The following is a short description of such stones as are mentioned in the Bible; but, it must be remarked, that sometimes our translation does not appear to give the exact name of the stone intended in the original, and also, that as many stones have, in the course of time, lost their ancient names, and acquired other more modern ones, it is not always easy to identify the gems now known with those of the Bible.
The word signifies, that which cannot be broken. It is one of the names given to the diamond, and also to the hardest species of iron. It is translated diamonds in JER. xvii. 1. The Hebrew means a very hard kind of stone, such as was used to cut, engrave, and polish other stones.
Adamantine Spar, or Corundum, is a stone which is found either as a regular crystal, with little lustre, or in mass. Those which are procured from India are usually deemed the purest. Both there and in China, being extremely hard, it is used to polish steel and gems. In the vicinity of the Carenal, in the Mysore, a vein of adamantine spar is found, which is cut out in considerable masses, and transported, on horses and bullocks, into different parts of India. It was first brought into Europe at the commencement of the eighteenth century.
Corundum is only the sapphire and ruby in a less pure state. It varies in tint, from being sometimes nearly colourless and semi-transparent, to green, brown, red, &c., and occasionally to black and opaque. It is employed to cut and polish gems in the East, and occasionally also in Europe; but diamond-powder, though it is far more expensive, is preferred here, from its more rapid action. (Emery is a variety of Corundum.)
Agate, a variety of Chalcedony, having bands of various colours curving round a centre, upon a semi-transparent ground. It is sometimes called Achates, as is supposed, from its having been first found in the river Achates in Sicily. Small agates are frequently found in common gravel. There are many beautiful varieties of agate, some of which resemble a painted landscape, having figures like trees, clouds, &c. There is a variety called mocha-stone, which resembles mosses, ferns, &c., which is considered to be owing to those vegetables being really enclosed in the stone.
Alabaster closely resembles marble. It is a species of onyx, and is sometimes called onychites. It is a bright, elegant stone, often white as snow. This was the stone prepared by David for the temple (1 CHRON. xxix. 2). It is easy to cut and polish, and, from its softness, can be wrought into any form desired. Vases were often made of it, to hold sweet ointments and perfumes; and the Egyptian druggists still keep their medicines, &c., in alabaster vessels. By breaking the box (MARK xiv. 3,) is meant, opening the seal upon it.
Drinking-cups, legs of tables and couches, pavements, and columns, were made by the Romans of this stone, which is sometimes called onyx; but which must not be confounded with the gem of that name. Both this and the gem onyx, were so called from their resemblance to the nail of the finger.
Amber is a resinous, hard, inflammable substance, of which there are two kinds--the white and the yellow. The latter is that intended by the prophet; but, as it soon becomes dim when it feels the fire, and is speedily consumed, it is probable that not amber itself, but perhaps a mixed metal, which was in use among the ancients, and which shone with a lustre like amber, was the article alluded to. Amber takes a most beautiful polish. It is found on the coasts of the Baltic, and in beds of wood-coal in several places in Europe and other countries. It appears to be sometimes used as money, for a traveller (I think in Africa) writes, "We paid for what we wanted in little coarse bits of amber."
A transparent gem, which seems to be composed of a strong blue and deep red, so that it affords different tinges of purple, from rose-colour to violet. The Eastern amethyst is the most rare, hard, and precious. It is found in India, Siberia, and Spain; and inferior stones are abundant in most countries.
The beryl is of a sea, or bluish-green colour. From this it appears to have derived its Hebrew name, for the word is applied to the sea in two passages of Scripture, viz., PSALM xlviii. 7, and ISAIAH ii. 16, where our translation reads Tarshish. This precious gem is distinguishable from the emerald principally by its colour. The colours of the beryl are pale grayish-green, and blue, and yellow, of various shades; it has also been found rose-red, and sometimes colourless. The finest beryls come from Siberia, and from Dauria, on the Chinese frontier.
A variety of this stone is called aqua-marine (sea-water), from its colour so nearly resembling that of the sea. Large and fine specimens of this stone are brought from Brazil.
A very rare gem, which, when held up before the sun, appears like a piece of burning charcoal. Hence it was known to the ancients by the name anthrax or coal. It is thought that the precious garnet is the same with the carbuncle of the ancients. It is of a beautiful red colour, sometimes with shades of yellow or blue. Those from Peru are most valued. Common garnets are duller and more opaque.
This is the name of a mineral, of which various precious stones are composed, as onyx and sardonyx, carnelian, agate, jasper, &c. The name in Scripture appears to be applied to some particular stone, probably to one of the kinds formed out of chalcedony. It may have been carnelian; when first found, these stones are of a dark-olive colour, and obtain the lighter red or white hue they are usually seen with by exposure to the air, and by being baked, it is said, in ovens. The best carnelian comes from the West Indies; but it is also found in Siberia, Europe, and America. Or it may be the blood-stone which is alluded to, and which is so called from its being speckled with red spots. This is a favourite stone to cut into seals, &c.
A precious stone of a golden colour; perhaps the same with that now called Indian topaz, which is a beautiful gem, of a yellowish-green colour.
A stone of an apple-green colour; but it loses the delicacy of its original hue if much handled or worn as an ornament.
Coral is a hard marine production, resembling in figure the stem of a plant divided into branches. It lifts itself to some height above the water, and might very properly be called the branching-stone, its appearance being so frequently that of a branching shrub. It is of different colours, white, black, and red. Immense reefs, or rocks, are formed of coral, and are highly dangerous to ships. There are also coral islands, which in process of time have become inhabited.
The "Encyclopaedia Metropolitana" will furnish us with some interesting accounts of this wonderful production.
The red coral was well known to the ancients. It was, however, only in later ages that its true nature was understood. Theophrastus mentions it as a precious stone. Pliny says that the Indians have the same value for the little grains of coral that are often found thrown upon the shore as the Europeans have for pearls. They are considered by the diviners and jugglers as amulets of power, and are worn by them as ornaments pleasing to their gods. The Gauls ornamented their armour and dresses of ceremony with coral; and the Romans hung it about their children, as a charm to ward off the diseases of infancy.
At length it was discovered that coral is no other than a habitation for minute animals, made by the animals themselves.
"The examination of a coral-reef (or rock) during the different stages of one tide is particularly interesting: when the tide has left it for some time it becomes dry, and appears to be a compact rock, exceedingly hard and rugged; but, as the tide rises, and the waves begin to wash over it, the coral-worms protrude themselves from holes that were before invisible. These animals are of a great variety of shapes and sizes, and in such prodigious numbers, that in a short time the whole surface of the rock appears to be alive, and in motion. The most common worm is in the form of a star, with arms from four to six inches long, which are moved about with a rapid motion, in all directions, probably to catch food. Others are so sluggish, that they may be mistaken for pieces of rock, and are generally of a dark colour, and from four to five inches long and two or three round. When the coral is broken about high-water mark, it is a solid hard stone; but if any part of it be detached at a spot where the tide reaches every day, it is found to be full of worms of different lengths and colours, some being as fine as a thread, and several feet long, of a bright yellow, and sometimes of a blue colour; others resemble snails, and some are not unlike lobsters in shape, but soft, and not above two inches long."--CAPTAIN B. HALL, Voyage to Loo-Choo.
Some of the animals thus described were doubtless intruders that had sought shelter or food in the interstices of the coral: the true architects of these wonderful structures are polypes of minute size....They consist of a little oblong bag of jelly, closed at one end, but having the other extremity open, and surrounded by tentacles (or arms), usually six or eight in number, set like the rays of a star. Multitudes of these tiny creatures are associated in the secretion of a common stony skeleton--the coral, in the minute orifices of which they reside, protruding their mouths and tentacles when under water, but withdrawing themselves by sudden contraction into their holes the moment they are molested.
But, how do these tiny creatures rear their vast and beautiful habitations? It is difficult to make the answer simple enough to be readily understood by one whose knowledge both of chemistry and natural history is limited. In a general way, however, it may be said, that the water of the sea contains, suspended in it, a certain quantity of calcareous, that is, stony matter. Of this the polypes posses themselves, absorbing it into their bodies. This stony matter is again given forth or secreted, and forms around them a stony crust, as we may call it, which is continually growing around them so long as the animals themselves live and multiply; and which forms the dwelling-places of its little builders, myriads of whom will be found inhabiting the holes of even one small piece of coral.
"The growth of the coral appears to cease when the worm is no longer exposed to the washing of the sea. Thus, a reef rises in the form of a cauliflower, till its top has gained the level of the highest tides, above which the worm has no power to advance, and the reef, of course, no longer extends itself upwards; the other parts in succession reach the surface, and then stop; forming in time a level field, with steep sides all around. The reef, however, continually increases, and being prevented from going higher, extends itself laterally in all directions. But this growth being as rapid at the upper edge as it is lower down, the steepness of the face of the reef is still preserved. These are the circumstances which render coral reefs so dangerous in navigation; for, in the first place, they are seldom seen above the water, and in the next, their sides are so steep, that a ship's bows may strike against the rock before any change of soundings has given warning of the danger."
The red coral is found in various parts of the Mediterranean and Red Seas. It grows on rocks, and on any solid submarine body; and it is necessary to the well-being of the little animals which produce and inhabit it, that it should remain fixed to its place. On being broken from its foundation, it soon loses the soft substance with which the stony stem is enveloped, and the animals are consequently destroyed. It requires eight or ten years to arrive at its greatest size, and it becomes afterwards pierced in all directions by different marine animals which perforate rocks, shells, and every other stony substance upon which they fix. The depth at which this beautiful production is obtained varies very considerably; but it seems necessary to its perfection that the rays of the sun should readily penetrate to the place of its habitation; it is found, therefore, not only that the finest coral is to be obtained in situations to which the rays of the sun have the most ready access, but that it there comes to perfection also in a much shorter period. The consequence of this variation of colour and size is, that there are several varieties of red coral distinguished in merchandize, which differ in value according to the depth and brilliancy of the colour.
Mr. Dalrymple remarks, "I have seen coral banks in all their stages, some in deep water, others in rocks appearing above the surface; some just formed into islands, without the least apperance of vegetation, others with a few weeds on the higher parts; and, lastly, such as are covered with timber, with a fathomless sea at a pistolshot distance." Captain Hinders paid much attention to the barrier of reefs which runs along the whole eastern coast of New Holland, and on one of which he was ship-wrecked. In one place, he says, "We had wheat-sheafs, mushrooms, stags'-horns, cabbage-leaves, and a variety of other forms growing under water, in the varied tints of every shade, between green, purple, brown, and white. It seems to me that when the little animals which form the coral cease to live, their structures adhere to each other, by virtue either of the glutinous remains within, or of some property of the salt-water, and the interstices being gradually filled up with sand, and broken pieces of coral washed by the sea, which also adhere, a mass of rock is at length formed. Future races of these animals erect their habitations on the rising bank, and die in their turn, to increase, but principally to elevate, this monument of their wonderful labours."
With respect to the islands formed principally of coral, it has been observed that, "As soon as the coral has reached such a height that it remains almost dry at low water at the time of ebb, the corals leave off building higher; sea-shells, fragments of coral, &c., &c., are united by the burning sun, through the medium of the cementing sand, into one whole or solid stone, which, strengthened by the continual throwing up of new materials, gradually increases in thickness, till it at last becomes so high that it is covered only during some seasons of the year by the spring-tides. The heat of the sun so penetrates the mass of stone when it is dry, that it splits in many places, and breaks off in flakes. These flakes, so separated, are raised one upon another by the waves at the time of high-water. The always active surf throws blocks of coral and shells of marine animals between and upon the foundation stones. After this, the (sandy surface) lies undisturbed, and offers to the seeds of trees and plants, cast upon it by the waves, a soil upon which they rapidly grow, to overshadow its dazzling white surface. Entire trunks of trees, which are carried by the rivers from other countries and islands, find here, at length, a resting-place after their long wanderings; with these come some small animals, as lizards and insects, as the first inhabitants. Even before the trees form a wood the real sea-birds nestle there; strayed land-birds take refuge in the bushes; and at a much later period, when the work has long since been completed, man also appears, builds his hut on the fruitful soil formed by the corruption of the leaves of the trees, and calls himself lord of this new creation."
Another writer observes to the same purpose, "The action of the sun and air soon converts the surface into a species of mould, the birds or the waves convey to it seeds from other lands, and the whole becomes clothed with vegetation. The islands of coral which are thus produced harden by time till they become one solid mass."
The following description of a coral island is abridged from an interesting work called "The Ocean."
"Imagine a belt of land in the wide ocean, not more than half a mile in breadth, but extending, in an irregular curve, to the length of ten or twenty miles or more: the height above the water not more than a yard, or two at most, but clothed with a mass of the richest and most verdant vegetation. Here and there, above the general bed of luxuriant foliage, rises a grove of cocoa-nut trees, waving their feathery plumes high in the air, and gracefully bending their tall and slender stems to the breathing of the pleasant trade-wind. The grove is bordered by a narrow beach on each side, of the most glittering whiteness, contrasting with the beautiful azure waters by which it is environed. From end to end of the curved isle stretches, in a straight line, forming, as it were, the cord of the bow, a narrow beach of the same snowy whiteness, almost level with the sea at the lowest tide, enclosing a semicircular space of water between it and the island, called the lagoon. Over this line of beach, which occupies the leeward side, the curve being to windward, the sea is breaking with sublime majesty; the long unbroken swell of the ocean, hitherto unbridled through a course of thousands of miles, is met by this rampart, when the huge billows rear themselves upwards many yards above its level,...and then fall with loud and hollow roar. Contrasting strongly with the tumult and confusion of the hoary billows without, the water within the lagoon exhibits the serene placidity of a millpond, and the surface, unruffled by a wave, reflects the mast of the canoe that sleeps upon its bosom, and the tufts of the cocoa-nut plumes that rise from the beach above it. Such is a coral island; and, if its appearance is one of singular loveliness, its structure is no less interesting and wonderful. The beach of white sand, which opposes the whole force of the ocean, is found to be the summit of a rock which rises abruptly from an unknown depth, like a perpendicular wall. The whole of this rampart, as far as we can see, appears composed of living coral...In these regions may be seen islands in every stage of their formation,--some spreading like gardens and shrubberies under the sea."
The following is an account of the way of obtaining coral:--"The divers in Provence have two different implements which they employ for the purpose of obtaining coral. The first is used to tear it from the rocks; it consists of a large wooden cross, to the centre of which is attached a heavy weight of lead, which sinks it readily, and it is held by a long thick cord. To each extremity of the cross is fixed a round network, or parcel of loose cords. When they have thrown this instrument into the sea, in places wherein the divers have previously ascertained that there are a number of cavities in the rock well filled with coral, the one who has the management of the machine pushes some of the network into these interstices, and in this way the coral becomes entangled, and the persons in the boat then break it off, and draw it out of the water.
"The other instrument is employed in obtaining the coral from deep caverns, and consists of a very long beam of wood, to the extremity of which is attached a circle of iron of a foot and a half in diameter, with a large reticular sack, with two round nets placed on each side. This beam is fixed by two long cords to the stem and stern of the boat; it is sunk by means of a large plummet of lead, and is drawn about the bottom of the sea in different directions by the movements of the boat. The iron ring breaks off the small branches of coral which are attached to the sides of the caverns, and the other parts are entangled in the nets. Sometimes, though rarely, they obtain in this way branches weighing three or four pounds; and this would more frequently be the case, were it not that the people who fish for coral are permitted to repeat their operations too often."
The original Hebrew word is sometimes translated crystal, and sometimes frost, and ice.
The beautiful class of stones called crystals probably have that name from their resemblance to ice. Crystal is perfectly transparent, bright, and sparkling, and assumes very beautiful and regular forms. Immense caverns have been found, entirely covered within with crystals. One was discovered in 1823, having a roof of crystal fifteen feet in thickness. Terrible crystal seems to denote that of extraordinary brightness and transparency.
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Precious Stones Guide Vol 5
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