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'... Beside the pillar... as the manner was'. (2 Kings 11,14)
By Bro. Walter Sharman
IN THE FIRST DEGREE the initiate becomes acquainted with the name of the left hand pillar of King Solomon’s Temple and its import; in the second degree with that of the right hand pillar. More detailed information about these pillars is given in the Second Degree Tracing Board, their construction, dimensions, their purpose as memorials and also details of their architect Hiram Abif. All this is communicated on just a few leaves of paper, whereas the total ritual comprises some 160 pages. It is the purpose of this paper to explore more fully the significance and background of King Solomon’s Pillars and if possible to extend our knowledge of them.
What is perhaps the oldest masonic legend deals with a pair of pillars called antediluvian because they were built by Noah before the flood. After the death of Abel, slain by his brother Cain, another son was born to Adam and Eve called Seth. In contrast to the evil inclinations of Cain, Seth and his descendants, who included Enoch and Lamech, led virtuous lives. Amongst other things they are said to have developed the science of astronomy, the division of time into weeks, months, solar and lunar years, and to have evolved Hebrew characters.
There is a legend saying that they knew that the world was to be destroyed either by fire or water, so they sought ways of protecting knowledge acquired by mankind by means of inscribing it on to two pillars, one of brick and one of stone, hoping that at least one would survive the catastrophe. (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Vol. 1, pp. 121/2 also Vol. 5, pp. 149/50). Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews relates the same legend. See also Harry Carr in AQC 75, p. 204.
In a different version of the legend the building of the pillars has been ascribed to Jabal, eldest son of Lamech, descendent of Cain. Jabal was credited with the development of geometry and masonry; his brother Jubal created music and song, and their half brother Tubal Cain became the first artificer in metals; their sister Na'amah was said to have been the first person to have undertaken weaving. (See W.J. Williams in AQC 5 1, pp. 100, 'The Antediluvian Pillars in Prose and Verse'.)
Harry Carr also discusses the pre-Noah legends in his paper 'Pillars and Globes; Columns and Candlesticks', (AQC 75, pp. 204-211) pointing out that one of the pillars made of marble would not burn, while the other made of 'lacerus' would not sink. They were a means of preserving scientific knowledge. This idea of preserving knowledge, at least in archive form, was later grafted on to the legend of the Solomonic pillars, alleging them to have been hollow. It should be noted that not all scholars accept this theory. (see, e.g., Alex Horne, King Solomons Temple in the Masonic Tradition, p. 219)
What is thought to be one of the oldest masonic documents, the Matthew Cooke Manuscript, (c 1410) deals with the Antediluvian Pillars. The text of this manuscript is printed in AQC, Vol II, Ed. by G.W Speth, 1890, and in D. Knoop, G.P. Jones & D. Hamer, The Two Earliest Masonic Mss., Manchester, 1938. The original manuscript is in the British Library. The legend of the pillars in the manuscript is also based on the Jabal version.
The Cooke Ms. contains a legend (lines 322-3), indicating that after the flood one of these pillars was found by the Greek mathematician Pythagoras and the other by the philosopher Hermes.
I am indebted to Bro. R. Berger, of Jerusalem, for supplying me with details of the ground plan of the Temple. The Temple of King Solomon conformed to the concept of temple building in the ancient near east. After all Hiram Abif was nurtured in the craft at Tyre. The temple site had possessed cultic significance during Jebusite times — the threshing floor of Arauna, on which King David built an altar. There is also the tradition that this height, Mount Moriah, was the location of the Binding of Isaac. The Temple site was situated partly within the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, King Saul’s tribe, and partly within that of Judah, the Royal tribe of King David.
The ground plan of the Temple is similar to those of other Syro-Palestinian temples. According to many scholars, notably Professor Yigal Yadin (Jerusalem Book, 1956, pp. 178 + 185, text in Hebrew) it was not dissimilar to that of the somewhat smaller, ninth century Tel Tainat Temple (in Northern Syria), and also those of Megiddo and Bet She'an (in Israel).
The temple consisted of three parts, an open front porch, a front room and a back room. It was in fact the plan of an ancient Eastern dwelling house. The front porch in a hot climate was often no more than a walled courtyard. It was the 'public' part of the house where guests were welcomed. Inside, the front room, separated from the front porch by a door or screen, was a combination of living room and bedroom for the children. The backroom would be separated by a door or screen and was the bedroom of the owner and his wife, or wives, and no guests were ever allowed into it. The Temple, being the House of God, had a similar, anthropomorphic, ground plan. We have here a parallel with the Porch (Ulam), main room for divine services (Hechal) and the Holy of the Holies (Devir). King Solomon’s Temple faced West, thus preventing sun worship. In a footnote Alex Horne (op. cit., on p. 204, citing The Jewish Encyclopaedia) draws the reader’s attention to Ezekiel 8: 16, which relates a case of such a heinous sin of sun worship, facing East, committed in the Temple.
Not all scholars have seen the pillars in the same light. Thus Dr. Carol Myers, in her paper 'Jachin and Boaz in Religious and Political Perspective', (in Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 1963, p. 169) argues that earlier scholars, during the thirties and forties, did not recognise the significance of free standing pillars which were known from archaeological research to have flanked a number of temples of the ancient world. Such free-standing pillars also appear on first century coins from Cyprus and Sidon, on which they can be seen, standing clear of temple structures.
'The free standing pillars which concern us were almost certainly meant to be highly visible, thus providing a contrast to the invisibility of the Temple’s interior, in particular the Devir, the Holy of the Holies, which was in fact 'off limits', unseen not only by the general populace but even by the general clergy. 'Thus the twin pillars loomed large at the entrance to the Temple, providing a visual link to the unseen grandeur within' (Myers, p. 173) They formed indeed a memorial for the children of Israel 'when going to and returning from Divine Worship.
Dr. Myers further points out that the pillars also provided a powerful visual message at a time of minimal literacy which could not fail to be understood by those who saw them. The message of the non-load-bearing pillars at the gateway to the Temple was clear. They reinforced the Divine Legitimisation of the realm, the royal dynasty, once the Divine Presence or Shechinah had established itself within the largely inaccessible interior. (1 Kings 8: 10). 'The dynasty in this case was that of King David and his son King Solomon.
Alex Horne (op. cit. pp. 230/231) makes a statement I find difficult to accept. He quotes Exodus 14:20 as proof that there was actually only one pillar guarding the Israelites, appearing as fire during the night and as a dark cloud during the day. The most important Jewish Bible commentator Rashi (1040-1105) has this to say:
"The pillar of cloud did this by placing itself between the two camps so that the light given by the pillar of fire in front of the Israelites should not reach the Egyptians since it could not penetrate the pillar of cloud that separated the two camps! (Silberman Pentateuch p. 240). 'The same idea is expressed in the Soncino Pentateuch, quoting Sforno (14751550).
If the free standing pillars were manifestations of divine approval of the royal dynasty, it must follow that after the end of the Judean monarchy and the destruction of the Solomonic Temple in the year 586 BCE there would no longer be a need for such pillars in the rebuilt Temple. Indeed this was erected without such additions, and neither Mishna nor Gemara have much to say about the pillars. It is sad to read in the earlier book of Jeremiah (52:17) of the fate of the two pillars. They were broken up by the Babylonians to facilitate transport home and very likely the metal was used for pagan worship. The dust of centuries covers Babylon but we can reflect with Rabbi Dr. S.R. Hirsch that the truths which the pillars should teach us — truths as valid to-day as when they were first erected — are the need to stand on a firm foundation like Jachin and through the strength of Boaz to emerge victoriously from all the struggles of life.
Professor R.B.Y Scott (in Journal of Biblical Literature, 58, Montreal, 1939, "The Pillars of jachin and Boaz', p. 145) points out that, in contrast to some sixteen excavations of other such pillars, which he enumerates, those of King Solomon’s Temple bore significant names which seem to have reinforced their message of spiritual and cultic meaning. In his view no ’satisfactory explanation had been forthcoming' for the 'curious' names of Jachin and Boaz. He quotes a number of Jewish, Phoenician, or Babylonian possibilities but finds none really convincing. He goes on to suggest that the names of the two pillars mentioned in the Bible were the first words of inscriptions engraved on the columns. 'May the Lord establish (Jakhin) the Throne of David and his Kingdom for ever', and perhaps 'In the Strength (Be'oz) of the Lord shall the King rejoice'. (Psalm 21,2). Scott’s explanation has subsequently been given in the Encyclopaedia Judaica under the comprehensive heading Temple).
'The earliest references to the pillars, in 1 Kings 7: 21 and later in 2 Chronicles 3: 17, simply quote the names as if they had been personal names. The popular Soncino translation includes a commentary by Rev. Dr. I. W. Slotki:
Jakhin:Hebrew for He (God) will establish
Boaz:composed of two words 'bo' (in him), 'az' (strength). The pillars thus bore testimony to the might of God.
Our ritual is very explicit in placing the 'B' pillar on the left hand side of the porch entrance of King Solomon’s Temple and the 'J' pillar on the opposite or right hand side. However, the ritual does not say whether their positions are seen looking out of the Temple eastwards or towards the Temple westwards. We can accept that the Temple was built with the entrance at the East and the Holy of the Holies at the opposite or Western end. (Mishna, Seder Kedoshim — Midot). In an indirect way 2 Chronicles 4: 10 provides an answer. Referring to the 'Molten Sea' (A huge water basin), one of the Temple implements produced simultaneously with the pillars, this verse states specifically:
'And he set the Sea on the right side (of the House) eastwards, towards the South'.
The Soncino commentary adds 'in the South-East corner'. Therefore this must also have been the position of the 'J' pillar which would place the 'B' pillar in the North-East or left hand corner; both from a position within the Temple looking outwards or eastwards. This, therefore, must be the correct explanation in line with our ritual. Any illustration, such as Tracing boards, showing an approach towards the Temple would naturally show an opposite position.
I have carefully examined the work of a considerable number of masonic and other scholars, and have found that the majority concur with this view. It must be stated though that there are a few dissenting views. In favour are the following:
Harry Carr (AQC 75); T.N. Cranstoun-Day (AQC 78); E.L. Hawkins; Rabbi S.R. Hirsch; Alex Horne; J.W. Horsley (AQC 21); B.E. Jones; Josephus; A.G. Mackey; Dr. Carol L. Myers; N. Rogers (AQC 68); Prof. R.B.Y. Scott; and Dr. M. Spangenthal.
Opposing views have been expressed by Dr. R. Berger (in Encyclopaedia Judaica) and Alex Horne, who refers to a view of a possible main entrance on the west side of the Temple (but see also below).
Accepting the locations North-East for 'B' and South-East for 'J' other considerations arise. The boundaries of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin ran right across the Temple site. The South-East and, therefore, the position of Jachin, belonged to the leading tribe of Judah which had provided the royal, Davidic dynasty, whereas the North-East part with its Boaz pillar belonged to the territory of Benjamin, the smallest tribe, the kinsfolk of King Saul, Israel’s first King. The reader will recall that Benjamin was the only one of Jacob’s twelve sons who was actually born in the land of Israel.
Alex Horne (op. cit., p. 203) relates another interesting point, quoting Joseph Young as follows: '... in ancient times the Hebrews referred to the four cardinal points of the compass from the position of a man looking towards the rising sun, i.e. the Right hand and the South were synonymous'. This view is also expressed in the Encyclopaedia Biblica and appears in favour of the majority opinion of the location of the pillars.
In 2 Kings 11: 9-16, is an account of the revolt against Athaliah, probably the only revolution during the Judean monarchy. The boy king Joash was hidden for almost seven years from Athaliah’s attempts to murder him as she had murdered other members of the royal household. At an opportune moment he was presented to the people to be crowned and Athaliah herself was slain. What is significant for us is the fact that the coronation took place 'beside the Pillar ... as the manner was.' There is also a charming legend that 'the royal crown of the House of David possessed the peculiarity of fitting none but the rightful successors to King David'. (Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, Vol. 4, pp. 258/9).
Deuteronomy 17:18 constitutes a positive Command that the new king must write for himself (or cause to have it written for him) a copy of the Torah, i.e. the Pentateuch. This was to be with him all the days of his life. It is also part of the Coronation Ceremony of the British Monarchs that a copy of the Bible is to be presented to him or her as '... the most precious thing in the world'.
The coronation ceremony of Joash was in fact more than just a king-making act: it was the renewal of the dynasty, in this case the Davidic one which had been interrupted by the unlawful reign of Athaliah. This view is confirmed by a number of masonic and other writers, (e.g. I.W. Horsley, AQC 21; H. Carr, AQC 97; as well as Professor R.B.Y. Scott and Dr. Carol L. Myers), but it is remarkable how comparatively few commentators mention the role the Pillars played in the coronation of the Davidic kings.
It is also relevant that King Josiah stood '... beside the pillar' (or platform) when ratifying his covenant with the Almighty. (2 Kings 23,3 '... to walk after the Lord and to keep His commandments ... and all the people stood to the covenant.'
The following remarks, contained in the Catéchisme des Francs-Maçons (1744), quoted by Harry Carr in The Early French Exposures p. 104, are also worthy of note:
Question:What is the meaning of Jakhin?
Answer:It is the name of one of the two brass pillars which stood at the Porch of the Temple of Solomon where the Apprentices assembled to receive their wages.
There has always been the unanswered question: where did the Entered Apprentices receive their wages prior to the erection of the side chambers of the Temple especially the Middle Chamber? The above quotation appears to be at least the beginning of an answer.
The significance of the legendary Antediluvian Pillars was evidently that they preserved accumulated scientific knowledge. While there does not seem to be any scriptural or other support for the theory that the Solomonic Pillars served as archives, of the Biblical books dealing with the pillars, Jeremiah 52:21 indicates that the pillars were cast hollow, their walls having been four fingers width in thickness. It must have been tempting, especially in view of the legends of the earlier pillars, to embellish masonic lore by adding the story of archival deposits.
If Dr. Myers is correct in her conclusion that the Solomonic pillars primarily served to impart Divine legitimisation to the ruling dynasty — in this case the Davidic one — it follows that after the reign of the twenty kings of Judah there was no longer a reason for similar freestanding pillars when the Second Temple was built. This was indeed the situation and apparently the reason why little is mentioned of Jachin and Boaz in later Jewish source books.
Early masonic initiation ceremonies were apparently linked with the pillars, very likely also to legitimise and to elevate the initiation to the highest possible level. There is evidence to show that both pillars were used for the first degree ceremony and it was only at a later stage that the ritual was split into the first and second degree so far as the two pillars are concerned. Harry Carr, Bernard E. Jones and others confirm this point.
An echo of this practice is found in lodges in Scandinavia where normally both wardens are seated in the West, and the two pillars are placed near them, forming a kind of portal through which the initiate passes on his admission. (H, Carr, AQC, 75, p. 206) The French exposure Trahi also shows an Apprentice Plan with both 'J' and 'B' pillars.
It is clear that certain ceremonial aspects were lost in the formative years of the Craft, possibly submerged by the volume of new developments, and it is a stimulating challenge to assist in laying these bare once again.

Reprinted with permission of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, the Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, UGLE vol cvi (1993). [pp. 236-40.]


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