What did the breastplate of the ancient Jewish high priest who reigned in the Temple within Jerusalem really look like? The Bible gives us hints and perhaps also archaeology has clues.
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In ancient times, when the Jewish people had a Temple in Jerusalem, the ancient Hebrew high priest used to wear a breastplate with twelve stones. What did this breastplate look like? While it is difficult to know for sure what this ancient garment looked like as none of us was alive 2,000 years ago, the Jewish Bible gives us hints to what this amazing garment looked like and what each of its stones represented.
According to Exodus 28:12-17, “And you shall set it with four rows of mounted stones; the first row; a ruby, an emerald and a topaz. The second row: a carbuncle, a sapphire, and a quartz crystal. The third row: a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst. The fourth row: a chrysolite, an onyx and an opal. These stones shall be placed in gold settings. The stones shall contain the names of the twelve children of Israel, one for each of the twelve stones; each one’s name shall be engraved as on a signet ring to represent the twelve tribes.”
Aside from the 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel on the high priests’ breastplate, the high priest also possessed two sandonyx stones, which were fixed in gold on the High Priests shoulders. The names of the 12 tribes of Israel were engraved on these two stones. According to the Jewish Bible, these stones are called remembrance stones for the children of Israel: “And you shall place the two stones on the two shoulder pieces of the ephod as remembrance stones for the children of Israel. And Aaron shall carry their names before G-d on his two shoulders as a remembrance.”
The stones of the chosen mishpat, otherwise known as the breastplate of the ancient Hebrew high priest, are referred to as urim v’tummim, which many Jewish scholars claim is a phrase that defies translation. According to the Jewish tradition, the High Priest used to ask the breastplate questions and it would spell out the answer. Jewish religious scholars believe that it was one of the divine forms of communications alongside prophesies and dreams. However, this magical form of communicating with G-d was lost when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem. Nevertheless, a remnant reportedly remains. There is speculation that one of the sandonyx stones has been found in South Africa among the descendants of a crusader knight who came to the Holy Land. If the speculation is proven to be true, only then can we truly begin to grasp what it really looked like.