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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Shamir in Jewish Tradition.

In the Pirke Aboth, 5, 8, we read that "ten things were created on the eve of the Sabbath," among which was also the "Shamir." According to Jewish tradition; the Shamir was a little worm by the aid of which Moses fitted and polished the gems of the ephod and the two tables of the law, Solomon the stones of the Temple. On 1 Kings 6:7, "there was neither hammer nor axe, nor any tool of iron, heard in the house while it was in building," D. Kimchi writes thus; "By means of a worm called Shamir, when placed on a stone, it split. Although not larger than a barleycorn, the Shamir was so strong that by its touch mountains were removed from their places, and the hardest stones were easily split and shaped. By means of this worm Solomon prepared the stones for the building of the Temple. But who gave it to him? An eagle brought it to him from the Paradise, as it is written, He spake of beasts and of fowl' (1 Kings 4:33). But what did he speak to the fowl? He asked where the Shamir was. The eagle went and fetched the Shamir from Eden. By means of this Shamir Moses prepared the stones of the ephod and the first and the second tables.

This is the tradition." As to the tradition to which Kimchi refers, so far as Solomon is concerned, the Talmud (Tr. Gittin, fol. 68, Colossians 1) contains a pretty story, which is, a fine specimen of Jewish legendary lore. The story runs as follows: "Solomon asked the rabbins, How shall I build the Temple without the use of iron)? They referred him to the worm Shamir which Moses had employed. How could it be found? They replied, Tie a he and she devil together; perhaps they know it and will tell thee. This being done, they said, We do not know it; perhaps Asmodeus, the king of the devils, will tell thee. But where is he to be found? They answered that on a certain mountain he had dug a hole, filled it with water, covered it with a stone, and sealed it with his ring. Every day he also ascends on high and learns in the school above; then he comes down to study in the school below. He then goes and examines his seal, opens the hole, and drinks; after this he seals it up again and goes away. He (Solomon) then sent Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, and gave him a chain on which was inscribed Shem hammephorash (i.e. the Tetragrammaton), and a ring upon which was also inscribed the name, and a little wool and wine. When Benaiah had come to the mountain, he made a pit under that of Asmomdeus, made the water run off, and stopped the hole with the wool. He then made at pit above the first, poured some wine into it, covered it and climbed on a tree.

When Asmodeus came back, examined his seal and opened the pit and found the wine, he said, It is written (Proverbs 20:1) Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise;' and it is also written (Hosea 4:11) Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart,' and did not drink. But being very dry, he could not restrain himself, drank, became drunk, lay down and went to sleep. Benaiah then descended from the tree, put the chain around him and fastened it. When Asmodeus woke up, he was almost raging, but Benaiah said, The name of thy Lord is upon thee, the name of thy Lord is upon thee! After this the two set out. On their way they came to a date tree, which Asmodeus broke; then to a house, which he overturned; then to a widow's cottage, which he would have destroyed also, were it not for the poor woman that came out and entreated him. When he crossed over to the other side; he broke a bone and said, So is it written (Proverbs 25:15), A soft tongue breaketh a bone.' When they had come to the palace, he was not brought before the king for three days. On the first day Asmodeus asked why the king did not let him come before him. They said, He has been drinking too much. At this he took a brick and set it upon another and they went Go and give him more to drink.' On the second day he asked again why he was not brought before the king. They answered, because he had eatten too much. At this he took the bricks down and placed them on the ground.

When the king heard this, he told the servants to give him little to eat. On the third day Asmodeus was brought before the king, took a measure, meted out four cubits, threw it away, and said to the king, When thou diest, thou wilt have but four cubits in the world. Thou hast conquered the whole world, and art not satisfied till thou hast subdued me also. Solomon replied, I want nothing of thee; I will build the Temple, and need for it the Shamir. Asmodeus answered, It is not mine, but belongs to the chief of the sea, which he only gives to the wild cock that is faithful to him because of the oath. But what does he do with it? He takes it up to the mountains, where none dwell, puts it on the mountain rocks and splits the mountain, and then takes it away. He then takes the seed of trees, throws it there, and a dwelling place is prepared: hence he is called a mountain artificer (naggar tura). When they had found the nest of the wild cock containing young ones, they covered the nest with glass. When the parent bird came and could not get in, he went and fetched the Shamir and put it on the glass. But Benaiah shouted so loud that the bird dropped the Shamir, which Benaiah then took. The bird went away and hanged himself for having violated the oath." (B.P.)

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Shamir in Jewish Tradition.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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