THE Fellow-Craft is introduced to the wonders of his world of art and science through portals flanked by two massive pillars. Detailed description of these pillars in the Books of Kings indicates a style of design common to Egyptian architecture, where a pillar terminates in a capital representing a conventionalized lotus blossom, or the seed pod of that sacred lily. Such twin pillars are frequently found among Egyptian and Sumerian archaeological remains.
The pillars of King Solomon’s Temple, and in fact that entire group of structures, were the work of Phoenician artists, according to the Biblical account. From other sources we gather that these same designers and craftsmen, initiated Dionysiac architects, were responsible for the magnificent palaces and temples at Byblos, the cultural and aesthetic center of ancient Phoenicia. The Phoenician realm occupied an area roughly the same as that of modern Syria and Lebanon, and in Biblical accounts is usually called Tyre, from the name of its then capital city. Byblos, also known as Gub’l or Gebal, the present-day village of Jebeil, was particularly famous for architects and sculptors.
The twin pillars symbolize the dual nature of life and death, positive and negative or rather active (establishment) and passive (endurance), male and female, light and dark, good and evil, uniting in a central point of equilibrium, the apex of an equilateral triangle; a circle between two parallel uprights. Isis represented standing between two pillars of opposing polarity, the Ark of the Covenant between two Cherubim, Christ crucified between two thieves, are all symbols of the same trinity, the completeness and perfection of Deity.
That the twin pillars resemble the conventional symbol for Gemini, third sign of the Zodiac, is no accident, but rather due to the common ancestry of the two apparently unrelated symbols.
In some lectures the pillars are said to be 35 cubits high, the height given in II Chronicles, King James Version. Another version of the same source gives the height as 120 cubits. Since the height of the first or outer chamber was probably no more than 30 cubits, the measurement given in I Kings: 18 cubits, seems more likely to be correct. The addition of map globes atop the pillars is a modern invention, with little Biblical or other authority and serving little purpose but to permit the lecturer to harp upon the advantages of studying astronomy, geography, etc., worthy pursuits but wholly unrelated to the symbolism of the pillars.
Whether the three chambers of the Temple were connected by stairs is debatable. The best-informed scholars believe the Temple roof was flat, in which case the successively decreasing heights of the chambers, plus the somewhat sloping configuration of the site, would require approach and connection by means of either stairways or of some sort of ladder and trapdoor arrangement. Certainly the fantastically elaborate many-storied versions of the Temple depicted by some well-intentioned but ill-informed Bible illustrators and Masonic artists are so illogical and at variance with the few known facts and testimony of both the Bible and history as to seem the figments of a disordered imagination. Josephus stated that the Temple was of Grecian style which implies entablature and consequently a flat roof, although he had the cart before the horse, since Greek architecture was derived from Phoenician, not the reverse.
In any case, the stairway of our lectures is purely symbolic, consisting as it does of the significant numbers 3, 5, and 7. In such a series, 3 symbolizes such qualities as peace, friendship, justice, piety, temperance, and virtue. 5 represents light, health, and vitality- 7 is a symbol of control, judgment, government, and religion.