Thursday, March 01, 2007

Rubies and Corals

In Monday's post, I talked about the fact that a virtuous woman is said to be worth far more than rubies or precious gems. Today, I thought it would be fun to take a look at rubies and red corals, two of God's beautiful creations.

In the process, we can ponder how God uses the beauty of physical things to teach us about the beauty of spiritual things. He points to what our eyes can see in order to help us understand what our eyes cannot see. In the case of the virtuous woman, He uses rare and beautiful gems as an illustration.

As I mentioned, the Hebrew word translated as rubies in Proverbs 31:10 is paniyn. There is a specific Hebrew word for coral, and, when that is used in the scriptures, we can know it definitely means coral. Paniyn on the other hand, can mean rubies, precious red coral, pearls, or even gem stones, depending on the context.

Because of this, Bible scholars are not 100% sure exactly which meaning paniyn carries in the section about the virtuous wife. Since I am nowhere near being a Biblical scholar, I don't pretend to be able to weigh in on that question. All I know is that whichever meaning of paniyn is intended here, this passage is talking about something that is both exceedingly precious and exceedingly rare.

Precious coral (sometimes called noble coral) is valuable today. It was even more so in ancient times. It is considered to be one of the oldest items to be used as valuable gems. In fact, red corals were apparently valued long before pearls came to be thought of as something precious. Red or noble corals were carried along ancient trade routes and were often traded far from where they were found.

Coral is, of course, the product of sea life. Noble or precious corals are somewhat different than reef coral. The noble coral is secreted by tiny creatures called polyps. In the Mediterranean and Red Seas (and Japanese waters, as well), these creatures produce a reddish subtance that can be polished into a beautiful, smooth surface.

Corals found nearer to the Northern coast of Africa are dark red. Corals nearer to Italy are pink-red or rose-red. Corals nearer to Sardina are salmon-red. Somewhere along the way, our English word coral came to mean both these secreting sea creatures and the color salmon-red, which reminded people of this particular shade of sea corals. There is also a pale-pink coral, which we call "angel-skin" coral today.

While corals and pearls are different in appearance and texture and are secreted by different creatures, they are basically of the same chemical composition.

Red or noble corals are found in dark crevices in the Mediterranean at depths from ten meters to 300 meters. The shallower beds have been almost depleted by centuries of harvesting. Red coral grows at a very slow rate -- only about 1/4 inch per year. As you can imagine, this long growth time makes it all the more precious and rare.

Noble or red coral can be polished to a high shine. The Phoenicians sewed beads of coral into their garments as ornamentation. Coral jewelry has been found in Egyptian burial sites, as well as in prehistoric European burial sites. I read about an exhibit of corals in a museum, where one piece had been carved into a statuette about eight inches high.

The Hebrews do not seem to have sewn coral into their clothing, as the Phonecians did. Nor, would they have buried jewelry with their dead. Also, many superstitious myths surrounded coral, and pagan cultures sometimes assoicated corals with healing powers. Devout Jews would not have believed these myths.

Even so, the Jews did recognize noble corals as precious cargo, and they certainly would have been familiar with their beauty and rarity. If paniyn does indeed mean corals, Jewish women would have understood the lovely imagery.

If the term paniyn indicated rubies, the Israelite women would have understood that imagery as well. As they are now, rubies were noted in ancient times for their color, their rarity, and their brilliance. Rubies would have come to the Israelites through the Egyptians and Arabia and may have been mined as far away as India.

At God's command, the high priest's breast plate was woven with 12 stones, one for each tribe of Israel. Each stone was engraved with the name of the tribe it stood for. The first stone in the ephod, from the Hebrew word odem, which can mean a ruby or a carnelian. So, it's possible that the ephod contained a ruby.

The base for the ruby stone is a colorless mineral called corrundum, that is found in ordinary rocks. However, it rarely happens that corrundum will contain just a tiny bit of chrome. When this occurs, the chrome transforms the corrundum into the magnficient, sparkling, red stone that we call ruby. Large rubies are more rare than equivalent sized diamonds.

Rubies, like diamonds, are measured in value according to their color, clarity, cut and size. Rubies can range from light pink to bright red. The most desirable rubies -- at least in today's market -- are what is known as pigeon blood's red. The name doesn't sound very lovely, but the color is. It's red with just a hint of blue in it.

You can identify a true ruby from a fake one by the miniscule little includsions found in real rubies. The chrome that gives rubies their vivid coloring also produces tiny cracks and fissures inside the crystals that make little individual patterns within the stone. By contrast, synthetic rubies do not have these little marks.

Like diamonds, rubies must be cut and polished before their beauty shines in full brilliance. I suppose we should not be discouraged that we, too, need refining on our way to becoming women of virtue.

One of the most famous rubies is the Reeves Star Ruby, which weights 138.7 carats. It is noted for its star pattern, a pattern which results when a ruby is cut a certain way. It was found off the coast of India, on the island of Sri Lanka.

Another famous ruby is the Delong Star Buby, which is currently in a museum in New York. It is noted not only for its size and beauty, but for being the object of a famous burglery in 1964. Fortunately, the stone was recovered.

As of 2006, the record price for a ruby sold at auction was was $5,860,000 for an unnamed 38.12 carat ruby. It's possible that there are even more valuable stones out there that have not come to public attention.

I don't know about you, but I don't have $5,860,000 lying around with which to buy a ruby!
Though this sounds like an unimaginable sum to most of us, it's nothing whatsover compared to the price that God paid to redeem you. He paid a cost beyond measure in the death of us beloved Son.



Sandra said...

Elizabeth, I've been enjoying your posts and blog so much. Your writing is just wonderful. Keep up the great work!

Elizabeth said...

Hi Sandra,

Thanks for the encouragement. I enjoy your site greatly as well. I especially loved the post you did about the Swedish artist.