Did You Know?

Where did the precious stones on the breastpiece of Israel’s high priest come from?

After the Israelites left Egypt and entered the wilderness, God gave them orders to make this breastpiece. (Exodus 28:15-21) The breastpiece had stones of ruby, topaz, emerald, turquoise, sapphire, jasper, leshem, agate, amethyst, chrysolite, onyx, and jade. * Did the Israelites really have access to those types of gems?

In Bible times, people prized precious stones and traded them. The ancient Egyptians, for example, obtained gemstones from as far away as what is now modern-day Iran, Afghanistan, and possibly even India. Egyptian mines produced a number of different precious stones. The Egyptian monarchs had a monopoly on mineral extraction in the territories they controlled. The patriarch Job described how his contemporaries used shafts and underground galleries to search for treasures. Among other items dug from the ground, sapphire and topaz are specifically mentioned by Job.​—Job 28:1-11, 19.

The Exodus account states that the Israelites “stripped the Egyptians” of their valuables when leaving the land. (Exodus 12:35, 36) So it is possible that the Israelites obtained from Egypt the stones used on the high priest’s breastpiece.

Why was wine used as medicine during Bible times?

In one of his parables, Jesus spoke of a man who had been beaten by robbers. Jesus said that the man was helped by a Samaritan who bound up his wounds and poured “oil and wine upon them.” (Luke 10:30-34) When writing to his friend Timothy, the apostle Paul advised him: “Do not drink water any longer, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent cases of sickness.” (1 Timothy 5:23) Were both the practice Jesus described and the advice Paul gave medically sound?

The book Ancient Wine describes wine as “an analgesic, disinfectant, and general remedy all rolled into one.” In ancient times wine had a central role in Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Syrian health treatment. The Oxford Companion to Wine describes it as “man’s oldest documented medicine.” As for Paul’s advice to Timothy, the book The Origins and Ancient History of Wine says: “It has been shown experimentally that living typhoid and other dangerous microbes rapidly die when mixed with wine.” Modern research confirms that some of the more than 500 compounds found in wine have those and a number of other medicinal benefits.


^ par. 3 It is difficult to identify all these stones according to modern terminology.

[Picture on page 26]

Peasants treading grapes, from the tomb of Nakht, Thebes, Egypt

[Credit Line]

Gianni Dagli Orti/​The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY