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C.3.5 The Temple Legend

This Legend, or Tradition, traces the origin of Freemasonry to the Temple of Solomon and to its Jewish and Tyrian builders. Most Freemasons now accept this legend. The origin of this theory is found in the Legend of the Craft that describes the building of Solomon’s Temple, and its prominent importance to the Medieval Masons. In any case this theory is anterior to the revival era of Freemasonry in the beginning of the eighteenth century; it was known and accepted by the Operative Masons of the Middle Ages.

The first references in the old records that the Temple of Solomon is at the origin of Freemasonry are found in the Cooke M.S. and in the Dowland M.S. They state that, at the time of the construction of the Temple of Solomon there was an Organisation of Masons with Charges, that is Laws and Customs, and that Solomon was helped by the King of Tyre and one of his skilful artist. The legend is repeated with more details, taken mainly from the Book of King, in all the other manuscripts and Constitutions, including those of Anderson. Preston, on the contrary, does not refer directly to this legend but Hutchinson and Oliver, although claiming an earlier origin for the Craft, mention it in details.

At the present time the Legend is still very much accepted, and it is generally understood in the following way. As there were no expert builders or architects in Palestine at that time, King Solomon asked the help of the King of Tyre, Hiram. The King sent him the necessary workers and material, as well as a good artist known as Hiram Abif, which translates as “Hiram his father”. King Solomon organised the workers in an institution similar to that used in Freemasonry these days. The classification of the workers, which has been adopted in the rituals of modern Freemasonry, derives in part from the Scripture, and in part from tradition. King Solomon presided over the workers as Grand master in Jerusalem, King Hiram did the same at Tyre, and Hiram Abif was the Master of Work or Deputy Grand Master.

Out of all the written and oral legends and traditions of the past the Freemasons have created a Legend that exists in all the Masonic rituals. This Legend must have been created in London soon after the Revival of 1717 since it has been adopted by all the lodges that derive their Masonry from the Grand Lodge of England. According to this legend there were 153,300 workmen working on the construction of the Temple. Of those, 3,300 were overseers who were promoted to the rank of Master Masons after the completion of the Temple. In addition, there were 80,000 Fellow Crafts and 70,000 Entered Apprentices, as well as three Grand Masters, Solomon, King Hiram and Hiram Abif. Those three were the only Master Masons at the time of the construction, and in possession of the secrets of the Third Degree. All of them had their own lodges: one for the three Master Masons, 16,000 for the Fellow Crafts with five members in each, and 10,000 for the Entered Apprentices with seven members in each.

There is no historical evidence to show that these figures are correct. They have been chosen in accordance with the symbolic character of some sacred numbers in Masonry: three, five and seven. It is true that King Solomon built a Temple in Jerusalem with the help of the King of Tyre who sent him the necessary material and an artist who became the Master of Work. Solomon hired Masons from many lands whom he organised into a body (a society, a corporation or a guild?) to which he gave a system of laws and customs for their government. However the claim that Freemasonry originated at the building of the Temple is not supported by historical evidence. The hypothesis mentioned in the Legend of the Craft that it started when Nimrod erected the Tower of Babel, or in Egypt at the time of Euclid, are not proved either. It is not known why the hypothesis of the Temple was retained by modern Freemasonry. The only justification is based on the fact that the Medieval Operative Masons worked mainly for the Church, and the hypothesis of the Temple was the one closer to religion, and to their job as cathedral builders.