14 Comments

  1. dan C

    I was in the Karachi airport on a business trip and I realized I was surrounded by this symbol. It is part of the decor of the baggage claim/ customs area. I haven’t read all 5 articles but I wonder if this symbol has a specific meaning in Islam? I have a grainy cell phone picture I would be happy to send you.

  2. el oso

    Were there Sunstones before Nauvoo? How about the long pointed 5 stars? LDS have a rich history of making symbols in addition to discovering or reinterpreting ancient symbols. Thanks for the work on this article.

  3. My specialty is Islamic geometry and this shape is pretty much universally called the “Seal of Solomon”, soI can see where Margaret Barker may get the connection with wisdom. (Side note, the shape we call the Star of David is also sometimes the Seal of Solomon, but associations with the state of Israel have pushed that symbol into disfavour.)

    In terms of understanding the symbolism of this shape, there are few elements that should be noted.
    1. this shape is part of a family of geometry which is derived from the square, which suggests an association with transcending the limits of earth and material creation.
    2. this shape is inseparably related to the octagon and the number 8. In Islam the throne of God is borne up by 8 angels. Further geometric analysis of the Dome of the Rock floor plan will reveal that the placement of columns, etc is governed by the seal of Solomon.
    3. architecturally speaking, the octagon is a transition shape between a cube (earth) and a sphere (heaven) and therefore occupies a symbolic space which is very easily associated with prophets, Christ, and temples. Also, baptismal fonts in European churches are quite commonly octagonal.

    There are some pretty compelling reasons why LDS members could get excited about this symbol, but like Gaskill, I’m am deeply dubious that it has an ancient association with Melchizedek.

    If anyone is interested, I will be teaching a workshop on Islamic geometry at the BYU Museum of Art on September 7, 2012 and will be focusing on this shape, its symbolism in Islamic art and architecture, and how it is constructed using compass and square.

  4. Interesting thoughts Lisa. Thank you. Question, isn’t the Seal of Solomon (or Star of David) made up of of 6-pointed star (2 interlocking triangles), not eight-pointed (2 interlocking squares)? Also, since we find this symbol on the 6th century mosaics of Ravenna, right next to Melchizedek, there seems to be at least some, however minimal, connection there. Why would the Seal of “Solomon” appear in the mosaics? How does Solomon figure in? I’d be interested in attending your workshop at the MOA.

  5. As I mentioned above, yes, the Star of David is also often designated the Seal of Solomon and I don’t have a good explanation for why the name would be applied to both symbols.

    When you get into drawing these shapes with the compass, there is close correlation between three- and six-fold designs with the circle, whereas four- and eight-fold designs are connected to the square. If I were demonstrating this visually, I’d suggest that the six-fold Seal of Solomon might be representing communication from heaven to earth, and the eight-fold Seal might be representing the transformation of the earthly into the heavenly. This same correlation of the heavenly point of view with six-fold geometry and the earthly with four-fold geometry is suggested by Ibn Arabi. (can’t remember exactly where right now) Sorry if this is unclear — I’m used to being able to draw pictures to explain this stuff rather than having to write it!

    I don’t think that the eight-pointed star is exclusively associated with Solomon, but the association is strong throughout the Islamic world. I don’t know at what point in Islamic history that the association would have been made and I certainly don’t intend to argue that the symbol that we see in the mosaics should be connected to Solomon.

    Since we don’t see this symbol associated with Melchizedek outside of Ravenna, but we do see it in many other priestly settings, I would argue that Melchizedek is being marked as having a priestly role in these mosaics, rather than the symbol being a marker of Melchizedek specifically.

  6. Thank you Lisa. Is it possible that the Islamic world originally borrowed the symbol from the Byzantines to incorporate into their theology? Where did Islam get it?

  7. It’s possible, and you could certainly find examples throughout the Byzantine world.

    I confess that find it problematic and limiting to establish a single line of transmission since it’s such a simple symbol. It’s the sort of thing that anyone doodling would sketch. It is a shape that appears spontaneously as soon as a designer starts working with squares. (I think this is what was happening in the San Diego temple design process.) You don’t really need to have someone teach it to you. What would need to be taught would be specific meanings associated with it.

    One possible source of the esoteric associations with specific Islamic designs comes via discussions around the translations of Euclid that the Brethren of Purity were working with in Baghdad in the 10th century.

  8. Paul Justham

    It also occurs to me that the eight points of the symbol are reminiscent of eight sets of upraised arms surrounding a central circle.
    Also interesting to note that the number 8 is often associated with new birth or rebirth. (The baptistry in Florence is octagonal, for example.)

  9. Some have asked me what my reaction is to Alonzo Gaskill’s article. He is certainly very negative about the connection between the symbol and Melchizedek, and even takes some shots at me, Hugh Nibley, and others. Indeed, there may have been no significant connection between the symbol and Melchizedek in ancient times, as Gaskill so readily point outs. But, we do not know for certain. History is not an open book. There may be more to be discovered. Gaskill is being very dogmatic in his assertions, and unwilling to explore further, which is a shame.

    The fact is this—today there is a significant connection between the symbol and Melchizedek as has been demonstrated by Hugh Nibley, Michael Lyon, President Hinckley, President Faust, the architects of many temples, Mormon paraphernalia, Mormon books, Latter-day Saints, myself, and many others. It is very apparent to me that the Saints want the symbol to stand for Melchizedek, his priesthood, and by implication, our Savior Jesus Christ. I see nothing wrong in that.

    Gaskill disagrees strongly, for some unapparent reasons. Maybe I need to sit down with him and talk about it. For one who has written so many books about gospel symbolism, and has such a tremendously well-educated background in religious studies, Dr. Gaskill should know better. Symbols are what we make of them; they do not stand independent of humanity, in a vacuum. The critics of the Church use similar arguments as Gaskill does to show that the pentagram is not a symbol of Christ, but a symbol of the devil, and therefore its use on our temples such as in Nauvoo is a display of our utter depravity. No.

    Dr. Gaskill, symbols are flexible instruments that reflect an understanding of a particular people in their own time, space, and culture. People make symbols, and attach meaning to them. If the Latter-day Saints want to adopt this symbol to represent Melchizedek, I see nothing wrong with that. Would not such help us to more often reflect upon the Savior, whose priesthood it is?

  10. syd james

    I find it interesting how much the seal on the coptic clothe looks like the mirror of yata the most sacred thing in all of Japan believed to have been given to the first japanese from the creator Gods. This is the mirror cared for by the shito priest that the emporer looks into to see the face of god during the corination of the emporer.

  11. Lucy Skywalker

    I’m not a LDS but this figure has me currently very interested. I personally think it is fine to call it the seal of Melchizedek for a whole lot of reasons I’ll start to make clear.

    We have to remember that in ancient times and even well into the Christian era, people told history with stories and pictures. Artists dedicated to God’s service (like icon painters) portrayed the numinous sense of God’s presence as well as they could by using stylised idioms and heightened imagery, to convey things that literally came from another dimension. I have no doubt that they would be inspired by dreams, day visions, and even just a sense of heightened perception. Therefore we can, with care, read into the Ravenna mosaics by using our own faculties of sensitive perception, as well as simply noting unusual facts. Like, how come both Ravenna churches portray Melchizedek in preference to lots of other Hebrew Bible characters?

    To unravel this puzzle a bit further, one might do well to investigate Procopius’ Secret History (see A.R.E. research on this) about Justinian and Theodora who both appear in Ravenna. Justinian gathered the Fifth Ecumenical Council, it seems, just to “anathematize” the saintly Origen of Alexandria, pupil of Clement. Why? It could well have been because Origen taught esoteric Christian studies like reincarnation. Perhaps, after Justinian, nobody in Christendom understood any more about the esoteric significance of this eightfold star.

    Or is that all that Google can help us track?

    Here is a suggestion that the symbol was important early on: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/hierapolis-pamukkale – see Martyrium of St Philip picture

    And now, just have a look at this. Loads and loads of highly significant eightfold stars – in Christendom too: http://www.docstoc.com/docs/75100796/God-and-Geometry-Book

    There is an extraordinary comment on Sioux tradition here: http://lds-studies.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/seal-of-melchizedek-eight-pointed-star.html

    Why is it such a favourite in Islamic culture? One would do well to reflect on Islam’s inheritance, the great stargazing civilizations of Mesopotamia and Persia. Zechariah Sitchin may have had highly fanciful theories, but he does show evidence that these cultures may well have had close contact with “star beings”. Doesn’t the language used to describe Melchizedek remind one of the priest-kings of Mesopotamia? Doesn’t it suggest Melchizedek was a star-being himself? You LDS ought to be sensitive to these things! I’ve had dreams about this, and more, and am in no doubt about all this.

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