JewishEncyclopedia.com

The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
- Phrase search: "names of god"
- Exclude terms: "names of god" -zerah
- Volume/Page: v9 p419
- Diacritics optional: Ḥanukkah or hanukkah
- Search by Author: altruism author:Hirsch
search tips & recommendations

SHAMIR:

Term designating a hard stone in the Targums, but in the Bible thrice (Jer. xvii. 1; Ezek. iii. 9; Zech. vii. 12) connoting Adamant, a substance harder than any stone and hence used as a stylus (Löw, "Graphische Requisiten." i. 181-183, Leipsic, 1870; Cassel, "Schamir," in "Denkschriften der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Erfurt," p. 63, Erfurt, 1856). In the post-Biblical literature of both Jews and Christians are found many legends concerning the shamir, its quality of splitting the hardest substance being the property especially emphasized.

A Marvel of Creation.

The shamir was the seventh of the ten marvels created in the evening twilight of the first Friday (Ab. v. 6; comp. Pes. 54a; Sifre, Deut. 355; Mek., Beshallaḥ, 5 [ed. Weiss, p. 59b; ed. Friedmann, p. 51a]), and it was followed, significantly enough, by the creation of writing, the stylus, and the two tables of stone. Its size was that of a grain of barley; it was created after the six days of creation. Nothing was sufficiently hard to withstand it; when it was placed on stones they split in the manner in which the leaves of a book open; and iron was broken by its mere presence. The shamir was wrapped for preservation in spongy balls of wool and laid in a leaden box filled with barley bran.

With the help of this stone Moses engraved the names of the twelve tribes on the breastplate of the high priest, first writing on the stones with ink and then holding the shamir over them, whereupon the writing sank into the stones. With its aid, moreover, Solomon built the Temple without using any tool of iron (comp. I Kings vi. 7; Ex. xx. 25; Tosef., Soṭah, xv. 1 [ed. Zuckermandel, p. 321]; Soṭah 48b; Yer. Soṭah 24b). The shamir was expressly created for this latter purpose, since it ceased to exist after the destruction of the Temple (Soṭah ix., 10; Tosef. xv. 1).

According to one legend, an eagle brought the shamir from paradise to Solomon at the latter's command (Yalḳ. ii. 182), while another tradition runs as follows: When Solomon asked the Rabbis how he could build the Temple without using tools of iron, they called his attention to the Shamir with which Moses had engraved the names of the tribes on the breastplate of the high priest, and advised him to command the demons under his sway to obtain it for him. Solomon accordingly summoned Asmodeus, the prince of the demons, who told him that the shamir had been placed not in his charge, but in that of the Prince of the Sea; the prince entrusted it only to the wood-grouse, in whose oath he confided. The wood-grouse used the shamir to cleave bare rocks so that he might plant seeds of trees in them and thus cause new vegetation to spring up; hence the bird was called the "rock-splitter" (). The shamir was taken from the wood-grouse by the following ruse: Its nest was found and its young covered with white glass. The bird then brought the shamir and put it on the glass, which broke; at that moment Solomon's emissary, who had concealed himself close by, frightened the bird so that it dropped the shamir, which was immediately seized and taken to Solomon. The wood-grouse killed itself because it had violated its oath (Giṭ. 68a, b).

Folk-Legends.

This last account is Babylonian in origin, and both language and content prove that it was a legend of the people rather than a tradition of the schools, as is the case with the stories mentioned above. There were, however, learned circles in Palestine which refused to credit the use of the shamir by Solomon (Mek., Yitro, end). Others, however, believed that Solomon employed it in the building of his palace, but not in the construction of the Temple, evidently taking exception to the magical element suggested by a leaden box as a place of concealment, for in magic brass is used to break enchantment and to drive away demons (Soṭah 48b; Yer. Soṭah 24b). It was a miracle, on the other hand, and not magic if the Temple, as many believed, built itself (Pesiḳ. R. 6. [ed. Friedmann, p. 25a]).

Opinion is divided concerning the nature of theshamir. Jewish tradition unanimously declares it to be a small worm (Rashi, Pes. 54a, overlooked by Grünbaum ["Gesammelte Aufsätze," p. 32]; Maimonides, commentary on Ab. 5, 6), this view having a textual basis. Cassel, on the other hand, considered the shamir to be a powder of corundum, developing his theory as follows: "From the powdery emery was made a living creature of infinite minuteness, regarded by later authorities as a worm, although rabbinical tradition itself merely terms it 'shamir' without the addition of 'worm' or any other term" (l.c. p. 69). This view, however, is rightly rejected by Löw. According to another legend, the wood-grouse used a herb to burn or draw out a wooden nail (Lev. R. xxii. 4 and parallels), this herb being hidden by Simeon b. Ḥalafta lest it should fall into the hands of thieves. A similar story is told by Ælian of the hoopoe ("Historia Animalium." iii. 26; Cassel, l.c. p. 73; comp. other Oriental and classical parallels given by Bochart, Cassel, and Grünbaum).

Arab Legends.

The tradition of the shamir was carried from the Jews to the Arabs (Grünbaum, "Neue Beiträge," passim, especially p. 229); in Arabic tradition Solomon, under instructions from Gabriel, has recourse to a worm when he desires to bore through a pearl, and to a white worm when he wishes to thread the onyx (Grünbaum, l.c. p. 218). The belief was still current in the Middle Ages, since it is found in the Cabala (Zohar, i. 74; see story of Solomon in Jellinek, "B. H." ii. 86). According to the English version of the "Gesta Romanorum" (ed. Grässe, ii. 227), the emperor Diocletian enclosed in a glass case a young ostrich found in the forest and carried it to his palace. He was followed by the mother, who, that she might regain her young, brought in her beak on the third day a "thumare" (shamir), a worm, and dropped it on the glass, which was thus broken. Vincent of Beauvais, Gervase of Tilbury, and Albertus Magnus relate similar stories, and the last-named expressly gives Jewish tradition as his source (Cassel, l.c. pp. 50 et seq., 77 et seq.). The other two writers, in the true spirit of medievalism, give a remarkable variant to the effect that the bird smeared the glass with the blood of the worm and so broke it.

Bibliography:
  • Bochart, Hierozoicon, ii. 343, 842 et seq.;
  • P. Cassel, Schamir, in Denkschriften der Königlichen, Akademie der Wissenschaften in Erfurt, Erfurt, 1856;
  • Lewysohn, Zoologie des Talmuds, § 500, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1858;
  • Kohut, Angelologie und Dämonologie, p. 82, Leipsic, 1866;
  • idem, Aruch Completum, viii. 107, Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterb. iv. 579;
  • Grünbaum, in Z. D. M. G. xxxi. 204 et seq.;
  • idem, Gesammelte Aufsätze, pp. 31-43, Berlin, 1901;
  • idem, Neue Beiträge zur Semitischen Sagenkunde, pp.211 et seq., Leyden, 1893;
  • Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. 1079-1080.
W. B. L. B.
Images of pages