King Solomon-s Seal
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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 King Solomon-s Seal

2/16/1999

 The Israel Review of Arts and Letters - 1998/106
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King Solomon's Seal
 
 

Solomon's Seal on a stone from arch of a 3-4th century synagogue in the Galilee

 

 

Solomon's Seal on a marble slab from a Byzantine church, Khirbet Sufa, Northern Negev

 

 

Silver coin from the "Ayyubid dynasty" Aleppo, Syria, 1212-13

 

 

Jug and cup, Mogul India, 18th - 19th century

 

 

Ceramic bowls, central Asia or eastern Iran, 10th century

 

 

"Magic" medical bowl, Iran 17-19th century

 

 

Velvet cap and coin head-dress worn by Jewish boys, Morocco, early 20th century

 

 

Woman's pendant amulet with Solomon's Seal, Algiers, 19th century

 

 

Solomon's Seal from An'am Sharif, a book of prayers and excerpts from the Quran, 1761-2

 

 

Solomon's Seal on the reverse of a mirror, Mesopotamia, 12h century

 

 

Copper and silver coins from the 'Umayyad and 'Ayyubid dynasties, 8th-13th centuries; from the Malmeluk peiod, 14th century, and the Mongol period, Tbilisi, Georgia, 13th century
  "Set me as a seal upon thy heart"
(The Song of Songs which is Solomon's, 8:6)

King Solomon, the son of King David, established Jerusalem as the city of justice and peace. His name reflects the original name of the city, Shalem. Solomon is said to have been given both "wisdom and knowledge", this is usually taken to mean wise government, the ability to distinguish morally between good and evil, and a thorough understanding of the universe. "Behold I have given you a wise and understanding heart; there has been none like you before you, nor after you shall any arise like you" (Kings 1, 3, 12).

The legend of King Solomon's Seal, of the wondrous signet ring which he received from heaven, is common to Judaism, to Christianity and to Islam. King Solomon's Seal, whose base is on the ground and whose tip reaches heaven, symbolizes a harmony of opposites, whose significance is manifold as much as it is multi-cultural. It reflects the cosmic order, the skies, the movement of the stars in their spheres, and the perpetual flow between heaven and earth, between the elements of air and fire. The Seal, therefore, symbolizes super-human wisdom and rule by divine grace.

In 1536 ce, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent ordered extensive restorations on the Temple Mount and converted the church which had been built on Mount Zion during the Crusader conquest into a mosque. By building this mosque, Suleiman linked himself both to Solomon the son of David and the Davidic Messiah who, according to Christian belief, is Jesus. It was Sultan Suleiman's messianic consciousness which led him to develop the link between himself and King Solomon. On the walls which be built around Jerusalem are stone decorations in the form of two interlocking triangles Stars of David, known to Moslems as Khatam Suleiman and to Jews as Khatam Shlomo (King Solomon's Seal) whose function was to protect the city. The symbol of the hexagram, the star-like figure formed by two triangles, has many connotations, especially when it is enclosed by a circle; super-natural powers have been attributed to it in many parts of the world since ancient times. Beyond the Jewish national associations which have only become attached to it in the last few hundred years, the abstract element of the figure (which is connected to the celestial stars) and its geometrical completeness make it a universal symbol. Together with the five-pointed star (the pentagram, which is of much earlier origin) the hexagram represents the development of mathematics and geometry by the Greeks and their successors around the Mediterranean.

Through geometry, in which the Pythagoreans and their followers saw cosmic symbolism, the hexagram and the pentagram became an expression of heaven and its reflection on earth, the divine and its reflection in creation and of the connection between heaven and earth, between the macrocosm and the microcosm, and between spirit and matter.

Islamic civilization was a vibrant crossroads of culture through which the achievements of the ancient world flowed into modern-day Europe, through which information passed from east to west and back again, and in which various ethnic groups of different languages and religions lived side by side and contributed to cultural advancement.

King Solomon's Seal combines strength and beauty, symbolism and illustrative quality and all within a geometric figure, the most important characteristic of Islamic art. The Moslem artist's love of geometry allows the true essence of King Solomon's Seal as a symbol of the connection between the two worlds to be expressed; in this context, it symbolizes the link between science, beauty and metaphysics, with elements of medicine and magic, astronomy and astrology, the art of irrigation and its influence on the garden, and the symbolic connection between pleasure gardens and the Garden of Eden, between the sky and architectural domes and on traditional cosmology and its connection to religion.

Today, the hexagram is known as the "Star of David" and is seen as the definitive symbol of Judaism the term is even used in Islamic countries. There is a degree of confusion about its origins, name and associations. In Europe, the pentagram is usually known as King Solomon's Seal, while the hexagram is known as the Star of David; and it is often assumed that this was always the case. However, the evidence points to the gradual evolution of the hexagram from a Roman cosmological symbol to a religious and magical symbol which was not specifically connected to one religion or people. Research suggests that both motifs were used by different religions and that the clearest meaning of the hexagram is associated with magical techniques to ward off evil forces. Professor Gershom Scholem, the noted scholar of the Kabbalah (Jewish mystic writings) studied the protective function of the hexagram and its entry into Judaism from Islamic traditions. In a series of articles on the Star of David and its history, Scholem made the following claims:

First: The hexagram is a universal symbol, whose Jewish associations developed gradually. It began as the symbol of the Jewish community in Prague, probably in the 14th century, though it might have been only in the 17th century. It was recognized as the symbol of the Jews as a whole in the 19th century.

Second: Several Jewish and Christian examples of the hexagram and other decorative motif, exist from the ancient period and later on in Islamic art. In the 13th century, the motif passed from copies of the Bible, which had been transcribed in Islamic countries, to Hebrew manuscripts in Germany and Spain. In Spain, until the 13th century, the hexagram was known as King Solomon's Seal by the Jews; from the 13th until the 15th century, both names were used simultaneously. It was only later that the term Star of David gradually became dominant in Ashkenazi communities, while King Solomon's Seal became identified with the pentagram.

Third: The hexagram or the pentagram, appear first on "magic" mezuzot (doorpost scrolls) and later on various talismans in literature. The magic drawings of the hexagram and the pentagram were known as seals, in keeping with the idea that a person "stamps himself" with these signs in order to protect himself from harmful spirits. This term is connected to the legend of King Solomon who controlled the demons by means of a special signet ring on which was engraved the Tettragrammaton. The seal only had power for one thing to provide protection from malevolent forces.

It is possible that the hexagram served as a symbol of the Temple at an early stage in its development. A Jewish drawing from the tenth century is the earliest example of the connection between the two symbols; we do not know whether its origins in Jewish tradition were earlier, or whether it reflected a connection with Islamic art. In Spain, starting in the 13th century, Jewish religious books were decorated with Stars of David, sometimes as the colophon in books written in micrography. The hexagram had appeared earlier as a decoration used to fill spaces or to show the divisions within chapters in both Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts. In some Hebrew manuscripts from Spain, several Stars of David have been drawn next to verses which speak of the longing to return to Zion.

 
 
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