Jeshua, Zerubbabel and Haggai

Everett R. Turnbull & Ray V. Denslow

Royal Arch Masonry is active in Australia; each convocation of the grand chapters of that country features educational addresses. We are able to supply our readers with addresses, taken from the proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Victoria

The character I have to talk about is Jeshua.

Jeshua was the son of Josedeck, born during the captivity at Babylon. He was the first High Priest after the return, a fellow worker with Ezra and Nehemiah.

It is written of him that he discharged his all-important duties with ability and faithfulness at a time of extreme difficulty and in face of many perils.

Jeshua undoubtedly had the reputation of being one of the greatest High Priests of the Jewish hierarchy, but his reputation certainly did not rest on the spoken or written word.

He was preached at and hectored or bullied by prophet and scribe and intrigued against by his brethren, but not a single word of his, either in defense or attack has come to us.

In Masonry, and in many other institutions, actions are considered greater than words.

Jeshua was essentially a man of action.

Jeshua's family history was somewhat tragic, and there seems to be a vein of tragedy running through his life.

His grandfather, the High Priest when Jerusalem was captured and destroyed, was butchered by order of Nebuchadnezzar.

His father was carried captive to Babylon-Jeshua was born in captivity. His upbringing was that of an exile, always tragic, but especially to a Hebrew. But his life as an exile was not all tragedy: it was both interesting and stirring.

Nebuchadnezzar was not only a great conqueror, a great destroyer; he was also a great builder and a patron of the arts.

Jeshua probably saw the rebuilding of the magnificent Royal Palace, and watched the construction of the famous Hanging Garden on its terraced platform, one of the seven wonders of the world. He saw Babylon's culture carried far and wide, and witnessed the birth of science and astrology. Later he watched the rise of Cyrus, the all-conquering King of Persia: The defeat of the Babylonian Hosts, and the entry in State into the City of Babylon.

But always there must have been in his heart the longing to return to the land of his fathers. One can easily imagine that he hailed with joy the famous proclamation of Cyrus,

"All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of Heaven given me, and He hath charged me to build Him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judea. Who is there among you of all his people? The Lord his God be with him and let him go up."

Jeshua would no doubt be inspired with fervency and zeal and as one of the leaders of the exiles he joined the enormous caravan which set out for Judea laden with the gold and silver vessels of the temple and other valuable property restored to their rightful owners by order of the King.

By Masonic tradition we are told that during the captivity, the Jews had continued the ceremonies of the fraternity, and had several lodges, especially one at Naharda, on the Euphrates. Therefore, no sooner had they arrived at their destination than they erected a temporary Tabernacle, and called a council in which Zerubbabel presided as King, Jeshua as High Priest and Haggai as Scribe or principal officer of the State; and it was by them determined to begin rebuilding the temple on the foundations of the structure of Solomon.

Having arrived at Jerusalem Jeshua naturally took a leading part, in conjunction with Zerubbabel in the erection of the altar of burnt offering, and officiated as High Priest.

Thus began a brief period of triumph. Masons and carpenters were ordered to prepare the stones and timber for the building.

About the beginning of the second year after the return, the foundation of the Temple was laid by Zerubbabel, the Grand Master of the Jewish Masons, assisted by Jeshua, the High Priest, as Senior Grand Warden, with great rejoicing and praise to God.

As R.A. Masons we are naturally interested in the stories surrounding the preparation for, and the foundations of the temple, and I have been tempted to include in this talk, words from an epitome on the antiquity of Masonry. Briefly, about the foundation stone. The Masonic foundation stone is said to have been inscribed with the awful name or word which was confided to the perfect Master when he arrived at the highest dignity of the science. It is supposed to have been a stone placed within the foundations of Solomon's Temple and afterwards on the rebuilding of the temple by Zerubbabel. It was transported to the Holy of Holies. Its form was a perfect cube, having inscribed on its upper face, within the Delta, or triangle, the sacred Tetragrammaton, or ineffable name of the Deity.

The Toldeth, Jeshua says:

"At that time (the era of Jeshua) there was in the house of the sanctuary, a stone of foundation, which is the very stone that our Father Jacob anointed with oil, as is described in the 28th Ch. book of Genesis."

The legend is that Adam possessed this stone while in the garden of Eden. He used it as an altar, and carried it with him on his emergence into the world, and that Seth received it from him. Noah preserved it in the ark, and left it on Mount Ararat where Abraham found it. His grandson Jacob took it with him on his flight to his Uncle Laban in Mesopotamia, and used it as a pillow, when he had his celebrated vision near Luz. The history of the stone here becomes very indistinct, but one legend asserts that Jeremiah, escaping with a Jewish Princess, took it to Spain, and thence it was brought to Ireland, and that one of the Dalraid KIngs, conveyed it to Scotland and finally it was transported by Edward I, from Scone to Westminster Abbey, where until recently it was in that place as the coronation stone. (Now found)

However returning to the subject of Jeshua. When the foundation was laid by Zerubbabel and Jeshua, it was a time of great rejoicing, and it is recorded that the weeping of those that recalled the glory of the former temple was drowned by the joyous shouts of the mass of the people.

Jeshu's career thus reached its zenith, but soon the note of tragedy crept in. Dissensions, plots and many troubles supervened, and Jeshua was not permitted to see the completion of his great work.

His closing days must have been sad, family affairs were not all harmony. His sons had taken unto themselves strange wives, and were rebuked by the prophet Ezra. Even in the vision of Zechariah he appeared a tragic figure. He was pictured as clothed in filthy garments, accused before the Most High by Satan, but acquitted and given rule in Jehovah's house.

Nevertheless, he was always an important figure, the High Priest and ruler of the people.

When the Jews brought offerings of gold and silver from Babylon the prophet was ordered by the Most High to make crowns for Zerubbabel and Jeshua and to place Zerubbabel as King on the throne and Jeshua by his side. "The Council of Peace shall be between them both."

Zerubbabel was enjoined to maintiain good understanding with Jeshua.

About three miles West of Bagdad, on the Euphrates Road, in a grove of trees, stands the shrine and tomb of Nabi Yusha, or Kohen Yusha. It is the Sepulchre of Jeshua the son of Josedeck, the High Priest.


In presenting to you a few historical notes about Zerubbabel I am again following the example of the late Lord Ampthill, the late Pro First Grand Principal of the Supreme Grand Chapter of England. In commencing the idea of short talks at the Grand Convocations in England he gave us an address on Zerubbabel, which took but seven minutes in its delivery.

Zerubbabel, as we know, was the son of Shealtiel, and grandson of King Jehoiakin, King of Judah, who, in the year 597 B.C. (after a reign of less than four months), was carried into Babylonian captivity with 10,000 of his subjects by Nebuchadnezzar, one of the greatest monarchs of the ancient world.

The Hebrew signification of the name Zerubbabel is given as "begotten in Babylon."

Comp. Laxon Sweet, a Past Principal of the Author's Chapter, said of Zerubbabel,

"Born, no doubt in the stirring and exciting times, when the exploits and conquests of Cyrus the Persian astounded the the then known world, he was as a youth caught up in the enthusiam of that small band of his people who believed that Cyrus was the Messiah destincd at Jehovah's instigation to deliver them and their race from the Babylonian yoke."

Cyrus, who had been referred to as God's shepherd by Isaiah, had become imbued with a knowledge of true religion, as a result of the prophecies of lsaiah and his conversations with the prophet Daniel and other Jewish captives of learning and piety.

"Accordingly," say's Josephus, "an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfil the prophecy concerning him, so he called for the most eminent Jews that were in Babylon, and told them that he gave them leave to go back to their own country, and to rebuild the City of Jerusalem and the Temple of God."

He then in the year 538 B.C. issued the royal edict that constituted the starting point of the tradition of the Holy Royal Arch (see Ezra: ch. 1, v. 1), and so in the following year we find a brave band of Jewish pioneers undertaking the arduous adventure of returning to Jerusalem under the leadership of Sheshbazzar or Shenabazzar. It may be that Sheshbazzar was either the Babylonian or Persian name of Zerubbabel.

In the epistle sent by Cyrus to the Syrian Governors, in which he informed them of the permission he had given to the Jews, he said,

"I have sent my treasurer and Zorobabel, the Governor of the Jews, that they may lay the foundations of the Temple."

In the second chapter of Ezra, verse 2, it is stated that Zerubbabel with others, went up out of the captivity, and in the next chapter we read,

"When the seventh month was come then stood up Jeshua and his brethren and the priests, and Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel."

And later we also read,

"In the second year of their coming into Jerusalem, namely, the year 535 B.C., they `set forward the work of the House of the Lord.'"

Objection to the work was then taken by a number of adversaries, who persuaded the successor of Cyrus to countermand the royal edict, and the work ceased for about fifteen years, until the second year in the reign of Darius, King of Persia. In the meantime, Zerubbabel, who was an old friend of Darius, had evidently returned to Babylon, and had become a member of the King's bodyguard. It was then that the interesting story about Zerubbabel given in Esdras originated, a story which has been dramatized in one of the Allied degrees. In the third and fourth chapters of the First Book of Esdras is given the vivid narrative of the unique contests of wits in which Zerubbabel triumphed, and by thus gaining the King's favour, attained to a position of influence which enabled him to get permission to return to Jerusalem and resume the work of rebuilding the Temple and Holy City.

Briefly, King Darius had to retire to bed after a great feast, and three officers of his bodyguard agreed together upon a contest of wits. The account given in Esdras states that each of them was to speak a sentence, write it down, seal it, and place the written sentence under the King's pillow'. When the King rose from his slumbers the sentences were handed to him, and it was arranged that the King and his court should decide which of them had said the wisest thing, and the winner was to he rewarded with the most signal marks of royal favour.

The first wrote, "Wine is the stronger," the second wrote "The King is strongest," and the third, who was Zerubbabel, wrote "Women are the strongest, but above all things Truth beareth away the victory." As Lord Ampthill correctly claimed, "To appreciate the worth of the story from a literary, philosophical and ethical point of view, it should be read in the actual text of the Apocryphra."

Each contestant brilliantly argued their respective propositions before the King, sitting in the royal seat of judgment and attended by the Princes of Persia and Media, and all the officers of State. Zerubbabel was the last to speak and in arguing his case he displayed almost incredible courage, for he dared to make some personal allusions to the King's weakness, where a woman was concerned. The King and Princes showed signs of uneasiness, and without doubt their wrath would have descended in some terrible form upon the presumptuous young man if he had not instantly switched off to a splendid conclusion and peroration about Truth. The great climax of his oration swept the whole assembly off their feet, and all the people shouted, "Great is the Truth and mighty above all things."

(the translation of that phrase in the Vulgate is the familiar sayings. "Magna est veritas et praevalebit")

The fortune of Zerubbabel was made, and among other privileges, he was able to call the King his "cousin." It is interesting to note in passing that that notion survives to this day seeing that a man on whom the King has conferred a title of nobility is addressed by His Majesty in the Patent of Office as "his trusty and well beloved cousin." But the greatest privilege was the granting of his request to be allowed to complete the work of rebuilding the Temple and Holy City.

Some say this story is a fable, but even if that be so, it is as much a part of the history of the ancient people as are the stories about King Alfred and the burnt cakes, and King Canute and the waves of the tide.

And now I conclude by quoting the words used by Lord Ampthill in completing his chat:

"It is" interesting to Freemasons that such championship of Truth, one of the three Grand Principles on which our Order is founded, should be attributed to one of our great originals."

What food for thought there is as we look back, across the vista of twenty-four centuries on this picture of a new starting point for ancient people on that eternal quest for Truth, on which mankind has ever been engaged.

History of Royal Arch Masonry Vol. 1