The Legend of the Third Degree

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.

The Square, April 1924.

Source: Victoria Masonic WWW BBS