Hiram Abif is the central character of the most important legend of Freemasonry. He is known under different names, among others, Churam Abi (2 Chronicle ii, 13), Churam Abiv (2 Chronicle iv, 16), Churam Abif (translation of the Bible by Luther), and finally Hiram Abif in the Anderson’s Constitutions. All Masons to day use this name. Ab in Hebrew means father, i means my, and in, iv or if means his. In consequence, Hiram Abif means “Hiram his father”. However the word father is also used by the Hebrews as a term of honour or pre-eminence, even Master sometimes. Hiram Abif was probably selected by the King of Tyre to go and help King Solomon because he was a very skilful artificer, able to do things for the Temple that very few could do. He was a Master of his Art and for this reason he received the title of “father”. To the King of Tyre he was known as Hiram Abi or “my father” meaning my counsellor or Master Craftsman; to King Solomon he was Hiram Abif or “his father”, meaning the King of Tyre’s head Craftsman.
King Solomon wanted to fulfil his father David’s wish by building a Temple in Jerusalem where to worship Jehovah. Unfortunately, the Jews had not the competence required, and Solomon had to ask his ally Hiram, the King of Tyre, to help him with suitable timber and qualified workers in exchange for oil, corn and wine. Among the workers sent to Jerusalem was Hiram Abif, a Master Craftsman. The medieval Masons knew part of the legend but they did not know the name of the Master Craftsman, or his real qualifications. The legend is not mentioned in the Halliwell M.S. but it is alluded to in the Cooke M.S., although with some errors that were repeated in the following manuscripts. The name Hiram Abif appears for the first time in his present day form in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723. Anderson introduces a new story in the legend by saying that King Solomon was Grand Master of the Lodge at Jerusalem, King Hiram was Grand master of the Lodge at Tyre, and Hiram Abif was Master of Work. In the second edition of his Constitutions published in 1738, Anderson enlarges even more the legend that reached then the form, which we know to day.
According to Anderson there were three Grand Masters at the time of the building of the Jerusalem Temple: King Solomon of Israel, King Hiram of Tyre, and Hiram Abif who was also the architect, or chief builder, of the Temple. Freemasonry in its present form, as well as in its older legend, has transformed Hiram Abif’s story from that of a skilful metal artisan, or “smith”, into an architect and builder. In the Old Legend he is described as a “Master of Geometry and of all Masonry”, and in the modern Masonic ritual he is presented as “the Builder” who supervised the construction of the Jerusalem Temple.
The “smith”, the man who made the weapons for the knights and foot soldiers as well as the jewels for their women, the agricultural tools, and household utensils was an important person in his time. His usefulness as an artificer extended to the Middle Ages and, during that time, he was revered as a semi-god if no more. For all these reasons his figure appears in most rituals of the secret societies of the Middle Ages, and it has been adopted by the Freemasons of the operative branch as well as by the speculative Masons. The smith had his place in the Legend of the Craft mentioned in most old manuscript Constitutions of the Operative Masons. The Speculative Masons replaced the Legend of the Craft by the Legend of the Temple in which Hiram Abif, a metal artisan as well as Master Mason, occupies a pro-eminent place. In the Masonic Revival of the beginning of the eighteenth century, Hiram Abif is only described as the Chief Mason and Architect of the Temple, his qualification as a metal worker being forgotten. However, according to the Bible, that in this case can be regarded as historically true, Hiram Abif was above all a skilled metal worker and jeweller who is recorded there to have built the two sculpted pillars of the Temple, as well as many other ornaments. In other words, he was the decorator of the Temple. That he was also a Master Mason and Architect is not supported by any historical evidence.
In any case Hiram Abif’s place in the ritual of the Craft remains what it is, and no Freemason would ever think of changing it. For them, he is the Master Builder and the Architect of the Temple and, if this is no supported by any historical evidence, it is really too bad. That their rituals are based on history, legend, or tradition does not affect their view of him as the master workman who had the trust of two kings. In the symbolism of Freemasonry Hiram Abif is the representative of the abstract idea of man working in the temple of life. (13)