Solomon’s Temple, the permanent ‘home for God’ where the Ark of the Covenant would rest and the Shechinah would dwell, was built on the same pattern as the original ‘Tabernacle in the Wilderness’ that was built by Moses, though it was far more grand and elaborate.
The Bible tells us that “no hammer or ax or any iron tool was heard in the House while it was being built.” The Talmud comments on this verse by suggesting that because the Temple was constructed to enrich human life, and iron implements are so often used to destroy human life, it would not have been fitting to use iron tools when building the Temple.
But some tales suggest that there is even more to the story:
The Scriptures say that in addition to his unsurpassed wisdom regarding such things as Good, Evil and Justice, Solomon “discoursed about trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall; and he discoursed about beasts, birds, creeping things, and fishes.”
The legends, however, say that Solomon did not merely discourse about these plants and animals: he spoke to them. God had granted him so much wisdom, that Solomon understood the language of every living thing. And not just plants and animals. Solomon could converse with angels and even demons. He could drive demons out when they possessed human beings.
One of the greatest challenges to his wisdom was to find a way to build the Lord’s Temple without using iron tools to cut, fashion, smooth down, and fit the great stones together. Solomon knew that God never gives us more obstacles to overcome than we are capable of handling, so the injunction in the Torah against the use of iron tools had to mean that another method existed. So he called together all the wise of his kingdom, and asked if any of them knew the secret.
An old wizard, learned in ancient lore, revealed to Solomon that on the sixth day of Creation, in addition to many other Wonders, God had created the Shamir. This little stone (some say it was a little worm, which relates the Shamir to the Dragon, the Serpent Power, the Will of God acting upon the hard stone of the world), the size of a grain of barley, was supposedly used by Moses to engrave the names of the Tribes onto the twelve precious stones in the ephod worn by the High Priest. The Shamir, the wizard knew, could slice stone, and would be able to cut the stones for the Temple in complete silence.
But neither he, nor any other of the assembled wise, knew where the Shamir might be. So Solomon called together all the demons who were under his control, but they also had no idea where the Shamir was located. They suspected, however, that their leader, Asmodeus, the king of the demons, probably knew the secret.
They told Solomon the name of a mountain where Asmodeus dwelt. Further, they informed him that there was a spring of pure water within this mountain from which Asmodeus drank. Each day he would drink his fill, and then seal the well with a great rock before going about his business. When he returned, he would always check the rock to be sure the seal had not been tampered with during his absence, and when he was satisfied he would remove the rock and drink again. [The demon’s ‘water’, the level of ‘truth’ with which he sustains himself and his power, comes from the spring ‘Below’. Each day, before drinking, he would make sure that nothing had entered and infected it from ‘Above’].
Solomon called for his General and right-hand-man, Benaiah (whose name means ‘son of the Lord’), and they devised a plan to capture Asmodeus. Benaiah went forth to the demon’s mountain, with a chain, a bundle of wool, a container of wine, and Solomon’s signet ring upon which the old wizard had inscribed the Name of God.
When Benaiah arrived at the mountain he bored a hole at the bottom, letting out all the water without touching the great stone on top. He stopped up the hole with some of his wool. Then he went to the other side of the mountain, to a spot higher up, and bored another hole. Through this hole he refilled the great well with wine, and then stopped up the hole with the rest of his wool.
When Asmodeus returned, he was astonished to find wine instead of water in his well, for the seal had not been touched. At first, he would not drink of it, but soon he succumbed to his thirst and drank deeply until his senses were overpowered and the wine put him into a deep sleep.
Benaiah now came forth from his hiding place, slipped the ring with the Name of God onto the chain, and put the chain around the neck of the king of demons.
Asmodeus awoke and tried to escape, but the chain with the Name could not be resisted, and Benaiah led him off and returned to Solomon.
Solomon spoke with Asmodeus and demanded that he reveal the hiding place of the Shamir. The demon said that God had given the Shamir to the Angel of the Sea, and the Angel had long ago entrusted it to a great bird, who had taken an oath to guard it carefully. The job of this bird is to seek out mountains that are too rocky to be inhabited, to use the Shamir to break up the rock, and then to fill the openings with seeds so that plants begin to grow and the mountains soon become habitable. But there are many, many, such places amongst the southern mountains where the bird might be, and Asmodeus could help no further.
Once again, Solomon and Benaiah devised a plan. Benaiah took an expeditionary force in search of the great bird. Eventually they found its nest, and as Solomon had expected it was full of fledglings. Following Solomon’s plan, Benaiah covered the nest with a flat transparent stone he had brought with him. Then he hid himself and waited.
When the great bird returned and saw her hungry, helpless, fledglings beneath the stone, she took out the Shamir to break the stone. Benaiah then jumped out from his hiding place, yelling and waving his arms, and the terrified bird dropped the Shamir and flew off.
Benaiah picked up the Shamir, removed the stone from the nest, and returned to King Solomon.
The tiny Shamir, representing just a tiny fraction of the force of God, the Logos, the Serpent Power that traverses and unites all levels, is so strong that it can “cut stone” – that is, it can cut through the denseness and hardness of the material world. This enormous power can only be located (it is somewhere within oneself) with the help of our dark side, the ‘evil inclination’, which must be tamed. The demonic King Asmodeus is the dark negative analogue of King Solomon. (In a later legend, Asmodeus even replaces Solomon for a time as king, and no one notices.)
On one level, employed by the animal/material level of consciousness at its highest degree (the bird soaring through the high mountains), the Shamir breaks through ‘stone’ to make habitations for human beings. But when employed by the wisdom of Solomon, it breaks through our ‘stone’ to make a habitation for God – the “Temple”.
Once Solomon knew that the stones could be cut and fitted without violence (iron tools), the task of construction began. For this, the Bible tells us that Solomon called upon the services of two special people, both of whom were named Hiram. The story of this triad of Temple Builders would later provide a basis for the Freemason tradition.
The 1200 years from the death of Joshua to the birth of Jesus was a fascinating tome in the Holy Land. If you liked this article, you will enjoy FROM JOSHUA TO JESUS: A Brief Chronicle of the Kings, Empires, Legends and Ideas that Paved the Way to Bethlehem