The Temple Legend is a name that I give to that legend or tradition which traces the origin of Freemasonry as an organized institution to the Temple of Solomon and to the builders, Jewish and Tyrian, who were employed in the construction of that edifice.
This is the legend that is now almost universally accepted by the great mass of the Masonic fraternity. Perhaps nine out of ten of the Freemasons of the present day – that is to say, all those who receive tradition with the undoubting faith that should be given to history only – conscientiously believe that Freemasonry, as we now see it, organized into lodges and degrees, with Grand Masters, Masters, and Wardens, with the same ritual observances, was first devised by Solomon, King of Israel, and assumed its position as a secret society during the period when that monarch was engaged in the construction of the Temple on Mount Moriah.[i]
This theory is not a new one. It was probably at first suggested by the passage in the Legend of the Craft which briefly describes the building of the Temple and the confirmation by Solomon of the charges which his father David had given to the Masons.
There can be no doubt from this passage in the Legend that the Temple of Solomon occupied a prominent place in the ideas of the medieval Masons. How much use they made of it in their esoteric ceremonies we, of course, are unable to learn. It is, however, significant coincidence, if nothing more, that there was a somewhat similar legend among the “Compagnons de la Tour,” those mystical associations of workmen who sprang up in France about the 12th century, and who are supposed to have been an offshoot of dissatisfied journeymen from the body of oppressive Masters, who at that period constituted the ruling power of the corporate guilds of operative Masons and other crafts.
As the traditions of this society in reference to the Temple of Solomon are calculated to throw much light on the ideas which prevailed among the Masons in respect to the same subject, and as the Temple legends of the “Compagnons” are better known to us than those of the mediaeval operative Masons, and finally, as it is not at all unlikely that the ideas of the former were derived from those of the latter, it will not be inexpedient to take a brief view of the Temple legend of the Compagnonage.
The Compagnons de la Tour have three different legends, each of which traces the association back to the Temple of Solomon, through three different founders, which causes the Compagnonage to be divided into three distinct and, unfortunately, hostile associations. These are the Children of Solomon, the Children of Maitre Jacques, and the Children of Pere Soubise.
The Children of Solomon assert that they were associated into a brotherhood by King Solomon himself at the building of the Temple.
The Children of Maitre Jacques and those of Pere Soubise declare that both of these workmen were employed at the Temple, and after its completion went together to Gaul, where they taught the arts which they had learned at Jerusalem.[ii]
The tradition of Maitre Jacques is particularly interesting. He is said to have been the son of a celebrated architect named Jacquain, who was one of the chief Masters of Solomon and a colleague of Hiram Abif. From the age of fifteen, he was employed as a stone-cutter. He traveled through Greece, where he acquired a knowledge of architecture and sculpture. He then went to Egypt and thence to Jerusalem, where, being engaged in the construction of the Temple, he fabricated two pillars with such consummate skill that he was at once received as a Master of the Craft.
It is not necessary to pursue the legend of the French Compagnonage any further. Sufficient has been told to show that they traced their origin to the Temple of Solomon and that the legend referred, to events connected with that edifice.
Now, as these traveling journeymen (for thus may we translate their French title) are known to have separated themselves in the 12th century from the corporations of Master Workmen in consequence of the narrow and oppressive policy of these bodies, making what in modern times would be called a ” strike,” it is reasonable to suppose that they carted with them into their new and independent organization many of the customs, ceremonies, and traditions which they had learned from the main body or Master’s guilds of which they were an offshoot.
Therefore, although we have not been able to find any legend or tradition of the medieval operative Masons which traced their origin to the Temple of Solomon, yet as we find such a tradition prevailing among an association of workmen who, as we know, were at one time identified with the Operative Masons and seceded from them on a question of policy, we have a reasonable right to believe that the legend of the Compagnons de la Tour, or Traveling journeymen, which traced their origin to the Temple of Solomon, was derived by them from the Corporations of Masters or Guilds of Operative Masons, among whom it was an accepted tradition.
And, therefore, we have in this way the foundation for a reasonable belief that the Legend of the Temple origin of Masonry is older than the era of the Revival in the beginning of the 18th century, and that it had been a recognized doctrine among the operative Masons of the Middle Ages.
The absence of the Legend in any formal detail from all the old manuscripts does not prove that there was no such Legend, for being of an esoteric character, it may, from conscientious motives, or in obedience to some regulation, never have been committed to writing. This is, however, a mere supposition and cannot in any way interfere with deductions drawn from positive data in reference to the Legend of the Third Degree. There may have been a Temple Legend, and yet the details narrated in it may have been very incomplete and not have included the events related in the former Legend.
The first reference in the old records to the Temple of Solomon as connected with the origin of Freemasonry is to be found in the Cooke MS. and is in the following words:
What tyme that the children of isrl dwellid in Egypte they lernyd the craft of masonry. And afterward they were driven, out of Egypte they come into the lond of bihest (promise) and is now callyd Jerl’m (Jerusalem) and it was ocupied and chsrgys yholde. And the makyng of Salomonis tempull that kyng David began. Kyng David lovyd well masons and he gaf hem rygt nye as thay be nowe. And at the makyng of the temple in Salomonis tyme as hit is seyd in the bibull in the iij boke of Regum in teicio Regum capito quinto (i Kings, Cap. 5) That Salomon had iiii score thowsand masons at his werko. And the kyngis sone of Tyry was his master mason, And (in) other cronyclos hit is seyd and in olde bokys of masonry that Salomon confirmed the chargys that David his fadir had geve to masons. And Salomon hymself taught hem here (their) maners (customs) but lityll differans fro the maners that now ben usyd. And fro thens this worthy sciens was brought into Fraunce and into many other regions.[iii]
The Dowland MS., whose supposed date is some fifty or sixty years later than the Cooke, gives substantially the same Legend, but with the additional circumstances, that David learned the charges that he gave, from Egypt, where they had been made by Euclid; that he added other charges to these; that Solomon sent into various countries for Masons, whom he gathered together; that the name of the King of Tyre was Iram, and that of his son, who was Solomon’s chief Master, was Aynon; and finally that he was a Master of Geometry and of carving and graving.
In this brief narrative, the first edition of which dates back as far as the close of the 15th century, we see the germs of the fuller Legend which prevails among the Craft at the present day. That there was an organization of Masons with “Charges and Manners,” that is, laws and customs at the building of the Temple of Jerusalem, and that King Solomon was assisted in the work by the King of Tyre and by a skillful artist who had been sent to him by Hiram, are the two most important points in the theory of the Temple origin of Masonry, and both are explicitly stated in these early legends. We next find the Legend repeated, but with more elaborate details, most of which, however, are taken from the Book of Kings as referred to in the Legend of the Craft by Anderson, in the first edition of the Constitutions, and with a few additional particulars in the second edition of the same work
Preston, the next important Masonic writer after Anderson, does not indeed relate or refer to the Legend in any part of his Illustrations of Masonry, but the theory that Masonry found its origin at the Temple is to be deduced from the historical traditions contained in the third lecture of the Prestonian system, from which Webb derived it, and has perpetuated it among American Masons to the present day.
Hutchinson, who followed Preston, although, as has been seen, he inclined to a remoter origin of the Order, repeatedly refers in his Spirit of Masonry, and especially in his Sixth Lecture, to the Temple of Solomon as the place where “the true craftsmen were proved in their work,” and where Solomon distinguished them into different ranks, giving to each appropriate signs and secret tokens, and organized them for the first time into an association of builders, the predecessors of the Masons being previous to that time sages who, though acquainted with the principles of geometry and architecture, were engaged solely in philosophical speculations. In this way, Hutchinson gave the weight of his influence in favor of the Legend which ascribed the origin of operative and speculative Masonry to Solomon and to his Temple, although his views on this subject differ from those of other writers.
Dr. Oliver, one of the latest and the most prolific of the legendary writers, although in his own theory he seeks to trace the origin of Freemasonry to a much more remote antiquity, yet speaks so much in detail in most of his works, but principally in his Antiquities and in his Historical Landmarks, of the system which was for the first time organized at the building of the Solomonic Temple, that most readers who do not closely peruse his writings and carefully scan his views are under the impression that he had fully adopted the Legend of the Temple origin, and hence his authority has been lent to the popular belief.
Existing, as may be supposed from the analogy of a similar legend of the Compagnons de la Tour, among the craftsmen of the Middle Ages; transmitted to the Revival era of the beginning of the 18th century, and since then taught in all the rituals and sustained by the best Masonic writers up to a recent period, this Legend of the Temple origin of Freemasonry, or, in plainer words, the theory that Freemasonry received at the time of the building of the Temple of Jerusalem that form and organization which it holds at the present day, has been and continues to be a dogma of faith implicitly believed by the masses of the fraternity.
It is well, therefore, that we should now see what precisely is the form and substance of this popular Legend. As received at the present day by the body of the Craft, it may be stated as follows:
When Solomon was about to commence the building of his Temple, his own people not being expert or experienced architects, he applied to his friend Hiram, the monarch of the neighboring kingdom of Tyre, for assistance. Hiram, in complying with his request, sent to him a numerous body of workmen, and at their head a distinguished artist called, as a mark of distinction, Hiram Abif,[iv] equivalent to the title, “Hiram his father,” who is described as “a cunning man endued with understanding.”
King Solomon then proceeded to organize the institution into a form, which has been adopted as the model of that which exists at the present day in every country where Freemasonry exists. The Legend that contains the classification of the workmen at the Temple, which has been adopted in the rituals of modern Masonry, is delved partly from Scripture and partly from tradition. An examination of it will not be inappropriate.
There are two accounts, slightly conflicting, in the Scriptural narrative. In the Second Book of Chronicles, Chapter ii., Verses 17 and 18, are the following words:
And Solomon numbered all the strangers that were in the land of Israel, after the number wherewith David his father had numbered them, and there were found a hundred and fifty thousand and three thousand and six hundred.
And he set three score and ten thousand of them to be bearers of burdens and four score thousand to be hewers in the mountains and three thousand six hundred overseers to set the people at work.
The same numerical details are given in the second verse of the same chapter. Again, in the First Book of Kings, Chapter v., Verses 13 and 14, it is said:
And King Solomon raised a levy out of all Israel; and the levy was thirty thousand men.
And he sent them to Lebanon, ten thousand a month by courses; a month they were in Lebanon, and two months at home: and Adoniram was over the levy.
In the Legend of the Craft, this enumeration was not strictly adhered to. The Cooke MS. says that there were “four score thousand masons at work,” out of whom three thousand were chosen as Masters of the work. The Landsdowne MS. says that the number of Masons was twenty-four thousand. But this number must have been a clerical error of the copyist in which he is followed only by the Antiquity MS. All the other manuscripts agree with the Dowland and make the number of Masons eighty thousand, including the three thousand overseers or Masters of the Work.
This statement does not accord with that which is in the Book of Kings nor with that in Chronicles, and yet it is all that the Legend of the Craft furnishes.
Dr. Anderson, who was the first author after the Revival who made an enumeration and classification of the workmen at the Temple, abandoned the Legend altogether and made up his account from the Bible. This he published in the first edition of the Constitutions and tempered it with some traditional information, whence derived I do not know. But it is on this classification by Anderson that all the rituals that have been in use since his time are framed.
Hence, he may justly be considered as the author of the Legend of the Workmen at the Temple; for notwithstanding the historical element which it contains, derived from Scripture, there are so many traditional interpolations that it properly assumes a legendary character.
Anderson’s account is that there were employed on the building three thousand six hundred Master Masons, to conduct the work according to Solomon’s directions; eighty thousand hewers of stone in the mountains who he says were Fellow Craftsmen, and seventy thousand laborers who were not Masons, besides the levy of thirty thousand who worked under the superintendence of Adoniram, making in all one hundred and eighty-three thousand six hundred. For this great number, Anderson says Solomon was “much obliged” to Hiram, King of Tyre, who sent his Masons and carpenters to Jerusalem.
Over this immense number of builders and laborers, Anderson says that King Solomon presided as Grand Master at Jerusalem, King Hiram in the same capacity at Tyre, and Hiram Abif was the Master of Work.
Fifteen years afterward, Anderson, in the second edition of his Constitutions somewhat modified these views and added certain other particulars. He promotes Hiram Abif from the position of Magister Operis or Master of the Work, to that of Deputy Grand Master in Solomon’s absence and to that of Senior Grand Warden in his presence. He also says:
Solomon partitioned the Fellow Crafts into certain Lodges with a Master and Wardens in each; that they might receive commands in a regular manner, might take care of their tools and jewels, might be paid every week, and be duly fed and clothed, etc., and the Fellow Crafts took care of their succession by educating Entered Apprentices.[v]
If such a tradition ever existed, it is now lost, for it cannot be found in any of the old manuscripts which are the record of the Masonic traditions. It is admitted that similar usages were practiced by the Operative Masons of the Middle Ages, but we have no historical authority, nor even legendary, outside of Anderson’s work, for tracing them to the Temple of Jerusalem.
Out of these materials the ritualists have manufactured a Legend; which exists in all the Masonic rituals and which must have been constructed in London, at a very early period after the Revival, to have secured such an universal acceptance among all the nations who derived their Masonry from the Grand Lodge of England. The Legend of the Temple origin of Masonry, as generally accepted by the Craft at the present day, is that there were one hundred and fifty-three thousand, three hundred workmen employed in the construction of the Temple. Three thousand three hundred of these were overseers, who were among as well as over the Craft, but who at the completion of the Temple were promoted to the rank of Master Masons. The remaining workmen were divided into eighty thousand Fellow Crafts and seventy thousand Entered Apprentices.
Three Grand Masters presided over the large number of workmen, namely, Solomon, King of Israel; Hiram, King of Tyre, and Hiram Abif. These were the only persons who at the building of the Temple were Master Masons and in possession of the secrets of the Third Degree. The statement in the ritual is that the workmen were divided into Lodges.
The Lodge of Master Masons, for there could be only one of that degree, consisted of three members; the Lodges of Fellow Crafts, of which there must have been sixteen thousand, was composed of five members each; and the Lodges of Entered Apprentices, of which there must have been ten thousand, was composed of seven each.
But as this statement has neither historical authority nor logical possibility to support it, it must be considered, as it undoubtedly was originally intended to be considered, merely as a reference to the symbolic character of those sacred numbers in Masonry – three, five, and seven. In the same spirit of symbolic reference the steps of the winding stairs leading to the middle chamber were divided into a series of three, five, and seven, with the addition in the English ritual of nine and eleven. All of this is, therefore, to be rejected from the class of legends and referred to that of symbols.
Viewing then this Legend or theory of the origin of Masonry at the Temple, tracing it from the almost nude state in which it is presented in the Legend of the Craft through the extraneous clothing which was added by Anderson and I suppose by Desaguliers, to the state of tinsel ornamentation in which it appears in the modern ritual, we will come to the following conclusion:
In the Legend of the Craft, we find only the following statement: That King Solomon was assisted in the building of the Temple by the King of Tyre, who sent him materials for the edifice and a skillful artist, on whose name scarcely any two of them agree, and whom Solomon appointed as his Master of the Work; that Solomon invited Masons from all lands and having collected them together at Jerusalem, organized them into a body by giving them a system of laws and customs for their government. Now, most of these facts are sustained by the historical authority of the Books of Kings and Chronicles, and those that are not have the support of extreme probability.
That Solomon, King of Israel, built a Temple in Jerusalem is an historical fact that cannot be doubted or denied. Richard Carlile, it is true, says,
My historical researches have taught me that that which has been called Solomon’s Temple never existed upon earth; that a nation of people called Israelites never existed upon earth, and that the supposed history of the Israelites and their Temple is nothing more than an allegory.[vi]
But the measure of the moral and mental stature of Carlile has long been taken, and even among the most skeptical critics he remains alone in his irrational incredulity.
Doubtless there are Oriental exaggerations in respect to the amount of money expended and the number of workmen employed on the building, which have been overestimated. But the simple, naked fact that King Solomon built a temple remains un-contradicted, and is as historically true and undoubted as that of the construction of any other public edifice in antiquity.
It is equally historical that the King of Tyre gave assistance to Solomon in carrying out his design. However fiercely the skeptics may have attacked certain portions of the Bible, the Books of Kings and Chronicles have been placed upon the footing of other ancient historical records and subjected to the same canons of criticism.
Now we are distinctly told that Hiram, King of Tyre, “sent masons and carpenters to David to build him a house”[vii] we learn subsequently that the same Hiram (some say his son) was equally friendly with Solomon, and although there is no distinct mention either in Kings or Chronicles that he sent workmen to Jerusalem,[viii] except his namesake, the artificer, yet we may infer that he did so, from the friendship of the two kings, from the need of Solomon for expert workmen, and from the fact which we learn from the First Book of Kings, that the stones for the edifice were hewn by ” Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders and the Giblim.” The authorized version, on what authority I know not, translates this word “Giblim” as “stone-squarers.” They were, however, the inhabitants of the city of Gebal, called by the Greeks, Byblos, which was the principal seat of the worship and the mysteries of Adonis. The inhabitants were celebrated for their skill in stone-carving and in shipbuilding.
Thus, we see that there were, according to the Scriptural account, three classes of Masons engaged at the building of the Temple. First there were the workmen of Solomon: these were of the “four score thousand hewers in the mountains “[ix] who were taken by Solomon from “the strangers that were in the land of Israel”[x] – men whom Dr. Adam Clarke supposes to have been not pure Israelites, but proselytes to the Jewish religion so far as to renounce idolatry and to keep the precepts of Noah.
But we must believe that among these four score thousand strangers more to be enumerated the workmen who came from Tyre, or there will be no place allotted to them in the distribution in the First Book of Kings. The three thousand three hundred who were “over the work,” are said to have been chief officers of Solomon and therefore Israelites, and the remaining seventy thousand were mere laborers or bearers of burden – a class for whom Solomon need not have been indebted to the King of Tyre.
Secondly, there were the workmen of Hiram, King of Tyre. These I have already said were probably, and indeed necessarily, included in the number of four score thousand strangers or foreigners. The words in the original are “amoshim gherim,” men who are foreigners, for Genesis defines the word “gherim,” to be “sojourners, strangers, foreigners, men living out of their country.”[xi]
Thirdly, we have the Giblim, the inhabitants of the city of Gebal in Phoenicia, who came to Jerusalem, invited there by Solomon, to assist in the construction of the Temple, and who must also be reckoned among the four score thousand strangers. Thus, the Legend of the Craft is justified in saying; that Solomon “sent after Masons into divers countries and of divers lands,” and that he had “four score workers of stone and were all named Masons.”
For these were the foreigners or sojourners, whom he found in Jerusalem, many of whom had probably come there on his invitation, and the Tyrians who had been sent to him by King Hiram, and the Phoenicians, whom he had called out of Gebal on account of their well-known skill in stone-cutting. And all of these amounted to eighty thousand, the number stated in the Books of Kings and Chronicles, and just the number mentioned in the Legend of the Craft.
It will be seen that the Legend of the Craft takes no notice of the levy of thirty thousand who worked under Adoniram on Mount Lebanon, nor of the seventy thousand who were employed as bearers of burdens. As the former were merely wood-cutters and the latter common laborers, the Legend does not class them among the Masons, any more than it does the three thousand three hundred who were, according to the Biblical account, officers of the court of Solomon, who were appointed merely to overlook the Masons and to see that they worked faithfully; perhaps also to pay them their wages, or to distribute their food, and to supervise generally their conduct.
In all this, the Legend of the Craft differs entirely from the modern rituals, which have included all these classes, and therefore reckon that at the building of the Temple there were one hundred and fifty-three thousand three hundred Masons, instead of eighty-thousand. The Legend is certainly more in accord with the authority of the Bible than are the rituals.
The Legend of the Craft is also justified in saying that Solomon organized these Masons into what might be called a guild, that is, a society or corporation,[xii] by giving them “charges and manners” – in other words, a code of laws and regulations. On this question, the Bible account is silent, but it amounts to an extreme probability, the nearest approximation to historical evidence, that there must have been some regulations enacted for the government of so large a number of workmen. It is also equally probable that to avoid confusion these workmen must have been divided into sections, or what, in modern parlance, would be called “gangs,” engaged in various parts of the building and in different employments.
There must have been a higher and more skillful class occupied in directing the works of these several sections; there must have been others less skillful and yet competent to discharge the duties of stone-cutters and layers, and there must have been another and still inferior class who were only acquiring the rudiments of the profession.
Founded on these evident propositions, Anderson made his division of the workmen at the Temple into the three classes of Master Masons, Fellow Crafts, and Entered Apprentices. But he abandoned the Legend in calling the three thousand six hundred officers of King Solomon Master Masons, and making the whole number, exclusive of the seventy thousand laborers and the thirty thousand wood-cutters on Mount Lebanon, eighty-three thousand, and afterward stating that there were one hundred and eighty-three thousand Masons in all – a contradiction of his own previous statement as well as of the Legend of the Craft which states the whole number of Masons to have been eighty thousand.
The modern ritual may, however, be considered as having adopted the Temple of Jerusalem as a type of that abstruse symbol of a spiritual temple, which forms, as will be hereafter seen, one of the most important and most interesting symbolic lessons on which the philosophy of Speculative Masonry depends.
- [i] In a sermon by the Rev. A.N. Keigwin, at the dedication of the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia (1873), we find the following passage: “Historically, Masonry dates from the building of the Temple of Solomon. No one at the present day disputes this claim.” I cite this out of hundreds of similar passages in other writers, to show how universal among such educated Masons is the belief in the Temple theory. It is, in fact, very true that only those scholars who have made the history of the Order an especial study have any doubts upon the subject.
- [ii] The reader will remember the story in the “Legend of the Craft” of one Namus Grecus, who came from Jerusalem and from the Temple in the time of Charles Martel and propagated Masonry in France.
- [iii] Cooke MS., lines 539-575.
- [iv] Of Hiram Abif, a more detailed account will be given when we come to consider the legend connected with him.
- [v] Anderson adds in a marginal note that his authority for this statement is “the traditions of old Masons, who talk much of these things. “Constitutions,” 2d edit., p. 13.
- [vi] Manual of Freemasons,” Part I, p. 4.
- [vii] Chronicles, xiv., i.
- [viii] We are told in i Kings, v., and it is repeated in 2 Chron., ii., that Hiram sent his workmen to Lebanon to cut down trees. The timber they were to carry to Joppa, where Solomon was to receive it, and, presumably, the workmen were to return to the forest.
- [ix] (1) I Kings, v., 15.
- [x] (2) Chron. ii., 17.
- [xi] Lexicon, in voce.
- [xii] The Latin original of the Krause MS. calls it “Societas Architedonica” – an architectural society.