THE PILLARS OF THE PORCH
Two pillars which stood at the porchway or entrance of King Solomon's Temple. See Books of Kings and Chronicles.
- Source: MasonicDictionary.com
Articles On the Two Pillars On This Page
THE PILLARS OF THE PORCH
By Bro. William B. Bragdon, New Jersey
From Biblical accounts we learn of two columns or pillars that were placed in the Porch of King Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem, one on the right hand named Jachin, and one on the left named Boaz, which are given various dimensions but which New Jersey Masons have been taught to know as eighteen cubits in height, twelve in circumference, and four in diameter, and which were surmounted by three kinds of ornament, namely, network, lilywork, and pomegranates.
The origin of these pillars and their correct representation should be of extreme interest to the Masonic student, and the following brief analysis may be of some assistance.
Tradition plays such an important part in the study of archaeology and the history of architecture, that it may always be taken for granted, for every great school of art or architecture can trace its development to the work of its predecessors, either from its own country, or from some foreign land from which aesthetic influence was received by intercourse through trade or from conquest by war.
To illustrate. The Ancient Greeks spent 500 years in the development of their Doric column, each successive generation using the results of the previous decade as a foundation for their endeavours, until the height of perfection was attained in the Parthenon. The Spaniards continued to work in the Moorish style for years after the Saracens had been driven out of the land they had over-run.
So the first thing to be done in considering the Pillars Jachin and Boaz is to look about and ascertain if possible the origin of the influence which worked through the architect who created them.
border=0 cellpadding=0 cellspacing=0Hiram Abif, the man selected by Hiram, King of Tyre, to undertake this stupendous structure for Solomon, King of Israel, was, according to Milman in his history of the Jews, "a man of Jewish extraction, who had learned his art at Tyre"; but whether he was a Jew or a Phoenician is of little consequence, except that he had been trained in a community celebrated for its workers of brass and metals and for that reason most acceptable to Solomon.
The Rev. W. Shaw Caldecott in his book on the history of the Temple, attempts to convey the impression that this building "was not Babylonian, or Egyptian or Phoenician, or even a subtle blending of what was best in each, but was the genuine outcome of Hebrew life and Hebrew faith," but the facts do not substantiate this theory.
From the study of what monuments have been unearthed, we find that the arts were never developed by the Jews to any great extent, and that their only large work for posterity was their Temple at Jerusalem, which had no native traditional inspiration except from the Tabernacle which directly preceded it, and on that account as much as any, left no guiding mark for a standard for future generations.
The great French archaeologists, Perrot and Chipiez, in their standard work on Judea, mention the fact that "the art to which the Temple is due, was Phoenician art, undistinguished by the power and individuality so characteristic of Egyptian, Assyrian or Greek productions." Yet history tells us how the Phoenicians became the leading trading people of the East, and that commercial enterprises carried the art of Egypt to their own country and thence to Babylonia, and even to Greece, both of which latter nations show Egyptian influence in their decorative arts.
And so for the very reason that the Phoenicians borrowed their forms from the Nile and the Euphrates valleys it was a poor art at best, and became even more debased, from the architect's point of view, when transferred to a neighbouring people who had no underlying traditions of their own. This mixture of styles is most apparent in the Pillars of the Temple Porch, where a confusing and unusual order was created, as we shall see, which has baffled scholars in their many attempts at restoration.
Hiram Abif must have felt this foreign influence in the gatherings of trained men among whom he studied and worked, for his building in many respects was modelled from the Egyptian temple, as, to quote Milman, "it retained the ground-plan and disposition of the Egyptian, or rather of almost all sacred edifices of antiquity; even its measurements are singularly in unison with some of the most ancient temples in Upper Egypt. It consisted of a propylaeon, a temple, and a sanctuary; called respectively the Porch, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies," with rising steps and darkening chambers as one progressed, producing an element of mystery, in exact imitation of the temples built on the Nile.
Before the Porch of Solomon's Temple stood two pillars of brass, similar to Egyptian obelisks, Jachin and Boaz, and it was on these that Solomon and Hiram Abif determined to lavish the former's wealth and the latter's ability in an otherwise simple exterior, which treatment of decorative pillars grouped about an entrance without any structural reason, was characteristic of Phoenician art as well, for the architects of those latter countries "had no liking for any kind of construction, and especially made slight use of the pier and column," as Perrot and Chipiez tell us.
They also remark that "we may feel some surprise that the Phoenicians, who were the pupils of Egypt rather than Chaldea, and had in abundance the stone denied to the latter country, should have taken the Mesopotamian architects as their models in this matter of the column," but I think this can be explained from the fact that Chaldea was of the soil, so to speak, and in closer touch with Phoenicia by land and by blood than the men of Egypt, who lived their peaceful lives about the Nile valley, in isolation (except by sea) from surrounding civilizations.
Also, Herodotus mentions his admiration at the sight of "two shafts, one of pure gold - the other of emerald," which stood in places in the shrine of Melkart at Tyre, similar to those occupied at Jerusalem by Jachin and Boaz. In fact many other classic authors mention the tall pillars rising in pairs before the entrances of temples.
At all events the column about an entrance used without any structural relation was a common form of decoration in Phoenicia, and would naturally be the motif considered best suited for a temple porch, when designed by a Phoenician architect.
Although the description of the Porch Pillars given in Kings, in Chronicles, and by Jeremiah, seems to vary, if an analysis is made of the parts described in the text we find they are substantially the same, as in one case the shaft is meant by the pillar, and in another the entire column with its base, capital, and the platform on which it stood. So architectural students generally agree that Jachin and Boaz each rested upon a square base three cubits high, had round straight shafts eighteen cubits in height, twelve in circumference and four in diameter, were adorned with square caps five cubits in height which were ornamented with network, lilywork and pomegranates, and were further adorned and protected by supercaps four cubits high.
This description appears to be clear and would be simple to understand except for the exact meaning of "network, lilywork and pomegranates." There have been countless interpretations of these words, and many restorations of the Pillars, but I have never seen any two alike, nor any that I consider exactly fitting.
In all architecture the capital has been the feature of the order reserved for decoration, and although any type can be designated by a glance at this member, strange to say it is the cap that is the stumbling-block in this case. Geometric patterns were common forms of surface ornamentation with the Egyptians and Chaldeans, and criss-cross line work, or network, in applique, was frequently used, so that we do not hesitate long here for the meaning of "network."
There seems to be more controversy, however, over the interpretation of pomegranates, although I do not see why there should be. The pomegranate flower with its rose shape of petals and heart was constantly represented in conventional form as a rosette for a means of decoration in all the countries of Asia Minor, and was so used as embroidery on the robes of the High Priests of the Temple. Examples at this period of pomegranate as fruit are rare, but the flower was used in some form in nearly every fragment of Phoenician and Mesopotamian sculpture that has been reclaimed, and always adorns the enframements and balconies about the entrance porches of the temples and palaces.
It has been argued that the "chains of pomegranates" mentioned in the Bible refers to the fruit; I see no reason why it does not suggest a garland of flowers, such as our daisy chain, for the garland or festoon was used in all ancient art and was continued in the Roman Period and later in the Renaissance.
If we therefore assume that rosettes of pomegranate flowers were meant in the Biblical text, it is a question of the application of this ornament to the cap, and in this connection the natural architectural reasoning would be to apply cast buttons in rosette form in the spaces enclosed by the intersections of the diagonal strands of network.
Jeremiah describes these caps at the time of the destruction of the Temple as composed of twenty-four rosettes on each side, one hundred all told, so that the four needed to supply the difference might have been placed at the corners as buttons for supporting the hanging festoons of the same flower. In this respect I agree with Mr. Caldecott, for I feel that the drooping garlands hoped in transition from the severely plain round shaft to the heavy cap.
To properly locate the lilywork, however, is a more difficult problem.
In the first place this lily does not correspond with the hothouse or Easter lily of our day, which it might suggest to the layman, but was undoubtedly the waterlily or lotus plant of Egypt, which was conventionalized by the Egyptian architects as one of their chief forms of ornament, and developed into a capital of one of their early columns.
From Egypt the lotus flower and bud found its way into Phoenicia and Chaldea, and we find many examples of this ornament used in the temples in a running and alternating form of design, which was still later developed by the Greeks into the celebrated and beautiful "honeysuckle" ornament.
It was this lotus flower that was probably intended by the term "lily," and it will be necessary to consider the purpose of the Pillars in the Porch of Solomon's Temple in order to picture the lilywork in its position in the capitals.
Like many objects encountered in the Temple, the Pillars Jachin and Boaz were symbols of deeper truths which they intended to teach. Although specialists in Hebrew do not agree as to their meaning, it is possible that before the former the Kings of Israel were crowned, and there they were reminded of the fact that they owed their position to the Jehovah who had established them, while before the latter the High Priests might have been ordained, and impressed with the importance of conducing the rituals of their exalted office with fortitude and strength; hence Jachin denoted "establishment" and Boaz "strength."
And for these and other ceremonies, we are told that the consecration oil used was poured in the top of the capitals. This gives us a clue for the lilywork, for it would not seem illogical that some such form as the Egyptian lotus bud, which was adaptable to receptacle use, might have been created as a crowning feature for the cap, acting both as a decorative terminating pinnacle where there was no supporting beam above, and also serving the practical purpose of a hidden storehouse for the oil.
The supercaps mentioned seem to have been merely screens to hide the vessels of oil and to protect them from the vandalism of birds, which was a common practice of the ancients, evidences of drillings for securing metal nettings for that purpose having been discovered in the sculptures of the Greek temple pediments. These supercaps were probably of network with pomegranate rosette decoration similar to the capitals below, but with perforations, and of portable material.
So we find our Pillars Jachin and Boaz with cylindrical smooth shafts and 'square capitals, ornamented with diagonal meshes and cast rosettes, crowned with lotus bud urns, the whole resting on square blocky bases, and if the foregoing deductions are correct, the true Pillars were quite different from our usual lodge room representations.
- Source: The Builder - March 1922
Few references in Freemasonry are less understood than the two brazen
pillars in the porch of King Solomon’s Temple. Probably a greater
mass of misinformation exists regarding these than any other symbol
in the Craft.
Early ritualists confused the mythical pillars of stone, spoken of in
almost all the old Charges, or Manuscript Constitutions of the Craft,
with the Brazen pillars of the porch - the result is that modern
Freemasons have composite pillars, fusing of the ancient and the
mythical pillars on which were supposed to be engraved the arts and
sciences of the time before the flood, and those which Hiram Abif
erected - undoubtedly with Egyptian influences and memories of
Egyptian Temples to guide him - before the great house of the Lord
which Solomon built.
The fascinating, if wholly legendary, history of the Craft, repeated
with variations in the majority of the old manuscript rolls,
beginning with the Regius of 1390, is older than any Freemasonry we
know in practice. The story varies from manuscript to manuscript, but
in its essentials is much the same - it was evidently a tradition as
strong in its day as is our legend of Hiram. To quote but a few line
bearing on the pillars, consider these words from the York Manuscript
No. 1, written about A.D. 1600:
“Before Noah flood there was a man called Lamech as is written in the
Scriptures in ye Chatr of Genesis And this Lamech had two wives ye
one named Adah by whome he had two sons ye one named Jabell ye other
named Jubell And his other wife was called Zillah by whome he had one
son named Tubelcaine & one Daughter named Naamah & these four
children founded ye beginnings of all ye Sciences in ye world viz
Jabell ye oldest Sone found out ye Science of Geomatre he was a keepr
of flocks and sheep Lands in the Fields as it is noted in ye Chaptr
before sd And his bother Jubell found ye Science of Musicke Song of
the Tongue harpe & organ And ye third brother Tuball Caine found ye
Science called Smith Craft of Gold Silvr Iron Coppr & Steele & ye
daughter found ye ara of Weaving And these persons knowing right well
yt God would take vengencance for sinne either by fire or water
wherefore they writt their severall Sciences yt they had found in two
pillars of stone yt might be found aftr Noah his Flood And ye one
stonbe would not burn wth fire & ye othr called Lternes because it
would not dround wth wtr etc.”
The word here spelled “Lternes” is rendered on other old
Constitutions as “laterns,” usually translated “brick.” But marble
does not resist fire; brick - especially early unscientifically
vitrified brick - does not resist water. If the word be considered a
perversion of “latten,” which means brass or bronze, then the ancient
legendary pillars are made of metal and marble, a more sensible idea,
since metal would resist fire, and the marble, water.
In Tyre was the great Temple to Herakles with two pillars, one of
gold, the other of smaragdus (polished green marble). Other Tyrian
Temples to Melkarth had two metal pillars or two monoliths.
Modern Masonry has hollow pillars to serve as safe repositories for
the “archives of Masonry” and to preserve them from flood and fire,
in spite of the fact that sacred history says nothing of Masonry, or
the reason for the pillars being hollow. It is reasonable to suppose
that the ancient Masonic tradition of Lamech’s children and their
pillars was confused, as knowledge of the Bible became more common
after the invention of printing, with other “brazen pillars” of an
ancient day, and finally with those of Solomon’s Temple.
How high were the pillars? A question which has agitated American
Freemasonry - largely without reason - for many years! A majority of
American rituals state that they were thirty-five cubits in heights.
A minority hold to eighteen.. One compromises on thirty. A few do
not give the height at all.
Mackey (Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry) says:
“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, and 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 of from the pillar at the
junction of the chapiter with it, was a row of lotus petals, which
first spreading around the chapiter, afterwards 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 Dr. Mackey, is the only one that can
be reconciled with the various passages which relate to these pillars
in the Books of Kings, Chronicles, and Josephus, to give a correct
conception of the architecture of these symbols.
In 1904 Brother John W. Barry, of Iowa, later to become Grand Master,
rendered an exhaustive report to his Grand Lodge on the height of the
pillars, proving anew the belief, practically accepted by Biblical
students, the that “thirty-five” dimension is that of both pillars
together, the actual height of each being eighteen cubits.
The confusion arises in the two accounts in Chronicles and Kings.
Various explanations have been advanced as to the discrepancy between
thirty-five as the height of each. The missing cubit is explained on
the theory that while actually each pillar from root to summit was
eighteen cubits, only seventeen and one-half showed. The rest being
hidden in chapiter and base.
This explanation apparently began with the Genevan Bible (Breeches
Bible) in which is a marginal note stating of the pillars “every one
was eighteen cubits long, but halfe cubite could not be feene, for it
was hid in the roundeneffe of the chapiter, and therefore he giueth
to every one 17 and a halfe.”
To know the “actual” size of the pillars, it is necessary to know the
length of a cubit. And here is room for speculation and many
authorities! The Abingdon Bible Commentaries says: “The common
cubit, equal to about 18 inches, the longer Royal cubit to about 20-
1/2 inches.” John Wesley Kelchner, whose restorations of King
Solomon’s Temple are to be found in Masonic Bibles, considers the
cubit to bee equal to two feet. The Standard Dictionary gives the
cubit as the measure of length determined by the average arm from
elbow to middle finger tip. The Britannica considers that the Temple
cubit must have been in excess if 25 inches, Canon J.W. Horsley,
Past Grand Chaplain, England, who has studied and written much upon
the pillars, give a table of sizes in which the cubit is but 14 2/5
Many rituals set forth the fact that Hiram cast the pillars on the
plains of the Jordan, in the clay ground between Succoth and Zarthan,
or Zeredetha. Both I Kings and II Chronicles are authority for the
statement. But if there ever existed a “clay ground” in the location
specified, it has disappeared and left no trace. Explorations (Lynch
in 1847, Ridegway in 1874 not only found no clay ground, but no trace
of smelters, furnaces, or other means of melting and casting brass.
The point is of little importance - the pillars and the Temple
vessels were cast, somewhere. But a failure of fact in a statement
so absolute may be an indication the other I Kings and II Chronicles’
statements about the pillars were also inaccurate as to facts -
“vide” the height statements.
The “globes celestial and terrestrial” which usually surmount
American Lodge room pillars are wholly modern inventions, without
basis in Scriptural fact. Somewhere, at some time, some ritual maker
confused the spherical form of the chapiter with an additional an
additional sphere. Desiring to account for it, he drew a map of the
world on one and a map of the heavens on the other! But in the Kings
and Chronicles accounts and in Josephus, there are no mentions of
celestial and terrestrial globes.
All this is more interesting than important. The symbolical meaning
of the pillars is the vital matter to Freemasons.
In the eyes of critical scholarship, the ancient meaning was of the
might and majesty of Deity. From the dawn of religion the pillar,
monolith or built up, has played an important part of the worship of
the Unseen. From the huge boulders of Stonehenge, among which the
Druids are supposed to have performed their rites, through East
Indian temples, to the religion of ancient Egypt, scholars trace the
use of pillars as an essential part of the religious worship; indeed,
in Egypt the obelisk stood for the very presence of the Sun God
The ancient believed the earth to be flat and that it was supported
by two Pillars of God, placed at the western entrance of the world as
then known. These are now called Gibraltar, on one side of the
strait and Cueta on the other.
Some writers have suggested that the pillars represent the masculine
and feminine elements in nature; others, that they stand for
authority of Church and State, because on stated occasions the high
priest stood before one pillar and the King before the other. Some
students think that they allude to the two legendary pillars of
Enoch, upon which, tradition informs us, all the wisdom of the
ancient world was inscribed in order to preserve it from inundations
and conflagrations. William Preston supposed that, by them, Solomon
had reference to the pillars of cloud and fire which guided the
Children of Israel out of the bondage and into the promise land. One
authority says a literal translation of their names is: “In thee is
strength,” and, “It shall be established,” and by a natural
transposition mat thus be expressed: “Oh Lord, Thou art almighty and
Thy Power is established from everlasting to everlasting.”
Quoting Abingdon again:
“The fact that each pillar had a particular name further suggests
that they were not simply a part of the architectural adornment, but
originally bore some analogy to the pillars which, singly or in
pairs, formed an important feature of the Semitic sanctuaries. At
Melkart’s shrine at Tyre there were, according to Herodotus, two
costly obelisks at which Melkart (and probably his wife-consort) was
worshiped. Two pillars also stood before the temples in Paphos and
in Hierapolis. Ashurbanipal on the occasion of his expedition to
Egypt and Ethiopia recounts that part of his spoil included ‘two
obelisks high with resplendent plating of fine workmanship . . from
the threshold of the gate of the Temple.’ Therefore these pillars at
Jerusalem, built, like the Temple itself, by Phoenician workmen, were
probably intended to be symbols of the Deity; they were an artistic
refinement of the Mezzabah, or stone obelisk which, at many Israelite
sanctuaries, still stood beside he altar in much later days. But it
does not necessarily follow that Solomon and his subjects so
interpreted the significance of these novel and foreign brass
objects: for them the Ark in the ‘oracle’ seemed to have symbolized
But it is possible that instead of Jachin (or Jakin,) ‘he (Jehovah)
was carved on one pillar by Huram-abi and subsequently altered into
his name; and Boaz (i.e., ‘in him is strength’) may be a later
substitution for ‘Tammuz,’ whose cult was very prevalent in the
The Entered Apprentice in the process of being passed to the degree
of Fellowcraft “passes between the pillars.” No hint is given that
he should pass nearer to one than the other; no suggestion is made
that he either may work a greater influence than the other. He
merely passes between.
A deep significance is in this very omission. Masons refer to the
promise of God unto David; the interested may read Chapter VII of II
Samuel, and gather that the establishment promised by the Lord was
that of a house, a family, a descent of blood from David unto his
children and his children’s children.
Used to blast stumps from fields, dynamite is an aid to the farmer.
Used in war it kills and maims. Fire cooks food and makes steam for
engines, fire also burns houses and destroys forests. But it is not
the power but the use of power which is good or bad. The truth
applies to any power; spiritual, legal, monarchical, political or
personal. Power is without either virtue or vice; the user may use
it well or ill, as he pleases.
Freemasonry passes the brother in the process of becoming a
Fellowcraft between the pillar of strength - power; and the pillar of
establishment - choice or control. He is a man now and no minor or
infant. He has grown up Masonically. Before him are spread the two
great essentials to all success, all greatness, and all happiness.
Like any other power - temporal or physical, religious or spiritual -
Freemasonry can be used well or ill. Here is the lesson set before
the Fellowcraft; if he, like David, would have his kingdom of Masonic
manhood established in strength he must pass between the pillars with
understanding that power without control is useless, and control
without power, futile. Each is a compliment of the other; in the
passage between the pillars the Fellowcraft not only has his feet set
upon the Winding Stairs but is given - so he has eyes to see and ears
to hear - secret instructions as to how he shall climb those stairs
that he may, indeed, reach the Middle Chamber. He is to climb by
strength, but directed by wisdom; he is to progress by power, but
guided by control, he must rise by the might that is in him, but
arrive by the wisdom of his heart.
So considered, the inaccuracies and misstatements of ritual regarding
the pillars become relatively unimportant; whether eighteen of
thirty-five cubits high, whether cast in one place or another,
whether or not surmounted in Solomon’s day with globes terrestrial
and celestial, matter little. The lesson is there, the meaning of
the symbol to be read. The initiate of old saw in the obelisk the
very spirit of the God he worshiped. The modern Masonic initiate may
see in the two pillars the mans by which he may travel a little
further, a little higher towards the secret Middle Chamber of life,
in which dwells the Unseen Presence.