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PILLAR (Heb. עַמּוּד; from the root ʿmd, "to stand"), a column that stands perpendicular to the ground and generally serves to support the beams of a roof. In this article no distinction will be made between "pillar," "column," and "post." The pillar is used in construction in three ways (see *Architecture): (1) as a functional element in construction to support a large ceiling; (2) to emphasize an ornate door at the front of a building, or to emphasize the outline of a building; and sometimes (3) to take the place of a doorpost and support a massive lintel. Another type of support performing the same functions is the pilaster which does not stand free but is attached to and stands out from the wall. There is another type of pillar that stands alone and is not connected with any other structure; this type of pillar was designed to attract attention and to serve as a place around which a crowd could gather (II Kings 11: 14).

Pillars (posts) occupied an important place in the structure of the Tabernacle (Ex. 26–27). The pillars (posts) used in the Tabernacle were constructed of wood. During the period of the monarchy, pillars were used in palaces and the Temple.

Halls are mentioned which contained rows of pillars (I Kings 7:6): pillars which served to support the roof; the symbolic pillars of Jachin and Boaz (I Kings 7:21; II Chron. 3:17); and copper pillars which stood at the entrance to the Temple (II Kings 7:15, 20, 22). Pillars that were functional elements in construction are mentioned in the story of Samson, who brought down the middle pillars of the palace of Dagon and in this way destroyed the entire building (Judg. 16:29).

Pillars were introduced into the Near East with the first experiments in enlarging covered structures. In Egypt they were first used as supports for roofing in the middle of the third millennium B.C.E. As early as this, pillars served not only as supports but also as ornaments of buildings, or as ornaments in themselves. In Mesopotamia pillars began to be used in the middle of the second millennium B.C.E.

Remains of pillars uncovered in various archaeological excavations in Ereẓ Israel and the discovery of plans of various buildings have revealed much about the function of pillars in ancient architecture. In a large structure at Ai dating to the early Canaanite period a row of pillar bases was discovered in one hall, which passed through the center of a long building. The function of these pillars was to help support the beams of the roof. In general, builders saw to it that the pillars inside buildings, whether of wood or stone, should be separated from one another in order to permit free passage among them. The pillars were set up in a place where they would not hide the inside of the structure from the entrance. In most cases, only the bases of the pillars, which could have served as foundations for both stone and wooden pillars, have been found in archaeological excavations. The pillars were sometimes made from one block, but generally from several stones placed one on top of the other. The use of pillars as supports for beamed ceilings is common also in the late Canaanite period. In one of the buildings discovered at Taanach a pillar was set up in the middle of a large area that could not be beamed from wall to wall, thereby shortening the distance between walls and making it possible to place short, strong beams between the pillar and the wall in order to build a roof over this area.

The use of pillars in the construction of houses and other types of buildings was widespread in the Israelite period. Buildings from this period have been found that are divided internally into four sections: three long sections that lie side by side forming an almost perfect square, and a fourth section, of approximately the same size, running across their ends. The long rooms were sometimes divided from one another by solid walls, but generally by rows of pillars. It appears that of the long rooms, the middle one was uncovered, being a type of court lined on either side by rows of wooden or stone pillars. The roofs of the two outer rooms were supported by the outside walls and the two rows of pillars that surrounded the court. These structures are common in Tell en-Naṣbeh, Tell Qasila, and other places. Larger structures of this type were found in Hazor. Another use of pillars inside a building was discovered in the structures of the stables of Megiddo in one of the Israelite strata. In the large network of stables, stone pillars arranged in rows at equal distances from one another were discovered. In each space between the pillars a water trough was discovered, and on the pillar itself a hole for tying a horse. These pillars had a threefold function; to support the roof, to serve as a place for harnessing a horse, and to divide the building into compartments for individual horses.

Square stone columns and pillars bearing "proto-Ionian" capitals are characteristic of the elaborate structures of the Israelite period. These capitals are decorated with a bas-relief of a double coil emanating from a central triangle. Discovered in strata from the beginning of the Israelite period in Jerusalem, Megiddo, Samaria, Ramat Raḥel, and Hazor, these pillars served as posts of gates. In addition to actual physical pillars, the Bible speaks of the *pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire that accompanied the Israelites during their journey through the desert (Ex. 13:22). The pillar of cloud is also described as standing at the door of the Tabernacle (Deut. 31:15). Metaphorically, in the poetic sections of the Bible, the heavens are described as standing on pillars (Job 26:11). In a poetic manner, the pillar is used metaphorically in the descriptions of the parts of the human body: "His legs are as pillars of marble set upon sockets of fine gold" (Song 5:15).

In the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E., under the Persian rule, with the penetration of Greek influences into the Middle East generally and Ereẓ Israel in particular, many elements of classical architecture found their way into the local styles. Among these elements, the pillar holds an important place as a functional element in the structure of building or as ornamentation. Pillars appear both in private and publicbuildings, and also in tombs. In Ereẓ Israel pillars and capitals of different styles were in use simultaneously; for example an ancient specimen of a Doric pillar remained on a mural inside a Hellenistic tomb in Marissa. In Ereẓ Israel remains of pillars from the beginning of the Hellenistic era are rare. From the Roman period on, Hellenistic architecture spread greatly. During this period, particularly in the reign of Herod (37–4 B.C.E.), much building on the part of the king took place in Ereẓ Israel, almost all of which included elements of Roman architecture. In order to raise the level of the Temple Mount, Herod erected rows of large square pillars, remains of which exist underground southeast of the Temple Mount at the site known today as "Solomon's Stables." Examples of smooth monolithic pillars stand in the "colonnaded street" in Samaria. These pillars stand on square bases and their capitals seem to have been Corinthian. Corinthian pillars and capitals were set up by Herod in Herodium and in Masada in the northern palace. In this palace the pillars are not monolithic but are built in sections (drums) and covered with stucco intended to give the effect of marble. With the exception of the Temple and other stately buildings in Jerusalem, large pillars were not widespread in the country, as they were in other lands of the Roman Empire, large monumental structures being uncommon in Ereẓ Israel.

The use of pillars was more common in tombs of the Second Temple period. They are found in the tombs of the Sanhedrin and the tombs of the sons of Hezir in the Valley of Kidron in Jerusalem. In these places the pillars, like the whole tomb, are hewn out of rock. This style was also widespread in many other places both in the Judean Hills and Galilee, for example, in the cemetery in Bet She'arim. A different use was made of columns and pillars in "Absalom's Tomb" and in the "Tomb of Zechariah" in the Valley of Kidron, both monumental tombs from the time of the Second Temple. These monuments are partly or wholly hewn from the living rock and are cube-shaped, and their facades are beautified by half pillars and columns cut out of the rock. The capitals of the pillars in these two monuments are Ionic.

With the erection of synagogues in Galilee and Judea in the third and fourth centuries C.E., a mixture of styles in architecture came into use. The pillars, like the carvings and other decorations of the synagogue, were ornamented in a mixture of styles – an Oriental style that was the result of Persian influence, and a late Hellenistic style. This is the case with the capitals and other decorations of the synagogues of Capernaum, Kefar Baram, Chorazin, and others. In these places there are capitals in a number of styles, chiefly Ionic and Corinthian, used together in various parts of the structure. Worthy of mention are the widespread corner pillars in these early synagogues. In cross-section the pillars are heart-shaped and their function is to emphasize the corners of the rows of pillars. The synagogue pillars had two functions – to beautify the appearance of the portico and to support the slanted roof inside. In the synagogues in Galilee there were usually two rows of pillars: those of the halls are large and stand on square bases, while those of the upper (women's) galleries on the second floors are small and narrower. These are found in Kefar Baram, Chorazin, Capernaum, and other sites. While the interiors of the synagogues were decorated with columns, the facades of the early synagogues were decorated with pillars protruding from the walls, such as those found in Caper-naum, Chorazin, Kefar Baram, and other places.

This mode of decoration was a continuation of the system of building of the Herodian era and is found on the monument erected over the cave of Machpelah in Hebron. It appears that the decorations with which the cave of Machpelah was adorned are a return to the motif that decorated the Temple Mount, though that was on a much larger scale. Circular pillars, mostly with Corinthian capitals, also decorated the insides of later synagogues from the fifth and sixth centuries C.E., such as those found at Bet Alfa, Beth-Shean, on the wall of Tiberias, etc. The pillar, being a conspicous element in the architecture of magnificent buildings, also served as decoration. Thus in many places pillars are portrayed in mosaics or paintings flanking the ark of the Law in the synagogues. They were found on the murals in Dura Europos, in the mosaics of Bet Alfa, Nirim, Beth-Shean, and elsewhere. Small marble pillars with delicate ornaments usually served to support the chancel screen before the ark. Such pillars were found out of their original places in a number of synagogues in Galilee and Judea. A series of pillars symbolizing the Temple appears on the coins of Bar Kokhba. These are usually portrayed as four pillars apparently carrying the exedra in front of the facade of the Temple.

In the Jewish world it was not customary to erect a pillar as a monument in memory of a person or enterprise. Pillars were used primarily for decorating splendid houses and as functional elements in construction, chiefly in synagogue buildings. Technically, the pillars used for this purpose were either monoliths, as in Samaria or Capernaum, or were built of sections, as in the synagogues in Chorazin and Kefar Baram and in the late synagogues. Apparently the pillars built of sections were to some extent an expression of the economic situation of the Jewish population in the first centuries C.E., when materials were poorer than in previous eras. When Herod built his monuments in Caesarea, Tiberias, Jerusalem, and other places, he erected huge monolithic columns whose production and also transportation were much more costly than the production and transportation of column drums.


E. Sellin, Tell Ta'annek (1904), 3; A.G. Barrois, Manuel d'archéologie biblique, Tomb, 1 (1939), fig. 97; See excavation reports at: Megiddo I (R.S. Lamon and G.M. Shipton, 1939); Samaria I (G.A. Reisner et al.); Hazor I (Aharoni); Ramath Rahel (Aharoni, 1964).

[Ze'ev Yeivin]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.