Pillar is a term frequently occurring in the Scriptures, especially of the O.T., where it is used in different senses, and as the rendering of several Heb. and Gr. words, which need to be distinguished both in their meaning and application.
I. Original Words so Translated. —
1. From the root נָצִב, natsdb, to station, come the following: מִצֵּבָה, Matstsebâh (rendered "pillar" everywhere in Genesis, and in Ex 24:4; De 12:3; Isa 19:19; elsewhere "image"), a column or image of stone; מִצֶּבֶת, matstsebeth, a monumental" pillar" (Ge 35:14,20; 2Sa 18:18), once the trunk or stump of a tree ("substance," Isa 6:13); מֻצָּב, mutstsab, according to some a military post (as in Isa 29:3, "mount"), or garrison, according to others a terminal mark (Jg 9:6); נצַיב, netsib, a statue (only Ge 19:26, "pillar"), or military officer or garrison (as elsewhere rendered).
2. From other roots: עמּוּד, ammnud, lit. something upright (from עָמִד, to stand), a column (the usual word for "pillar," and invariably so rendered in the A. V., but meaning an elevated stand or platform in 2Ki 11:14; 2Ki 23:3); מַסעָד, mis'dd, a support (from סָעִד, to prop), a balustrade (only 1Ki 10:12); מָצוּק, matsuk, a column (from צוּק, to set up) as a support (fig. 1Sa 2:8), or tropically a crag ("situate," 1Sa 14:5); אֹמנָה omenah (from אָמִן, to stay up), a column (only 2Ki 18:16); and תַּימרָה, timerah, a column, in the form of an artificial palm-tree (Song 3:6; Joe 2:30 [Heb 3; Heb 3]).
3. In the N.T.: only στύλος, a column or support (Gal. 2, 9; 1 Tim. 3, 15; Re 3:12; Re 10:1).
II. Uses. — The essential notion of a pillar is that of a shaft or isolated pile, either supporting or not supporting a roof.
1. Monumental. — Perhaps the votive object was the earliest application of the pillar. This in primitive times consisted of nothing but a single stone or pile of stones. Instances are seen in Jacob's pillars (Ge 28:18; Ge 31:46,51-52; Ge 35:14); in the twelve pillars set up by Moses at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:4); the twenty-four stones erected by Joshua (Jos 4:8-9; see also Isa 19:19, and Jos 24:27). SEE STONE. The trace of a similar notion may probably be found in the holy stone of Mecca (Burckhardt, Trav. 1, 297). The erection of columns or heaps of stone to commemorate any remarkable event was universal before the introduction of writing or inscription, and it is still employed for that purpose by many savage nations. SEE GALEED. Monumental pillars have thus been common in many countries and in various styles of architecture. Such were perhaps the obelisks of Egypt (Fergusson, p. 6, 8, 115, 246, 340; Ibn- Batuta, Trav. p. 111; Strabo, 3, 171, 172; Herod. 2, 106; Amm. Marc. 17, 4; Josephus, Ant. 1, 2, 3, the pillars of Seth). SEE PYRAMID.
The stone Ezel (1Sa 20:19) was probably a terminal stone or a waymark. SEE EBENEZER.
The "place" set up by Saul (1Sa 15:12) is explained by St. Jerome to be a trophy, Vulg. fornicem triumphalem (Jerome, Quaest. Hebr. in lib. 1, Reg. 3, 1339). ,The word used is the same as that for Absalom's pillar, יָד, yad (lit. a hand), called by Josephus χεῖρα (Ant. 7:10, 3), which was clearly of a monumental or memorial character, but not necessarily carrying any representation of a hand in its structure, as has been supposed to be the case. So also Jacob set up a pilla: over Rachel's grave (Ge 35:20; and Robinson, 1, 218). The monolithic tombs and obelisks of Petra are instances of similar usage (Burckhardt, Syria, p. 422; Roberts, Sketches, p. 105; Irby and Mangles, Travels, p. 125). SEE ABSALOM'S TOMB.
2. Architectural. — Pillars form an important feature in Oriental architecture, partly perhaps as a reminiscence of the tent with its supporting poles, and partly also from the Use of flat roofs, in consequence of which the chambers were either narrower or divided into portions by columns (Jg 16:25). The tent-principle is exemplified in the open halls of Persian and other Eastern buildings, of which the fronts, supported by pillars, are shaded by curtains or awnings fastened to the ground outside by pegs, or to trees in the garden-court (Es 1:6; Chardin, Voy. 7:387; 9:469, 470, and plates 39,81; Layard, Nin. and Bab. p. 530, 648; Burckhardt, Notes on Bed. 1, 37). Thus Moses was commanded to spread the veil of the tabernacle on four pillars (Ex 26:32, etc.). Thus also a figurative mode of describing heaven is as a tent or canopy supported by pillars (Ps 104:2; Isa 40:22), and the earth as a flat surface resting on pillars (1Sa 2:8; Ps 75:3). SEE TENT.
It has already been remarked that the word "place," in 1Sa 15:12, is in Hebrew "hand." In the Arab tent two of the posts are called yed or "hand" (Burckhardt, Bed. 1, 37). SEE HAND.
The general practice in Oriental buildings of supporting flat roofs by pillars, or of covering open spaces by awnings stretched from pillars, led to an extensive use of them in construction. In Indian architecture an enormous number of pillars, sometimes amounting to 1000, is found. A similar principle appears to have been carried out at Persepolis. At Nineveh the pillars were probably of wood, SEE CEDAR, and it is very likely that the same construction prevailed in the "house of the forest of Lebanon," with its hall and porch of pillars (1Ki 7:2,6). The "chapters" of the two pillars Jachin (q.v.) and Boaz resembled the tall capitals of the Persepolitan columns (Layard, Nin. and Bab. p. 252, 650; Nineveh, 2, 274; Fergusson, Handb. p. 8, 174, 178, 188, 190, 196, 198, 231-233; Roberts, Sketches, No. 182, 184, 190, 198; Euseb. Vit. Const. 3, 34, 38; Burckhardt, Trav. in Arabia, 1, 244, 245). SEE HOUSE.
3. Idolatrous. — The word Matstsebâh, "pillar," is generally rendered "statue" or "image" (e.g.De 7:5; De 12:3; De 16:22; Le 26:1; Ex 23:24; Ex 34:13; 2Ch 14:3; 2Ch 31:1; Jer 43:13; Ho 3:4; Ho 10:1; Mic 5:13). This agrees with the usage of heathen nations, practiced, as we have seen, by the patriarch Jacob, of erecting blocks or piles of wood or stone, which in later times grew into ornamental pillars in honor of the deity (Clem. Alex. Coh. ad Gent. c. 4; Strom. 1, 24). Instances of this are seen in the Attic Hermae (Pausan. 4:33, 4), seven pillars significant of the planets (3, 21, 9; also 7:17, 4, and 22, 2; 8:37); and Arnobius mentions the practice of pouring libations of oil upon them, which again recalls the case of Jacob (Adv. Gent. 1, 335, ed. Gauthier). SEE ASHERAH; SEE PHALLUS.
The termini or boundary-marks were originally, perhaps always, rough stones or posts of wood, which received divine honors (Ovid, Fast. 2, 641, 684). SEE IDOL.
But other circumstances contributed to make stones an object of worship. Such phenomena as the rocking stones worshipped by the British Druids would naturally excite the astonishment of an ignorant people, and many commentators are of opinion that the מִשׁכַּית אֶבֶן, eben mashkith, image of stone, which the Jews were forbidden to erect (Le 26:1), was one of those bowing or rocking stones, especially as the phrase is used in opposition to מִצֵּבָה, matstsebâh which signifies "a standing pillar." Those rare phenomena, aëroliths, still more easily became objects of idolatry; they were generally of a similar kind to that mentioned by Herodian, as being consecrated to the sun under his name of Elaiagabalos, and preserved in his magnificent temple in Syria; "in which," says the historian, "there stands not any image made with hands, as among the Greeks and Romans, to represent the god, but there is a very large stone, round at the bottom, and terminating in a point of a conical form, and a black color, which they say fell down from Jupiter." SEE DIOPETES. Sacred pillars or stones were indeed frequently worshipped instead of statues by idolatrous nations, and traces of this preposterous veneration may still be found in various countries. SEE DIANA. The erection of monoliths or monumental pillars was forbidden to the Israelites, but it appears that they were permitted to erect cairns or piles of stone to preserve the recollection of great events, as Joshua did at Gilgal (q.v.), that it might be a memorial of his miraculous passage over the Jordan. SEE CROMLECH.
4. Lastly, the figurative use of the term "pillar," in reference to the cloud and fire accompanying the Israelites on their march (Ex 33:9-10; Ne 9:12; Ps 99:7), or as in Song 3:6 and Re 10:1, is plainly derived from the notion of an isolated column not supporting a roof. SEE PILLAR OF CLOUD AND FIRE. A pillar is also an emblem of firmness and steadfastness (Jer 1:18; Re 3:12), and of that which sustains or supports (Ga 2:9; 1Ti 3:15). In the Apocrypha we find a similar metaphor (Ecclus. 36:24): "He that getteth a wife beginneth a possession, a help like unto himself, and a pillar of rest." SEE ARCHITECTURE.
PILLAR is in architectural language the column supporting the arch. In the Norman style the pillars are generally massive, and are frequently circular, with capitals either of the same form or square; they are sometimes ornamented with channels, orfiutes, in various forms, spiral, zigzag, reticulated, etc. In plain buildings a square or rectangular pillar, or pier, is occasionally found; a polygonal, usually octagonal, pillar is also used, especially towards the end of the style, and is generally of lighter proportions than most of the other kinds. But, besides these, clustered or compound pillars are extremely numerous and much varied; the simplest of them consists of a square with one or more rectangular recesses at each corner, but a more common form is one resembling these, with a small circular shaft in each of the recesses, and a larger one, semicircular, on two (or on each) of the faces: most of the compound pillars partake of this arrangement, though other varieties are by no means rare.
In the Early English style plain circular or octagonal shafts are frequently used, especially in plain buildings, but many other and more complicated kinds of pillars are employed; the commonest of these consists of a large central shaft, which is generally circular, with smaller shafts (usually four) round it; these are frequently made of a finer material than the rest, and polished, but they are often worked in courses with the central part of the pillar, and are sometimes filleted; in this style the pillars are very constantly banded.
In the Decorated style the general form of clustered pillars changes from a circular to a lozenge-shaped arrangement, or to a square placed diagonally, but many other varieties are also to be met with. They sometimes consist of small shafts surrounding a larger one, and are sometimes molded; the small shafts and some of the moldings are often filleted; plain octagonal pillars are also very frequently employed in village churches: towards the end of this style a pillar consisting of four small shafts separated by a deep hollow and two fillets is common, as it is also in the Perpendicular style, but the hollows are usually shallower, and the disposition of the fillets is different.
A plain octagonal pillar continues in use throughout the Perpendicular style, though it is not so frequent as at earlier periods, and its sides are occasionally slightly hollowed. In Decorated work a few of the moldings of the piers occasionally run up into the arches and form part of the archivolt, as at Bristol Cathedral, but in Perpendicular buildings this arrangement is much more common, and in some cases the whole of the moldings of the pillars are continued in the arches without any capital or impost between them: the forms are various, but in general arrangement they usually partake of a square placed diagonally; sometimes, however, they are contracted in breadth so as to become narrower between the archways (from east to west) than in the opposite direction: the small shafts attached to the pillars in this style are usually plain circles, but are occasionally filleted, and in some instances are hollow-sided polygons.