Moses, the Hebrews, and the Temple

Everett R. Turnbull & Ray V. Denslow

Our late friend,Loomis Baldrey PGM, delivered an oration before the Grand Chapter of Washington at its meeting on May 24, 1951. Because of its historical interest to Freemasons of all degrees, it is reprinted.

Some four thousand years ago, approximately, a man, a Senite, who apparently had a large family and a large number of cattle, due to the inroads of irrigation in the region where he was living near the Euphrates River, found it necessary to seek new pastures. So he went across the river, and because he came across the river they called hlm "'Ebro," and that was the beginning of the designation of the tribe of the Hebrews. Abraham with his family and his wives and children went down towards Canaan, seeking new pasture land. He prospered, he had sons and grandsons, and in the course of time their tribe increased. Some of his sons by one wife were jealous of the sons of another wife, and because they didn't like Joseph, the son referred to, the other brothers sold him into captivity and he was taken into Egypt. There he became an advisor to the King, and you know the story. I am not going to give the whole history of the Bible. The Egyptians ultimately received the descendants of Abraham, who where then a large family. They settled them in Egypt and gave to them what amounted to a franchise or a monopoly on raising of cattle,- raising of sheep. It happened that the Egyptians in previous years had been overcome by shepherd kings who had treated them very harshly, very tyrannically, and that brought shepherds into disrepute among the Egyptians. When the Egyptians gained their freedom from those shepherd kings, they didn't want to take up pasturing cattle and they were glad to have the Hebrews come in and undertake that work.

Moses the Leader

The Hebrews prospered and for several generations lived in the land of Egypt until, ultimately, as has happened so many times through the history of the Jewish race, they earned the enmity and envy of the people among whom they dwelled, and the Egyptians wanted to get rid of the Hebrew's. They wanted to drive them out. The Hebrews were willing to go but they wanted to take with them their property and that didn't suit the Egyptians. And there came a leader among the Hebrewrs named Moses. Moses had been adopted by a daughter of the Pharoah when he was an infant of some eight or nine months. The Egyptian king had promulgated a decree that all of the children of the Hebrew race should be killed. And the mother of Moses had saved him by leaving him in a little basket, putting it in the river, and having her daughter watch it until she saw it was taken care of. Moses was picked out of the river, and because he was taken from the waters he was called Moses, because that means taken from the waters.

Moses was brought up in the household of the King and among the High Priests of the Egyptian religion. And he was taught the innermost secrets of the faith of the Egyptians. He was schooled in the monuments of Egypt; and learned the secrets of the snake headed monsters, and the lion headed figures depicted on their old tombs and on their buildings.

We think of the Egyptians as idolaters. The High Priests knew that they did worship the Creator. Their hieroglyphics, their tombs, represented the characteristics of that Creator. The Creator's principles, the wisdom, the power, the swiftness, the strength, all were depicted on their monuments through an eagle, showing swiftness; a lion, showing strength; an ox showing patience; or a man showing intelligence. And those qualities were what were shown in those monsters drawn and carved on the temples of Egypt.

Symbol Of The Creator

Among the hieroglyphics found on the tombs, (and this is from Mackey's Encyclopedia of Masonry) there is an inscription which was on the tomb of a man who had died, stating that he hoped his soul would return to the Creator of all mankind. And the Creator is depicted in the hieroglyphics through the term, understood by the Egyptians, of a man building a wall. The man was creating a wall. And that meant the creative spirit. And this is in the Egyptian hieroglyphics. I think all who bear the name Mason can look with pride back 4,000 years to when the man who built a wall was a Mason, and was the representative of the spirit of creation, the Creator himself.

Moses Iearned all these secrets, and when finally, through the miracles which he performed, he was able to secure the consent of the Egyptian King not only to leave but to take with him great treasures, because through these plagues which had been visited upon the Egyptians the King was willing and glad to get rid of the Hebrews, who apparently brought so much trouble upon him and his people.

Moses Assumes Command

So the Hebrews left, and took with them much treasure. The tribe of Abraham had increased to some say 7,000 and some say 70,000 and they went into the desert. Moses who had learned all of the Egyptian lore and all of their philosophy and their religion was their leader. And I think among all the men who ever lived there was none wiser than Moses. He divided his people into tribes, he formulated a government for them, as they went into the wilderness, by which they would be made one united people. They had lived for generations among the Egyptians, some of them had become elderly, some of them didn't want to leave Egypt, and Moses felt that he could never gain a united nation believing in one God, believing in one faith, unless he led them for a number of years, until the young people were born and grew up under their teachings, for the older ones could not be taught anything new.

So for forty years they wandered under the tutelage of this wise leader, and under the plan which he arranged for them. They built, under Moses' direction, a tabernacle, that was built in accordance with Moses' understanding of the true faith, a faith founded upon nature itself, and the manifestations of the will of the Creator as shown by nature. The sun, the moon, the planets, the division of time into 12 months, were represented in the structure. The ornaments in that tabernacle, were symbols, as you know,--the seven branch candlestick represented the seven planets including the sun, the division of the tabernacle itself was the representation of the heaven itself and the earth, the heaven being the Holy of Holies. Every ornament, every utensil, everything of any use in that tabernacle had its reference to some natural phenomena. The days of the week, the days of the month, the months of the year, the movements of the planets and all of those things were represented in the utensils in the temple, because Moses, and the Egyptians, thought nature was but the manifestation of the will of the Creator. So time went on, and Moses united his people, into one strong, virile nation. And he promised them the land of Canaan, through which their forefathers had come.

Moses passed to his forefathers, leaving with his people the Ark of the Covenant-which he got from Egypt because the Egyptians used in their temples an Ark on which were two kneeling figures. Moses gave it a new meaning, a new understanding for his people. And Moses fought against the belief of the people that they should have idols to worship, - you remember the story of the golden calf. And when years after the tabernacle was built and used in the desert they finally, after the death of Moses, came to the land of Canaan, they were able through their strength and through the nation as Moses had built it, to take possession of that promised land.

For some hundreds of years, one after another, the nations of that section came under their control. Finally, King David conquered the entire region and gained much treasure, and great power, control and dominion over that whole region.

Solomon Ascends The Throne

When David passed to his fathers, and Solomon took his throne, Solomon then had the treasure which had been gathered by David, the treasure wherewith to build that magnificent structure, the Temple of Solomon. So the new temple was built by Solomon, modelled after the tabernacle which Moses and Aaron had planned. And the two architects of that tabernacle chosen by Moses were Aholiab and Bezaleel, names familiar to all of you. So the temple ultimately built was built after those same plans of Aholiab and Bezaleel. And when the temple and palaccs adjoining were built, Solomon lived in great power, in great glory and in great luxury. He had married many women, and he had many children by these various women. He had taken wives from tribes which were not worshipers of the true God, and those wives who had children raised their children in the faith of the mother, so when Solomon died his children were of various sects and various faiths. These quarreled among themselves and from their dissension came internal warfare.

We sometimes look upon the destruction of the temple as something which occurred suddenly, out of a clear sky, but that is not so. Hundreds of years after the death of Solomon there was fighting and strife; rebellion and conquest among the descendants of Solomon. And it certainly needed no very wise prophet to foresee that the end would ultimately come.

Jerusalem Is Destroyed

Jeremiah and those other prophets knew that nothing could happen except the total destruction of the nation of the Hebrews if they continued to go after these false Gods and to fight among themselves. So several hundred years after the death of Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar found an easy prey of Jerusalem, and the final dispersion took place, I think, about 586. I haven't given you dates for three reasons. I don't remember them and if I did remember them to give to you, you wouldn't remember them, and anyway they are not important. The important thing is that these events took place and the order in which they took place. It was about 1500 years B.C. that the Hebrews left Egypt, it was about 500 years after that that the temple was built, about 300 or 400 years after that that the temple was destroyed and the Jews were carried captive to Babylon. They had been conquered, and they had recovered their freedom several times before that, but they had been so troublesome to the Assyrians that the only way to end the trouble finally was to take all of the leading people and leave only the servants and the slaves. And that was what Nebuchadnezzar did. So the Jews were taken to Babylon and into exile and were there for approximately 70 years.

Beginnings Of The Bible

Up to this time there had been no written Bible among the Jews with the exception of the Ten Commandments, - the Decalogue. The Ark of the Covenenat bore, according to history, a copy of the Ten Commandments, Aaron's Rod the Branch which later bore fruit, in accordance with the story told in the Bible. But when they went into Babylon and dwelt there the younger generation which was born learned the new language, Aramaic, the language spoken by the people of Babylon. Undoubtedly the younger looked down on their elders as old fogies, - people who were old fashioned, who wouldn't keep up to date. The elders among the the Hebrews began to fear that they would lose their language and their faith, so they met and discussed as to what they should do.

They determined to write down the history of the people and the story of their faith. A High Priest named Ezra, of the high temple in Babylon, gathered together those among the high priests who were skilled in the history of the Hebrwes and in the story of their religion. They wrote down what was called the Masoretic Text of the Bible and that was the first written Bible known to man. That was written from what was called the Targums or the spoken Proverbs and paragraphs of the history of the Jews and the story of their religion. It was written in Hebrew with an explanation in the tongue of the Babylonians, Aramaic, because by that time, which was approximately 450 B.C., most of the people spoke the Aramaic tongue.

When Darius the King enabled the Hebrews to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, they carried with them this work, which was then under way. They wrote and completed their Bible which consisted of the first five books, the Pentateuch. For some hundreds of years this was the only Bible of the Hebrew people, And of course that was a hand written Bible, there was no such thing as printing in those days. It was written supposedly in a square form, bound together, and in the Aramaic and Hebrew tongues.

The Septuagint Bible

The next written Bible came approximately 200 years after that when many of the Hebrews who had gone into Alexandria had settled and built up a colony there. They had learned and spoke the Greek tongue because by then the Greeks had conquered the world. So they needed a Bible in the Greek tongue. They sent to Jerusalem and asked to have those skilled in the Bible and in translations to come and give them a copy of the Bible. So seventy men were sent to Alexandria; and because there were seventy of them the work they did was called the Septuagint. That was the version in Greek of the original Bible, being written in about the year 250 B.C. At that time they added the Proverbs, the Prophets and the Psalms; and that for hundreds of years was the Bible of the Hebrews and was the version which was in effect at the time of Christ.

Now I have said little about Masonry in connection with this, but we have in Masonry many symbols; which are explained in our lectures. We give an explanation which in many instances is an explanation to cover up the real meaning, as in that hieroglyph that I mentioned. I have never seen it explained nor any reference to its possible Masonic connection,-- that is that the Builder was the Creator. We have the well known symbol of the circle and the point within the circle with the parallel lines on each side. We give that as meaning that a man's passion should never permit him to go beyond the bounds of that circle. I don't think that is the true meaning of it, I think it was a symbol used for another reference. This was one which was taught by Pythagoras, who lived and taught at the same time Ezra was writing the Scriptures in the year 450 B.C. Pythagoras had learned it from the Egyptians, and he taught that that symbol was the sun in the center of the circle and the planet earth revolving around it. And at the summer and the winter solstice when the days changed and lengthened or shortened, they changed at the days of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Divine. that was a representation of the earth revolving around the sun, and was taught by Pythagoras 400 years before Christ, and long, long before Columbus sailed to discover whether the earth was round.

The Virgin Weeping

We have another symbol, which we illustrate in Masonry, - the beautiful virgin weeping beside a broken column and Time standing behind her and counting the ringlets of her hair, that refers, I am satisfied, and there is authority for this belief, to the Egyptian legend of Isis and Osiris. That Osiris was killed by his brother Typhon, that his wife Isis sought for the body and finally found it in pieces, scattered, that she gathered the pieces together and put them in a hollow stump, and stood beside that stump weeping, with her son Horus beside her. We Masons conceal the origin and the real meaning of that by stating that it is a broken column with a beautiful virgin weeping. I think many of our Masonic symbols can be traced back to their Egyptian source.

The Bible, then, as it was at the time of Christ, was simply the written history of the growth of the Hebrew faith, tracing from Egypt, with some modifications from Babylonia. The emblems of that faith were likewise transmitted to us. After the Christ, about the year 70, 80 and 90 A.D., the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were put on paper, or parchment. Written in Greek originally, because that was the language by most of the world at that time. It was 200 or 300 years after that that the first Latin version was born. There were some attempts at writing part of the Scriptures in Latin in that intervening time because of course the Romans then had conquered the Greeks and had made the Latin language the spoken word in the Mediterranean world.

About 390 a version of the bible was written in Latin by St. Jerome, which, for many years, was called the Vulgate Edition, and became the accepted version of the Bible. But those Bibles, written by hand, which required a lifetime in their production, were of course very scarce and very valuable. There are none of the original Hebrew Bibles left because it was the rule among the Hebrews that if a Bible became old after it was copied into a new one, the old must be destroyed. Because there might be danger if the old were preserved, that some of the words would become obliterated, some of them lost perhaps, and the true version might not be carried on. So they destroyed the old half-obliterated versions. Thus the Bible was written by hand for the next several hundred years, until the discovery of printing. I am not going to go into that at length, but it is getting down to times of which we have greater knowledge and greater rccord.

Discovery Of Printing

The art of printing was discovered by a German, Gutenberg, and an interesting story is told as to how he learned that letters could be produced. It seems that his mother worked in preparing parchment for writing upon. The boy was playing near his mother when she was preparing parchment, and had a purple die in a kettle. He was making letters out of the bark of a tree, and in some way one of those letters fell into the kettle. He reached into it, but it was hot and he jerked it out quickly and threw it out of his hand. It landed on this parchment and when he picked it up after it had cooled off there was the beautiful letter G printed on the parchment. This gave him the idea, at least that is the story, that letters could be reproduced in that way. It was years after that when he had grown up that he carved letters out of wood and metals. Ultimately he printed the first Bible, the Gutenberg Bible. The story of the Bible and its connection with Masonry from then on is very interesting, it is however, another chapter. What I have wanted to do was to accede to the wish of our Most Excellent Grand High Priest, who expressed a desire one time that he might learn how the Bible came into the possession of our people, from the Hebrews. That is the story, Most Excellent Sir, and we have the Bible now printed. Much has been said at times about our Bible being on the Altar, and that we don't pass between the Altar and the East. You know, of course, that in the English lodges the AItar is up against the East and the Bible is under the direct control of the Worshipful Master.

In this country in our desire to show that we are more democratic, we move the Bible down where it is equally accessible to all our members, but we still preserve the idea that the Master is the direct custodian of that Bible and no one is to pass between the Master and the object of his care. There are many things like that in connection with the Bible. The Bible in the early days was chained in the building where it was placed, and it was not accessible to the common person. Men and women have been burned because they tried to read the Bible. Men have been burned because they circulated the Bible. Five men and one woman were burned in England about 1500 because they prayed the Lord's prayer in English instead of in the Latin version. The name of the Supreme Being was forbidden to be spoken by ordinary individuals for many hundreds of years, in fact they didn't even know what the name was. We have many things in Masonry such as the concealment of the word, the protection of the Bible, and others that trace back to those old rules when the priesthood was in sole control of all men's destinies - when the King himself was but the first subject of the Priests. Masonry has many legends, and many symbols, and if we trace them back we gain the idea that for thousands of years the wise men have believed in the existence of one Supreme Being. They knew that there was no multiplicity of gods,-that was food for the common people because that was all they could comprehend. But the belief in one Supreme Being was the knowledge of the Egyptians, of the Greeks, of the Hebrews, and handed down and preserved in our fraternity and our religion.

History of Royal Arch Masonry Vol. 1