The six-pointed star (above the JPA logo – Ed.) did not originate with David. It goes back to Bronze Age times and was used by a wide variety of civilisations – from Mesopotamia to Britain – and served either as an ornament or as a magical sign. It first appears in Jewish circles in the 7th century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) – and as David was in the 10th century B.C.E. it shows that the connection with David is fairly speculative and there is certainly no mention of it in the Bible as being linked with him or even existing in the first place. In some ancient synagogues from the Second Temple period (the first century before and after the change of the millennium) one finds the hexagram side by side with the pentagram (five-pointed star) and the swastika. (The Nazis would have been shocked if they realised the swastika was once in use as a synagogue decoration). The early Christians and Muslims also used the hexagram for their churches and mosques, many of which are still visible today.
In the middle ages the hexagram became associated with magical powers, and was often used on amulets or to illustrate kabbalistic (mystical) texts. However, it is noticeable that it was often referred to as “the Seal of Solomon” – a name that alternated with the Shield of David in Christian and Muslim literature too – indicating both a big question-mark as to knowledge of its exact historicity and a desire to give it an authoritative source. It was only in the 17th century that the hexagram became commonly known as the Shield of David. The long time lapse until it was regarded as a specifically Jewish symbol is shown by the fact that it was not used on tombstones until the end of the 18th century. The reason why it only then began to become regarded as a Jewish sign was the emergence of Jews out of the ghettos and into European Christian society led to the desire for a Jewish equivalent of the cross. The Jews wanted to have a striking and simple sign that would symbolise Judaism in the same way that the cross represented Christianity. Thenceforth it became very common on synagogues, communal buildings, Jewish charity letterheads and ornaments. It even received theological treatment in Franz Rosenzweig’s “Star of Redemption” – written in 1921 – when he used it as a way of expressing his philosophical ideas about the meaning of Judaism and the inter-connections between God, people and the world. It was also adopted by the Zionist movement, becoming a symbol of new hopes and a new future for the Jewish people. The choice of the menorah as the emblem of the State of Israel reflects the fact that it is a much more authentic Jewish emblem, although the use of the Shield of David on the national flag indicates the symbolism it has acquired over the centuries, even if David himself never used it. It has certainly become the Jewish emblem, universally recognisable to Jews and non-Jews alike.