Gemstones in the Bible
Beryl and Carbuncles

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Biblical Gems
Beryl   -   Diamonds   -   Emeralds   -   Onyx
Pearls   -   Rubies   -   Sapphires   -   Topaz
Gems in High Priest's Breastplate
Gemstones in New Jerusalem


The first gemstone mentioned in the fourth row of the High Priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:20, 39:13) is called, in Hebrew, tarshiysh (Strong's Concordance #H8658). Strong's state the word is probably comes from a foreign derivation and translates it as "beryl." The Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon says the word likely to a chrysolite, yellow jasper or other yellow colored stone. Seven of the ten major Bibles versions used for comparison purposes in this series translate this word as "beryl," with the HBFV, NCV and NIV calling it a "chrysolite."

Tarshiysh is also listed as the fourth stone that adorned Lucifer (Ezekiel 28:13) in order to make him appear radiant and beautiful. Eight of the ten major Bibles versions used for comparison purposes in this series translate this word as "beryl" (the NLT calls it a blue-green variety of the stone), with the NCV calling it a "yellow quartz" and the NIV referring to it as a "chrysolite."

The eighth foundation gemstone in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:20) is called, in the Greek, berullos (Strong's #G969). Strong's translates the word as "beryl." Thayer's lexicon defines the word the same as Strong's but also states this precious stone displays a pale green color. All ten Bibles used in this series also translate this word as this stone.

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Tarshiysh is also mentioned in Scripture in Song of Solomon 5:14, Ezekiel 1:16, 10:9 and Daniel 10:6. In Ezekiel's well-known "wheel in a wheel" vision of God's glory and throne, he sees things colored like a beryl stone.

16. The appearance of the wheels and their workmanship was the color of beryl, and the four of them had the same likeness. And their appearance and their workmanship was like a wheel inside of a wheel (Ezekiel 1:16, HBFV)

Several color varieties of the gemstone are known to exist. Emeralds are a deep green variety of this type of stone. Other color varieties include yellow (Heliodors), pink or a touch of rose color (Morganite), a blueish green (Aquamarine) and colorless (Goshenite).

The stone in the priest's breastplate might have been a pale-yellow colored variety known as the Golden Beryl, which is known to contain very few flaws.

Beryl Gemstones
Beryl Gemstones
Courtesy of Smithsonian GeoGallery

Beryl Folklore

According to "Diamonds, Pearls and Precious Stones" (page 66), in the Middle Ages this stone was thought to induce cheerfulness upon the wearer. It was commonly referred to as the "sweet-tempered" stone. Beryl was also believed to protect a person in battle, cure them of being lazy, and reawaken a married couple's love (Curious Lore of Precious Stones, pages 59 - 60).

Carbuncles (Red Garnet)

The Hebrew word nophek is the first gemstone mentioned in the breastplate’s second row (Exodus 28:18). Strong's defines the word (#H5306) as a gem which glistens and shines and one which is probably a garnet. The BDB Lexicon offers several translation suggestions such as emerald, turquoise, ruby or a carbuncle. Translations that render this word as "emerald" include the ASV, ESV, HBFV and KJV. At least six other translations render the word as "turquoise."

Nophek is also the word used for the eighth of nine stones that adorned the symbolic King of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13). Those that render the word as "emerald" include the ASV, ESV, HBFV and KJV. The HCSB (which states it could also be a garnet or malachite) and at least five other Biblical translations render the word "turquoise." An article on gemstones in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia states regarding this stone.

"The ancient authors are far from agreeing on the precise nature of this stone. It very probably corresponds to the anthrax of Theophrastus, the carbunculus of Pliny, the charchedonius of Petronius, and the ardjouani of the Arabs. If so it is a red glittering stone . . ." (article "Precious Stones in the Bible").

A case can be made for this stone to be correctly referenced as a carbuncle. This word, in English, is a generic term for any red gemstone. It usually refers to, however, a red garnet (Wikipedia).

"The Vulgate, Jerusalem Targum, Josephus and most authorities agree with the translation of nophek into "carbuncle" . . . While garnets are found in many colors, those of deep-red color were highly prized in ancient times" (Gemstones in the Breastplate, pages 18 - 19)

Concerning "carbuncles" and their ancient reference to garnets the following is stated.

"The garnet is one of the oldest stones known. In some of the most ancient mummies discovered in Egypt are found necklaces and other jewels containing garnets. And under the name carbuncle the garnet is mentioned in the literature of all ages, being valued chiefly for the brilliant fiery light which it gives forth. According to the Talmud, the only light which Noah had in the Ark was afforded by a carbuncle" (Diamonds, Pearls and Precious Stones, page 90)

Nophek likely refers to a carbuncle in the priest's breastplate, or more precisely a red garnet, although a case could be made it refers to a turquoise stone given our translation comparison.

Red Garnet

Carbuncle Folklore

Stones that are red like the color of blood, such as garnets and rubies, were believed to protect the wearer from wounds (especially in battle). Carbuncles (red stones) were also, in ancient times, thought to protect seafaring people in tumultuous weather and keep them from drowning. The eyes of the mythical beast known as the dragon were thought made of these gemstones. The stone was also thought to be a "heart stimulant" which supposedly could make a person so angry that it could lead to a stroke (Curious Lore of Precious Stones, pages 33, 39, 61 - 62).

Additional Study Materials
What do rainbow colors symbolize?
What exactly are the blood moons?
Mythical Animals in Scripture

Gemstones in the Bible
AgateChrysoliteJasperR. Crystal
AmethystChrysopraseLapis Laz.Rubies
ChalcedonyJacinthRed GarnetTurquoise


1913 Catholic Encyclopedia
Curious Lore of Precious Stones, 1913 edition
Diamonds, Pearls and Precious Stones, 1913 edition
Gemstones in the Breastplate, 2008 edition
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
United States Geological Survey - - Wikipedia

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