The chest or coffer which constitutes a part of the furniture, and is used in the ceremonies of a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, and in a Council of Select Masters according to the American system, is called by Freemasons the Substitute Ark, to distinguish it from the other ark, that which was constructed in the wilderness under the direction of Moses, and which is known as the ark of the Covenant. This the Substitute Ark was made to represent under circumstances that are recorded in the Masonic traditions, and especially in those of the Select Degree.
The ark used in Royal Arch and Cryptic Freemasonry in the United States is generally of this form:
Prideaux, on the authority of Lightfoot, contends that, as an ark was indispensable to the Israelitish worship, there was in the second Temple an ark which had been expressly made for the purpose of supplying the place of the first or original ark, and which, without possessing any of its prerogatives or honors, was of precisely the same shape and dimensions, and was deposited in the same place. The Masonic legend, whether authentic or not, is simple and connected. It teaches that there was an ark in the second Temple, but that it was neither the Ark of the Covenant, which had been in the Holy of Holies of the first Temple, nor one that had been constructed as a substitute for it after the building of the second Temple. It was that ark which was presented to us in the Select Master's Degree, and which being an exact copy of the Mosaical ark, and intended to replace it in case of its loss, which is best known to Freemasons as the Substitute Ark.
Lightfoot gives these Talmudic legends, in his Prospect of the Temple, in the following language:
"It is fancied by the Jews, that Solomon, when he built the Temple, foreseeing that the Temple should be destroyed, caused very obscure and intricate vaults under ground to be made, wherein to hide the ark when any such danger came; that howsoever it went with the Temple, yet the ark, which was the very life of the Temple, might be saved. And they understand that passage in the Second Chronicles ixxxv, 3), 'Josiah said unto the Levites, Put the holy ark into the house which Solomon, the son of David, did build, etc., as if Josiah, having heard by the reading of Moses' manuscript, and Huldah's prophecy of the danger that hung over Jerusalem, commanded to convey the ark into this vault, that it might be secured; and with it, say they, they laid up Aaron's rod, the pot of manna, and the anointing oil. For while the ark stood in its place upon the stone mentioned-they hold that Aaron's rod and the pot of manna stood before it ; but, now, were all conveyed into obscurity-and the stone upon which the ark stood lay over the mouth of the Vault. But Rabbi Solomon, which useth not, ordinarily, to forsake such traditions, hath given a more serious gloss upon the place ; namely, that whereas Manasseh and Amon had removed the ark out of its habitation, and set up images and abominations there of their own-Joshua speaketh to the priests to restore it to its please again.
What became of the ark, at the burning of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, we read not; it is most likely it went to the fire also. However it sped, it was not in the second Temple; and is one of the five choice things that the Jews reckon wanting there. Yet they had an ark there also of their own making, as they had a breastplate of judgment; which, though they both wanted the glory of the former, which was giving of oracles, yet did they stand current as to the other matters of their worship, as the former breastplate and ark had done."
The idea of the concealment of an ark and its accompanying treasures always prevailed in the Jewish church. The account given by the Talmudists is undoubtedly mythical; but there must, as certainly, have been some foundation for the myth, for every myth has a substratum of truth. The Masonic tradition differs from the Rabbinical, but is in every way more reconcilable with truth, or at least with probability. The ark constructed by Moses, Aholiab, and Bezaleel was burned at the destruction of the first Temple; but there was an exact representation of it in the second.
The Encyclopedia Masonica exists to preserve the wealth of information that has been generated over the centuries by numerous Masonic authors. As Freemasonry is now Speculative and not Operative, the work of a Mason is now conducted in the quarries of symbolism, literature, history and scholasticism. Freemasonry encourages intellectual exploration and academic achievement in its members and many Masons over the years have taken up this calling. The result has been that an incredible amount of philosophy, symbolic speculation and academic insights have been created. However, as Freemasonry teaches, human knowledge is frail and fragile. It is easily lost in the turnings of the ages and unforeseen catastrophes can result in great setbacks to human knowledge.
For too long these great works have sat on forgotten shelves, gathering dust and concealing the light that could be shed on the darkness of our ignorance. The Encyclopedia Masonica has been created to act as an ark, sailing through time, to ensure that future generations of Freemasons have access to the same knowledge that inspired the Brethren that came before them. It will contain the works of such Masonic Luminaries as Albert G. Mackey, Manly Palmer Hall, G.S.M. Ward, Albert Pike and many others. The Encyclopedia Masonica is a living work and the volunteers of Universal Co-Masonry will continue to labor until the most comprehensive Masonic reference work the world has ever seen has been created. The Encyclopedia Masonica is open to any who wish to use it and will remain open so that the treasures contained within may increase the wealth of all those who seek its wisdom.
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