Hoshen/Choshen is a Hebrew word usually translated as "breastplate"; in English language contexts it refers to a specific breastplate -- the sacred breastplate worn by the Jewish high priest, according to the Book of Exodus. In the biblical account, the breastplate is termed the "breastplate of judgement", because the Urim and Thummim, which were used in divination, were placed within it ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] .

According to the description in Exodus, this breastplate was attached to the Ephod, by gold chains/cords tied to the gold rings on the Ephod's shoulder straps, and by blue ribbon tied to the gold rings at the lower parts of the Ephod [] ; the biblical description states that the breastplate was also to be made from the same material as the Ephod - embroidered linen - and was to be a square, a cubit in width, two layers thick, and with four rows of three jewels each embedded upon it, each jewel being framed in gold [ibid] . The description states that the square breastplate was to be formed from two equal rectangular pieces of cloth - suggesting that its appearance was similar to a backless waistcoat, with a pouch inside to contain the Urim and Thummim. The term for the breastplate - "Hoshen" - appears to be connected either to its function or to its appearance; some scholars think that it is probably derived from "hasuna", meaning "beautiful", while others think that it is more likely to derive from "sinus", meaning "a fold for containing something" [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] .

According to the Talmud, the wearing of the Hoshen atoned for the sin of errors in judgement on the part of the Children of Israel. [Babylonian Talmud, "Zevachim" 88:B]

The Jewels

, or from the phrase " [these are] the tribes of Jeshurun", so that there were seventy-two letters in total (72 being a very significant number in Kabbalistic thought) ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] .

Unfortunately, the meaning of the Hebrew names for the minerals, given by the masoretic text, are not clear ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] , and though the Greek names for them in the Septuagint are more clear, scholars believe that it cannot be completely relied on for this matter because the breastplate had ceased to be in use by the time the Septuagint was created, and several Greek names for various gems have changed meaning between the classical era and modern times [ibid] . However, although classical rabbinical literature argues that the names were inscribed using a magic worm because neither chisels nor paint nor ink were allowed to mark them out [Sotah 48b] , a more naturalistic approach suggests that the jewels must have had comparatively low hardness in order to be engraved upon, and therefore this gives an additional clue to the identity of the minerals [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] .

The jewel stones are as follows (the first item in each row is probably the right hand side, as Hebrew is a right to left script):

First row

*"Odem" (in the masoretic text) / "Sardios" (in the Septuagint) - both names mean "red" ("Odem" is cognate with "Adam"), and probably refers to Sard, an immensely common stone in classical cultures [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] . Ignoring the Septuagint, "Odem" might also refer to Carnelian, which was flesh-coloured, or to Jasper, which was usually a deep blood-red, was valued as a charm against bleeding, and was common in the surrounding nations of Egypt, Babylonia, and Assyria ["Jewish Encyclopedia"]

*"Pit'dah" (in the masoretic text) / "Topazios" (in the Septuagint) - despite the suggestion of the Septuagint that it was Topaz, Topaz was barely known at the time the Book of Exodus was written (according to both the traditional dating of the book and that by textual scholars) [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] ; in the classical era, "topazios" referred an island on which a particular yellow mineral was mined ("topazios" means "to seek", in reference to the difficulty in finding the island) ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] . The word "pit'dah" is thought by scholars to be connected with the Assyrian word "hipindu", which refers to something that "flashed" (presumably meaning "shimmered"), and thus the jewel in question would fit the description of Chrysolite, a translucent greenish yellow mineral, common throughout the Levant ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] , and particularly found on a particular island of the red sea, under the control of the Egyptian Pharaoh [ibid] .

*"Bareket" (in the masoretic text) / "Smaragdos" (in the Septuagint) - "Bareketh" etymologically means "shimmering/shiny"; "Smaragdos" is cognate with "Emerald", and literally means "green stone", but is somewhat of a false friend as it was used to refer to a number of different green gems, not just the Emerald in particular. "Bareket" doesn't refer to any particular colour, while "Smaragdos" was often used in Greek literature to refer to an intensely bright crystal found in columnar formations ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] . The only minerals fitting these details are heliodor (taking into account the implication of "Smaragdos" that it was green) and rock crystal (ignoring the literal meaning of "Smaragdos", since the masoretic text doesn't appear to specify colour) [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] ; there is much to be said for "Smaragdos" being either of those [ibid] .

Second row

*"Nofekh" (in the masoretic text) / "Anthrax" (in the Septuagint) - while "Anthrax" simply means "coal" (presumably here referring to the colour of burning coal), the Vulgate here has "Carbunculus", referring to the Carbuncle, which was red [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] . "Nofekh" appears to be a loan word; it may derive from the Egyptian term "m-f-k-t", referring to Malachite or Turquoise, both of which are a greenish blue [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] ; it may instead derive from "lupakku", a term appearing in the Amarna letters, referring to a mineral of unknown colour which was sent in tribute to Akhnaten from Ashkalon. In classical rabbinical literature there is some debate between whether "Nofekh" was red or greenish blue; Exodus Rabbah and the second Jerusalem Targum favour it being red, while the Babylonian Targum and first Jerusalem Targum favour it being green ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] .

*"Sapir" (in the masoretic text) / "Sapphiros" (in the Septuagint) - despite appearing to refer to Sapphire, Sapphire was essentially unknown before the era of the Roman Empire, and even once it became more known was treated as merely being a form of hyacinth or of jacinth ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] . It is more likely that the term "Sapir" referred to a mineral of similar colour to Sapphires, and that the name gradually came to refer to the latter mineral, on account of its colour; scholars think the most likely candidate is lapis lazuli, which was frequently sent as a gift to Akhnaten from Babylon ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] .

*"Yahalom" (in the masoretic text) / "Onychion" (in the Septuagint) - in some other places the Septuagint instead has "Beryllios" where the masoretic reads "Yahalom" [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] . The word "Yahalom" appears to be connected with the Hebrew meaning "strike hard", and possibly with the word "hallamish" meaning flint [ibid] ; "hallamish" is connected to the Assyrian word "elmeshu", referring to a precious stone which was hard, and possibly white, or at least with an insignificant colour, and from which whole rings were sometimes made [ibid] . A few scholars have suggested that "Yahalom" may refer to diamonds, owing to their hardness, though the skill of cutting diamonds had not been discovered before the classical era ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] . Although the Septuagint's "Onychion" is the Greek term for "Onyx", Onyx was not mined prior to the era of classical Greece [ibid] ; however, "Onyx" derives from the Assyrian word "unku", meaning "ring", and it has been suggested that the Septuagint here is not referring to Onyx, but to some other kind of "ring stone" - the same mineral as the term "elmeshu" refers to. [ibid]

Third row

*"Leshem" (in the masoretic text) / "Ligurios" (in the Septuagint) - the names here seem to refer to places - Leshem and Liguria, respectively [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] . Pliny described the "Ligurios" as having certain electrical properties, which a number of scholars have taken to imply that it referred to amber ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] , which was one of the first items to have been discovered to have electrical properties; the English stem "electric-" derives from the Greek word for amber ("elektron"). Theophrastus mentions a mineral named "liggourrion", indicating that the name is a corruption of "lykos ouron" [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] , meaning "white urine", presumably in reference to its colour, and the Midrash suggests that the mineral had a colour similar to the white of antimony ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] . Putting these details together, scholars draw the conclusion that it must have been similar to the pale colour of natural gold (as opposed to the colour known as "gold") [ibid] ; Saadia Gaon, and other medieval rabbinical commentators, argued that the gem itself was an Agate (presumably of a golden colour). Some have supposed that this stone was the same as the jacinth, others believe that it was the opal or amethyst.Fact|date=July 2007

*"Sebo" (in the masoretic text) / "Achates" (in the Septuagint) - "Achates" definitely refers to agate, and "Sebo" may be cognate with the Assyrian term "Subu", meaning "agate" ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] . Agates were common in Egypt and Assyria, and were regarded as a potent talismans [ibid] . The Exodus Rabbah appears to argue for the jewel in question having been a sky blue variety ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] .

*"Ahlamah" (in the masoretic text) / "Amethystos" (in the Septuagint) - "Amethystos" refers to Amethyst, a purple mineral which was believed to protect against getting drunk from alcohol (Amethyst's name refers to this belief, and literally translates as "not intoxicating") ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] , and was commonly used in Egypt [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] . "Ahlamah" appears to be derived from a term meaning "strong", though it may equally be derived from Ahlamu, a place where Amethysts were found ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] ; in the Babylonian Targum, "Ahlamah" is translated into a term meaning "strong drinking", which appears to reference beliefs about the Amethyst, but in the Jerusalem Targum, it is translated into a term meaning "calf's eye" ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] .

Fourth row

*"Tarshish" (in the masoretic text) / "Chrysolithos" (in the Septuagint) - in some other places the Septuagint instead has "Anthrax" (meaning "Coal") where the masoretic reads "Tarshish" ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] . "Tarshish" is thought by scholars to refer to Tarshish, in reference to the main source of the mineral being Tarshish ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] . "Chrysolithos" does not refer specifically to Chrysolite, which was named much later, but is an adjective which translates as "gold-stone", meaning either that it was golden, or that it contained flecks of gold [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] . With golden flecks it could refer to lapis lazuli [ibid] , which would fit the Targums' description of the gem being "the colour of the sea" ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] . As a golden material if translucent, it could refer to Topaz [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] or to amber ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] , and since "Chrysolithos" came to mean Topaz in particular by the classical era, some scholars favour this as being the most likely use, though it would be jarring for there to be two different translucent yellow gemstones so close to one another on the breastplate [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] . If an opaque golden material, it could refer to a yellow form of Jasper or of Serpentine, which were commonly used in Egypt and Babylon [ibid] . It may even be the case that the Septuagint is mistaken, and the masoretic text's "Tarsis" is a corruption of "Asshur" (they are similar when spelt using the Hebrew alphabet), referring to Assyria's quintessential exported mineral - flint [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] . There is little certainty among scholars in regard to which of these is the most likely to be the jewel in question ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] .

*"Shoham" (in the masoretic text) / "Beryllios" (in the Septuagint) - in some other places the Septuagint instead has "Onychion", or "Smaragdos", or the phrase "leek-green stone", where the masoretic reads "Shoham" [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] ["leek green stone" appears at Genesis 2:12 in the Septuagint] ; "Beryllios" refers to Beryl but earlier to the blue-green colour of the sea, "Onychion" refers to Onyx, and "Smaragdos" literally means "green stone" and refers to a bright columnar crystal (either Beryl or rock crystal) [ibid] . Onyx is an opaque and banded stone, while "Smaragdos" is translucent, and Beryl is cloudy, and all these come in several colours. "Shoham" could be derived from the Assyrian word "Samtu", meaning "dark" or "cloudy" [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] ; it could be derived from the Arabic word meaning "pale", in which case it fits more with Onyx and certain forms of Beryl, excluding the Emerald [ibid] , with Heliodor being the form of Beryl fitting the "leek green" description; it could be derived from the Arabic word "musahham", meaning "striped garment", and therefore very definitely describing something like Onyx [ibid] ; or it could be a place name, for example there is a place in the Yemen named "Soheim" [ibid] . Jewish tradition generally favours leek-green Beryl (Heliodor) as the likely meaning of "Shoham", though scholars think it is more likely to be Malachite, which can be green enough to be compared to "Smaragdos" and the blue-green colour of the sea (the original meaning of "beryllios"), is cloudy enough to be compared to a cloudy form of Beryl, and is striped and opaque enough to be confused for a form of Onyx ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"]

*"Yashfeh" (in the masoretic text) / "Iaspis" (in the Septuagint) - in reference to the Septuagint and Josephus, scholars suspect that "Yasepheh" may be the original reading ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] . Although "Yasepheh" and "Iaspis" are cognate to "Jasper", they don't quite have the same meaning; while "Jasper" is usually red, the mineral which the Greeks called "Iaspis" was generally a richly green one (the most prized form of "Jasper"), and scholars think this is most likely to be the colour referred to by "Yasepheh" ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] ; the ambiguity of the term is present in the Targums, where the jewel is variously identified as a ruby (which is red), as a hyacinth (which is yellow), or as an emerald (which is green) [ibid] .

Additional information

In the New Testament Book of Revelation is the description of a "city wall", with each layer of stones in the wall being from a different material; in the original Koine Greek, the layers are given as "iaspis", "sapphiros", "chalcedon", "smaragdos", "sardonyx", "sardion", "chrysolithos", "beryllos", "topazion", "chrysoprason", "yacinthos", "amethystos" [Revelation 21:19-20 (Nestle-Aland edition)] . This list appears to be based on the Septuagint's version of the list of jewels in the Breastplate - if the top half of the breastplate was rotated by 180 degrees, and the bottom half turned upside down, with "Onchion" additionally swapping places with "Topazion", the lists become extremely similar; there are only four differences:
* "Onchion" (literally "Onyx") has become Sardonyx (red Onyx)
* "Anthrax" has become "Chalcedon" (literally meaning "Chalcedony", of which the red variety is the most common). "Anthrax" literally means "coal", presumably meaning the red colour of burning coal, while "Chalcedon" literally means "Chalcedony", of which the red variety is the most common.
* "Ligurios" has become "Chrysoprason". Scholars suspect that Ligurios was a pale yellowish mineral, and although "Chrysoprase" now refers to a specific gemstone - Chrysoprase - which is generally apple-green in colour, in earlier times it referred to gems of a yellowish leek-green, such as Peridot; "Chrysoprase" literally means "golden leek" [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] .
* "Achates" ("Agate") has been replaced by "Yacinthos" ("Jacinth"). According to classical rabbinical literature, the specific agate was of a sky-blue colour, and though "Jacinth" now refers to a red-tinted clear gem - the Jacinth - this wasn't the case at the time the Book of Revelation was written, and at that time "Jacinth" appears to have referred to a bluish gem; Pliny describes "Jacinth" as a dull and blueish amethyst, while Solinus describes it as a clear blue tinted gem - the modern Sapphire [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] .

Whether there is any pattern to the choice of gemstones depends on their identity. Taking the majority view of scholars in regard to the identity of the gems, and including the implication from the Book of Revelation that the "Onyx" at the end of the fourth row was a "Sardonyx", there are four colours - red, green, yellow, and blue - each represented by a clear gem (red - Carbuncle, green - Heliodor, yellow - Chrysolite, blue - Amethyst), an opaque gem (red - Carnelian/red Jasper, green - green Jasper, yellow - yellow Jasper/yellow Serpentine, blue - Lapis Lazuli), and a striped gem (red - Sardonyx, green - Malachite, yellow - pale golden Agate, blue - sky-blue Agate) [Cheyne and Black, "Encyclopedia Biblica"] . The four colours of red, green, yellow, and blue, are the first four colours (apart from black and white) distinguished by languages, and are distinguished in all cultures with at least six colour distinctions (the other two being black and white) [Berlin and Kay (1969), ""] ; these colours roughly correspond to the sensitivities of the retinal ganglion cells (the retinal ganglia process colour by positioning it within a blue to yellow range, and separately positioning it within a red to green range) [ibid] . The colour scheme generally corresponds with the colour scheme of the Amarna letters ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] .


ee also

*Avnet (kohen)

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