Unveiling Allegories

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by Bookend, Nov 8, 2009.

  1. Bookend

    Bookend Registered User

    (This is another of my earliest papers. As I became more and more involved with Freemasonry and joined other Orders, my researches tended towards these "newer" Degrees.)

    Most Freemasons, when are asked to define their Craft, will give the ritualistic response that Freemasonry is: "A peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols". However, very few of those who give this response fully understand what is meant by the sentence they have just pronounced. "Peculiar", as used in this statement, does not mean "strange" or "odd" – it means, "Belonging exclusively to". The definition of "allegory" is that of a "figurative story". Another name for "allegory" is "parable". The Oxford Dictionary states that a parable is "A fictitious narrative used to point a moral or illustrate some spiritual relation or condition, or a short allegory". The meaning of the definition of Freemasonry is, therefore, "a code of morals that belongs exclusively to Antient, Free and Accepted Masons, that is contained within fictitious narratives and further illustrated by the use of various symbols." Many Freemasons believe that one of the fraternity’s principal objectives is to teach morality, yet we are all supposed to possess strict morals as a prerequisite to becoming an Entered Apprentice. The real objective of Freemasonry is to make "good men, better" through self-education. All of our rituals, not too subtly, encourage Freemasons to do this.

    It is important to remember that our rituals are fictional. Too many Freemasons believe that everything that is contained within our ritual is fact. Our ritual is based upon biblical history – the events concerned with the building of the Temple at Jerusalem, by King Solomon. While it is based upon this history, it is not an accurate portrayal of the same. Events and the characters portrayed in these events, have been altered, embellished or invented. All this is done to illustrate, to the Candidates for the several Degrees, the important lessons that define our freemasonic society and to pique their curiosity in the hope that they will take the hint and investigate further, thus adding to their fund of knowledge. The method that Freemasons use to teach these lessons is the oldest known to Man. Two thousand years ago, Christ employed this same method – the parable. Does anybody seriously believe that the parable of the Good Samaritan is factual? Skilled storytellers, who used the events surrounding the history of King Solomon’s Temple to the advantage of the Craft and other Masonic Orders, produced our rituals. This paper will attempt to unveil some of illusions and embellishments that they used.

    The Pillars - Boaz and Jachin
    "And he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the right pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin: and he set up the left pillar, and called the name thereof Boaz". Never has such a quotation caused so much debate within Freemasonry, especially when considering the actual positioning of the pillars and the names used. Firstly, let me try and settle the question of whether the location of the pillars are to considered to be taken as either entering into, or retiring from the Temple. If one were prepared to do a little research, the answer would be found quite readily. Indeed part of the answer may be found quite close by to the biblical verse previously quoted.

    "And he set the sea on the right side of the east end, over against the south." This biblical verse gives the first clue. From this we know that the right-hand side of the Temple was on the southern side. The next and last clue stems from Judaic practice. Those familiar with the way most Christian churches are built, would know that the long axis of the building is generally placed from west to east. When entering a place of Christian worship, one does so from the west – the high altar being in the east. However, the reverse is true under Judaic Law – the entrance is found in the east. On entering the Temple from the east, the right-hand side is North. Conversely, South is on the right side, looking west, or when exiting the Temple. Therefore, according to Judaic practices and from what the Bible tells us, the pillars MUST be viewed as if exiting from the Temple.

    Secondly, let us examine the names of the pillars. We are told that the left-hand pillar "at the porchway, or entrance of King Solomon’s Temple (was) so named after Boaz, the Great Grandfather of David, a Prince and Ruler in Israel". Yes, the pillar was named Boaz – we know that from the Bible and yes, Boaz was the great-grandfather of David. However, the pillar may, or may not have been named after David’s great-grandfather, who was also the husband of Ruth. "He shall build me an house, and I will stablish his throne for ever". This biblical verse is used to illustrate the origin of the names of the two pillars and is a more accurate interpretation. As is the case in all civilizations, names are given to individuals to distinguish them from one another. In earlier days, the names that were used were meant to illustrate the clan, tribe or area, to whom the person belonged as well as the role or characteristic that was envisaged for that person.

    Masonic ritual informs us that the meaning of Boaz is "in strength", but that is not quite correct. The Hebrew word, "Boaz" is formed from the letters, "beth", "ayin" and "zayin" and its actual meaning is "fleetness". However, the letter, "beth", is, by itself a conjunction and is used as a prefix to other words. In this sense, one of the meanings of the letter, "beth", is "in". The "ayin" and "zayin" form the words, "az", "ez" and "oz". "Az" is the adjectival form of the word, "strength" and "oz" is the noun. "Ez" means, "goat" or "goat hair". Therefore, the correct translation of the phrase, "in strength", is "B’oz". As to whether Solomon named the pillar after his great-great-grandfather or not, that is open to speculation. There is certainly no biblical reference as to that fact.

    The right-hand pillar "at the porchway or entrance to King Solomon’s Temple (was) so named after Jachin, the Assistant High Priest, who officiated at its dedication...". Yes, the pillar was named Jachin, but named after an Assistant High Priest? Logic would demand that, at the dedication of such an important building, surely it would be the High Priest who would officiate. So what does the Bible tell us about Jachin? The first mention of the name Jachin appears in the list of the Children of Israel that came into Egypt: "And the sons of Simeon; Jemuel, and Jamin, and Ohad, and Jachin, and Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman". A similar list of names may be found in Exodus Ch.6 v.15, when the Children of Israel escaped their Egyptian bondage.

    We next find the same Jachin mentioned when Moses, by command of God, numbered the Jewish people at the time when God divided the Promised Land among the Jewish families: "The sons of Simeon after their families: of Nemuel, the family of the Nemuelites: of Jamin, the family of the Jaminites: of Jachin, the family of the Jachinites:". The first mention of a priest, by the name of Jachin, appears in the First Book of Chronicles, where the first Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem, after the Exodus, are named: "And of the priests; Jedaiah, and Jehoiarib, and Jachin...". According to Strong’s "Enhanced Hebrew Lexicon", where "Jachin" is found as entry No.3199, Jachin was also "a priest and head of the 21st course in the time of David". This is confirmed in the Bible: "The one and twentieth to Jachin, the two and twentieth to Gamul...". However, there is no mention of the name, Jachin, during the reign of Solomon, especially at the time of the dedication of the Temple. Indeed, the pillars were named a number of years before the Temple’s dedication, so our ritual declaration seems even stranger. Our ritual tells us also, that "Jachin" means "to establish". In this, the ritual is reasonable accurate as the actual meaning is, "He will establish".

    A third question involving the pillars is: "Who actually NAMED them?" We assume that since the Temple was built in Solomon’s time and under his instructions that Solomon named the pillars. But the complete biblical passage reads thus: "...And he (Hiram) came to king Solomon, and wrought all his work. For he cast two pillars of brass, of eighteen cubits high apiece: and a line of twelve cubits did compass either of them about. And he made two chapiters of molten brass, to set upon the tops of the pillars: the height of the one chapiter was five cubits, and the height of the other chapiter was five cubits: And nets of checker work, and wreaths of chain work, for the chapiters which were upon the top of the pillars; seven for the one chapiter, and seven for the other chapiter. And he made the pillars, and two rows round about upon the one network, to cover the chapiters that were upon the top, with pomegranates: and so did he for the other chapiter. And the chapiters that were upon the top of the pillars were of lily work in the porch, four cubits. And the chapiters upon the two pillars had pomegranates also above, over against the belly which was by the network: and the pomegranates were two hundred in rows round about upon the other chapiter. And he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the right pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin: and he set up the left pillar, and called the name thereof Boaz". With the word, "he", in this passage continually referring to Hiram, the widow’s son, it would be hard to state, unequivocally, that, all of a sudden, the word, "he" refers to King Solomon.

    Lastly, I would query the following statement about the pillars that appears in the Lecture on the Second Tracing Board. "They were formed hollow, the better to serve as archives to Freemasonry, for therein were deposited the constitutional rolls." There is absolutely no biblical evidence to suggest that these pillars were hollow, neither is there any mention of anything being deposited within them. The ritual states also, that the height of each of the pillars was 17½ cubits. This is exactly half the height stated in the Second Book of Chronicles: "Also he made before the house two pillars of thirty and five cubits high, and the chapiter that was on the top of each of them was five cubits". When, however, one checks with the First Book of Kings we find: "For he cast two pillars of brass, of eighteen cubits high apiece: and a line of twelve cubits did compass either of them about". As this passage tends to go into more detail, I would tend to think that, perhaps, the height, mentioned in the Book of Chronicles, was the combined height of the pillars. Assuming that the pillars were solid, that a Hebrew cubit is equal to 20.669" and knowing that the specific weight of brass is 525 lb/cu.ft, the weight of each pillar would have been 30,750lb or nearly 25 ton.

    The Hiramic Legend
    The epitome of Masonic character is the Grand Master Hiram Abif. However, as a name, Hiram Abif cannot be found within the Bible. We are told that Hiram was a widow’s son. In the Orders of the Holy Royal Arch of Jerusalem and Royal and Select Masters, the correct Hebrew translation may be found. That is: "Chiram Ben Almanah", which is literally, Hiram, the son of a widow. J.S.M. Ward states in his book, "Who was Hiram Abiff?" that "Abiff" is Hebrew for "father". He quotes this passage: "And now I have sent a cunning man, endued with understanding, of Huram my father’s". The Hebrew translation of this verse is: "w’atta shalachti ish-chacham y’odda binah l’chiram abi". Thus, the Hebrew word used is "Abi" and not "Abif" or "Abiff". In fact, "Abif" is neither a Hebrew word, nor phrase. It is, in fact a Masonic invention, possibly to differentiate between the architect and Hiram, King of Tyre.

    There is no mention of the fate of Hiram, the widow’s son, in the Bible. Ward states that it is possible for Hiram to have been sacrificed, as was Phoenician custom at the dedication of major buildings. Although Solomon did build three other Temples, prior to the one that bears his name and for the use of the foreign labourers, there is no record that this might have influenced Solomon to follow the Phoenician practice. Surely, any untoward fate of a man of Hiram’s undoubted ingenuity would have been recorded. The Bible is full of episodes of murder and human sacrifice, so why should the sacrifice of so important a man be omitted? In fact, the whole episode of the fate of Hiram is a Masonic fabrication – a parable. The legend was invented to give to the fraternity a goal to achieve and a character to which they might hope to aspire. The goal – to seek for that, which was lost – is finally achieved in the Order of the Holy Royal Arch of Jerusalem. In Christian Freemasonry, the goal is again achieved in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite as well as in the Royal Order of Scotland.

    There are a number of Hiramic legends. The German operatic composer, Giacomo Meyerbeer, in 1848, composed an entire opera around it, entitled "La Reine de Saba". It is not known as to whether or not he was a Freemason, but he was certainly around at the time of many of the Masonic exposures, in the middle of the nineteenth century. According to this legend, Solomon asked Balkis, Queen of Sheba, to marry him. Balkis accepted his proposal, but later regretted it as she fell in love at first sight, with Hiram Abif. This so enraged Solomon that he tried to sabotage Hiram’s casting of the brazen sea. To assist him he engaged three fellowcrafts - Amen, a Phoenician carpenter; Fanor, a Syrian mason and Metusael, a Hebrew miner. These men hated Hiram because he would not make them Master Masons. The casting did not go well and Hiram thought that he had failed - much to the pleasure of Solomon. However, the ghost of Tubal-Cain appeared to Hiram and lent him his hammer, with which the brazen sea was repaired by the following morning. So great was his displeasure, Solomon then tried to be rid of his chief architect and rival for Balkis’ affections. He accordingly called on his previous conspirators to murder Hiram Abif. The legend then continues as in the Master Mason’s degree.

    Another Masonic legend, although it does not involve Hiram Abif, is, nevertheless significant in the fact that the story is very similar to that told in the Third Degree. It is based upon the Apprentice and Mason’s Pillars within Rosslyn Chapel at Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland. The legend was written, in 1774, by Dr. Forbes, the Bishop of Caithness.

    "The Master Mason, having received from the Founder the model of a pillar of exquisite workmanship and design, hesitated to carry it out until he had been to Rome or some other foreign part and seen the original. He went abroad and in his absence an apprentice, having dreamt that he had finished the pillar, at once set to work and carried out the design as it now stands, a perfect marvel of workmanship. The Master Mason on his return, seeing the pillar completed, instead of being delighted at the success of his pupil, was so stung with envy that he asked who had dared to do it in his absence. On being told that it was his apprentice, he was so inflamed with rage and passion that he struck him with his mallet, killed him on the spot and paid the penalty for his rash and cruel act."

    Another biblical character, who has taken on more importance than his actual station in life would suggest, is Adoniram. Following the fictional account of the end of Hiram Abif’s days, a substitute was required for the "higher" Degrees, in order that the story might continue. For some reason, known only to the writers of the period, Adoniram was chosen. Perhaps this was due to a certain similarity in the name. So who, in biblical history, was Adoniram?

    There are only two occurrences of the name Adoniram appearing in the Bible. The first is: "And Ahishar was over the household: and Adoniram the son of Abda was over the tribute". The second occurs a little later: "And he sent them to Lebanon, ten thousand a month by courses: a month they were in Lebanon, and two months at home: and Adoniram was over the levy". In the first instance, Adoniram was in charge of receiving money and goods paid as a tribute to King Solomon and in the second, of being in charge of the body of men sent to Lebanon to labor in the forests. Adoniram, whose name means, "my lord is exalted", seems therefore a strange choice of replacement, as he, apparently, lacked architectural skills – his talents appearing to tend more to overseeing of the collection of taxes and the supervision of laborers.

    It may seem that this paper is a criticism of the rituals used within Freemasonry. This was not my intention. The very fact that our rituals are NOT accurate portrayals of historical or biblical events does not detract from the beauty of the workmanship. Many scholars of the English language will argue that there are numerous grammatical errors. These too, can be, to a large extent, ignored. What is important is that the intent of the ritual be left intact – to illustrate an idea of moral rectitude. It would be my wish that the content of our rituals remains untouched. They have served us well for so long. What matter if the wording is archaic? That only adds to its beauty and, in some cases, majesty.

    No, my criticism is not about the ritual, but about the attitude of some of the members of our fraternity who treat the parables contained within them as historical fact. There are many examples of historical fact being “altered†in the attempt to connect them to Freemasonry, or other customs. One example of this is the belief that "Friday the thirteenth", is a bad day for Freemasonry, because it was on this day that Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was executed. Some have even suggested that this execution took place before the Pope, in Rome. Nothing could be further from the truth as de Molay and Geoffroi de Charney were executed, by being burnt to death, on Wednesday, 18th March 1314, on a small island in the River Seine, near Les Mureaux, 29km northwest of Paris.

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