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Originally, the degrees of Freemasonry were much simpler, consisting of the communication of secrets, often in the form of questions and answers. About the year 1730 the addition of legendary history to Freemasonry led to our present day ceremonies. It must be noted that whilst the ceremony now known as the Royal Arch did not exist as a separate order until the middle of the 18th century, it existed in our ancient masonry in some form.
In the Chapter of today, The Enochial Legend or the Legend of Enoch, The Rabbinical Legend or the Legend of Solomon, and the numerous Legends of The Vault, were all instrumental in the formation of the ceremonies as we now know them.
The Legend of Enoch:
Enoch was the grandfather of Noah. He was born about 3382BCE, and according to the Bible, lived 365 for years, then ascended to Heaven as a living man. In the Book of Enoch we are told that Enoch hid his accumulated wisdom of the pre-flood world and buried it on Mount Moriah. This is the spot where Solomon built his Temple. The book provides detailed information about the movement of the Sun, Moon and Stars and described extinction events, and great floods which geology has confirmed happened in 7640 and 3150 (+/-200 years BCE).
Enoch is said to have buried a triangular shaped object that contained the name of God on it. Oriental writers abound in traditionary tales of the learning of Enoch. One tradition states that God bestowed upon him the gift of knowledge and that he received thirty volumes from Heaven filled with all the secrets of the most mysterious sciences. The Babylonians assumed him to have been intimately acquainted with the nature of stars, and they attribute to him the invention of Astrology.
Enoch was first introduced to our Freemasonry as one of the Founders of Geometry and Masonry by Revd James Anderson in the ‘The Constitutions of the Free-Masons: Containing the History, Charges, Regulations, etc, of that most Ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity’ of 1723. The legend is as follows:
Enoch, being inspired by the Highest, and in obedience to a vision, constructed underground, in the bosom of Mount Moriah, an edifice consisting of nine brick vaults, situated perpendicularly beneath each other and communicating by apertures left in the Arch of each vault. He then caused a triangular plate of gold to be made, each side of which was a cubit long; a cubit is derived from the Latin Cubitus, an elbow, and is the measure of length from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, an average 17-18 inches. He enriched it with the most precious stones and engraved upon it the ineffable name of God. He then encrusted the plate upon a stone of agate of the same form, which he placed upon a cubical stone of marble, and deposited the whole within the ninth or innermost vault.
When this subterranean building was completed, Enoch made a slab or door of stone, and attaching to it a ring of iron, by which it might, if necessary be raised. He placed it over the aperture of the uppermost arch, and so covered it over with soil that the opening could not be easily discovered. Enoch himself was not permitted to enter it more than once a year, and on his death or transformation, all knowledge of this building was lost until in succeeding ages, it was accidentally discovered while Solomon was engaged in building a Temple on the same mountain, directly above the spot.
The Legend continues to inform us that after Enoch had finished the construction of the nine vaults, fearing that the principles of the Arts and Sciences, which he had assiduously cultivated, would be lost in that universal deluge; of which he had received a prophetic vision. He erected above ground, two pillars, one of marble, to withstand the destructive influence of fire, and one of brass, to resist the action of water. On the pillar of brass, he engraved the history of the Creation, the principles of the Arts and Sciences, and the doctrines of speculative masonry as they were then practised. On the pillar of marble, he inscribed in hieroglyphic characters the information that near the spot where they stood a precious treasure was deposited in a subterranean vault. Such is the Legend of Enoch.
That part of the Legend which refers to the two pillars is undoubtedly a perversion of the old Craft Legend of Lamech’s sons . The germ of the Legend is the preservation, through the efforts of Enoch, of the ineffable name.
The evidence of the legend is the Book of Enoch, an ancient Hebrew religious text. Eleven Aramaic language fragments of the Book of Enoch were found in cave 4 of Qumran in 1948 and are in the care of the Israel Antiques Authority. The most complete book of Enoch comes from Ethiopic manuscripts brought to Europe by James Bruce in the late 18th century and subsequently translated into English. The eleven fragments from Qumran confirm their contents.
The Rabbinical legend or legend of Solomon
About 1190 BCE twelve tribes of Hebrews moved to Canaan. Between 1000 and 972BCE David unified the twelve tribes into the country of Israel and made Jerusalem its capital.
During the first 1000 years of their history the Hebrews had no language of their own. Their history, their legends, their stories, their songs and their beliefs were all related by professional story tellers and passed on from generation to generation. This history, legends and stories eventually became the basis of the Old Testament.
Between 972BCE and 932 BCE Solomon built his Temple. Solomon also expanded and embellished Jerusalem to make it a capital worthy of the prestige and prosperity of the Hebrew Kingdom. In his dream he asked Jehovah (YHWH) only for wisdom, but was rewarded with riches and a glorious reign. Everything Solomon had was bigger and better than any ordinary King. His harem contained 700 wives and 300 concubines. His army boasted 12,000 cavalry and 1400 chariots. He was the wisest of Kings. Isaac Newton called Solomon, ‘the greatest philosopher in the world… and believed the design of the Temple, the dimensions and the geometry contained clues to time scales and he used this mathematics in his calculations when developing his theory of gravitation’.
The Legend relates that, no sooner had Solomon thoroughly organised and set in motion his civil and military machinery, than he planned to carry out the desires of David by building a Temple to God (YHWH). In doing so he utilised his Father’s friendship with Hiram of Tyre to secure from him an agreement to supply cedar from Lebanon for use in the buildings and sent 150,000 men to Lebanon to cut and hew the timber. Stones were cut from a nearby quarry and the timber and stones were put together without noise. The city limits pushed up the slope of Mount Moriah to its summit, doubling the area within its walls. By levelling and filling, a platform was created for the Temple and the surrounding compound. Seven years of work completed the Temple, and another thirteen years completed the Kings Palace.
The Talmud informs us that Solomon, in his prophetic capacity, realised that the Temple would be destroyed by the Babylonians, and therefore he caused an underground receptacle to be built in which the Ark of the Covenant was afterwards hidden. The High Priest, Halkiah, with his son Jeremiah, the Captain of the guard, hid the Ark and other treasures in the vault at the time of the Babylonian invasion.
The Ark was built by Bezaleel for Moses at Mount Horeb in Sinai and was transported hundreds of miles from Sinai to Jerusalem. Our ritual informs us that the ‘First or Holy Lodge’ was held at the foot of Mount Horeb in the wilderness of Sinai, with Moses, Aholiab and Bezaleel presiding. The Ark is also known as the ‘Arch of Testaments’. The Ark or Arch is the paramount device and the topmost crest on the Arms of the United Grand Lodge of England. A 3000-year-old defensive wall, possibly built by King Solomon has recently been unearthed in Jerusalem by Israeli archaeologists.
It is due to Rabbinic influence we are introduced to the rule of three. In the exposure, Masonry Dissected’ written by Samuel Pritchard in 1730 , we find the saying, ‘If you would a Master Mason be then you must learn the rule of three’, In some old lodge rooms you can still see a large pre-union tracing board with a domed pavilion and below, stands three sets of three characters. They are:
• Moses, Aholiab his nephew, and Bezaleel;
• Solomon, Hiram of Tyre and Hiram Abiff;
• Zerubbabel, Haggai and Joshua
The legends of the Vault
The Vault Legend, which includes the altar and the sacred word is the background to the Royal Arch ceremony. There are several versions of the ceremony. The following three versions covers most, if not all, all of them.
The first is the Julian Legend, so named after the Emperor Julian. He never expected to be Emperor, and was just five when Constantine, his uncle, murdered Julian’s father and most of his family. Only two survived, Gallus and Julian. Constantine appointed Gallus as Caesar, only to behead him later. Now there was only one left and in 355AD Constantine called Julian his nephew, from Athens, where he was studying pagan philosophy, to serve him in the West. Julian became Caesar ruling from Paris, in charge of the troublesome regions of Britain and Gaul and became one of the most influential people in the ancient world. He was summoned by Emperor Constantine and as he marched eastwards with some apprehension no doubt, Constantine died and Julian became Emperor in 362AD.
In July of that year, Julian was on his way to invade Persia and he asked a Jewish delegation,
‘Why do you not sacrifice?’
‘We are not allowed’ replied the Jews, ‘Restore us to the city, rebuild the Temple and the Altar.’ ‘I shall endeavour with the utmost zeal’ replied Julian, ‘to set up the Temple of the Most High God.’
Julian’s re-building of the Temple was not just a mark of his tolerance, but a nullification of the Christian claim to have inherited the true Israel, a reversal of the fulfilment of the prophecies of Daniel and Jesus that the Temple would fall, and a sign that he was serious in overturning the policy of his uncle, Emperor Constantine, in the persecution of the Jews.
Julian saw no contradiction between Greek paganism and Jewish monotheism, believing that the Greeks worshipped the Jewish ‘Most High’ God as Zeus: Jehovah (YHWH) was not unique to the Jews.
Work commenced on clearing the site and building materials were collected and stored in the so-called Stables of Solomon. But in May 363AD, Jerusalem was struck by an earthquake that somehow ignited the building materials. Ammianus Marcellinus was a General who served under Julian, who, after he retired, wrote a valuable history of the Roman Empire; it is largely due to him that we know so much about the Roman occupation of Britain. He was a Greek but his history was in Latin. It covered the period 96AD to 378AD; of the original 31 books, the first 13 are lost. The remaining 18 cover the years 353AD to 378AD and this is where the Legend appears. His work constitutes the basis of our understanding of the History of the Roman Empire in the 4th century and it has been praised as a clear, comprehensive and generally impartial account of events. In this History he says:
‘Julian ,called the apostate because he abandoned the Christian religion, having formed a plan to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem, to refute the prophecy of Daniel and Jesus Christ ( they both said there would be no more Temples built at Jerusalem) collected the most excellent workmen from all parts and gave the Great Superintendence of this great work to Alypius, his best friend. While working on the foundation, a stone from the first row became dislodged and uncovered the opening to a cavern hewn in the rock. A workman was lowered, attached to a cord, and when he was in the cavern, he felt water halfway up his leg. He explored with his hands in all directions, and came upon a column, which rose just above the water, there he found a book wrapped in very fine linen. He took it and gave a signal to be drawn up. All who saw the book were surprised that it had not been spoilt. But the astonishment was even greater, particularly among the Pagans and Jews, when having opened it, they read, first of all in large letters:
In the beginning was the Word – And the word was with God – And the word was God
Later, terrible balls of flame coming from the foundations made the place inaccessible, having several times scorched the workmen, so as this element (fire) continually repulsed them the enterprise was abandoned.
The Book of Law discovered in the vault was not the Bible. The scroll of sacred writings was the Torah, the written law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
The legend according to Philostorgius
Philostorgius was a Byzantine historian of the 4th & 5th centuries. He was born about 364AD and he wrote, ‘An Ecclesiastical History’ some 50 years or so after Ammianus. It is in many ways similar to the Julian Legend, but contains more information. This is what he had to say:
‘When Julian bade the city of Jerusalem to be rebuilt in order to refute openly the predictions of our Lord, he brought about exactly the opposite of what he intended. During the preparation of the foundation, one of the stones which was placed at the lowest part of the base, suddenly started from its place and opened the door of a certain cave hollowed out in the rock. Owing to its depth, it was difficult to see what was within the cave, so persons were appointed to investigate the matter, who being anxious to find out the truth, let down one of their workman by means of a rope. On being lowered down he found stagnant water reaching upto his knees, and having gone round the place and felt the walls on every side, he found the cave to be a perfect square. Then, on his return, as he stood near about the middle, he struck his foot against a column which stood rising slightly above the water. As soon as he touched this pillar, he found lying upon it a book wrapped up in a very fine linen cloth, and as soon as he had lifted it up as he had found it, he gave a signal to his companions to draw him up again. As soon as he regained the light, he showed them the book, which struck them all with astonishment, especially because it appeared so new and fresh, considering the place where it had been found. This book as soon as it was opened shows the following words in large letters.
In the beginning was the Word – And the word was with God – And the word was God.
The legend of the vault according to Callistus
Nicephorous Callistus was the last of the Greek Ecclesiastical Historians and he lived from 1256- 1335. In between 1320 and 1330 he wrote:
The Jews have got together skilled men and materials, cleansed the place and provided spades made of silver, at the public charge. They cleared the ground “so that there was not a stone remaining upon a stone according to the prohecie”. An earthquake the next day cast stones out of the foundation, so that many of the Jews were slain … .The publike (public) buildings, also, which were nearest the Temple, were loosened, and falling down with great force, proved the sepulchres of those that were in them… . The earthquake was scarce over, but that those remained fell upon the work again, but when the second time they attempted it, some fire violently issued out of the foundations… and consumed more than before. Moreover, the fire which came down from Heaven consumed to ashes the hammers, graving tools, saws, hatchets, axes and all other instruments which the workmen had brought for their service. When Cyril, who was at the time Bishop of Jerusalem, saw these things: he considered in his mind the word of the prophet Daniel, to which Christ also had set his seal in the Holy Gospel; he told them all that now was the time that the Oracle of our Saviour had its accomplishment; which said, that a stone should not remain upon a stone in the Temple. And when he had spoken this, a sore earthquake assiled (assailed) the foundations, and cast out all remaining stones, and dispersed them. Upon this there arose a fearful storm. When the foundations were a laying…there was a stone among the rest, to which the bottom of the foundation was fastened, that slipt from its place and discovered the mouth of a cave which had been cut in the rock… the Overseers tied a long rope to one of the labourers and let him down…searching every part of that hollow place, he found it to be four square, so far as he could conjecture by feeling.
• The Enoch Legend gave us what was found.
• The Solomonic Legend where it was found.
• The Vault Legend how it was found.
The Vault Legends are rooted in Old Testament lore, but have a parallel origin with the Knight Templars during the crusade, discovering a secret vault in Jerusalem in 1127. The Royal Arch owes much to all of these Legends.
The earliest known written ritual of the Royal Arch dates from 1760 and comes from France. In the opening, The First Principal asks the Principal Sojourner, ‘How many officers compose a Royal Arch Chapter?’
The Principal Sojourner replies, ‘three times three, namely, the Three Grand Chiefs, the Two Scribes, the Three Sojourners and the Janitor’.
We are then told of a light indicating the way to an underground chamber upheld by nine arches, reached by going down nine steps and opened and closed by nine knocks. The Tracing Board explains that the Sun was the true light that led the nine brethren who discovered great secrets.
Nine Arches are designed on the board as well as the vault of an underground chamber and the nine steps that lead to it. There is also a stone with a ring, closing the chamber, a torch that is extinguished by the brilliance of the Sun and a triangular plate of gold bearing the sacred name.
The three Sojourners are unheard of outside of Masonic Legendary history. In early Royal Arch masonry the degree was conferred upon three candidates or more at one time. If three candidates were not present, one or two companions, so as to make the requisite number, accompanied the candidate(s) throughout the exaltation.
As the Royal Arch developed the candidate(s) were obligated, and their three counterparts, the three sojourners, recited the story. They are there as representatives of the three candidates.
In our ritual today, when we invest the candidate with the robe and the jewel we admit the candidate as ‘Companions amongst us‘ i.e. in the plural even when there is only one candidate. In some older Chapters, prior to 1813, when the workman was lowered into the vault he also discovered that one of the walls was painted with the ensigns of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the opposite wall was painted with the twelve signs of the Zodiac; but that is another story.
Bibliography: Harry Carr’s World of Freemasonry; Bernard E. Jones’ Book of the Royal Arch; Jewish Encyclopedia; The Hebrew Kings by Joan Comay; The Temple of Jerusalem by Joan Comay; The Shadow of Solomon by Laurence Gardner; Cassell’s concise bible dictionary by R.H. Hunter; The Royal Arch Journey by the Revd Neville Barker Cryer.