What is the Magen (shield) of David

 

By

 

Yochanan  Zaqantov

 

We see this symbol everyday and on the flag of Israel it is the magen david which is mistranslated as Star of David.  It is the most recognizable symbol of Judaism today.  Where did this come from?  What is a Magen anyway?  Should this be a symbol that Karaites should adorn ourselves or use.  Where in the Tanakh does it reference this symbol was worn or created by Ha Melekh David.   Today we will be walking through my search for the Magen David.

 

The first place I checked was the Tanakh.  Did they wear the Magen David after his death? Adah (Ayin-Dalet-Hey) which is the verb that is translated as adorn/adorns/adorned (5710).  While it talks of Jewelry, and ornaments it never talks about a six pointed star.  I then looked for the word Magen which does appear in the Tanakh 60 times.  Magen (4043) (Mem-Gimmel-Nun-sofit) a mascline noun.  It is from the verb form ganan (Gimmel-Nun-Nun-sofit) (1598) which means defend.  Magen is the hebrew word for Shield.  So we are looking for the Shield of David.  So there should be at least one of these references which say something about a Shield of David.  In David’s time (Seferim Shemuel) and his Tellihim (Psalms) the mention of a Magan is used to describe Yehovah in most cases.

Shemuel Bet (II Samuel) 22:3 O YHVH, the rock wherein I take shelter: My shield (maginiy מָגִנִּי), my mighty champion, my fortress and refuge! My savior, You who rescue me from violence!

Shemuel Bet (II Samuel) 22:31 The way of El is perfect, The word of YHVH is pure. He is a shield (magen מָגֵן) to all who take refuge in Him.

Shemuel Bet (II Samuel) 22:36 You have granted me the shield (magen מָגֵן) of Your protection [Salvation] And Your providence has made me great. [and your humbleness has made me great].

Tehillim (Psalms) 3:3 (4) But You, O YHVH, are a shield (magen  מָגֵן) about me, my glory, He who holds my head high.

The rest of Tehillim follow the basic thought of chapter 3 verse 3.  Yehovah is his (David’s) Shield (Magen).  To look for yourselves here is a list of references.

Tehillim 7:10 (11) 11 My shield (maginiy  מָגִנִּי) is with Elohim, who saves the upright in heart.

Tehillim 18:2 (3), 31 (31), 35 (36)

3 YHVH is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my rock, in Him I take refuge; my shield (maginiy מָגִנִּי), and my horn of salvation, my high tower.

      31 As for HaEl, His way is perfect; the word of YHVH is tried; He is a shield (magen  מָגֵן) unto all them that take refuge in Him.

      36 You have also given me your shield (magen מָגֵן) of salvation, and your right hand has held me up; and your condescension hath made me great.

Tehillim 28:7 YHVH is my strength and my shield (umaginiy  וּמָגִנִּי), in Him has my heart trusted, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song will I praise Him.

Tehillim 33:20 Our soul has waited for YHVH; He is our help and our shield (umaginenu  וּמָגִנֵּנוּ).

Tehillim 59:12 Slay them not, less my people forget, make them wander to and fro by your power, and bring them down, YHVH our shield (maginenu  מָגִנֵּנוּ).

Tehillim 84:9 (10) Behold, O Elohim our shield (maginenu  מָגִנֵּנוּ), and look upon the face of your anointed.

Even in The prophets there is no mention of this Magen of David.  So where does it come from.  For this we must look outside the Tanakh.

In the Jewish Encyclopedia, it tells us that it is not even mentioned in the rabbinic literature.  I did searches on the Internet and found conflicting dates for the earliest know evidence that it existed.

The earliest Karaite source that mentions it is Eshkol ha-Kofer of the Karaite Judah Hadassi (middle of the 12th cent.), says, in ch. 242: "Seven names of angels precede the mezuzah: Michael, Gabriel, etc.... Tetragrammaton protect thee! And likewise the sign called 'David's shield' is placed beside the name of each angel." It was, therefore, at this time a sign on amulets.

I found this reference quoted in many encyclopedias.  So for amulets it was used as a way of protection. 

We can see this in Kabbalah sites like… 

http://headcoverings-by-devorah.com/FramedArt_MagenDavid.htm

“In Kabbalah the two triangles of the Magen David represent the dichotomies inherent in man: good vs. evil, spiritual vs. physical.

The triangle pointing up symbolizes our good deeds - which go up to heaven and activate a flow of goodness back down to the world - symbolized by the triangle pointing downward.

Tradition is that King David used this six-pointed symbol to signify that G-d shielded him in war - that G-d rules over the universe and protects us from all six directions: North, South, East, West, Up and Down.”

Never in the Tanakh does it reference HaMelekh David having such a shield.

The Jewish Encycplopedia (1901-1906) tells of the Magen of David.

Magen David (http://www.jewfaq.org/signs.htm#MagenDavid)

The Magen David (shield of David, or as it is more commonly known, the Star of David) is the symbol most commonly associated with Judaism today, but it is actually a relatively new Jewish symbol. It is supposed to represent the shape of King David's shield (or perhaps the emblem on it), but there is really no support for that claim in any early rabbinic literature. In fact, the symbol is so rare in early Jewish literature and artwork that art dealers suspect forgery if they find the symbol in early works.

Scholars such as Franz Rosenzweig have attributed deep theological significance to the symbol. For example, some note that the top triangle strives upward, toward G-d, while the lower triangle strives downward, toward the real world. Some note that the intertwining makes the triangles inseparable, like the Jewish people. Some say that the three sides represent the three types of Jews: Kohanim, Levites and Israel. Some note that there are actually 12 sides (3 exterior and 3 interior on each triangle), representing the 12 tribes. While these theories are theologically interesting, they have little basis in historical fact.

The symbol of intertwined equilateral triangles is a common one in the Middle East and North Africa, and is thought to bring good luck. It appears occasionally in early Jewish artwork, but never as an exclusively Jewish symbol. The nearest thing to an "official" Jewish symbol at the time was the menorah.

In the middle ages, Jews often were required to wear badges to identify themselves as Jews, much as they were in Nazi Germany, but these Jewish badges were not always the familiar Magen David. For example, a fifteenth century painting by Nuno Goncalves features a rabbi wearing a six-pointed badge that looks more or less like an asterisk.

In the 17th century, it became a popular practice to put Magen Davids on the outside of synagogues, to identify them as Jewish houses of worship in much the same way that a cross identified a Christian house of worship; however, I have never seen any explanation of why this symbol was chosen, rather than some other symbol.

The Magen David gained popularity as a symbol of Judaism when it was adopted as the emblem of the Zionist movement in 1897, but the symbol continued to be controversial for many years afterward. When the modern state of Israel was founded, there was much debate over whether this symbol should be used on the flag.

Today, the Magen David is a universally recognized symbol of Jewry. It appears on the flag of the state of Israel, and the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross is known as the Red Magen David.

Chai

This symbol, commonly seen on necklaces and other jewelry and ornaments, is simply the Hebrew word Chai (living), with the two Hebrew letters Chet and Yod attached to each other. Some say it refers to the Living G-d. Judaism as a religion is very focused on life, and the word chai has great significance. The typical Jewish toast is l'chayim (to life). Gifts to charity are routinely given in multiples of 18 (the numeric value of the word Chai).

Hamesh Hand

The hamesh hand or hamsa hand is a popular motif in Jewish jewelry. Go into any Jewish gift shop and you will find necklaces and bracelets bearing this inverted hand with thumb and pinky pointing outward. The design commonly has an eye in the center of the hand or various Jewish letters in the middle.

There is nothing exclusively Jewish about the hamesh hand. Arab cultures often refer to it as the Hand of Fatima, which represents the Hand of G-d. Similar designs are common in many cultures. Why it has become such a popular symbol among Jews? I haven't been able to find an adequate explanation anywhere. My best guess: in many cultures, this hand pattern represents a protection against the evil eye, and the evil eye has historically been a popular superstition among Jews.

Many of these symbols have significance in superstition and Kabbalist mysticism. 

We see futher an integration of magen into Kabbalah ritual art.

 

Magen David as used by Kabbalah

http://scheinerman.net/judaism/rituals/star.html

The hexagram first appears as a magical symbol in the early Middle Ages, especially in Muslim and Christian countries, and was used on notarial seals as well as for architectural decoration on churches. It appears that the hexagram was employed even earlier by the Karraite Judah Hadassi in the mid-12th century in connection with amulets and names for God. However, at this time it did not symbolize either God or the Jewish people; its precise meaning is unclear, but scholars have suggested that it suggested God's protecting power, hence the association with a "shield." The star was also employed in Kabbalah at this time; the ten sefirot were arranged within the six-pointed star and it was used in amulets. It further appears that the hexagram and pentagram were used interchangeably until this period, and then the six-pointed star gained favor, as it was associated with the notion of a "shield" of God and taken to have magical powers when used as an amulet. From the 14th century through the 18th century, the terms "shield of David" and "seal of Solomon" were used in magical texts indiscriminately though the hexagram ascended in popularity as the pentagram diminished in popularity. It is in this context that the Prague Jewish community chose to use the hexagram as its symbol when King Charles IV granted them the privilege of having their own flag in 1354.

Predating the Hexagram before its use in Judaism

The Magen David was used before becoming a symbol of the Jewish people.  It was religious symbol long before its use by Tzionist.

“During ruling of one of the last Samanid emirs Nūh ibn Mansūr ar-Ridā (ruled in 365 - 387/976 - 997) which was the second son and the successor of the above mentioned Mansūr ibn Nūh, one of his official 'Amīd al-Dawla Fā'iq al-Khāssa has issued in 368/978-79 in Balkh a copper fals, on which Vers side in the middle is represented the six-pointed star - hexagram, made of two opposite triangles, in a combination to the Arabian letters [www.zeno.ru: coin 20649]. On other copper fals, issued in the same 368/978-79 year in Balkh by the same Fā'iq al-Khāssa, in a floor of the Vers is represented the five-pointed star - a pentagram constructed of lines [www.zeno.ru: coin 20654].

The six-pointed star (hexagram) which is known also as "a seal of Solomon" or "a star of David", was widely used in Middle Ages in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Now it is a symbol Judaism though in this religion this symbol was used only since XII century3. Its presence on the Samanid coin is the earliest case of use of this symbol in these three religions4. It is possible to assume, that its occurrence has been connected with strengthening of the Judaic community existed in X century in Balkh and its area. In X century one of city gates of Balkh referred to Bāb al-Hadīd (the Gate of Judas) [al-Istakhri, p. 278]. In the area of medieval Balkh is mentioned a settlement named Jahūdanak that means Small Jahūdan or Small Yahūdan [Jakut, vol. 2, p. 167]. Nearby of Balkh in Gūzgānān on a way from Tāliqān to Fāryāb was situated a city named Jahūdān [Hudud al-'Alam, p. 107] or Yahūdān [al-Jakubi, p. 287] which referred to also al-Yahūdiyya, i.e. the Judaic city [al-Istakhri, p. 271; al-Moqaddasi, p. 347, 348].

However, the origin of hexagram was connected with Buddhism and India where this symbol for the first time has been fixed in the temples functioned long before new era. In Tantrist schools of the Buddhism and Induism the hexagram is a symbol of the classical mandala personifying the god Naru-Narajana. Corners of the top and bottom triangles making hexagram, personify six faces of the god Shiva and the god Shakti. It is possible to assume, that this symbol was borrowed in religions of the Near East from the Buddhism where it had deeper roots. In the modern Buddhism hexagram it is considered as the scheme of achievement of the highest step of Chakra in which a man becomes a part of the Universe.” (http://www.transoxiana.org/11/kamoliddin-samanids.html , Prof. Dr. Shamsiddin Kamoliddin, On the Religion of the Samanid Ancestors*)

Predating the Pentagram in the BCE

The five pointed star was used earlier than the 6 pointed star in Israel. 

“The five-pointed star (pentagram) was used by various people all over the world since very ancient times. It was the most widespread magic symbol of an antiquity. Probably, that this symbol has been invented independently by many civilizations and expresses any deep laws of the device of the world, the person and a society. Its images have been found on the walls of the Neolith cave parking, among the picture inscriptions of ancient Egypt, on clay tablets of Mesopotamia (IV millennium BC), and on walls of temples of the Indians of Maya in the Latin America. The pentagram was a symbol of followers of Pithagor (586 - 506 BC) in the ancient Greece, and it was a symbol of Jerusalem in the IV century BC. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam it is also known as "a seal of Solomon" or "David's star". The pentagram was used also in the Buddhism and other ancient religions of India and China as one of symbols of a mandala. In the doctrine of Taoism it symbolizes the five elements of the Eastern cosmology - wood, metal, earth, fire and water.

Thus, this sign also can be considered as one of symbols of the Buddhism. Occurrence of these Buddhist symbols on the Samanids coins could be connected with opposition and response of the Samanids to actions of the Buids, which, having captured in 334/945 actual authority in Bagdad, have declared themselves successors of the Sasanid kings and began to esteem and revive some pre-Islamic and Zoroastrian cultural values.” (http://www.transoxiana.org/11/kamoliddin-samanids.html , Prof. Dr. Shamsiddin Kamoliddin, On the Religion of the Samanid Ancestors*)

When was the Hexagram used for all the Jewish people

The Tzionist movement was the driving force to make the Hexagram a Jewish symbol.

“When thinking of Jewish symbols, one of the first to come to mind is the Magen David. However, the Magen David was not always a Jewish symbol. The Magen David or the hexagram [six-sided figure] was found in early remains of the Nabateans from the first century. It appeared in Israel in the second century CE at Kfar Nahum alongside pentagrams [five-sided figure] and other designs but seemingly without any symbolic overtones.

 

Magen David means "Shield" of "David" and the term "shield" or "magen" is used often in Jewish prayers. However why David's shield? Legend has it that Solomon had a magic ring which bore a pentagram, the Druids believed the sign contained magical powers and in fact it was the Kabbalist Joseph Gikatilla who mentions the hexagram for the first time in the 13th century. Many stories abound but the one I find most appealing is that God protected David from six sides - hence the origin of the Magen David, a six-pointed star. 

 

Gershom Scholem believes that Prague is the starting point of the Magen David's rise into the Jewish world and traces this to the flag displayed by the community, a yellow Magen David on a red background. In the 1650s Vienna chose the hexagram as its seal and the ghetto's boundary marker from 1656 shows a cross in a circle and a Magen David containing a circle. When the Jews were expelled from Prague in 1630, it is believed that the Magen David was introduced into the different communities where they moved. In 1512, once again in Prague, the Magen David became a printer's mark and by the mid 16th century Tobias Foa incorporated the Magen David as part of his printing logo in Venice. The Foa family continued to use it in the 18th and 19th century in Amsterdam. 

 

Jews were forced to wear the yellow star during the Holocaust and it became a symbol of mockery. Gershom Shalom sums up this duality: "The sign which in our own days has been sanctified by suffering and dread has become worthy of illuminating the path of life and reconstruction. Before ascending, the path led down into the abyss; there the symbol received its ultimate humiliation and there it won its greatness." (http://www.doingzionism.org/resources/view.asp?id=46)

 

So what should this symbol mean for us today.  Should we wear it or display it. What does the Tanakh feel about symbols which would have been used by the nations for their worship of their elohim?

 

Devarim (Deuteronmy) 7:25-26

25You shall consign the images of their gods to the fire; you shall not covet the silver and gold on them and keep it for yourselves, lest you be ensnared thereby; for that is abhorrent to the YHVH your Elohim. 26You must not bring an abhorrent thing into your house, or you will be proscribed (cursed) like it; you must reject it as abominable and abhorrent (detestable), for it is proscribed (cursed thing).

We are not to worship the objects which were for the land’s inhabitants.  We were not to possess them.

Shemot (Exodus) 23:24

24you shall not bow down to their gods in worship or follow their practices, but shall tear them down and smash their pillars to bits.

 

We were to destroy those objects.

 

Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:4

 

4 Do not turn to idols or make molten gods for yourselves: I YHVH am your Elohim.

 

We are not to turn to things which are fesels / idols.

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 12:30-31

30beware of being lured into their ways after they have been wiped out before you! Do not inquire about their gods, saying, “How did those nations worship their gods? I too will follow those practices.” 31You shall not act thus toward the YHVH your Elohim, for they perform for their gods every abhorrent act that YHVH detests; they even offer up their sons and daughters in fire to their gods.

Yehoshua (Joshua) 24:14

14“Now, therefore, revere the Lord and serve Him with undivided loyalty; put away the gods that your forefathers served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt, and serve YHVH.

Shemot (Exodus) 20: 3-4

4You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image (fesel – carved, formed image 6459), or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth.

 

Amos 5:25-26

 

25 Yea , you bore the booth of your King and Kiyyun (Saturn), your images the star (kokav) of your gods (elahykhem) which you made for yourselves!  26 Therefore I will take into exile you beyond Damascus, says Yehovah, elohey of hosts his name.

In my searching, I found that kiyyun in Assyrian was kaivanu and regarded as a god. This is related to the Persian god kaivan or keyvan which is Saturn. Here were they star worshiping?  Is this the star symbol as the Magen David today?  It is not clear from the text that it was one and the same but we see they were worshipping a god from the east and making images of stars.

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:15 – 20

 

15For your own sake, therefore, be most careful—since you saw no shape when YHVH your Elohim spoke to you at Horev out of the fire16not to act wickedly and make for yourselves a sculptured image in any likeness whatever: the form of a man or a woman, 17the form of any beast on earth, the form of any winged bird that flies in the sky, 18the form of anything that creeps on the ground, the form of any fish that is in the waters below the earth. 19And when you look up to the sky and behold the sun and the moon and the stars, the whole heavenly host, you must not be lured into bowing down to them or serving them. These YHVH your Elohim allotted (chalaq - divided)  to other peoples everywhere under heaven; 20but you YHVH  took and brought out of Egypt, that iron blast furnace, to be His very own people, as is now the case.

 

So we are told not to have a sculptured image that would represent another god or the worship of them.  Could the Magen David be such an image?  Could it have been used as a luck charm, an amulet, a symbol whose use comes from beyond the Euphrates or Egypt.  There appears to be evidence of such.  Could it be from Kabbalah?   And for that matter it was not on David’s shield as we have seen. David’s Shield or Magen was Yehovah which is the one who protected him. That is who our shield or Magen is today.  The six pointed star  was not even used in Jewish circles until the Common Era.  Next time you see this symbol, consider whether its use is as benign as it seems or could it be a fesel.

 

It is up to you to decide whether it should or should not be used.