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.
The five- and six-pointed stars found amongst the geometric designs in Freemasonry are attributed respectively to Solomon and David. The inter-laced six-pointed Shield of David or hexagram has become a symbol of Jews and Judaism despite its earlier history as a mystical symbol in many cultures, including Christianity. The six-pointed star is sometimes also called the Seal of Solomon, though correctly speaking that is the five-pointed pentalpha. The name Seal of Solomon probably derives from Islam. In Hebrew it is Magen David, the Shield (not Star) of David, a name with ancient lineage. Magen David, it has been pointed out, has six Hebrew letters, like the six points of the star.
The six-pointed star was known as early as the Bronze Age. There was hardly a human group that did not use it, ranging from Mesopotamia, China, Tibet, India and Peru to the 6th-century Christians (for them it seems to have been a symbol of the Virgin Mary) and the medieval lawyers, clerics and alchemists in Europe.
It was thought to have magical power. For followers of Pythagoras and the Rosicrucians it was a badge of recognition. Churches used it on windows, tombs and traceries. In Islam it was a popular geometrical design. Though it was eventually a Jewish symbol, it is not mentioned in the Bible or Talmud, though the Seal of Solomon is. In those days the Jewish symbol was the menorah, the seven-branched oil-light, which reminded Jews of the Temple. The earliest Jewish literary reference is by a 12th century Karaite, one of a literalist movement which rejected the rabbinic tradition; he mentions it alongside the names of the angels. The star appears on a 3rd century Jewish tomb in southern Italy and on a Jewish seal from the 7th century, but without specifically Jewish significance.
The star may have become a Jewish logo when Charles IV in 1354 commanded the Jews of Prague to use a red flag with the 6- and 5-pointed stars. 15th century Hungarian Jews had a similar flag. The symbol spread through European Jewry as a counterpoint to the Christian cross; now it is on the Israeli flag. Some say the star was David’s monogram in ancient script. We do not know if the five-pointed Seal of Solomon (though found in medieval Jewish texts) was actually known to Solomon, though there is a legend that the king had a star on his ring which he used to enlist the genies in constructing the Temple.
The terms Shield of David and Seal of Solomon seem to have been used almost indiscriminately in talismans, apparently referring to the hexagram. Many peoples were attracted by the duality of the two triangles. To Christians it represented two natures intertwined in the person of Jesus. They even called it the Star of the Son of David to denote Jesus as Messiah. Jewish thinkers, on the other hand, develop the idea of man reaching up to God and God looking down on earth (cf. Ex. 19:20). Others see the star as a symbol of man’s good inclinations raising him upward and his evil inclinations drawing him down, or of the twin human task of duties to God and duties to fellow man.
The alchemists used it to denote harmony between fire and water. The more superstitious believed that the symbol had protective powers. They even put it on their houses in the Middle Ages in order to safeguard the building from fire.
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.