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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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In Biblical times the key, as its Hebrew name indicates ("mafteaḥ " = "the opener"), was used chiefly to open the door which was locked by means of a bolt ("beriaḥ "). This bolt, like that used in the Orient to-day, had a number of holes into which fitted iron points in the door-post, so arranged that they dropped into the corresponding holes as soon as the bolt was pushed into the opening made for it in the door-post. The key, made of wood, was provided at the end with a similar number of nails, arranged to correspond with the iron points holding the bolt. Introducing the key from the side into the run of the bolt, one was able by these nails to push up from below the iron points and then draw the bolt back. Thus Ehud could lock the door of Eglon's palace without the aid of a key, while only Eglon's servants "took the key and opened" (Judges 3:25 ). The expression "to bear the key on his shoulder" denotes possession of office (comp. Isaiah 22:22 ). In the time of Ezra, four Levites, the chief porters, were in charge of the key of the Temple (1Chronicles 9:27 ). The key as a symbol of authority is also met with in the Talmud: "Three keys are in God's own hand which He never entrusteth to any angel: the key of rain that of childbirth and that of the resurrection of the dead. The Western (Palestinian) Talmudists say also the key of nourishment" (Sanh. 113a Ta' an. 2a).

E. G. H. M. Sel.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Key'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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Keyser, Ephraim
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