Sapphire (סִפַּיר, sapper [according to Gesenius, from its capacity for engraving; but according to Fürst, from its brilliancy]; Sept. and N.T. σάπφειρος; Vulg. sapphirus), a precious stone, apparently of a bright blue color; see Ex 24:10, where the God of Israel is represented as being seen in vision by Moses and the elders with "a paved work of a sappir stone, and as it were the body of heaven in its clearness" (comp. Eze 1:26). The sappir was the second stone in the second row of the high priest's breastplate (Ex 28:18); it was extremely precious (Job 28:16); it was one of the precious stones that ornamented the king of Tyre (Eze 28:13). In the Apocalyptic vision it formed the second foundation wall of the New Jerusalem (Re 21:19). Notwithstanding the identity of name between our sapphire and the σάπφειρος and sapphirus of the Greeks and Romans, it is generally agreed that the sapphire of the ancients was not our gem of that name, viz. the azure or indigo blue crystalline variety of corundum, but our lapis lazuli (ultramarine); for Pliny (N.H. 37, 9) thus speaks of the sapphirus: "It is refulgent with spots of gold, of an azure color sometimes, but not often purple. The best kind comes from Media; it is never transparent, and is not well suited for engraving upon when intersected with hard, crystalline particles." The account of Theophrastus is similar (De Lapid. 23). This description answers exactly to the character of the lapis lazuli; the "crystalline particles" of Pliny are crystals of iron pyrites, which often occur with this mineral. It is, however, not so certain that the sappir of the Hebrew Bible is identical with the lapis lazuli; for the scriptural requirements demand transparency, great value, and good material for the engraver's art, all of which combined characters the lapis lazuli does not possess in any great degree. Pliny calls it "inutilis sculpturae." King (Antique Gems, p. 44) says that intagli and camel of Roman times are frequent in the material, but rarely any works of much merit. Again, the
sappir was certainly pellucid: "sane apud Judaeos," says Braun (De Vest. Sac. p. 680, ed. 1680), "saphiros pellucidas notas fuisse manifestissimum est, adeo etiam ut pellucidum illorum philosophis dicatur ספיר, saphir." Beckmann (Hist. of Invent. 1, 472) is of opinion that the sappir of the Hebrews is the same as the lapis lazuli; Rosenmüller and Braun argue in favor of its being our sapphire or precious corundum.
The Oriental sapphire is a pellucid gem, little inferior in hardness to the diamond. The best are found in Pegu, and in the sand of the rivers of Ceylon. They are very seldom found of a large size. Their color is blue, varying through all the intermediate shades down to colorless. The deep blue are called male sapphires; the lighter, water sapphires, or female sapphires. The sapphire has been sometimes found red, and has then been mistaken for ruby. There is a gem called sapphirorubinus, which is a sapphire part blue, part ruby colored: it is called by the Indians niloecundi. Precious stones were considered by the ancients to be emblematical of some faculty or virtue. Pope Innocent III sent to king John a present of four rings: the sapphire, denoting hope; the emerald, faith; the garnet, charity; the topaz, good works. The sapphire is the stone which, in the high priest's breastplate, bore the name of Issachar. According to the Cabalists, the sapphire was fatal to serpents. The rabbins also have an absurd story about the engraving of the gem on the high priest's breastplate by means of a singular worm (see the Talmudical treatises Sopha and Gittin). The ancients as well as moderns had many other superstitions and speculations concerning this stone. (See Jungendres, De Sapphiro [Alt. 1705].) SEE GEM.