Discover the fascinating gemstones of heaven in our latest post. From the prominent jasper to the symbolic pearls and golden streets, explore the unique imagery and meanings behind these heavenly treasures. Uncover the duality of God’s creation and delve into the captivating world of gemstones in various versions of the afterlife. Join us on this extraordinary journey through celestial gemstones.
Even if you’ve never cracked open a Bible, chances are, when I say “streets of gold” or “pearly gates,” you know the place I’m talking about. But where did this popular depiction of heaven come from, and what else will we find there? Today, we’re going on a treasure hunt in the afterlife, about gemstones of heaven, specifically New Jerusalem, a kind of heaven on Earth witnessed by John in the biblical book of Revelation. It’s literally built on gemstones, and the gems here have some unusual properties definitely not of this Earth.
One of the first curious things about this vision of paradise is the gem that features most prominently. It’s not diamond, sapphire, or even emerald, but jasper, which we know today as a dense form of quartz or chalcedony that comes in many colors.
Why Was Jasper So Important?
Jasper was a very popular gemstone for many ancient cultures. It was carved into seals, columns, and rings, prized for its hardness, which allowed it to take a heavy polish. In fact, its name comes from the Hebrew “yashafe,” which means “to polish.”
We’re told that the massive walls of New Jerusalem are made of this stone, composed of microscopic crystal grains.
Jasper is opaque, meaning light does not pass through it, and while that may work well for a wall, it doesn’t really jibe with its other references in Revelation. When he first witnesses New Jerusalem descending from the heavens, John says its radiance is like a jasper and that it is clear as crystal.
Turns out, in biblical times, there were also many other kinds of gems that were called jasper.
Writing his Natural History at a time roughly contemporaneous with the book of Revelation, Pliny the Elder identifies at least nine different varieties of jasper, including a translucent green stone from India that he likens to emerald. The translucent green form of jasper crops up several times in ancient literature. There have been many theories as to what this gem could be.
New Jerusalem Foundation Stones
Today, chrysoprase and even fluorite have been suggested. Either way, it’s likely that the heavenly radiance John described had a tinge of the Emerald City to it. But whether the walls themselves are a translucent or opaque form of jasper, we do know they sit on quite a lot of sparkle.
We’re told the foundation consists of 12 kinds of gemstones of heaven: jasper, of course, plus sapphire, agate, emerald, sardonyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst. What a way to start a build! The 12 gemstones of heaven here are similar to the 12 jewels of the priest’s breastplate in the Old Testament.
Science & History Behind the Pearly Gates
But we’re moving on to the most famous feature of this wall – its gates.
Of course, you’ve probably heard of the pearly gates, but did you know that they aren’t simply decorated with pearls? Each gate was purportedly made from a single pearl.
Now, while the sizes of pearls may vary, they’re never very big. The largest reported specimen was just over two feet long. Revelation doesn’t give us any reason to suspect that one had to shrink down like Alice in Wonderland in order to enter these gates, so we may be talking about some miraculously giant pearls here. Provided the pearl was of sufficient size, the gates could be carved using normal grinders and polishers, like pearl.
Mother of pearl is also composed of nacre, and it has been carved into various forms for centuries. These gates would make quite an impression. One of the most striking aspects of an aqueous pearl is its unique luster. It almost seems to glow from within. This results from reflections of light off thin concentric layers and, by diffracting this light, these layers can also create iridescence – a rainbow effect like the shimmer on soap bubbles.
But beyond aesthetics, the choice of pearl has a more symbolic value. In John’s time and place, as one of the gemstones of heaven, pearls were considered the most valuable thing one could possess.
Roman imperial biographer Suetonius wrote that Emperor Vitellius once financed an entire military campaign by selling just one of his mother’s pearl earrings. Suetonius also estimated that a single pearl Julius Caesar gave to his mistress was worth 6 million sesterces, or 1.5 billion dollars in modern currency.
Caesar passed a law that only those of elite rank were permitted to own pearls. This exclusive status makes them a particularly interesting choice for gates that were said to always remain open, allowing entry for all of the virtuous.
But one practical problem with using pearls as gates is their lack of stability. Essentially, this means they need to be kept away from direct sunlight, lots of heat, or dry atmospheres. Otherwise, they can lose their luster and even crack.
Maybe their presence here is a clue that heaven will be meticulously climate controlled. I guess that makes sense. It’s probably the other place where you’d really have to worry about the heat.
Gold As Clear As Glass?
Once we’re finally past these gates and into the city, we encounter the famous streets of pure gold, said to resemble clear glass. Speaking as a gemologist, this doesn’t really make sense.
Gold is a metal, and impurities won’t make it transparent. But we do actually have gold you can see through. The Apollo astronauts’ helmet visors were coated with 24-karat gold that allowed them to see 60% of visible light while blocking harmful infrared radiation. Here, the translucency of the gold was due to its thinness. Streets made of gold thin enough to see through would hardly support any weight. Maybe the residents themselves are weightless.
Like the pearly gates, these streets also reflected the concerns of John’s time.
Gold was one of the first metals man discovered, and it became precious not simply because of its beauty, but also because of its usefulness. It was easily worked and shaped, but even more importantly, it resisted tarnishing. Because of this, its use evolved into a means by which families passed on their wealth to future generations.
Eventually, it became currency. Decades before Revelation was written, Emperor Augustus overhauled the Roman monetary system. It was one of his most important reforms, and it centered around gold, which was standardized for the first time, its price set at 45 coins per pound. New Jerusalem streets are literally made of money.
Appearance of God
Finally, in the midst of the city, we find God on His throne. If this is the same throne Moses witnessed in Exodus, it sits atop a bed of sapphire. Around the throne is a rainbow with the appearance of an emerald. God Himself is described as having the appearance of both Jasper and Carnelian. Carnelian was another popular gemstone of heaven.
Another chalcedony, known then for its fiery red appearance, much like today. Scholars have suggested that the two stones here represent God’s duality: the bright green of jasper represents the abundance of nature, and the fiery red of carnelian represents the fires of wrath and judgment.
But that does seem consistent with the rest of this vision where a delicate pearl can be a heavy gate, a brightly colored metal can be clear, and a radiant jewel can also make a sturdy wall. It’s as if everything has two parts, one that’s familiar and another that seems impossible. Effective imagery for a world we can recognize but can’t quite grasp.
Conclusion On Gemstones Of Heaven
You be the judge. Be sure to check out all the gemstones of heaven we’ve talked about today on our site, and tell us, would you like to hear about gems from other versions of heaven? I’d really like to explore the Muslim afterlife where they literally grow on trees.