Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library
Let us go back in history to the year 965 BCE when Solomon succeeded David as King of the United Israelite Kingdom of the Twelve Tribes. A year later Solomon ordered the start of preparations for the construction of the First Temple. Hiram, King of Tyre, a good friend of both he and his father, had already volunteered to help him with the temple construction. Hiram, King of Tyre, was the son of Abibal, and the contemporary of both David and Solomon. David during his reign had asked Hiram for cedars, carpenters, and masons; and they had built David a house. Nearly forty years afterward, when Solomon ascended the throne, and began to prepare for the building of the Temple, he sent to the old friend of his father for the same kind of assistance. The two kings sealed their agreement with prayers together on Mount Moriah, and the construction of the great Temple began.

Let me now take you to a visit to the temple.

As you reach the Temple, you notice the two pillars on the porch way. The left pillar is named Boaz and the right one is called Jachin. The pillars are more than eight meters high, and are made of brass. They are huge and weigh about 40 tonnes each. The pillars have been built by the legendry Master Hiram Abif, the widow’s son, who was a great artificer in brass and other metals.

You cross the two pillars and enter. You come across winding stairs. As you enter you notice that the stairs have a set of three steps, followed by a set of five steps, and finally a set of seven steps. Thus there are fifteen steps. This odd number of steps is not without purpose. The purpose is that you are supposed to start with your left foot, so that when you reach the entrance of the temple, you step out there with your left foot. A convention which has not lost any significance with the passage of time.

The first three steps allude to the three great lights of freemasonry, viz., the Square, the Compass and the Volume of Sacred Laws. It also allude to the three lesser rights of freemasonry, viz., the Sun, the Moon and the Master of the Lodge.

The next five steps allude to the five senses of men. Reminding us to exercise due control over the senses. It also alludes to the five architectural orders, viz., Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite. Each Order had its specialization and you could see the workmanship of each of such Order in the Temple. They also allude to the five points of fellowship.

The last set of seven steps allude to the seven liberal arts and sciences, viz., grammar, logic,rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astrology. It reminds you that you are expected to keep improving your skills in these seven disciplines. Grammar, so that you can express yourself properly. Logic, in order that you can distinguish good from bad, and can take a reasoned decision when faced with a dilemma. Rhetoric, because it beautifies your language, arithmetic, because a Mason needs to be calculative in his action, geometry, because the whole science of Temple construction depends upon geometry, music, so that when you shift from labour to refreshment, you are able to appreciate the beauty of life, which is best expressed in terms of music, and astrology , because it helps you know the day, and night, to know when to begin the work, and when to stop, to understand the seasons and to know the total area of jurisdiction of the Great Architect of the Universe.

As you reach the outer door, you find that the door is half open, but is close tyled by the Junior Warden, who demands a password. After due satisfaction, you are allowed to enter. There is one more door to be crossed, credentials to be established again, and the password to be given again to the Senior Warden who lets you in the Middle Chamber.

As you enter, you see great light emanating from the letter G which is hanging at the Eastern side. The light is so intense that you find it difficult to see any other thing. As your eyes slowly get accustomed to the dazzling light, you notice King Solomon standing on the East together with Hiram, the King of Tyre,and Hiram Abif holding the registers in their hands. They inspect the register and calculate the wages due to you. The wages are paid to you in the form of corn, oil and wine. Corn to feed you, wine to help you charge your energies, and the oil to apply on your body.

Having taken your wages, you salute King Solomon, and withdraw from the Lodge, with a promise to return again whenever summoned.

ORIGINS OF THE TEMPLE

A knowledge of the predecessors of King Solomon's temple at Jerusalem helps to establish a true appreciation of the significance of the two great pillars at its porch or entrance. The temple must be seen in its historical perspective and its importance in the lives of the people of that era must be understood. Because of Egypt's role in the history of the Hebrews, as well as the cultural and intellectual links between the two nations before and during the construction of the temple at Jerusalem, it had always been thought that the model on which the temple was based must have been of Egyptian origin. However, archaeological excavations carried out since the 1930s in Iraq, Syria and the Levant generally, now provide strong evidence that the temple built by King Solomon was not of Egyptian heritage, but that it belonged in a direct line of tradition that had been established long before in the countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean. There is evidence that significant changes in human attitudes to the divinity were being brought about by this tradition during the 2,000 years preceding the construction of the temple at Jerusalem.

The first temple to be discovered in this line of tradition was a small sanctuary adjacent to the ancient royal palace at Tell Ta'Yinat in northern Syria, which was excavated during the early 1930s. During the 1950s a Canaanite temple in the same tradition was discovered during the excavation of the ancient lower city of Hazor in northern Palestine. The city had only been occupied for about 500 years, when it was destroyed and burnt some 500 years before the construction of the temple at Jerusalem, but it was never inhabited again. During the 1970s, excavations on the banks of the Euphrates River at Lake el-Assad, revealed four similar temples at Emar that had been constructed between 200 and 400 years before the temple at Jerusalem. Other temples of similar design have since been discovered at Ebla and Moumbaqat in Syria, predating the temple at Jerusalem by about 800 years. The oldest known temples of this type so far discovered are three at Tell Chuera, in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains of Asia Minor, all dating from around 2500 BC. These temples are not like Egyptian temples of that period, but have characteristics similar to those of King Solomon's temple, being elongated about 3:1 in plan and subdivided into compartments, with a single entrance at the eastern end of the building and a holy place at the western end.

Notwithstanding the similarities in the temple layouts in Palestine and Syria, it is evident from the diversity of their dimensions and details that King Solomon's temple was not copied from a single design, but rather that it followed a general type that allowed for a logical progression from the profane outside world to the sacred inner sanctum. The deep significance of this is reflected in the Bible by the names given to the various parts of the temple. The main features of the temple at Jerusalem were: the ulam, the porch or entrance at the eastern end fronted by two columns; the ulam opened into the hekhal, the hall for daily worship, presentation of offerings, divine service and the performance of the ritual; the hekhal gave entrance to the debir at the western end, which was the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and where God was said to dwell.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

When man first emerged from his Stone Age existence and learnt to erect primitive shelters, he developed a desire to build shrines or temples wherein he could worship the supreme being in his own "house". Modern research, supported by archaeological discoveries in the countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean, indicate that the original Tower of Babel probably would have been in existence by about 4800 BC. It is the first structure mentioned in the Bible and is named after Babel, one of the chief cities founded by Nimrod in the land of Sumer, or ancient Babylon. No direct archaeological evidence has yet been found to confirm the existence of a city and tower at Babylon before about 1800EBC, but a text of Sharkalisharri, the king of Agade about 2250 BC, mentions his restoration of the temple-tower or ziggurat at Babylon, which implies the existence of an earlier sacred city on the site. It is now believed that the ziggurat built by Ur-Nammu, the king of Ur about 2100 BC, replaced much earlier Towers of Babel. These ziggurats comprised a series of superimposed platforms, each from about 10 to 20 metres in height and progressively diminishing in area, which were surmounted by a temple to which it was thought that God would descend to communicate with mankind. Access to the temple was gained by a series of ramps or stairways.

Abraham was born Abram, high father, probably around 1900EBC in Ur of the Chaldees. He was a son of Terah and a descendant of Shem, who became the ancestor of the Hebrew race. Abram lived in idolatrous times, but believed in one God. He was a man of outstanding faith and was known as the "Friend of God". When his father died, Abram moved to Harran in the far north of Syria, where he received God's call at the age of 75, when Yahweh promised him the whole of the land south-west of the Euphrates River. He then journeyed into Canaan where he rescued Lot, defeated the Amorites and met Melchizedek. God renewed his covenant with Abram, who then changed his name to Abraham, father of a multitude. Within a year of this event Abraham was 100, when his son Isaac was born, but he lived for another 75 years. Famine in Canaan and the Negeb was the reason why Isaac's son Jacob, known as the "father of the chosen people", led the Israelites into Egypt. The migration into Egypt was at the invitation of Jacob's son Joseph, who had been sold into slavery in Egypt many years before, but later became a viceroy there. Moses, the great leader and lawgiver who delivered the Israelites to within reach of the promised land of their forefathers, was born in Egypt when a decree was in force commanding the slaying of all male Hebrew children. He was saved by the compassion of the daughter of the Pharaoh, possibly Queen Hatshepshut who later assumed the throne of Egypt. Moses was born into the tribe of Levi, who were priests from birth.

The Israelites had lived for about 430 years in the delta area of Egypt and were being subjected to increasing hardship and oppression, when they fled under the leadership of Moses around 1280 BC. During their Exodus the Israelites led a semi-nomadic existence, wandering through the wilderness of Sinai and the desert lands of Edom for 40 years, before finally crossing the Jordan River and reaching their "promised land". Because of their wanderings the Patriarchs could not build a permanent shrine for worship, as had been the custom in every city in Mesopotamia even before Abraham had left there in answer to God's call. Early in their wanderings the Israelites had lapsed into idolatry, when Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai and received the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments, which were regarded as the "title deed" of Israel's covenant with God. It was then that God commanded Moses to construct a portable shrine and the Ark of the Covenant. The Tabernacle was the portable sanctuary, or "tent of congregation", in which the Ark of the Covenant was kept and in which it was said that "God dwelt among the Israelites" in the desert. However, the Tabernacle continued to be used as the provisional meeting place of God and his people long after the entry of the Israelites into Canaan. Under the Judges it was at Shiloh and in Saul's reign it was first at Nob and later at Gibeon.

When King David had consolidated his power and built a permanent palace for himself, the lack of a permanent shrine of Yahweh seemed invidious to him. It is recorded in the New English Bible version of 2 Samuel 7, verse 2 that King David said: "Here I live in a house of cedar, while the Ark of God is housed in curtains". However, it is recorded in I Chronicles 22, verse 8, that the Lord forbade King David from building the temple because his hands were stained with the blood of his enemies, but said he would have a son, Solomon, who would be known as a "Man of Peace" and build the temple. Nevertheless King David purchased the site of the temple, the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. It was within the area now called Haram es-Sherif on Mount Moriah, at the eastern side of the "Old City" of Jerusalem. The precise location is uncertain, but it is believed that the highest part of the rock, which is now occupied by the mosque known as The Dome of the Rock, probably was the site of the Holy of Holies. King David also gathered treasure and collected materials for the building of the temple, which he entrusted to his son and successor, the wise King Solomon. It also is recorded in 1 Chronicles 22, verse 6, that when King David was on his deathbed "He sent for Solomon his son and charged him to build a house for the Lord the God of Israel".

THE TEMPLE

King Solomon commenced the actual construction of the temple in the fourth year of his reign and completed it seven years later, around 950 BC. He had entered into a treaty with Hiram King of Tyre, whereby Hiram permitted Solomon to obtain cedar and cypress wood and blocks of stone from Lebanon. Furthermore, Solomon's workmen were permitted to fell the timber and quarry and hew the stones under the direction of Hiram's skilled workmen. In addition, Solomon also had the services of a skilled Tyrian artisan named Huram, who took charge of the castings and the manufacture of the more valuable furniture and furnishings of the temple. In return, Solomon sent supplies of wheat, oil and wine to Hiram. The temple building at Jerusalem was 60 cubits long and 20 cubits wide, with it axis oriented east-west. It comprised the ulam or porch at the eastern end, which was 10 cubits along the axis of the temple and 20 cubits wide. The porch gave entrance to the hekhal or Holy Place, which was 40 cubits along the axis of the temple and 20 cubits wide. Contrary to popular perception, the Holy Place was accessible only to the priests. Members of the public were only admitted to the surrounding courtyards, according to their status. At the western end the debir, the inner sanctuary or Holy of Holies, was a perfect cube of 20 cubit sides. The Holy of Holies probably was accessible only to the high priest during the atonement ceremony, once a year.

There can be no doubt that King Solomon's temple at Jerusalem was a magnificent edifice, surpassing anything that had preceded it. It was noted for the lavish beauty of its detail and finish, not for its size. The stone walls were lined inside with cedar carved with cherubim, palms, garlands and opening flowers. The ceilings also were lined with cedar and the floor was planked with cypress. The floor, walls and ceiling were all overlaid with thin plates of gold. The Holy of Holies was separated from the Holy Place by double doors of cypress and screened with a veil. The doors probably were left at least partly open to provide light, because there were no windows in the inner sanctuary. Within the Holy of Holies there were two cherubim carved from olive wood and overlaid with gold, standing 10 cubits high with the tips of their outstretched wings touching over the Ark of the Covenant. The Holy Place was lit by latticed windows near the ceiling in the north and south walls.

The temple proper was surrounded on the north, west and south by chambers three stories high, which served as storerooms, offices and possibly also as accommodation for the priests. There was no entrance to these chambers from inside the temple, but an external door on the south side of the chambers, near the eastern end, gave access to an internal spiral staircase to the upper floors. The whole structure was on a platform elevated above the terraced courtyards that completely surrounded it. The priests gained access to the porch of the temple by ten steps from the upper or inner court, which was raised above the great or outer court that surrounded it, requiring eight steps to ascend. The brazen altar, brazen sea and the lavers were in the upper court, where the sacrifices and other ceremonials took place, which the public in the outer court could watch, but they could not mingle with the participants. The outer court also was raised above the general environment, requiring seven steps to ascend. The courts were enclosed within walls made of three courses of hewn stone, surmounted by a row of cedar beams. It appears that porticos and vestibules were provided at the entrance gates to the outer court.

THE PILLARS

King Solomon set up the two great pillars, one on each side of the porch. The pillars were free standing and did not support a porch roof. Viewing them from within the Holy Place, whilst looking through the door towards the east, King Solomon named the right pillar Jachin (at the south-east corner of the temple) and the left pillar Boaz (at the north-east corner of the temple). The pillars were hollow, 18 cubits high and four fingers thick. The suggestion that they were used as archives to store the constitutional rolls is an embellishment that is not founded on fact. They were cast hollow to save scarce materials and reduce their weight. Each pillar was surmounted by a double capital having a combined height of 5 cubits, probably cast in two parts. The lower part, or chapiter, was lotus work comprising four opened and everted petals, each 4 cubits wide. The upper part, or capital, was a bowl rather than a sphere and did not represent either of the then known terrestrial and celestial spheres as is usually stated. Modern research indicates that the bowl surmounting each pillar probably was a vessel to contain oil which could be ignited and would burn steadily. Archaeological investigations reveal that similar decorated pillars were used in Palestine and Cypress during the period 1000 BC to 900 BC. The bases of similar pillars have been uncovered at the sites of the temples at Hazor and Tell Ta'Yinat, which also had two columns at their entrances. Herodotus 484-425EBC, the Greek historian known as the "Father of History", also described two great pillars near the temple of Hercules at Tyre which "shone at night".

The Tyrians cast the hollow columns vertically in moulds dug in the ground, using the "lost wax" method that had been developed by the Assyrians during the Bronze Age, in the time of Sennacherib probably around 1200EBC. Using this method the outer mould is formed concentrically around an inner mould of sand or other suitable material that is coated with wax which melts away and allows the casting to be removed when it has cooled. As these pillars were common in Syria, Phoenicia and Cyprus at that time, the Tyrians undoubtedly would have had a great influence on the design of the pillars for the temple at Jerusalem. These immense fire altars or incense stands were similar to their Phoenician counterparts and would have illuminated the facade of the temple on Mount Moriah at night, whilst also catching the first glint of sunrise in Jerusalem and producing a cloud of dark smoke during the day.

The two great pillars were completed and dedicated before the completion of the temple. It is often said that they were named to enshrine the memory of King David's ancestry through his maternal line because Jachin occurs as a Simeonite name and also in a priestly family, as well as through his paternal line because Boaz, a wealthy landowner of Bethlehem, was the great grandfather of David. However, it has been shown convincingly that the names of the pillars were the key words of oracles who sought to bestow power on the dynasty of David and to express Solomon's gratitude to the Almighty prior to the dedication of the temple, using words such as: "Yahweh will establish (yakin) thy throne for ever" and "In Yahweh is the king's strength (boaz)". The two great pillars at the entrance to King Solomon's temple at Jerusalem have also been interpreted as sacred obelisks with their blazing, smoking wicks recalling to the worshippers the pillars of fire and cloud that led Israel of old through the wilderness.

LATER HISTORY

In ancient times, temples not only were the focus of religious activity, but often were the real centres of power in a region, especially when the priesthood was in the ascendancy. Temples also served as state treasuries, being filled with booty when the nation was powerful and overrunning its enemies, or emptied to pay tributes to its overlords when in a state of oppression. The temple constructed by King Solomon at Jerusalem was no exception. During the long period of affluence when King Solomon was at peace with the neighbouring peoples, but used forced labour and imposed excessive taxation to carry out his building projects, huge quantities of treasure were accumulated in the temple. Rehoboam, King Solomon' son by the Ammonite princess Naamah, assumed power around 930 BC. Spurred on by hotheaded contemporaries, Rehoboam told the people that they would be taxed and punished even more severely than before, which brought an end to the loose confederation of tribes that ostensibly had been a united kingdom. Ten of the twelve tribes revolted under the leadership of Jeroboam, who previously had incurred the wrath of Solomon. Jeroboam became the first king of the kingdom of Israel in the north.

Rehoboam remained king of the kingdom of Judah, based in Jerusalem. As he feared the interests of Shishak, the king of Egypt who had encouraged Jeroboam in his activities, Rehoboam fortified the cities of Judah, including Bethlehem. Judah also was strengthened by an influx of priests and Levites who had deserted the northern kingdom in protest against the breakdown in religious practises that had become prevalent there. Rehoboam and his subjects prospered for a time, until idolatrous practises gradually corrupted their worship of God, when around 925 BC Shishak raided the temple and the palace, took all the treasures of Jerusalem as a tribute and established his rule over the land, as recorded in I Kings 14, verses 25-28. The prophet Shemaiah pointed out that these calamities had occurred because the nation had sinned in the sight of God, which led Rehoboam and his people to repent. When Shishak departed several years later the worship of God was restored. Rehoboam was not a great king and his reign was marked by sporadic wars with the northern kingdom, which continued until his death around 915 BC. Nevertheless, he was buried among the "good kings" in the city of David.

Later kings used accumulated treasure to purchase the friendship of allies, or to pay tribute to buy off invaders, including Hezekiah during some thirteen years when he was co-regent with Ahaz. Hezekiah became the sole king of Judah around 715 BC and became one of its most outstanding kings, renowned for his exceptional piety, his measures for religious reform and his vigorous political activities. He reopened the temple, cleansed it of everything that made it unfit for use and restored true worship. He also reaffirmed the ancient covenant between Yahweh and Israel and reestablished the celebration of the Passover on an unprecedented scale, which at his invitation was attended by many Israelites from the northern kingdom. Hezekiah is also renowned for building a reservoir and tunnel to supply fresh water to within the city walls of Jerusalem, as recorded in II Kings 20, verse 20 and in II Chronicles 32, verse 30. Mannaseh, the son of Hezekiah, was co-regent with his father for the last ten years of his father's reign until Hezekiah died, probably around 685 BC.

After Hezekiah there were idolatrous kings who desecrated the temple and allowed it to fall into decay until the time of Josiah, more than three centuries after the construction of the temple, when it was in need of extensive repairs which had to be financed by contributions from the worshippers. Josiah carried out an even more thorough reformation than that of Hezekiah, which included the destruction of all the "high places" that had been used in idolatrous worship. He eliminated every vestige of heathen worship and reinstated the celebration of the Passover at a level that surpassing even that of Hezekiah. Josiah died in battle at Megiddo around 609 BC, when Necho II the King of Egypt was advancing through Palestine to help the Assyrians at Harran. Despite the strongest assurances to the contrary, Josiah thought that the Egyptians were a threat to his kingdom and opposed him. Finally, during the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, the temple was looted by Nebuchradezzar, the king of Babylon, who sacked Jerusalem in 587 BC. In II Kings 35, verse 13, it is recorded that the two great pillars were broken up and the metal was carried off to Babylon. It is of interest to note that in Ezekiel's vision of the ideal temple, during his exile in Babylon, the two great pillars were replaced by wooden columns.