Hiram the Builder

Everett R. Turnbull & Ray V. Denslow

The third of the great Triad of Masonic heroes, around whose names cluster so much of Masonic teachings and legends, is Hiram, variously referred to as Hiram, the Builder, Hiram, the Widow's Son, Hiram Abif. Profane and sacred history shed but little light upon him and his history. We must resort to Masonic tradition for most of that which we assume to know and for the background of the incidents which go to make up the Hiramic Legend, without which no Masonic body may hope to call itself or be regarded as legitimate.

Mackey says that the name Hiram, perhaps more correctly, Huram, comes from the Hebrew meaning "noble born." We can understand this appellation as applied to Hiram of Tyre, a king, for he was, indeed, noble born. But as for the Builder, it refers perhaps more to the renown he achieved as the cunning worker "in gold and 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 (Solomon's) cunning men, and with the cunning men of my lord David, thy father." Truly the man of all these accomplishments would ever appeal to ordinary men as one of those who had been of the nobility-indeed, of royalty itself!

In Craft Masonry we know him more often as "Hiram Abif." There has been much controversy and thousands of words written to assert and explain the origin and meaning of this word "Abif," too much of which has led to confusion rather than clarification. Certain it is that, like Abba, it means "father." It is simpler, more in accord with our Masonic usage, and perhaps as nearly accurate as any other theory advanced, just to regard it as what it probably is, a title of honor, much as if we were to say "Father Hiram." Whatever may be said of its meaning in a highly technical way, more than anything else it shows the veneration and high esteem in which he was held by the other two of this great trio of Masonic worthies, Solomon of Israel and Hiram of Tyre, and, therefore, by all Masons who have been brought to light by way of craftsmanship in the great task of building the House of the Lord.

His origins are likewise obscure. The Biblical account says in one place that he was the son of a widow of the Tribe of Naphtali and that his father was a man of Tyre, the kingdom ruled by the illustrious King Hiram, and in another that he was a son of a woman of the daughters of Dan and his father was a man of Tyre. Which is true we cannot know. But we do know that he was Tyrian through his father and Jewish through his mother, and that he possessed all the skills of the builders of Tyre and Sidon, at that time celebrated artists and among the greatest of the world's mechanics and builders, and all of the tenacity of religious belief and all the high ideals of the worshippers of the one living and true God, Jehovah.

It has been intimated by some of the researchers whose great delight is the so-called "debunking" of history and historical characters that the story of the widow of the Tribe of Naphtali and the woman of the daughters of Dan was fabricated by Hebrew writers in order that the Jews might claim some of the credit for the work of the Master builder. By all this we are wholly unimpressed. He was, he must have been, a believer in the one God of Israel, through the teachings of his mother. And this was not the first time that a man has inherited and practiced his religion through the distaff side! And, too, it is not an unheard of thing even today for a widow of some Naphtali or some Dan to lure a mighty man of some Tyre or other to cast his lot with her!

Mackey in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry explains this conflict in the stories of his maternal ancestry thus :

Commentators have, however, met with no difficulty in reconciling the contradiction, and the suggestion of Bishop Patrick is now generally adopted on this subiect. He supposes that she herself was of the Tribe of Dan, but that her first husband was of the Tribe of Naphtali, by whom she had this son; and that when she was a widow she married a man of Tyre, who is called Hiram's fsther because he bred him up and was the husband of his mother.

In our discussion of Hiram of Tyre we referred to the contributions of men and of materials by Hiram of Tyre to King Solomon. The greatest of his contributions to his royal friend was the assignment of this skillful artisan and designer, because through his work in ornamenting and furnishing the Temple it gained its beauty and appeal, without which it might have been just another building devoted to the worship of a god.

Referring again to the author of the Encyclopedia, Mackey speculates that, as Tyre was one of the principal seats on the Dionysiac fraternity of artificers, a secret organization whose members were engaged in the construction of edifices, a society that was subsequently imitated by the Operative Freemasons, it is not unreasonable to conjecture that Hiram Abif was a member and that when he came to Jerusalem he introduced among the Jewish workmen whom he supervised the forms and disciplines with which he was familiar in his home country.

From this connection could have come the organization of the workmen at the Temple, which was so perfect that, notwithstanding the great number of craftsmen employed at the site, some two hundred thousand, the work proceeded without discord, disorder or confusion, as we are told in the lectures of the Craft degrees.

Oliver gives us the legend of Hiram, at least part of which every Master Mason remembers and treasures, that every day, when the sun was rising in the east, he went into the Temple to pray for the blessing of Jehovah upon the work; every evening when the sun was setting in the west he likewise offered up his thanks for the blessings of the day; and at high twelve it was his unvarying custom to enter the unfinished Sanctum Sanctorum to offer his devotions to Almighty God, and during this hour when the craft were called from labor to refreshment he inspected the work and drew new designs upon the trestleboard. The lessons of reverence and of loyalty taught by this legend we need only to refer to.

In the Mark Master Degree we are reminded of his great work in fashioning the indispensable stone, and in the Most Excellent we hear a beautiful tribute paid to this exemplary character as we stand in the South before a draped and empty chair. In the Cryptic Degrees we learn of his premonition of his own death and we hear him give the clue that will bring to light the great secret of the order in the Royal Arch Degree.

Least known if one may take only the historical facts presented in the story of the building of the Temple, best known and most greatly honored in our Masonic legends, for us he stands for all time the master workman, the finest example of unhesitating and supreme loyalty to a trust, the key to the repository which holds our most sacred secrets, and the proof that man dies only to live again.

History of Royal Arch Masonry Vol 1