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Called in Hebrew kho'shen, or kho-shen mish-pow, the breastplate of judgment, because through it the High Priest received divine responses, and uttered his decisions on all matters relating to the good of the commonwealth. It was a piece of embroidered cloth of gold, purple, scarlet, and fine white, twined linen. It was a span, or about nine inches square, when doubled, and made thus strong to hold the precious stones that were set in it. It had a gold ring at each corner, to the uppermost of which were attached golden chains, by which it was fastened to the shoulder pieces of the ephod-the vestment worn by the High Priest over his tunic; while from the two lowermost went two ribbons of blue, by which it was attached to the girdle of the ephod, and thus held secure in its place.

In the breastplate were set twelve precious jewels, on each of which was engraved the name of one of the twelve tribes. The stones were arranged in four rows, three stones in each row. As to the order of arrangement and the names of the stones, there has been some difference among the authorities. The authorized version of the Bible gives them in this order:

Sardius, topaz, carbuncle, emerald, sapphire, diamond, ligure, agate, amethyst, beryl, onyx, jasper.

This is the pattern generally followed in the construction of Masonic breastplates, but modem researches into the true meaning of the Hebrew names of the stones have shown its inaccuracy.

Especially must the diamond be rejected, as no engraver could have cut a name on this impenetrable gem, to say nothing of the pecuniary value of a diamond of a size to match the rest of the stones.



Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (III, vii), gives the stones in the following order: Sardonyx, topaz, emerald; carbuncle, jasper, sapphire ; ligure, amethyst, agate; chrysolite, onyx, beryl. Kalisch, in his Colmmentary on Exodus, gives a still different order: Cornelian (or sardius), topaz, smaragdus; carbuncle, sapphire, emerald; ligure, agate, amethyst; chrysolite, onyx, jasper. But perhaps the Vulgate translation is to be preferred as an authority, because it was made in the fifth century, at a time when the old Hebrew names of the precious stones were better understood than now. The order given in that version is shown in the diagram Fig. I. A description of each of these stones, with its symbolic signification, with be found under the appropriate head. On the stones were engraved the names of the twelve tribes, one on each stone. The order in which they were placed, according to the Jewish Targums--various ancient forms of the Hebrew Scriptures in Aramaic or Chaldee language, was as Fig. 2, having a reference to the respective ages of the twelve sons of Jacob.

LEVI ............. SIMEON ............ REUBEN ZEBULUN ..... ISSACHAR ........ JUDAH GAD ............. NAPHTALI ......... DAN BENJAMIN .. JOSEPH .............. ASHER


The differences made by various writers in the order of the names of the stones arise only from their respective translations of the Hebrew words. These original names are detailed in Exodus (xxviii), and admit of no doubt, whatever uncertainty there may be as to the gems which they were intended to represent. Fig. 3 illustrates the Hebrew names of the stones.

A description of the breastplate is given in chapters xxviii and xxxix of Exodus. From the former, authorized version of the Bible, we take the following four verses (17-21) : "And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones ; the first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle : this shall be the first row. And the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond. And the third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst.

And the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper : they shall be set in gold in their enclosings. And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve according to their names, like the engravings of a signet ; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes." In the margin the word ruby is given instead of sardius in the first row of stones. The revised version suggests that ruby be substituted for sardius, emerald for carbuncle, carbuncle for emerald, sardonyx for diamond, amber for ligure or jacinth, chalcedony for beryl, and beryl for onyx, in the list found in Exodus xxviii.

Students of the Scriptures conclude that from the dimensions of the breastplate, given in Exodus (chapter xxviii ), a span which would be equivalent to eight or nine inches, the twelve stones even after allowing some reasonable space for their setting must have been of considerable size and therefore of only moderate rarity. Furthermore, as they were engraved with the names of the twelve tribes they could have been of only moderate hardness; and finally, preference may well be given to stones which research has shown to have been actually used for ornamental purposes in early bible times. In regard to this matter the article by Professor Flinders Petrie is of especial importance (see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, iv, pages 619-21). The breastplate which was used in the first Temple does not appear to have been returned after the Captivity, for it is not mentioned in the list of articles sent back by Cyrus. The stones, on account of their great beauty and value, were most probably removed from their original arrangement and reset in various ornaments by their captors. A new one was made for the services of the second Temple, which, according to Josephus, when worn by the High Priest, shot forth brilliant rays of fire that manifested the immediate presence of Jehovah. But Josephus adds that two hundred years before his time this miraculous power had become extinct in consequence of the impiety of the nation. It was subsequently

Baw-rek-ath' ...... Pit-daw' ...... O'-dem Yah-hal-ome' ..... Sap-peer' .... No,-pek Akh-law'-maw ... Sheb-oo' ..... Leh'-shem Yaw-shef-ay' ...... Sho'-ham ... Tar-sheesh


carried to Rome together with the other spoils of the Temple.

Of the subsequent fate of these treasures, and among them the breastplate, there are two accounts: one, that they were convoyed to Carthage by Genseric after his sack of Rome, and that the ship containing them was lost on the voyage; the other, and, as King thinks, in Antique Gems (page137), the more probable one, that they had been transferred long before that time to Byzantium, and deposited by Justinian in the treasury of Saint Sophia.

The breastplate is worn in American Chapters of the Royal Arch by the High Priest as an essential Part of his official vestments. The symbolic reference of it, as given by Webb, is that it is to teach him always to bear in mind his responsibility to the laws and ordinances of the Institution, and that the honor and interests of his Chapter should be always near his heart.

This does not materially differ from the ancient symbolism, for one of the names given to the Jewish breastplate was the memorial, because it was designed to remind the High Priest how dear the tribes whose names it bore should be to his heart.

The breastplate does not appear to have been original with or peculiar to the Jewish ritual. The idea was, most probably, derived from the Egyptians.

Diodorus Siculus says (in his book 1, chapter 75), that among them the chief judge bore about his neck a chain of gold, from which hung a figure or image , composed of precious stones, which was called Truth, and the legal proceedings only commenced when the chief judge had assumed this image.

Aelian (book xxxiv), confirms this account by saying that the image was engraved on sapphire, and hung about the neck of the chief judge with a golden chain.

Peter du Val says that he saw a mummy at Cairo, round the neck of which was a chain, to which a golden plate was suspended, on which the image of a bird was engraved (see Urim and Thummim).

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