The Pillars in the West
Charles A. Sankey
21 November 1967

This evening we witnessed a second degree in which reference was made to the two pillars in the west. These pillars constitute another Masonic link with the ancient religions. The originals, cast under the direction of Hiram Abif, were suggested by two great columns consecrated respectively to the winds and to the fire in the Temple of Malkrath in Tyre, with which, of course, Hiram Abif was familiar.

There are several references to these pillars in the Old Testament. That in Second Chronicles, chapter 3, verses 15 to 17, is especially interesting.

" And he made before the house two pillars of thirty and five cubits high and the chapiter that was on top of each of them was five cubits.
And he made chains as in the oracle and put them on the heads of the pillarsj and. he made an hundred pomegranates and put them on the chains.
And he reared up the pillars before the Temple, one on the right hand and the other on the left; and called the name of that on the right Jachin and the name of that on the left Boaz."

As you know, we make reference to one pillar in the first degree, and to the other in the second. In French Masonry the order in which they are presented is reversed, J appearing before B, as it does in Chronicles. One of the points of controversy in the schism between the "moderns" and the "ancients" in England was as to which pillar belonged in which degree. This finally resolved into our present system. In still another variant, or when there was only one degree, both pillars appeared in the first (or only) degree.

In the Senior Warden's lecture you were given, in the ancient unit of cubits, the dimensions of these pillars. The height does not agree with that in Second Chronicles. Remembering that a cubit is just a shade short of 1' 8-1/2", it is easy to calculate the size of the pillars. Taking those given to you, the hollow shafts were about 30' 8" high, approximately 6' 10" in diameter with a shell thickness of about 4". The capitals or chapiters placed on top added another approximately 8' 6" to each. If you substitute the dimensions in Second Chronicles the shafts were an amazing 59 feet, 9 inches high which with the chapiters gives an overall height of something over 68 feet. The production of these pillars is abundant evidence, if any is needed, that Hiram Abif was a really first class workman in the brass-bronze alloys of his day.

The description of the ornamentation as communicated to you is probably incorrect. In I Kings, ch. 7, we read that Hiram made

The two pillars, and the two bowls of the chapiters that were on top of the two pillarsj and the two networks, to cover the two bowls of the chapiters which were upon the top of the pillars; and four hundred pomegranates for the two networks, even two rows of pomegranates for one network, to cover the two bowls ...

There was thus a network of chains, but problems arise when, in addition to pomegranates, we start talking about lily work from its whiteness denoting purity. There is no statement about lilies in the appropriate Old Testament texts. The pillars were brass-bronze and I just don't accept the reference to whiteness. The most probable explanation is that the ornamentation throughout the network or chains was that of the lotus, probably the sacred lotus with its sixty-three (nine times seven) petals and its central seed pod. The lotus has been called the Egyptian lily. Its symbolism is deeply esoteric going back to the earliest times and it would be natural for Hiram Abif, with his knowledge from Tyre, to include it. Don't forget the wording in Second Chronicles "he made chains as in the oracle". At least this explanation is reasonable and would account for the pomegranates and lilies which have both somehow got into the Masonic story.

The most interesting thing about the pillars was however the significance of their names. The explanation which has been given to you appears to be a mixture of truth and fiction. Unfortunately the fiction obscures the essential point.

Second Chronicles does not say why these names Jachin and Boaz were given. We know who dedicated the temple,- Solomon did and he saw to it that he was always in the center of the spotlight. This was proper because he had been the prime initiator and focus of the whole accomplishment. I question the explanation given in the degree. The idea, for example, of naming a major item in the temple after an otherwise unknown No. 2 man is simply naive. The given names are, properly, attempted transliterations (as distinct from translations) of Hebrew words written many centuries before the English language existed.

The Hebrew word transliterated as Jachin is a verbal noun having a meaning "He that strengthens", "He that plants in an upright position", or "He will establish". It is thus inherently associated with action and its real significance is as a symbol of the Active Principle of the Deity. The word, transliterated as Boaz, means "strength", "power", "might", "a source of strength", "a fort", and is, by contrast, a symbol of the Passive Principle of the Deity. Thus the pillar on the right referred to action and work and that on the left to contemplation and thought. Surely such names were highly appropriate for the two great pillars between which the ancient Israelites passed at the entrance to the temple of God.

There is no point in getting involved at this time in other details of the Masonic story or in a discussion of the attributes of the Deity. Let me simply remind you of an earlier instruction, that the heart may conceive and the head devise in vain, if the hand be not prompt to execute the design, and, of its converse, if the heart does not conceive, or the head devise, the hand has nothing significant to execute.014

So as a Masonic-thing-to-live-by I give you the two pillars in the west. Place them at the entrance of your own temple, then think creatively, plan intelligently, and act.