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King Solomon

Asmodeus and the Shamir.
How King Solomon enlisted the help of the demon king to build the Temple.

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

Iron is unholy, and the Torah forbids using it to cut stone for sacred buildings or decorations. So when King Solomon decided to embark on his greatest achievement, building the Temple, he did not know how to cut and fit the stones. The stone quarried in Jerusalem is beautiful, pink and glowing like giant jewels under the strong Mediterranean light, but it is extremely hard, and nothing but iron could cut it. But when the Lord denies one avenue, He supplies another, and the King, who was the wisest man that had ever lived, knew that.

So he called his counselors for advice, and they had no idea what to do. But one of them suggested consulting the demons, which knew many secrets, and were all servants to the wise king. The demons were summoned, and indeed they knew a long forgotten secret. They were reluctant to tell the king, of course, but he forced them to reveal it. Many generations before King Solomonís reign, Moses faced the same dilemma when he had to engrave the names of the Twelve Tribes of Israel on the precious stones that decorated the sacred Ephod (breast plate) worn by the high priest. God helped Moses by introducing him to a Shamir, a magical little worm that could cut stones with its glance. The demons did not know the whereabouts of any Shamir, but they suggested contacting their king, Asmodeus.

Asmodeus never quite accepted King Solomonís supremacy, so he had to be tricked and captured before he would give up the secret of finding a Shamir. The king knew that he lived on a certain mountain, where he kept a water hole, covered with a stone and sealed with his own seal. From this hole Asmodeus drank every day, before and after visiting the Heavenly Academy, where he liked to participate in the studies with the angels.

King Solomon sent his chief assistant, Benaiahu Ben Yehoyada, a cunning man, known for his courage and resourcefulness. He brought some necessary objects: a chain on which the king had inscribed the Shem Hameforash (the true name of God), a bundle of wool, and many skins full of strong wine. Benaiahu dug a hole under Asmodeusí hole, drained all the water from it, and stopped the bottom hole with the wool. He then dug a second hole from above Asmodeusí hole, poured all the wine into it, and after the wine filled the hole completely, covered his own hole with dirt. He then climbed a tree and waited.

When Asmodeus came to drink, he saw clearly that someone replaced his water with wine, and for a while hesitated to drink. But his thirst got the better of him and eventually he drank anyway. Thoroughly drunk, the demon fell asleep, and Benaiahu climbed down and carefully bound him with the chain engraved with the Shem Hameforash. The sacred name of God neutralized the demonic power completely, so when he woke up, the demon realized he had no choice but to obey, and followed Benaiahu to King Solomonís palace. He bitterly complained to the king about the indignity of his capture, but the king told him that he only wanted the Shamir, and for an important purpose. Asmodeus answered that he did not possess any Shamir. All the Shamirs belonged to the Angel of the Sea, who had assigned their use to the moor-hens under oath of guarding them with their lives. The moor-hens would take them to mountains that were too stony to inhabit and cultivate. The Shamirs would break the stones, the moor-hens plant seeds in the cracks, and new land would be thus prepared for settling on.

The kingís counselors found a moor-henís nest with a few nestlings. They covered it with a piece of clear glass. The moor-hen, seeing that it could not get in to feed her young, fetched a Shamir and was about to put it on the glass. The counselors threw some dirt at her, and in terror, she dropped the Shamir on the ground. The counselors grabbed it and triumphantly carried it to King Solomon. Seeing that her oath to the Angel of the Sea was thus broken, the moor-hen committed suicide, and her nestlings were orphaned.

So the Shamir was now available to the king, and the Temple could be built. But the use of so much cruelty and deceit carried a price. Adding to his sins, even though the king no longer needed Asmodeus, he nevertheless detained him against his will, until the Temple was completed. One day, Solomon told Asmodeus that he could not see any greatness in the demonsí strength, if their king could be kept in bondage by a mortal man. Asmodeus told him that he could show him his strength if the king lent him his protective magic ring. The king arrogantly agreed, and as soon as the ring touched Asmodeusí finger, the demon grew to a giant size, with one wing touching the earth and one touching the heaven. He snatched the king up and flung him away, and the king fell far away from Jerusalem. And so started King Solomonís punishment -- but thatís another tale.

Some legends say that when the Temple was destroyed, all the Shamirs ceased to exist.

Sefer Haagada. Editors: H.N Bialik and Y.H. Ravnitzki. Dvir, Tel Aviv, 1933.
Sefer Milim. Compiler: Marcus Jastrow, Ph.D. The Judaica Press, New York, 1996