The Hiram Abif legend in Freemasonry:
What is it about?
What are we supposed to learn from it?
Outline for presentation at Benjamin B. French Lodge #15, F.A.A.M., District of Columbia February 17, 1999, by Paul M. Bessel Background Hiram Abif legend was not used when modern Freemasonry started in 1717.
By 1730 (just a few years later) it was the central part of the Masonic ritual.
Today it remains the heart of the ritual. It is supposed to teach us Masonic lessons. But what are they?
Biblical references No "Hiram Abif" in the Bible, but there are "Hiram's" in connection with the Temple of Solomon.
Widow's son, from the tribe of Naphtali, or from the tribe of Dan.
Brass worker, not stone mason (compare with Masonic reference to another brass worker).
Arrived after the Temple was completed, to work on items placed in it.
Or arrived during the building of the Temple, completed his work, and returned home safely.
Examples of inconsistencies in the story, if taken literally 1 not 3 gates to the Temple.
What could have been done with the "word" even if the ruffians had obtained it?
Why attack separately rather than together? Why use the weapons we are told about?
What possible purpose for marking the grave?
Why attempt to go to Ethiopia, rather than someplace else? Why by sea?
Why would 2 who knew the word not be able to give it, even if the 3rd was gone?
Why do we use a substitute word, now that the Royal Arch degree gives us the "true" lost word?
Why would the substitute have to be given on the "5 points?"
What is meant by "raising" the body? For what purpose in that manner, if it was decomposed?
(Why prevent the candidates from seeing the drama in a way that would give them the full benefit of it?)
Possible interpretations of the Hiram Abif legend given by Masonic writers Biblical Expulsion of mankind from the Garden of Eden.
Cain and Abel. Noah and the Ark. Joseph mourning for Jacob. Death and resurrection of Jesus.
Historical Murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170.
Destruction of the Templars. Jacques DeMolay's execution in 1314.
Oppression of Stuart Kings of England against their people. Execution of King Charles I in 1649.
Oppression against the Stuart pretenders to the throne of England.
Expulsion of King James II in 1688-1689. Jacobites' efforts to regain the English throne.
Moral Virtue of keeping secrets, keeping oaths. Regeneration (spiritually) of man, nature, or both.
Immortality of the soul, the body, or both. Separation of mankind from Deity, and coming back.
Other Egyptian: Osiris, Isis, Horas. Sun: rising, midday, setting. Astronomical problem (Yarker).
Story of what happens to us in old age. Psychology of each human being.
Savage initiation ceremony.
Many cultures talk of losing something important, result of evil, later found and helped society.
Just a stirring ritual ceremony (Coil's choice).
Some things to think about Names of the ruffians -- similarity to the "true word" given in the Royal Arch degree. Any significance?
Murder by fellow workmen, with one's own working tools. Are we our own worst enemy? Should we expect attacks by those we think are our friends and brothers? Even our Masonic brethren?
"Freedom" interpretation Sometimes kings and others attack free speech, religious leaders and others attack freedom of conscience, and ignorance destroys freedom of thought.
Freemasonry (remember the period when the Hiram Abif legend started, 1717-1730) teaches that each person is entitled to dignity and respect, freedom of thought and speech, not even our friends, or ourselves, should curtail this freedom. Hiramic legend could be about the universal struggle for freedom.
If so, what is this freedom?
Freedom of speech includes freedom of those who say things we hate, hurtful things that upset people. Otherwise, it is not real freedom.
Theories of why freedom of speech is valuable:
(1) The best ideas will "win" when all have a chance to be heard and tested. Marketplace theory.
(2) Safety valve. If people can't say what they want, they might build bombs instead.
(3) Free speech enhances the human spirit. People should be able to think and say whatever they wish, whether there's any chance of persuading people, or any other purpose to it. Self-fulfillment.
Freemasonry and freedom (things to think about) We say Freemasonry supports freedom, and that's why dictators oppose Freemasonry.
What specific examples can be given of how Freemasonry supports freedom of speech & thought today?
If there's a need for harmony in the Craft, and therefore limitations on free speech, why can't the same be said for limitations on freedom of speech in society, to preserve harmony there, too?
If the Hiram Abif legend is about freedom of speech, conscience, and thought, what is Freemasonry doing to promote what we teach in this most important part of our ritual?
Where to read more about this subject Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, by Henry Wilson Coil, 1996 revision by Allen E. Roberts.
Mackey's Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, by Albert G. Mackey, 1946 revision by Robert I. Clegg.
Who Was Hiram Abif?, by J.M.S. Ward, 1925.
Symbolism of the Three Degrees, by Oliver Day Street, 1924.
The Lost Word: Its Hidden Meaning, by George H. Steinmetz, 1953.
Freemasonry: A Journey Through Ritual and Symbol, by W. Kirk MacNulty, 1991.
Ars Quatuor Coronatorum (AQC), vol. 1 (1886-1888) pages 25-27; vol. 5 (1892) pages 136-141; vol. 7 (1894) page 134; vol. 8 (1895) page 27; vol. 43 (1930) pages 158-181; vol. 66 (1953) pages 89-103; vol. 67 (1943) page 53; vol. 73 (1960) pages 118-120; vol. 76 (1963) pages 220-224; vol. 77 (1964) pages 274-278.
The Builder magazine (published 1915-1930), vol. 1 (1915) page 285; vol. 3 (1917) pages 101, 113, 137, 175, 237; vol. 4 (1918) page 294; vol. 5 (1919) pages Oct CCB 8, 131, Nov CCB 5; vol. 6 (1920) pages Oct CCB 3-4, Cor. 56, Sept CCB 3-4, Oct CCB 3, 236; vol. 7 (1921) page QB 333; vol. 8 (1922) pages 144, 65, Cor 223, SC 19, 310; vol. 9 (1923) pages 294, 296; vol. 10 (1924) pages QB 222, 40, QB 127; vol. 11 (1925) pages 95, 256; vol. 12 (1926) pages Lib 156, 72, 109, 130, 170, 200, 203, 111, 110, 74, 75; vol. 14 (1928) page 183; vol. 15 (1929) pages 162, Lib 156.
Events in the Recent Memories of Men in 1730 Timeline comparing events then with present dates (chart prepared January 17, 1999 by Paul M. Bessel) 1730 Hiram Abif legend firm 1999 1729 English peace treaty with Spain 1998 1728 1997 1727 King George II began reign 1996 1726 1995 1725 1994 1724 1993 1723 Anderson's Constitutions published 1992 1722 English peace treaty with France & Prussia 1991 1721 1990 1720 South Sea Bubble - disastrous financial panic 1989 1719 Spain tried to help the Stuart Pretender in Scotland 1988 1718 1987 1717 1st Grand Lodge - modern Masonry - England & Spain war 1986 1716 Execution of Jacobite traitors 1985 1715 Jacobite (Stuart) invasion of Britain - riots 1984 1714 King George I began reign 1983 1713 Treaty of Utrecht ended war between England & France 1982 1712 England and France in bitter war 1981 1711 Landowners attempt to bar middle classes from Parliament 1980 1710 Marlborough dismissed - 1st peaceful transfer of power 1979 1709 England and France in bitter war 1978 1708 James III invaded in Scotland, soon returned to France 1977 1707 England and Scotland union into Great Britain 1976 1706 England and France in bitter war 1975 1705 England and France in bitter war 1974 1704 Marlborough won Battle of Bleinheim 1973 1703 England and France in bitter war 1972 1702 Queen Anne began reign 1971 1701 James II died - France supported his son as James III 1970 1700 death of Princess Anne's son, heir to throne 1969 1699 King forced to disband Dutch guards 1968 1698 Catholic teachers and priests subject to life imprisonment 1967 1697 England and France in bitter war 1966 1696 England and France in bitter war 1965 1695 England and France in bitter war - plot to assassinate King 1964 1694 Mary II died, William III continued - press censorship ended 1963 1693 England and France in bitter war 1962 1692 Salem witch trials - England at war in Scotland and France 1961 1691 England and France in bitter war 1960 1690 Battle of the Boyne in Ireland - James II to France 1959 1689 William III & Mary II by vote of Parliament - Bill of Rights 1958 1688 King fled England - Glorious Revolution 1957 1687 Declaration of Liberty of Conscience 1956 1686 King supported Catholics - very unpopular 1955 1685 James II began - Monmouth rebellion - Bloody Assizes 1954 1684 annulment of the Massachusetts Charter - no democracy 1953 1683 N.Y. Charter of Franchises and Liberties - Rye House plot 1952 1682 1951 1681 Test Act against Presbyterians 1950 1680 Duke of York (James II) returned to exile 1949 1679 Habeas Corpus Act - Meal-Tub plot - Scottish-English war 1948 1678 Titus Oates Popish plot - Papists' Disabling Act 1947 1677 King's ministers imprisoned 1946 1676 Bacon's Rebellion in against government in Virginia 1945 1675 French King gave English King secret subsidy 1944 1674 War between England and Holland 1943 1673 Test Act - only Anglicans - Indulgence withdrawn 1942 1672 English-Dutch war - Declaration of Indulgence for Catholics 1941 1671 Proclamation against Jesuit priests 1940 1670 secret treaty with France promising toleration for Catholics 1939 1669 feudalism tried in Carolinas 1938 1668 James, Duke of York, announced his Catholicism 1937 1667 England at war with Holland and France - low point for navy 1936 1666 Great Fire of London - Scottish revolt 1935 1665 Great Plague of London 1934 1664 English conquered Dutch to take over New York 1933 1663 Declaration of Indulgence withdrawn 1932 1662 Charter of Connecticut - representation in government 1931 1661 Clarendon Code to require uniformity in religion and politics 1930 1660 Charles II - Restoration of Monarchy 1929 1659 England at war with Spain 1928 1658 Oliver Cromwell died 1927 1657 England at war with Spain 1926 1656 England at war with Spain 1925 1655 risings in England suppressed - military dictatorship 1924 1654 Cromwell dissolved Parliament 1923 1653 Instrument of Government for England - written constitution 1922 1652 English - Dutch war 1921 1651 Charles II fled to exile in France 1920 1650 Charles II invaded - beaten by Cromwell 1919 1649 Charles I beheaded - Dorgheda massacre in Ireland 1918 1648 Second Civil War in England and Scotland 1917 1647 Scots gave Charles I to English army in return for pay 1916 1646 King Charles I surrendered to Scottish army 1915 1645 Battle of Naseby - total victory of Parliamentary army 1914 1644 Battle of Marston Moor - Cromwell defeated King's army 1913 1643 Solemn League & Covenant - attempt religious uniformity 1912 1642 King tried to arrest MPs - English Civil War began 1911 1641 Star Chamber abolished - plots by king and Parliament 1910 1640 Charles I forced to call Parliament - Root and Branch Bill 1909 1639 representative government in Connecticut - Bishops' War 1908 1638 King Charles 1 ruled without Parliament 1907 1637 Charles 1 without Parliament - Solemn League and Covenant 1906 1636 King Charles 1 ruled without Parliament 1905 1635 King Charles 1 ruled without Parliament 1904 1634 King Charles 1 ruled without Parliament 1903 1633 King ruled without Parliament - Maryland began 1902 1632 King Charles 1 ruled without Parliament 1901 1631 King Charles 1 ruled without Parliament 1900 1630 King Charles 1 ruled without Parliament 1899 1629 Charles 1 ruled without Parliament - conformity enforced 1898 1628 Petition of Right by Parliament against King 1897 1627 English-French war 1896 1626 English-French war 1895 1625 Charles I began reign 1894 1624 Virginia made into a Royal colony - no democracy 1893 1623 1892 1622 1891 1621 Great Protestation in England 1890 1620 Pilgrims sailed for America 1889 1619 inaugural meeting of colonial parliament in Virginia 1888 1618 Sir Walter Raleigh executed as reparation to Spain 1887 1617 1886 1616 1885 1615 1884 1614 King and Parliament quarreling over money and power 1883 1613 1882 1612 1881 1611 King James Version of the Bible published 1880 1610 Great Contract attempt to resolve financial issues - failed 1879 1609 1878 1608 1877 1607 landing of settlers at Jamestown, Virginia 1876 1606 Plague in London - Penal laws against Catholics 1875 1605 Gunpowder Plot - attempt to blow up King & Parliament 1874 1604 Hampton Court conference - King punished non-Anglicans 1873 1603 James I began reign (Stuarts) 1872