Carbuncle (gemstone)

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A red and a blue garnet

A carbuncle /ˈkɑrbʌŋkəl/ is a term used in English for any red gemstone, though most often for the red garnet.[1] The word occurs in four places in many English translations of the Bible. The English translation is a rendering of the Vulgate's Latin carbunculus, a word used 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 makup, 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 28:17 and 39:10 both refer to the carbuncle's use as the third stone in the breastplate of the Hoshen.
  • Ezekiel 28:13 refers to the carbuncle's presence in the Garden of Eden.
  • Isaiah 54:12 uses carbuncle to convey the value of the Lord's blessing [and promise to] His faithful barren woman servant: (KJV Is 54:1) "Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child;") Her husband and Maker is God, "Thy Maker is thine husband." (Is 54:5 KJV)
"And I will make thy her windows of agates, and thy her gates of carbuncles, and all thy her borders of pleasant stones."
"With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus..."


  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. ^ Mulryan, John (1982). Milton and the Middle Ages. Bucknell UP. pp. 169–72. ISBN 9780838750360.