The Star of David is a six-pointed star made up of two triangles superimposed over each other. In Judaism, it is often called the Magen David, which means the “Shield of David” in Hebrew. It is the most iconic Jewish symbol, the most recognizable sign of Jewish identity, pride and unity. So where did it come from?
The origins of the Star of David in Judaism are unclear, however, evidence suggests that the hexagram shape began to appear in ancient Jewish history as a decorative motif. The earliest known examples are an excavated seal (6th century B.C.E.), and from the arch of a 3rd–4th century synagogue in the Galilee, which suggests it may have been used as an architectural decoration in synagogues. Similarly, the hexagram adorns various early Tanach manuscripts, such as the famous Leningrad Codex (1008 C.E.).
In the Middle Ages, the hexagon became more associated with Jewish mysticism and magic. Ancient Jewish texts mention a shield in this shape used by King David when he went into battle and the the hexagram became known in popular legends as the “Shield of David”. Later on, legends connect this symbol with a ring used by King Solomon to control evil spirits, also earning it the nickname the “Seal of Solomon.” From then on, Jewish mystics utilized the hexagram as a symbol of protection, often inscribing them on the outside of mezuzot and on amulets.
In 1354, the Jews of Prague were granted the right to of display their own flag on certain occasions. They chose as their flag one with a large six-pointed star in its center. From there, the Shield of David spread to other Jewish communities, eventually reaching Eastern Europe. By the 17th century, it had become a popular practice to put the the hexagram on the outside of synagogues to identify them as Jewish house of worship in much the same way that a cross identified a Christian one.
The Magen David became even more visible as a symbol of Judaism when it was adopted as the emblem of the Zionist movement in 1897. In time, it appeared in the center of the flag of the new Jewish state of Israel, becoming a symbol of national redemption. On the popular level, Jews continue to use the Star of David as it has been used for centuries, as an elegant decorative motif, a protective amulet and a symbol of Jewish identity.