By Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, Past Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales & the Australian Capital Territory.
There were two pillars “at the porch or entrance of King Solomon’s Temple”. The Bible speaks of them in I Kings 7:21-22, II Chronicles 3:17, and Jeremiah 52:20-22. In Kings, “he set up the pillars at the porch of the Temple. He set up the right pillar and called its name Jachin (not pronounced Jarkin but Yachin); he set up the left pillar and called its name Boaz. On top of the pillars was lily work: so was the work of the pillars finished”. Jeremiah details the decorations on the pillars and says they were hollow.
The pillars were free-standing without any practical purpose. Similarly, pillars provided a ceremonial entrance to other ancient buildings. Nor, despite claims to the contrary in Masonic writings, do the names Boaz and Jachin have any connection with Biblical personages, neither Boaz, the farmer ancestor of David, nor Jachin, a grandson of Jacob or another, later Jachin who was a minor priest: Masonic tradition notwithstanding, there is no evidence that he officiated at the consecration of the Temple.
Both names are part of a larger inscription and probably refer to God, not to a human being. Since Boaz contains the word oz, “strength”, and Jachin is from a root meaning “to establish”, Boaz might indicate, “In His (God’s) strength shall the king rejoice” – a fragment of a royal hymn (cf. Psalm 44:9) – and Jachin, “God will establish the throne of David forever” (cf. I Kings 9:5). If, on the other hand, the names refer to the Temple, they may be part of another now lost inscription, “God will establish the Temple and give it strength” (or “through it Israel will be strong”).
It is unusual for parts of the Temple to have proper names, though elsewhere in the Bible we do find cairns or pillars with names, e.g. gal-ed, “heap of witness” (Gen. 31:17), mitzpah, “watchtower”(Gen. 31:49) and matzevet k’vurat Rachel, “pillar of Rachel’s grave”(Gen. 35:20).
Freemasonry and various Jewish commentators attach an additional symbolism to the pillars, suggesting – amongst other possibilities – that they represent two trees of life, the pillars of cloud and fire that led the Israelites in the wilderness, two cherubim, or two mountains (Zion and Scopus) from which Divine judgment goes forth (Zech. 6:1).
The fact that the pillars were cylindrical and hollow, leads Masonry to think that they were the receptacles of craft archives. The Cooke manuscript of 1410 says that the sons of Lemech gained knowledge of the sciences but feared that the information would be lost if they were killed, so they recorded their learning on pillars.
Jewish sources also speak of sets of ancient pillars which recorded the knowledge of the stars, of the division of time, or of the letters of the alphabet. Josephus (Antiquities I:2) reports an ancient fear that the world would be destroyed by fire or water, and so it was necessary for the principles of human knowledge to be preserved for any civilisation that arose later, on two pillars, one of brick and one of stone. Many other cultures likewise recorded their traditions on obelisks. The idea of valuable information being preserved in this way may be the origin of placing mementoes behind a foundation stone.
From which direction did the spectator see Jachin on the right and Boaz on the left? The Jewish view is that it was from inside the building, looking out. Thus Jachin was in the south and Boaz the north. Though the craft places the Master in the east of the Lodge, the Holy of Holies of the Temple was in the west with the entrance to the building in the east. The Mishnah (Sukkah 5:4) explained that this was in order to prevent any suspicion that worshippers were facing and worshipping the sun in the east (Ezek. 8:16).
Representations of the pillars are used widely in Masonic buildings and documents and the idea of the pillars has become a cherished part of Masonic allegory. An early 18th century statement says, “The ancient Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons… hath inviolable kept those two essential and fundamental Pillars of all good Fellowship – TACITURNITY and CONCORD”. However, the ritual contains several other statements of Masonic principles, and they do not always come in twos.
For Rabbi Apple’s academic analysis of the Pillars of the Temple in the Jewish Bible Quarterly, click here.
For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.
Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple’s book on the history, symbolism and teachings of Freemasonry, enlivened with personal reminiscences and humour.