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E.4.3 The Hiramic Legend of the Third Degree

Legends in which the central figure is sacrificed in the course of his duties and miraculously brought back to life are found in many old religions and Hiram’s story is certainly related to them, but it is not known how it entered

Freemasonry. It could have been brought in from the Rosicrucians and their Legend of the Tomb, but this is not certain. What we know for certain is that many lodges started to work the Hiramic degree around 1730, but nothing is known how it started. The personality, if not the name, of Hiram was known in the Old MS. Charges more than two centuries before, but it was not necessarily associated with a tragic legend. It is not mentioned in the Regius Poem (Halliwell MS.), but it appears in a distorted form in the Cooke MS. of the fifteenth century and in the other manuscripts based on it. From them it is thought that Hiram was the son of King Hiram who helped King Solomon to build his Temple. By the 1610’s the spelling “Hyman” was used. The legends linked with this person are believed to be at the base of the Hiramic Degree and the Royal Arch, as well as of some other additional degrees.

Scholars have reached two conclusions about this legend:

The legend arose inside the English Freemasonry in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries, and became the base of the Third Degree after some rearrangements had taken place in the old two degrees with the additions of new material

  • It was imposed on Freemasonry in the early eighteenth century, possibly after the creation of the Premier Grand Lodge in 1717

There are two accounts of the Hiram’s story in the Bible, but there are not as good, from a Masonic point of view, than the Brethren would like.

  • I Kings v, verses 2-12 and vi, verses 13-40 it is said that Solomon told Hiram, King of Tyre, that he wanted to build a house in the name of God, and that he needed Lebanon cedars. In exchange for wheat and oil King Hiram sent the requested cedar as well as some fir trees to Solomon. Solomon asked Hiram, a citizen of Tyre, the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali and of an ex-brass worker, to come and help build the Temple. Hiram accepted and did all the work that he was asked to do including two pillars
  • II Chronicles ii, verses 3-16; iii, verses 15-17 and iv, verses 11, 12 recall that Solomon told King Huram that he wanted to build a house in the name of God and that he needed a good worker able to work in metals. He also asked for cedar trees, fir trees and algum trees from Lebanon in exchange of wheat, barley, oil and wine. Hurum agrees to send the expert Craftsman named Huram of the tribe of Dan and all the trees requested to Joppa. Solomon had the house built as he wanted with two pillars in front of the Temple.

In Chronicles Hiram becomes Huram of the tribe of Dan whereas in Kings he is from the tribe of Naphtali. In both cases the Craftsman is a metalworker and not a mason or architect although Huram also works stones. Chronicles was written seven hundred years after Kings and this can explain the differences. The two references lead to different interpretations although most scholars accept that Hiram and Huram are the same person. It is not clear, however, if the Biblical Hiram is also the Hiram of the Masonic legend. It could very well be that the name of the biblical character has been given to a legendary person for whom there is no Biblical reference. What is important for the Craft is that the Master Architect died before the Temple was completed. His true identity, when, why, and how the tradition of his death became linked to the legend of king Solomon’s Temple, are of secondary importance.

The earliest reference to the Hiramic tradition is to be found in the 1738 second edition of the Constitutions. Here Masons are told of “the sudden death of their dear Master, Hiram Abif, whom they decently interred in the Lodge near the Temple, according to ancient usage”. In the first edition of 1723 it is said that King Hiram sent to Solomon “his namesake Hiram or Huram, the most accomplished mason on earth”. There is no mention of a tragedy and Anderson, the author of the Constitutions, obviously did not know the Hiramic story as we know it to day. However Anderson links Hiram, the Biblical Master metalworker, with “the most accomplished mason on earth” so dear to the Craft. In other words, it is Anderson who transformed Hiram, the Biblical metalworker, in Solomon’s principal architect in contradiction with the Scriptures. The Old Charges of the sixteenth and seventeenth century say that Solomon’s architect was named Aymon or Aynon. Anderson was familiar with the Old Charges and he changed the name Aymon in Hiram, the name of the Biblical person who participated in the construction of Solomon’s Temple. There is no evidence of the sudden death of Aymon, Solomon’s chief architect according to the Old Charges, or of Hiram, until Anderson introduced it in his Constitutions of 1728. Now Freemasonry calls Solomon’s chief architect, Hiram Abif (or Hiram Abi). He is known this way although Abif really means “his father”. This could come from Chronicles that gives the name as “Huram his father”, father in this case meaning instructor, adviser, counsellor, etc. Abif could also be a title of honour, Hiram being in this case a contraction of “Ahiram” or “Exalted Brother”.

The name of Solomon’s Master architect is unknown, and it is only in Masonic ritual that he has been given the name of Hiram, Solomon’s skilled metal-worker, of whose death the Bible does not tell us anything. There is, however, a Hiram whose sudden death is recorded in the Bible. It is Adoniram (son of Abda and Adon means Master) mentioned in I Kings iv,6, an important person trusted by King Solomon. The same book tells us that this Biblical Master, Hiram, was stoned to death by “all Israel” (xii,18) while on duty. There could have been some confusions between three individuals: Solomon’s architect whose name is unknown; Hiram the metal-worker promoted by Anderson to be Solomon’s main architect; and Adoniram who was stoned to death according to the Bible. This confusion is still present to day.

Most Freemasons believe there were two Hirams: Hiram the King of Tyre and Hiram Abif. Some scholars thought that there were two architects: the father Hiram, or Huram Abif, who was the best, but he died in an accident and his work had to be completed by his son.

The Hiramic legend is very old and, perhaps, had nothing to do with the building of King Solomon’s Temple as it appears in the version adopted by Freemasonry. Why did Freemasonry made Hiram, Solomon’s chief Architect in the construction of the Temple? Although not as imposing as the Egyptian constructions, Solomon’s Temple drew much attention in the Middle Ages, and it influenced the design of the Christian Churches. Solomon’s Temple, in the eyes of the Church and Freemasonry, had been built to the honour and glory of God; it was, in fact, the Temple of God and the story of its construction is one of the great Masonic legends based in the Bible. The operative masons did their best to raise buildings equal or better, and the Accepted or Speculative Masons look at it as a source of inspiration for their legend symbolising the building of a Temple of Living Stones.

English ritual does not name the three assassins, but others do. American rituals call them Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum, all words coming from “ghiblim or giblim”, meaning stonecutter or mason. These words were used initially to describe a Fellowcraft Mason who was also known, in the early eighteenth century, as Giblim.

This legend is not the only one used by the Craft. The Graham MS. has its own centred on Noah, but there are some others, although different, that mention also the name of Hiram. They will not be described here as they are outside the scope of this document.

The legend of Hiram is to be put together with the many mysteries in which a god, a superior being, or an extraordinary man suffers death that leads him, through resurrection, to a more glorious existence. In Masonry the Candidate to the Third degree is taught that death has no terrors equal to falsehood and dishonour.

The phrase “the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason” is thought to have its origin in Ireland in 1754. It was first used in England in 1762, but it only became of general use after the creation of the Premier Grand Lodge, more probably at the end of the eighteenth century, and it is due to “Antients” influence. In Scotland of the eighteenth century, the Third degree was generally known as “the High Degree of a Master Mason”.