Raphael’s Tourmaline Tongs

Stephen R. Wilk

Stephen R. Wilk tells the story of a historical optical tool with a peculiar name.

Tourmaline tweezers19th-century tourmaline tweezers from the UNIL-EPFL Collection of scientific instruments. [J.-F. Loude; CC BY NC 4.0]

Chapter 6, verses 5 to 7 of the biblical Book of Isaiah tells of a vision by the book’s title character, in which he objected that he could not be a prophet because he had “unclean lips.” At this, an unnamed angel—later identified with the archangel Raphael—took a glowing coal from the altar of sacrifice with a pair of tongs and used it to cleanse Isaiah’s lips, rendering them clean and meet for prophecy.

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