Those Mysterious Pillars: BOAZ and JACHIN
In being associated with the construction industry and in having our lodges as a representation King Solomon’s Temple, there is in myself and perhaps many others, a wonderment of the origin, the design, and the building, of this magnificent structure. Many individuals care not how their home is erected, only that the paint, the woodwork, and the carpets are pleasing and appealing to the eye. But for many others, there is the challenge of how it was fashioned, if the design and craftsmanship were of the finest available. If it was built strong enough to withstand the test of time and the physical demands which are to be placed upon it.
To perform an in-depth study of King Solomon’s Temple would consume many pages and consummate a book in itself. Let us instead narrow our scope of view and pursue one of the most outstanding and manifest features of King Solomon’s Temple, the two stalwart pillars of Boaz and Jachin, which guarded the Temples entrance, and that which we would view, if we were approaching on foot from a westerly direction.
The first complete architectural reference of the two pillars in our Fellow craft lecture deals very extensively with the design, height, weight, how they were cast, the location of their casting, the symbolic meaning of their adornments, where they were positioned, and the decorous names which are associated with them.
These twin pillars are now, and as they have been, very prosaic features in all of our Masonic Lodge rooms. But their placement is not uniform, or standardized, throughout the balance of the Masonic world. As an illustration, in England and many other countries abroad, the two pillars are usually displayed in front of the Master’s chair.
In the United States, the earliest description, from the 1700’s, show both Wardens seated in the west, facing the Master. The two pillars were generally near them, forming a kind of portal, so candidates passed between them during their admission, to gaining access, to the Middle Chamber of King Solomon’s Temple, a custom we have modified, and which inherently, we carry out today. In George Washington Lodge Number 22 A.F.& A.M. in Alexandria Virginia, the two pillars are found on one side of the Junior Warden’s station in the south, perhaps to add strength to our Masonic thoughts that it was our first Junior Warden who originally fashioned them.
The application and employment of the two pillars is common throughout the United States, where they are customarily placed at the northwest corner, near the entrance to the candidate’s preparation room, preparatory to the Fellowcraft lecture. But in this present time, and as every lodge seems to do something different, some have the pillars on either side of the Master’s chair, at the entrance to the lodge room, or even on the right and left side of the Senior Wardens chair. There are some lodges and jurisdictions, where the two pillars are on the south of the Master’s chair, or even positioned in the south with the Junior Warden, and in some portions of the world, they are not represented at all. The pillars of Boaz and Jachin seem to be physically represented by two ornately decorous columns which are always standing in their place, at the Senior Warden’s and the Junior Warden`s stations. The Senior Warden’s and the Junior Warden’s columns are typically about twenty-five inches long, and symbolically, but perhaps mistakenly, are taken to be supports for the porch of King Solomon’s Temple. The Senior Warden’s column is called Jachin and signifies “To establish in the Lord”, whereas the Junior Warden`s column is called Boaz and signifies “Strength”.
In the United States, and undoubtedly elsewhere as well, these two small columns now standing on the Senior Warden’s and the Junior Warden’s pedestals are merely symbols of their relationship with the pillars Jachin and Boaz, and their original attachment with antiquity is completely forgotten. These pillars are theorized by a few to have been structural members supporting the roof of the porch, leading into the Temple. There was in King Solomon’s day, supported between these two pillars, a large traverse screen, or drape, to ward off the wind and retain the late afternoon sun from shining into the Temple itself. One question in our minds might be: Were they an architectural feature or an ornamental feature used to garnish the beauty of the Temple?
There is a majority of Masonic scholars who hold to the fact that the two pillars were free-standing columns, conceptually ornamental and of emblematic disposition, just as they are depicted in our Fellowcraft lecture. There are a satisfactory reason, given elsewhere (in other Masonic papers), for the general belief that they were free standing and symbolic in character, being symbols of Deity.
The pillars of King Solomon’s Temple may have been set up more specifically as an imitation of the obelisks that have been found at the entrance to many Egyptian Temples; additionally they may have been copied from Tyre, the home of Hiram Abif, where it is reported two pillars, which were fashioned of gold and emerald stood guard at the entrance to the Temple of Hercules. Also in Syria, recent excavations have uncovered a small chapel with two pillars, standing freely near the entrance, which appeared to be purely ornamental or symbolic in design, rather than architecturally supporting any part of the building.
Similarly, it is interesting to note that there are some discrepancies between Masonic tradition and the Holy Scriptures, and even some inconsistency between several books of the Bible itself, and also, in the various versions of the Bible. The Biblical description of King Solomon’s pillars, in the King James version, and according to the books of II Chronicles, I Kings, and II Kings, is written as follows:
II Chronicles 3:15-17
Also he made before the House two pillars of thirty and five cubits in heights and the chapter that was on the top of each of them was made five cubits. And he made chains, as in the oracle, and put them on the heads of the pillars, and made an hundred pomegranates, and put them on the chains. And he reared up the pillars before the Temple, one on the right hand, and the other on the left; and called the name of that on the right hand “Jachin”, and the name of that on the left he called “Boaz”.
II Chronicles 13 & 17
And four hundred pomegranates on two wreaths; two rows of pomegranates on each wreath, to cover the two pommels of the chapiter’s which were upon the pillars. In the plain of Jordan did the King cast them, in the clay ground between Succoth and Zeredathah.
I Kings 15-17
For he cast two pillars of brass, of eighteen cubits high apiece: and a line of twelve cubits did compass either of them about. And he made two chapiter’s of molten brass, to set upon the tops of the pillars: the height of one of the chapiter’s was five cubits, and the height of the other chapiter was five cubits.
I Kings 15-17 (cont.)
And the nets of checker work, and wreaths of chain work, for the chapiter which were upon the top of the pillars; seven for one chapiter, and seven for the other chapiter.
II Kings 25:17
The height of one pillar was eighteen cubits, and the chapiter upon it was brass: and the height of the other chapiter was three cubits; and the wreathing work, and the pomegranates upon the chapiter round about, all of brass and like unto these had the second pillar that of wreath work.
Several sets of discrepancies, with consideration to the pillars, are to be observed in these Biblical accounts. The first of these is in regard to their height, which is given as thirty five cubits in II Chronicles, and as eighteen cubits in the books of I Kings and II Kings. The length of a cubit is normally taken to be a foot and one half, and the royal cubit, which was used in the building of King Solomon’s Temple, was the equivalent to about twenty one inches. The Genoa Bible, printed in 1560, has this to say:,”Every one was eighteen cubits long, but one half of a cubic could not be seen, for it was hidden in the roundness of the chapiter and therefore he giveth it as seventeen and one half cubits in height.”
The question of the actual height has been commonly scrutinized to be of minor interest only. But as an interesting aspect, in 1903, the Grand Lodge of Iowa took a poll of all other American jurisdictions (and one Canadian) with respect to the question of Masonic usage of the pillars in their area. Four jurisdictions did not reply, but of the forty-four who did, fourteen attested to the fact, that they used the eighteen cubits figure, while twenty seven utilized thirty five cubits as the total height, and one curiously enough used thirty. Four jurisdictions indicated that the height was either not given or not regarded in their lectures, while one declined giving any information on the grounds that it alleged it to be an improper request.
It is universally conceived that the two pillars were cast in one piece, and this common belief is expressed and emphasized in the Fellowcraft lecture, which informs us that the pillars were cast of a hollow nature and to function as repositories. This explanation is only partially correct. For from a foundry man’s viewpoint they may have been cast a handbreadth, or four inches in thickness, not only to reduce the weight, but also to simplify the casting.
As a result the central core of sand or clay was, most surely and laboriously, scooped out to aid the workers to trans-port and erect these mammoth pillars. The brass castings in themselves would have weighed about twenty seven tons, and being confronted with the task of moving so massive of a casting the twenty five miles or so from their origin, in the clay ground between Succoth and Zeredathah to their destination of King Solomon’s Temple, would have necessitated that they were cast in a hollow fashion. We should though, bear in mind, that a pair of obelisks in front of the Temple of Karnak, which was erected some four centuries before King Solomon’s Pillars, were said to have been almost ninety eight feet in height, and to have weighed approximately three hundred and fifty tons each. Such pillars in the Babylonian era were made hollow and contained the rules of deportment and behavior, as well as the etiquette governing the rites of the religious ceremonies, also to carefully preserve the properties, and the precious ancient writings.
Furthermore, there has been a good deal of speculation among Masonic scholars as to whether the designation of the pillars as “right” and “left” is from a viewpoint of a person entering or leaving the Temple. On one basis, the two pillars must be assumed as they would be first viewed when entering the temple from the outside. A worshiper leaving the Temple, and his view as to their placement of Boaz and Jachin would be unrealistic, for before he could leave, he must have first entered. Many writers, of Masonic papers, have contested this question, but Josephus clarifies the situation sufficiently well when he writes, “The one of these pillars he set up at the entrance of the porch on the left hand and called it Boaz.” The word entrance, should leave no question in speculating which way these pillars were to be viewed. A person can only enter the Temple from the outside, when leaving he would be departing or exiting to the outside.
Another interesting facet which comes to the speculative Mason’s mind deals with the meaning of the two names given in the Bible to these two pillars. It appears to have been the custom among the ancient mid-eastern people to give names to their sacred and religious objects. It is stated (in Exodus 17:15), “And Moses built an alter, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi”. This name which Moses endowed upon the alter, when translated from the ancient Hebrew effectively states “God’s Sacred and Holy Vestments”. Thus we can establish the fact that the two pillars were not merely articles of architectural design and function, but also must have been objects of blessed sacraments, in relation to the names which were used to adore them.
These two pillars also served as memorials of Gods repeated commitment of support to His people of Israel and of a vision, which came to David, the father of King Solomon, where the voice of God proclaimed, (I Kings 9:5) “Then I will establish the Throne of thy Kingdom upon Israel forever, as I have promised to David thy father”.
But why two pillars, if but one Deity is represented? This question could contain an entire topic in itself. Let us suffice to say that in the times of primitive people, that the gods went in pairs, male and female. Quite possibly this ancient custom was to retain their identity with the past, and therefore stood for male and female, who were the active and passive principles in nature.
Still some other points for the contemplative Mason to view and reflect upon would be the adornment and number of pomegranates, as well as the number of rows which were round about the chapiter.
The King James Version, II Chronicles, informs us of two wreaths on each chapiter and two rows of pomegranates in each row, or four hundred on each of the pillars. Additional the same book of the Bible speaks in an earlier chapter of chains with an hundred pomegranates on each row. Perhaps this discrepancy is the predominant reason why, in the United States, and generally throughout the rest of the world, we in our Masonic degrees disregard the number of rows as well as the number of pomegranates, thereby eliminating any deception.
To summarize this topic of the two twin pillars, we must learn to open our minds and hearts to all of mankind, to remember that each and every person on this earth of ours needs championship, understanding, inspiration, and above all, the love and guidance of our Supreme Architect.
To attempt to understand what the original intentions of these two pillars were designed to symbolize is lost somewhere in the chronicles of unwritten history dating to the emanation from the prehistoric era. And as the pillars of Boaz and Jachin do inhabit one designated position or another in our Lodge rooms, the inspirations which are represented by the “Pillar of fire” and the “Pillar of cloud”, should teach us, as it did Moses, that although we may seem to be retracing our old footsteps, that it may appear we are only going in endless circles no matter what we do, even though our impression may be that the world is; “coming apart at the seams”. And as how the Children of Israel were led through the Red Sea by a miraculous east wind, so should we ever remember that God promises to watch over us with grace and love and how He will redeem us into His own house at the end of our earthly existence.
In relation to these two pillars as representing parallels of mankind, we should study the illustration of their ornamental adornments. The lily, and the retired situation in which it flourishes, teaches us that we must learn to open our minds and hearts to all of mankind, to retain the fact, in our compassion, that as one pillar only serves to support the other, we are also obligated, and should offer our support, not only to the brother who may have stumbled and fell by the by the wayside of life but to the aggregate of all mankind; to offer help, aid and assistance to those who may be in dire need; to make that total concentrated effort to add to, and not subtract from, the whole of human existence.
From the intricate connection of the network, we can also perceive that all of mankind must learn to live in peace and harmony with his brothers and sisters and with nature; to appreciate the beauties which God has given us to enjoy, not to dominate, or exploit and manipulate it; and finally from the network, we should also be taught to discern the sounds of brotherly love which ring loud and true to all those who will only take the time to listen.
The pomegranates and their exuberance of seeds proclaim to many, in their minds, seeds of skepticism. To the avaricious person, that vast number of seeds represents greed — greed, and its collaborator, the selfishness of despotism, because the word charity and the symbolic intention of this fruit, is alien and anonymous. To the educated and true man, who practices the application of his Masonic teachings, these pomegranates manifest the plenty which our Great Creator has provided for all. It is individuals of this caliber who have come to understand the true meaning of the pillars adornments; men whom unquestionably enjoy sharing the bounties of life. The pomegranates do address the revealing fact that the abundances of our earth were placed here to be apportioned equally.
There is no alternate misunderstanding of the two pommels or globes which adorn the topmost portion of Boaz and Jachin. Their symbolic acknowledgment announces to the whole of humanity that Masonry is as unending, and as universal as the blue arch of heaven.
Summarily the most inspiring feature of our two friends, Boaz and Jachin, is the fact that God created us to be of equal status; we certainly were given by Him the power to be our brother’s keeper, to console with our brother in time of need, and to share with him in times when the joys of life abound. God gave to us the Holy Bible which is the most beautiful love story ever told, and we, each and every one of us, should endeavor to learn and practice from its teaching every day of our life.
Never forget, my brother, the lessons of these two pillars, which are on guard at the entrance to our Lodge rooms. Stop and ponder a while the next time that you are in their presence. Let your mind become subjective and captive to all they represent silently and express tranquility. For as they are on guard at our Lodge’s doorways so should we ever strive to attain them as symbols of charity, relief, and brotherly love. These symbolic structures should become a pathway for all men to tread throughout there earthly existence.