What is the Star of David and is it biblical?
The Star of David, also known as the Shield of David or Magen David, is a generally recognized symbol of Jewish identity and Judaism. It is shaped like a hexagon, with six points forming a star. The hexagram has been in use as a Jewish symbol since the 17th century, but its origins go back much further in history.
The Star of David is not mentioned by name or appearance in the Bible. However, there are connections between the symbol and biblical references that have led to its adoption as a Jewish emblem. Here is an overview of the history and meaning behind the Star of David and its biblical significance.
Origins and History of the Star of David
The hexagram has been found on ancient synagogues, tombstones, and coins dating as far back as the Second Temple period in Jerusalem. This suggests the symbol has long had meaning in Jewish tradition and ritual. However, its widespread use as a distinct Jewish symbol is more recent.
In 1354, King Charles IV of Prague allowed Jews to raise a flag bearing the hexagram. In the 17th century, the symbol began to be commonly used on Jewish synagogues and gravestones. It was during this time that the name “Star of David” or “Shield of David” came into use to describe the hexagram.
The yellow badge that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany and other areas under Nazi rule was shaped like a Star of David. As a result, the symbol took on even greater meaning as a sign of Jewish pride and identity in defiance of persecution.
Today, the Star of David is nearly universally recognized as a representation of Judaism and Jewish identity. It appears on the flag of Israel, which was adopted in 1948. The symbol continues to appear in synagogues, on Jewish tombstones, and in other instances as an emblem of Judaism.
Although not directly discussed, the Star of David has been connected to several biblical references.
The Shield of David
One of the symbol’s names connects it to King David. David is described in the Bible as a mighty warrior and King of Israel. One interpretation views the hexagram as symbolic of a shield providing divine protection over David and the Jewish people, as referenced in Psalms 3:3 – “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.”
The Seal of Solomon
The Star of David is sometimes referred to as the Seal of Solomon due to its geometrical interlocking triangles. King Solomon was known for his wisdom and power. The Medieval period mysticism of Kabbalah links the symbol to Solomon, seeing the hexagram as embodying greater spiritual meaning.
As a Heavenly Symbol
The hexagram’s six points are sometimes said to represent the six days of creation, with the seventh day being the spiritual center and holiest day of rest. The upward triangle represents the higher celestial realm, while the downward triangle symbolizes the lower earthly realm.
Alchemists once used the hexagram shape in association with the five platonic solids, assigning attributes to them. This was an attempt to explain creation through geometry and the merging of elemental properties. The Star of David was seen as arising from the top triangle of fire/heaven merging with the bottom triangle of water/earth.
These mystical interpretations connect the symbol to biblical concepts and Jewish traditions about the days of creation, the properties of wisdom, and the realms of heaven and earth.
Star of David in the Bible
There are no direct references to the Star of David in the Bible. However, some interpret various scripture passages as alluding to the symbol or its cosmic meaning.
As mentioned, the six points of the Star of David are sometimes connected to the six days of creation in Genesis 1. The seventh day being at the center represents the holy Sabbath.
1 Kings 7:21
This verse describes two pillars in Solomon’s Temple: “He set up the pillars at the portico of the temple. He set up the pillar on the south side and named it Jakin, and he set up the pillar on the north side and named it Boaz.” Some Kabbalists have interpreted this as an allusion to the interlocking triangles of the hexagram.
“The Israelites are to camp around the Tent of Meeting some distance from it: Each of them is to camp under their standard and be organized into divisions.” This references the banners identifying the 12 tribes. The “standard” is sometimes interpreted as the Star of David marking tribal flags.
While intriguing, these potential references are not definitive. The Star of David as a symbol is essentially extra-biblical, emerging from cultural traditions rather than direct scriptural source.
Meaning and Significance
What does the six-pointed Star of David symbolize in modern times? Here are some of the commonly understood meanings:
- Jewish identity
- Connection to Israel
- Interconnectedness (the unity of Heaven and Earth, the spiritual and physical)
- Jewish community
- Protection, divine providence
The Star of David today is important largely because of what it represents to Jews worldwide. It embodies the profound connection shared by those who identify with Judaism culturally, religiously, ethnically, and in other ways. The deepest meanings come from how the symbol has been taken to heart, more so than the biblical references.
Displaying the Star of David
The Star of David is displayed in a variety of ways as a sign of Jewish identity and faith:
- Synagogues – On the outside and inside of synagogues
- Gravestones – To mark Jewish graves
- Jewelry – As jewelry including pendants, earrings, rings
- National flag – On the flag of Israel
- Ornaments – As decorations in Jewish homes and on Torah scrolls
- Embroidery – On Jewish prayer shawls and other ceremonial garments
It is also used in various logos and images representing Jewish organizations and causes. When displayed in any of these ways, it signifies a connection to the Jewish people, faith, and traditions.
Controversies Surrounding the Star of David
There are some controversies and objections surrounding the Star of David symbol. Here are a few to note:
- Occult and magical associations due to Kabbalistic and mystical interpretations.
- Idolatry – Objections that giving such meaning to any symbol is a form of idolatry.
- Lack of biblical origins – Some view it as inappropriately used since it is not of clear biblical source.
- Holocaust associations – The Nazis forcing Jews to wear the Star of David gives it painful associations.
- Politicization – Using the symbol to represent the State of Israel and Zionism is seen as controversial in some circles.
However, despite some objections, the Star of David remains the preeminent symbol representing Judaism and Jewish identity to most people worldwide.
Significant Moments in History
Some key historical events involving the Star of David symbol include:
- 1354 – King Charles IV of Prague allows Jews to raise a flag with the hexagram.
- 17th century – Official use on synagogues and widespread adoption as a Jewish symbol begins.
- 1700s – Begins to be used on Jewish tombstones and graves.
- 1897 – The hexagram is adopted as the symbol of the Zionist movement by Theodore Herzl.
- 1933-1945 – The Nazis force Jews to wear yellow Star of David badges, leading to it becoming even more central to Jewish identity against persecution.
- 1948 – The Star of David appears on the flag of the new State of Israel.
These key events show the emergence and increasing importance of the Star of David as THE symbol representing Judaism and Jewish peoplehood.
Similar Looking Symbols
There are some other symbols that can look similar to the Star of David. Some of the more well-known ones include:
- Star and crescent – An Islamic symbol sometimes used to represent mosques or Islam in general.
- Compass rose – A navigational symbol on maps and nautical charts depicting the cardinal directions – north, south, east and west.
- Seal of Solomon – A hexagram interlaced with a five-pointed star. This is an occult or mystical symbol related to King Solomon.
- Unicursal hexagram – A six-pointed star made of a single continuous line rather than two intersecting triangles.
However, the Star of David is distinctive and unique as a symbol. When viewed in context, it is rarely confused with these other markings. The hexagram stands alone as the universally recognized symbol of Judaism, Jewish identity, and Israel.
There are some variations of the Star of David symbol. However, the basic hexagram comprised of two interlocking equilateral triangles remains the standard representation.
Some examples of Star of David variations include:
- Circled Star of David – The hexagram enclosed within a circle.
- Interlaced/Overlapping triangles – The two triangles intersected in different ways.
- 3D Star of David – A three-dimensional, solid hexagram.
- Colored Star of David – Hexagrams filled in or outlined in colors such as blue, white, purple, gold, etc.
- Kabbalistic symbols – The Star of David combined with the 10 sefirot, Tree of Life, and other mystical symbols.
However, the standard two-dimensional hexagram is the most widely used and recognized as the Star of David.
Usage in Christianity
The Star of David is sometimes used in Christianity as well, but typically not as extensively as in Judaism. Some examples of its Christian usage include:
- Messianic Christian congregations that incorporate elements of Jewish tradition may use the symbol.
- It can appear in Christian churches, especially those with a strong Zionist stance regarding Israel.
- The Star of David is incorporated into some crosses, rosaries, and crucifixes as a symbol of God’s mystical seal upon creation.
- It is sometimes used on gravestones of Christians in addition to a cross.
However, in Christianity, the cross remains the overwhelmingly dominant and recognized symbol. The Star of David symbolizes Judaism specifically much more so than Christianity in most cases.
In summary, the Star of David is the quintessential modern symbol representing Judaism, Israel, and Jewish identity. It likely evolved as a symbol over many centuries, eventually coming into widespread use in the 17th century. The six-pointed hexagram has deep spiritual significance in Jewish tradition, mystical thought, and culture. Despite some controversies, it remains the primary visual emblem of the Jewish people. The long historical development and rich meaning behind the Star of David make it a symbol revered by Jews worldwide.