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THE HIRAMIC LEGEND
by RWB J. L. Rankin
After some reading as to the development of various parts of our Masonic ritual, I can state with firm conviction that I would not presume to pose as an authority on the origin of the Hiramic Legend or to be too definite as to when and how and why it came into being. Even the experts disagree. I shall however, attempt to bring before you some of the known facts and some of the assumed theories (sometimes conflicting) and by doing so, attempt to stimulate our thinking to the extent that there will be some discussion and I hope, some disagreement.
In searching for the origin of the Hiramic Legend, researchers have used both the historical and anthropological approach to bring forth a confusing array of suppositions. The historically inclined researcher has endeavored to establish a basis for the Hiramic Legend in history, especially Biblical history. The researcher approaching the problem from the anthropological point of view has examined the legend in relation to man; his culture and his folklore.
Many brethren assume that the Hiramic Legend is an account of a Biblical event, but this is not the case.
In the Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Research, one writer attempts to interpret the Hiramic Legend as a genuine relic of primitive mythology and folklore. Another writer says of the Legend - "It obviously just grew". Brother Bernard E. Jones uses the following sentence. "Freemasonry has two histories, the one legendary and traditional going back almost to the dawn of architecture, the other authentic covering a period of a few hundred years and deriving in some part from the ancient Craft Guilds and fraternities whose fortunes rose and fell with the Gothic Period; in that particular period, are believed to be the main roots of Freemasonry." As Bro. Knoop expresses it, "The substance of the Masters Degree might well be ages old."
R.W. Bro. Spencer of Auckland, New Zealand, makes this statement, "The suggestion that the legend has been handed down from the days of King Solomon through various channels to the operative Masons and through them to the present day speculative Masons would be a very comforting and satisfactory explanation of its origin. Unfortunately there is not one scrap of evidence to support such a theory."
It would seem very evident that events described in the Bible have been incorporated in the legend. Certain names and references used. were common to the Coverdale Bible, Mathews' Bible and Taverner's Bible. These translations of the Bible had been published in the early 16th century and were in common use at the time the Hiramic Legend was developing. We may therefore safely assume that while the legend itself is not an account of an event described in the Bible, many Biblical events had a great effect on the names and events used in the Legend of Hiram Abif.
In assessing the accuracy of some of the many writings on this subject, the date of their publication is very important. Certain documents have been discovered since 1930, which show things in a different light. For example, The Edinburgh Register House M.S. discovered in 1930 establishes that in 1696 there were two degrees being worked in Kilwinning Lodge in Scotland and that the Fellow Craft Degree contained the five points of fellowship - "foot to Foot, Knee to Knee, Heart to Heart, Hand to Hand and Ear to Ear". No mention is made of a legend at this time.
For many years, students of Freemasonry have argued as to when the Hiramic Legend came into being and have given evidence to support their beliefs. As one writer in the Transaction of the Manchester Lodge of Research has said "there is no shortage of ingenious speculations". Some of the documents discovered in the last forty years seem to have established that the legend was in use in the work of some Lodges in England in 1738, but it is unlikely that all Lodges were doing identical work.
The first edition of the Constitutions 1723 tells us that King Hiram sent to Solomon This namesake Hiram or Huram, the most accomplished Mason upon earth." In the second edition of the Constitution in 1738, only 15 years later, reference is made to the "sudden death of their dear Master Hiram Abif whom they decently interred in the Lodge near the Temple, according to ancient usage." In the first Constitutions, no mention of the tragedy, fifteen years later the most accomplished Mason upon earth has become the chief architect and has been killed by ruffians.
In Pritchards' "Masonry Dissected" (1730), there is evidence that some Lodges were using a degree which included a story of Hiram's death.
It may now be assumed that the Hiramic Legend developed (and here, the word "developed" is used advisedly), in the early years of the 18th century. It would seem that in its development its authors wove in names and events from history and from the Bible, (not always logically) to render an air of authenticity to a legend. It is quite understandable that its writers would be influenced by those writings and Biblical translations with which they were in contact at the time.
The story of the building of King Solomon's Temple as recorded in the Books of Kings and Chronicles differ in many ways from the legend of Hiram Abif but the name Hiram or Huram appears in all three. In the account in the Book of Kings, both the King of Tyre and the skilled worker in brass are called Hiram. The account states '''So Hiram made an end of doing all the work that he made King Solomon for the house of the Lord". Evidently the work was concluded satisfactorily, no mention of death. In the account in the Book of Chronicles written 700 years later, the King of Tyre and (in this case) the worker in gold, silver, brass, stone, timber, etc. are called Huram. In this account too, the worker in "fine materials" "made an end of doing the work". The name "Hiram" is of Hebrew origin, meaning, ''noble born" the name "Huram" is believed to be Aramaic or Phoenician. Both names apply to the same person. In neither account is the chief architect named. In the Legend Hiram suffers death at the hands of the ruffians. In the editions of the Bible in common use during the early 18th century the suffix "abbi'' (interpreted - my father - or - his father) followed the word "Hiram" or "Huram". Oddly enough, this was dropped in the King James version and evidently did not reappear until the Revised Standard Version of 1952. From a historical point of view then, it is apparent that in spite of many discrepancies, the materials were at hand ready for the weaving into the Hiramic Legend as we know it.
But what of the part folklore and mythology played in the development of the Hiramic Legend? When I was about six years old, my Mother was confined to her bed for a year or more. During this period she spent a good deal of time reading to me and among the reading material were childrens' books on Norse, Greek and Saxon Mythology. Since then I have been fascinated by the myths and folklore of the world's people, not as an informed student, merely drawn by interest.
It is very likely that the Hiramic Legend was influenced by the legends And myths of many lands. Legends in which a central figure met his death and was brought back to life were common in many ancient religions. These could have had a bearing on the legend of Hiram. The original emphasis may have been on the act of necromancy (an attempt to extract secrets from a dead body), but as the legend developed, the emphasis was transferred to the unshaken fidelity of Hiram and the 'five points" in the existing ritual were used to emphasize the duty and beauty of fellowship.
The legend of martyrdom for refusal to betray trust is found in the mythology of men of almost every race and may have arisen in the ancient mind because of the return of plants to life after a winter of apparent death. The belief that life depended on death led many ancient peoples to offer human sacrifices. The offering of a human being as a sacrifice in the Spring, or at harvest was deemed necessary to ensure an abundant harvest.
Ancient custom in some lands required the death of a human being (preferably a workman or builder) to ensure the stability of the building under construction. At the building of Jericho, the Bible records the death of the builder's first born at the laying of the foundation and the death of his youngest son when the gates were set up. The death of the master builder was not uncommon in ancient custom possibly due to jealousy on the part of the ruler or king.
From this we progress to the figurative death of a person, consisting of symbolically passing through death and being born again. One writer describes a ceremony observed in 1870 in the Basilica of St. Pauls near Rome during the reception of a monk into the Benedictine Order. At one point in the ceremony the noviciate lay on a cloth in front of the Altar and was covered with a black pall. Mass was celebrated. Then the man arose, took his place with the others, figuratively having been born into a new life and now known by a new name.
We must, I believe, realize that nothing which exists today is unconnected with the past, that although the connection is remote, it still exists. Freemasonry as we know it, is only 250 years old and yet events, customs and legends from early in man's history have left their mark on our Order. So it may be with the Hiramic Legend.
One advantage of expressing our Masonry in symbols and allegory is that it allows each to make his own interpretation. While this may not appeal to the logical scientific mind which prefers to have things presented in factual sequence, it leaves many of us free to speculate.
Webster's dictionary defines allegory as "the veiled presentation in a figurative Story of a meaning metaphorically implied but not expressly stated."
In the legend of Hiram we have a figurative story with a veiled or hidden meaning; a dramatization of the ancient and ever new theme of dying and rising again. The legend reveals the way in which the soul of man gains strength to recover from the tragedies of its own failures and misfortunes.
Hiram Abif is the acted symbol of the human soul, yours, mine, any man's. The enemies he met are none other than the symbols of those lusts and passions which make war upon our lives.
In the American Work the enemies are named and are said by different authorities to represent ignorance lust and passion, or ignorance, superstition and fear. It should be noted that all these enemies come from within. The names Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum may trace their origin to the word "giblim" or "ghiblim", which means stonesquarer or mason
The acacia which is a part of the legend, is according to Mackey, symbolic of the immortality of the soul; it is the symbol of innocence and is also the symbol of initiation (death and rebirth). It is interesting to note that the wood of the acacia was considered a sacred wood and was used to make the Tabernacle of Moses, the Ark of the Covenant, and the sacred furniture.
One of the most forceful lessons in the legend of Hiram is expressed in the words ''death hath no terror equal to the stain of falsehood and dishonor".
During my life it has been my privilege to associate with several people in the last years of a long life. I never cease to be impressed with the calm serenity with which these people awaited the call from the Most High. My father was not a member of the Masonic Order but he lived as a good Mason should, and he was almost 97 years old at the time of his death. As a boy in Scotland he saw one of the first electric light bulbs and he lived to watch on television as the astronauts depended from their flights into space. He lived through a lifetime of change and was not afraid to face the greatest change of all - from life to immortality.
So it should be with Masons. Such is the lesson of the Hiramic Legend.
*"So live that when thy summons comes to join the innumerable caravan Of those who move to that mysterious realm Where each must take his chamber in the silent Halls of Death. Thou go not as the galley slave at night, scourged to his dungeon, But sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust, Approach thy grave as one who wraps the drapery of his couch About him and lies down to pleasant dreams.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014