The six-pointed star — the so-called Star of David — has been many things to many people over past several thousand years. But it only became a universal symbol for Jews — known as the Magen David — during the past 200 years, many scholars say.
The hexagram, formed by two superimposed equilateral triangles, is known to scholars from the Bronze Age, when it had magical implications for both Jews and non-Jews.
It first appeared on a Jewish seal found at Sidon from the seventh century BCE, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica.
During the Second Temple period (500 BCE to 70 CE) it was found on artifacts and buildings both Jewish and non-Jewish. In fact, in the third century Capernaum Synagogue, on the Sea of Galilee, a hexagram is found next to a pentagram and a swastika.
“It had no particular Jewish significance and is completely absent as a Jewish symbol during Hellenistic times,” the encyclopedia says.
During the 13th and 14th centuries the six-pointed star occasionally appeared on German synagogues, and later appeared on amulets.
The symbol is linked to the “Magen David,” or Shield of David, in a 14th century kabbalistic work. It appeared on the flag of the Jewish community of Prague in 1354.
In the 17th century it became a messianic symbol, and popularized among the followers of the false messiah Shabbtai Zvi.
But it is during the 19th century that it gained widespread acceptance as a Jewish symbol, when it became the Jewish answer to the cross, “and thus became a unifying symbol for all Jews throughout Central and Western Europe, appearing on synagogues, seals letterheads and ritual objects.”
The star was adopted by the Zionist movement in 1897 and appeared on the first issue of “Die Welt,” Theodor Herzl’s Zionist journal.
The Nazis used the star on the yellow badge of shame Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.
And Israel chose it as the central symbol for its flag, but made its official seal the much older Jewish symbol, the menorah.