Carnelians and Chalcedony

Gemstones in the Bible

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The Hebrew word odem (Strong's Concordance #H124) is listed as the first stone in the High Priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:17). Strong's states the word means "redness" or some other red gem and translates it as "sardius." The BDB lexicon calls this stone a ruby or carnelian. Five out of the ten versions of God's word used for comparison purposes in this series translate odem in Exodus 28:17 as "sardius." Two versions translate the word as carnelian and three call it a ruby.

The first gemstone listed that God used to beautify Lucifer (Ezekiel 28:13) is also referred to as an odem. Four of our Biblical versions call this stone a ruby, four label it as a sardius and two call it a carnelian. The terms "sardius" or "sard," according to various sources (Wikipedia, Curious Lore of Precious Stone (page 290), Catholic Encyclopedia, etc.) refer to the carnelian gemstone.

The sixth foundation stone of New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:20) is called in the Greek sardios (Strong's #G4556). It is translated as "sardius" in half of the ten translations used in this series while the other half translate it as "carnelian."

Case against Rubies in Breastplate

God commanded the Israelites engrave on each stone, in the High Priest's breastplate, the name of one of their tribes (Exodus 28:21, 39:14). Additionally, it was commanded that six tribal names be placed on each of two special stones known as the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:9 - 11, 39:6, 14). Unlike the Ten Commandments, which the Eternal wrote with his own finger (Exodus 31:18), he commanded these special emblems be etched by his people using skills they developed in Egypt.

Corundum stones, such as rubies and sapphires, are one of the hardest minerals known to man. They are second only to diamonds in how tough they are to break or scratch based on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. According to "Gemstones in the Breastplate," no evidence exists that suggests the ancient Israelites (who left Egyptian slavery around 1445 B.C.) had the technology to engrave a mineral as hard as a ruby (page 13). Even before engraving, however, they would first have to skillfully cut and shape an existed ruby to be anywhere from one and one-half inches (3.8 centimeters) to two inches (5.08 centimeters) wide (ibid., page 6). The expertise and tools needed to perform such difficult and precise tasks calls into serious question the use of this stone in the breastplate.

"It is highly improbable that in the time of Moses precious stones like the ruby, the emerald, or the sapphire would have been available in these dimensions. The difficulty of engraving very hard stones with the appliances at the command of the Hebrews of this period must also be taken into consideration" (Curious Lore of Precious Stones, page 280)

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Given the expertise and technology needed to work with incredibly hard stones like the ruby, the first precious stone in the breastplate was likely a blood-red carnelian (Gemstones in the Breastplate, pages 13 - 14). These gems, a variety of chalcedony, are significantly softer, and hence much easier to engrave upon, than rubies.

"The etymology of this word (odem) clearly indicates that we have to do with a red stone, most probably the carnelian. We know that in ancient Egypt hieroglyphic texts from the Book of the Dead were engraved upon amulets made from this stone, and it was also used for early Babylonian cylinders. Fine specimens of carnelian were obtained from Arabia" (Curious Lore of Precious Stones, page 290)

It must be admitted, however, that the first stone used to adorn Lucifer may have been a real ruby, since it was God who worked with the gem!

Carnelian engraved with Ptolemaic queen
Carnelian engraved with Ptolemaic queen
(early first century B.C.)

Carnelian Folklore

These stones were frequently used in amulets and as a talisman. They were thought, like jasper, to have the ability to stop the hemorrhaging of blood. This gemstone was also thought to bring good luck and to keep the wearer safe from injury from falling houses or walls. Carnelians (and other red stones) were additionally worn for their perceived benefit in making the wearer a better and bolder speaker. Tradition states that Muhammad (founder of Islam) wore on his right hand's little finger an engraved ring containing this gemstone that he used as a seal (Curious Lore of Precious Stones, pages 62 - 64).


The third foundation stone in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19) is called, in the Greek, chalkedon (Strong's #G5472). This word is used only once in Scripture. Strong's defines chalkedon as a "copper-like" gemstone while Thayer's lexicon says it is a precious stone that is misty-grey which is clouded with a yellow, blue or purple color. This gem is not found in the High Priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:17 - 20) or among those that adorned Lucifer (Ezekiel 28:13). Eight of the ten Bible versions referenced in this series translate this stone as "chalcedony." The ESV and NLT translations refer to this stone as an "agate."

The name of the stone comes from the ancient city of Chalcedon, located in the Roman province of Bithynia, from where it is believed it was first discovered. More than seventy varieties of Chalcedony stones are known to exist, including agates, bloodstones, carnelians, chrysoprases, flints, onyxes, jaspers and others. These gemstones are a variety of quartz that generally appears to have a waxy luster. The most common colors found in the stone include variations of white, gray, reddish or light brown, green and blue.

According to a U.S. Geological Survey article on Chalcedony, because of the stone's abundance and durability it was one of the earliest raw materials used by man. The first recorded uses of this stone were for projectile points (e.g. spears), cutting edges of knives and for fashioning bowls and cups.

Blue Chalcedony
Blue Chalcedony

Chalcedony folklore

An amulet with a carbuncle and a chalcedony gemstone in it was believed to protect sailors from drowning. This stone was also thought to drive away "phantoms" (ghosts) and night visions by dissipating the "evil humors" of the eyes, thus removing any disease which existed and stopping the apparitions (Curious Lore of Precious Stones, page 39, 65).

Additional Study Materials
Map of Roman Empire at time of Christ
What do colors symbolize in Scripture?
Is Jesus in the Quran (Koran)?

Gemstones in the Bible
Series Introduction

Precious Stones in the Breastplate
Gems in New Jerusalem

Primary Sources

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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Carnelians and Chalcedony
in the Bible