By: Kaufmann Kohler
The laying of the corneror foundation-stone (, or ) (Job xxxviii. 4-6; Ps. xviii. 15, xxiv. 2) of the earth by the Creator is a conception borrowed from Babylonian Cosmogony, the earth being regarded as a huge mountain piled upon the abyss (Job xxvi. 7; "Journal Asiatique," ix. 101; Prayer of Manasses; compare Ps. xviii. 7; Micah vi. 2; Deut. xxxii. 22).
The laying of the corner-stone of a city or of a great structure was the occasion of a solemn rite in ancient times. To the pagan mind it appeared as an undertaking provoking the jealousy of the deity unless some bloody sacrifice was offered to pacify him (see Tylor, "Primitive Culture," pp. 104-108). Henceforth the foundation-stone, or the threshold beneath which the sacrificial blood was shed, remained the seat of the guardian spirit of the edifice, and hence the altar of the household (see H. Clay Trumbull, "The Threshold Covenant," New York, 1896). The finding by Nabunahid, the last Babylonian king (556-538
The story of Hiel the Bethelite, who rebuilt Jericho, laying "the foundation thereof in Abiram, his first-born," and setting up "the gates thereof in his youngest son" (I Kings xvi. 34; Josh. vi. 26), seems to be connected with the primitive custom of laying foundations with blood, as, indeed, skulls were found built in with the brickwork when the tower ("ziḳḳurat") of the temple of Bel at Nippur was excavated (see "Jour. Bibl. Lit." 1896, xvi. 11, and Cheyne and Black, "Encyc. Bibl." s.v. "Hiel"). The Midrash also knows of Hebrews who were immured in buildings in Egypt (Ex. R. v.; compare Trumbull, l.c. pp. 47 et seq., and Simrock, "Handbuch der Deutschen Mythologie," 1874, p. 57). One of the many symbolical names given to the terraced tower of the temple of Bel-Marduk was "the foundation-stone of heaven and earth" (Jastrow, "Religion of Babylonia and Assyria," p. 639).
The same importance seems to have been attributed also to the foundation-stone of the Temple at Jerusalem. In I Kings v. 17, vii. 9, the costly wrought stones used for the foundation of Solomon's Temple are described, and in I Kings vi. 37 the time of the laying of the corner-stone is especially mentioned. In Ezra iii. 10-11 the solemnities at the laying of the corner-stone of the Second Temple by Zerubbabel are detailed (see also Hag. ii. 15, 18-23, and Zech. iii. 9, iv. 9-10, viii. 9). Indeed, the exilic seer must have been familiar with solemn corner-stone rites when picturing the rebuilding of Jerusalem. (Isa. liv. 11; compare li. 1), just as Isaiah was when predicting a new and "tried and precious corner-stone of sure foundation" for Zion (Isa. xxviii. 16 et seq.; compare xiv. 32, Hebr.). The fragmentary beginning of Ps. lxxxvii. obviously refers to the foundation-stone of Zion as the most sacred spot of the earth, and the rabbinical "eben shetiyyah" (the foundation-stone of the world, Yoma 54b) is but the proof of a continuous popular tradition. But that here also the ancient rite of some blood-sacrifice was not altogether forgotten, seems to be indicated by the connection, preserved at least in the Book of Chronicles, between the laying of the corner-stone of the Temple and the sacrifice offered by David for the cessation of the plague, at the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite (II Chron. iii. 1-3; compare I Chron. xxi. 18-31 with II Sam. xxiv.).
The ceremonious laying of the corner-stone of public buildings, especially of religious and charitable institutions, has become a universal custom, and was adopted by the Jews during the last century. The ceremony consists of placing an appropriate record or memorial in the hollow part of the stone beneath, and then of laying in place the corner-stone, accompanied by certain solemn forms. See also Consecration.
- Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl.;
- Hastings, Dict. Bible, s.v. Corner-Stone and Foundation.