in reference to the flesh color sometimes exhibited."

Also from Wikipedia, here is a carnelian seal from the British museum.

As you can see, this seal is flesh-colored. Now, as stated, this is a red/reddish brown variant of chalcadony. What is that? According to Wikipedia, Chalcadony is one of the cryptocrystalline varieties of the mineral quartz, having a waxy luster.

Here is another image of carnelian, from a site that will sell it to you for only $1.50.

That seems to be the definition, according to JPS.

What about Midrash Rabba's definition? According to parasha 29:8:
וכסדר הזה היו נתונים: ראובן שדרגנין

What is sadargenin? According to Jastrow (page 1526), this, and its variant שדרגזין, are a corruption of Greek sardonyx. This appears to be similar to, but not identical with, JPS's definition. From the same page on Wikipedia about = chalcedony, they note that various shades of chalcedony receive 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.
Thus, sard + onyx. Perhaps this means a combination of the two (sard and onyx). Onyx, remember, has bands of white and black. Sardonyx has red rather than black bands.

Onyx is a banded variety of chalcedony, a cryptocrystalline form of quartz. The colors of its bands are white and black.

Sardonyx is a variant, where the colored bands are sard, rather than black. Here is an image of sardonyx, from a website called Gem Hut that will sell you it for only $14.99. Useful if you want to construct your own chosen to wear on Purim, with your kohen gadol costume.

Unless of course somehow back then onyx only meant the general mineral, without the bands, in which case sardonyx perhaps meant sard, which according to different articles in wikipedia, seems to either be equal to or somewhat distinct from carnelian. From the article on sard:
The Hebrew odem (translated sardius), the first stone in the High Priest's breastplate, was a red stone, probably sard but perhaps carnelian or red jasper. Some kinds of sard closely resemble carnelian, but are usually rather harder and tougher, with a duller and more hackly fracture.
Perhaps someone should update wikipedia - while they list sard as a possible first stone in the breastplate, and mention carnelian and red jasper as well, they do not mention sardonyx, which is Midrash Rabba's definition.

Note also that sard most likely comes from the Persian word sered, which means yellowish-red, and so it (and sardonyx as well) seems a nice match for ʾoḏem - אֹדֶם, which means "red" in Hebrew.

More stones to follow in subsequent posts.

1 comment:

Prisstopolis said...

I found you on Jrants and added you to my blogroll.
...Love the idea that you were rushing through these posts in case your readers needed the colors for their Kohen Gadol costumes.


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