Hiram Abif


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In them Hiram Abif appears both as an authentic and a mystical personage, he is not only the cunning craftsman employed by King Solomon to beautify and adorn the actual temple, but also an emblematic being, representing the sun, who, by his magnetic power, raises the Royal Arch of heaven, and beautifies and adorns the terrestrial and celestial spheres, for which reason his name has a twofold meaning, significant of both characters.

It is also true that to some extent the life and conduct of the real personage is emblematic of the mystical one, yet they differ in several important particulars:

1. The mystical Hiram is represented in the masonic tradition as being an architect, superintending the building and drawing out the plans for the temple.

The real Hiram, as mention in history, was, according to the Bible, and also Josephus, no architect at all, and drew out none of the designs for the temple.

2. The mystical Hiram, according to masonic tradition, is represented as having lost his life suddenly before the completion of the temple, in the midst of his labors, and with many of his designs unfinished.

On the contrary, the historical Hiram, as we are expressly informed in the sacred Scriptures, lived to finish all his labors in and about the temple, and for King Solomon.

For the benefit of unmasonic readers, we will give the substance of the masonic tradition relating to Hiram Abiff, which is taken word for word from Dr. Oliver's Dictionary of Symbolical Masonry, a work authorized by the highest masonic bodies in England and America. Says Dr. Oliver:

We have an old tradition delivered down, orally, that it was the duty of Hiram Abiff to superintend the workmen, and that the reports of the officers were always examined with the most scrupulous exactness. At the opening of the day, when the sun was rising in the east, it was his constant custom, before the commencement of labor, to enter the temple and offer up his prayers to Jehovah for a blessing on the work. And in like manner, when the sun set in the west and the labors of the day were closed, and the workmen had departed, he returned his thanks to the Great Architect of the universe for the harmonious protection of the day. Not content with this devout expression of his feelings, morning and evening, he always went into the temple at the hour of high twelve, when the men were called 76

from labor to refreshment, to inspect the progress of the work, to draw fresh designs upon the tracing-board, if such were necessary, and to perform other scientific labors, not forgetting to consecrate his duties by solemn prayer. These religious customs were faithfully performed for the first six years in the secret recesses of his lodge, and for the last year in the precincts of the most holy place. At length, on the very day appointed for celebrating the cap-stone of the building, he retired as usual, according to our tradition, at the hour of high twelve, and did not return alive.

(See article "High Twelve")

Some further particulars of the masonic legend are given in the same book, under the article "Burial-Place."

"The burial-place," says Dr. Oliver, of a master mason, is under the Holy of Holies, with the following legend delineated on the monument: A virgin weeping over a broken column, with a book open before her. In her right hand a sprig of cassia, in her left an urn. Time standing behind her with his hands enfolded in the ringlets of her hair. The weeping virgin denotes the unfinished state of the temple; the broken column, that one of the principal supporters of masonry (H. A. B.) had fallen; the open book implies that his memory is recorded in every mason's heart; the sprig of cassia refers to the discovery of his remains; and the urn shows that his ashes have been carefully collected; and Time, standing behind her, implies that time, patients, and perseverance will accomplish all things.

Dr. Oliver also, in his ninth lecture, on the "Theocratic Philosophy of Freemasonry," speaking of Hiram Abif, says:

The legend of his death it will be unnecessary to repeat, but there are some circumstances connected with it which may be interesting. His illustrious consort, whose memory is dear to every true mason, was so sincerely attached to him that, at his death, she became inconsolable, and, refusing to be comforted, she spent the greater part of her time in lamentation and mourning over the tomb which contained his venerated ashes. The monument erected to his memory was particularly splendid, having been curiously constructed of black and white marble, from plans furnished by the Grand Warden, on the purest masonic principles, and occupied an honorable situation in the private garden belonging to the royal palace.

The foregoing authorized publication of the main facts of the masonic legend respecting the death of Hiram Abiff, contains all the particulars necessary for the illustration of our subject to unmasonic readers. To members of the fraternity, all the details of the tragic tradition are of course familiar, and many things designedly made obscure to all others will be clear to them.

The masonic tradition respecting Hiram, it will thus be seen, speaks of him as being the chief architect of the temple, superintending the workmen and drawing out designs for the construction of the temple.

The historical Hiram, mentioned in the Bible and by Jose-phus, is a different personage from the traditional one. That Hiram, who was actually sent to King Solomon, had nothing to do with furnishing the designs of the temple. We are expressly informed that the designs, form, and dimensions of the temple were all given by divine command (2 Chronicles 3). To have altered or modified them in the smallest particular would therefore have been a sin, which would have called down the instant and terrible displeasure and punishment of Jehovah. Hiram is nowhere mentioned or described in the Bible as being an architect, or even a builder. In 1 Kings 7:14, he is described as being "filled with wisdom, and understanding and cunning to work all works in brass!" In 2 Chronicles 2:14, the father of Hiram is described as skillful to work in gold, and in 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.

From this it is evident that the father of Hiram, who was a man of Tyre, was by profession a decorative artist and sculpture. It is probable that Hiram followed the profession of his father, according to the custom of the times, otherwise Hiram, King of Tyre, would not have thus particularly spoken of the profession of his father in describing the accomplishments of Hiram Abiff himself. King Hiram speaks of Hiram Abiff simply as "a cunning man, endued with understanding" (verse 13). Jose-phus also mentions Hiram, and uses the following language respecting him:

This man was skillful in all sorts of work, but his chief skill lay in working in gold, silver and brass, by whom were made all the mechanical works about the temple, according to the will of Solomon.

("Antiquities," Book VIII, Chapter III, 4)

Not a word about his having anything to do with the building of the temple itself. But, as if to put this question of the temple itself. But, as if to put this question to rest, not only Josephus, but the Bible also, mentions just what these "mechanical works" were. In 1 Kings 7, is a complete list and description of them, and of all the works done about the temple and for its use by Hiram. This list of the works of Hiram is also given in 2 Chronicles 4:11-19. The same list is also given by Josephus. From these authorities we learn that Hiram made for King Solomon—

The two pillars of brass, called fachin and Boaz, together with their ornaments.

The molten sea of brass, with twelve oxen under it; a work of great artistic beauty, but calling for the genius of a Benve-nuto Cellini, rather than of a Sir Christopher Wren.

Also, ten brazen lavers and their bases, and many pots, shovels, flesh-hooks, and other altar-furniture, to be used in and about the sacrifices.

All of the foregoing articles were made of bright brass, and they were cast in clay molds, in the plains of Jordan, between

Succoth and Zaredathah (2 Chronicles 4; 1 Kings 7:45-46). Succoth means "booths," and was so named because Jacob built him a house there, and "made booths for his cattle" (Gen. 33:17). It is fifty miles, at least, in an airline, north by east of Jerusalem, beyond Jordan, between Peniel, near the ford of the torrent Jabbok and Shechem; while Zaredathah, or Zarthan, as it is called in Kings, is still farther north than Succoth. The words "between Succoth and Zaredathah," therefore, denotes that the place where the brass foundries were situated and these castings were made, was yet farther from Jerusalem than Succoth. The modern name of the torrent Jabbok is Wady Zurka. (See Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, and maps of the Holy Land at the time of David and Christ.)

As the distance in an airline from Jerusalem to Succoth was at least fifty miles, it is to be presumed that the distance by the traveled route was considerably more. It may be said that the clay only was procured at this distant place (distant when we consider the slow means of travel in those days), and that it was brought to Jerusalem, to be there used by the artist in making the molds for his castings. But the sacred text expressly says that the casting was done on the spot.

The scene of the labors of Hiram must, therefore, have been considerably over fifty miles from Jerusalem, or more than two days' journey, at the smallest calculation; twenty miles being an ordinary day's journey in those times and that country. Smith, in his Bible Dictionary says fifteen.

Besides this, the making of the molds and patterns for them would require the personal attention if not labor of Hiram himself. The casting of large pieces, such as were required for the brazen sea, the lavers and their bases, and the pillars Jachin and Boaz, which were eighteen cubits, or about thirty-two feet in height, must have demanded his constant care and watchful attention, (see Cellini's account of the casting of his bronze Perseus, "Memoirs," vol. ii, c. xli.) These facts, taken in connection with the great number of different pieces of work, render it evident that Hiram must have been kept the greater part of his time at the distant scene of his labors, where the clay required could alone be found. It is impossible, under the circumstances, that he could have visited the temple in Jerusalem, from fifty to sixty miles distant, three times a day, or even once a day, during the seven years that the temple was being built.

Besides these works in brass, we are told that Hiram made for Solomon of pure gold ten candlesticks for the oracle, with flowers, lamps, and tongs; also bowls, snuffers, basins, and censors, and hinges of gold, for the holy place and for the doors of the temple. All this work, it will be seen, is that of a "cunning worker in metals" and a decorative artist, none of it that of an architect or builder.

The other decorative works done in and on the temple proper, consisting of carvings on the walls of figures of cherubim and palm-trees, also the golden cherubim which were set up in the holy place, are not any of them including in the list of the works of Hiram, nor, indeed, named in the same chapter.

The mystical Hiram of the masonic tradition, we are also told, met with a sudden death, the particulars of which are known to all members of the fraternity, before the completion of the temple. Had any such accident befallen the actual Hiram (leading, as we are told, to the suicide, from grief, of his wife), certainly the impotence of the tragic event, and the consequent delay and confusion it would naturally cause, would have led to its being recorded either in Kings or Chronicles, or both of them, but no such occurrence is anywhere mentioned in the sacred narrative, which, respecting the building and dedication of the temple, is particular and minute; nor does Josephus mention any such event. This negative testimony is almost conclusive, but we are not left to rely on that alone, for both in Kings and Chronicles we are directly informed that the historical Hiram, unlike the mystical one of the masonic tradition, lived to finish all his labors. We read in 2 Chronicles 4,

"So Hiram made an end of doing all the work that he had made King Solomon for the house of the Lord."

After the temple was finished we are told that Solomon built him a house for himself, which was, like the temple, splendidly ornamented by decorations and carvings in gold, silver, and wood. Mention is also made in Chronicles of a magnificent ivory throne, surrounded by carved figures or statutes of lions. The building and ornamentation of this house occupied thirteen years after the temple was finished (1 Kings 7:1). Now if Hiram was also employed by the king to decorate his own house, he must have lived at least thirteen years after the completion of the temple. That Hiram was also employed about the "kings house" is almost a certainty; for, although the list of his works, as given, makes no mention of the ivory throne, the lions, or any work done for the "king's house," yet as that list professes to be a list only of the work done by Hiram for the temple (see verse 40, also 2 Chronicles 4:11), we have no right to expect to find it including any of the other work of the artist done for the place of Solomon. The fourteenth verse of the seventh chapter of 1 Kings directly says that Hiram "wrought all of King Solomon's work." Besides this, the seven years occupied in building the temple and the thirteen in building the king's house make up the whole twenty years of the contract which Solomon had with the King of Tyre for materials and skilled workmen, the principal among whom was Hiram, the great artist and sculptor; and it becomes an almost conclusive presumption that Solomon kept him and the other skilled workmen the whole twenty years during which he required their aid.

As to the nature of this contract of King Solomon's with Hiram, King of Tyre, see 1 Kings 5; 2 Chronicles 2; as to its duration being twenty years, see 1 Kings 9:10; and Josephus on both points. The proof is therefore positive that Hiram lived to finish all his labors in and about the temple, and also highly presumptive that he continued his labors for King Solomon thirteen years afterward.

It is also just as clearly proved by history, both sacred and profane, that he the chief architect of, and furnished no designs for, the temple. According to holy writ, the designs for the temple were not only furnished by God himself, but the whole work was directed by the inspiration of the great Architect of the universe. If, then, the historical Hiram was no architect, but a decorative artist and sculptor only, and was not called upon to suffer a sudden death before the completion of the temple, it follows, therefore, that it is the mystical Hiram— representing the sun—who meets with that sad fate under the completion of the emblematic temple, and not the real one. The claim that the masonic tradition is historically true in all respects cannot be maintained, as it is in most of its main features in direct conflict with holy writ. If, however, we consider it in its allegorical character, as our ancient brethren no doubt did, if we regard it in its twofold nature, as being in part emblematic as well as historical, as before explained, all difficulties at once vanish. The entire integrity of the masonic tradition is thus fully maintained. The whole legend not only becomes the venerated depository of the most sublime astronomical facts, but is illuminated by a twofold beauty and truth.

The answer to the last question has of necessity been a somewhat lengthy one. Having disposed of it, let us renew our explanation of the astronomical allegories of the masonic tradition where we left off.

Chapter 6

Astronomical Allegory of the Death and Resurrection of the Sun

Q. Explain more fully in what manner the sun is said by an astronomical allegory to be slain.

A. According to all the ancient astronomical legends, the sun is said to be slain by the three autumnal months—September, October, and November, represented as assaulting him in succession.

Q. When is the sun said to be slain?

A. Near the completion of the temple, as before explained.

Q. Explain more fully by whom, and how the sun is said to be slain.

A. The sun is slain by September, October, and November, or the three autumnal signs, —, il^, and anciently ill., and whom he encounters in suc-

cession in his passage around the zodiac toward the winter solstice, or "southern gate of the zodiac"; so-

called in the poetical language of the old Greeks, because at that point the sun has reached his lowest southern declination. The summer sun, glowing with light and heat as he reaches the autumnal equinox, enters Libra on the 21st of September. All through that month, and until the 21st of October, he declines in light and heat, but emerges from Libra (£) without any serious harm from the attack of September. The assault of October is far more serious; and the sun when he leaves the venomous sign of the Scorpion (AO, on the 21st of November, is deprived of the greater part of his power and shorn of more than half his glory. He continues his way toward the southern tropic, and in November encounters the deadly dart of Sagittarius (>?), which proves fatal; for when the sun leaves the third autumnal sign, on the 23rd of December, he lies dead at the winter solstice.

Q. Why is the third attack, or that the November, said to be more fatal than that of September or October?

A. Because when the sun emerges from under the dominion of Sagittarius, the ruling sign of November, on the 23rd of December, he enters Capricorn, and reaches his lowest declination. That is the shortest day of the year.

In June, at the summer solstice, the bright and glorious days were over fifteen hours long. Now the pale sun rises above the gloomy horizon of December but a little more than half as long, and his feeble rays can hardly penetrate the dark and stormy clouds that obscure the sky. The sun now seems to be quite overcome by "the sharpness of the winter of death." Amid the universal mortality that reigns in the vegetable kingdom, the sun, deprived of light, heat, and power, appears dead also.

Q. Does the ancient art of astrology throw any further light upon this subject?

A. This science was much cultivated by the ancients under the name of the "divine art." According to the teachings of astrology, Capricorn was the "house of Saturn," the most evil and wicked in his influence of all the planets. He is called the "great infortune," and all that part of the zodiac within the signs of Capricornus and Aquarius was under his dominion. Saturn was also known as Kronos, or Time, which destroys all things; and, in the poetical and allegorical language of mythology, devours even his own children. The figure of Saturn with his scythe is to this day an emblem of decay and death. The sun, therefore, when he entered Capricorn, passed into the house and under the dominion of Saturn, or Death.

Q. After the sun is slain, what in allegorical language, is said to become of the body?

A. It is carried a westerly course, at night, by the three wintry signs.

A. Because, as the sun continues his course in the zodiac, he appears to be carried west by the wintry signs. This seems to be done at night, because the sun then being invisible, his change of position is only discovered by the stars which precede his rise at daybreak.

Q. What disposition is finally made of the body?

A. As it seemingly buried beneath the withered fruits and flowers—the "rubbish" of the dead vegetation of summer—in the midst of which, however, yet blooms the hardy evergreen, emblematic of the vernal equinox, giving a sure token that the sun will yet arise from the cold embrace of winter and regain all his former power and glory.

Q. What follows?

A. According to the Egyptian sacred legend of the death of OSIRIS, the goddess Isis ransacks the whole four quarters of the earth in search of his body, which she finally discovers indirectly by the aid of a certain plant or shrub, and causes it to be regularly buried, with sacred rites and great honor. According to the legend of Hiram, it was twelve fellow-crafts—emblematically representing the three eastern, three western, three norther, and three southern signs of the zodiac—who made the search of the body. It was somewhere among the twelve constellations that the lost sun was certainly to be found.

Q. By whom was the body found?

A. By Aries one of the three western signs, typical of those who pursued a westerly course. In going from the winter solstice to the vernal equinox, we of necessity pass Aquarius (££), the Waterman, who was also known as a fisherman and a seafaring man.

Q. Where was the body found?

A. At the vernal equinox, typical of the "brown of a hill." As we pass from the winter solstice in Capricorn to the vernal equinox, we are constantly climbing upward; this point is therefore emblematic of the brow of a hill, and there also blooms the evergreen, typical of the approaching spring and return of nature to life.

The following is a poetical version of the foregoing portion of the solar allegory:

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