Pillars of the Porch
The pillars most remarkable in Scripture history were the two erected by Solomon at the porch of the Temple, and which Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, chapter ii) thus describes: "Moreover, this Hiram made two hollow pillars, whose outsides were of brass, and the thickness of the brass was four fingers' breadth, and the height of the pillars was eighteen cubits, or twenty-seven feet, and the circumference, twelve cubits, or eighteen feet; but there was cast with each of their chapiters lily-work, that stood upon the pillar, and it was elevated five cubits, seven and a half feet, round about which there was net-work interwoven with small palms made of brass, and covered the lily-work. To this also were hung two hundred pomegranates, in two rows. The one of these pillars he set at the entrance of the porch on the right hand, or South, and called it Jachin, and the other at the left hand, or North, and called it Boaz."
It has been supposed that Solomon, in erecting these pillars, had reference to the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire which went before the Israelites in the wilderness, and that the right hand or South pillar represented the pillar of cloud, and the left hand or North pillar represented that of fire. Solomon did not simply erect them as ornaments to the Temple, but as memorials of God's repeated promises of support to his people of Israel. For the pillar Jachin, derived from the words Jah, meaning Jehovah, and achin, to establish, signifies that God will establish His house of Israel; while the pillar Boas, compounded of b, meaning in and oaz, strength, signifies that in strength skull it be established. And thus were the Jews in passing through the porch to the Temple, daily reminded of the abundant promises of God, and inspired with confidence in his protection and gratitude for his many acts of kindness to his chosen people.
There is no part of the architecture of the ancient Temple which is so difficult to be understood in its details as the Seriptural account of these memorable pillars. Freemasons, in general, intimately as their symbolical signification is connected with some of the most beautiful portions of their ritual, appear to have but a confused notion of their construction and of the true disposition of the various parts of which they are composed. Ferguson says (Smith's Dictionary of Ihe Bible) that there are no features connected with the Temple which have given rise to so much controversy, or been so difficult to explain, as the form of these two pillars.
Their situation, according to Lightfoot, was within the porch, at its very entrance, and on each side of the gate. They were therefore seen, one on the right and the other on the left, AS soon as the visitor stepped within the porch. And this, it will be remembered, in confirmation, is the very spot in which Ezekiel (xi, 49), places the pillars that he saw in his vision of the Temple. "The length of the porch was twenty cubits, and the breadth eleven cubits; and he brought me by the steps whereby they went up to it, and there were pillars by the posts, one on this side, and another on that side." The assertion made by some writers, that they were not columns intended to support the roof, but simply obelisks for ornament, is not sustained by sufficient authority; and as Ferguson very justly says, not only would the high roof look painfully weak, but it would have been impossible to construct it, with the imperfect science of those days, without some such support. These pillars, we are told, were of brass, as well as the chapiters that surmounted them, and were east hollow. The thickness of the brass of each pillar was "four fingers, or a hand's breadth," which is equal to three inches. According to the amounts in First Kings (viiu, 15), and in Jeremiah (liu, 21), the circumference of each pillar was twelve cubits. Now, according to the Jewish computation, the cubit used in the measurement of the Temple buildings was six hands' breadth, or eighteen inches. recording to the tables of Bishop Cumberland, the cubit was rather more, he making it about twenty-two inches; but Brother Mackey adheres to the measure laid down by the Jewish writers as probably more correct, and certainly more simple for calculation. The circumference of each pillar, reduced by this scale to English measure, would be eighteen feet, and its diameter about six.
The reader of the Scriptural accounts of these pillars will be not a little puzzled with the apparent discrepancies that are found in the estimates of their height as given in the Books of Kings and Chronicles. In the former book, it is said that their height was eighteen cubits, and in the latter it was thirty-five, which latter height Whiston observes would be contrary to all the rules of architecture. But the discrepancy is easily reconciled by supposing--which, indeed, must have been the case that in the Book of Kings the pillars are spoken of separately, and that in Chronicles their aggregate height is calculated; and the reason why, in this latter book, their united height is placed at thirty-five cubits instead of thirty-six, which would be the double of eighteen, is because they are there measured as they appeared with the chapters upon them. Now half a cubit of each pillar was concealed in what Lightfoot calls "the whole of the chapiter," that is, half a cubit's depth of the lower edge of the chapiter covered the top of the pillar, making each pillar, apparently, only seventeen and a half cubits high, or the two thirty- five cubits as laid down in the Book of Chronicles.
This is a much better method of reconciling the discrepancy than that adopted by Calcott, who supposes that the pedestals of the pillars were seventeen cubits high--a violation of every rule of architectural proportion with which we would be reluctant to charge the memory of so "cunning a workman" as Hiram the Builder. The account in Jeremiah agrees with that in the Book of Rings. The height, therefore, of each of these pillars was, in English measure, twenty- seven feet. The chapiter or pommel was five cubits, or seven and a half feet more; but as half a cubit, or nine inches, was common to both pillar and chapiter, the whole height from the ground to the top of the chapiter was twenty-two cubits and a half, or thirty-three feet and nine inches. Ferguson has come to a different conclusion. He save in the article Temple, in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, that "according to First Kings (vii, 15), the pillars were eighteen cubits high and twelve in circumference, with capitals five cubits in height. Above this was (see verse 19) another member, called also chapiter of lily-work, four cubits in height, but which, from the second mention of it in verse 22, seems more probably to have been an entablature, which is necessary to complete the order. As these members make out twenty-seven cubits, leaving three cubits, or four and a half feet, for the slope of the roof, the whole design seems reasonable and proper." He calculates, of course, on the authority of the Book of Kings, that the height of the roof of the porch was thirty cubits, and assumes that these pillars were columns by which it was supported, and connected with it by an entablature.
Each of these pillars was surmounted by a chapiter, which was five cubits, or seven and a half feet in height. The shape and construction of this chapiter require some consideration. The Hebrew word which is used in this place is koteret. Its root is to be found in the word keter, which signified a crown, and is so used in Esther (vi, 8), to designate the Royal diadem of the King of Persia. The Chaldaic version expressly calls the chapiter a crown; but Rabbi Solomon, in his Commentary, uses the word ponel, signifying a globe or spherical body, and Rabbi Gershom describes it as "like two crowns joined together." Lightfoot says, "it was a huge, great oval, five cubits high, and did not only sit upon the head of the pillars, but also flowered or spread them, being larger about, a great deal, than the pillars themselves." The Jewish commentators say that the two lower cubits of its surface were entirely plain, but that the three upper were richly ornamented. In the First Book of Kings (vii, 17-20, 2 ), the ornaments of the chapiters are thus described:
And nets of checker-work and wreaths of chain-work for the chapiters which were upon the tops of the pillars seven for the one chapiter, and seven for the other chapiter And he made the pillars, and two rows round about upon the one net-work, to cover the chapiters that were upon the top, with pomegranates; and so did he for the other chapiter. And the chapiters that were upon the top of the pillars were of lily-work in the porch, four cubits.
And the chapiters upon the two pillars had pomegranates also above, over against the belly, which was by the net-work; and the pomegranates were two hundred in rows, round about upon the other chapiter.
And upon the top of the pillars was lily-work- so was the work of the pillars finished. Let us endeavor to render this description, which does appear somewhat confused and unintelligible, plainer and more comprehensible.
The "nets of checker-work" is the first ornament mentioned. The words thus translated are in the original which Lightfoot prefers rendering thickets of branch work; and he thinks that the true meaning of the passage is that "the chapiters were curiously wrought with branch work, seven goodly branches standing up from the belly of the oval, and their boughs and leaves curiously and lovely intermingled and interwoven one with another." He derives his reason for this version from the fact that the same word, is translated thicket in the passage in Genesis (xxii, 13), where the ram is described as being "caught in a thicket by his horns"; and in various other passages the word is to be similarly translated.
But, on the other hand, we find it used in the Book of Job (xvu, 8), where it evidently signifies a net made of meshes: "For he is cast into a net by his own feet and he walketh upon a snare." In Second Kings (i, 2), the same word is used, where our translators have rendered it a lattice; "Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber." Brother Mackey was, therefore, not inclined to adopt the emendation of Lightfoot, but rather coincide with the received version, as well as the Masonic tradition, that this ornament was a simple network or fabric consisting of reticulated lines--in other words, a lattice-work.
The "wreaths of chain-work" that are next spoken of are less difficult to be understood. The word here translated Wreath is and is to be found in Deuteronomy (xxu, 12), where it distinctly mean syringes: "Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture." Fringes it should also be translated here. "The fringes of chain-work," Doctor Mackey thought, were therefore attached to, and hung down from, the network spoken of above, and were probably in this case, as when used upon the garments of the Jewish High Priests, intended as a "memorial of the law."
The "lily-work" is the last ornament that demands our attention. And here the description of Lightfoot is so clear and evidently correct, that Doctor Mackey did not hesitate to quote it at length. "At the head of the pillar, even at the setting on of the chaptiter, there was a curious and a large border or circle of lily-work, which stood out four cubits under the chapiter, and then turned down, every lily or lona tongue of brass, with a neat bending. and so seemed as a flowered crown to the head of the pillar, and as a curious garland whereon the chapiter had its seat."
There is a very common error among Freemasons, which has been fostered by the plates in our Monitors, hat there were on the pillars chapiters, and that these chapiters were again surmounted by globes. The truth, however, is that the chapiters themselves rere "the pommels or globes," to which our lecture, in the Fellow Crafty Degree, alludes. This is evident from what has already been said in the first art of the preceding description. The lily here spoken of is not at all related, as might be supposed, to the common lily--that one spoken of in the New Testament- It was a species of the lotus, the Symnhaea lotos, or lotus of the Nile. This was among the Egyptians a sacred plant, found everywhere on their monuments, and used in their architectural decorations. It is evident, from their descriptioninings, that the pillars of the porch of King Solomon's Temple were copied from the pillars of the Egyptian Temples. The maps of the earth and the charts of the celestial constellations which are sometimes said to have been engraved upon these globes, must be referred to the pillars, where, according to Doctor Oliver, a Masonic tradition places them--an ancient custom, instances of which we find in profane history. this is, however, by no means of any importance, as the symbolic allusion is perfectly well preserved n the shapes of the chapiters, without the necessity of any such geographical or astronomical engraving upon them. For being globular, or nearly so, they may be justly said to have represented the celestial and terrestrial spheres.
The true description, then, of these memorable pillars, is simply this: Immediately within the porch of the Temple, and on each side of the door, were placed two hollow brazen pillars. The height of each was twenty-seven feet, the diameter about six feet, and the thickness of the brass three inches. Above the pillar, and covering its upper part to the depth of nine inches, was an oval body or chapiter seven feet and a half in height. Springing out from the pillar, at the junction of the chapiter with it, was a row of lotus petals, which, first spreading around the chapiter, afterward gently curved downward toward the pillar, something like the Acanthus leaves on the capital of a Corinthian column.
About two-fifths of the distance from the bottom of the chapiter, or just below its most bulging part, a tissue of network was carved, which extended over its whole upper surface. To the bottom of this network was suspended a series of fringes, and on these again were carved two rows of pomegranates, one hundred being in each row. This description, it seemed to Doctor Mackey, is the only one that can be reconciled with the various passages in the Books of Kings, Chronicles, and Josephus, which relate to these pillars, and the only one that can give the Masonic student a correct conception of the architecture of these important symbols.
And now as to the Masonic symbolism of these two pillars. As symbols they have been very universally diffused and are to be found in all rites. Nor are they of a very recent date, for they are depicted on the earliest tracing-boards, and are alluded to in the catechisms before the middle of the eighteenth century. Nor is this surprising; for as the symbolism of Freemasonry is founded on the Temple of Solomon, it was to be expected that these important parts of the Temple would be naturally included in the system. But at first the pillars appear to have been introduced into the lectures rather as parts of a historical detail than as significant symbols-- an idea which seems gradually to have grown up. The catechism of 1731 describes their name, their size, and their material, but says nothing of their symbolic import. Yet this had been alluded to in the Scriptural account of them, which says that the names be stowed upon them were significant. What was the original or Scriptural symbolism of the pillars has been very well explained by Dudley, in his Naology. He says (page 121): The pillars represented the sustaining power of the great God. The flower of the lotus of water-lily rises from a root growing at the bottom of the water, and maintains its position on the surface by its columnar stalk, which becomes more or less straight as occasion requires; it is therefore aptly symbolical of the power of the Almighty constantly employed to secure the safety of all the world. The chapiter is the body or mass of the earth; the pomegranates, fruits remarkable for the number of their seeds, are symbols of fertility; the wreaths drawn variously over the surface of the chapiter or globe indicate the courses of the heavenly bodies in the heavens around the earth, and the variety of the seasons. The pillars were properly placed in the porch or portico of the Temple, for they suggested just ideas of the power of the Almighty, of the entire dependence of man upon him, the Creator; and doing this, they exhorted all to fear, to love, and obey Him.
It was, however, Hutchinson who first introduced the symbolic idea of the pillars into the Masonic system. He says:
The pillars erected at the porch of the Temple were not only ornamental. but also carried with them an emblematical import in their names: Boaz being, in its literal translation. in thee is strength; and Jachin, it shad be established, which, by a very natural transposition, may be put thus: O Lord, Thou art mighty, and Thy power is established from everlasting to everlasting.
Preston subsequently introduced the symbolism, considerably enlarged, into his system of lectures. He adopted the reference to the pillars of fire and cloud, which is still retained. The Masonic symbolism of the two pillars may be considered, without going into minute details, as being twofold. First, in reference to the names of the pillars, they are symbols of the strength and stability of the Institution; and then in reference to the ancient pillars of fire and cloud, they are symbolic of our dependence on the superintending guidance of the Great Architect of the Universe, by which around that strength and stability are secured.
The foregoing article by Doctor Mackey may well be supplemented here by such later information as is, for example, contained in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible. From this later authority we find that the hollow pillars had a thickness of metal equal to three inches of our measure. Their height on the basis of the larger cubit of twenty and one-half inches was about thirty-one feet, while their diameter works out at about six and one-half feet. The capitals appear from First Kings (vii, 41), to have been globes or of some such shape, each about eight and one-half feet in height, giving a total height for the complete pillars of, roughly, forty feet. They may be regarded as structurally independent of the Temple Porch and stood free in front of it, Jachin on the south and Boaz on the north, one on either side of the steps leading up to the entrance of the Porch (see Ezekiel xl, 49).
Such free-standing pillars were a feature of the Phenician and other Temples of Western Asia. The names Jachin and Boaz are not now translated with the same assurance as formerly. Various meanings have been assigned and one of the more suggestive explanations is that they refer to Baal and Jachun, the latter being a Phenician verbal form of the same signification--He wig be--as the Hebrew Jahweh, both words having been used as synonyms for Deity.
The fact that the pillars were the work of the Tyrian artist makes it probable that their presence is to be explained with the analogy in mind of similar pillars of Phenician Temples. These, though they were viewed in primitive times as the dwelling-place of the Deity, had, as civilization and religion advanced, come to be regarded as merely symbols of His sacred presence. To a Phenician Temple architect such as Hiram Abiff, Jachin and Boaz would appear as natural additions to such a religious structure and are, therefore, as Kennedy suggests, perhaps best explained as conventional symbols of God for whose worship the Temple of Solomon was designed and built.
PILLARS, TWO GREAT
The oldest existing Tracing Boards of early Eighteenth Century Lodges contain the two Pillars. One gathers from the Minutes that during the days when Lodges had their dining table in the center of the Lodge room and sat around it while a Candidate was being initiated, the Tracing Board, painted on cloth, was laid on the floor, or hung on the wall, and "lectures" were used to explain it. The set of symbols in the still-existing Tracing Boards correspond 80 closely to those mentioned in the Legend of the Craft in the Old Charges that it is reasonable to believe that the key to the interpretation of the symbols given to the Candidate is found in the latter. If that be true, the two pillars in the Tracing Boards in the oldest of the Lodges must have referred to the two pillars described in the Cooke MS., one of marble and one of "lacerns," or tile.
When the Allegory of Solomon's Temple was introduced into the Second Degree, perhaps about 1740 or 1750 in its present form, the two Great Pillars belonging to it came into a prominent place. This meant that the older Lodges then had two sets of Pillars. Whether the former was dropped out, or the two became coalesced, it is impossible to know.
In some of the Tracing Boards and in engravings used on certificates, etc., three pillars often were used, but these probably represented columns; and in some instances these were either Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty, or else, to judge by the figures sometimes shown on top of them, the three Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. With the columns representing the Five Orders, Lodge symbolism contained no fewer than ten, and it may even have been thirteen, pillars and columns together.
Two problems about the Temple pillars are not yet solved: first, whether they stood out on the platform beyond the Temple, or stood in the facade of it, and as structural members of the building; second, what their height was. The narrative in the Book of Kings does not give an answer to either question. On the basis of the general custom in Egypt and in the Near East it is most likely that the Two Pillars stood apart from the building; and it is possible that the Chapters on their tops were really large metal baskets which could be filled with burning pine or cedar knots for illumination at night, and also possibly as a reminiscence of the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night.
There were four cubits, or units of measurement, in use. Generally, a cubit was the distance from the elbow to the end of the fingers, but the others differed; in one instance, one of the cubits in use is almost twice the length of another. The Book of Kings does not say which cubit was employed, but if the Pillars were in the facade of the building and formed two sides of the entrance they were probably about seventeen feet high; if, as is more likely, they stood apart they were probably thirty-four feet high. As far as known records go the early Speculative Masons saw so little of importance in the question of height that apparently they never decided it one way or another; in any event, the exact height means nothing to the symbolism.
In both the oldest Minutes and the oldest engravings the two Globes appear to have been unconnected with the Pillars. They were put sometimes in one place in the room and sometimes in another. Remarks incorporated here and there in the Minutes suggest that the Brethren used them to represent "the universality of Masonry," not in the sense that Masonry took in everything but in the sense that Lodges are constituted in every country. One globe was the sky, the other the land; together they made up the world. The two Great Pillars in the Old Charges represented the Liberal Arts and Sciences; in the Allegory of Solomon's Temple they were guardians and gates to the Presence of Jehovah; both of these interpretations became loosely fused in the Second Degree.
By a similar development of symbolic interpretation the Terrestrial Globe came also to mean the earth, the earthy; the Celestial, to mean the heavenly, the spiritual. When the Globes and the Pillars were combined both sets of symbolism were synthesized, so that as used in modern Speculative Rituals they are very rich in significance, not the least of which was the complete fusing of education (Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences) with religion (Temple worship), an idea in absolute contrast to the Medieval idea, when church and school were often at war with each other, and faith and knowledge were considered to be opposites, or foes.
Owned & Operated Exclusively by Members of the Masonic Family
Tradition, Integrity, Trust.
© 2018 The Ashlar Company
I'm sorry it has taken me this long to express my gratitude to you but I have been dealing with some medical issues. I truly appreciate what you are doing.
Brother Bo, Jasper, GA
You are currently visiting masonicencyclopedia.com