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Temple, Symbolism of The

Of all the objects which constitute the Masonic science of symbolism, the most important, the most cherished by Freemasons, and by far the most significant, is the great Temple of Jerusalem. The spiritualizing of the Temple is the first, the most prominent, and the most pervading of all symbols of Freemasonry. It is that as high most emphatically gives it its religious character. Take from Freemasonry its dependence on the Temple; leave out of its ritual all reference to that sacred edifice, and to the legends and traditions connected with it, and the system itself would at once decay and die, or at best remain only as some fossilized bone, serving merely to show the nature of the once living body to which it had belonged.

Temple worship is in itself an ancient type of the religious sentiment in its progress toward spiritual elevation.

As soon as sw nation emerged out of Fetishism, or the worship of risible objects, which is the most degraded form of idolatry, its people began to establish a Priesthood, and to erect Temples. The Goths, the Celts, the Egyptians, and the Greeks, however much they may have differed in the ritual, and in the objects of their polytheistic worship, were all in the possession of Priests and of Temples. The Jews, complying with this law of our religious nature, first constructed their Tabernacle, or portable Temple, and then, when time and opportunity permitted, transferred their monotheistic worship to that more permanent edifice which towered in all its magnificence above the pinnacle of Mount Moriah. The Mosque of the Mohammedan and the Church or Chapel of the Christian is but an embodiment of the same idea of temple worship in a simpler form.

The adaptation, therefore, of the Temple of Jerusalem to a science of symbolism, would be an easy task to the mind of those Jews and Tvrians who were engaged in its construction. Doubtless, at its original conception, the idea of this Temple Symbolism was rude and unembellished. It was to be perfected and polished only by future aggregations of succeeding intellects. And yet no Biblical nor Masonic scholar will venture to deny that there was, in the mode of building and in all the circumstances connected with the construction of King Solomon's Temple, an apparent design to establish a foundation for symbolism.

The Freemasons have, at all events, seized with avidity the idea of representing in their symbolic language the interior and spiritual man by a material Temple. They have the doctrine of the great Apostle, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (First Corinthians iii, 16). The great body of the Masonic Craft, looking only to this first Temple erected by the wisdom of King Solomon, make it the symbol of life; and as the great object of Freemasonry is the search after truth, they are directed to build up this Temple as a fitting receptacle for truth when found, a place where it may dwell, just as the ancient Jews built up their great Temple as a dwelling-place for Him who is the Author of all truth.

To the Master Mason, this Temple of Solomon is truly the symbol of human life; for, like life, it was to have its end. For four centuries it glittered on the hills of Jerusalem in all its gorgeous magnificence; now, under some pious descendant of the wise King of Israel, the spot from whose altars arose the burnt offerings to a living God! and now polluted by some recreant monarch of Judah to the Service of Baal; until at length it received the divine punishment through the mighty King of Babylon, and, having been despoiled of all its treasures, Wars burnt to the ground, so that nothing was left of all its splendor but a smoldering heap of ashes.

Variable in its purposes, evanescent in its existence, now a gorgeous pile of architectural beauty, and anon a ruin over which the resistless power of fire had passed, it becomes a fit symbol of human life occupied in the search after divine truth, which is nowhere to be found; now sinning and now repentant; now vigorous with health and strength, and anon a senseless and decaying corpse.

Such is the symbolism of the first Temple, that of Solomon, as familiar to the class of Master Masons. But there is a second and higher class of the Fraternity, the Freemasons of the Royal Arch, by whom thus Temple Symbolism is still further developed. This second class leaving their early symbolism and looking beyond this Temple of Solomon, find in Scriptural history another Temple, which, years after the destruction of the first one, was erected upon its ruins; and they have Selected the second Temple, the Temple of Zerubbabel, as their prominent symbol.

And as the first class of Freemasons find in their Temple the symbol of mortal life, limited and perishable, they, on the contrary, see in this second Temple, built upon the foundations of the first, a symbol of life eternal, where the lost truth shall be found, where new incense shall arise from a new altar, and whose perpetuity their great Plaster had promised when, in the very spirit of synlbolism, file exclaimed, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." And so to these two classes or Orders of Freemasons the symbolism of the Temple presents itself in a connected and continuous form. To the Master Mason, the Temple of Solomon is the symbol of this life; to the Royal Arch Mason, the Temple of Zerubbabel is the symbol of the future life To the former his Temple is the symbol of the search for truth; to the latter, his is the symbol of the discovery of truth; thus the circle is completed, the system made perfect.



1. Solomon began the building of his Temple about 967 B.C., and completed it in about six and one-half years. This was in reality a collection of buildings, inside a wall, and the Temple proper was probably at or near the center, a structure 90 to 100 feet long, about 30 to 35 feet in width and at its highest about 50 feet. The entire system of buildings, taken as a unit, was the greatest single building feat ever undertaken by the Jewish people before or since. This was the First Temple. For nearly five centuries it was the center and capital of Hebrew peoples, not only in Palestine but wherever they might live. It and the city were looted and w destroyed by the Babylonian hordes under Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B-C- (It may be more than a coincidence that the only successful--though temporary-- attempt ever made by the Egyptians to achieve monotheism occurred while this First Temple was still standing It is likewise interesting to note that many of the tales, traditions, legends, and historical occurrenees about Solomon or his Temple need not refer to so early a date as 967 B.C. but may refer to it as of any date as between 967 B-C. and 586 B.C.)

2. When after a half century Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem they began almost at once to rebuild the Temple under their "prince," or leader, Sheshbazzar, who began work in 536 B.C.; it was completed by Zerubbabel in 516 B.C. after twenty years of slow, hard labor by a poverty-stricken people, and then was only half restored. After 168 B.C. this building was looted, attacked, razed, rebuilt, and finally destroyed almost completely. This was the Second Temple.

3. One of the looters was Herod. In 40 B.C. Antony and Octavius gave him the title "King of Judea." Between 20 B.C. and 19 B.C., and for political reasons of his own, he began to rebuild the Temple, and on a larger scale. It was not completed until between 62 A.D. and 64 A.D. Only two years after this latter date the Jews began their revolt against Roman rule; in about four years, or 70 A.D., the whole "Temple was burnt to the ground and utterly destroyed.?' This was the Third Temple.

(Historians long were skeptical about the descriptions of the three Temples on the ground that structures of such size and elaborateness called for a technical knowledge which did not exist in ancient times. Modern archeological discoveries have removed that objection by proving that as early as 1000 B.C. many of the technical arts were at a high stage of development. Thus, and to cite only two examples, Tutankhamen's physicians had the use of complete sets of surgical instruments, and practiced many forms of anesthesia; shorthand, a technique without which modern business could hardly function, was known to ancient Egypt; in 1934 the Egypt Exploration Society published a book Greek Shorthand Manuals compiled from papyri and waxed tablets unearthed by archeologic excavations.)

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