I often hear in church the quotes from the following psalm used in the Christian new testament. But in translation 'chief cornerstone' strikes me as a very odd wording. We never use the words 'chief cornerstone' in any discussion of architecture that I have ever seen in the English language. After all there is little special about a stone in the corner of a building compared with any other piece of square masonry.

However it recently occurred to me that in context it might refer to the keystone of an arch. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keystone_(architecture)

This is really speculation on my part. However perhaps a scholar of Hebrew could say whether this is a possible interpretation.

I'm posting this here rather than in the Christianity SE as Christians don't tend to be particularly familiar with Hebrew language in my experience.

  • though the text is meant metaphorically, the idea is that the stone is the foundation upon which everything else depends. One commentator points to the cornerstone as an important position because it can be seen from two different sides.
    – rosends
    Dec 25, 2022 at 23:03
  • But If you remove the key stone of an arch the arch collapses. The whole arch depends on a central stone.
    – Huw Evans
    Dec 25, 2022 at 23:43
  • Steinsaltz translates it as keystone sefaria.org/… and I've heard that before, so you are probably on to something but we would need to find some classical sources to be sure. It literally translates as "head corner"
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Dec 27, 2022 at 13:42

1 Answer 1


As you mention, the common translation is "cornerstone" - indeed this is the approach of the Metzudas Zion who just translates it simply as "זוית" - "corner". The idea being like @rosends points out in the comments that it is to be seen as foundational to the structure.

Radak sees it in a metaphorical sense praising the existence of the Jewish people. He writes that at the time of salvation they will be a "ראש פנה" - "a cornerstone", that just as a man makes the corners of the house with large and beautiful stones to set up and support the building stones, so too the Jewish people will stand in the future, as a cornerstone of the world.

  • But even here keystone makes more sense. Because you want the top of an arch to look beautiful but the corner of a square building is unimpressive.
    – Huw Evans
    Dec 25, 2022 at 23:46
  • @HuwEvans - you have to think of it in a functional sense and not beauty i.e. without that piece the structural integrity of the building is entirely compromised. Without it, the building won't stand up.
    – Dov
    Dec 26, 2022 at 7:46
  • britannica.com/technology/cornerstone - "Until the development of modern construction, the stone was usually at a corner, possibly as the first of the foundation stones, and it was a real support"
    – Dov
    Dec 26, 2022 at 10:22
  • That's not really a convincing argument as a keystone is also central to a buildings structure. However isiah 22:16 clears it up by specifying it's a foundation. So you are correct. Thanks biblehub.com/text/isaiah/28-16.htm
    – Huw Evans
    Dec 26, 2022 at 12:04

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