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Breastplate of judgment

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The breastplate of the High Priest, the breastplate of Judgment

The breastplate of Judgment (Hebrew: חושן משפט, Choshen Mishpat) also known as the priestly breastplate was a sacred breastplate worn by the the High Priest for the Israelites (Hebrew: כהן גדול, Kōhēn Gāḏōl), according to the Book of Exodus. In the biblical account, the breastplate is termed the breastplate of judgement, because the Urim and Thummim, by which the High Priest checked the will of God in any important matter that would affect the nation,[1] were placed within it (Exodus 28:15 ).

Description

The breastplace was a square gold frame with twelve jewels set in four rows.[2] Each stone was engraved with the name of a tribe of Israel. Into the breastpiece were put the Urim and Tummim (Hebrew: האורים והתומים, haʾUrim vəhaTummim meaning "lights and perfections") so that they could be upon Aaron's heart, when he entered before the Lord.[3] In the book of Exodus we can read the description of the breastplace in two passages:

“Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions—the work of skilled hands. Make it like the ephod: of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen. It is to be square—a span[a] long and a span wide—and folded double. Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. The first row shall be carnelian, chrysolite and beryl; 18 the second row shall be turquoise, lapis lazuli and emerald; the third row shall be jacinth, agate and amethyst; the fourth row shall be topaz, onyx and jasper.[b] Mount them in gold filigree settings. There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes. “For the breastpiece make braided chains of pure gold, like a rope. Make two gold rings for it and fasten them to two corners of the breastpiece. Fasten the two gold chains to the rings at the corners of the breastpiece, and the other ends of the chains to the two settings, attaching them to the shoulder pieces of the ephod at the front. Make two gold rings and attach them to the other two corners of the breastpiece on the inside edge next to the ephod. Make two more gold rings and attach them to the bottom of the shoulder pieces on the front of the ephod, close to the seam just above the waistband of the ephod. The rings of the breastpiece are to be tied to the rings of the ephod with blue cord, connecting it to the waistband, so that the breastpiece will not swing out from the ephod. Exodus 28:15-28


They fashioned the breastpiece—the work of a skilled craftsman. They made it like the ephod: of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen. It was square—a span[a] long and a span wide—and folded double. Then they mounted four rows of precious stones on it. The first row was carnelian, chrysolite and beryl; the second row was turquoise, lapis lazuli and emerald; the third row was jacinth, agate and amethyst; the fourth row was topaz, onyx and jasper. They were mounted in gold filigree settings. There were twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes. For the breastpiece they made braided chains of pure gold, like a rope. They made two gold filigree settings and two gold rings, and fastened the rings to two of the corners of the breastpiece. They fastened the two gold chains to the rings at the corners of the breastpiece, and the other ends of the chains to the two settings, attaching them to the shoulder pieces of the ephod at the front. 19 They made two gold rings and attached them to the other two corners of the breastpiece on the inside edge next to the ephod. Then they made two more gold rings and attached them to the bottom of the shoulder pieces on the front of the ephod, close to the seam just above the waistband of the ephod. They tied the rings of the breastpiece to the rings of the ephod with blue cord, connecting it to the waistband so that the breastpiece would not swing out from the ephod—as the Lord commanded Moses Exodus 39:8-21

The 12 Jewels

Breastplate of the Jewish Kohen ha-Gadol (High Priest).

Unfortunately, the meaning of the Hebrew names for the precious stones, given by Masoretic text, are not clear, and despite the names appearing in Septuagint be clearer, scholars believe that they can not be considered absolutely on this matter, because the breastplate had ceased to be in use by the time the Septuagint was written, and several Greek names for various gemstones changed meaning between the classical era and modern times.

First row

  • Hebrew: אֹ֤דֶם, Odem (in the masoretic text) / Greek: σάρδιον, Sardios (in the Septuagint) - both names mean red. Probably refers to Sard. Josephus says Sardonyx (Ant. iii, 7, 6).[4] Odem might also refer to Carnelian, which was flesh-coloured, or to red Jasper.[5]
  • Hebrew: פִּטְדָה֙, Pit'dah (in the masoretic text) / Greek: τοπάζιον, Topazios (in the Septuagint) - The Septuagint mention the Topaz, but the gem can be the Chrysolite.[5] Job said that wisdom is more valuable than the pètdah of Cush (Job 28:19 ).[4]

Second row

  • Hebrew: סַפִּ֖יר, Sapir (in the masoretic text) / Greek: σάπφειρος, Sapphiros (in the Septuagint) - despite appearing to refer to Sapphire it can be the hyacinth or of jacinth. Another candidate, described by Pliny,[4] is Lapis lazuli (Ultramarine). According to Wycliffe Bible Commentary it is more likely to be the Lapis lazuli.[5]
  • Hebrew: וְיָהֲלֹֽם, Yahalom (in the masoretic text) / Greek: ἴασπις, Iaspis (in the Septuagint) - A few scholars have suggested that Yahalom may refer to diamonds. Some believe the stone to be the Sardonyx.[4] There is no evidence that diamond was known in ancient days.[5]

Third row

  • Hebrew: לֶ֥שֶׁם, Leshem (in the masoretic text) / Greek: λιγύριον, Ligurios (in the Septuagint) - Pliny described the Ligurios as having certain electrical properties, which a number of scholars have taken to imply that it referred to Amber. Some believe that it was the Agate, others supposed that was the Jacinth and yet others believe that it was the Opal or Amethyst. According to Wycliffe Bible Commentary it was either Jacinth or Cairngorm.[5]
  • Hebrew: שְׁבֹ֖ו, Shevo (in the masoretic text) / Greek: ἀχάτης, Achates (in the Septuagint) - Achates surely refers to Agate. Named from the river Achates, Sicily first discovered by the Greeks.[4] A red opaque stone.[5]
  • Hebrew: אַחְלָֽמָה, Ahlamah (in the masoretic text) / Greek: ἀμέθυστος, Amethystos (in the Septuagint) - Amethystos refers to Amethyst.

Fourth row

  • Hebrew: תַּרְשִׁ֥ישׁ, Tarshish (in the masoretic text) / Greek: χρυσόλιθος, Chrysolithos or in other places Greek: ἄνθραξ, Anthrax (meaning Coal) (in the Septuagint) - Tarshish is thought by scholars to refer to Tarshish. Chrysolithos could refer to Lapis lazuli or it could refer to Topaz, Amber or Beryl.[4] Possibly yellow Jasper.[5]
  • Hebrew: שֹׁ֖הַם, Shoham (in the masoretic text) / Greek: βηρύλλιον, Beryllios or in other places Greek: ὀνύχιον, Onychion (in the Septuagint) - Beryllios refers to Beryl but Onychion refers to Onyx. It can also be the Malachite according to some scholars.
  • Hebrew: יָשְׁפֵ֑ה, Yashfeh (in the masoretic text) / Greek: ὀνύχιον, Onychion (in the Septuagint) - The Septuagint's Onychion is the Greek term for Onyx, Onyx. The jewel is variously identified as a ruby, as a hyacinth or as an Emerald. According to Wycliffe Bible Commentary it can also be the green Jasper.[5]

The Order of the Tribes in the High Priest's Breastplate

See also

References

  1. Douglas, J.D.; Tenney, Merril C, ed. (1987). The New International Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House. p. 1044-1045. ISBN 0-310-33190-0. 
  2. Birnbaum, Philip (1979). Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts (Revised edition ed.). Brooklyn, New York: Hebrew Publishing Company. p. 236. ISBN 0-88482930-8. 
  3. Unger, Merrill F (1988). Harrison, R. K.. ed. The New Unger´s Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody Press. pp. 1030. ISBN 0-8024-9037-9. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Smith, William (1979). Smith´s Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers. p. 251. ISBN 0-87981-033-5. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9 Pfeiffer, Charles P.; Harrison, Everett F, ed. (1962). The Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press. p. 78. ISBN 0-8024-9695-4.