An Alternative Opinion (1 October, 2014, 6 Tishrei, 5775)
Foreword by Yair Davidy.
The article below by Stephen Phiillips gives his opinion concerning what the Tribal Colors really were.
This should be compared with our own attempt as shown below based on
Midrash Rabah, BaMidbar, b; 7. The Midrash gives a description of the colors, the precious stone of each tribe (which was to be of the tribal color) and the Tribal Symbol. We had based ourselves on the color description alone. We (as we said in the article itself) may have been mistaken in some cases in our interpretation of what the Midrash intended. In addition to that, there are other sources that differ from the Midrash.
It is a pity that Stephen Phillips has not accompanied his article with color illustrations.Phillips seems to have used three criteria for determining the Tribe Colors:1. Jewish sources;2. Identifying the precious stone of each tribe and then seeking to make the Tribal colors identified consistent with those of the stones.3. Identifying the Tribes amongst Western Peoples according to his own researches, finding what colors seem to have been consistently used by the peoples so identified and then co-relating them with other sources.At present we disagree with Phillips on some of his color identifications.Concerning Dan, and Asher he may have a point.We agree with Phillips about Reuben, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulon, Joseph, and probably Naphtali as well.We disagree regarding Levi, Judah, Gad, and probably Benjamin.
Concerning the tribal colours:-
For the tribal colours, the Jewish Encyclopaedia is a good place to start. (See http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6574-gems) The Temple Institute has also tried to work out what stones and colours represented each tribe. (See http://www.templeinstitute.org/beged/priestly_garments-7.htm) Basically, the choshen hamishpat [Breast-Plate of the High Priest] disappeared after Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. (This is because it ended up in Ireland.) Also, the names of the stones themselves have changed over the centuries, hence there is a lot of debate as to what the actual stones used in the choshen hamishpat were. Yours is only one of many attempts to fathom out what the colours were.
Knowing where the tribes are today, we can confidently identify the correct colours for most of them. The flag colours used by each of the twelve tribes corresponded with the colour of their respective stone. Using rabbinical sources as a guide, I can confidently say that the following are definite:-
Reuben - Ruby red.
Levi - the colours of lightning (barak), which are dark blue, light blue, black and white. (See for example http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/files/2010/04/lightning-1.jpeg.) This accords with the fact that the New Testament writers give chalcedony as Levi’s stone (Rev. 21:19) which stone contains the self-same colours. Consider the colours on the Israeli degel, tefillin and kippoth.
Judah - most definitely emerald green, as evidenced by a number of flags. As Rabbi Ginzberg informs us:-
“The color green alludes to the shame that turned Judah’s countenance green when he publicly confessed his crime with Tamar”. The rabbinical sources which say that the stone was an emerald but that the flag colour was blue are deviating from the norm. (The flag should be the same colour as the stone.) Their confusion possibly arises because light blue was one of the colours of Levi. It is not without reason that Ireland, which name means “land of Er [son of Judah]” is known as the Emerald Isle. The Tudors were also renowned for wearing green clothes. Their flag was also green, as was the flag of Devon.
(NB: The kings of Devon were descended from Ethan son of Zerach. The city of Tamar mentioned by Ptolemy, a name which is preserved today in the name of the river, is so named after the matriarch Tamar to was born Zerach and Paretz.)
Issachar - as you rightly say, dark blue.
Zebulun - white, which is effectively the same as clear. The white diamond is the most precious of diamonds.
Dan - amber/gold.
Naphtali - wine red. The colour you have used is far too much inclined towards light purple.
Asher - most definitely light blue as evidenced by a number of flags - including Sweden which name is derived from [I]shvi-den. The Brigantes who settled in southern Ireland around Waterford also used the same shade of blue. (See flag of Waterford.)
Joseph - most definitely black, hence the more precious black onyx, and not, as many suppose from Joseph’s coat of many colours, the banded onyx. The flags of Brittany, Cornwall, Mercia etc all confirm this identificqtion.
The following are not so certain:-
Shimon - Because of their transgression in putting the sons of Heth to the sword, Shimon and Levi are the only two tribes who were not given a blessing by Yaakov. “I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” (Gen. 49:7.) It is possible that their flag was yellow or maybe even yellowish-green. The only representation of them I can find shows them with wine-red and pale blue, but this could well be the colours of the tribe(s) they were attached to. The verdict is therefore out on this one.
Gad - Due to the intermingling of the Gothic tribes, it is a little difficult to be one hundred percent certain which colour belongs to Gad. It seems, on the face of it, to have been red. It was not (as rabbinical sources would have us believe) grey.
Benjamin - Temple Institute would identify Benjamin’s stone as the opal. Rabbi Ginzberg, however, informs us that, “Jasper was Benjamin’s stone, and as this stone turns color, being now red, now green, now even black, so did Benjamin’s feelings vary to his brothers.” There is only one stone which changes colour in this way, and that is what is today known as alexandrite. This stone is supposedly a fairly late discovery having been discovered, according to a popular but controversial story, by a Finnish mineralogist by the name of Nils Gustaf Nordenskiöld (1792-1866) who named it alexandrite in honour of the future Tsar Alexander II of Russia. This does not mean, however, that it was unknown previously. Knowing what I do, there is a very good chance that Benjamin’s stone was this particular stone.
Trust that this assists.