The Star of David is called Magen David in Hebrew, which literally translates to “The Shield of David”. This is appropriate since King David was a warrior king. He defended and defeated the enemies of the Israelites for many years and was fiercely regarded. Just ask Goliath, who was just a stone’s sling away from discovering this fact himself.
Now, it is synonymous with the Jewish People and with Judaism as an ethnoreligious group (when an ethnic group is strongly associated with a religion unique only to them). It’s instantly recognizable by people across the world and sits in a place of pride on the Israeli flag.
David never actually used this symbol
Contrary to popular belief, the Star of David was never used by King David. In fact, its usage only came into being much later. As in, the 17th Century. It was first used as a symbol in Prague and only became popular with the Jewish people in the 19th Century. Thousands of years after David made his mark on history — and a solid bruise on the Philistines’ gigantic champion.
The origin story of the Star of David
It was actually with his son Solomon that the story begins. But, yet again, Solomon himself was not directly connected to it. There was a predecessor symbol to the Star of David which had a significant likeness to it. It was called the Seal of Solomon (Hebrew: Hotem Shelomo). This symbol was legendary among those in medieval mystical arts. Like Jewish Kabbalists, but it wasn’t just restricted to them. It was popular with the other two major Abrahamic religions: Christianity and Islam.
It was believed that the Seal of Solomon, a signet ring given by God, granted King Solomon power over supernatural beings and allowed him to communicate with animals. However, this is not canon with any of the original Biblical text, but rather a legend that grew out of it.
Sometimes depicted as a pentagram (a five-pointed star still associated with the occult today) or a hexagram, it was surrounded by a seal. In the latter form, made up of two triangles, it was nearly identical to the Star of David as it is today. The difference is, the hexagram in the Seal of Solomon has three-dimensional interwoven triangles, while the Star of David is flat with overlapping triangles.
The Seal of Solomon was first mentioned by Josephus, a Jewish historian in the 1st Century CE. He described its use in an example of exorcising demons out of men and ensuring they were banished for good.
The Star of David was made official in 1897
Among European Jews in the 17th Century, starting with Prague, the Star of David increasingly became a prominent symbol for Judaism. And so, it was strongly associated with the Jews by the time the First Zionist Conference of 1897 was convened. The conference was a result to the question of what Jews (mainly European Jews) were supposed to do, living as a nation without a home, within countries often hostile to their presence.
It was chaired by Theodor Herzl, and its main aim was the establishment of a Jewish homeland after nearly two thousand years of mostly European antisemitism. The conference decided the traditional land of Canaan (later the ancient Kingdom of Israel) should be the site of this new homeland. It was there that the Star of David was officially made into the symbol of the Jewish people — a symbol of their aspirations for national determination. This came to fruition in 1948, when Israel was born, with the United Nations as its midwife (It came down to a vote among the members of the UN as to allocate land in traditional Palestine to the Jews or not. The yesses carried the vote).
As part of the birth of a new nation from the vestiges of an ancient one, the Star of David was logically the best choice of symbol for the new country’s flag. And since then, Jews around the world and within Israel itself wear the symbol around their necks in much the way Christians wear crosses. But, did you know there’s more to it than that? “Miraculously”, the Star of David contains another surprise, aside from its esoteric and Kabbalistic origins.
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The letters of the Aleph-bet and the Star of David
Interestingly enough, all the letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet fit into the Star of David! Sound incredulous? So here’s a fun exercise for our students at Rosen! How many Hebrew letters can you spot? If you’re struggling, watch this video!
It’s amazing that they all fit in. What’s even more amazing is the language of Hebrew itself. See our blog about its journey through the Jews’ travels in history to modern day. If you’re keen to learn Hebrew yourself, why not sign up for a course with us at the Rosen School of Hebrew? You’ll engage in live, online classes with dedicated, native-speaking Hebrew teachers — as well as a group of similarly enthusiastic students like yourself! Find out more about enrolling here. And, if you’re interested in learning more about King David (and his son Solomon) in the original text of the Bible, you can learn Biblical Hebrew at the Israel Institute for Biblical Studies, one of our associate schools.
Best of all, both of these schools are affiliated with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. That means you can earn three academic credits for each course that you do. Now that’s the Wisdom of Solomon for you!
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING:
The Star of David and Seal of Solomon not being Biblical, as is commonly believed