• HIRAM ABIF

    HIRAM ABIF


    The word “Abif” (sometimes written “Abiff.” but far less often than with the
    single “F”) has in one way or another caused considerable controversy among
    both Biblical and Masonic scholars. Those who are familiar with Hebrew
    speak learnedly of its derivation from Abi or Abiw or abiv - the consonants
    W and V being approximations, apparently, of a Hebrew sound not easily
    rendered in English letters. Our familiar King James Bible translates the
    word two ways “Huram my father’s” and “Huram his father” which in itself
    has led to some confusion as to whether our Hiram Abif was the only Hiram
    or the father of another. Scholars, however, are fairly well agreed that “my
    father” as a translation of “Abif” is correct if the words be understood as a
    title of honor. Hiram the Widow’s Son was “father” in the same sense that
    priests of the church are so known; the same variety of father that was
    Abraham to the tribes of Israel. Abif, then, is a title of respect and
    veneration , rather than a genealogical term.
    Just when the legend of Hiram Abif came into our symbolism is a study by
    itself of which only a few bare facts can here be included. Common
    understanding believes that Hiram Abif has always been in our system, and
    descended to us from the days of Solomon. However, critical scholarship will
    have none of “common understanding” and demands proof; names, dates,
    places, documents before setting a date to any happening.
    Our oldest Masonic manuscript (Régius Poem, dated approximately 1390)
    traces Masonry not to Solomon but to Nimrod and Euclid, in a still earlier
    time. In this is no mention of Hiram Abif. The Dowland manuscript, dated
    about 1550, mentions him but only as one of many. Not until The King James
    version of the Bible appeared (1611) do we find Hiram Abif know as such with
    any degree of familiarity. Yet here a curious fact it to be found; sometime
    after the new Bible made its appearance - late in the sixteen hundreds, when
    the King James version had become well known - interest in King Solomon’s
    Temple was so keen that many models were made and exhibited and
    handbooks about it printed and distributed. Such specific interest in this
    particular building from the then new book may easily have come from the
    familiarity of Operative and some Speculative Masons with the Temple
    symbolism and, by inference, with Hiram Abif. Anderson’s explanatory
    footnote of Hiram Abif in his Constitutions (1732) is as follows (spelling and
    capitalization modernized and Hebrew letters omitted):
    “We read (2 Chron. ii, 13) Hiram, King of Tyr (called there Huram), in his
    letter to King Solomon, says, I have met a cunning man, le Huram Abi not to
    be translated according to the vulgar Greek and Latin , Huram my Father,
    as if this architect was King Hiram’s father ; for his description, ver. 14,
    refutes it, and the original plainly imports, Huram of my Father’s , viz , the
    Chief Master Mason of my Father, King Abibalus; (who enlarged and
    beautified the city of Tyre, as ancient histories inform us, whereby the
    Tyrians at this time were most expert in Masonry) tho some think Hiram the
    King might call Hiram the architect father, as learned and skillful men were
    wont to be called of old times, or as Joseph was called the father of Pharaoh ;
    and as the same Hiram is called Solomon’s father, (2 Chron. iv, 16) where ‘tis
    said:
    Shelomoh lammelech Abif Churam ghmasah.Did Huram, his father, make to
    King Solomon. But the difficulty is over at once , by allowing the Abif to be
    the surname of Hiram the Mason , called also (Chap. ii, 13) Hiram Abi, as
    here Hiram Abif; for being so amply described (Chap.ii,14) we may easily
    suppose his surname would not be concealed: And this reading makes the
    sense plain and complete, viz., that Hiram, King of Tyre, sent to King
    Solomon his namesake Hiram Abif, the prince of architects, decried (1 Kings
    vii, 14) to be a widow’s son of the Tribe of Naphtali; and in (2 Chron. ii, 14) the
    said King of Tyre calls him the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan; and
    in both places, that his father was a man of Tyre, which difficulty is removed,
    by supposing his mother was either of the Tribe of Dan, or of the daughters of
    the city called Dan in the Tribe of Naphtali, and his deceased father had been
    a Naphthalite , whence his mother was called a widow of Naphtali; for his
    father is not called a Tyrian by descent, but his a man of Tyre by habitation;
    as Obed Edom the Levite is called Gittite, by living among the Gitties, and the
    Apostle Paul a man of Tarsus. But supposing a mistake in transcribers , and
    that his father was really a Tyrian by blood and his mother only of the Tribe
    either of Dan or of Naphtali, that can be no bar against allowing of his vast
    capacity, for as his father was a worker in brass , so he himself was filled
    with wisdom and understanding, and cunning to work all works in brass; and
    as King Solomon sent for him, so King Hiram, in his letter to Solomon , says :
    And now I have sent a cunning man, endued with understanding , skillful to
    work in Gold, silver, brass, iron , stone, timber, purple, blue, fine linen and
    crimson; also to grave any manner of graving, and to find out every device
    which shall be put to him with thy cunning men, and with the cunning men
    of My Lord David thy father. This divinely inspired workman maintained
    this character in erecting the Temple, and in working the utensils thereof, far
    beyond the performances of Aholiab and Bezaleel, being so universally
    capable of all sorts of Masonry.”
    In First Kings we read: “And King Solomon sent and fetched Hiram out of
    Tyr. He was a widow’s son of the tribe of Naphtali and his father was a man
    of Tyre, a worker in brass; and he was filled with wisdom, understanding,
    and cunning to work all kinds of brass. And he came to King Solomon and
    wrought all his work.”
    In Second Chronicles Hiram, King of Tyre is made to say:
    “And now I have sent a cunning man, endued with understanding, Huram
    my father’s, the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father was a
    man of Tyre, skillful to work in gold and silver, in brass. iron, in stone and in
    timber, in purple and blue and fine linen, and in crimson, and to find out
    every device which shall be put to him, with thy cunning men, and with the
    cunning men of David, thy father.”
    Alas for those who would believe in the literal truth of the Legend if they
    could find but a single word to hang to; the end of the story of Hiram Abif is
    short and calm, not great or tragic. The Chronicler says” “And Huram
    finished the work that he was to make for King Solomon for the house of God”
    and the writer of Kings is no less brief:
    “So Hiram made an end of doing all the work that he made King Solomon for
    the house of the Lord.”
    This is not the place to speculate upon the formation of “The Master’s Part”
    into our Third Degree - critical scholarship does not believe our ceremony
    was cast into anything like its present form prior to 1725 at the earliest. But
    Anderson would not have devoted so much attention to Hiram Abif without
    some good reason; it seems obvious that “in some form,” the story of Hiram
    Abif was of importance in 1723, and by inference, in the Lodges which formed
    the Grand Lodge which led to the writing of the Constitutions. Facts are
    stubborn and frequently run counter to our desires. We would like to believe
    in the verity of the legends, which cluster around Hiram Abif, but we
    actually know very little about him. In addition to six Biblical references,
    Josephus quotes Menander and Duis in reference to him two or three times,
    and refers independently as many more . . . and that is all; not very much on
    which to build our belief in his character, his greatness, his towering moral
    and spiritual entity.
    On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to envisage any historic character
    at least in large outline by careful analogy with other contemporary
    characters, by reference to his time, his civilization, his opportunity, his
    work. Suppose that all we knew of George Washington was that he was
    General In Chief of the Revolutionary Army, lived at Mount Vernon, and
    was the first President of the United States. Much might be read of him
    merely from these three facts. Thirteen colonies, engaged in a struggle to the
    death for freedom, would not choose for a leader a man without experience in
    military affairs. The fact that the Revolution succeeded would tell us that his
    leadership must have been superb. That he was made First President of the
    new Republic would indicate with certainty that he had the confidence of the
    people as a soldier, a man, a leader, and consequently possessed a character
    to be admired and revered, otherwise he would not be so chose. Merely to
    look a Mount Vernon is to see a lover of beauty, a man of taste and
    education, one who loved the earth and its products; the great house speaks
    with emphasis of hospitality. Much more might be read of Washington from
    only these three facts, but enough has been said to show the process by which
    we may envisage something of Hiram Abif, even with only meager data.
    Sacred history teaches much of the time of Solomon; of his queen, the
    daughter of Egypt; of Hiram, King of Tyre; of Adoniram, the tax collector; of
    officers Solomon set over various districts. We have a regal picture of
    Solomon’s court, and lengthy and minute description of the Temple.
    The chief builder, architect, master workman, give him what title you will,
    could hardly have mixed in such company, directed the greatest work in
    Israel’s history, been received by Solomon from Hiram King of Tyre as the
    best he had to offer, and not been a man of parts, ability, skill, learning,
    culture. To think of him only as one “cunning to work all kinds of brass,” in
    other words, only as an artisan, is completely to misunderstand the too few
    words in Chronicles and Kings. Rather let us put our belief in the statement
    that Hiram Abif was “filled with wisdom and understanding” and recall
    Solomon’s many words of admiration for wisdom; he must have been a wise
    man indeed into whose charge Solomon the Wise was content to give his most
    ambitious undertaking.
    It is commonplace that genius is eccentric; those touched with the divine fire
    are often “different” from men of more common clay. So it is not surprising
    that one legend tells of intense loyalty, of firmness and fortitude under
    duress, reading into these characteristics an exalted and elevated character,
    quite in keeping with the architect and builder of the Temple. The distinction
    between architect and builder is often hazy - it should be acute. Our ritual
    speaks of Hiram Abif as one “who by his great skill in the arts and sciences
    was so effectually enabled to beautify and adorn the Temple,” which seems to
    make him a mere adorner! Anything wholly fitted to its use becomes
    beautiful because of unity and completeness, yet it is also true that what is
    also useful as a building is not necessarily beautiful to the eye. Any square
    box of a house gives as secure a shelter as one beautiful in proportion. But
    complete beauty of building comes when the utility is combined with an
    appeal to sense and soul. The Temp[ built by Hiram Abif was no mere
    shelter; it was the expression of Israel’s love of God. To consider Hiram Abif
    as a mere decorator, beautifier, ornamenter is to deny the very thing for
    which he lived and - in the legend - gave his life. Architect he was, in all that
    the best sense of the word implies; builder he was, in that, he carried out his
    own plans.
    Of his physical being we have no details. The probability is that he stood
    about five feet six inches in height, was bearded, swarthy in countenance,
    had dark eyes, his hair likely long and curly, his shoulders broad - these were
    the characteristics of his people. Doubtless, he was married and a father
    when he built the Temple. The men of the Twelve Tribes married early; an
    unmarried man was almost unknown, so be it he was not a cripple, maimed
    or diseased. Hiram Abif would have a reasonable amount of wealth ; the
    chief workman which Hiram, King of Tyr , sent to King Solomon who
    “wrought all his work” would be no tyro , amateur or beginner; but a man
    famed for his art and science and craftsmanship, and thus, one who had
    already won fame and fortune before he was given this, the greatest task
    ever laid on the shoulders of a man of the time of Solomon. Undoubtedly,
    those workers over whom he came to rule while building the Temple, and all
    their families and connections, because of his ability as a great artist,
    regarded him with awe and veneration. Tribes which but a short time back
    had been tent-dwelling nomads, whose art was small and whose handiwork
    was of the crudest, must have looked at one as skilled as Hiram Abif as at a
    magician, a miracle man, one equal to the very High Priest himself. No
    wonder they called him Abif, “my father!”
    Hiram Abif must have been , at least in private, treated by Solomon as a
    familiar friend, as much an equal as was possible for an Eastern Potentate of
    absolute power and authority. Consultations would be daily in the building
    of the Temple. Hiram Abif would be received as an honored guest at
    Solomon’s table. If in public the Architect treated his lord and master with
    the profound respect which such as Solomon have always exacted from
    subjects high and low, it is probable that such asteroids were relaxed in
    private, so that there is nothing incongruous in our legendary picture of
    Solomon, King of Israel, Hiram, King of Tyr and Hiram Abif, acting
    together in concert as co-rulers - “our first three most excellent Grand
    Masters” - in governing the workmen and erecting the mighty structure
    which engaged their attention for seven years.
    It is easy to say this verbal picture is but a flight of fancy. It is less easy to
    draw a less attractive one in its place and make it appear true. While we
    know Chronicles and Kings and a few other ancient accounts almost nothing
    of the architect, we do - thanks to patient scholarship, much digging in the
    earth, and a reading of the literature of all times - know much of the people of
    Israel, how they worked and ate and lived and loved and labored. After all,
    it is less important that our mental picture of the illustrious Tyrian be
    accurate in small detail than that we keep a true image of a venerated
    character in our hearts. The color of his eyes and hair matter little; the hue
    of his conscience, everything. We are told of his knowledge of art and
    building, of brass and stone, of carving and sculpture - knowing other great
    artists who have devoted their lives to the creation of the beautiful, it is with
    some assurance that we liken Hiram Abif’s character to the average of great
    workmen who have labored to produce beauty before the eyes of Him they
    worshipped. Legendary though our story of Hiram is, and must ever be, our
    conception of the Architect can continue to be an inspiring fact, and we are
    the better men and Masons that it is such a man as this we are taught to
    represent.
    By: Unknown
    SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.XII February 1934 No.


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