The Rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple

Everett R. Turnbull & Ray V. Denslow

The chief feature of the Royal Arch Legend is the return of Zerubbabel of Jerusalem and the building of the Second Temple under his supervision. From a Masonic standpoint, the first mention of these events is made by Dr. James Anderson, the author of the Book of Constitutions or Ancient Charges of Freemasons, dated 1823. He refers to them in these words: "And Cyrus, having constituted Zerubbabel, the son of Salathiel (of the seed of David by Nathan, the brother of Solomon, whose royal family was now extinct) the Head or Prince of the Captivity and the leader of the Jews and Israelites returning to Jerusalem, they began to lay the foundations of the Second Temple." He also made similar references to them when he revised his Book of Constitutions in 1838.

In the Book of Isaiah it was foretold that Babylon would fall, that Cyrus would triumph, and that the exiled Jews would be liberated to return to their own land, and that Cyrus would make possible the rebuilding of the Holy City and the restoration of the Temple. You will find Cyrus's Proclamation, as it appears in our ritual, in the last verse of the 2nd Chronicles, and also, in an extended form, in the first four verses of the Book of Ezra. You are all familiar with it, as it is a part of the Principal Sojourner's oration during the ceremony of exaltation. Here it is:

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

See first chapter of Ezra for the full proclamation. From a R.A. standpoint, the Books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah and Haggai are the most interesting and informative.

As soon as Cyrus had issued his decree, giving Jews permission to return to Jerusalem, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, with the priests and Levites, assembled in Babylon and made preparations for the journey. A few of the other tribes whose love for their old country and its ancient worship had not been obliterated by the luxuries of their Babylonian life, joined them; but during their long captivity of seventy years very many of them had prospered and had built up flourishing businesses; and, quite naturally, they had no desire to leave their comfortable homes for a life of toil and hardship in their desolated and drought-stricken homeland. Even among the priests, who were divided into twenty-four courses, only four courses returned. However, those who remained were not slow in giving financial assistance to those who returned. Cyrus also restored to the Jews, the greater part of the sacred vessels of the Temple which had been taken away by Nebuchadnezzar. Zerubbabel received 5,400 vessels of gold and silver, and the remainder were taken back to Jerusalem by Ezra many years later. See Ezra, chapter 7, for a full account of Ezra's return to Jerusalem.

In the second chapter of Ezra we are told that the number of exiles who made the journey was 42,360, and they had with them 7,337 servants and maids, and 200 singing men and singing women; Nehemiah gives the number as 245. Zerubbabel selected 7,000 of the most valiant of his followers to form an advance guard. This was necessary, as their journey was fraught with danger. At the Euphrates their progress was opposed by the Assyrians, who were tempted by the vast quantity of golden vessels they were carrying. As they would not heed the remonstrances of the Jews or the edict of Cyrus, a battle ensued, and most of the Assyrians were slain or were drowned in crossing the river in their retreat.

From Babylon to Jerusalem, as the crow flies, is approximately 500 miles; hence it was a big undertaking for Zerubbabel to safely conduct nearly 1,000 people to their destination. As the Syrian desert lies between the two cities, a direct route was not possible; hence it was necesary to make a big detour to the north. The transport problem was, of course, a large one, as they evidently had no wheeled vehicles in those days and had to depend on beasts of burden-over 8,000 being employed -viz., 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels and 6,720 asses. After the defeat of the Assyrians on the bank of the Euphrates they encountered no further opposition, and arrived at Jerusalem at 7 a.m. on the 22nd of June, 535 B.C., after a journey of four months.

During their captivity they had continued to practice the rites of Masonry, and had established regular Lodges at various places in Chaldea; and, according to Rabbinical traditions, they had established their mystic fraternity at Neharda, on the Euphrates. The same authority tells us that Zerubbabel carried with him to Jerusalem all the secret knowledge of Masonry and established a Lodge in Judea. This coincides with, and gives additional strength to, the traditions of the Royal Arch Degree.

When the exiles reached Jerusalem they found it in a deplorable condition. The walls were broken down and the Temple enclosure was a mass of ruins. After a much-needed rest of seven days they set to work with commendable zeal. They built an altar for burned sacrifices as their first act, and then erected a tabernacle for the purpose of divine worship, near the ruins of the former Temple. Then they formed a council, over which Zerubbabel presided as king, with Joshua as priest, and Haggai as scribe or principal officer of state. This meeting decided to build a second Temple upon the same holy spot which had been occupied by the first Temple, and the people liberally contributed 61,000 drachms of gold and 5,000 pounds of silver-equal to nearly 60,000 in Australian money towards defraying the expenses. We are told that some of the old men wept unrestrainedly, while the young men shouted for joy because, at last, another Temple, worthy of the former, was to be erected in its place. So they proceeded to make ceremonial preparations for the work. But how quickly emotion and enthusiasm sometimes fade!

Soon they were interrupted by their neighbors, the Samaritans, who wanted to share in the work, saying, "We seek your God as ye do; and we do sacrifices to Him," but the Jews looked upon them as idolators and refused their services. The Samaritans retaliated by preventing the Jews from getting the necessary timber. This was a decided check to the work. Moreover, the land had not been cultivated during their long captivity, and a succession of bad seasons following made them feel that the hand of God, as well as the hand of man, was against them. So they became too indifferent to bother about anything but their own affairs; and, instead of building the Temple, they built themselves houses that were both "paneled and ceiled." Thus sixteen precious years were wasted, and, as one, writer puts it, "Sheshbazzar disappears from the story and Haggai comes on the scene," the date being now 520 B.C.

Cyrus had died nine years previously (529 B.C,) and was succeeded by his son, Cambyses, who conquered Egypt; but his cruelties alienated his people and he committed suicide in 522 B.C. Then followed a series of civil wars that resulted in Darius becoming king. When Cambyses, who in the Scripture is called Ahasuerus, became king, the Samaritans and other enemies of the Jews took the opportunity to renew their persecution, and they succeeded later on in getting from Artaxerxes an order to stop all the work in Jerusalem, and thus hung up the work until the second year of the reign of Darius. See Ezra, chapters 4, 5, 6, for a full account of their charges, etc. How Zerubbabel overcame this difficulty will be recorded when, later on, I deal with his life story.

The council, presided over by Zerubbabel, having chosen the site, it was found necessary to remove the debris of the former structure, and it was during this operation that the important discovery was made by the three sojourners who had not accompanied Zerubbabel but had arrived just in time to clear away the rubbish. These three sojourners, whose good fortune it was to discover that stone of foundation so intimately connected with the history of Freemasonry, were, according to a Masonic tradition, Esdras, Zachariah and Nehemiah-the three holy men who, because of their refusal to worship the golden image set up by Nebuchadnezzar, were thrown into a fiery furnace from which they emerged uninjured. In the Chaldean language, they were known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. It was while exploring the subterranean vaults that this famous Masonic stone and the important mysteries connected with it were discovered, and by them presented to Zerubbabel, Haggai and Joshua, whose traditional knowledge of Masonry, which they had received in a direct line from the builders of the first Temple, enabled them to appreciate at once the great importance of these treasures. As soon as they made this important discovery, on which depends not only the existence of the Royal Arch Degree, but the most important mystery of Freemasonry, the Jews proceeded, on a certain day, before the rising of the sun, to lay this stone as the foundation stone of the second Temple. (I might mention here that the timber, as in the case of the first Temple, was prepared in the forests of Lebanon by the Tyrians and Sidonians, and was conveyed on floats by sea to Joppa.)

As already indicated, the bitter enmity of the Samaritans impeded the work of construction for several years. Indeed, owing to the difficulties and dangers of this period, the workmen had often to labor with trowel in one hand and sword in the other (see Nehemiah, chap- 4, vs. 17–23 ), and to commemorate these worthy craftsmen, who were thus ready to fight or to labor in the cause of God, as circumstances,might require, the sword and trowel crosswise are displayed on our carpet.

Like Cyrus, Darius appears to have had a great friendship for the Israelites, especially for Zerubbabel, with whom he was well acquainted in his youth. This is evident from the fact that, when he was a private citizen, he made a vow that, should he ever become king, he would restore to them all the vessels that Cyrus had retained. After a visit from Zerubbabel he promised full protection in the completion of the work. After this there was no serious obstruction, and twenty years after its commencement, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius, on the third day of the month, Adar, 515 B.C., the Temple was completed and solemnly dedicated to Jehovah amid the greatest rejoicings.

History of Royal Arch Masonry Vol. 1