Much speculation has been given concerning the actual meaning of the white stone of Revelation. Most believe it is a very old custom because instances of its use can be found in literature predating the Biblical text where it is found. Here are two examples of the white stone and its use.
1. Poneulus, by Plautus (c. 254–184 BC), From Act. V, Scene. 2, Verse. 80:
HANNO. - If it be so, compare, if thou pleasest, the hospitable tessera; here it is, I have brought it with me.
AGORASTOCLES. - Come then, reach it hither: it is the exact counterpart; I have the other at home.
In this passage, the white stone is called a tessera. We are not told its color; only that it had some sort of identifying mark carved on it that had meaning only for those who owned it or those to whom it was presented. In ancient times, the identifying mark was most often the name of one’s god. Tesseras were used to establish identity, admit entrance, give permission or allow privileges.
Tesseras were also used to prove truth or give judgment, as seen in the following example.
2. Metamorphoses, by Ovid. (A.D. 8) Lib XV, verse 41. Translated by John Dryden, et al . "A custom was of old, and still remains, Which life or death by suffrages ordains: White stones and black within an urn are cast, The first absolve, but fate is in the last."
In this instance, Tesseras were used to prove truth or give judgment.
The Bible contains one of the earliest mention of white (whitewashed with lime) stones (Deuteronomy 27:28). In this instance, God is finalizing a covenant between Himself and Israel. The stones are to be a tangible reminder of His law and a memorial of that event.
Other historical uses of the white stone are found in the history of Greece and Rome.
Thrace had an interesting custom of marking good days with a white stone (Pliny Natural History, 7.40.131. Also, following the Olympic Games, winners arriving back in their native cities were given a parade of honor and a huge victory celebration, at which time each champion was presented with a white stone that bore his name. Possessing such a stone entitled him to be maintained at the public's expense for the rest of his life. . Plutarch: Life of Pericles 64; Pliny, Letters 6:11).
The Romans: Used white stones as admission tickets to public festivals and assemblies. Gladiators drew stones/lots before entering the arena. Those who drew a white stone were released from performing. In the Roman courts, a panel of judges decided their verdict by displaying either a white stone or black stone in the palm of their hand. A white stone indicated innocence and a black stone meant guilt. The most stones of either color rendered the final judgment.
The Latin expression “tesserae hospitals” (hospitality tablets) comes from a small apiece of wood, bone, ivory or stone that was divided into two equal parts by two parties wishing to make an agreement (covenant) of friendship. Each party took one half of the bone, white stone, etc., wrote his own name on it and then exchanged it for the other party’s half of the white stone. Later, when either party made a journey that took them into the other’s territory, upon arriving at the border, the half of white stone was presented to the watchman. Immediately, the visiting party would be given the best hospitality and a safe passage.
In the opening verse, the symbolic white stone is representative of any or all of the early customs cited. It can be seen as a decisive vote in one’s favor, a judgment of innocence, a reprieve from death, a covenant of safe passage, welcome, honor and eternal hospitality with God.
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