The Highpriest’s Breastplate     Online Index     [flash version currently unavailable]     Download PDF     



And the Lord spake with Mosheh [Moses] and with Aharon [Aaron], saying: Every man of the Beni Israel [Sons of Israel] shall encamp by his standard, by the ensign which is signified upon the standards of their fathers’ house over against the tabernacle of ordinance shall they encamp round about. The length of the camp of Israel shall be twelve miles, and its breadth twelve miles.

And they who encamp eastward to the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of JEHUDAH [JUDAH] by their hosts, spreading over four miles. And his standard shall be of silk, of three colours, corresponding with (those of) the precious stones which are in the Breastplate, — Semuka, Yeruka, and Beruka [= Odem, Pitdah, Bareket]; and upon it shall be expressed and set forth the names of the three tribes of Jehudah [Judah], Issakar [Issachar], and Zebulon [Zebulun]; and in the midst shall be written: Arise, O Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered, and Thine adversaries be driven away before Thee; and upon it shall be set forth the figure of a YOUNG LION [LEO].

And the Rabba of the Beni Jehudah shall be Nachshon bar Amminadab. And the sum of the hosts of that tribe was seventy-four thousand six hundred. And they who encamp next by him shall be the tribe of Issakar, and the Rabba appointed over the host of the Beni Issakar, Nathaniel bar Zuar: and the sum of the host of the tribe fifty-four thousand four hundred. The tribe of Zebulon, — the Rabba, Eliab bar Chelon; the number, fifty-seven thousand four hundred. All the numbered ones of the camp of Jehudah, one hundred and eighty-six thousand four hundred, by their hosts; they shall go forward in front.

(By) the standard of the camp of REUBEN, they shall encamp southward by their hosts, spreading over four miles. And his standard shall be of silk, of three colours, corresponding with (those of) the precious stones that are in the Breastplate, Izmorad, Shabziz, and Sabhalom [= Nophek, Sappir, Yahalom]: on it shall be expressed and set forth the names of the three tribes of Reuben, Shemeon [Simeon], Gad; and in the midst of it be written, Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is One; and upon it shall be set forth the figure of a stag. Some would have thought there should have been upon it the figure of a YOUNG OX [TAURUS]; but Mosheh the prophet altered it, that the sin of the calf might not be remembered against them.

And the Rabba set over the host of the tribe Reuben was Elizur bar Shedeur. And his host and the numbered of his tribe were fifty-nine thousand three hundred. The tribe of Gad: the Rabba set over the host of the tribe of the Beni Gad was Eljasaph bar Dehuel. And his host and the number of his tribe, forty-five thousand six hundred. All the sum of the numbered ones of the camp of Reuben, one hundred and fifty one thousand four hundred and fifty by their hosts; and they went forward secondly, But the tabernacle shall go with the host of the Levites, in the midst of their host; and their camp spreadeth over four miles, in the midst are they to be: as they encamp, so shall they go, every man going in his appointed place, by their standard.

The camp of EPHRAIM by the standard of their hosts shall pitch on the west; their camp spreadeth over four miles; and their standard is of silk of three colours, corresponding with the precious stones in the Breastplate, Kankerin, Tarkin, and Eyn-Eygel [= Leshem, Shevo, Achlamah]; and upon it expressed and set forth the names of the three tribes, Ephraim, Menasheh [Manasseh] and Benjamin, having written in the midst, And the Cloud of the Lord was over them, in the going forward of the host; and upon it was set forth the figure of a YOUNG MAN [AQUARIUS].

And the Rabba set over the tribe of Ephraim, Elishama bar Ammihud; and the sum of his host, forty thousand five hundred. And next to him were the tribe of Menasheh: the Rabba, Gamliel bar Pedashur; their number, thirty-two thousand two hundred. Of the tribe of Benjamin the Rabba was Abidan bar Gideoni, and the number of his host thirty-five thousand four hundred. The Sum of the camp of Ephraim was one hundred and eight thousand one hundred; and they went forward thirdly.

The standard of the camp of DAN shall be to the north with their hosts; and the space of their camp shall spread over four miles. His standard shall be of silk of three colours, corresponding with the stones in the Breastplate, Kerum-yama, Beyrlevat-chala, and Apantor [= Tarshish, Shoham, Yashpheh]; in it shall be expressed and set forth the names of the three tribes, Dan, Naphtali, and Asher; and upon it shall be expressed: And in his encampment shall he say, Return, O Lord, and dwell in Thy glory in the midst of the myriads of Israel; and upon it shall also be set forth the figure of a BASILISK SERPENT [SCORPIO]. (Gen. xlix. 17.)

The Rabba set over the hosts of Dan was Achiezer bar Aminishaddai, and the number of his tribe sixty-two thousand seven hundred. They who encamp next to him shall be the tribe of Asher; the Rabbi was Paghiel bar Achran, and the numbers forty-one thousand five hundred. Of the tribe Naphtali, the Rabba, Achira bar Enan; and the numbers, fifty-three thousand four hundred. The sum of the hosts of Dan was one hundred and fifty-seven thousand six hundred: and these went forward last with their ensigns.

This is the amount of the numbers of the Beni Israel, according to the house of their fathers; all the sums of the camps by their hosts were six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty. But the Levites were not numbered among the sons of Israel, as the Lord commanded Mosheh. And the sons of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Mosheh; so did they encamp by their standards, and so went they forward, every man with his family by the house of his fathers.”

Josephus says the 12 stones represent the 12 months of the year and the 12 signs of the Zodiac. The Palestinian Targum lines up 4 of the star signs with 4 of the tribes in the Camp Order of Numbers 2: Leo (Lion) = Judah, Taurus (Bull) = Reuben, Aquarius (Young Man) = Ephraim, Scorpio (Basilisk-Serpent) = Dan. These are the four chief tribes of the four sides of the Camp. Each chief tribe had two other tribes with it.

In Numbers 2, the tribes are listed in the direction of motion of the sun, starting with the tribes under Judah on the East, and proceeding through the Reuben tribes on the South, then the Ephraim tribes on the West and finally the Dan tribes on the North.


The following passage is from Sefer ha-Zikhronot of Elazar ben Levi, c. 1325, compiling largely from Yerahmeel, c. 1150 (hence called by Gaster “The Chronicles of Jerahmeel”), but also from other sources, LIII. 9-15 (trans. Gaster, my observations added in braces {}). This passage allocates the stones and corresponding Zodiac signs according to the Camp Order (not the Birth Order). The four rows of stones in the Breastplate, allocated to the tribes on each of the four sides of the Camp, correspond, according to Clement of Alexandria, to the four seasons of the year. Sefer ha-Zikhronot equates the tribes on the East Side of the Camp, under Judah, with the stones and Zodiac signs of the Fire Triplicity, meaning three Zodiac signs forming an isosceles triangle in the Zodiacal Circle (see the Flash presentation online here [currently unavailable], or the images infra), the Fire Triplicity comprising Leo, Aries and Sagittarius, and representing summer; similarly, it equates the tribes on the South Side of the Camp, under Reuben, with the stones and Zodiac signs of the Earth Triplicity, representing spring, Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn; the tribes on the West Side of the Camp, under Ephraim, with the stones and Zodiac signs of the Air Triplicity, representing autumn, Aquarius, Gemini, Libra; and the tribes on the North Side of the Camp, under Dan, with the stones and Zodiac signs of the Water Triplicity, representing winter, Scorpio, Cancer, Pisces.

Note: This account in Sefer ha-Zikhronot is the only surviving traditional account which explicitly identifies the stones of the Breastplate with Zodiac signs. It is, therefore, the only legitimate traditional source for the system of Birthstones, which identifies the Zodiac sign under which one was born (or, less accurately, the month of birth) with a particular precious stone. All modern Birthstones systems go back ultimately to the stones of the Breastplate, but have lost connection with the original gemstones and Zodiac signs. The gemstones identified here and the corresponding Zodiac signs represent the original ancient Hebrew tradition.

(9) As a signal for continuing their journey they used two trumpets and sounded the Teru’ah. At the first sound the three camps eastward, under the banner of Judah, moved onwards; at the second the three camps in the south, under the banner of Reuben; at the third, the three camps in the west, under the banner of Ephraim; and at the fourth sound of the Teru’ah, the three camps in the north, under the banner of Dan, started on their journey. For all these the Teru’ah sound was blown. In war, however, and on a day of rejoicing, or a festival, or a new moon, the sons of Aaron blew the two sounds Teqi’ah and Teru’ah ….

(13) Judah’s constellation is Leo and his stone the sardius {Odem, Carnelian}; Isaachar’s is Aries and his stone the topaz {Pitdah, Sardonyx}; Zebulun’s Sagittarius and his stone the carbuncle {Bareket, Chrysoberyl}, i.e., altogether nine corresponding to fire.* [* I. e., if we include the names of the tribes.] Reuben’s constellation is Taurus, and his stone the emerald {Nophek, Spinel}; Simeon’s Virgo and his stone the sapphire {Sappir, Lapis Lazuli}; Gad’s Capricornus and his stone the diamond {Yahalom, Amethyst}, i.e., altogether nine* corresponding to dust. Ephraim’s constellation is Gemini and his stone the jacinth {Leshem, Jacinth}; Menasseh’s Libra and his stone the agate {Shevo, Agate}; Benjamin’s Aquarius and his stone the amethyst {Achlamah, Almandine Garnet}, which are together nine corresponding to air.* Dan’s constellation is Cancer and his stone the beryl {Tarshish, Golden Sapphire}; Asher’s Scorpio and his stone the onyx {Shoham, Emerald}; Naphtali’s Pisces and his stone the jasper {Yashpheh, Brocatella Agate}, which are altogether nine corresponding to water.*

(14) Each man stood by his standard, together with the ensign of his father’s house, thus: Reuben, mandrakes; Simeon, the city of Shechem; Judah, the lion’s whelp; Issachar, a strong ass; Zebulun, a ship; Ephraim, an ox; Menasseh, a buffalo (or Reem); Benjamin, a wolf; Dan, a serpent; Naphtali, a hind; Gad, a troop (according to the passage, ‘a troop will overtake him’); Asher, an olive, on account of the passage, ‘He dipped his foot in oil.’ Thus, a sign was given to every banner, according to the deeds and according to the name of the tribe.

(15) And these are the four camps of the standards. ‘Every man by his standard, according to the house of their fathers, shall encamp round about the tent of the congregation.’ Between the tabernacle and the camps of the standards there was a very wide space. Three tribes formed under one banner, that is, in three separate camps according to their order, and each camp was like a large city. The camps of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, were placed in the east; Reuben, Simeon and Gad in the south; Ephraim, Benjamin and Menasseh in the west; and Dan, Asher and Naphtali in the north. The Levites encamped between the tabernacle and the camps, on the four sides of the tabernacle, at a distance from the camps, but near the tabernacle, and kept guard in the tabernacle of the Lord. Moses and Aaron and his sons encamped in the east of the tabernacle, opposite Judah’s standard. The sons of Kehath encamped in the south, opposite Reuben’s banner; the children of Gershon in the west, opposite Ephraim’s banner, and the children of Merari in the north, opposite Dan’s banner. The tent of the congregation stood in the centre, surrounded on all sides by the Levites, while the four standards of the lsraelites surrounded the Levites, and the clouds of glory surrounded the lsraelites. That is the meaning of the verse, ‘The angel of the Lord encamps round about those who fear Him.’ The four standards, Moses, Aaron and the tabernacle, which are altogether seven, correspond to the seven planets, viz., Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, and the twelve tribes to the twelve constellations.”



Pitdah = Redemption = the Sacrificial Lamb of Aries

Nophek = Antimony Stone = the Horn of the Bull Taurus used in antiquity as a vessel to hold antimony

Leshem = Crushing Power = the Power of the Armed Twins of Gemini

Tarshish = Colored like a Wave Crashing on the Beach = the environment of Cancer the Crab

Odem = Fleshly Stone = the flesh devoured by the Carnivorous Lion Leo

Sappir = Radiantly Beautiful = the heavenly Virgin Virgo

Shevo = the Seized Prize = the valuables weighed for sale on the trader’s Scales Libra

Shoham = the Burning Stone = the burning red star Antares and the burning poison of Scorpio

Bareket = the Thunderbolt = the projectile of the heavenly Archer Sagittarius

Yahalom = the Hammerer = the butting goat Capricorn

Achlamah = the Intoxicating Stone = the heavenly liquid poured out by the Water-pourer Aquarius

Yashpheh = the Slippery Stone = the slippery Fishes of Pisces


The origin of the Zodiac signs, according to the Greeks, was as follows: — In ancient times, in Syria, the twelve major gods of the Greek, pagan, pantheon were threatened by Typhon, the terrible demon of the desert storm. They fled from Typhon into Egypt and there turned into animals or jumped in the River Nile to escape him. Aphrodite and her son Eros were turned into fishes (Pisces), Pan into a sea-monster, half goat, half fish (Capricorn) etc. This is a mythological version of the biblical account of the Flood of Noah. To escape a monstrous storm (Typhon) the prophets (called “gods” by the Greeks, because in biblical Hebrew the word elohim, which usually means “God” or “gods”, can also mean “prophets”) jumped into the Nile (the flood-waters). When the twelve tribes, descended from Noah’s family, left Egypt in the Exodus, they were identified with the animal signs of the Zodiac and the tribal banners bore those signs (Numbers 2, Palestininan Targum, Josephus etc.).


The four Zodiacal signs attached to Judah, Reuben, Ephraim and Dan are in the Camp Order described in the Targum, as chiefs of the four Camps, with four Camp banners, each banner and Camp comprising three conjoined tribes. Zodiacal signs attached to individual stones of the Breastplate and individual tribes (each having its own banner, rather than being considered as Camp-members, under the four Camp banners) are found in Sefer ha-Zikhronot. There the tribes likewise are in the Camp Order, not the Birth Order. However, the stones are applied to the twelve patriarchs in the Birth Order in Bemidbar Rabbah. Each stone had the name of a patriarch engraved on it, as in this Birth Order. By combining the allocations of stones and patriarchs in Bemidbar Rabbah with the allocation of stones and Zodiacal signs in Sefer ha-Zikhronot we arrive at the Zodiacal birth signs of the twelve sons of Israel as follows:

Reuben Leo

Simeon Aries

Levi Sagittarius

Judah Taurus

Issachar Virgo

Zebulun Capricorn

Dan Gemini

Gad Libra

Naphtali Aquarius

Asher Cancer

Joseph Scorpio

Benjamin Pisces

Previous     Next