The Historical Origins of Freemasonry


From this account of the exploits of Abraham and his scholar Euclid, and of the invention of Geometry, or Masonry in Egypt, the Legend of the Craft proceeds, by a rapid stride, to the narrative of the introduction of the art into Judea, or as it is called in all of them, "the land of behest," or the land of promise.

Here it is said to have been principally used by King Solomon, in the construction of the temple at Jerusalem. The general details connected with the building of this edifice, and the assistance given to the King of Israel, by Hiram, King of Tyre, are related with sufficient historical accuracy, and were probably derived either directly or at second hand, through the Polychronicon, from the first Book of Kings, which, in fact, is referred to in all the manuscripts as a source of information. [i]

The assumption that Freemasonry, as it now exists, was organized at the Temple of Solomon, although almost universally accepted by Masons who have not made Masonry, a historical study but who derive their ideas of the Institution from the mythical teachings of the ritual, has been utterly rejected by the greater part of the recent school of iconoclasts, who investigate the history of Freemasonry by the same methods which they would pursue in the examination of any other historical subject.

The fact, however, remains, that in the Legend of the Craft the Temple is prominently and definitely referred to as a place where Masons congregated in great numbers, and where Masonry was confirmed or established, and whence it traveled into other countries. [ii]

Considering the Legend of the Craft as merely a narrative of the rise and progress of architecture in its connection with a peculiar architectural association, it was natural that in such a narrative some reference should be made to one of the most splendid specimens of ancient architectural art that the ancient world had exhibited.

And since this Temple was, by its prominence in the ritual of Jewish worship, intimately connected with both the Jewish and Christian religions, we shall be still less surprised that an association not only so religious, but even ecclesiastical as mediaeval Masonry was, should have considered this sacred edifice as one of the cradles of its Institution.

Hence we find the Temple of Jerusalem occupying a place in the Legend of the Craft which it has retained, with many enlargements, to the present day. But there is a difference in the aspect in which this subject of the Temple is to be viewed, as we follow the progress of the Order in its transition from an Operative to a Speculative Institution.

Originally referred to by the legendists as a purely historical fact, whose details were derived from Scripture, and connected by a sort of esprit du corps, with the progress of their own association, it was retained during and after the development of the Order into a Speculative character, because it seemed to be the very best foundation on which the religious symbolism of that Order could be erected.

But notwithstanding that the masses of the Institution, learned as well as unlearned, continue to accept the historical character of this part of the Legend, the Temple is chiefly to be considered in a symbolic point of view. It is in this aspect that we must regard it, and in so doing we shall relieve the Legend of another charge of absurdity.

It is true that we are unable now to determine how much of true history and how much of symbolism were contemplated by the authors of the Legend, when they introduced the Temple of Jerusalem into that document as a part of their traditional narrative. But there is a doubt, and we can not now positively assert that the mediaeval Freemasons had not some impression of a symbolic idea when they incorporated it into their history.

The Temple might, indeed, from its prominence in the ritual, be almost called the characteristic symbol of Speculative Masonry. The whole system of Masonic Symbolism is not only founded on the Temple of Jerusalem, but the Temple idea so thoroughly permeates it that an inseparable connection is firmly established, so that if the Temple symbol were obliterated and eliminated from the system of Freemasonry - if that system were purged of all the legends and myths that refer to the building of the Solomonic Temple, and to the events that are supposed to have then and there occurred, we should have nothing remaining by which to recognize and identify Speculative Masonry, as the successor of the Operative System of the Middle Ages. The history of the Roman Empire with no account of Julius Caesar, or of Pompey, or that of the French Revolution, with no allusion to Louis XVI., or to Robespierre, would present just as mutilated a narrative as Freemasonry would, were all reference to the Temple of Solomon omitted.

Seeing, then, the importance of this symbol, it is proper and will be interesting to trace it back through the various exemplars of the Legend of the Craft contained in the Old Constitutions, because it is to that Legend that modern Freemasonry owes the suggestion at least, if not the present arrangement and formulae of this important symbol.

In the oldest Constitution that we have, the one known as the Halliwell MS., whose date is supposed not to be later than the end of the 14th century, there is not the least allusion to the Temple of Solomon, which is another reason why I ascribe to that document, as I have before said, an origin different from that of the other and later manuscripts.

The word temple occurs but once in the entire poem, and then it is used to designate a Christian church or place of worship. [iii] But in the Cooke MS., written, as it is estimated, about a century afterward, there are ample references to the Solomonic Temple, and the statement made in the Legend of the Craft is for the first time enunciated.

After this, there is not a Constitution written in which the same narrative is not repeated. There does not appear in any of them, from the Landsdowne MS. in 1560 to the Papworth in 1701, any enlargement of the narrative or any development of new occurrences. Each of them dilates, in almost the same words, upon the Temple of Solomon as connected with Masonry in many words, and gives elaborate details of the construction of the edifice, of the number of Masons employed, how they were occupied in performing other works of Masonry, and, finally, how one of them left Jerusalem and extended the art into other countries. We thus see that up to the end of the 17th century the Legend of the Craft in all its essential details continued to be accepted as traditionary history.

In the beginning of the 18th century the Legend began to assume a nearer resemblance to its present form. The document already referred to as the Krause MS., and which Dr. Krause too hastily supposed was a copy of the original York Constitutions of 926, is really, as I have heretofore shown, a production of the early part of the 18th century. In this document the Legend is given in the following words:

"Although, by architecture great and excellent buildings had already been everywhere constructed, they all remained far behind the holy Temple, which the wise King Solomon caused to be erected in Jerusalem, to the honor of the true God, where he employed an uncommonly large number of workmen, as we find in the Holy Scriptures; and King Hiram of Tyre also added a number to them.

Among these assistants who were sent was King Hiram's most skilful architect, a widow's son, whose name was Hiram Abif, and who afterwards made the most exquisite arrangements and furnished the most costly works, all of which are described in the Holy Scriptures. The whole of these workmen were, with King Solomon's approval, divided into certain classes, and thus at this great building was first founded a worthy Society of Architects."

Whether the author of the Krause MS. had copied from Anderson, or Anderson from him, or both from some other document which is no longer extant, is a question that has already been discussed. But the description of the Temple and its connection with the history of Masonry, are given by Dr. Anderson with much of the features of the Krause form of the Legend, except that the details are more copious. Now, what was taught concerning the Temple by Anderson in his History contained in the first edition of the Constitutions, although afterward polished and perfected by Preston and other ritual makers, is substantially the same as that which is taught at the present day in all the Lodges.

Therefore, notwithstanding that Dr. Krause asserts, [iv] that "the Temple of Solomon is no symbol, certainly not a prominent one of the English system," I am constrained to believe that it was one of the prominent symbols alluded to in the Mediaeval Legend, and that the symbol of the Temple upon which so much of the symbolism of Modern Speculative Masonry depends, was, in fact, suggested to the revivalists by the narrative contained in the Legend of the Craft.

Whether the Operative Masons of the Middle Ages, who seem to have accepted this Legend as authentic history, had also, underlying the narrative, a symbolic interpretation of the Temple and of certain incidents that are said to have occurred in the course of its erection, as referring to this life and the resurrection to a future one, or whether that interpretation was in existence at the time when the Legend of the Craft was invented, and was subsequently lost sight of, only to be recovered in the beginning of the 18th century, are questions that will be more appropriately discussed in succeeding pages of this work, when the subject of the myths and symbols of Freemasonry is under consideration.

But it is evident that between the narrative in the Legend concerning the Temple, with its three builders, the Kings of Israel and Tyre, and Solomon's Master of the Works, and the symbolism of Modern Speculative Masonry in allusion to the same building and the same personages, there has been a close, consecutive connection.

Hence, again, we find that the Legend of the Craft is of value in reference to the light which it throws on the progress of Masonic science and symbolism, which otherwise it would not possess, if it were to be considered as a mere mythical narrative without any influence on history.

Before concluding this subject, it will be necessary to refer to the name of the chief builder of the Temple, and whose name has undergone that corruption in all the manuscripts to which all proper names have been subjected in those documents.

Of course, it is known, from the testimony of Scripture, that the real name and title of this person, as used in reference to King Solomon and himself, was Hiram Abif, that is, "his father Hiram." [v]

This Hebrew appellative is found for the first time in Masonic documents in Anderson's Constitutions, and in the Krause MS., both being of the date of the early part of the 18th century. Previous to that period we find him variously called in all the Old Manuscripts, from the Dowland in 1550 to the Alnwick in 1701, Aman, Amon, Aynone, Aynon, Anon, and Ajuon.

Now, of what word are these a corruption? [vi]

The Cooke MS. does not give any name, but only says, that "the King's son of Tyre was Solomon's Master Mason." All the other and succeeding manuscripts, without exception, admit this relation. Thus the Dowland, in which it is followed by all the others, says that King Hiram "had a son that was called AYNON, and he was a Master of Geometry, and was chief Master of all Solomon's Masons."

The idea was thus established that this man was of royal dignity, the son of a King, and that he was also a ruler of the Craft.

Now, the Hebrew word Adon denotes a lord, a prince, a ruler or master. It is, in short, a title of dignity. In the Book of Kings we meet with Adoniram, who was one of the principal officers of King Solomon, and who during the construction of the Temple, performed an important part as the chief or superintendent of the levy of thirty thousand laborers who worked on Mount Lebanon.

The old Masons may have confounded this person with Hiram from the similarity of the terminational syllables. The modern Continental Masons committed the same error when they established the Rite of Adonhiram or Adoniram, and gave to Hiram Abif the title of Adon Hiram, or the Lord or Master Hiram. If the Old Masons did this, then it is evident that they abbreviated the full namc and called him Adon.

But I am more inclined to believe that the author of the first or original old manuscript, of which all the rest are copies, called the chief builder of Solomon Adon, Lord and Master, in allusion to his supposed princely rank and his high position as the chief builder or Master of the Works at the Temple.

The corruption from Adon to Aynon, or Amon, or even Ajuon, is not greater than what occurs in other names in these manuscripts, as where Hermes is transmuted into Hermarines, and Euclid into Englet. Indeed the copyists of these mediaeval documents appear to have had a Gallic facility in corrupting the orthography of all foreign names, very often almost totally destroying their identity.

As to the real meaning of Hiram Abif, either as a historic or symbolic character, that topic will be thoroughly considered in another part of this work, when the subject of Masonic Symbols comes to be considered.

The topic of the corruption of the name in the old manuscripts, and its true signification, will again be treated when I come to investigate the "Legend of Hiram Abif."

The Legend of the Temple could not be appropriately completed without a reference to Solomon, King of Israel, and some inquiry as to how he became indebted for the important place he has held in mediaeval Freemasonry.

The popularity of King Solomon among the Eastern nations is a familiar fact, known not only to Oriental scholars, but even to those whose knowledge on the subject is confined to what they have learned from their youthful reading of the Arabian Nights' Entertainments. Among the Arabians and the Persians, the King of Israel was esteemed as a great magician, whose power over the genii and other supernatural beings was derived from his possession of the Omnific Name, by the use of which he accomplished all his wonderful works, the said name being inscribed on his signet ring.

It is not singular seeing the communication which took place before and after the Crusades between the East and the West, that the wise son of David should have enjoyed an equal popularity among the poets and romancers of the Middle Ages.

"But among them the character that he sustains is not that of a great magician, so much as that of a learned philosopher. Whenever a Norman romancer or a Provencal minstrel composed a religious morality, a pious declamation, or a popular proverb, it was the name of Solomon that was often selected to "point the moral or adorn the tale."

Unlike the Orientalists, whose tendencies were always toward the mystical, the mediaeval writers most probably derived their opinion of the King of Israel, from the account of him and of his writings in the Bible. Now, there he is peculiarly distinguished as a proverbialist.

Proverbs are the earliest outspoken thought of the people, and they precede, in every nation, all other forms of literature. It was therefore to be expected, that at the awakening of learning in the Middle Ages, the romancers would be fascinated by the proverbial philosophy of King Solomon, rather than by his magical science, on which the Eastern fabulists had more fondly dwelt.

Legrand D'Aussy, in his valuable work On the Fables and Romances of the 12th and 13th Centuries, gives two interesting specimens from old manuscripts, of the use made by their writers of the traditional reputation of King Solomon.

The first of these is a romance called "The Judgment of Solomon." It is something like the Jewish story of the two mothers. But here the persons upon whom the judgment is to be passed are two sons of the Prince of Soissons. The claim advanced was for a partition of the property.

To determine who was better entitled to be the heir, by the reverence he might exhibit for the memory of his father, Solomon required each to prove his knightly dexterity by transfixing a mark with his lance, and that mark was to be the body of his dead father. The elder readily complied with the odious condition. The younger indignantly refused. To him Solomon decreed the heritage.

We see here how ready these romancers of the Middle Ages were to invent a narrative and fit it into the life of their favorite Solomon. The makers of the Masonic Legend of the Craft, who were their contemporaries, promptly followed their example. There is in that Legend, as we have seen, some anachronisms, but none more absurd than that which makes a Prince of Soissons, who could not have been earlier than the time of Clovis, in the 6th century, the contemporary of a Jewish monarch who lived at least sixteen centuries before Soissons was known as a kingdom.

But it shows us the spirit of the age and how Legends were fabricated. We are thus prepared to form a judgment of the Masonic myths. The Middle Ages also attributed to King Solomon a very familiar acquaintance with the science of astrology. In so doing they by no means borrowed the Oriental idea that he was a great magician; for astrology formed no part of Eastern occult magic. The mediaeval astrologer was deemed a man of learning, just as at this day is the astronomer. Astrology was, in fact, the astronomy of the Middle Ages.

Solomon's astrological knowledge was therefore only a part of that great learning for which he had the reputation. In the collection of unpublished Fabliaux et Contes, edited by M. Meon, is a poem entitled, "Le Lunaire que Salemon fist"; that is, "The Lunary which Solomon made."

The lunary or lunarium was a table made by astrologers to indicate the influence exerted by the moon on human affairs. The poem, which consists of 910 lines, written in the old French or Norman language, contains directions for the conduct of life, telling what is to be done or what omitted on every day of the month. The concluding lines assign, without hesitation, the authorship to Solomon, while it pays the mediaeval tribute to his character:

"Here is ended the lesson

Made by the good King Solomon, To whom in his life God gave

Riches and honor and learning, More than to any other born

Or begotten of woman."

The canonical book of Proverbs gave the writers of the Middle Ages occasion to have an exalted opinion of Solomon as a maker of those pithy sayings - a characteristic of his genius of which the Orientals seem to have been unmindful.

One of the most remarkable works of mediaeval literature is a poem by the Comte de Bretagne, entitled "Proverbs of Marcol and Solomon."

This Marcol is represented as a commentator, or rather, perhaps, a rival of King Solomon. The work is a poem divided into stanzas of six lines each. The first three lines contain a proverb of Solomon; the next three another proverb on the same subject, and in response, by Marcol.

There is another mediaeval poem in the collection of M. Meon, entitled "Of Marco and Solomon." The responsive style is the same as that of the Comte de Bretagne, but the one hundred and thirty-seven proverbs which it contains are all new.

But still more apposite to the present inquiry is the fact that among the medioeval writers Solomon bore the reputation of an artisan of consummate skill. He was like the Volund or Wieland of the Scandinavian and Teutonic myths - the traditional smith who fabricated the decorations of chambers, the caparison of war-horses, and the swords and lances of cavaliers. In the poems of the Middle Ages whenever it becomes necessary to speak of any of these things as having been made with exquisite and surpassing skill, it is said to be "the work of Solomon" - l'uevre Salemon.

But enough has been said to show that King Solomon was as familiar to the romancers of the Middle Ages as he was to the Jews of Palestine or to the Orientalists of Arabia and Persia. Philip de Thuan, who, in the 12th century, wrote his Besliary, a sort of natural history spiritualized, says that by Solomon was signified any wise man - Sacez par Salemuon sage gent entendum.

Now, about the same time that these fable-makers and song-writers of the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries were composing these stories about King Solomon, the makers of the Masonic Legend of the Craft were inventing their myths about the same monarch and the Temple which he erected.

This is a concurrence of time which suggests that possibly the popularity of King Solomon with the romancers of the Middle Ages made the incorporation of his name in the Masonic Legend less difficult to those who framed that mythical story.

We might, indeed, be led to suspect that the use of Solomon in their Legends and traditions was first suggested to the Stonemasons and to the cognate associations, such as the "Compagnons de la Tour" of France, from the frequent references to it by the contemporary romancers.

But the subsequent myths connected with Solomon as the head of the association of Masons at the Temple were, at a much later period, borrowed, in great part, from the Talmudists, and have no place among the song-writers and fabulists of the Middle Ages.


[i] "As it is said in the Bible, in the third book of Kings," are the words of the Cooke MS. In the canon of Scripture as then used, the two books of Samuel were called the first and second of Kings. The third book of Kings was then the first according to the present canon.

[ii] "And thus was that worthy Science of Masonry confirmed in the country of Jerusalem, and in many other kingdoms."-Dowland MS.

[iii] "He made the bothe halle and eke bowre, And hye temhuls of gret honoure, To sport hym yn bothe day and nighth, And to worschepe hys God with all hys myght." (Lines 63-66).

[iv] "Die drei altesten Kunsturkunden," vol. i., p. 155, note 41.

[v] When the King of Tyre speaks of him, it is as Hiram Abi that is, "My father Hiram," 2 Chron ii. 13.

[vi] The Papworth MS., whose supposed date is 1714, rejects all these words and calls him Benaim, which is a misspelling of Bonaim, builders, and that a grammatical error for Boneh, the Builder. The writer had evidently got an inkling of the new form which the Legend was beginning to assume. Anderson, it will be recollected, speaks of the " Bonai, or builders in stone."

"If I have seen further than
others, it is by standing
upon the shoulders of giants."


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