As Master Masons, we all first experience and then regularly bear witness to the senseless murder of our ancient Grand Master, Hiram Abiff. Rather than bestow the secrets of our craft on the unworthy, Hiram was slain by three impetuous and undeserving Fellow Crafts. Before receiving the blows that felled him, and even after having been assaulted, Hiram patiently told his assassins that they would have obtained that which they sought through patience and perseverance.
Our tradition informs us that these Fellow Crafts did not deem themselves worthy of receiving the Master’s word – it leave us to wonder why. Were there skills not equal to that of their fellows of the second degree? Perhaps they were over-eager to assume the role of an overseer of the work before they were fit for the task. It is possible that as the Holy Temple neared its completion, and as the workers were discharged, there was no longer a need for additional supervision. We can only speculate at their true motivation, since the Holy Scripture is silent regarding the tale of the demise of our Ancient Grand Master. Our legends tell us that Hiram was a perfected man, which must have contributed to his enormous access to such a wide variety of mental and manual skills.
The Book of Kings does indeed tell us that the Inner Court of the temple had three gates, to the East, South and West, and our tradition dictates that the ruffians conspired to trap the Widow’s Son there and wrest the secrets from him.
We are instructed that the Master first attempted to exit at the South gate, representing the station of the Junior Warden, and was there met by Jubela, who, after failing to extract the secrets from Hiram, struck at his throat with the twenty-four inch gauge.
At first consideration, the connection to the penalty of the Entered Apprentice degree seems obvious – but a wooden ruler is hardly a fitting implement to slice open someone’s throat. It should be noted that no tools of iron or other metal would have been available to the ruffians, so we can imagine that they improvised with what was at hand.
It is of great interest that the Latin word for a gauge or ruler is CANON, and refers to both the measuring device and to a set of fundamental legal rules, as used in the term ‘canon law’. It can be said that the use of the gauge as a weapon can be equated with tyranny, in the sense that it can be accomplished by interfering with free speech and expression. The organs of speech are the larynx, which generates the sound necessary for speech, and the tongue, which forms these vibrations into recognizable words. Although wounded, the Master survives the attack.
When the Master Hiram escapes to the West, he is then confronted by the Senior Warden as Jubelo, who also attempts to extort the secrets by the threat of violence. Choosing the wooden square, not the metallic square we think of as one of the greater lights, he strikes him in the left breast, in the place where the heart is found. As the heart is the legendary seat of emotion, we can say that Jubelo attacked Hiram by striking at his psychological and emotional well-being.
In the noble art and science of rhetoric, which is recommended to us as one of the ancient liberal arts, there are traditional names for specific errors of argument known as ‘logical fallacies’. These are tools of rhetoric used to invalidate specific elements of an opponent’s arguments.. Among the more familiar of these is the fallacy called ‘argumentum ad hominem’, or ‘ad hominem attack’ – meaning that one attacks the person making the argument or their credibility and not the matter being debated
Another of these fallacies is the phrase argumentum ad baculum, which translates literally to ‘appeal to the striking rod’ or ‘appeal to fear of violence’. By striking the Master in the heart, he attacks his sense of affection for mankind as well as his love of his Craft. This is naturally equated with the penalty of the Fellow Craft Mason’s obligation. The commandments of the divine are that we should love one another, be charitable to all mankind, and passionately pursue the noble goals of Freemasonry -- these cannot be obeyed with one’s emotions in disarray. As a result of this assault on the emotions we see numbness of the soul, lack of sympathy, falseness, indifference, and treachery as the result. Injured further, the master survives the second attack.
Having escaped to the East, our Grand Master was confronted by Jubelum. Jubelum strikes at the master with the gavel, which in many traditions is replaced by a larger implement known as a ‘setting maul’. He is struck on the forehead, which contains the portion of the brain known as the ‘frontal lobe’, and is known to be the seat of intellect and reason. In this case, the gavel represents the assault of the mob mentality upon the intelligence and self-awareness of man, leading to thoughtless violence and vulgarity, ignorance and inhumanity, superstition, bigotry, and disempowerment of the logical mind.
It is interesting that in the case of Jubelum, the attack on the Widow’s Son is not directly related to the penalty of the Master Mason’s degree in the same way as the other attacks. It is conceivable, however, that we can consider the attack of the mob to be representative of a tearing apart or rending of human civilization by animalistic behavior. When the ignorant masses gain control, it becomes impossible to apply the lessons of Freemasonry, which can be said to be essentially fractured and burned
With the crippling attacks on the voice and the heart, and the fatal attack on the brain, the Master is slaughtered -- in the chamber of his own design -- by Ignorance, Superstition and Tyranny. We must recall that the central theme of the third degree is not the death of Hiram, but his raising. Similar to other resurrection stories that are central to religious and Masonic teaching, death is never permanent, but a transition from incarnation to incarnation. The wisdom gained by reflecting on the teachings of Freemasonry is what empowers us to overcome these enemies of true human liberty.
It is fitting to think of resurrection as being an indication of immortality, which is further represented by the acacia sapling mentioned in the degree and the funeral service. As the central figure in the blue lodge, we are frequently reminded of the great and noble deeds of Hiram, the widow’s son, a man for whom we are rightfully encouraged to imitate. Far more than all other great personages of the Craft, Hiram Abiff’s life and memory achieve immortality in the eternal traditions and teachings of Freemasonry.
With thanks to Bro:. Kevin Main
© 2013 Mitch Goldstein