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: ‘Why Zerubbabel?’
Charlie called in to Fred’s with the weekly grocery goodies, this time from Waitrose – their queue was the shorter. Carole, Fred’s disabled but always attentive wife, surveyed the mountain on her kitchen table and switching on the kettle, opened the coffee jar and choc biscuit tin. Labourer… worthy of hire… etc.
Settling back, Charlie asked for Fred’s views on re-opening their Royal Arch Chapter in the Corvid era. Having established that Fred had no privileged insight Charlie went on to reflect that the Royal Arch ceremony was still in so many ways unknown territory.
Curiosity aroused, Fred enquired why. ‘Well, Fred, take Zerubbabel for instance. We find a scroll containing the long lost Law – the Ten Commandments – given to Moses and the Twelve Tribes at Mount Horeb, right? We have the ensigns of those Tribes all around us, right? We then find on an altar the divine name who gave Moses the Law, right?
Fred merely offered: ‘And?’
‘Well, sitting on the thrones amidst the twelve standards instead of Moses and his two sidekicks …’
Fred helpfully interjected: ‘Aholiab and Bezaleel?’
‘…we have Zerubbabel, Haggai and Joshua. Why on earth? Who’s pulling my chain?’
Fred stirred, in no particular order, his memory, his coffee and his left leg. He said softly: ‘Did you get to the synagogue this week, Charlie?’
Charlie, startled, blurted: ‘You know I’m not Jewish… my family’s Methodist’
Fred said merely: ‘Quite…and that, Charlie provides your answer. The Law, the Ten Commandments, Yahweh, all as revealed by Moses and as narrated in the Old Testament did not in any way, shape or form directly relate to an Englishman of the C18. God’s Covenant had been with just the Twelve Tribes of Israel.’
‘Look, Freemasonry is non-religious. Those drafting our Royal Arch ritual had somehow to find a way of connecting a an 18th-century Freemason with the Ten Commandments that didn’t draw on the Christian or Jewish religions. Very cleverly they turned not to Jewish religion but to Old Testament history for the connection.’
‘Jehovah had ordered the Jewish king David to create a Temple for Him at Jerusalem although it was his son Solomon who actually built it. Over the next 500 years a succession of increasingly corrupt Jewish kings tested Jehovah’s patience and by 587 BC in His anger and frustration He encouraged Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, to invade Israel, occupy Jerusalem, destroy its Temple and disperse its peoples. With me so far, Charlie?‘ Charlie nodded.
‘After a generation spent in exile in Babylon cooling their heels, Jehovah relented and allowed the exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. This time however his Covenant was no longer to be with the Twelve Tribes but with all people world-wide who believed in the Supreme Being. This, of course, could now embrace all the peoples of Europe including the C18 Freemasons whose belief in the Supreme Being is an article of membership.’
Charlie raised a hand: ‘But where does Zerubbabel fit in?‘
‘Just be patient. Jehovah allowed the Temple to be rebuilt as a mark of this world-wide expansion. The man chosen to supervise the rebuilding was the exiled Jewish prince, Zerubbabel. The High Priest who accompanied him was Joshua. As Zerubbabel’s thoughts after returning quickly strayed into building houses for his retinue it was left to his Prophet Haggai to remind him that his immediate priority was actually rebuilding the Temple and he needed to call for some suitably skilled workmen PDQ.’
‘This, my dear Charlie, is the reason why it is the fifth century BC Zerubbabel who sits on the throne of our Masonic temple because it is Zerubbabel, not the 15th century BC Moses, who is the link between the Laws of the Ten Commandments and the Freemasons of today.’
Charlie sat a touch wide eyed and slightly open mouthed.
Fred raised a finger and with a laugh said: ‘Don’t say Holy Moses, Charlie. That would be quite the wrong Prophet.’