The Jewish traditions behind pomp of Charles III’s big day

The coronation of King Solomon provides the template for Saturday's ceremony


The coronation this Saturday will no doubt be seen around the world as an example of British pageantry and pomp at its best. But few will realise its quintessential Jewish roots.

When pundits talk about how traditional it is and refer to the ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II or those of previous British monarchs, they may not appreciate that its format is considerably older and that the template used is the coronation of King Solomon.

His accession to the throne is described in the First Book of Kings, chapter one, verse 38 onwards and is among the earliest coronations ever recorded in detail, dating back to around 970 BCE.

It started with Solomon being escorted to the venue by both religious and military leaders — as will Charles — and then crowned by the High Priest Zadok, as Charles will be by his modern equivalent in the church, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The key role of the High Priest emphasised that the coronation was not just a political event but had higher significance, and was primarily a religious appointment sanctioned by God.

The same will apply to Charles, which is why it will be the Archbishop is officiating, not the Prime Minister.

As a side note, it is worth recording that the idea of divine approval later morphed into the concept of the divine right of kings, a notion taken to its extreme when Charles 1 dismissed Parliament.

This led directly to the Civil War, his replacement by Cromwell and the re-admission of the Jews to England after a 400-year absence. The role of Zadok will be recalled even more obviously by the recitation of Handel’s magnificent Zadok the Priest as part of the music for Charles’ ceremony.

This will be followed by the Archbishop anointing Charles, exactly as Zadok did to Solomon, and also with oil specially brought from the land of Israel, emphasising the connection across the millennia not only historically but physically too.

It is notable that it is the anointing, not the crowning, that is the pivotal moment at Westminster, which is why it will be done privately and the only part hidden from public view.

What happened next at Solomon’s ceremony was a blast of the horns, which will be echoed by the blast of the trumpets for Charles.

The final moment came when everyone shouted “Long live King Solomon”, as will happen similarly for Charles.

Of course, the other parts of Charles’s service will be steeped in Church of England liturgy, but the overall structure is straight from the Hebrew Bible.

In this respect, the coronation will be a microcosm of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity as whole, with the Church having deep Jewish roots that are not appreciated by all its members or the public at large.

Similarly, if they join in the Zadok chorus and sing “Hallelujah”, many will not realise they are using a Hebrew word.

Jonathan Romain is rabbi of Maidenhead Synagogue and author of ‘The Naked Rabbi’

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