THE GOLD OF THAT LAND: Biblical Minerals & Rocks  


29.     emerald

Hebrew: b‚rekath, a glistening thing. Exodus 28:17, 39:10; Ezekiel 28:13.

Greek: smaragdos, green stone; smaragdinos, made of emerald. Revelation 4:3, 21:19.

Probable Identification: biblical emerald is either malachite or amazonite, a green feldspar.


    Malachite [Cu2CO3(OH)2] is a rich green copper ore formed by the weathering and oxidation of primary copper sulfide veins in sandstone or limestone. The description of smaragdos by Pliny the Younger and his references to its occurrence in copper mines and in large masses clearly fit the color and greasy luster of malachite.

    Malachite rarely occurs in distinct monoclinic crystals, but usually forms botryoidal or stalactitic masses with concentric layers of contrasting light and dark green. Malachite has a hardness of 3.9 to 4.03 and a specific gravity of 3.9 to 4.03. It is opaque but takes a high polish. It was the principal ore in the copper mines of Sinai, the Aravah, and the Red Sea Hills, and it occurs at notable localities in the copper mining districts of the Urals, United States, Africa, and Australia. Although relatively soft at 3.5 to 4, malachite's strong color makes it popular as an ornamental stone for jewelry, art objects, and inlays. Malachite beads and pendants occur in tenth and ninth millennium sites in Anatolia. The ancient Egyptians also ground malachite for use in pigments and cosmetics.

    Amazonite or amazon-stone is a green to blue-green variety of microcline feldspar (KAlSi3O8) which occurs in interlocking crystalline masses in granites and syenites. Large monoclinic crystals may reach lengths of 25 cm. Amazonite has a hardness of 6 to 6.5 and specific gravity of 2.54 to 2.57. Polished specimens have a vitreous luster, are slightly translucent, and resemble green jade. Though amazonite occurs in large igneous intrusions near Gebel Migif and Gebel Hafafit in the Eastern Desert of southern Egypt, the ancient Egyptians may have sought it as far afield as Zumma in the Eghei mountains north of Tibesti. Amazonite also occurs in Colorado, Virginia, the Ural Mountains, Brazil, India, Kenya, Namibia, and Madagascar. All supposed Pharonic emeralds are amazonite, and the Egyptians began making beads, amulets and inlays from amazonite in prehistoric times.

    Green emeralds of inferior quality occur in the Zikait-Zubara district of the Red Sea hills of Egypt, but there is no evidence that the Egyptians exploited them before the Greek epoch (late 4th century BC).


    Canby, op. cit.; 1674.

    Feininger, Tomas, 1970. Emerald mining in Colombia: History and geology. Mineralogical Record; 1-4: 142-149.

    Grundmann, GŁnter, and Giulio Morteani, 1993. Emerald formation during regional metamorphism: The Zabara, Sikeit and Umm Kabo deposits (Eastern Desert, Egypt). In Thorweihe, Ulf, & Heinz Schandelmeier, eds. Geoscientific Research In Northeast Africa. Rotterdam: A.A. Balkema; 495-498.       

    Guiliani, Gaston, Marc Chaussidon, Henri-Jean Schubnel, Daniel H. Piat, Claire Rollion-Bard, Christian France-Lanord, Didier Giard, Daniel de Narvaez, & Benjamin Rondeau, 2000. Oxygen Isotopes and Emerald Trade Routes Since Antiquity. Science; 287: 631-633.

    Hurlbut, 1952, op. cit.; 330, 376.

    Kunz, op. cit.

     Lucas & Harris, op. cit.; 389-391, 393-394.

     Ralph, Jolyon, 1993-2004.,, & 

    Rondeau, 2000. Oxygen isotopes and emerald trade routes since Antiquity. Science; 287: 631-633.

    Said, op. cit.; 263.

    Schumann, op. cit.; 90-93.

    Sinankas & Read, op. cit.; 2-5, 208.

    Webster, op. cit.; 84.

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