Thursday, May 16, 2013

Jachin and Boaz

Model of Solomon's temple showing the two pillars,
Jachin and Boaz.
One feature of the temple of Solomon was a set of brass pillars which sat in the ulam (אוּלם) or porch of the temple at the entrance to the holy place. These pillars were known as Jachin and Boaz and there has been a great deal of discussion about the purpose and meaning of the two columns. A description of Jachin and Boaz can be found in 1 Kings 7:13-22 which lists the following characteristics:

- Each was made of cast bronze by Phoenician craftsmen.

- Each were 18 cubits high and 12 cubits in circumference.

- Each was topped with a capital made of cast bronze 5 cubits high and decorated with a pomegranate and lotus motif.

Several theories have been put forth to explain the meaning of the pillars. Margaret Barker has written the following:

"Some have suggested that the pillars represented sacred trees, fertility symbols. There are stylized trees standing on either side of the entrance on several models of shrines which have been unearthed. Another possibility is that they were fire altars, or that they represented the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud which led the Israelites in the desert." (Barker, Gate of Heaven p.29-30)

Matthew Brown has suggested the pillars represented the king and the Lord and has cited numerous passages from the scriptures to support this idea. (Brown, Gate of Heaven p.117-119)

Another possibility is that the pillars were analogous to the stone obelisks that stood at the entrances to Egyptian temples.

Entrance to the Luxor temple in Upper Egypt. Originally two obelisks stood at the entrance. The other is now located in the Place de la Concorde in Paris, France.
This idea was suggested by Flinders Petrie (ref) and seems possible in light of the close cultural affinity which ancient Israel shared with its neighbor. If this is the case then examining what the obelisks represented to the Egyptians may shed some light on the meaning of Jachin and Boaz.

Obelisks were associated with the sun by the Egyptians and were thought to represent the petrified rays of Aten. The pylons which stand behind the obelisks represented the hills between which the sun rose and represented the horizon. The hieroglyph for the word "horizon" was a depiction of the sun rising between the hills (see below) and could also be translated as "mountain of light". (ref)

In ancient Israel the horizon was connected with the concept of eternity (עולם - olam in Hebrew). The place beyond the horizon was distant and hidden just as eternity was. (ref) The holy place and most holy place in the temple represented this distant, hidden place where God's abode was located. Crossing the threshold from the courtyard into the holy place was crossing from profane to sacred space. Likewise in Egyptian temples. The two pillars were located in the porch or אוּלם (ulam) of the temple. This may have been word play with olam (eternity) as the two words are very similar. Therefore, it seems reasonable to suppose that the two bronze pillars, Jachin and Boaz symbolized the horizon, or the barrier between the temporal world and the eternal world just as the obelisks and pylons did in Egyptian temples.

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