The word "pillar" is used in the English versions of the Bible as an equivalent for the following Hebrew words:
- (1) "Omenot," feminine plural of the active participle of = "support," "confirm." This word occurs only in II Kings xviii. 16. In the Revised Version (margin) the rendering is "door-posts."
- (2) "Maẓẓebah" (R. V., margin, "obelisk"). This denotes a monolith erected as a monument or memorial stone (as the "pillar of Rachel's grave," Gen. xxxv. 20, and "Absalom's monument," II Sam. xviii. 18; comp. I Macc. xiii. 27-30), or as a boundary-mark and witness of a treaty (Gen. xxxi. 44-54; comp. Isa. xix. 19), or as a memorial of a divine appearance or intervention. Such stones often acquired a sacred character, and were regarded as dwelling-places of the Deity or were made to serve as rude altars upon which libations were poured (Gen.,xxxv. 14, xxxviii. 18-22; I Sam. vii. 12; possibly also Gen. xxxiii. 20, where the verb used indicates the original reading to have been = "pillar," instead of = "altar").In the earlier periods of Hebrew history and as late as the reign of Josiah one or more of these stone pillars stood in every sanctuary or "high place." Thus Moses built an altar at Sinai, and "twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel" (Ex. xxiv. 4; comp. Josh. xxiv. 26; Hos. iii. 4, x. 1-2; Isa. xix. 19). Similar pillars stood at the Canaanitish altars of Baal (Ex. xxiii. 24, xxxiv. 13; Deut vii. 5, xii. 3; II Kings iii. 2, x. 26-27) and in the sanctuaries of Tyre (Ezek. xxvi. 11) and of Heliopolis, in Egypt (Jer. xliii. 13). The recent excavations of the Palestine Exploration Fund at Gezer have revealed a row of eight monoliths on the site of the ancient high place. These are hewed to aroughly square or round section and one to a sharp point ("Pal. Explor. Fund Quarterly Statement," Jan., 1903).
By the Deuteronomic and Levitical codes the use of the maẓẓebah as well as of the asherim at the altars of Jehovah was forbidden as savoring of idolatry (Deut. xvi. 21-22; Lev. xxvi. 1). It is probable that these had become objects of worship and as such were denounced by the Prophets (Mic. v. 13-14; comp. I Kings xiv. 23; II Kings xvii. 10, xviii. 4, xxiii. 14). Some such stone idols seem to be referred to in Judges iii. 19, 26 (comp. the Arabic "nuṣb"). The term "ḥammanim," rendered "images" and "sun-images," is probably used of later and more artistically shaped or carved pillars of the same character as the maẓẓebah (Lev. xxvi. 30; Isa. xvii. 8, xxvii. 9; Ezek. vi. 4, 6; II Chron. xiv. 3, 5; xxxiv. 4, 7).
- (3) "Neẓib" (from the same root as "maẓẓebah"), while rendered "pillar" in Gen. xix. 26, is elsewhere translated "garrison" (I Sam. x. 5) and "officer" (I Kings iv. 19). In the second passage, however, the Septuagint renders it by ἀνάστημα, "i.e., probably a pillar erected as a symbol or trophy of Philistine domination" (Driver, "Hebrew Text of Samuel," p. 61; so, also, H. P. Smith, Wellhausen, and others).
- (4) "Mis'ad" (I Kings x. 12; R. V., margin, "railing," "prop"). The precise meaning is unknown.
- (5) "'Ammud," the word which occurs most frequently in this sense, is used of the pillars or columns which support a house or the roof of a house (Judges xvi. 25-29), of the posts which supported the curtains of the Tabernacle (Ex. xxvii. 10, 17; xxxvi. 36-38; Num. iii. 36-37), and of the pillars in the Temple (I Kings vii. 2, 3, 6; comp. Ezek. xlii. 6; Prov. ix. 1). They were made of acacia-wood (Ex. xxvi. 32, 37; xxxvi. 36), of cedar (I Kings vii. 2), or of marble (Esth. i. 6; comp. Cant. v. 15). A detailed description is given in I Kings vii. of two brass or bronze pillars which were fashioned by Hiram for King Solomon and set up in the porch of the Temple, and to which were given the names "Jachin" ("He [or "It"] shall establish") and "Boaz" ("In him [or "it"] is strength"). The word is used also of the columns or supports of a litter (Cant. iii. 10). It denotes, too, the column of smoke rising from a conflagration (Judges xx. 40), and particularly the column of smoke and of flame which attended the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex. xiii. 21-22, xiv. 24; Num. xiv. 14). An iron pillar is a symbol of strength (Jer. i. 18); and in poetry the earth and the heavens are represented as resting on pillars (Job ix. 5, xxvi. 11; Ps. lxxv. 4).
- (6) "Maẓuḳ," probably a molten support; hence a "pillar" (I Sam. ii. 8).
- (7) "Timarah"; in the plural, "pillars" of smoke (Cant. iii. 6; Joel iii. 3). Compare "tomer" (Jer. x. 5, R. V., margin; Baruch vi. 70), which probably means a "scarecrow."
- W. R. Smith, Rel. of Sem. 2d ed., pp. 201-212, 456-457;
- Nowack, Hebräische Archäologie; Wellhausen, Reste Arabischen Heidentumes, 2d ed., pp. 101, 141;
- Conder, Syrian Stone Lore, new ed., p. 86;
- Driver, Commentary on Gen. xxviii. 22, and on Deut. xvi. 21;
- Dillmann, Commentary on the same passages;
- Whitehouse, Pillars, in Hastings, Dict. Bible.