Fred and Charlie are mere fictional creatures drawn from within my fevered brow, writes their creator Michael Lee, an experienced Freemason from Wiltshire. Their relationship, if any, to known human beings is entirely accidental. If inadvertent identification has been alleged then the parallels about monkeys randomly typing Shakespeare come easily to mind.
When trying to discuss many Masonic themes there is rarely a Stygian black or a pure Snow White – there is just a palette of shades of grey (considerably more than fifty, I might add!). In a monochrome one-person-me-write-your-read type of article discussion tends to be wordy and, frankly, often unconvincing. I decided many moons ago that to hold the attention of my Lodge of Instruction I needed to devise a dialogue format. In Masonic brotherhood sharp opposites aren’t appropriate so a complementary pair had to be envisaged. What better way than to make the protagonists two masons with which my Lodge of Instruction could identify – enter stage left a Past Master who doesn’t know it all but knows where to find it and, enter stage right, an enthusiastic younger mason who has an enquiring mind and a thirst for knowledge.
The choice of names – Fred and Charlie – came straight from an article written in another lifetime about the C13 builders of Salisbury Cathedral. Fred’s been a Freemason for a couple of decades; Charlie’s much younger and newer to it. They’ve struck up a friendship, and this series will allow us to eavesdrop on their Masonic communications. This month: ‘The name on the plate of gold’.
Fred, always one to ginger along his younger Masonic charges, asked Charlie apparently so very casually how his work on the Royal Arch ritual was coming along.
Charlie always one to search for a cloud in a clear blue sky gave it some thought and suggested that he didn’t quite understand why the name Je-Hoh-Vah was apparently the Sacred Name for which every Mason was searching when ‘Jehovah’ was in every day use as the Jewish God. ‘Why? What’s so special about the word Jehovah that outside the Lodge it’s merely part of everyone’s vocabulary but within the Lodge Room Masons have to stand around contorted uncomfortably in groups of three whispering one syllable to each other. Surely this diminishes the entire ceremony.
Fred laughed. He heard this question so many times before. ‘In the days when all right thinking parents dispatched their children to Sunday school in exchange for a few hours peace the name of the Creator might have been self-evident. However, Charlie, I agree. It does require some explanation today.
Fred reached out for his King James Bible. ‘Let’s go back to Moses’ first encounter with Jehovah (*). He was about to lead the Israelites out of their Egyptian bondage.
“And Moses said unto God, Behold when I come unto the children of Israel and shall say unto them The God of your Fathers hath sent me to you and they shall say unto to me ‘what is his name?’; What shall I say unto them?
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM… And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob hath sent me unto you. This is my name for ever…”
Charlie interrupted: ‘Forgive me, Fred, all very clever but what on earth has this to do with Jehovah?’.
‘Listen and learn, young man. The Supreme Being is unknowable. God’s reply to Moses was actually this: I am who I am. I am your God, your Creator. I need no name. I am that I am.’
‘Now, in the Hebrew script there are no vowels and the verb ‘to be’ is expressed as Y-H-W-H. This can also mean ‘to happen, to create (hence CREATOR)’. A modern pronunciation of YHWH is ‘YAHWEH’ Therefore a translation of I AM THAT I AM might be ‘I am YAHWEH, the one who has created all things’. In the 19th century England the letters YHWH became anglicised as JHVH and therefore we pronounce it as JEHOVAH.’
Charlie thought he’d found that cloud in the clear blue sky. ‘But if its merely a verb why is the word Jehovah considered sacred when it’s placed on the altar?
‘Because, my dear Charlie, we must do a little deciphering. Although Je-Ho-Vah is referred to as a sacred name, what we actually place on the altar are the Jewish words for ‘I AM THAT I AM’ – the unknowable God, your Creator.
‘Is it so terrible to pronounce it, Fred
‘Charlie, the Duke of Kent’s name is Edward. Out of respect for your Grand Master, you do not address him familiarly as ‘Teddy or Ted’ at Queen Street, certainly not a second time. Similarly out of respect for your Creator you do not pronounce JE-HOH-VAH familiarly as it he was a bosom drinking companion. You show respect. Hence you may allude to your Creator, but you don’t pronounce a name as if He was just another individual’
‘By the way as I AM, the CREATOR, YAHWEY and JEHOVAH all have identical meanings it would seem that YHWH, JHVH and JE-HO-VAH must be equally acceptable on the Altar.’
‘Fred, when will I be a clever as you?
‘You can always dream, Charlie. Costs nothing, does it?’
They both chuckled.
* Exodus Ch. 3 vs.13 – 15