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Wednesday 11 November 2009

The Jewish Influence on the Great Seal of the U.S.A

The Jewish Influence on the Great Seal of the U.S.A.

Although most world leaders are not Jewish, Hebrew principles and symbolism are of great importance in elite circles. The teachings of the Kabalah (esoteric Judaism) are at the core of Freemasonry, a brotherhood which held within its ranks most of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Did this influence have a great impact on American symbolism? Here is an in-depth report written by Vigilant Citizen collaborator Anders, a researcher studying Jewish traditions, lore and the Kabalah.

leadjewish2 The Jewish Influence on the Great Seal of the U.S.A.

Over the years there have been numerous (and far too many) articles written on the symbolism presented on the One Dollar bill of the United States of America. The topic seems to mostly concern the so-called conspiracy theorists who appear to see the heraldic symbols and words as proof of a Satanic plot for world domination. This is usually tied to the fact that the Dollar bill shows signs that have long associations with the fraternity of Freemasons and, as some claim, with the secret society of the Bavarian Illuminati.

While there is a general agreement on the Masonic connections of some of these national symbols, a far less discussed point is that these very signs can also be interpreted in a more religious context. When closely examined, the Judeo-Christian Messianic and Kabbalistic imagery appears to be the source of derivation of the Dollar bill symbolism.

In this article I offer a new or at least less known perspective in interpreting the Great Seal. This takes in consideration the Hebraic/Judaic components that evidently made up the world view of the Founding Fathers. These, as we will see, had closely intertwined with the Masonic ideas and ideals in the minds of those who designed the layout of the One Dollar bill.

Historical Context

During the first half of the 17th century, millenarian ideas of the approach of the Messianic time, and more especially of the redemption of the Jews and their return to the Land of Israel, with their own independent sovereignty, were popular. This belief was so dominant that Manasseh ben Israel, in his letter to Oliver Cromwell and the Rump Parliament, did not hesitate to use it as a motive for his plea for the readmission of the Jews into English, remarking

..the opinions of many Christians and mine do concur herein, that we both believe that the restoring time of our Nation into their native country is very near at hand.

There is clear evidence of Hebrew/Biblical ideas forming the basis of the early American identity. One such ideology was the British Israelism. This is the belief that many early Britons, Europeans and/or their royal families were direct lineal descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel but rarely the Tribe of Judah. It appears to have gained momentum since the English Revolution and especially during the “Restorationist” movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

John Sadler published some of these ideas already in his The Rights of the Kingdom in 1649. It was only in the late 1700s, however, during a religious climate of Millenarianism that it became a distinct ideology thanks to the preaching and writings of two men, Richard Brothers and John Wilson. Another book from this period detailing this theory was Ezra StilesThe United States elevated to Glory and Honor, published in 1783.

Especially interesting is Mr. Stiles who was a Congregational clergyman, theologian and president of Yale College from 1778 to 1795. He had struck up a close friendship with Rabbi Haim Isaac Carigal during Carigal’s six month residence in Newport in 1773, the two meeting 28 times (according to Stiles’ records) to discuss a wide variety of topics, ranging from Kabbalah to the politics of the Holy Land. In addition, Stiles took the opportunity to improve his rudimentary knowledge of the Hebrew language, to the point where he and Carigal were to correspond by mail in Hebrew.

Stiles’ knowledge of Hebrew also enabled him to translate large portions of the Hebrew Old Testament into English. Stiles believed, as did many Christian scholars of the time, that facility with the text in its original language was advantageous for proper interpretation. As president of Yale, Stiles also became its first professor of Semitics, and required all students to study Hebrew (as was also the case at Harvard); his first commencement address in September, 1781 was delivered in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic. Yale’s legacy from this interest of Stiles’ includes a portrait of Carigal by artist Samuel King, and the Hebrew words Urim and Thummim on the Yale seal.

YaleSeal The Jewish Influence on the Great Seal of the U.S.A.
The shield of Yale University featuring Hebrew words Urim v’tumim that remind of Ezra Stile’s Jewish connections.

Thus, it is not just Old Testament flavored Christianity that formed the ideology behind the United States but there was also direct Jewish influence inspiring this development. In his famous book, Rev. Stiles writes:

… I shall enlarge no further upon the primary sense and literal accomplishment of this and numerous other prophecies respecting both Jews and Gentiles, in the latter day glory of the church. For I have assumed the text, only as introductory to a discourse upon the political welfare of God’s American Israel; and as allusively prophetic of the future prosperity and splendor of the United States.

Can we contemplate their present, and anticipate their future increase, and not be struck with astonishment to find ourselves in the midst of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Noah? May we not see that we (Americans) are the object which the Holy Ghost had in view four thousand years ago, when He inspired the venerable Patriarch (Jacob Israel) with the visions respecting his posterity?

We can see that there is indeed strong evidence in support of Israelite/Hebrew identification of the early masterminds of the United States. As an avid amateur scientist, Stiles also corresponded with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin about scientific discoveries.

These three gentlemen shared a similar prophetic vision of the United States. For this reason, the early designs of the Dollar bill showed imagery clearly taken from the Hebrew Bible. Thomas Jefferson proposed that the front side of the Seal was to show the Israelites in the wilderness, being led by the Pillar of Cloud and of Fire. Similarly, Benjamin Franklin suggested there should be the event of Pharaoh’s drowning in the Red Sea.[1] While neither of these survived into the last version, it can be argued that the Old Testament symbolism of the Exodus makes up the early message of the Dollar bill. However, it must be noticed that the first committee’s seal proposal, made by Benson J. Lossing in 1856, showed these two ideas combined, i.e. the Egyptians drowning in the Red Sea and the Israelites praying to the Pillar of Cloud and of Fire.

595px FirstCommitteeGreatSealReverseLossingDrawing1 The Jewish Influence on the Great Seal of the U.S.A.
Interpretation of the first committee’s seal proposal, made by Benson Lossing in 1856.

In fact, given all these connections and the special spirit of the time, it would be quite strange if Jewish/Hebraic references were not found on the Great Seal. Therefore, it is exactly in this context that the Seal is to be examined. We’ll take each of the major symbols and one by one see how they can be traced back to the Hebraic/Judaic sources.

So, what about all the Masonic connections that we have in Washington D.C. and in the Great Seal?

US GreatSeal Obverse600px The Jewish Influence on the Great Seal of the U.S.A.

Freemasonry can be defined as a Kabbalistic spiritual system adapted into the social-political context of the Enlightenment era and expressed in the medieval guild setting of the stonemasons. In this way, Freemasonry is itself largely based on Old Testament/Judaic sources without which it can hardly be understood. Thus, even if we interpret the Great Seal symbolism in purely Masonic terms, we can still deepen our understanding by digging into the Biblical/Jewish origins of those very symbols.

Enough has been written on the Pyramid part of the Seal. The Masonic connection of that appears quite evident and I do not argue against it. However, my focus is on the right side part of the Seal. This one is showing an eagle, holding an olive branch with thirteen olives in its left claw and a bundle of thirteen arrows on the right. The body of the eagle is covered by a shield with thirteen horizontal stripes on top and thirteen vertical on bottom. Above the head of the eagle is a rosette with thirteen five-pointed stars arranged in a hexagram pattern, flanked with words ”E PLURIBUS UNUM”. The translation of these words is ”Out of many, one”. The eagle is facing left, towards the word ”ONE” and the Pyramid design of the Great Seal.

Number thirteen is a disturbing number due to its famous association with bad luck. The origin of this belief is not easy to trace although it seems to have a Christian origin.

Some Christian traditions have it that at the Last Supper, Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th to sit at the table. So, if the Founding Fathers were leaning solely on Christian thinking, it would be unlikely that this number would have found its way to the Great Seal, the symbol of America’s divine success.

However, if there was a Jewish/Old Testament line of belief in their tradition, this number poses no problem.

Thirteen is actually a special number in Jewish tradition. First of all, thirteen signifies the age at which a boy matures and becomes a Bar Mitzvah, or ”Son of the Commandment” which means that the responsibility of the religious duties are put on his shoulders.

Secondly, according to the Torah, God has thirteen attributes of mercy[2]. There are also the famous thirteen principles of faith, compiled by medieval Jewish rabbi and philosopher Moshe benMaimon (Maimonides), outlining Judaism’s tenets[3].

The foundation of the Oral Torah (basis of Talmud) is the thirteen exegetical principles which are enumerated in the introduction to ToratKohanim. Through these principles, the Oral Law is derived from the written text of the Torah. This is why the MidrashHaZohar on Bereshit teaches that the number thirteen serves as a metaphor for the Oral Torah.

The thirteen breaches made by the Greeks in the enclosing wall (Soreg) which surrounded the Temple Mount were repaired by the Hasmonean kings. These kings decreed that one must bow down when passing by each of these repaired breaches; a total of thirteen bowings.[4]

The Elders made thirteen modifications in the text of the Torah when they translated it into Greek. This number represents the fact that inherent in the translation is the loss of the Oral Torah, which is derived through the thirteen exegetical principles. The thirteen breaches made by the Greeks and repaired by the Hasmoneans represent the entire focus of the Greek war against the Jews. The Greeks sought to eliminate the principles through their literal translation of the Torah into Greek, with the resultant loss of the Oral component of the Torah. The Hasmoneans succeeded in restoring these indispensable tools of Torah interpretation. In order to commemorate and give thanks for this victory of authentic Torah ideology over the shallow, incomplete Sadducee misrepresentation of Torah, thirteen bowings were instituted at the sites of the repaired breaches. It may be further noted that according to Rashi (Deuteronomy 33:11), thirteen Hasmoneans commanded the Jewish army that overthrew the Greeks. These thirteen courageous men enabled the Jewish People to preserve the Oral Tradition and its thirteen principles.

In fact, the number thirteen holds great significance according to Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. Kabbalistically, the number indicates the ability to rise above the influence of the twelve signs of the Zodiac (12+1=13), not being bound by the influences of the cosmos.

Thus, the number thirteen can signify (a) reaching maturity and independence, (b) God’s merciful blessings, (c) principles of true faith, (d) restoration of the Temple and the sovereignty and (e) rising above the clutches of dependence. All of these ideas were definitely significant to the Founding Fathers in their vision of the new, independent United States viewed in the Old Testament/Jewish Messianic light as ”God’s American Israel”.

The Eagle

Eagle is a famous Masonic symbol. In the Bible eagle is used as a metaphor for Israel’s exodus from Egypt:

Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto Myself.[5]

For the portion of the Lord is His people, Jacob the lot of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste, a howling wilderness; He compassed him about, He cared for him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. As an eagle that stirreth up her nest, hovereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her pinions.[6]

This image also appears In the New Testament Book of Revelation where “two wings of a great eagle” portray God’s intervention to deliver His people from persecution.[7]

Thus, the eagle on the Great Seal could in fact echo the settlers’ identification with the Israelites delivered from the Egyptian slavery, a theme that featured in the early designs of the Dollar bill.

Olive Branch and Arrows

The eagle, whatever its original meaning, carries in its claws arrows and an olive branch. As both the olives and the arrows number thirteen, it is quite natural to assume that they signify the same thing. So, what is the meaning of these two heraldic symbols?

To find this out, we can begin by searching what symbolism these signs carry in other heraldic uses. Interestingly, the coat of arms of the Jewish banking family Rothschild shows a similar design. Not only do we have here the eagle and the six-pointed star but there is also a hand holding five arrows, referring to the five famous sons of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the founder of their financial dynasty. The association between the sons and the arrows is derived from Psalm 127 which states:

As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of one’s youth.

What is quite interesting is that the olive branch is also used as a symbol for sons in the very next Psalm, numbered 128:

Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine, in the innermost parts of thy house; thy children like olive plants, round about thy table.

rothcrest The Jewish Influence on the Great Seal of the U.S.A.
Rothschild family crest featuring a star of david, an eagle and a hand holding five arrows, refering to the five sons of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the patriarch of the banking dynasty.

These two Psalms were surely significant to the Founding Fathers. First of all, both songs are shir ha-ma’alot, ”Song of ascents” or parts of the hymns sung by the pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem. A’alot is the plural form of oleh in Hebrew, a title given to a Jew who migrates back to Zion; hence making an aliyah is the act of return to the Promised Land. Thus, both of these Psalms were surely in the spirit of the settlers who imagined themselves escaping the slavery and hatred of Europe into a new, free promised Zion of America.

Secondly, Psalm 127 was written by King Solomon himself and it refers to the building of a house:

Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

The house here definitely refers to ”the house”, that is, the Temple of Jerusalem that Solomon built. Similarly, the city mentioned in the Psalm is, of course, Jerusalem (Zion), the holy abode of God and His king. As Freemasons, the Founders saw a meaning in this song written by their Great Master, and in its reference to the Temple, the symbol of a perfected society and the goal of the Masonic aspirations. Actually, the Hebrew word for ‘house’ or ‘temple’ is bet which can also be used in a metaphorical sense as a reference to a family, tribe or nation (bet Dawid – House of David; bet Aharon – House of Aaron; bet Yisrael – House of Israel). And this is exactly what the Founders were doing in the New World – building a new nation that envisioned itself as the ”New House of Israel”.

Thirdly, Psalm 128 is a kind of a Messianic promise of success, abundance and blessing for the Lord’s faithful ones:

Happy is every one that feareth the Lord, that walketh in His ways … The Lord bless thee out of Zion; and see thou the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life; and see thy children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!

What better blessing could there be to the New Zion of the United States!

It thus appears that the eagle is holding the symbols of sons or children. The meaning of these is expressed next.

Thirteen Stars

Great Sealhex The Jewish Influence on the Great Seal of the U.S.A.

Now what symbolic meaning can we find in the image of the thirteen pentagrams forming a huge single hexagram?

Hexagram is also known as the ”Seal of Solomon” and features prominently in the Masonic and Rosicrucian symbolism. Its place in the Western Mystery Tradition is firm, and as such it is originally a Jewish Kabbalistic sign.

In Hebrew the star is known as MagenDawid, ‘The Shield of David’. According to Jewish lore, the symbol was pictured on the famous, miraculous shield of King David, and the shield itself was believed to have followed the Judahite kings as an inheritance, all the way down to the hands of Judah the Maccabean, the legendary founder of the Hasmonean dynasty of the Hellenistic period. The association with King David, the progenitor of the future Messiah, made the star a powerful Messianic symbol.

During the Middle Ages the hexagram ultimately became the national emblem of the Jewish people itself, symbolizing the Divine providence that had accompanied the Israelites since time immemorial. If we assume that the hexagram of the Great Seal is a symbol of the Jewish people, then we can interpret the whole design in a new, meaningful way.

What Jewish or Biblical connection can we derive from these stars? In the Book of Genesis, God promises patriarch Abraham:

And He brought him forth abroad, and said: ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if thou be able to count them’; and He said unto him: ‘So shall thy seed be.’[8]

This covenantal promise was repeated after the famous Akedah, the almost-sacrifice of his son, Isaac:

In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.[9]

Later, there is the famous story of Jacob’s son’s, Joseph’s prophetic dreams. It is written:

And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brethren, and said: ‘Behold, I have dreamed yet a dream: and, behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.’ And he told it to his father, and to his brethren; and his father rebuked him, and said unto him: ‘What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down to thee to the earth?’

From these excerpts we can claim that the stars of the Seal could in fact represent the sons of Jacob, i.e. Israel. These sons (b’neiYisrael) were to be the forefathers of the twelve tribes. Now this does ring some bells because there is a Masonic tradition that uses the tribes of Israel in its symbolism. In the old lectures the so-called twelve original points of the Masonic ritual are in fact explained by a reference to the twelve tribes.[10]

Moreover, if we read the Bible carefully, it becomes evident that Jacob had actually not twelve but thirteen sons:

Jacob, before his death, blessed the two sons of Joseph, announcing that Ephraim and Manasseh ”will become mine like [the actual sons] Reuben and Simeon”.[11]

Thus, Joseph became two, rising the total number of Jacob’s offspring to thirteen, corresponding to the thirteen tribes of the nation that are here represented by the thirteen stars. These thirteen stars form the one big Star of David which represents the whole nation of Israel (Jacob), the reunion of which is one of the most important signs of the Messianic Age.

In Jewish liturgical use, Jacob and Israel are used not just as references to the famous patriarch but also as a title of the Jewish people in general. In this way the thirteen sons or tribes or stars are the extended body of their great forefather. Ultimately this symbol quite graphically echoes the Messianic prophecy of the Torah:

A star will emerge from Jacob.[12]

The Founding Fathers envisioned the Unites States in this very same way– a harmonious nation compound of diverse groups (or colonies). The words presented under the stars – E PLURIBUS UNUM – emphasize the idea of this union. United States as the New Zion, they no doubt claimed, was the fulfillment of the Judeo-Christian Messianic aspirations of freedom, peace and brotherly love.

We saw that the two psalms that functioned as the source of the arrow and olive branch symbols also mentioned the building of the Temple. We also noted that the word temple (bet) also means ‘nation’ or ‘family’. Here we have a connection between an architectural and a genealogical term. In this light, let us look at a famous tractate of the Talmudic exegesis that is read every Shabbat by observant Jews. It says:

Rabbi Elazar said on behalf of Rabbi Chanina: Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it is said: And all your students will be students of the Lord and your sons will have abundant peace – do not read banayikh, ‘your sons’ but bonayikh, ‘your builders’.[13]

Here, again, we can see the link between architecture and genealogy. The very words ‘builder’ and ’son’ (i.e. Mason) are presented as synonyms which quite evidently also appeared in the minds of the Masonic Founders of the United States. This is actually the origin of the concept ”Freemason”: in Egypt the Sons of Israel were great builders[14], masons, and when they were liberated from their slavery, they became free masons. The Founding Fathers’ vision of them as the sons and builders of the New Israel is one of the reasons why the Exodus theme featured in the early designs of the Dollar bill.


On the left of the eagle there is the word “ONE” which, of course, gives the value of the bill. However, as everything in the design appears to carry some symbolic meaning, we can assume such in connection with this feature, too. That this is the case can be seen on Benjamin Franklin’s early design on a 1776 currency note that features the words “WE ARE ONE” in the middle.

‘One’ in Hebrew can be translated both as yachid and as echad. In the Jewish Rabbinical literature there has been certain discussion on the differences between these two terms. According to traditional interpretation, yachid refers to ‘one’ as “the only one”, an exclusive principal or oneness that cannot tolerate plurality. In fact yachid by definition renders plurality impossible; if something is added, it is no longer yachid. This is exactly the idea behind monotheism, the special gift of Judaism to the world religions.

In contrast to yachid, echad is an inclusive principle. Echad is the oneness of totality – the oneness that is formed when different aspects unite as a single entity. Echad is harmony: not a oneness which negates plurality (and which plurality therefore obscures), but a oneness that employs plurality as the implement of unity. This is why in the famous ShemaYisrael prayer recited by observant Jews twice daily, it is stated: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is echad”.[15]

In the Messianic Prophecy of Ezekiel there is promised:

And I will make them one nation [goy echad] in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations.[16]

In the Messianic/Old Testament sentiment of the settlers, it is easy to understand that they envisioned themselves as this “echad nation”. As we have discovered, the word ONE, when seen from the Hebrew/Jewish perspective, carries the idea of plurality forming a unity – E PLURIBUS UNUM in Latin. This principle is expressed on the Dollar bill as the thirteen pentagrams uniting in a single hexagram, referring to the regathering of Israel’s dispersed. Very interestingly, the numerical value (gematria) of the Hebrew word echad is thirteen.[17]

In Conclusion

The eagle is holding the symbols of sons – the Children of Israel that the Lord carried away from slavery into the Promised Land. Above this, the thirteen stars form a Star of David – the promise of the coming of the new Messianic order. This symbolism repeats itself numerous times within the Great Seal and echoes the original, Jewish prophetic vision that the Founding Fathers had on the United States of America.

The origin of this concept leads us back to the Christian and Jewish Millenarianistic visions of the 17th and 18th centuries. However, the channel through which these ideas arrived was evidently the writings of Rev. Ezra Stiles and his correspondence with the ”mentor”, Rabbi Haim Isaac Carigal. Although claims of “Jewish world dominance” oversimplify a complex situation, it can still be claimed that Judaism as the source of Messianic worldview built the basis of the world’s last remaining super power.

This early connection between the USA and Israel gives us perspective and helps to explain the continual American support of the Zionist state. It also gives a direct, Biblical basis of the United States’ role as ”light unto the nations” in its global mission as the herald of freedom and democracy.

The Kabbalistic echad-principle signified by number thirteen is now realized on a global scale as the E PLURIBUS UNUM is implemented internationally in creation of the new world order. It remains to be seen what role the United States will play in the building of this bigger, world-sized utopia.

jobama The Jewish Influence on the Great Seal of the U.S.A.

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