on Exodus 28 :17
Four rows of stones - With a name on each stone, making in all the twelve names of the twelve tribes. And as these were disposed according to their birth, Exodus 28:10, we may suppose they stood in this order, the stones being placed also in the order in which they are produced, Exodus 28:17-20 : -
Four Rows of Stones First Row Sons of Leah Sardius or Ruby Reuben ראובן Topaz Simeon שמעון Carbuncle Levi לוי Second Row Emerald Judah יהודה Sapphire Issachar יששכר Diamond Zebulun זבולן Third Row Sons of Bilhah, Rachael's maid Ligure or Jacinth Dan דן Agate Naphtali נפתלי Son of Zilpah, Leah's maid Amethyst Gad גד Fourth Row Beryl or Crysolite Asher אשר Sons of Rachel Onyx, or Sardonyx Joseph יוסף Jasper Benjamin בנימין
In this order the Jews in general agree to place them. See the Jerusalem Targum on this place, and the Targum upon Sol 5:14; and see also Ainsworth. The Targum of Jonathan says, "These four rows were placed opposite to the four quarters of the world; but this could only be when laid down horizontally, for when it hung on the breast of the high priest it could have had no such position. As it is difficult to ascertain in every case what these precious stones were, it may be necessary to consider this subject more at large.
1. A Sardius, מדם ,su odem, from the root adam, he was ruddy; the ruby, a beautiful gem of a fine deep red color. The sardius, or sardie stones, is defined to be a precious stone of a blood-red color, the best of which come from Babylon.
2. A Topaz, פטדה pitdah, a precious stone of a pale dead green, with a mixture of yellow, sometimes of a fine yellow; and hence it was called chrysolite by the ancients, from its gold color. It is now considered by mineralogists as a variety of the sapphire.
3. Carbuncle, ברקת bareketh, from ברק barak, to lighten, glitter, or glister; a very elegant gem of a deep red color, with an admixture of scarlet. From its bright lively color it had the name carbunculus, which signifies a little coal; and among the Greeks ανθραξ anthrax, a coal, because when held before the sun it appears like a piece of bright burning charcoal. It is found only in the East Indies, and there but rarely.
4. Emerald, נפך nophech, the same with the ancient smaragdus; it is one of the most beautiful of all the gems, and is of a bright green color, without any other mixture. The true oriental emerald is very scarce, and is only found at present in the kingdom of Cambay.
5. Sapphire, ספיר sappir. See this described, Exodus 24:10.
6. Diamond, יהלם yahalom, from הלם halam, to beat or smite upon. The diamond is supposed to have this name from its resistance to a blow, for the ancients have assured us that if it be struck with a hammer, upon an anvil, it will not break, but either break them or sink into the surface of that which is softest. This is a complete fable, as it is well known that the diamond can be easily broken, and is capable of being entirely volatilized or consumed by the action of fire. It is, however, the hardest, as it is the most valuable, of all the precious stones hitherto discovered, and one of the most combustible substances in nature.
7. Ligure, לשם leshem, the same as the jacinth or hyacinth; a precious stone of a dead red or cinnamon color, with a considerable mixture of yellow.
8. Agate, שבו shebo. This is a stone that assumes such a variety of hues and appearances, that Mr. Parkhurst thinks it derives its name from the root שב shab, to turn, to change, "as from the circumstance of the agate changing its appearance without end, it might be called the varier." Agates are met with so variously figured in their substance, that they seem to represent the sky, the stars, clouds, earth, water, rocks, villages, fortifications, birds, trees, flowers, men, and animals of different kinds. Agates have a white, reddish, yellowish, or greenish ground. They are only varieties of the flint, and the lowest in value of all the precious stones.
9. Amethyst, אחלמה achlamah, a gem generally of a purple color, composed of a strong blue and deep red. The oriental amethyst is sometimes of a dove color, though some are purple, and others white like diamonds. The name amethyst is Greek, αμεθυστος, and it was so called because it was supposed that it prevented inebriation.
10. The Beryl, תרשיש tarshish. Mr. Parkhurst derives this name from תר tar, to go round, and שש shash, to be vivid or bright in color. If the beryl be intended, it is a pellucid gem of a bluish green color, found in the East Indies, and about the gold mines of Peru. But some of the most learned mineralogists and critics suppose the chrysolite to be meant. This is a gem of a yellowish green color, and ranks at present among the topazes. Its name in Greek, chrysolite, χρυσολιθος, literally signifies the golden stone.
11. The Onyx, שהם shoham. See Clarke's note on Genesis 2:12; See Clarke's note on Exodus 25:7. There are a great number of different sentiments on the meaning of the original; it has been translated beryl, emerald, prasius, sapphire, sardius, ruby, cornelian, onyx, and sardonyx. It is likely that the name may signify both the onyx and sardonyx. This latter stone is a mixture of the chalcedony and cornelian, sometimes in strata, at other times blended together, and is found striped with white and red strata or layers. It is generally allowed that there is no real difference, except in the degree of hardness, between the onyx, cornelian, chalcedony, sardonyx, and agate. It is well known that the onyx is of a darkish horny color, resembling the hoof or nail, from which circumstance it has its name. It has often a plate of a bluish white or red in it, and when on one or both sides of this white there appears a plate of a reddish color, the jewelers, says Woodward, call the stone a sardonyx.
on Exodus 28 :17
Settings - Ouches of "cloisonnec" work, like those mentioned in Exodus 28:11.
A sardius - i. e. "the red stone." The Sardian stone, or sard, was much used by the ancients for seals; and it is perhaps the stone of all others the best for engraving.
Topaz - Not the stone now called the topaz: it may have been the chrysolite, a stone of a greenish hue.
A carbuncle - More probably the beryl, which is a kind of emerald.
on Exodus 28 :17