Seal of Solomon

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Talismanic scroll bearing Solomon's Seal, 11th-century Fatimid Caliphate

The Seal of Solomon or Ring of Solomon (Hebrew: חותם שלמה, Ḥotam Shlomo; Arabic: خاتم سليمان, Khātam Sulaymān) is the legendary signet ring attributed to the Israelite king Solomon in medieval mystical traditions, from which it developed in parallel within Jewish mysticism, Islamic mysticism and Western occultism. It is the predecessor to the Star of David, the contemporary cultural and religious symbol of the Jewish people.

It was often depicted in the shape of either a pentagram or a hexagram. In religious lore, the ring is variously described as having given Solomon the power to command the supernatural, including shedim and jinn, and also the ability to speak with animals. Due to the proverbial wisdom of Solomon, it came to be seen as an amulet or talisman, or a symbol or character in medieval magic and Renaissance magic, occultism, and alchemy.

Name[edit]

The varied traditions refer to a seal, stamp or die, utilized to mark an impression often or most frequently by means of a signet ring owned, possessed or fabricated by King Solomon and was thus referred to as the "Seal of Solomon" or "Solomon's Seal". The mark it made left either the name of God or that of a hexagram and was used to attest to the authority of its bearer, often to magical effect.

The name "Solomon's seal" was given to the hexagram engraved on the bottom of drinking-cups in Arab tradition. In the Arabian Nights (chapter 20), Sindbad presented Harun al-Rashid with such a cup, on which the "Table of Solomon" was engraved.[1]

History[edit]

A hexagram on the obverse of Moroccan 4 Falus coin, dated AH 1290 (AD 1873/4).
A variant form of the "Secret Seal of Solomon", as seen in the 17th-century grimoire The Lesser Key of Solomon.

The earliest references to Solomon's seal / signet stem from within Jewish traditions. It is first mentioned by the first-century Jewish historian Josephus,[2](8.41-49) and is similarly referenced by the third-century Jewish magical text Sefer HaRazim[3] and then again finds expression in an aggadic section of the Tractate Gittin within the Babylonian Talmud as well.[4] In parallel a first century Greek manual of Judeo-Christian magic known as Testament of Solomon also makes reference to the Seal of Solomon.

The tradition of Solomon's Seal later made its way into Islamic Arab sources, as Gershom Scholem (the founder of the modern, academic study of Kabbalah) attests "It is difficult to say for how long certain definite names have been used for several of the most common seals. The Arabs made many such terms especially popular, but just the names Seal of Solomon and Shield of David, which are often used interchangeably for the two emblems, go back to pre-Islamic Jewish magic. They did not originate among the Arabs who, incidentally, know only the designation Seal of Solomon."[5]

The legend of the Seal of Solomon was developed primarily by medieval Middle Eastern writers, who related that the ring was engraved by God and was given to the king directly from heaven. The ring was made from brass and iron, and the two parts were used to seal written commands to good and evil spirits, respectively. In one tale, a demon — either Asmodeus or Sakhr — obtained possession of the ring and ruled in Solomon's stead for forty days. In a variant of the tale of the ring of Polycrates from Herodotus, the demon eventually threw the ring into the sea, where it was swallowed by a fish, caught by a charitable fisherman, who unknowingly fed it to the displaced Solomon, restoring him to power.[6][a]

The date of origin legends surrounding the Seal of Solomon is difficult to establish. It is known that a legend of a magic ring with which the possessor could command demons was already current in the 1st century (Josephus[2](8.2) telling of one Eleazar who used such a ring in the presence of Vespasian), but the association of the name of Solomon with such a ring is likely medieval notwithstanding the 2nd century apocryphal text the Testament of Solomon. The Tractate Gittin (fol. 68) of the Talmud has a story involving Solomon, Asmodeus, and a ring with the divine name engraved: Solomon gives the ring and a chain to one Benaiahu son of Jehoiada to catch the demon Ashmedai, to obtain the demon's help to build the temple; Ashmedai later tricks Solomon into giving him the ring and swallows it.[b]

The specification of the design of the seal as a hexagram seems[vague] to arise from a medieval Arab tradition, and most scholars assume that the symbol entered the Kabbalistic tradition of medieval Spain from Arabic literature.[9] The representation as a pentagram, by contrast, seems to arise in the Western tradition of Renaissance magic (which was in turn strongly influenced by medieval Arab and Jewish occultism); W. Kennett (1660–1728) makes reference to a "pentangle of Solomon" with the power of exorcising demons.[10]

Hexagrams feature prominently in Jewish esoteric literature from the early medieval period, and it has been hypothesized that the tradition of Solomon's Seal may possibly predate Islam and date to early Rabbinical esoteric tradition, or to early alchemy in Hellenistic Judaism in 3rd century Egypt.[11]

The hexagram or "Star of David", which became a symbol of Judaism in the modern period and was placed on the flag of Israel in 1948, has its origins in 14th century depictions of the Seal of Solomon. In 1354, King of Bohemia Charles IV prescribed for the Jews of Prague a red flag with both David's shield and Solomon's seal, while the red flag with which the Jews met King Matthias of Hungary in the 15th century showed two pentagrams with two golden stars.[12]

Lippmann Moses Büschenthal (d. 1818) wrote a tragedy with the title Der Siegelring Salomonis ("the signet-ring of Solomon"). An "Order of the Seal of Solomon" was established in 1874 in Ethiopia, where the ruling house claimed descent from Solomon.

In many representations of the Seal of Solomon, the two triangles are interlaced giving the appearance of a 3-dimensional figure. This was said in the Testament of Solomon to make demons confused and dizzy, unable to do Solomon any harm.

Mysticism, legends and other uses[edit]

In different traditions, the hexagram can be seen as the combination of the four elements. Fire is symbolized as an upwards pointing triangle, while Air (its elemental opposite) is also an upwards pointing triangle, but with a horizontal line through its center. Water is symbolized as a downwards pointing triangle, while Earth (its elemental opposite) is a downwards pointing triangle with a horizontal line through its center. In a hexagram, therefore, it was assumed that the symbols of all four elements could be seen combined.[13]

The hexagram is featured within and on the outside of many Masonic temples as a decoration.

"The interlacing triangles or deltas symbolize the union of the two principles or forces, the active and passive, male and female, pervading the universe ... The two triangles, one white and the other black, interlacing, typify the mingling of apparent opposites in nature, darkness and light, error and truth, ignorance and wisdom, evil and good, throughout human life." – A.G. Mackey[14]

In Islamic eschatology, some believe that the Beast of the Earth, which should appear near the Last Judgment day, will come bearing "the Seal of Solomon", and will use the latter to stamp the noses of the unbelievers.[15]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "Solomon is represented as having authority over spirits, animals, wind, and water, all of which obeyed his orders by virtue of a magic ring set with the four jewels given him by the angels that had power over these four realms. [...] It was Solomon's custom to take off the ring when he was about to wash, and to give it to one of his wives, Amina, to hold.
    On one occasion, when the ring was in Amina's keeping, the rebellious spirit Sakhr took on Solomon's form and obtained the ring. He then seated himself on the throne and ruled for forty days, during which time the real king wandered about the country, poor and forlorn. On the fortieth day, Sakhr dropped the ring into the sea; there it was swallowed by a fish, which was caught by a poor fisherman and given to Solomon for his supper. Solomon cut open the fish, found the ring, and returned to power. His forty days' exile had been sent in punishment for the idolatry practiced in his house for forty days, although unknown to him, by one of his wives".[6][7]
  2. ^ "Solomon thereupon sent thither Benaiahu son of Jehoiada, giving him a chain on which was graven the [Divine] Name and a ring on which was graven the Name and fleeces of wool and bottles of wine.
    Benaiahu went and dug a pit lower down the hill, and let the water flow into it[13] and stopped [the hollow] with the fleeces of wool, and he then dug a pit higher up and poured the wine into it[14] and then filled up the pits. He then went and sat on a tree.
    When Ashmedai came he examined the seal, then opened the pit and found it full of wine. He said, 'it is written, Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whosoever erreth thereby is not wise,[15] and it is also written, Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the understanding.[16] I will not drink it.' Growing thirsty, however, he could not resist, and he drank till he became drunk, and fell asleep. Benaiahu then came down and threw the chain over him and fastened it. When he awoke he began to struggle, whereupon he [Benaiahu] said, The Name of thy Master is upon thee, the Name of thy Master is upon thee. [...]
    Solomon kept him [Ashmedai] with him until he had built the Temple. One day when he was alone with him, he said, 'it is written, He hath as it were to'afoth and re'em' ["the strength of a wild ox"], 'and we explain that to'afoth means the ministering angels and re'em means the demons. What is your superiority over us?' He said to him, 'Take the chain off me and give me your ring, and I will show you.' So he took the chain off him and gave him the ring. He then swallowed him, [viz. "it": the ring] and placing one wing on the earth and one on the sky he hurled him four hundred parasangs.
    In reference to that incident, Solomon said, What profit is there to a man in all his labor wherein he laboureth under the sun?" [8]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lane, E.W. (1883) [1859]. Arabian Nights. Note 93, chapter 20.
  2. ^ a b Josephus. Antiquitates Judaicae.
  3. ^ Sefer ha-Razim. 6, 16–29.
  4. ^ "Gittin". Babylonian Talmud. 68 a-b.
  5. ^ Scholem, Gershom (1971). "The Star of David: History of a symbol". The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality. Translated by Meyer, Michael A. New York, NY: Schocken Books. p. 264.
  6. ^ a b "Solomon". Jewish Encyclopedia.
  7. ^ Naṣir ad-Din al-Baiḍawi; Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr ibn Yazīd al-Ṭabri. De Goeje, — (ed.). History of the Prophets and Kings / "Annales". i. 592 et seq; ii. 187.
  8. ^ "Gittin 68". Halakhah. Translated by Simon, M.
  9. ^ Leet, Leonora (1999). "The hexagram and Hebraic sacred science". The Secret Doctrine of the Kabbalah. pp. 212–217. ISBN 9780892817245.
  10. ^ "Solomon, seal of". Jewish Encyclopedia.
  11. ^ Leet, Leonora (August 1999). The Secret Doctrine of the Kabbalah: Recovering the key to Hebraic sacred science. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-89281-724-5.
  12. ^ Schwandtner (1901). "Scriptores Rerum Hungaricarum". In Friedmann, M. (ed.). Seder Eliyahu Rabbah ve-Seder Eliyahu Ztṭa (facsimile). Vienna, Austria. ii. 148.
  13. ^ Gallagher, Ann-Marie (2005). The Wicca Bible. pp. 315–316. ISBN 978-1-84181-250-2.
    The same information also found in many other books.
  14. ^ Mackey, Albert G. Encyclopedia of Freemasonry.
  15. ^ Anthony, Sean (2011). The Caliph and the Heretic: Ibn Saba' and the origins of Shi'ism. p. 220. ISBN 9789004216068.

External links[edit]