Peridot Etymology In The Beginning…
Used as an item of adornment from more than 2500 years, Peridot has been called amongst others: Pitdah, Topazion, Topazos, Topaz, Chrysolite, Olivine, Evening Emerald and Gem of the Sun. All these pseudonyms make the task of finding Peridot’s exact etymological roots almost impossible. However, through a process of exploring these aliases and eliminating them one by one, we can get closer to learning the truth behind Peridot’s true origins.
The first written references connected to Peridot, appear in the Septuagint’s translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek dating from 300 B.C. The Septuagint, a group of seventy-two rabbis, was commissioned by the Pharaoh Ptolemy II to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek for inclusion into the library of Alexandria, these documents would come to be known as the christian Old Testament.
According to the Septuagint, the Hebrew word ‘Pitdah’ in Exodus chapter 28 was translated to the Greek ‘Topazion’: this was Greek for Peridot. This translation, as we shall see was wrong, but before detailing the Septuagint’s error, we must first get an overview of the events described in the Exodus passage, their time and location:
Around 1444 B.C., Moses and the high priests were delivering the Hebrew slaves out of Egyptian captivity under Pharaoh Amunhotep II. One of the high priests called Aaron was commanded to make an ephod, a type of apron, and to attach a breastplate to it. Aaron was instructed to mount the breastplate, containing the mystical Urim and Thummim, with 12 gems in sequential order each one representing one of the 12 Israelite tribes. The gems in Hebrew and their order were; 1). Odem 2). Pitdah 3). Bareketh 4). Nophak 5). Sappir 6). Yahalom 7). Leshem 8). Shebo 9). Ahlamah 10). Tarshish 11). Shoham 12).Yashpheh.
In 300B.C., 1000 years after the Exodus, the ‘Septuagint’ translated the 12 gems from Hebrew into Greek as these: 1). Odem = Sardion, 2). *Pitdah = *Topazion, 3). Bareketh = Smaragdos, 4). Nophak = Anthrax, 5). Sappir = Sappheiros, 6). Yahalom = Iaspis, 7). Leshem = Ligurion, 8). Shebo = Achates, 9). Ahlamah = Amethystos, 10). Tarshish = Chrysolithos, 11). Shoham = Beryllion and 12). Yashpheh = Onychion.
In 1611 A.D., 2000 years after the Septuagint’s Greek interpretation, the 12 gems were translated again, this time into English in ‘The King James Version.’ Executed at the behest of King James I of England, this is the modern translation by which we know the Old Testament. The 12 gemstones in Exodus chapter 28 in the ‘King James Version’ were translated as such: 1). Sardion = Sardius 2). *Topazion = *Topaz 3). Smaragdos = Carbuncle 4). Anthrax = Emerald 5). Sappheiros = Sapphire 6). Iaspis = Diamond 7). Ligurion = Ligure 8). Achates = Agate 9). Amethystos = Amethyst 10). Chrysolithos = Beryl 11). Beryllion = Onyx 12). Onychion = Jasper.
“And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment…
And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones: The first row shall be a (1) sardius, a (2) *topaz, and a (3) carbuncle: this shall be the first row.
And the second row shall be an (4) emerald, a (5) sapphire and a (6) diamond.
And the third row a (7) ligure, an (8) agate, and an (9) amethyst.
And the fourth row a (10) beryl, and an (11) onyx, and (12) jasper: they shall be set in gold in their inclosings.”
The chart below details each of the 12 gemstones changing identity through more than 3000 years: from the time of the Hebrew exodus in 1444B.C to the time of the Septuagint translation in 300 B.C., and finally to the King James version in 1611 A.D.
——-1444 B.C.—–300 B.C.—–1611 A.D.
In 300 B.C. the Septuagint had translated gem number 2 of the original breastplate from the Hebrew: ‘Pitdah’ into ‘Topazion’, the Greek word for Peridot. This, as we shall see in the next page (Peridot Etymology Part II – Pitdah) seems very unlikely, as Peridot wasn’t known at the time of the Exodus. Then in the 1611 ‘King James Version,’ the Septuagint’s ‘Topazion’ itself was wrongly translated as ‘Topaz.’ In fact, both subsequent translations of ‘Pitdah’ were wrong, but it’s the ‘King James Version’ that was responsible for the modern confusion of the Old Testaments ‘Topazion’ gemstone being ‘Topaz.’
Starting by disproving the ‘King James Version’ of the Old Testament, three major flaws become very apparent in the interpretation of the 12 gems, and Topaz in particular:
- Many of the gemstones appearing in the King James list were unknown to the Septuagint in 300B.C. So how could the impoverished Hebrew slaves of the exodus 1000 years earlier have had access to them?
- The breastplate measured a span in each direction (approx 8-9 inches), which meant that the gems might have measured up to as much as 2 to 2 ½ inches each. Where could the slaves have found gems such as these in such sizes?
- The ‘Topaz’ we know today was only officially recognized in the 17th century, at least 100 hundred years after the ‘King James Version.’ In addition, at the time of the translation Topaz was used to describe a multitude of yellow to yellow-green transparent gemstones…including Peridot.
Relative to points 1 and 2 the ‘King James Version’ brings up the subject of expense. On this, the 16th Century Jesuit priest and philosopher Cornelis Cornelissen Van Den Steen surmises that the price of gems such as these would have been in excess of 100,000 gold crowns. Cornelis bids the question: ” Whence could the poor Hebrews have obtained such a sum of money, and where could they have found such a diamond?” Cornelis gives another possible reason as to why such gems as these did not fit the circumstances: The tribes assigned such rare gems as diamond, ruby and sapphire in these sizes would have been the center of envy of the other tribes assigned less valuable gems. This he says may have caused dispute and dissension among the newly unified tribes, which could surley not have been God’s intention.
However, of all the above it’s point 3 that is the clincher to the misnomer of Topaz. Before the more exacting influences of modern science, most gemstones were not classed by specific properties like gravity, refractive indexes etc., but by their color. Therefore, the term Topaz was generic, used at the time to denote many different colored gems. In addition to this, there is the fact that the official Topaz gem type of today wasn’t recognized by that name until the 1700’s. From these points alone, the ‘King James’ translation of Topaz being one of the 12 gems of the breastplate can be largely refuted as conjecture, and was probably based on revered jewels available at the time of translation in 1611, and totally unrelated to the gems known and sourced in ancient Egypt at the time of the Hebrew exodus.
Having dispelled the ‘King James Version’ as erroneous, there remains the question of the identity of ‘Topazion’ and it’s inclusion in the breastplate according to the earlier translation of the Septuagint in 300 B.C. And furthermore, the mysterious identity of the Pitdah of the original breastplate in the exodus circa 1444 B.C.
Peridot Sterling Silver Jewelry Etymology Part II – The Pitdah Of The First Temples Breastplate
Read Peridot Sterling Silver Jewelry Etymology Part III – The Topazion Of The Second Temples Breastplate
Read Peridot Sterling Silver Jewelry Etymology Part IV – The Origins Of The Word Peridot
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