Carbuncle (gemstone)

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A red and a blue garnet

A carbuncle /ˈkɑːrbʌŋkəl/ is any red gemstone, most often a red garnet.[1] The word occurs in four places in many English translations of the Bible. The English King James translation is a rendering of the Hebrew Masoretic text (Old Testament) and Greek Textus Receptus (New Testament). Carbunculus is a word used in Latin for a small coal (or charcoal), and also for any of a number of precious or semi-precious stones, especially those of a red color.[2]; Jerome apparently chose the term because of its similarity in meaning to the Septuagint's ἄνθραξ (anthrax meaning coal), which was in turn used by the Greek to translate the Hebrew נֹפֶךְ (nōphek) in two of its four occurrences in the Old Testament. The etymology of the Hebrew term is uncertain, though Koehler-Baumgartner suggests a connection to פּוּךְ (phook), used in the Old Testament as a term for eye makeup, and probably implying a colored powder most likely made from a crushed mineral.[3] For נֹפֶךְ (nōphek) itself they suggest the gloss "semi-precious stone" (of uncertain color).

Cultural references[edit]

Red garnet
  • Exodus 28:18 and 39:11 both refer to the carbuncle's use as the fourth stone in the breastplate of the Hoshen[4][5].
  • Ezekiel 28:13 is a lamentation on the king of Tyrus: "... every precious stone was thy covering, the carnelian, topaz, and the emerald, ..., the carbuncle , and the smaragd, and gold".[6]
  • Isaiah 54:12 uses carbuncle to convey the value of the Lord's blessing [and promise] to His barren woman servant: (Isaiah 54:1) "Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear, break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail; [... v.5] For thy Maker is thine husband; [... v.12] And I will make thy pinnacles of rubies, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy border of precious stones."[7]
  • Bede says, "Carbuncle, of a red colour, which the eyes love; from a distance it emits splendour, which close up is not seen."[8]
  • The eponymous gem in the Sherlock Holmes tale "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" is referred to as a carbuncle (although, being blue, it is technically not a carbuncle).
  • A carbuncle plays a mystic role in Nathaniel Hawthorne's story, "The Great Carbuncle."
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare refers to carbuncles in act 2 scene 2 line 401:
"With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus..."
  • In John Milton's Paradise Lost, Book 9, Satan's eyes are like carbuncles (line 500), an image Milton may have borrowed from the Roman de la Rose[9]
  • A Carbuncle is one of the last items listed in Sir Thomas Browne's catalogue of lost, rumoured and imaginary books, pictures and objects Musaeum Clausum (circa 1675).
  • Carbuncle is a recurring creature in ongoing video game series Final Fantasy since Final Fantasy V in 1992. While its design ranges from a small, cute mammal to a large terrifying reptile, it always has a red gemstone on its forehead.
  • In Anne Rice's The Witching Hour (novel), Richard Llewellyn shows Aaron Lightner of The Talamasca a "beautiful carbuncle ring".


  1. ^ Shipley, Robert M. Dictionary of Gems and Gemology, 5th edition, Gemological Institute of America, 1951, pp40
  2. ^ Lewis, Charlton T., and Charles Short. Harpers’ Latin Dictionary. New York; Oxford: Harper & Brothers; Clarendon Press, 1891, q.v. carbunculus.
  3. ^ Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson, and Johann Jakob Stamm. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999, q.v. נֹפֶךְ and פּוּךְ.
  4. ^
  5. ^
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  8. ^ "Carbunculus colore rufeo, quem oculi amant; a longe splendorem spirat, et prope non videtur" (De Duodecim Lapidibus, in Opera, Vol. 3 (Basle, 1563), p. 662).
  9. ^ Mulryan, John (1982). Milton and the Middle Ages. Bucknell UP. pp. 169–72. ISBN 9780838750360.

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of carbuncle at Wiktionary