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: ‘Those three sojourners’.
Charlie called in to give Fred a hand. With his wife Carole’s disability and a large-ish garden Fred was becoming increasingly tested on these hot summer days. After a brisk session trimming hedges they sat in the shade with a medicinal beer…or so.
‘You’ve belonged to several Degrees or Orders in your time, Fred, haven’t you. Do have a favourite?’, said Charlie conversationally.
Fred pondered the question for a moment. Did Charlie really want to know or was it just an aside? Deciding on the former he reflected:
‘All of them have a strong moral message and can tell a pleasing story. They all provide a sense of purpose but it’s the chaps, it’s their company, it’s their friendship, that makes them special whatever apron you’re wearing. If you offer friendship to others you’ll be repaid many times over. It’s up to you really.’.
Charlie thought for a moment: ‘If that’s so why do you still say so often that the Royal Arch is the real deal. What exactly do you mean by that?’
Well, my dear Charlie, as I said I enjoy them all but I set the Holy Royal Arch apart for one very good reason. The Craft Freemasons who devised the ritual could have written any old story to make their point – but they didn’t. They went to the trouble of actually researching the historical sources in some depth and using hard facts to make the dramtic story as true as possible.’
‘Why go to that trouble, Fred?’
‘They made the effort, Charlie, because the central truth of the Royal Arch was so important to the moral basis of Freemasonry the ritual story itself had to be founded as far as possible on truth and not tainted by imagination’.
Fred reached for another bottle. ‘So, Charlie, if the Royal Arch was that important to our Founders then, as a Freemason it must be as important to me. It has to be the real deal.’
‘Can you give an example?’
Let’s take those three pesky Sojouners. After their arrival in Jerusalem in reply to the Sojourners’ offer of assistance Zerubbabel says simply: “We will depute you to prepare the ground for the foundation of the Second Temple where the first formerly stood”.
‘This sounds very odd indeed, Charlie. When constructing any building surely the very first step is to dig the foundations. Cyrus had sent Zerubbabel to Jerusalem to re-build the Temple two years earlier. Why weren’t the foundations already dug? What on earth had he been playing at? Where was the hold up?’
”That’s always interested me, too, Fred’.
‘I began to read the Old Testament sources. The Prophet Ezra provides the first clue. After Cyrus had ordered the rebuilding of the Temple Zerubbabel asked around for support (*):
“Thereupon the heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin and the
Priests and the Levites answered the summons, all of whom God had
moved to go to up to rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. Their
neighbours assisted them with gifts of every kind, silver and gold…”
‘Here’s problem number one. This initial party seems to consist of heads of families, priests and Levites – ‘all Chiefs and no Indians’. No one appears keen to get his hands dirty. Shall we say with a typically white collar disregard for blue collar skills they’d left all Judah’s craftsmenbehind in Babylon.
Problem two was self-indulgence. Ezra describes the delay (**) “From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord but the foundation of the Temple was not yet laid.
“Now [only] in the second month of the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, began Zerubbabel and Joshua…to set forward the work of the house of the Lord”
‘What made Zerubbabel suddenly set to work after all that time, Fred?’
‘Probably because the Prophet Haggai gave him a sharp tap on his rear.’ (***)
“…the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel and to Joshua…
The nation says to itself is it not time for the House of the Lord to be rebuilt….Is it time for you to live in your panelled and well-roofed houses while my house lies in ruins?”
Charlie, who had been very attentive, suddenly broke his silence. ‘If they had no craftsmen in their party, Fred, how could they have built their ‘well roofed’ private houses? Something wrong here, surely?’
Fred nodded.‘No. There would have been plenty of local labour in Jerusalem able to construct housing. That was not the problem.However local masons, who were not pure Jews if allowed into the Temple area would pollute it. Of the original Twelve Tribes only artisans from Judah and Benjamin were still racially ‘pure’. The other ten had all intermarried with local women and so both they and their children could never be accepted in the holiest places.’
‘Zerubbabel, caught between a rock and a hard place, had no option but to summon help from the Jewish craftsmen he’d left behind in Babylon. It would take one hundred days to send them a message and another hundred for the craftsmen to arrive on foot. Zerubbabel, doubtless reminded daily by Haggai of Jehovah’s anger, would be on tenterhooks anxiously awaiting their arrival so work could start.’
Charlie said enthusiastically ‘I can now see why Zerubbabel’s urgent greeting of “Strangers, whence come you‘” becomes much more than a casual enquiry out of courtesy. He’s on the spot. He needs action. He needs it soon. It all starts to make sense.
Fred shrugged his shoulders: ‘Given Haggai’s constant nagging Zerubbabel would want to every scrap of information about the work in hand and any possible delays – and his order ”Should you during your labour make any discovery which you deem of importance you will communicate it to no other than this august Sanhedrin’ also takes on a wider significance’.
‘No, Charlie, for me the Royal Arch will always be the high spot. Whoever wrote it was as determined as possible to write pure history.’
‘Thanks to you, Fred, I shall look at the Royal Arch in a completely new light from now on. Many, many thanks. That was a great daily advance in my Masonic knowledge.’
They both reached out for another beer and sat in a rather companionable and reflective silence.
* Ezra Ch. 1 vs. 5
** Ezra. Ch. 3 v. 6