when we hear the terms ‘Masonic history informs us’…
we should be less focused on accuracy
and more on the lessons the ceremonies are
intending to convey.
If one were to ask a Freemason about the history of the Craft, there would likely follow a narrative on its foundations in the ancient guilds of stonemasons.
There might be a discussion about how it uses the tools and other items connected to that discipline as symbolic items that offer a reminder of how to live an upright life.
At some point there will be an allusion to the building of King Solomon’s Temple.
This identity of being a builder could be said to be deeply ingrained during the ritual process of becoming a Master Mason.
During the course of navigating the degrees initiates are encouraged to begin their search for more knowledge and it is one of the duties of a Master Mason – for it may be considered one way in which he is ‘paid his Master’s wages’ (‘Wages’, 1933).
During this search one will discover that it more tradition than history upon which the Craft bases its lessons.
Like many things in the Craft this tradition is a bulwark of the line of succession from one generation to the next.
But traditions begin, change, and end over the course of time. In the over 300 years or more in which the fraternity has been in existence this can be found in the ritual and its many revisions.
Sometimes indications of older traditions may be uncovered in a word or phrase and one such phrase is the focus of this study.
Anderson’s Constitutions is considered to be the basis of modern Freemasonry and part of the foundation of its operation.
It was written to provide a method by which to standardize the practices of the Craft.
It was written for the Premier Grand Lodge of England and would be applied to the lodges within London and Westminster that operated under that Grand Lodge.
Within this work is the Hiramic Legend along with the pyramid organizational model of Freemasonry. The work was published in 1723 and 1738. (Anderson & Franklin, 1734).
The Constitutions were based on the Gothic Constitutions or the ‘Old Masonic Manuscripts’ as well as on the General Regulations which were compiled by George Payne in 1720 (Vibert, 1923).
The full title of the 1723 edition was The Constitutions of the Free – Masons, Containing the History, Charges, Regulations &c. of that most Ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity, for the use of the lodges (Anderson & Franklin, 1734).
In 1738, the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster became the Grand Lodge of England and Anderson’s Constitutions were utilized.
Anderson’s Version of the History
Anderson’s Constitutions offers an outline of the history of the Craft and how its mysteries were transferred from one generation to the next. This history begins with Adam:
Adam, our first Parent, created after the Image of God, the great Architect of the Universe, must have had the Liberal Sciences, particularly Geometry, written on his Heart; for even since the Fall, we find the Principles of it in the Hearts of his Offspring, and which, in process of time, have been drawn forth into a convenient Method of Propositions, by observing the Laws of Proportion taken Year of the World 4003 before Christ from Mechanism: So that as the Mechanical Arts gave Occasion to the Learned to reduce the Elements of Geometry into Method, this noble Science thus reduc’d, is the Foundation of all those Arts, (particularly of Masonry and Architecture) and the Rule by which they are conducted and perform’d.
No doubt Adam taught his Sons Geometry, and the use of it, in the several Arts and Crafts convenient, at least for those early Times; for Cain, we find, built a City, which he call’d CONSECR ATED, or DEDICATED, after the Name of his eldest Son Enoch; and becoming the Prince of the one Half of Mankind, his Posterity would imitate his royal Example in improving both the noble Science and the useful Art.
(Anderson & Franklin, 1734, p. 7-8)
This information was then passed down through the generations to Noah:
But without regarding uncertain Accounts, we may safely conclude the old World, that lasted 1656 Years, could not be ignorant of Masonry; and that both the Families of Seth and Cain erected many curious Works, until at length Noah, the ninth from Seth, was commanded and directed of God to build the great Ark, which, tho’ of Wood, was certainly fabricated by Geometry, and according to the Rules of Masonry.
Noah, and his three Sons, Japhet, Shem, and Ham, all Masons true, brought with them over the Flood the Traditions and Arts of the Antedeluvians, and amply communicated them to their growing Offspring.
(Anderson & Franklin, 1734, p. 8-9)
He posits that it was through this transmission from Noah that the arts and sciences were preserved through the Deluge and continues through this day.
The Importance of ‘the Moral Law’
So why this connection to Noah? Noah and his sons were ‘all Masons true’ (Anderson & Franklin, 1734, p. 9) and it is said that a Mason is obliged by his tenure to observe the moral law as a true Noachida (Anderson & Hughan, 2004).
This term alludes to a descendent of Noah, those who preserved what would be called the ‘Seven Laws of Noah’.
So, it would seem that to be a ‘Mason true’ one must follow the precepts or at least the spirit of these laws.
Anderson outlines the importance of obeying the ‘moral law’.
This law may be considered universal, shared my many faiths – one to which men are held accountable.
The Noachide system could be considered as one which fits with the universal theological point of Freemasonry.
According to scripture, there was a deluge in which mankind was punished for corrupting God’s law.
The central figure in this legend is Noah. Legend has it that he was singled out by God due to his unsurpassed righteousness, and as such he became the progenitor of the post-flood world.
As it is felt that he possessed righteousness, it must follow that he must have followed some moral code.
There have been numerous attempts throughout history of attempts to define this code of morals and ethics. The Book of Jubilees, copies of which were found in the Dead Sea caves are one example.
This universal code has been outlined into seven categories, known as ‘the seven laws of Noah’ or the ‘Noachite Covenant’ (‘Return to our Roots’, 2009).
These seven precepts are listed as a positive injunction to establish a system of justice, prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy (profaning the name of God), sexual immorality, bloodshed, robbery, and the consumption of blood (or ‘a limb torn from a living animal’).
When one lists or classifies universal moral laws, it would stand to reason that they then become the responsibility of all to maintain these moral and ethical duties.
These codes would seem to predate a particular system of theology and can be found as basic building blocks in many faiths, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Anderson made a case for their inclusion in the ‘moral code’ of a Mason:
A Mason is obliged by his tenure to observe the moral law as a true Noachide; and if he rightly understands the Craft, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine, nor act against conscience.
In ancient Times, the Christian Masons were charged to comply with the Christian usages of each country where they traveled or worked; being found in all nations, even of diverse religions.
They are generally charged to adhere to that religion in which all men agree (leaving each brother to his own particular opinions); that is, to be good men and true, men of honor and honesty, by whatever names, religions, or persuasions they may be distinguished; for they all agree in the three great articles of Noah, enough to preserve the cement of the lodge.
Thus Masonry is the Center of Union, and the happy means of conciliating persons that otherwise must have remained at a perpetual distance.
(Anderson & Hughan, 2004)
The Old Traditions
To this point, Masonic historians would cite that the importance of Noah to the Craft involves his lineage to Adam, ‘the first Mason’, his importance in the preservation of knowledge after the Deluge and for his contribution to the establishment of a universal moral code.
But Anderson is not the only place in which we find mention of Noah and his possible connections to Freemasonry.
A study of the traditions which may have influenced Anderson may shed some light on this came to be.
One possible source is contained in a work known as the York Constitution. The claimed date of this manuscript is 926 CE, though this is suspected to be greatly exaggerated and scholars suggest an early 18th century date for this manuscript.
This manuscript was one of three Masonic documents contained in the work of Dr Krause (1781-1832) titled, ‘The Three Oldest Professional Documents of the Brotherhood of Freemasons’ (Gould, 1884).
Quoting from Mackey’s History of Freemasonry it says:
‘in the Krause MS., under the head of ‘The Laws or Obligations laid before his Brother Masons by Prince Edwin’, we find the following article.
‘The first obligation is that you shall sincerely honor God and obey the laws of the Noachites, because they are divine laws, which should be obeyed by all the world.
Therefore, you must avoid all heresies and not thereby sin against God’.
(Mackey, 1898, p. 410)
Harvey A. Eysman in his paper ‘Masonic References to Noah as the Master Builder’, outlines some further historical sources for the inclusion of Noah into Freemasonry.
He states that ‘the first references to Noah are usually associated with the Antediluvian world or the risings of tides.
As early as 1700, references to the ‘flood-mark’ are to be found in such fragments as the Chetwode Crawley MS, and later in its twin, the Kevan MS (c. 1714), in which an allusion to a penalty linked to a ‘flood-marke’ is detailed.
Later versions, such as the Wilkinson MS (c. 1727), make direct reference to the ‘tide’ and its twenty-four-hour cycle, which is an image that is current today in Masonic ritual’ (Eysman, n.d.)
Some early connections to Noah were made more in a historical sense to connect Noah to ‘the builder’s science’.
Both the Graham MS (1726) and The Purjur’d Free Mason Detected (1730) make direct reference to Noah and his sons.
The Perjur’d Free Mason Detected was an anonymously written pamphlet published in London in 1730.
The document, as it relates to Noah, contains a portion about Ham, the second son of Noah, ‘having a Genius to Architecture (sic)’, and mentions the Flood.
The document further alludes that Ham communicated the knowledge of the art necessary to erect the Tower of Babel. (Eysman, n.d.)
Shem, Ham, and Japheth – Sons of Noah – By James Tissot
IMAGE LINKED: the jewish museum / wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
The Graham MS contains direct mention of Noah and his sons and a description of a legend describing his death.
The manuscript contains a series of events which contains ma elements which are familiar to Masons including five points and the search for a word.
The story outlined their search for his grave. It is noted that they decided that if the true secrets could not be found that they would incorporate the first thing they did find.
The story continues that the body was found. There were two unsuccessful, and one successful, attempts to raise it.
As such and the method for the first two failures and the final success with raising the body are familiar to today’s members:
We have it by tradition, and still some reference to scripture for it caused Shem, Ham and Japheth to go to their father Noah’ s grave for to see if they could find anything about him to lead them to the valuable secret which this famous preacher had… For I hope all will allow that all things needful for the new world was in the Ark with Noah.
Now these 3 men had already agreed that if they did not find the very thing itself, that the first thing that they found was to be to them as a secret…
They not doubting, but did most firmly believe that God was able and would also prove willing, through their faith, prayer and obedience, to cause what they did find to prove as valuable to them as if they had received the secret at first from God Himself at its headspring.
So [they] came to the grave, finding nothing save the dead body almost consumed away. Taking a grip at a finger, it came away…so from joint to joint…so to the wrist…so to the elbow…so they reared up the dead body…and supported it…setting foot to foot…knee to knee…breast to breast…cheek to cheek…and hand to back…and cried out ‘Help, Oh Father’… As if they had said ‘Oh Father of Heaven, help us now, for our earthly father cannot’… so laid down the dead body again and not knowing what to do… so one said: ‘Here is yet marrow in this bone’ and the second said: ‘But a dry bone’ and the third said: ‘It stinketh’. So they agreed to give it a name as is known to free masonry to this day…so went to their undertakings, and afterwards works stood.
Some believe that the statement ‘marrow in this bone’ eventually evolved into the substitute for the lost word.
It is also interesting to note that around the same era as the manuscript, there is documentation in a newspaper for an advertisement for a ‘Society of Antediluvian Masonry’. (Horne, 1972)
The Rev. Dr Herbert Poole in his work on the manuscript (AQC Vol. 50) speculates that this early version of the story may allude to an earlier legend later transferred to the Hiramic one stating that the Noah variant ‘was known in the Craft in its amplest form at least 21 years before the Grand Lodge of England’.
This would date it back to roughly 1696 – which Poole may connect it to the Edinburgh Register House MS in which the ‘five points of fellowship’ are mentioned. (Horne, 1972)
Another interesting connection may be found in the symbolism of the pillars. Modern Freemasonry has a strong connection to the two pillars which were found at the entrance of King Solomon’s Temple.
The use of two pillars is also found in the Legend of Noah which were constructed by Lamech.
In one version of the creation of the two pillars, Seth’s descendants Enoch and Lamech, led righteous lives. Research on this part of the legend can be confusing as Cain also had descendants also named Enoch and Lamech.
The descendants of Seth are credited with developing astronomy, and the division of time into weeks, months, and years as well as the evolution of the Hebrew Characters.
Legend maintains that they were warned by a prophecy that the world would end and so it became important to preserve this knowledge.
The solution was to inscribe that knowledge on two pillars, each containing identical information with the hope that one or the other would survive the destruction of the World.
The first was said to have been made of brick, the other of stone. (‘Pillars’, 2016)
In another other version it is the children of Lamech – the descendants of Cain –who develop the knowledge and inscribe the information on the pillars.
Lamech marries two women, the first was Adah. This union produced Jubal and Jabal.
Jubal is said to have been the father of music. Jabal was the father of ‘those who live in tents and raise livestock’. – the science of agriculture.
Lamech’s second wife was Zilla. They had a son, Tubal-Cain, who was a worker of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain also had a sister Naamah (sometimes spelled Na’amah) who legend holds was the progenitor of weaving.
Again, the information is inscribed on the brick and the stone pillars when there is a prophecy of the destruction of the World. (‘Pillars’, 2016)
Tubal-Cain’s bronze and iron – By Phillip Medhurst
IMAGE LINKED: wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
The method of the destruction is not clear in either prophecy. The stories indicate inundation (flooding or a deluge) or conflagration (fire or burning).
It is the motivation for inscribing the information on the two pillars in an effort to ensure its survival.
It is interesting that this concept applies to the pillars of Solomon. This connects to the antediluvian story – the safeguarding of accumulated knowledge – similar to that being stored in the pillars of King Solomon’s Temple. (‘Pillars’, 2016)
Alexander Horne, in his work King Solomon’s Temple in the Masonic Tradition cites a paper by George Bullimore which examines a theory which offers that ‘the earlier church builders, using much timber might have based their traditions on the sons of Noah’ whereas the stone cutters established in Westminster might utilize a legend connected with the Temple of Solomon which was built of stone’.
This theory may explain how the legends transformed one to the other. (Horne, 1972, p. 342)
Bernard Jones, in his Freemasons’ Guide and Compendium (1950), offers another theory.
He states that it may have been the nature of the necromantic legend of Noah may have been a reason for the change.
He suggests that the Rosicrucians, who entered the Craft in the 1700’s, were likely aware of the Noah story and gave it a dramatic setting. (Jones, 1950, p. 317)
Later editors may have introduced the name of Hiram, who was connected to Solomon’s project. It was here that Hiram was transformed into an architect and the centre of the story.
The necromantic elements were softened, and the story was given a moral and related to the FPF (Jones, 1950).
Count Goblet d’Alviella in his work The Migration of Symbols (1894) examines that across language and culture that names are much more easily altered or exchanged than the legend itself; the hero may vary, but the myth seems to remain (D’Aviella, 1894).
The personality of Noah becomes merged into the personality of Hiram. With only a change of name the myth, in some important details, remains the same.
John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683–1744), French philosopher. Engraving After Hans Hysing
IMAGE LINKED: wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
In The Story of Hiram Abiff, William Harvey offers yet another speculation.
He offers that the construction of our modern Third Degree is the product of Anderson and Dr John Theophilus Desaguliers.
Desaguliers was the third Grand Master of the Craft in 1719. Some ascribe to him the reason that the Charges of a Freemason were preserved.
He is also sometimes considered responsible for the preparation of the General Regulations, which are found in the first edition of the Constitutions.
Some go so far as to present the idea that although the Constitutions are attributed to Doctor Anderson, they were undoubtedly compiled under the supervision of Desaguliers (Mackey, 1884, p. 215).
Anderson did the work, while Desaguliers furnished much of the material and the thought.
Harvey records that Dr George Oliver, another noted Masonic author, stated that while the name of the individual who attributed the name of Hiram to the Craft has never been ascertained, ‘it may be fairly presumed that Bros. Desaguliers and Anderson were prominent parties to it’ (Harvey, 1935, p. 12).
He further states that when ‘these two Brothers were publicly accused by their seceding contemporaries of manufacturing the degree, they never denied it’ (Harvey, 1935, p. 12).
Perhaps it is here that during the codification and standardization of the ritual that the allegory changed.
The Noachite Legend may have been replaced, but its influence may still be felt in the Craft.
Brethren may find inspiration and some guidance in the research of the Noachite Laws. Remnants of the Legend may be found in the symbols of the Ark and Anchor in the Third Degree.
In some jurisdictions the symbol of the Deacons is the dove.
Within the Scottish Rite there is the 21st degree – that of Noachite Or Prussian Knight – although besides the name there is very little else connecting it to the Legend.
Emblem of the Royal Ark Mariner Degree
The setting is a symbolic representation of the Ark with the three principal officers being Noah, Shem, and Japheth.
Candidates for Initiation into the Royal Ark Mariner Degree are termed as being ‘Elevated’ and this ceremony is based on the story of events before, during and after the Biblical Flood.
Five Cardinal Virtues characteristic of Masonry are inculcated: Watchfulness, Discretion, Brotherly Love, Truth and Charity are illustrated.
The candidate is presented with an apron and jewel. The jewel of the Order is in the shape of a rainbow with a Dove bearing an olive branch appended and, on a ribbon, having the colours of a rainbow.
This reference to the Dove bearing an olive branch bears witness to the past links with the Craft where the Deacons bear this same emblem. (Jackson, 2007)
In closing, I offer this. Freemasonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
The lessons it offers, the opportunities for self-betterment it presents are intertwined in the method by which it conveys its message.
The study of the story of Noah, the events of the Deluge and the efforts of the survivors offers the student an opportunity to find other sources for contemplation.
It reminds us of the importance of ‘obeying the moral law’, our obligations to our Creator as well an emphasis on faith.
It also offers the Masonic student a reminder that the true origins of the Craft never be known.
It may also serve as a reminder that when we hear the terms ‘Masonic history informs us’ that we should be less focused on accuracy and more on the lessons the ceremonies are intending to convey.
Article by: Steven Joyce
Adjunct Professor, University of Pittsburgh – Graduate School of Social Work.
Past Master, Enchanted Mountains Lodge #252, F&AM Western NY Lodge of Research, Buffalo, NY Pennsylvania Lodge of Research Associate Member, Lodge of Living Stones #4957, F&AM, UGLE Fellow, Grand College of Rites.
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Graham MS 1726
The Graham Manuscript dating from 1726 is an early Masonic document that calls upon Noah and this 3 sons in respect to Masonry, an alternative allegory to the Hiram legend. …read more
Lansdowne Manuscript c1560
A very foolish legendary account of the origins of the Order of Freemasonry …read more
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