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king solomon's temple

by Bro. J. W. Proudfoot
Published in Selected Papers, Vol. 2,
United Masters Lodge, No. 167,
Auckland, N.Z.


You will have observed how deeply impressive it is to stand on the site of some historic happening; how the imagination takes flight and clothe the shadowy people of the time in flesh and blood, giving them feeling and personality.

In such a way began my interest in King Solomon's Temple during wartime visits to its site. Since then my curiosity has grown as the light of Masonic knowledge has illuminated the character of its builders.

One may in these days stand on the site of the Temple, and reflect that the landscape may have altered in detail since King Solomon in all his glory sat as Grand Master, but the broad outline has not changed. The buildings which now stand within the Temple area look out to the same view as could once be seen from the porch of the Temple.

Stand facing the east, and to the left is the sweep of Mount Scopus. Straight ahead, and deeply below is the valley of the Kidron, for uncounted centuries a vast cemetery of whited sepulchres. On the other side of this gully of death rises the steep ridge of the Mount of Olives, and behind that, you will know, lies the frightened and tumbling wilderness falling down in sharp sterile rides to the Jordan Valley, Jericho and the Dead Sea. To your right you see the barren hills of Judea stretching over towards Bethlehem, about five miles away. The right about turn, and you see the Old City of Jerusalem below and about you, rising not far off to the hill of Zion. That, you reflect, is the site of the fort captured by King David, the fort which was soon to become Royal David's City.

Jerusalem is built on the hilltops. It seemed to me that it might have been built as a reasonably spaced city and then encompassed by its massive elastic wall, which in contracting, compressed hills, buildings and streets into a tight confused conglomeration.

The only expanse of open ground now within the walls is the stone-paved area of the Temple, eleven acres in extent. On it, in magnificent isolation stands the Mosque of Omar, the Dome of the Rock.

The great octagonal building stands on a platform rising above the level of the Temple area. From the inside this is a magnificent dome. Stained glass windows, the patterns rigidly geometrical, suffused a richly dim light down to the sumptuous Turkish and Persian rugs spread about the floor. Pillars supporting the dome are of marble of many colours, salvaged from the ruins of Roman Jerusalem. Most of them retain their ancient capitals, and strangely, the Cross of early Christendom. Concentric with the outer walls stands a high grille of finely wrought iron; my memory says it was about seven feet high.

It was the life work of a Crusader, during the eighty-odd years in the Twelfth Century that mark the only period of Christian control of the Holy City.

Within the screen, quite startling as a variation from the formal symmetry of the rest of the building, stands the Rock for which the dome was built. This is the summit of Mount Moriah, projecting in its natural state through the flat expanse of the Temple area, through the twelve-foot platform on which the mosque stands, and roughly natural, through the symmetry of the floor itself.

The Bible tells us how the Angel of the Lord stood on Mount Moriah with outstretched sword to destroy David's new city with pestilence. Then David walked over from Mount Zion towards Mount Moriah, accompanied by his servants. Not a great distance, just down into the valley and up the other side. Araunah was at work threshing wheat, I imagine in much the way they do it now, with oxen drawing a sledge affair round and around over the grain spread out on the hard ground. His four sons were working with him, but when they saw the Angel of the Lord, they bolted. Araunah stood his ground. When King David reached the hilltop, Araunah made his bow, and asked "To what do I owe the honour of this visit?" or words to that effect. The King replied that he wanted to buy the threshing area as a site for an altar. Araunah must have been in a somewhat subdued frame of mind, what with his visits from the Angel of the Lord and the King in quick succession, because there followed some Oriental bargaining in reverse which rather tickles my fancy. Araunah said, "Take it for nothing! Furthermore, take the oxen for sacrifice, and the threshing tools for wood to make a fire to burn them, and the wheat as a food sacrifice." But King David replied that he would give a fair price, that he wouldn't make a sacrifice of something that had cost him nothing. So he bought the land, and the oxen, and made a sacrifice. In one account we read that the price was fifty shekels of silver, in another six hundred shekels of gold. No matter. The site of the Temple was bought and paid for.

There is no question that this rock is the site of David's altar, or that the rock or the ground surrounding it became the foundation of the Temple of King Solomon. The rock itself is one of the few Biblical sites in Jerusalem readily identifiable on the unbuilt surface, and the temple area where grew around it has never been used for general building. Solomon's Temple was built in about 966 B.C., and stood until it was cast to the flames by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., about 380 years later. In fifty years another but less beautiful temple of Zerubbabel arose, to stand until Herod the Great began twenty years before the Birth of Christ to restore the Temple to its former architectural glory. Herod's temple was not finally completed until thirty-four years after the Crucifixion, and eight years after that date it disappeared in flames forever "so that no one stone remained upon another."

But the Temple site remained unbuilt. When the Moslems came in the six hundreds of the Christian era, flushed with the impetus of conquest under Mohammed, the Temple area was a rubbish dump. It had not been built on. From the rock, the Moslem guide tells you, the Prophet rose to Heaven on the back of his black steed El Baruk, which means "Lightening." and over the rock, shortly after Mohammed's death in 632 A.D. the present Dome of the Rock arose from its platform. It has been renovated once since that tine, in the eleven hundreds, by Christian Crusaders. It was about due, they told me in 1942, for another structural overhaul.

So much for the site of the Temple. It has taken much of my time to tell you of it. But these things seem to me to be important. First, we know beyond doubt that the Dome of the Rock shelters the summit of Mount Moriah, which, as the V.S.L. tells us, was the site of the Temple. Then we should remember that the Temple was David's vision. He bought the site for it, set aside enormous amount of treasure for is enrichment and the materials for its erection, and left his son Solomon clear injunction that the building of the Temple was his number one priority construction job. And finally on this part of the subject, the great mosque I have spent so much time describing is truly the ghost of the Temples that preceded it, a shrine to honour the One God, set up by those who, with us, honour King Solomon for his wisdom and splendour.

To conclude, may I tell you of one visit I made to a site which I have since discovered to be of pre-eminent interest to Freemasons wherever they may be. It is a great underground quarry, rediscovered only about a hundred years ago, whence came the stone for the Temple and the other magnificent buildings of King Solomon's Jerusalem. The caverns are reached form a point outside the present city wall, and stretch great distances under the city itself and towards the site of the Temple. They are pure white inside, and no place for the short-sighted or the stumbler. Chasms and cliffs fall away to lower workings, to more distant and deeper caverns. On every hand is the sign of workmen. You can see how the stone was broken from the bed, how it was passed at once to the masons who shaped and smoothed it. The floor is in many places feet deep in tons of chips. And you can see how it went then straight into the daylight ready to take its place in the building of the Temple.

The marks of the workmen's tools, the chisels of Hiram's Phoenician stone-cutters may still be seen there in the echoing caverns.

The stone from these quarries is pure white, and soft to work, but hardens rapidly on exposure to the air. Here then is a purely logical and practical reason why the stones were shaped in the quarries. They had to be, otherwise they got too hard! And here also is the reason for the stress laid by the Biblical historians on the fact that "....there was heard neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron in the House, while it was in building." The quarry was right close to the Temple, in fact, almost underneath it. Yet no matter how earnestly those in the streets of the city above might have listened for the sound of hammers, they could not have heard nothing.

I have read that in these days Mosaic meetings are held in the caverns, and a more appropriate, impressive and evocative setting would be difficult to imagine.

The memory of that place gives me still a feeling of familiarity with Solomon's masons. The recollection of their quarry and their chisel marks turn them from shadows in a dim and long past age into men of muscle, heart and brain.

One reflects that for the component parts of such a building as the Temple, each one prepared by hand, to be so perfect as to be ready for placing in position with the aid of no tool other than a lever or maul, each and every craftsman must have taken a pride in his skill, and in the production of a perfectly finished article.

To the speculative Mason the veil of allegory is transparent, the symbols plain and clear. By precept and example, the idea that a man may mould his own life in the manner of the expert mason who bends his best efforts to the shaping of a stone, may be passed don to other men. And in this way, the Antient Free, and Accepted Masons have their part to play in the Architecture of the Universe.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014