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2012-04-02

I can imagine God’s train of thought, “Gold chest piece—check. Fine linens—check. Onyx chunks—check. Hmm… it’s still too plain. I know! How about a huge gold chest plate with twelve precious stones embedded into it? Yes, now my priests are dressed for success!”

So yeah, God feels that that million dollar threads just aren’t quite gaudy enough, so he tells Moses to create a priestly breastplate. It’s basically a huge rectangle of gold with 12 different precious stones embedded into it, one for each tribe. How nice. Though this section sounds pretty straight forward, there are actually major translation errors with it. Here are the types of the stones from four popular bible translations, King James Version, New International Version, New Living Translation, and Douay-Rheims:

 

KJV

NIV

NLT

DR

1

Sardius

Ruby

Carnelian

Sardius

2

Topaz

Topaz

Peridot

Topaz

3

Carbuncle

Beryl

Emerald

Emerald

4

Emerald

Turquoise

Turquoise

Carbuncle

5

Sapphire

Sapphire

Lapis Lazuli

Sapphire

6

Diamond

Emerald

Moonstone

Jasper

7

Ligure

Jacinth

Jacinth

Liguris

8

Agate

Agate

Agate

Agate

9

Amethyst

Amethyst

Amethyst

Amethyst

10

Beryl

Chyrsolite

Beryl

Chyrsolite

11

Onyx

Onyx

Onyx

Onyx

12

Jasper

Jasper

Jasper

Beryl

Notice that of these four translations, they’re only able to agree on 3 of the 12 stones, a mere 25% agreement. This large discrepancy occurs because the original language doesn’t actually have unique words for each stone, rather it uses descriptive words to symbolize the stones. For example, the first stone is written as ’odem, which translates to “redness”. Now, obviously, there are hundreds of different stones that are red, many of which were available to the ancient Hebrews, so who’s to say which is accurate? Sard and Carnelian are likely candidates, but there are hundreds of others.

Even the translations which they all agree on are not necessarily accurate. For example, although each translation agrees on amethyst, the Biblical Hebrew word used, 'achlamah, has an unknown origin, and doesn’t necessarily mean purple. Amethyst is an option, but so are any of the thousands of other stones in the region. The context isn’t helpful either because there aren’t any descriptive words used around it, and the word is only ever used for in this one reference.

Notice also, that most of the translations use topaz and sapphire as included stones, but these translations are almost certainly wrong. Topaz and sapphire may be found in every jewelry store in the world today, but these stones were practically unheard of in the Middle East around this time.

Of course, in the bible’s defense, these translation errors are of little importance… unless you plan on opening the Ark with the wrong stones!

There’s another unusual problem in Exodus 28:15-30, God tells Moses to wear the 12 stones when he enters the Holy Place, along with the Urim and Thummim. However, throughout the bible, there is no explanation of what the Urim and Thummim are. Questions arise like: What are they made of? What do they look like? Where do they come from? What are they for? The bible doesn’t have any answers. Some of the passages make them out to be a sort of fortune-telling device, akin to a crystal ball. The most common interpretation by scholars is that they were divination stones used to practice cleromancy. This interpretation fits with the rampant magical thinking of the culture at the time (although it’s hard to argue that things have changed much). Believers claim that the stones only had power because God gave them power, which makes it like totally different than the divination the bibles condemns. Sure, whatever makes you hypocrites sleep better at night.

 

Comments

Laura writes:

 

Woot first comment :D

Baughbe writes:

 

God is a West Coast Rapper. Bling-bling.

Ima Lemming writes:

 

I was going to ask where God expects Moses to get the materials for all this crap in the middle of nowhere. Then I remembered all that jewelry the Jews -ahem- "borrowed" from the Egyptians.

Samael writes:

 

They weren't stolen - they were GIFTS by the Egyptian people who somehow totally weren't suffering at all from the ten plagues. Remember? The Egyptian people actually became very fond of Moses while he was repeatedly killing all their livestock. :D

Sharkie writes:

 

They all had a nice chat that time he killed all of their first born kids. Good times.

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Oh the irony!