What the Widow's Son Knew
Kings I 7:21
Solomon’s Royal compound was so elaborate, expansive and magnificent that the mere memory of it still ignites fantasies of its rebuilding today. Even Theodore Herzl’s Sci-Fi Zionist novel, published in the late 19th century, “The Old-New Land” that includes astonishing visions of what would one day become the Jewish state (what would Herzl say today..) included details that borrow from today’s chapter, including a new temple and two mysterious phallic columns that guarded its gate:
“The times had fulfilled themselves, and it was rebuilt. Once more it had been erected with great quadrangular blocks of stone hewn from nearby quarries and hardened by the action of the atmosphere. Once more the pillars of bronze stood before the Holy Place of Israel. “The left pillar was called Boaz, but the name of the right was Jachin.” In the forecourt was a mighty bronze altar, with an enormous basin called the brazen sea as in the olden days, when Solomon was king in Israel…” (From Altneuland - by Theodore Herzl)
The two columns, complete with names are one of the mysteries of Solomon’s temple, and their secret is part of the intriguing set of codes and symbols that lives on not just in literary history but also in the initiatory rites of one of the more mysterious organizations in the world today - the freemasons:
וַיָּ֙קֶם֙ אֶת־הָֽעַמֻּדִ֔ים לְאֻלָ֖ם הַהֵיכָ֑ל וַיָּ֜קֶם אֶת־הָעַמּ֣וּד הַיְמָנִ֗י וַיִּקְרָ֤א אֶת־שְׁמוֹ֙ יָכִ֔ין וַיָּ֙קֶם֙ אֶת־הָעַמּ֣וּד הַשְּׂמָאלִ֔י וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ בֹּֽעַז׃
And he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the right pillar, and called its name Yakhin: and he set up the left pillar, and called its name Bo῾az.
Scholars suggest that these two columns echo the familiar Akkadian and Canaanite temple types, as they represent the two polar elements of the universe - heaven and earth, foundations of stability. Their names may mean ‘Strength’ and ‘Stability.’ They might be alluding to the sun and the moon, the ascent and descent of humans through life, or the political and religious leadership of the state. There are many theories.
Archaeologists point at similar columns in ancient temples, sometimes names, that do not serve as roof support but are free standing, as gatekeepers, similar to obelisks, linking below and above as protection of the temple and the city it serves.
Solomon’s columns live on in astonishing ways beyond their supposed destruction by the Assyrian army in the 7th century BCE. They are often depicted as spiraling twisting shafts of bronze, corkscrew-like and this depiction goes back to at least the 4th century CE, when the Roman Emperor Constantin the Great brought a set of such columns to Rome, claiming that those are the original ones from Solomon’s Temple. They were used in the original St. Peter’s Basilica, and are echoed in Bernini’s famous 17th century Baldacchino, the centerpiece of the present-day St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Similar “Solomonic Columns” can also be found in other cathedrals as well as in many synagogues, particularly flanking the Ark.
They are also a popular motif in the title pages of many traditional Hebrew books and manuscripts, serving as the ‘gateway’ into the sacred text.
But by far the most fascinating and intriguing use of these icons in the core vocabulary of the Freemasons, as well as the legend of the artist who created them in the first place: Hiram, the Widow’s Son.
I don’t have the credential or sufficient knowledge to discuss any of these complex details so apologies in advance for readers who are more familiar with the Freemasons and their multilayered meanings. What seems clear is that the figure of Hiram, who was hired by Solomon to design the temple and complete its ornate and deeply symbolic construction is in many ways the ‘founding mason’ of this order, responsible for the lost secret code that is still at the heart of their initiation rites
In our chapter Hiram of Tyre is described as the son of an Israelite widow from the tribe of Naphtali, and a local craftsman of Tyre, adept in bronze design. Midway through his supervision of the temple, Hiram who is also known as Hiram Abiff, likely because of a mistranslation at some point, is killed by workers who want to know his secret codes for designing the temple. From there on the story gets complex and includes several variations all having to do with that secret code that Solomon knew and handed over, still used or alluded to today as masons become initiated.
In some Kabablistic sources the two columns that Hiram designed represent the two human thighs - the column that hold up the body and lead to the gateway - the sexual organs and the seat of our eros. The missing codes are more about our ability to channel this energy with the use of our intellect than about actual construction of buildings and mystical meanings.
Either way, from Herzl’s imagination that helped create Israel, though so far, thankfully, no temple, to the stunning evolution of this story in western culture, these two columns and the secret that they point at, above and below, still intrigue our curiosity. Perhaps there are secrets here still waiting to inform our ability to transcend duality and enter the inner temple of our wisdom, through thresholds and gateways, all our own?
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