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THE BREASTPLATE

"And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart when he goeth in unto the holy place for a memorial before the Lord continually" [Exodus 28.29]
Aaron was the first high priest and was Moses' brother. After Aaron died, subsequent high priests were his descendants, known as the sons of Aaron. The High Priest was the most glorious Jewish position. His representative dress was said to be "for glory and for beauty." It was made according to the design given by God to Moses. Only certain special people were allowed to make the garment as the following verse
"And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's garments to consecrate him that he may minister unto me in the priest's office"[v. 3].
The role of the breastplate becomes clear in the following text:
"Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually"
The breastplate was of great importance because by means of it, God revealed his Divine will to His chosen people. It was designed by God Himself and the directions as to how it was to be made were given to Moses as illustrated in Exodus xxviii. 15, 20.
The breastplate was clearly designed with the idea that the names of the twelve tribes engraved on the stones should be brought before God "as a continual memorial," and that Aaron should "bear them upon his heart, when he went into the most holy place." (Exodus xxviii. 12, 29). When we look at the breastplate as we use in our ritual, we find it to be made of metal with 12 gems. However, in reality, according to the Bible, the breastplate, or, as it is further named, the breastplate of judgment was, like the inner curtains of the Tabernacle, of "cunning work," which means that it was the work of a skilled weaver. The material with which it was woven consisted of threads of gold and blue, purple and scarlet linen threads. The number of the threads and the order of the colors were, according to the "Targums" one of gold, six of blue, six of purple, and six of scarlet.
The breastplate was actually made of two pieces, which formed a sort of purse, or bag, in which also was kept the two sacred stones, named the Urim (representing light and excellence) and the Thummim (representing perfection and completion). These stones were some divinely appointed instruments by which the High Priest inquired of God about matters concerning the welfare of the Children of Israel. The Bible makes several references to these miraculous stones, but not anything physical, like the shape or size.
The twelve jewels in the breastplate were each, according to the Biblical description, to be made from specific minerals, none of them the same as another, and each of them representative of a specific tribe, whose name was to be inscribed on the stone. We are not told which stone to which tribe. So which stones were used? This is a 2,000 year old question. Although the Hebrew names of the 12 stones are not in question, their translation is, and despite numerous attempts, the various translators cannot, to date, agree to a single translation. G. W. Kunz in "The Curious Lore of Precious Stones" says "In the Midrash Bemidbar, the Rabbinical commentary on numbers, the tribes are given in their order, with the stones appropriate to each and the color of the tribal standard pitched in the desert camp, this color corresponding in each case with that of the tribal stone."
In the New Testament Book of Revelation is the description of a city wall, with each layer of stones in the wall being from a different material; in the original Koine Greek, the layers are given as iaspis, sapphiros, chalcedon, smaragdos,sardonyx, sardion, chrysolithos, beryllos, topazion, chrysoprason, yacinthos, amethystos. This list appears to be based on the Septuagint's version of the list of jewels in the Breastplate - if the top half of the breastplate was rotated by 180 degrees, and the bottom half turned upside down, with Onchion additionally swapping places with Topazion, the lists become extremely similar; there are only four differences:
 Onchion (literally Onyx) has become Sardonyx (red Onyx)
 Anthrax has become Chalcedon (literally meaning Chalcedony, of which the red variety is the most common). Anthrax literally means coal, presumably meaning the red colour of burning coal, while Chalcedon literally means Chalcedony, of which the red variety is the most common.
 Ligurios has become Chrysoprason. Scholars suspect that Ligurios was a pale yellowish mineral, and although Chrysoprase now refers to a specific gemstone - Chrysoprase - which is generally apple-green in colour, in earlier times it referred to gems of a yellowish leek-green, such as Peridot; Chrysoprase literally means golden leek.
 Achates (Agate) has been replaced by Yacinthos (Jacinth). According to classical rabbinical literature, the specific agate was of a sky-blue colour, and though Jacinth now refers to a red-tinted clear gem - the Jacinth - this wasn't the case at the time the Book of Revelation was written, and at that time Jacinth appears to have referred to a bluish gem; Pliny describes Jacinth as a dull and blueish amethyst, while Solinus describes it as a clear blue tinted gem - the modern Sapphire.
Whether there is any pattern to the choice of gemstones depends on their identity. Taking the majority view of scholars in regard to the identity of the gems, and including the implication from the Book of Revelation that the Onyx at the end of the fourth row was a Sardonyx, there are four colours - red, green, yellow, and blue - each represented by a clear gem (red - Carbuncle, green - Heliodor, yellow - Chrysolite, blue - Amethyst), an opaque gem (red - Carnelian/red Jasper, green - green Jasper, yellow - yellow Jasper/yellow Serpentine, blue - Lapis Lazuli), and a striped gem (red - Sardonyx, green - Malachite, yellow - pale golden Agate, blue - sky-blue Agate). The four colours of red, green, yellow, and blue, are the first four colours (apart from black and white) distinguished by languages, and are distinguished in all cultures with at least six colour distinctions (the other two being black and white).



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