When I first went through the 2nd degree and heard these words from the W. Master “..you are now permitted to extend your researches into the hidden mysteries of Nature and Science” I was struck by the absurdity of it. Here I am, a medical doctor, whose very profession required the study of the hidden mysteries of Nature and Science being told I am now permitted to do so. All of us, in our high school days, have been exposed to the study of science and mathematics, and therefore have been exposed to the study of the Hidden mysteries of Nature and Science. So why this admonition? In addition to this encouragment to study the hidden mysteries of nature and science, we were also urged to study the seven liberal Arts, which consisted of Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy. Are these hidden calls to actually look at the rituals with a logical mind? Is that possible?
As this call came in the Second Degree ritual, where better to start for one’s search than the Second Degree.
There is this short little piece in the Second Degree that’s from the Bible. The piece about Joshua stopping the sun. It is from Joshua 10:12-14, and I quote it here:
On the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the Lord; and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in midheaven, and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.
Prior to this, there is this odd series of questions and answers by the candidate seeking to be passed to the 2nd degree.
WM- Where were you made a Mason?
Candidate – In the body of the Lodge, just, perfect and regular.
WM – And when?
Candidate – When the sun was at its meridian.
WM. – In this country Freemasons’ Lodges are usually held in the Evening; how do you account for that which at first view appears a paradox?
Candidate – The earth constantly revolving on its axis in its orbit round the sun and Freemasonry being universally spread over its surface, it necessarily follows that the sun must always be at its meridian with respect to Freemasonry.
Obviously, this little series of Qs and As serves to bring home to the candidate that Freemasonry is spread all over the globe. But this point has already been made to the candidate in the 1st degree in the North East Corner lecture, when these words are said, “ … In a society so widely extended as Freemasonry, the branches of which are spread over the four quarters of the globe…” So what’s the point of that series of Qs and As regarding the Sun and the Meridian?
When one applies the knowledge as expressed in this series of questions and answers, particularly that part which said, “ The earth constantly revolving on its axis in it orbit around the sun” to the incident of Joshua stopping the sun. The obvious answer is, if that had happened, it would have been the earth which had stopped rotating to give the appearance of the sun and moon having stopped in their passages across the heavens. What would have been the result of the earth stopping its rotation about its axis? As we were urged to study logic, geometry and astronomy, let us apply these knowledge to get at the answer.
The answer is quite interesting. The earth’s circumference at the equator is about 25000 miles, or 40000 Km. Given that the earth rotates once in 24 hours, this means that the surface of the earth at the equator is traveling at just over 1000 mph or around 1670 kph. At Jericho, a city which is just south of 32 degree latitude, the speed would be 1000 mph times cosine of 32 degree, which gives a speed of around 850 mph, or 1416 kph. I am sure you all know what happen when a car traveling at 100 kph stops suddenly. Everything in the car that is not held down will jerk forward suddenly. I need not dilate on what would have happened should the earth stopped in its rotation suddenly from a speed of 1000 mph!
Let us now look at the Biblical passages which is the source from which the Second Degree Tracing Board lecture regarding King Solomon’s Temple came.
In 1 Kings 7:13 we read this “Now King Solomon invited and received Hiram from Tyre. He was the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali, whose father, a man of Tyre, had been an artisan in bronze; he was full of skill, intelligence, and knowledge in working bronze. He came to King Solomon, and did all his work.”
And in 1 Kings 7:21 we read this, “And he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the right pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin: and he set up the left pillar, and called the name thereof Boaz.”
Then in 1 Kings 7:23, it says “And he made a molten sea, 10 cubits from the one brim to the other: [it was] round all about, and his height [was] five cubits: and a line of 30 cubits did compass it round about.” 2 Chronicles 4:2 “Also he made a molten sea of 10 cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of 30 cubits did compass it round about.” Clearly, in both Kings and Chronicles, the pillars were described as 10 cubits in diameter and 30 cubits in circumference. But in our Second Degree Tracing Board, there are the words, and I quote verbatim from it: ”…their circumference 12 (cubits), their diameter 4.” Why did the ritual writers changed what was obvious in both Kings and Chronicles from a diameter of 10 cubits to 4 cubits, and a circumference from 30 cubits to 10 cubits? Were the ritual writers trying to draw our attention to these numbers by actually changing them but keeping the ratio between them the same? Whether the circumference was 30 cubits or 12, and the diameter was 10 or 4 respectively, they still gave a value of pi as 3, when we know pi is 3.1416. The ancient Egyptians thought pi was 3.16045, and the Babylonians thought it was 3.125. Both these civilizations had a much more accurate value for pi in 2000 BC than that as recorded in the Bible in King Solomon’s time, which was around 500 B.C.
The Second Degree also points us to another Biblical passage. The story of Jephtha and the Ephraimites was recounted. That story came from Judges 12. In the lecture in our ritual, it just touched on something called the Ammonitish war. How many of you have wondered about the Ammonitish war and wanted to know the events surrounding it? That war was recorded in Judges 11. Between the description of why there was this Ammonitish war and the events associated with the slaughter of the Ephraimites, our ritual left out something. Is the call to use logic and science a call that we should look at the Bible and discover what happened?
Judges11:1-28 described who was Jephtha. We were told that he was an outcast because his mother was a prostitute. We were also told the reason for the war and how the Children of Israel recalled Jephtha to help them fight the war. Judges 12, the next chapter described how the Ephraimites had wanted to partake of the spoils of the victory and how they were punished. But our ritual lecture left out what happened between Judges Chapter 11 verse 29 and verse 40, which is the end of Chapter 11, just before Chapter 12.
This is what’s recorded in Judges 11:29-40 “Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over [unto] the children of Ammon. And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands. And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, [even] twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she [was his] only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back. And she said unto him, My father, [if] thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, [even] of the children of Ammon. And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. And he said, Go. And he sent her away [for] two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her [according] to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, [That] the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.”
In other words, Jephthah made a bargain with God, that should he win the war against the Ammonites, he would offer up as a burnt sacrifice the first living being that greets him on his return to his home. That living being happened to be his daughter.
Are there any more stories in our rituals that came from the Bible?
In the Craft Lodge, there is at least one more, and it raises a moral question.
In the First Degree, there was a story which briefly mentioned David in these words, and I quote, “the many pious prayers and ejaculations of King David, which actually appeased the wrath of God, and stayed a pestilence which then raged among his people, owing to his inadvertently having had them numbered.” This came from 1 Chronicles 21. “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel….And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel. And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly. And the LORD spake unto Gad, David’s seer, saying, Go and tell David, saying, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three [things]: choose thee one of them, that I may do [it] unto thee. So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Choose thee Either three years’ famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh [thee]; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let me fall now into the hand of the LORD; for very great [are] his mercies: but let me not fall into the hand of man. So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men. And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite. And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the LORD stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders [of Israel, who were] clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. And David said unto God, [Is it] not I [that] commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but [as for] these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, O LORD my God, be on me, and on my father’s house; but not on thy people, that they should be plagued. Then the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and set up an altar unto the LORD in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.”
That story was from 1 Chronicle 21:1-14.
In other words, this story was about David having ordered a census of his people, and God was angry at it. 70000 Israelites were then killed in a pestilence sent by God, and God was about to destroy Jerusalem as well when David said to God, “It was I who had done wrong, why punish the innocents. It is I and my family who should be punished, not those innocent people.” This raises a fundamental question of who has a better grasp of the concept of moral responsibility.
Incidentally, in Numbers 1:1-2, it is written “The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai…Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses…” So the taking of census was not in and of itself verboten!
By emphasizing the use of our intellect and coming up with those passages from the Bible in our rituals, are our rituals trying to tell us something? Or am I reading too much into it?
Nobody knows when Freemasonry began. The Grand Lodge of England was formed officially in 1717. But our Craft has definitely existed before then. Various manuscripts have documented the existence of our Craft definitely by the 1600’s. Let us look at the intellectual climate of Europe around that time. Perhaps that could help answer the question posed above, whether I am reading too much into it.
Martin Luther set off the Reformation with his 95 Thesis purportedly nailed to the door of Castle Church in 1517. Galileo published his “Dialogue on the two chief world systems” in 1632 where he argued for the Copernican heliocentric world view, that the earth rotates on its axis and circles the sun at the same time, for which later that year, he was summoned by the Holy Office and was forced to recant from that thesis, or otherwise he would be tortured! At roughly the same time, in central Europe, between the years 1618-1648, the religious wars which started at first between the German Catholic princes against the Protestants but which later engulfed a large part of Europe, came to be known as The Thirty Years’ War.
Henry VIII separated the English Church from Rome. After his daughter Elizabeth I came to the throne, from 1563 on, successive legislation, starting with the (second) Act of Supremacy, required an oath from all subjects that the monarch was the Supreme Governor of the Church and any refusal was punishable by death. Catholics continued their religion in secret and the great houses were equipped with secret rooms where Mass would still be celebrated by priests smuggled in from the Continent and using false names. After her death, James I became king. The situation of the Catholics became worse. A group of conspirators around Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the English Parliament on 5th November 1605.
King Charles I of England was beheaded by Parliament, partly because the Protestant Parliament did not like the Catholic leaning King.
After Charles was beheaded, for a short period, England was ruled as a Puritan commonwealth by Parliament under the control of Cromwell. Shortly after Cromwell’s death, Charles’ son Charles II came back to the throne. Charles II was succeeded by his brother, James II. James II converted to Catholicism and was overthrown by the Protestant Parliament in 1688 in what was known as the Glorious Revolution, when the protestant, William of Orange, the grandson of Charles I by his daughter, was brought to England to become King William I.
In November 1660, after the restoration to the throne of Charles II, the Royal Society, the first scientific society in the world was formed. Up to today, the Royal Society still remains as the premier scientific society in the world. Incidentally, most of the founding members of the Royal Society were Freemasons. The motto of the Society is “Nulius in verba” which means “Nothing by mere authority”. Thus began the Age of Enlightenment. John Locke, one of the founders of the Royal Society, in his 1690 Letters Concerning Toleration argued for the rule of law and the separation of Church and State. There was no hard evidence that he was a mason, however there is on record a letter in which he wrote these words: “Ö for my own part I cannot deny, that it has so much raised my curiosity, as to induce me to enter myself into the fraternity, which I am determined to do (if I may be admitted) the next time I am in London, and that will be shortly.” In any case, he was much influenced by Freemasonry, and he in turn much influenced Voltaire, who was a Mason and was a member of the same lodge as Benjamin Franklin in Paris. Prior to the formation of the Royal Society, the eminent scientists of the day formed what has come to be known as the Invisible College. It was invisible for fear of the Church.
With that brief summary of the history of the period, you can appreciate that in the one hundred or more years before 1717, the official date of the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, Europe was in turmoil. The Church was not too happy with scientific pursuits. Religious wars were rife. The Catholics and the Protestants were at each other’s throats.
In this intellectual, religious and political climate, there existed this group known as the Freemasons. In the rituals of this group of men, they accepted all men of faith, irrespective of them being Protestants or Catholics. This is quite contrary to the teachings of the official Churches, be it Catholic or Protestants. At that time, to be contrary to the Church ran the risk of being put to death in the most unpleasant manner, that of being burnt death. The Church had an absolute stranglehold on people’s minds and any attempt to free it ran the risk of incurring the wrath of the Church. Were our forefathers trying to say, “Use your rational mind, use your rational mind to study religion. If you do so, your mind will be free.” But they couldn’t say it straight out like that. Was that the reason for their having to go in their round about way of saying it?
I will now give one final example of what I think was our Craft’s circuitous way of telling people to use their reasoning power to question religious dogma without actually saying it and running the risk of offending the Powers that were.
I now draw your attention to the Royal Ark Mariner degree. Even though some of you might not be in that degree, you might know that that degree was built around the legend of Noah’s Ark, that’s why it is called the Royal Ark Mariner degree. In that degree, we were told that Noah had a Porphyry Stone. Now whilst in most degrees, all objects mentioned have some moral significance, whereas in the Royal Ark Masonry degree, the mention of the Porphyry Stone has absolutely no moral lessons attached to it. It was mentioned as a given, that according to tradition, Noah had it. Using a search engine to search through the Bible, there was no mention of any Porphyry Stone in Noah’s possession. In fact, the word Porphyry does not exist in the Bible. The Porphyry stone was just added into the degree without Biblical justification or moral significance. Why? From whence has this tradition arisen? Then one day, by chance, while browsing through a bookshop, I came across this passage in a book concerning an Edict issued by Emperor Constantine in AD 333.
“Constantine, Victor, Greatest Augustus, to bishops and laity (The heretic) Arius, having imitated wicked and impious men, deserves to suffer the same loss of privileges as they. Therefore, just as Porphyry, that enemy of piety who put together various illegal works against religion, got his just deserts, so that he was made contemptible forever after and filled full of ill fame, and his impious books have been obliterated, thus too, we now order that Arius and those who agree with him shall be called Porphyrians…and besides this, if any book written by Arius be found, it is to be consigned to the fire, so that not only his corrupt teachings may vanish, but no memory of him at all may remain.”
Who was Porphyry? He was born in 233 AD in Tyre. In his youth he went to Rome and studied under Plotinus. He was a famed Neoplatonist who argued we must use our reasoning power to understand religion. He therefore wrote against the Church’s anti-rational approach. Eusebius, an early bishop of the Church spoke out against him and he was branded as a heretic. This led to Constantine Edict concerning the burning of his books. Porphyry was also a mathematician, having written books on Euclid’s geometry and Pythagorus.
Again, is this a coincidence or am I reading too much into it? Why does the ritual mention something about Noah’s possession of the Porphyry Stone when there was no proof that that was associated with him. The Porphyry Stone is like an invitation to dig deeper into the matter, and digging deeper into the matter, it revealed the same result. Porphyry was branded a heretic because he advocated the use of reason in religion. Did the originator(s) of the Royal Ark Degree chose the Porphyry Stone precisely because of its possible double meaning? To those whose follow the precepts of the Craft Degree would ponder on its significance and come to the correct conclusion. While at the same time, should the Church come to know of it, it couldn’t be accused of heresy like the original Porphyry. Is this possible?
Am I reading too much into our rituals? Are our rituals just meant to be memorized and regurgitated like a parrot? Or,are they meant to be digested and our minds should be at work deciphering its deeper meaning. Both Porphyry and the admonition to learn the Seven Liberal Arts and to make the hidden mysteries of Nature and of Science our studies point in the same direction.
I believe our Craft was at the background of the European Enlightenment that led to the freeing of the European mind from the shackle of the feudal, superstitious Church of the Middle Ages, and which ultimately led to the present flowering of science and technology. It is no coincidence that most of the founding members of the Royal Society were Freemasons.
But all this could just have been my own speculation, or have I hit upon something real? Is this the real secret of Freemasonry?
In a paper written by W. Bro. Harry Carr entitled Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual, he summarized the development of our Craft Rituals. From the Old Charges, which began with the Regius Manuscript c. 1390 and the Cooke Manuscript c. 1410, the ritual consisted of only an Opening Prayer, History of the Craft then a recitation of the Charges including rules of a purely moral character. That’s all. The documents do not say there is only one degree, they simply indicate only one ceremony, never more than one.
The first hint that there were two degrees came in the sixteenth century, in the Harleian Manuscript. In that manuscript, there is one sentence which says, “There is several words and signs of a free mason to be revealed to you…” That was in 1550. A few years later, there are actual minutes that recorded two degrees.
Then in 1696, we have the Edinburgh Register House Manuscript, which is now in the Public Record Office of Edinburgh. Here is recorded a candidate going for two degrees, at the second degree of which he was entrusted with a Word and the FPOF. There was no Hiram legend. He was made a fellow craft or mason.
The first time when there is unequivocal evidence of the Craft having three degrees is in a document called the Trinity College, Dublin, Manuscript, date 1711. It clearly described the sign of the EA and the B… word, then the S of F for the fellowscraft and the J… word, and finally the Master Word. The Hailing Sign did not appear until about 50 years later. The phrase “Entered, Passed, Raised and Conformed” first appeared in 1726 in the Graham Manuscript. By 1730, with Samuel Prichard Masonry Dissected definitely the Three degrees have become well established.
In the Graham Manuscript, the Third Degree instead of describing about Hiram Abiff described how three sons went to their father’s grave. They opened the grave and found the body, which they raised on the five points of fellowship and one of the sons said, “There is yet marrow in his bone.” This story, in 1726, is the earliest raising within a Masonic context, but the person raised was not Hiram, but Noah. The Hiram legend did not come into the ritual until about a few years later.
You can now see how the three degrees came about. It started with the division of the original first degree into two parts, so that the original second degree with its FPOF and a WORD moved up into third place, both the second and third acquiring additional material during the period of change. That was sometime between 1711 and 1725.
You can now see how the history of the evolution of our Craft supports my argument that many of the Biblical passages in the ritual actually dates from the time around the Enlightenment period to suggest in a subtle way the need to intellectually break free from the stranglehold the Church has on the mind of the time, thus freeing the minds and brought about the flourishing of science and technology that we see today.
I therefore can re-instate what I said before. I believe our Craft was at the background of the European Enlightenment that led to the freeing of the European mind from the shackle of the feudal, superstitious Church of the Middle Ages, and which ultimately led to the present flowering of science and technology. It is no coincidence that most of the founding members of the Royal Society were Freemasons.