Arabian Precious Stone Imports

The breastpiece that the high priest was commanded to wear in the desert Tabernacle required a variety of different gemstones. “Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions, the work of skilled hands…It is to be square, a span a long and a span wide, and folded double. Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. The first row shall be carnelian, chrysolite and beryl, the second row shall be turquoise, lapis lazuli and emerald, the third row shall be jacinth, agate and amethyst, the fourth row shall be topaz, onyx and jasper. Mount them in gold filigree settings.” Some of these items would have been imported from Arabia.

Historically, Arabia was a primary source for gemstones, spices and camels. Arabian mines were the source of a wide variety of gemstones, including the agate and amethyst that were required for the breastpiece. Arabia was also a source for frankincense and myrrh, which came from plant residue. Arabia has a hot and arid climate, and in these conditions the camel developed into the primary beast of burden for transportation across the desert. Skill in domesticating camels help make the camels themselves became an important trade good for Arabia.

There is a debate as to whether extensive trade existed during the Iron IIB period, in the 8th century BCE, or if this developed later, in the 7th century BCE.

Arabian goods moved along trade routes that continued on to Egypt, Syria and the Aegean. This became a boon for the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, who sat along these trade routes and could collect taxes on transported goods. One likely route would have passed Beersheba on the way to the port at Gaza. Some have argued that this positioning would have been an important factor in the rise of the Kingdom of Judah during the Iron IIB period, in the 8th century BCE.

Another more southerly trade route would have gone from Arabia, passed just north of the Gulf of Aqaba and then headed north along the eastern edge of the Sinai desert and on to Gaza. Inscriptions found at Kuntillet Ajrud in the Sinai Peninsula suggest that this southern site was controlled by the northern Kingdom of Israel, which means that the Kingdom of Israel would have found a way to exploit trade from Arabia.

The image above is of amethyst, one of the precious stones used in the high priest’s breastplate.