Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pillars Revisited

Okay back to the pillars. Last time we talked about the pillars it appeared they may have had their origin in Solomon's Temple, but after further research these pillars seem to be much older than Solomon's Temple. According to 1 Kings 5:1;10 "And Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants unto Solomon; for he had heard that they had anointed him king in the room of his father: for Hiram was ever a lover of David. 10 So Hiram gave Solomon cedar trees and fir trees according to all his desire." King Hiram was born in 989BC and ruled from 970-936 BC. He established friendly relations with Solomon's father, King David, and these relations continued with Solomon.

So what we have here is Solomon deciding to build a temple that was to be dedicated to his God, the God of the Israelites. Because of the resources and manpower available to Solomon at the time he contracted Hiram I, the King of Tyre (Phoenicia), for manpower and building materials. King Hiram also sent an architect, because of his experience, to help Solomon who's name, strangely enough, was also Hiram (the name must have been like Smith or Jones back then).

Votive statues from the Temple of Melqart in Cadiz

So what do we know so far? We know that Solomon's Temple was described as having two pillars named Boaz and Jachin. We also know that Solomon employed the help of a Phoenician architect named Hiram in designing the temple. So, maybe there is record of the pillars in Phoenician temple architecture?!

According to wiki, "Melqart, properly Phoenician Milk-Qart "King of the City", less accurately Melkart, Melkarth or Melgart , Akkadian Milqartu, was tutelary god of the Phoenician city of Tyre as Eshmun protected Sidon. Melqart was often titled Ba‘l Ṣūr "Lord of Tyre", the ancestral king of the royal line. In Greek, by interpretatio graeca he was identified with Heracles and referred to as the Tyrian Herakles." Evidently Melqart was the Phoenician equivalent of the Greek Heracles or Hercules. That name, Heracles, should ring a bell from the previous post Gate Crashing. Remember the Pillars of Hercules? So now we have a loose association of a Phoenician deity, Melqart, with the pillars.

Temple of Melqart at Amrit; from 600-400BC; preserved in Pre-Roman form.

"Temples to Melqart are found at least three Phoenician/Punic sites in Spain: Cádiz, Ibiza in the Balearic Islands and Cartagena. Near Gades/Gádeira (modern Cádiz) was the westernmost temple of Tyrian Heracles, near the eastern shore of the island (Strabo 3.5.2–3). Strabo notes (3.5.5–6) that the two bronze pillars within the temple, each 8 cubits high, were widely proclaimed to be the true Pillars of Heracles by many who had visited the place and had sacrificed to Heracles there." Well look at that, it appears that temples dedicated to Melqart also contained the twin pillars.

Herodotus had this to say, "In the wish to get the best information that I could on these matters, I made a voyage to Tyre in Phoenicia, hearing there was a temple of Heracles at that place, very highly venerated. I visited the temple, and found it richly adorned with a number of offerings, among which were two pillars, one of pure gold, the other of smaragdos, shining with great brilliancy at night. In a conversation which I held with the priests, I inquired how long their temple had been built, and found by their answer that they, too, differed from the Hellenes. They said that the temple was built at the same time that the city was founded, and that the foundation of the city took place 2,300 years ago. In Tyre, I remarked another temple where the same god was worshipped as the Thasian Heracles. So I went on to Thasos, where I found a temple of Heracles which had been built by the Phoenicians who colonised that island when they sailed in search of Europa. Even this was five generations earlier than the time when Heracles, son of Amphitryon, was born in Hellas. These researches show plainly that there is an ancient god Heracles; and my own opinion is that those Hellenes act most wisely who build and maintain two temples of Heracles, in the one of which the Heracles worshipped is known by the name of Olympian, and has sacrifice offered to him as an immortal, while in the other the honours paid are such as are due to a hero."

Bronze figure from Tyre, between 1400-1200 BC, probably representing the Canaanite god Baal in the role of warrior. Notice the headgear similar to depictions of Melqart.

Josephus records (Antiquities 8.5.3), following Menander the historian, concerning King Hiram I of Tyre (c. 965–935 BCE):

"He also went and cut down materials of timber out of the mountain called Lebanon, for the roof of temples; and when he had pulled down the ancient temples, he both built the temple of Heracles and that of `Ashtart; and he was the first to celebrate the awakening (egersis) of Heracles in the month Peritius."

An interesting thing about the goddess Ashtarte is that she is identified with Ishtar and Venus. The Egyptians called her Isis and the Greeks adopted this goddess and called her Aphrodite. And just like Ishtar and Isis, Ashtarte's worship was associated with sacred prostitution. In the Canaanite tradition in worship of Asherah, poles would be erected to mark the spot of sacred prostitution. That's what she said. More connections to the pagan father/mother/child trinity of gods. Worth noting here as well are the two Sphinx pictured along side of Ashtarte and the similarity they bare with descriptions of the Cherubim that were contained in Solomon's Temple. See Ezekiel 1:5-11 and 2 Chronicles 3.

A statuette discovered near Granada in Spain dating to the sixth or seventh century B.C.E. depicts ‘Ashtart sittng on a throne flanked by sphinxes holding a bowl beneath her breasts.

That's a lot of information provided by these two ancient historians. I think it is plain to see that there is a relationship of the twin pillars with Melqart/Heracles. According to wiki, "the Macedonian month of Peritius corresponds to our February, indicating this annual awakening was in no way a solstitial celebration. It would have coincided with the normal ending of the winter rains." The words of Josephus seem to indicate that Melqart/Heracles may have been a life-death-rebirth deity which would parallel him with another figure we've looked at previously, Horus/Osiris. So it would seem we have an archetype of the crowned and conquering child in Melqart/Heracles.

Asherah figuraine, made from a mold discoverd at Nahariyeh, Israel. Goddess of the sea and Baal's mother. Also note that Semiramis was a goddess related to the sea. Notice what appears to be a radiant crown.

According to, "There was a magnificent temple to Melqart/Baal right in the centre of Tyre. All Phoenician temples incorporated two pillars: originally a wooden one for Astarte and a stone one for Baal. According to the ancient historian Herodotus, the Tyrian temple had one emerald pillar and one of gold. The emerald one may have been green Phoenician glass though given the wealth of Tyre may well have actually been emerald. It had a candle inside so that it shone at night: the green obviously symbolises a tree so the emerald pillar must have represented Astarte’s wooden column. The gold one symbolised the wealth given by the earth, gold being then the most precious metal to come out of stone, just as it is now."

To me it looks like Solomon, good intentions intact, hired a foreign architect, Hiram, to help design a temple dedicated to the God of the Israelites. Hiram appears to have brought Phoenician architectural tradition with him and applied some of the design techniques to Solomon's Temple. How much input Solomon had in terms of the Phoenician characteristics of his temple I am unsure.

Detroit Masonic Temple - Detail of Master Chair. Hiram Abiff, King Solomon, Hiram King of Tyre. Photo by Bro. Mitchell Ozog

Also worthy of noting is the significance that the Freemasons place on the Phoenician architect Hiram. According to wiki, "Hiram Abiff is a character who figures prominently in an allegorical play that is presented during the third degree of Craft Freemasonry. In this play, Hiram is presented as being the chief architect of King Solomon's Temple, who is murdered by three ruffians during an unsuccessful attempt to force him to divulge the Master Masons' secret password. It is explained in the lecture that follows this play that the story is a lesson in fidelity to one's word, and in the brevity of life."

There is no official word on the religious and symbolic significance that the twin pillars had for the Phoenicians. We know that the pillars represented Ashtarte and Baal respectively and that they flanked the entrance to the temple. From Solomon's Temple we know that the pillars served as a type of gatekeeper dividing the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. Also, based on the fact that the Straight of Gibraltar, gateway to the new world, was referred to as Pillars of Hercules we have another instance of twin pillars as portal. In Plato's account, Atlantis was a naval power lying "in front of the Pillars of Hercules" that conquered many parts of Western Europe and Africa 9,000 years before the time of Solon, or approximately 9600 BC. After a failed attempt to invade Athens, Atlantis sank into the ocean "in a single day and night of misfortune".

Phoenicia and its colonies approx. 1100-500BC with Straight of Gibraltar pictured left.

The idea of the Straight of Gibraltar giving way to Atlantis is interesting in this framework. We collectively interpret Atlantis as being an ancient and advanced sea faring nation. I think we should interpret Atlantis here as a giver of civilization and knowledge. Thus the Pillars of Hercules (Straight of Gibraltar) serve as a gateway of esoteric knowledge and culture. Combining this interpretation with the idea that Melqart was a life-death-rebirth deity the pillars, in this context, could also been seen as a kind of portal between the physical and the spiritual.

So if I haven't hammered my point home enough yet let me reiterate one last time. The twin pillars appear to represent a portal or gateway to or from enlightenment. In Solomon's Temple the pillars gave way to the Holy of Holies. The Straight of Gibraltar was thought of as a gateway to the New World and Atlantis which could shed light on the significance the pillars might have had to the Phoenicians who were a sea faring people. I think it's safe to say that the twin pillars represent a physical and spiritual transition to a new age or receiving of divine knowledge.

More on this to come...


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