There exist many references that connect gemstones to religion. Many believe that certain gemstones possess special spiritual powers and abilities. Among the best-known religious references to gems are those which are found in the Holy Bible; a collection of texts written by 40 different authors over a span of 1500 years. Some of the Bible's earliest passages are thought to have been written nearly 3000 years ago. For followers of both Judaism and Christianity, it is the canonical book of faith.
The Bible includes many references to the significance of precious gems and jewelry, worn to enhance spirituality as well as for personal adornment. The Bible describes how monarchs would cover themselves in jewel-encrusted clothing, wearing crowns set with precious stones. Members of the clergy believed that their legitimacy could be conveyed by wearing precious stones, and so during biblical times, it was very common to decorate gold bracelets, rings and necklaces with precious stones. Kingdoms were said to have hoarded incredible collections of gold, silver and precious gems, and rulers were known to lavishly decorate their temples and homes to show their accumulated wealth.
The most talked about gems in the Bible are those which were worn by Aaron, the high priest of Israel and older brother to the prophet, Moses. For the Israelites, the gemstones worn by Aaron were thought to be the most precious of all. In the Book of Exodus, it is recorded that God gave Aaron a breastplate set with twelve gemstones, and an 'ephod' garment studded with two more gems. The breastplate and ephod were given to Aaron by the instruction of God to help him to spiritually discern the answers to all questions.
It is believed that the two gems that studded Aaron's ephod were made of onyx, a multilayered form of chalcedony quartz. Engraved into each of the onyx stones, were the names of Israel's tribes; six on each gem. The same twelve names were also engraved into the twelve gemstones fastened to Aaron's breastplate. Later in the Bible, these twelve gems were later referred to as "The Stones of Fire" which represented all of God's family. They were worn over Aaron's shoulders and heart to symbolize the heavy burden he carried as a high priest.
In the Book of Revelations, it suggests that the gems worn by Aaron were also linked to the twelve Apostles. Each of the twelve gems represented one of the apostles, who were known as the foundation to the spiritual city of New Jerusalem. Since the Bible was originally written in languages no longer used today, some doubt shrouds the accuracy of translations given to the names of some biblical gems. In addition, since gemstones were only named after their color in ancient times, there exist today several opinions as to the identity of the gemstones mentioned throughout various Books of the Bible.
In a more recent translation quoted from the Book of Exodus, the gems worn by Aaron are "four rows of precious stones. The first row was ruby, chrysolite and beryl; the second row was turquoise, sapphire 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." Many believe that chrysolite was actually peridot, though it could have referred to a number of yellowish-green gems. Jacinth is believed to have been orangey to red zircon. Some of the other translation variations of Aaron's gemstones include sard, sardonyx, carnelian, chalcedony and chrysoprase.
Other gemstones mentioned in the Bible include diamond, pearl, alabaster, flint, carbuncle and even malachite. Although the Bible is considered a religious book, it has been read and studied by people of many faiths, so the practice of wearing gems to enhance one's spirituality is not only limited to Christian and Jewish believers. References to spiritual gems can be found in many other historical religious writings as well. Today, wearing gems for religious reasons is not unheard of. Over recent years, the concept of religious gems and jewelry has become increasingly popular, proving that the symbolism of precious gems and spirituality are indeed timeless.