Hiram Abif
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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
 

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