Freemasons’ meeting places have traditionally been known as Temples, and although this is rather an archaic word, many still argue that its retention in our vocabulary is justified for three reasons. The first being that it is a reasonable name to apply to an institution and a place where the Great Architect of the Universe, is venerated. Secondly, as a continuing reference to King Solomon’ s Temple, the story of which has exercised such a considerable influence on Masonic ritual, symbolism and teaching. Thirdly, the Lodge room itself, is representative, during the ceremonies, of King Solomon’s Temple. The Worshipful Masters Chair affectionately known as the Chair of King Solomon.
However, there are those that consider the very term ‘Temple’, evokes thoughts of Freemasons making daily propitiations to an unseen Deity by way of worship, offerings and sacrifices. Therefore, one can find as many brethren in favour of the term, as against it. But that is a matter for personal choice and not the subject of this paper.
Our subject is the Temple of King Solomon and the Masonic tradition.
It was during the nomadic period of the Israelites, that the focus of their devotions was centered on the tabernacle, a portable tent which was erected and dismantled during their wanderings. When erected, it housed among other things, the Ark of the Covenant which represented the presence of God.
When David finally settled in Jerusalem, he wanted it to become the center of the people’s religious life, so he ordered the Ark to be brought into the city to be given a permanent home in a building, i.e. a temple or house of God.
David’s plans met with opposition from the prophet Nathan who announced that God never needed a temple when the tribes were wandering in the desert and he did not need one now and with regard to the building of a house to God, God in fact would establish a house of David, a dynasty from which the Messiah would come. But Gods refusal was only temporary; it was because David was not a suitable person to build a temple because he was a warrior king with blood on his hands, he was only allowed to choose the site for the building, the honour of building the temple would belong to his son, Solomon.
Just north of Jerusalem, was a higher and taller summit known as Zion which belonged to a Jebusite named Araunah. During a plague which killed seventy thousand people in three days, an angel appeared to David and stood on the threshing floor of Araunah, which was at the summit of the mount. David quickly recognised the fact that as well as using the threshing floors to separate the chaff from the wheat, the Jebusites used their threshing floors for prophetic divination, worship and appeasement of their storm god Baal. David therefore decided he must build an altar there and by paying for the land, the altar, and the oxen to be sacrificed, he would in fact ensure that the sacrifice would be without obligation to anyone but “Yahweh”, his God. From that point on, the site of the Temple was clearly marked out.
This piece of land where the Jebusites made sacrifices to the God Baal, now became the place where the Holy of Holies would be built, that innermost sanctum of the Temple on that great rock, which can still be seen today in the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount.
Muslims say it was this same spot where Mohammed ascended on his Night Journey to Paradise. Orthodox Jews claim it was where Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac. It was also the place also where David ultimately brought the Ark of the Covenant.
Over the next few years, David consolidated his position. Having already combined the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, roughly where Israel stands today, he also subdued the kingdoms of Edom and Moab in the east and Damascus in the north. Today the areas of western Jordan, southern Lebanon, and central Syria were all once part of David’s empire but are now, countries in their own right.
King Solomon also extended the city of Jerusalem to include the holy mount and began a large and ambitious building program which included a palace complex, for his huge harem of 700 princesses, the 300 concubines, who were gifts from foreign rulers and a grand palace for his Egyptian wife. He built a large armory, a judgement hall and on the ancient threshing floor which once belonged to the old Jebusite, Araunah, he built the Temple.
Building the temple was no mean feat and the Bible tells us that Solomon ordered 30,000 Israelites to be divided into three groups of 10,000 and working in shifts they cut timber in Lebanon for a month, and then worked for two months in Jerusalem, while another 80,000 were sent into the mountains to quarry stone for the foundations as a further 70,000 porters carried the stone to the site.
There were 3,300 supervisors overseeing the building work. The construction which began in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign, took seven years and five months to complete which would have been from about the spring of 958 BC to the autumn of 951 BC. The internal dimensions have been estimated to be no more than, 120ft by 30ft, and possibly having an Oriental appearance, shewing Phoenician or Egyptian influences.
It was constructed on lines which we would find very strange today, as it was not a building where priests and laity met together for worship. On the contrary, the Temple courts were all that the laity would ever see, not even the King himself could advance further than the porch or vestibule.
The Middle Chamber, (or shall we say the nave) contained the Altar of Incense, and was reserved for the offices of the priests, whilst the windowless Sanctum Sanctorum was a place which even the High Priest himself could enter but once a year.
Of all the work carried out in the Temple, nothing was more remarkable than the enormous basin known as the Sea of Bronze and the two huge bronze pillars named Jachin and Boaz. In those days, casting on such a large scale was both difficult and technically advanced and the man sent by King Hiram to carry out the work was described as being “filled with wisdom and understanding” and “a widow’s son”, better known to us in the Masonic setting as Hiram Abiff.
Although we never pretend that our traditional history of the fate of Hiram is anything but allegorical, it is good to be reassured that our story is built around a historical character, and one who furnished an essential link between the Scriptures and the Masonic craft, and was capable of being regarded as the central focus around whom our ceremony of Raising could be constructed.
Ultimately, some 400 years later this wonderful building laid waste and looted by Nebuchadnezzar who made the people captive. It was eventually restored by Zerubbabel but by this time the Ark of the Covenant had disappeared.
After many vicissitudes, this Temple in its turn was finally demolished by Herod who was hated by Jews for his pro-Roman attitude, he sought to regain their favour by rearing an even mightier edifice in Graeco-Roman style. This last Temple had but a short span of existence and in the great Jewish insurrection of AD 70, it was completely destroyed by the Roman armies.
Thus, the only remaining fragment now known to man of these successive buildings is part of the huge stone retaining wall which formerly banked up the Temple platform from the valley on the West, known as the ‘Wailing Wall’.
We can speculate as to the origins of that other part of our ceremonial based on the Temple structure, that of the Middle Chamber. It would have been quite reasonable during the period before dedication whilst building operations proceeded, for part of the structure to have been temporarily used as a wages office and this might well have been that portion of the main building just inside the porchway later to be reserved for the offices of the priests. However, this seems doubtful when considering the sheer volume of the workforce, the size of that vestibule, the winding staircase and the Middle Chamber itself.
But regardless of this, it adds to the colorful story of our ritual.
On the matter of the two Great Pillars, archeological research lends itself firmly in support of the view that there were two great free-standing columns, and moreover that our Masonic names are not only correct historically, but more or less correct in their interpretation, for though the writings on the one began with something like ‘God will establish thy throne for ever’, whilst those on the other begun with ‘ In the strength of God shall the King rejoice’.
I think we understand that whilst some of our mental and visionary conceptions of the Temple now appears to be misconceived and based on misunderstandings, at the same time many of our earlier doubts about the validity of Old Testament references have in great measure been resolved, and it is on these evidences that the main substance of our masonic tradition was founded.
While archeological research has improved our historical and theological knowledge and thrown more light on the Jerusalem Temple, nothing has transpired in the least to threaten our confidence in the allegorical and symbolical uses we make of it for our mutual moral benefit, or to make us think of abandoning any element of the progressive science of Freemasonry, to which we as brethren owe so much.
Based on an article by W. Bro. The Reverend Canon J. R. Prophet P.D.G.Chap.