The Magical Worm and Solomon's Temple
A fascinating legend found in the Talmudic literature describes how King Solomon built his magnificent Temple in Jerusalem with the aid of a Magical Worm. This magical worm named Shamir, was endowed with the power to alter stone, iron and diamond, by its mere gaze. Since metal was not allowed to be used in the building the Temple because it is an item of war, the story tells that the Shamir was brought in.
Referred to throughout the Talmudic literature, the Shamir was reputed to have existed already in the time of Moses. Solomon was aware of the existence of the Shamir, but lacking any sample himself, commissioned a search that turned up a "grain of Shamir the size of a barley-corn".
According to the story, the Shamir had been entrusted by the prince of the sea to the mountain cock, and the cock had sworn to guard it well. However, Solomon's men found the bird's nest and covered it with glass. When the bird returned, it used the Shamir to break the glass, whereupon the men scared the bird, causing it to drop the worm, which they then collected and brought to Solomon.
The material to be worked, whether stone, wood or metal, was affected by being "shown to Shamir." Assuming that anything that can be 'shown' something must have eyes to see, early rabbinical scholars described Shamir almost as a living being. Other early sources, however, describe it as a green stone.
It is told that the Shamir was always wrapped in wool and stored in a container made of lead, since any other vessel would burst and disintegrate under its gaze. Some commentators have taken this account to decipher that the Shamir's true nature was radioactive, that it was in fact a small sample of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope, possibly radium.
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