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B.9.2 The Biblical Background

King Solomon’s beautiful Temple did not last long as his country was surrounded by Pagan people, and even the Jews erred from time to time in idolatry. After Solomon’s death ten of the twelve tribes formed their own kingdom with Samaria its capital. The remaining two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, held Jerusalem. For many centuries this proved to be a difficult task because, due to the war between Egypt and Assyria, Palestine was very often invaded. The First invaders, the Egyptians sacked Jerusalem and stole the gold from the Temple; then the Kingdom of Samaria fell in 722 BC to become an Assyrian province and the Ten Tribes were taken captive, while in the meantime Jerusalem remained peaceful. Eighty years later Josiah repaired and refurbished the Temple, which led Hilkiah to find the Book of the Law in the House of the Lord.

Zerubbabel was a governor of Judah (Haggai 1:1...
Zerubbabel was a governor of Judah (Haggai 1:1) and the grandson of Jehoiachin, penultimate king of Judah. (Wikipedia)

In 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem, stole the Temple’s treasures once more, and took the two faithful tribes of Judah and Benjamin captive to Babylon. In Babylon the Jews were able to form worshipping congregations that kept alive their old religion. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom did not last long and was taken by the Medes and the Persians. Seventy years after the Jews were taken in exile, Cyrus the Persian took Babylon and allowed the Jews of the two faithful tribes to go back to Palestine, and to rebuilt the city and the temple of Jerusalem. Only a few Jews went back in 537 BC under the leadership of Sheshbazzar. Seventeen years later many more followed led by Zerubbabel (pictured right), but they could only live outside Jerusalem as the town had been taken over by tribes of mixed blood. However they were able to rebuilt the Temple that was dedicated in 516 BC and the stolen treasures came back from Babylon. Haggai the Prophet travelled to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and he exhorted the Jews to resume the reconstruction of the Temple whose work had been stopped for fourteen years due to the actions of the hostile tribes living near by. The walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt under the Governor Nehemiah to defend the city against the Samaritans who were upset because their offer of helping rebuilding the Temple had been rejected by the two faithful tribes although they were Jewish too. The people of Jerusalem had to wear their sword while working on reconstructing the Temple and the city walls. The trowel and the sword became their symbols, that would be taken over by the Templars in the twelve century AD.

During this period some priests who had remained in Babylon wrote down the ritual laws which had regulated the Temple worship before. This document was more elaborate that the Deuteronomy laws; it gave instruction on Temple service, Sabbath-keeping, … The result of their work is the priestly code given in parts of Exodus, Numbers and Leviticus. Ezra took it to Jerusalem and set out to create a Jewish nation. The Jews who became known as “the People of the Book” accepted it.

This second Temple had also a troubled history. It was plundered, profaned, dedicated to Jupiter until, in 168 BC, Judas Maccabeus rededicated it to the Jewish religion. However after his death the Romans under Pompey entered the Temple and the Holy of Holies and, in 54 BC, Crassus stole everything of value. It was dedicated again but, soon after, Herod the Great besieged Jerusalem and destroyed once more the Temple. He allowed the priests to rebuild the Holy of Holies but, on the site, he built his own new Temple that bore his name.

The story of the Jerusalem Temple provides much of the background of the Royal Arch ritual, but with some distortions. In the ritual the name of Zerubbabel, Joshua and Haggai are associated in the rebuilding of the Temple in the reign of Cyrus, but it is well known that Zerubbabel alone was involved. These three people collaborated later on at the time of Darius. Zachariah was working with Haggai, but the ritual ignores him. Ezra and Nehemiah are associated in the ritual although they appeared in Jerusalem at different times, and they did not reconstruct the Temple walls, but the city walls. It is also said in the ritual that the Sojourners reported to the Sanhedrin, but this body did not exist at that time.

The Supreme Judicial Council of the Jews was the Sanhedrin or Sanhedrim, which means “Council” in Greek. According to the tradition the Sanhedrin dates from Moses, but it is more reasonable to believe that it was created at the time of Judas Maccabeus (second century BC) and lasted until about 425 AD. It was the supreme place of judgement and was also known as “Beth Din”, the House of judgement. Its members were high priests and other learned men engaged in sacred duties. Its chief officer was a prince and the office became hereditary in the later days. The Sanhedrin was a State council and a legislature that interpreted traditions, religious laws, and regulations; it was a parliament with responsibility for military decisions, a high court of Justice, and it met daily except on the Sabbath and feast days. The New Testament called its seventy members “Elders”, as they were men of high position and standing. The president came in addition to that number. The Sanhedrin was usually sitting in a hall near the great gate of the Temple.

The number of Companions in addition to the Principals and Scribes in a Royal Arch Chapter is, in theory, limited at seventy-two and, if it is exceeded, the Companions in excess may not bear the staff of office. This limitation goes back at least to 1778 when, in the “Antients” chapters, there were Three Principals, two Scribes, three Sojourners and seventy-two others. The premier Grand Chapter adopted this number too. It is not known why the Royal Arch came to say that the Sanhedrin had seventy-two members, unless we remember that this number has some cabalistic significance to some people.

Although many people disagree, the English and Irish traditional histories and ceremonies are more or less the same, they only differ on question of details. In both ceremonials a part of the early Sacred Law is among the traditional discoveries and, if only for this reason, the two rituals are similar in philosophy and teaching. However the qualifications of the candidates are not the same and this prevents the members to transfer directly from an Irish chapter to an English one, and vice versa. The English legend deals with the rebuilding of the Second Temple by Zerubbabel, and the Irish to the repairing of Solomon’s Temple by Josiah. The recent discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, not too far away from Solomon’s Temple, is rather similar to the discovery, in the past, of the Book of the Law. The documents found date from the first century AD and even from before, and they throw a new light on the early Christian history, the importance of which is not yet clear to all.

The Ineffable Name, the name that cannot be uttered, will only be mentioned here. The early people and the Jews attached a great importance to this name, and the Royal Arch Masons use it predominantly in their traditional history and rituals. The Scriptures record that it was to Moses that God first revealed His Holy Name, and one of the descendants of David was ordered to “build a house for my Name”. The ritual of the Royal Arch Masons states that the sacred name was mentioned only once a year by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. The “Old Testament” says that the “name” is the quintessence of God, the essential part, the purest, and most perfect form. In the Royal Arch Masonry the Ineffable name has been revered, and even associated, with the Word. The Hebrews, as well as the early people, treated the name of a deity as his manifestation. Some of them had beneficent powers, but many were evil. The Jews, after coming back from their exile in Babylon, had such a great respect for the power of a name that they decided to have two family names. The first one was used for civil affairs and the other for sacred or religious business in the synagogue and in Hebrew documents. Among the Jews the Ineffable name was pronounced only by a few wise men. Later on, in medieval days, the “Master of the Name” was a Jew who knew the sacred vowels of the word “Jehovah”. This knowledge was thought to give that person magical powers.

The word “Ineffable” is of Latin origin and means something that cannot be, or may not be, spoken out. This explains the attitude of the Jews in relation to the Divine Name. The “incommunicable name” is often used for the name of the Deity; that is a name that cannot be communicated to, or shared, with anybody. The Royal Arch ritual gives the impression that the pronunciation of the Sacred Name has been prohibited from the beginning of time but, in fact, the date of this interdiction is unknown. It could have been prohibited since the construction of the second Temple, and the interdiction should last until the Solomon’s temple is finally reconstructed.

The early people had many names to describe the Deity. The Jews used names expressing His attributes in easy-to-understand terms such as the Rock, the Merciful, the Just, and the Mighty. Other names described the qualities of the Deity such as the Almighty, the Eternal, and the Most High. The highest form of the Deity’s name is the Ineffable Name of four letters known as “Tetragrammaton”, written as Y H V H or, in a slightly modified form, “Adonai”. The Tetragrammaton is an attempt to signify God in His immutable and eternal existence, the Being Who is self-existent and gives existence to others, and it associates all three tenses -past, future and present. The Ineffable name cannot be used in ordinary conversation even when it appears in Sacred Writ or in Liturgy. When the name appears by itself the Jews use the substitute word “Adonai” (the Lord) and, when Y H V H appears with the word Adonai, the Jews use the word “Elohim” (God) in place of the Tetragrammaton. These two substitutive words can be used instead of the Ineffable Name in Liturgy or Holy Writ, but anywhere else the word is not pronounced at all if possible. However if the name of God is to be mentioned in a conversation, then the Jews use the word “Hashem” (the Name). The absence of vowels in written Hebrew led to mistakes in the pronunciation of certain words. The Jewish scholars known as Massoretes introduced a system of vowels and accents to keep inviolate the interpretation of the Scriptures. In this way the Tetragrammaton became Ye-Ho-VaH and later on, in Western languages, Jehovah, but the exact pronunciation is uncertain.

The word Jehovah, borrowed from the Old Testament, is used as an appellation for Christ. Some Jews of the Middle Ages have thought that Jesus Christ derived his power from the Incommunicable Name that he had taken out of the Temple, to use for his own ends. The Ineffable Name soon acquired some Christian importance and it was widely used in the early Royal Arch ceremonies. The Tetragrammaton contained within a triangle is often displayed in the chapters and on the aprons, and the Church used it in the sixteenth century.