Hebrew: sh˘ham, a pale-colored gem. Genesis 2:12; Exodus 25:7, 28:9, 28:20, 35:9; 35:27, 39:6, 39:13; 1 Chronicles 29:2; Job 28:16; Ezekiel 28:13.
Greek: onux, derived from "fingernail."
Probable Identity: biblical onyx is turquoise. While modern translators unanimously accept the identification of sh˘ham as onyx, J.E. Pogue points out that ancient peoples thought of turquoise as a pale variety of lapis lazuli and the Hebrew evokes that idea.
Onyx is a finely-banded form of chalcedony or fibrous cryptocrystalline quartz (SiO2) with alternating white and dark layers of cryptocrystalline quartz and opal. Onyx banding is straight and parallel, rather than curved and concentric as in agates.
Turquoise is a hydrated copper-aluminum phosphate that usually occurs in association with other copper minerals as opaque cryptocrystalline masses in veins and stringers that cut altered volcanic rocks. Copper gives turquoise hues that vary from green and greenish blue to blue. The color preferred today is a clear, pale sky-blue, but a more greenish color was once more esteemed. Turquoise has a hardness of 6 and a specific gravity of 2.6 to 2.8.
Egyptian artisans used onyx sparingly until well into the second half of the second millennium BC. They used mfkzt or turquoise in jewelry, scarabs, and inlay from Predynastic times onward, and they mined it intermittently at their copper mines in the southern Sinai peninsula, where it is associated with malachite.
Greek lapidarists introduced the art of carving cameos in onyx or sardonyx about 400 BC. The Italians introduced the modern art of cutting shell cameos in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. The two most important sources of shell for cameos are the helmet conch (Cassis madagascariensis) and the queen conch (Strombus gigas).
Hurlbut, 1952, op. cit.; 324.
Lucas & Harris, op. cit., 386-387.
Pittman, op. cit.; 1589-1603.
Schumann, op. cit.; 142-145.
Copyright 2004, 2005, 2006 by Richard S. Barnett, Virtual Curator of