No Sound of an Iron Tool
Segment of Chapter 5
The Temple of Doom
The Message of the Covenant
No Sound of an Iron Tool
There is an exceedingly curious point about the construction of the temple noted in 1 Kings 6:7.
1 Kings 6:7 For the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready at the quarry; and there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building. (JPS) (Emphasis added)
There are several aspects about the fact that no iron tool was heard while the temple was being built that are extremely peculiar and this singular detail raises several questions. Why was no iron tool heard during the construction of the temple? Who were the craftsmen that built the temple without iron tools? What tools were used if not tools made from iron?
Some have taken this avoidance of iron tools to be because of the prohibition in Exodus 20 against using an iron tool, but after careful consideration, one must conclude that it was due to other factors.
Exodus 20:22 And if thou make Me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stones; for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast profaned it. (JPS) (Emphasis added)
If one considers what Exodus 20 actually says very carefully, it is evident that it does not say an iron tool, but rather, it is a prohibition against using any tool whatsoever. The verse prohibits the use of hewn stone on an altar and therefore the use of any kind of tool is forbidden, not just iron tools. The only way that one could comply with this directive is to use stones in their natural state without dressing them in any way. Since the stones for the temple were dressed at the quarry, they certainly were not produced in compliance with the mandate of Exodus 20.
Therefore, this regulation only applies to altars made of stone. Recall all of the items made using tools at Horeb including the Ark. The two cherubim at either end of the ark were made of hammered work; therefore, they had been hammered with a hammer. The altar of burnt offering made at Horeb was made of acacia wood overlaid with bronze. Therefore, it was subjected to tools; however, it was not made of stone. Furthermore, recall that the censors of Korah and his band had been hammered flat and used to cover the altar after they were smitten for their uprising. This indicates that Exodus 20 only applies to stone altars.
There is a definitive piece of evidence about the propriety of using dressed stone in the temple. King David, the man of God, had prepared dressed stone for the temple.
1 Chronicles 22:1 Then David said: 'This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of burnt-offering for Israel.' 2 And David commanded to gather together the strangers that were in the land of Israel; and he set masons to hew wrought stones to build the house of God. (JPS) (Emphasis added)
If King David intended for the temple to be built of hewn stone, then it is logical to conclude that it was acceptable to use hewn stone. If a stone has been hewn, it has been hewn, regardless of where it was done. The definition of the word hewn does necessarily mean that tools have been used on something. It makes no sense to hew a stone in the quarry, but not use iron tools on it at the temple site, in respect to Exodus 20. Furthermore, it is obvious that these stones were subjected to iron tools at the quarry because they are noted as being trimmed with saws, within and without.
Since they did use hewn stone to build Solomon's Temple, stones that must necessarily have been subjected to iron since they were sawn, why was no iron tool heard in the temple while it was being built? Furthermore, it would be next to impossible to build a large masonry structure without using any tools on it as required by Exodus 20, at least in temporal and mortal terms.
The problem with constructing a building in compliance with the prohibition in Exodus 20 is that all of the stones would have to be found and assembled into a structure without the use of any tools of any type. Stating this in slightly different words, these stones would have to be in their virgin state, stones not cut by hand. In a way, many readers have probably made something like the altar described in Exodus 20 by assembling a circle of stones around a campfire. The Israelites used stones of the type specified in Exodus 20 for building monuments after crossing the Jordan River in the days of Joshua.
Joshua 4:1 And it came to pass, when all the nation were clean passed over the Jordan, that the Lord spoke unto Joshua, saying: 2 'Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, 3 and command ye them, saying: Take you hence out of the midst of the Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood, twelve stones made ready, and carry them over with you, and lay them down in the lodging-place, where ye shall lodge this night.' 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man; 5 and Joshua said unto them: 'Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel; 6 that this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask in time to come, saying: What mean ye by these stones? 7 then ye shall say unto them: Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off; and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.' 8 And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, as the Lord spoke unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel; and they carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. 9 Joshua also set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests that bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there unto this day. (JPS) (Emphasis added)
It is probable that the stones set up at the camp near Jericho cannot be recognized today. However, if an archeologist were to look in the bed of the Jordan near Jericho for a monument made of twelve stones, it is probable that that monument is still there today. That would be about the only reason for doing such a thing - to testify several millennia later that the Israelites actually did cross the Jordan on dry ground. After all, Joshua must have built this monument in the bed of the Jordan while the waters were cut off.
Hewing stone is an enormous task all by itself and by definition requires the use of tools, at least under natural circumstances. The reason that it is done is because it greatly simplifies construction and makes a building much stronger. Dressing also has the potential to improve the aesthetic characteristics of a building a great deal. It produces pieces of uniform size and angle and this greatly simplifies any building project. Because the stone is dressed, it is possible to keep things level and plumb. If natural stones were used, every single piece has to be selected so that it fits its exact spot in all three planes. If one used stones that complied with the terms of Exodus 20, the planes are mostly not perpendicular, so this greatly complicates construction. It is important to remember that in keeping with Exodus 20, no trimming is possible.
Ancient legends maintain that Solomon obtained from special sources a special tool for cutting stone called the shamir. The lore contends that this was the reason that no iron tool could be heard at the temple site. Common reasoning maintains that this was due to the prohibition against iron tools in Exodus 20, but by this point, it is should be clear that this is not the case. This is because Exodus 20 is not a prohibition against iron tools, but any tool at all. If the Shamir were used to cut stone, it is by definition a tool, albeit an unusual one. Despite the fact that this special tool may have been used at the temple site, it is certain that the stones were dressed at the quarry. Therefore, they had necessarily had tools used on them. The Biblical narrative states that the stones had been trimmed with saws. It is reasonable to conclude that those saws contained iron.
Biblical narratives contend that the stones used to construct Solomon's Temple were obtained in quarries. By definition, the process of quarrying involves digging down to the resource with tools and removing it with tools. At a quarry, it is necessary to reduce stone to smaller pieces with some type of tool because it is difficult to move when the whole piece is about the size of the planet earth. Stone quarries are usually located where there is a resource with desirable attributes.
For building stones, part of the process of recovery generally involves splitting. Splitting rock by hand can be done with wedges and hammers. Many minerals can be split along specific planes due to a characteristic known as cleavage, a property derived through the specific geometric molecular structure of a mineral. Some types of stone do not readily lend themselves to splitting and those types of materials were generally avoided for wide-scale use in ancient times. Sedimentary and metamorphic rocks were favored for building materials in ancient times because many varieties split easily. These types of rocks can be split along the layers that they were deposited in. Metamorphic rocks such as marble were prized building materials of the ancients. The narratives state that King David prepared marble for the temple in abundance before his death.
Today, some of the initial work of removing stone from a quarry can be done with heavy equipment and explosives. This is a much more satisfying approach to the whole problem. Nevertheless, explosives cannot be used to quarry many types of building stones like marble because it is too fragile. Explosives are excellent for producing gravel of almost any type of rock. In any event, explosives must be considered to be a type of tool when used in this way just as the Shamir must be considered to be a type of tool if it were used in this way. Exodus 20 does not allow any tools whatsoever.
While some aspects of the tale of the shamir seem to be little far-fetched, the following information is likely accurate because there is quite a bit of supporting information about many of these events from a variety of sources. There is evidence that Solomon conscripted the services of demons to build the temple, just as the following legend contends. Many Jewish sources also maintain that Solomon was an accomplished magician and there is quite a bit of evidence supporting that theory. In fact, using magic to do something is actually conscripting supernatural powers. Consider that the Lord maintains a complete prohibition on sorcery, witchcraft and divination. Using demons to build the temple was not a good thing. The prohibition against sorcery has not changed and it will not change nor was it changed for Solomon or during Solomon's time. It is important to include the point that the act of using the shamir in-and-of itself would probably not be a problem, but the ancillary details about how it was obtained and why it was used certainly are.
A Marvel of Creation
The shamir was the seventh of the ten marvels created in the evening twilight of the first Friday (Ab. v. 6; comp. Pes. 54a; Sifre, Deut. 355; Mek., Beshallah, 5 [ed. Weiss, p. 59b; ed. Friedmann, p. 51a]), and it was followed, significantly enough, by the creation of writing, the stylus, and the two tables of stone. Its size was that of a grain of barley; it was created after the six days of creation. Nothing was sufficiently hard to withstand it; when it was placed on stones they split in the manner in which the leaves of a book open; and iron was broken by its mere presence. The shamir was wrapped for preservation in spongy balls of wool and laid in a leaden box filled with barley bran.
With the help of this stone Moses engraved the names of the twelve tribes on the breastplate of the high priest, first writing on the stones with ink and then holding the shamir over them, whereupon the writing sank into the stones. With its aid, moreover, Solomon built the Temple without using any tool of iron (comp. I Kings vi. 7; Ex. xx. 25; Tosef., Sotah, xv. 1 [ed. Zuckermandel, p. 321]; Sotah 48b; Yer. Sotah 24b). The shamir was expressly created for this latter purpose, since it ceased to exist after the destruction of the Temple (Sotah ix., 10; Tosef. xv. 1).
According to one legend, an eagle brought the shamir from paradise to Solomon at the latter's command (Yalk. ii. 182), while another tradition runs as follows: When Solomon asked the Rabbis how he could build the Temple without using tools of iron, they called his attention to the Shamir with which Moses had engraved the names of the tribes on the breastplate of the high priest, and advised him to command the demons under his sway to obtain it for him. Solomon accordingly summoned Asmodeus, the prince of the demons, who told him that the shamir had been placed not in his charge, but in that of the Prince of the Sea; the prince entrusted it only to the wood-grouse, in whose oath he confided. The wood-grouse used the shamir to cleave bare rocks so that he might plant seeds of trees in them and thus cause new vegetation to spring up; hence the bird was called the "rock-splitter." The shamir was taken from the wood-grouse by the following ruse: Its nest was found and its young covered with white glass. The bird then brought the shamir and put it on the glass, which broke; at that moment Solomon's emissary, who had concealed himself close by, frightened the bird so that it dropped the shamir, which was immediately seized and taken to Solomon. The wood-grouse killed itself because it had violated its oath (Git. 68a, b). (Jewish Encyclopedia)
The use of the shamir can in no way have anything to do with Exodus 20 because that precept forbids the use of any tool, not just a tool of iron. Furthermore, the verse applies to altars and it has been shown that it does not apply to stones used to make furnishings or buildings. It might, however, shed a great deal of light on many other aspects of Solomon's building program. It might also shed a great deal of light on Solomon's agenda in general.
The following information is taken from the Jewish Encyclopedia in a treatise on Asmodeus and it contains some references to the construction of the temple. Asmodeus is thought to be the king of the demons.
In the Book of Tobit
In the Testament of Solomon
In Haggadic Legend
Benaiah Captures Ashmedai
Solomon Discovers the Whereabouts of the Shamir
Excerpts of Elements of the Ashmedai-Solomon Legend
The reason that no tool of iron was heard during the construction temple seems to have been due to the fact that the demons that Solomon conscripted for labor feared iron. There is no question that the silence of iron tools had nothing to do with Exodus 20 because that verse forbids the use of any tools whatsoever and this would also preclude their use at the quarry. Furthermore, it is very clear that the stones used in the temple were indeed hewn stone, trimmed with saws, so they had been subjected to iron tools. In the following passage, the king giving commands is Solomon and the house that this verse is speaking of is the house of the Lord. In addition, notice that Solomon is quarrying stones for the temple while we know that King David had quarried stones for the temple. What happened to those stones? Maybe they just rotted away in four years.
1 Kings 5:31 And the king commanded, and they quarried great stones, costly stones, to lay the foundation of the house with hewn stone. 32 And Solomon's builders and Hiram's builders and the Gebalites did fashion them, and prepared the timber and the stones to build the house. (JPS)
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