The Legend of the Third Degree


Date: Sunday, December 19, 1999 5:36 AM

                 THE LEGEND OF THE THIRD DEGREE
                 by R.S. Thornton, PGM Manitoba

     I do not know of anything to which our Craft and its
ceremonials may be more readily compared than to the story of
Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, which sets forth, in allegory, the
journey of Christian from the city of Destruction to the Celestial
City. Very much along that line is our modern Speculative
Freemasonry. The lodge room typifies the world. The three degrees
typify the stages of youth, manhood and old age. The applicant for
admission enters the lodge room seeking for something. The
something which he is seeking for is the knowledge of Divine Truth.
He seeks for that knowledge under different figures. In the first
degree, under the symbolism of Light, he seeks and finds God as the
Author of Life and Light. In the second degree, he toils up the
winding stairs of Knowledge and again he finds the Deity, the
source of all Knowledge and Power. In the third degree, he goes
down into the valley of the shadow of death still seeking to know
the Divine. Through the whole of this picture the figure of Hiram
Abiff moves quietly and silently, a representative of mankind - not
the model man, but the sample man - the average man, with all his
human weaknesses and defects, looking for the source of knowledge,
of light and of immortality.

     Now, in connection with the story as we have it in the third
degree, of Hiram's violent death and all the circumstances relevant
thereto, these questions arise: how much of that is historical
fact, how much of it is Masonic tradition which has come down from
the centuries gone by, how much of it is pure invention, which was
worked into the plan two hundred odd years ago when the Grand Lodge
of England originated? Quite obviously there can be no positive
answer given to these questions, but a partial answer can be given,
and the answer is to the effect that Hiram Abiff was an historical
character, that he actually lived, as our story tells us, at the
time of the erection of King Solomon's Temple, and that some of the 
other details, which at present we might be inclined to think are
purely fictitious, have some justification of historical
foundation.

     You may ask, where do we find the story of Hiram Abiff as the
historical individual, as an actual living man? My answer is, you
will find the story in the first and most important of all Masonic
text-books, the Volume of the Sacred Law. Ah, but you say I have
read the story of the building of the Temple and I remember Hiram,
but I do not remember Hiram Abiff. Which was the individual who is
entitled to bear that name?

     If you will turn, in your leisure moments, to the second Book
of Chronicles, in the fourth chapter and in the sixteenth verse you
will read this: "The pots also, and the shovels, and the flesh
hooks, and all the instruments thereof did Huram his father make to
King Solomon for the house of the Lord with bright brass." You will
notice the words "Huram his father." Those words "his father" have
been translated into English, but if they had been left in the
Hebrew original and not translated, they would have read "Hiram
Abiff." In the German translation of the Bible which was prepared
under the direction of Martin Luther, the words "his father" are
not translated, and in this sentence they appear in the German as
"Hiram Abiff," but in the English translation which started with
Wycliffe and Tyndale, and then came on down to our authorised
version, they have been translated "Huram his father." Now do you
see what that means? It means that the tradition of Freemasonry
with the name Hiram Abiff as the central Masonic figure, antedates
the first translation of the English Bible, which took place over
500 years ago: one of the curious coincidences which you will find
all through the ritual and ceremonial, which tend to establish the
genuine antiquity of a good deal of what we have today.

     Having established that fact, another question arises. We read
in the Bible that Hiram was present at the dedication of the Temple
after its completion, whereas in our Masonic story he was slain
before the completion of the Temple, and now there arises something
rather curious. It first came to my notice some years ago in an
article written by a Hebrew Rabbi, a brother of the Craft, who
investigated this matter, with the advantage of an examination of
Hebrew manuscripts which were available to him.

     There are two accounts given in the Bible of the construction
of the Temple, one in the Book of Kings and the other in the Book
of Chronicles, and apparently the two coincide, but only apparently
so. In the Book of Chronicles the story is that Solomon, when he
decided to build the Temple, went to Hiram, King of Tyre, for men
and materials with which to construct the Temple. The reason why he
sent to Hiram, King of Tyre, was because that was the headquarters
of a band of working masons, known in those days as the Dionysian
Artificers, a body of masons, entirely similar to the body of
masons which built those cathedrals in Europe two thousand years
later. The Jews were not builders, and so they went to the
headquarters of the building fraternity for men and materials.
Then, Hiram, King of Tyre. wrote (II Chronicles 2:13): "And now I
have sent a cunning man endued with understanding, of Huram my
father's, the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his
father was a man of Tyre, skilful to work in gold and in silver, in
brass, in iron, in stone, and in timber, in purple, in blue, and in
fine linen, and in crimson; also to grave any manner of graving,
and to find out every device which shall be put to him, with thy
cunning men; and with the cunning men of my lord David, thy
father." The master architect! The man who was master of all the
building trades and crafts, and who was fitted to supervise every
department of the work! Note that it says that he was a son of
woman of the daughters of Dan.

     Now, turn, if you will, to the first Book of Kings, chapter 7,
verse 13, and the account reads thus: "And King Solomon sent and
fetched Hiram out of Tyre." Notice the difference in the words. In
the first instance, Hiram, King of Tyre, sent the man. In the
second case King Solomon sent and fetched Hiram out of Tyre. "He
was the son of a widow woman of the tribe of Naphtali," (not of the
tribe of Dan) "and his father was a man of Tyre and a worker in
brass; and he was filled with wisdom and understanding and cunning,
to all works in brass." Now you know how careful the Hebrews were
in their genaeology. They would never make the mistake of recording
at one time that a man belonged to the tribe of Dan and recording
at another time that he belonged to the tribe of Naphtali.

     Those who have read the article on Hiram Abiff in Mackey's
Masonic Lexicon must have been impressed with the way that Mackey
struggles to reconcile their two contradictory statements instead
of accepting them both at their face value and recognising that
they refer to two different men. The first man, the master
architect, was sent at the beginning of the erection of the Temple.
This man was a son of a woman of the daughters of Dan. The second
man, a widow's son, the son of a woman of the tribe of Naphtali,
near the completion of the Temple, was sent for in haste and
fetched out of Tyre in order that he might be able to complete the
work which had been left undone by the first man. The Rabbi to whom
I have referred, who speaks with the authority of a Hebrew scholar,
goes further and points out that the two names are different names
in Hebrew; that the name of the first man is spelled and pronounced
in Hebrew differently to the name of the second.

     Thus we have a confirmation of our Masonic tradition, of the
story of the tragedy which ended for the time being the work on the
Temple. We do not find that the sacred Scriptures contradict, but
rather, in a most peculiar way, confirm the idea that Hiram Abiff,
the master architect of the Temple, was slain before its
completion.

-reprinted from The Square, April 1924.

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