Breastplate of the High Priest

 

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The breastplate of the high priest was a religious garment worn by the high priest during biblical times which was embedded with twelve gemstones each of which was inscribed with the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were four rows with three stones in each.  Worn over the top of an ephod which in turn was worn over a tunic, the breastplate of the high priest and the ephod are described in the Book of Exodus as being made from the same material and woven out of gold, blue, purple and scarlet threads along with fine linen that was embroidered "with skillful work". Specific details relating to size and shape are scarce but it's stated that it was held together by a girdle and had two shoulder straps that were fastened to the front by golden rings to which the breastplate was attached with golden chains.

Also known as the Breastplate of Aaron (the first high priest of the Israelites) and the Breastplate of Judgement, the purpose of this garment was to carry the gemstones upon which the names of the tribes of Israel were engraved so that they could be brought before God "as a continual memorial" and Aaron should "bear them upon his heart" when he went into the most holy place.

Problems with accurate translations throughout history has made it very difficult to know exactly which stones were used and the fact that the names of some have also changed over time, has contributed to the confusion. As a result there have been extensive discussions over many years about the accuracy of the gemstones that were actually present in the breastplate of the high priest and nothing has ever been agreed upon conclusively hence they have a tendency to vary from one version to the next.

After extensive research, we have found that the following list of gemstones are those which scholars believe are most likely to have been present in the breastplate of the high priest:   

 

  • Row 1: ruby, topaz, emerald
  • Row 2: turquoise, sapphire, diamond
  • Row 3: jacinth, agate, amethyst
  • Row 4: beryl, onyx, jasper
  • Row 1: red carnelian, chrysolite, emerald
  • Row 2: turquoise, sapphire, white moonstone
  • Row 3: jacinth, agate, amethyst
  • Row 4: beryl, onyx, jasper
  • Row 1: sardius (a red stone most likely sard but possibly red jasper), topaz, carbuncle (an old name given to any red gemstone cut as a cabochon but which applied particularly to red garnet which tends to be faceted)
  • Row 2: emerald, sapphire, diamond
  • Row 3: ligure (possibly the same as jacinth, a variety of zircon), agate, amethyst
  • Row 4: beryl, onyx, jasper
  • Row 1: sardius, topaz, emerald
  • Row 2: turquoise, sapphire, diamond
  • Row 3: jacinth, agate, amethyst
  • Row 4: beryl, onyx, jasper
  • Row 1: sardius, topaz, carbuncle
  • Row 2: emerald, sapphire, diamond
  • Row 3: jacinth, agate, amethyst
  • Row 4: beryl, onyx, jasper

 

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