Stone (usually אֶבֶן, eben; but occasionally סֵלֵע, sela, or צוּר, tsur, both of which are rather a rock; λίθος, sometimes πέτρος or ψῆφος). In such rocky countries as Mount Sinai and Syria, stones were naturally of very frequent reference in Biblical language. SEE ROCK.
The kinds of ordinary stone mentioned by ancient and modern writers as found in Palestine (q.v.) are chiefly limestone (Isa 27:9) [especially marble (q.v.)] and sandstone; occasionally basalt (Josephus, Ant. 8, 7, 4), flint, and firestone (2 Macc. 10:3). (See Wagner, De Lapidibus Judaicis [Hal. 1724]). SEE MINERAL.
The uses to which stones were applied in ancient Palestine were very various.
1. They were used for the ordinary purposes of building, and in this respect the most noticeable point is the very large size to which they occasionally run (Mr 13:1). Robinson gives the dimensions of one as 24 feet long by 6 feet broad and 3 feet high (Res. 1, 233; see also p. 284, note). SEE QUARRY. For most public edifices hewn stones were used. An exception was made in regard to altars, which were to be built of unhewn stone (Ex 20:25; De 27:5; Jos 8:31), probably as being in a more natural state. The Phoenicians were particularly famous for their skill in hewing stone (2Sa 5:11; 1Ki 5:18). Stones were selected of certain colors in order to form ornamental string courses. In 1Ch 29:2 we find enumerated onyx stones and stones to be set, glistening stones (lit. stones of eye-paint), and of divers colors (i.e. streaked with veins), and all manner of precious stones, and marble stones" (comp. 2Ch 3:6). They were also employed for pavements (2Ki 16:17; comp Es 1:6)
2. Large stones were used for closing the entrances of caves (Jos 10:18; Da 6:17), sepulchres (Mt 27:60; Joh 11:38; Joh 20:1), and springs (Ge 29:2).
3. Flint stones (צוּר or צֹר) occasionally served the purpose of a knife, particularly for circumcision and similar objects (Ex 4:25; Jos 5:2-3; comp. Herod. 2, 86; Plutarch, Nicias, 13; Catull. Carm. 62, 5). SEE KNIFE.
4. Stones were further used as a munition of war for slings (1Sa 17:40,49), catapults (2Ch 26:14), and bows (Wisd. 5, 22; comp. 1 Macc. 6:51). Also as boundary marks (De 19:14; De 27:17; Job 24:12; Pr 22:28; Pr 23:10) such were probably the stone of Bohan (Jos 15:6; Jos 18:17), the stone of Abel (1Sa 6:15,18), the stone Ezel (20:19), the great stone by Gibeon (2Sa 20:8), and the stone Zoheleth (1Ki 1:9). Finally as weights for scales (De 25:13; Pr 16:11); and for mills (2Sa 11:21).
5. Large stones were set up to commemorate any remarkable events, as by Jacob, at Bethel after his interview with Jehovah (Ge 28:18; Ge 35:14), and again when he made the covenant with Laban (31:45) by Joshua after the passage of the Jordan (Jos 4:9); and by Samuel in token of his victory over the Philistines (1Sa 7:12). SEE PILLAR. Similarly the Egyptian monarchs erected their steloe at the farthest point they reached (Herod. 2, 106). Such stones were occasionally consecrated by anointing, as instanced in the stone erected at Bethel (Ge 28:18). A similar practice existed in heathen countries, both in Asia and in Europe (see De Saulcy, Dead Sea, 2, 51, 52; Hackett, Illustra. of Script. p. 102 More, Pillar Stones of Scotland [Edinb. 1865]). SEE ALTAR. By a singular coincidence these stones were described in Phoenicia by a name very similar to Bethel, viz. boetylia (βαιτύλια), whence it has been surmised that the heathen name was derived from the scriptural one, or vice versa (Kalisch, Comm. in Gen. loc. cit.). But neither are the names actually identical, nor are the associations of a kindred nature; the boetylia were meteoric stones, and derived their sanctity from the belief that they had fallen from heaven, whereas the stone at Bethel was simply commemorative. SEE BETHEL. The only point of resemblance between the two consists in the custom of anointing-- the anointed stones (λίθοι λιπαροί, Clem. Alex. Strom. 7, 302), which are frequently mentioned by ancient writers as objects of divine honor (Arnob. Adv. Gent. 1, 39; Euseb. Proep. Evang. 1, 10, 18; Pliny, 37, 51; Theophr. Char. 17; Pausan. 10, 24, 5,; see Bellermann, Steine zu salben [Erf. 1793]), being probably aerolites.
6. That the worship of stones prevailed among the heathen nations surrounding Palestine (see Biedermann, De Lapidum Cultu [Frib. 1749]; Hölling, De Boetylli. Vett. [Gron. 1715]; Falcconet, in the Memoires. de l'Acad. des Inscr. 6, 513 sq., SEE STONE WORSHIP ), and was borrowed from them by apostate Israelites, appears from Isa 57:6, according to the ordinary rendering of the passage; but the original (בּחִלּקֵיאּנִחִל חֵלקֵך) admits of another sense " in the smooth (clear of wood) places of the valley" and no reliance can be placed on a peculiar term introduced partly for the sake of alliteration. The eben maskith (אֶבֶן מִשׁכַּית), noticed in Le 26:1 (An "image of stone"), has again been identified with the boetylia, the doubtful term maskith (comp. Nu 33:52, "picture; " Eze 3:12, "imagery") being supposed to refer to devices engraven on the stone. SEE IDOL. The statue (matstsebah, מִצֵּבָה) of Baal is said to have been of stone and of a conical shape (Movers, Phon. 1, 673), but this is hardly reconcilable with the statement of its being burned in 2Ki 10:26 (the correct reading of which would be matstsebah, and not matstseboth). SEE STONEHENGE.
7. Heaps of stones were piled up on various occasions as in token of a treaty (Ge 31:46), in which case a certain amount of sanctity probably attached to them (Homer, Od. 16, 471); or over the grave of some notorious offender (Jos 7:26; Jos 8:29; 2Sa 18:17; see Propert. 4, 5, 75, for a similar custom among the Romans). SEE GALEED. The size of some of these heaps becomes very great from the custom prevalent among the Arabs that each passer by adds a stone. Burckhardt mentions one near Damascus 20 feet long, 2 feet high and 3 feet broad (Syria, p. 46). A reference to this practice is supposed by Gesenius to be contained in Pr 26:8, which he renders "as a bag of gems in a heap of stones" (Thes. p. 1263). The Vulgate has a curious version of this passage: (Sicut qui mittit lapidem in acervum Mercurii."
8. The "white stone" (q.v.) noticed in Re 2:17 has been variously regarded as referring to the pebble of acquittal used in the Greek courts (Ovid, Met. 15, 41); to the lot cast in elections in Greece; to both these combined, the white conveying the notion of acquittal, the stone that of election (Bengel, Gnom.); to the stones in the high priest's breastplate (Züllig); to the tickets presented to the victors at the public games, securing them maintenance at the public expense (Hammond); or, lastly, to the custom of writing on stones (Alford, ad loc.). (See the monographs on this subject, in Latin, by Majus [Giss. 1706] and Dresig [Lips. 1731].)
9. The use of stones for tablets is alluded to in Ex 24:12 and Jos 8:32; and to this we may add the guide stones to the cities of refuge (see Schöttgen, De Lapidibus Vialibus [Lips. 1716]), and the milestones of the Roman period (comp. Otho, Lex. Rab. p. 362). SEE CITY.
10. Stones for striking fire are mentioned in 2 Macc. 10:3.
11. Stones were prejudicial to the operations of husbandry; hence the custom of spoiling an enemy's field by throwing quantities of stones upon it (2Ki 3:19,25), and, again, the necessity of gathering stones previous to cultivation (Isa 5:2). Allusion is made to both these practices in Ec 3:5 ("a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones").
12. The notice in Zec 12:3 of the "burdensome stone" is referred by Jerome to the custom of lifting stones as an exercise of strength, which he describes as being practiced in Judaea in his day (comp. Ec 6:12); but it may equally well be explained of a large corner stone as a symbol of strength (Isa 28:16).
Stones are used metaphorically to denote hardness or insensibility (1Sa 25:37; Eze 11:19; Eze 36:26), as well as firmness or strength, as in Ge 49:24, where the stone of Israel" is equivalent to "the rock of Israel" (2Sa 23:3; Isa 30:29). The members of the Church are called "living stones," as contributing to rear that living temple in which Christ, himself "a living stone," is the chief or head of the corner (Eph 2:20-22; 1Pe 2:4-8). SEE CORNER STONE.