The Twelve Stones of The Apocalypse

The Apocalypse makes reference to twelve precious stones:

And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald;
The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst. (Rev. 21:19-20)

Some have tried to identify each stone with a specific tribe of Israel. I have not done so here as I do not think there is enough evidence to make such a determination. Remember too that precious stones named in the Bible may or may not refer to gemstones of the same name today.

The twelve stones of Aaron’s breastplate referred to in Exodus 28:17-20 and Exodus 39:10-13 do not correspond exactly with the twelve stones of The Apocalypse. There are several differences, for example Onyx is replaced by Sardonyx and Ligure is replaced by Chrysoprasus.

The Hebrews obtained their precious stones from the Middle East, Egypt, and India. At the time of the Exodus the Israelites took with them many precious stones.

The people of Palestine could obtain stones from the merchant caravans travelling from Babylonia or Persia to Egypt and those from Sheba and Raamah to Tyre.

Below is a description of each precious stone referenced in the building of the wall of the New Jerusalem.

Click on the images to enlarge.


JasperJasper, meaning spotted or speckled stone, is an opaque, impure variety of silica, usually red, yellow, brown or green in color. It owes its red color to iron inclusions.

Jasper is known to have been a favorite gem in the ancient world. Legend says that Jasper would drive away evil spirits and protect against snake and spider bites. In the fourth century, it was thought to bring about the rain.

Jasper has a smooth surface, and is used for ornamentation or as a gemstone. It can be highly polished and is used for vases, seals, and at one time for snuff boxes.


SapphireSapphire, meaning blue stone, is a variety of the mineral corundum, an aluminium oxide. Although blue is their most well-known color, sapphires are made up of any color, except for red when they would be called rubies. Sapphires may also be colorless, and are also found in shades of gray and black.

Sapphires are commonly worn as jewelry and can be found naturally.

Sapphires were not known as a distinct stone and sapphiros referred to any blue gem in general before the time of the Roman Empire. They were considered to be forms of jacinth.


ChalcedonyChalcedony is composed of very fine intergrowths of the minerals quartz and moganite.

Chalcedony has a waxy luster, and may be semitransparent or translucent. It can assume a wide range of colors, but those most commonly seen are white to gray, grayish-blue or a shade of brown ranging from pale to nearly black.

The name chalcedony comes from Latin calcedonius, the word used to translate the Greek word khalkedon, found only once, in the Book of Revelation. It is doubtful that the precious stone referred to is the same as what is now understood by the name.


EmeraldEmerald is a variety of the mineral beryl colored green by trace amounts of chromium and sometimes vanadium. Most emeralds are highly included, so their toughness (resistance to breakage) is classified as generally poor.

Deep green is the most desired color in emeralds. The paler the color of the emerald, the lesser its value.

The word originally came from the Hebrew, meaning green. However, Bible references to emerald as a precious stone is probably a mistranslation.

Emeralds in antiquity were mined by the Egyptians.


SardonyxSardonyx is a variant of onyx in which the colored bands are usually flat-banded, white and brownish-red rather than black.

Use of sardonyx appears in the art of Minoan Crete from the archaeological recoveries at Knossos.

Roman soldiers wore sardonyx talismans engraved with heroes such as Hercules or Mars, believing that the stone would make the wearer as brave as the figure carved on it.

During the Renaissance, sardonyx was believed to bring eloquence upon the wearer and was greatly valued by orators.


CarnelianSardius is a stone of a blood-red or flesh color and is commonly known as carnelian or sard. It is the same as the sardine stone mentioned in Revelation 4:3.

Sard was used for Assyrian cylinder seals, Egyptian and Phoenician scarabs, and early Greek and Etruscan gems. The Hebrew odem, translated sardius, was a red stone, probably sard.

According to Pliny the Elder, sard derives its name from the city of Sardis in Lydia, but it more likely comes from the Persian word sered, meaning yellowish-red. Others say it is found in Sardinia, from whence it has its name.


ChrysoliteChrysolite is named peridot when of a deep olive-green, olivine when of a yel­lowish-green, and chrysolite when of a lighter or golden-yellow color. The name chrysolite means gold stone.

Chrysolite is frequently mentioned in the Bible and in ancient litera­ture; but was probably topaz. If this is true, the chrysolite of the ancients was found on the island of Topazios, in the Red Sea. Diodones Siculus says of the stone there that it was not discernible by day, but was bright at night.

The name chrysolite was also applied in former times to a number of other yellow gems, such as zircon and beryl, stones of a similar color being then usually classed together.


HeliodorBeryl is a beryllium aluminium cyclosilicate. Pure beryl is colorless, but it is frequently tinted by impurities; possible colors are green, blue, yellow, red, and white. In Greek beryl means a precious blue-green color-of-sea-water stone.

Beryl is mentioned in scripture such as when Daniel sees the Lord in vision and describes “His body also was like the beryl.

Beryl is much softer than diamond, ruby, or sapphire. Beryl is quite common, and the crystals in its cruder form often grow to enormous size. One such crystal is preserved in the Boston Museum of Natural History, which is three and one half feet long and three feet wide and weighs several tons.


TopazPure topaz is colorless and transparent but is usually tinted by impurities; typical topaz is wine, yellow, pale gray, reddish-orange, or blue brown. It can also be made white, pale green, blue, gold, pink (rare), reddish-yellow or opaque to transparent.

On account of its hardness, it takes a good polish and shows a brilliant luster which is often seen on the crystal faces.

Amongst the ancients, like the ruby, the topaz was also supposed to be gifted with marvellous medical properties, and also believed to be capable of giving light in the dark. When powdered and taken in wine, it was considered a cure for asthma, sleeplessness and many other diseases.


ChrysoprasusChysoprasus is a gemstone variety of chalcedony that contains small quantities of nickel. Its color is normally apple-green, but varies to deep green.

The word Chrysoprasus appears only once in the Bible, in Revelation 21:20. This is perhaps the agate of Exodus 28:19.

Chrysoprasus was used by the Greeks, Romans, and the Egyptians in jewelry and other ornamental objects and because of its semi-opaque green color, it is often mistaken for Imperial jadeite.

Chrysoprase is prized for its color and rarity and is said to be the favorite gemstone of Alexander the Great.


JacinthJacinth, from the Greek word hyacinth, is a red transparent variety of zircon.

Jacinth, like a lot of other zircon, has been used since biblical times. It has also shown up as an ornamental stone in the weaponry and armor of other cultures.

Jacinth is better suited to items like pendants, necklaces, brooches, and earrings than it is to bracelets.

Many ancient cultures believed jacinth would protect them from personal danger. It was also believed to protect property from theft. Some thought that is could ward off the evil of witchcraft. Many believed that it would dull in color if the wearer was sick.


Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz often used in jewelry. The name comes from the Greek meaning not intoxicated. The ancient Greeks and Romans wore amethyst and made drinking vessels of it in the belief that it would prevent drunkenness.

Amethyst was used as a gemstone by the ancient Egyptians and was largely employed in antiquity as engraved gems.

Up to the 18th century, amethyst was included in the most valuable gemstones along with diamond, sapphire, ruby, and emerald. However since the discovery of extensive deposits in locations such as Brazil, it has lost most of its value.


Rickety signature.

James Tissot Paints The Birth Of Christ

James Tissot created a series of 350 watercolors of incidents in the life of Christ. Here I use some of his paintings to illustrate the birth of Christ, along with scriptures from Matthew and Luke.

The Betrothal of the Holy Virgin and Saint Joseph

The Betrothal of the Holy Virgin and Saint Joseph

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 1:18)

The Annunciation

The Annunciation

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. (Luke 1:30-31)

The Visitation

The Visitation

And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. (Luke 1:39-42)

The Magnificat

The Magnificat

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. (Luke 1:46-48)

The Anxiety of Saint Joseph

The Anxiety of Saint Joseph

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. (Matthew 1:19)

The Vision of Saint Joseph

The Vision of Saint Joseph

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 1:20)

Saint Joseph Seeks a Lodging in Bethlehem

Saint Joseph Seeks a Lodging in Bethlehem

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. (Luke 2:4-5)

The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ

The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7)

The Angel and the Shepherds

The Angel and the Shepherds

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. (Luke 2:8-12)

The Adoration of the Shepherds

The Adoration of the Shepherds

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. (Luke 2:15-16)

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;
(As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)
And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. (Luke 2:22-24)

The Aged Simeon

The Aged Simeon

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,
Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. (Luke 2:25-32)

Saint Anne

Saint Anne

And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;
And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

The Magi Journeying

The Magi Journeying

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. (Matthew 2:1-2)

The Magi in the House of Herod

The Magi in the House of Herod

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet,
And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. (Matthew 2:3-8)

The Adoration of the Magi

The Adoration of the Magi

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. (Matthew 2:9-12)


Photographs of the paintings courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.
Order of the events adapted from Harmony of the Four Gospels.
Rickety signature.