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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
the uniform translation in the English version of the Hebrew word shoharn,שֹׁהִם, which occurs in eleven passages of the O.T. The renderings of the old interpreters are various, and often inconsistent with each other. The Sept. in Exodus 25:7; Exodus 35:9, renders σάρδιος , sardius; in Exodus 28:9; Exodus 39:6, σμάραγδος, smaragdus; in Ezekiel 28:13, σάπφειρος , sapphire; elsewhere onyx or beryl. This strange inconsistency could spring only from ignorance and conjecture. Yet the Venetian MS. has always κρύσταλλος, crystal. The Sept. in Job (Job 28:16), with Symmachius (Genesis 2:12; Exodus 25:7), Josephus (Ant. 3:7, 6), and Jerome, (usually) understand the gem which was called by the Greeks ὄνυξ; onyx, from its resemblance in color to a human nail. This seems to be favored by comparing the similar Arabic root saham, denoting paleness (see Pliny, Hist. Nat. 37:6, 24; Edrisi, 1:150, ed. Jaubert). The shechem stone is mentioned (Genesis 2:12) as a product of the land of Havilah. Two of these stones, upon which were engraven the names of the children of Israel, six on either stone, adorned the shoulders of the high-priest's ephod (Exodus 28:9-12), and were to be worn as "stones of memorial" (see Kalisch on Exodus l.c.). Ashdham was also the second stone in the fourth row of the sacerdotal breastplate (Exodus 28:20). Shohain stones were collected by David for adorning the Temple (1 Chronicles 29:2). In Job 28:16, it is said that wisdom "cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious shdham or the sapphire." The shoham is mentioned as one of the treasures of the king of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13).
There is nothing in the contexts of the several passages where the Hebrew term occurs to help us to determine its signification. Braun (De Vest. sac. Heb. p. 727) has endeavored to show that the sardonyx is the stone indicated, and his remarks are well worthy of careful perusal. Josephus (Ant. 3:7, 5, and War, v. 5, 7) expressly states that the shoulder-stones of the high-priest were formed of two large sardonyxes, an onyx being, in his description, the second stone in the fourth row of the breastplate. The sardonyx, however, is but that variety of the. onyx in which white and reddish stripes alternate. Rosenmü ller remarks (Bibl. Alterth. 4:1): "The onyx is not a transparent stone; but as the color of the flesh appears through the nail (in Greek called onyx) on the human body, so the reddish mass which is below shines delicately through the whitish surface of the onyx. There are several varieties of this stone, according to the manner in which thin strata of different colors alternate in it; white and reddish stripes alternating, form the sardonyx; white and reddish-gray, the chalcedonlyx; grayish-white and yellow-brown, the memphitonyx. The onyx most esteemed by the ancients had milk-white and brown or white and black strata. When polished, it has a fine lustre; it is easily wrought into a gem of great beauty. The different kinds of onyx have, from. early antiquity, been used for rings, for seals and cameos, and, accordingly, they are frequently found in collections of antiques." Braun traces shodham to the Arabic sachma, "blackness:" "Of such a color," says he, "are the Arabian sardonyxes, which have a black ground-color." This agrees essentially with Mr. King's remarks (Antique Gems, p. 9): "The Arabian species," he says, "were formed of black or blue strata, covered by one of opaque white; over which again was a third of a vermilion color." As to the "onyx" of Sirach 24:15, (See ONYCHA).
But the more usual interpretation of the Hebrew word shoham is beryl. This is the rendering given by the Syriac, the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan, and the Sept. in two places (Exodus 28:20; Exodus 39:13); and it is supported by Bellermann (Urnim, p. 64), Winer (Real- Worterbuch, 1:283, 4th ed.), Rosenmü ller (ut sup.), and others. This is the same stone called by the Sept. (Genesis 2:12) λίθος πράσινος, the leek-stone, i.e. the stone of a leek-green color; Latin, porraceus. (But Schleussner, s.v., makes this the sardonyx.) According to Pliny (Hist. Nat. 37:5, 20), the beryl is found in India, and but rarely elsewhere, and is of the highest value when like the sea in color. (See BERYL). For other explanations, see Wahlius, Asien, p. 856; Benfev, Encyclop. Halens. II, 17:14; Gesenius, Thesaur. p. 1370. (See GEM).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Onyx'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​o/onyx.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.