Adoniram: A Hypothesis
Provided by the Oklahoma Chapter and Council Education E-Newsletter (https://okyorkrite.com/)
Extracted from the Articles and Papers Column in the May 2021 Issue
The Cryptic Vault
by Edgar Jones
This article originally appeared in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum (107).
Not the least of the mysteries which perplex the freemason is the sudden appearance in the Installation Ceremony of a hitherto unknown figure, Adoniram, whose abrupt elevation from total obscurity to a position of pre-eminence is quite unexplained. Masons asked about this phenomenon seem to have been in the main content to accept it without question or comment, but occasions arise when some explanation is sought. Indeed, as this paper was about to be written, a correspondent to AQC 103, wrote:
I have been asked to give a talk on The Origin and History of the Board of Installed Masters to brethren who have passed the chair. I have a problem with the inclusion of Adoniram as a character in the relevant ceremonial because he does not otherwise figure in out Craft workings. In The Early French Exposures, he appears to be a substitute for Hiram Abif but there is no mention in English Freemasonry until 1827 when a ritual for the Board was promulgated. Did Adoniram come either from the Royal Arch or the Ancient and Accepted Rite? If so, when was his name first used in either or both?
Bro. Frederick Smyth replying tells us nothing of Adoniram or his sudden and inexplicable elevation; quite properly, since he was not asked to, his questioner having concerned himself solely with the derivation of the name Adoniram, not with the person.
Bro. Smyth, in his reply, puts Adoniram’s first appearance in the Installation ceremony as late as 1827, since we can be sure that his name and salutation were unknown to Preston. The Early French Exposures does indeed give his name as a substitute for that of Hiram Abif, as does, as Bro Smyth points out, the Summary of the History of Hiram in L’Anti-Maçon, where indeed Adonira and Adora also appear as substitute names.
It is, however, difficult to believe that the two, Hiram Abif and Adoniram (literally, Lord Hiram) are one and the same.
Certainly, an Adoram (equated with Adoniram) is mentioned in the Bible. He is said (11 Sam, 20:24) to have been over the tribute. That is head of the tax-collectors. So reads the Authorized Version. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) puts it somewhat differently. There Adoram was in charge of the forced labour. The Authorized Version refers to the tax-collector Adoram in 1 Kings 12:18. He having been sent by Solomon’s unpopular son Rehoboam to further fleece the people of Israel, they responded by stoning him to death. The RSV has it: Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labour, and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. 2 Chronicles 10:18 also refers to the stoning of the tax-collector Hadoram (Authorized Version), and to the stoning of Hadoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labour. (RSV) 1 Kings 5:14 puts Adoniram as over (that is, in charge of) the levy of thirty thousand men whom King Solomon sent into the mountains of Lebanon to hew cedars for the building of the Temple. The RSV is more detailed:
King Solomon raised a levy of forced labour out of all Israel; and the levy numbered thirty thousand men. And he sent them to Lebanon, ten thousand a month in relays; they would be a month in Lebanon and two months at home; Adoniram was in charge of the levy.
It seems unlikely on one ground that this Biblical Adoram (Adoniram) and the masonic Hiram Abif were one and the same. The enormously skilled craftsman of masonic legend, the principal architect of the Temple, on the one hand, and the efficient and reliable civil servant, on the other, who was either tax-collector or Master of the labour gangs, or both (in either case a highly unpopular figure), seem mutually exclusive. It seems quite impossible on another ground: that is, that the masonic Hiram Abif was slain just before the completion of King Solomon’s Temple; whereas the Biblical Adoram (Adoniram : Hadoram), the trusted civil servant, was very much alive in the reign of Solomon’s son and successor Rehoboam.
How is it possible then for the Adoniram whom King Solomon beckoned towards him, on the occasion of his visit to the newly completed Temple, to be equated with Hiram Abif? One is left with two possibilities. The first is that Hiram was the generic title accorded to the principal architect, much as Pharaoh was the title of the ruler of the Two Kingdoms, and Minos that of Crete. There is no contributory evidence to suggest that such was the case. It would, in addition, be incongruous that, in masonic tradition, it was the murdered Hiram Abif’s successor (generically named Hiram), a shadowy figure who appears out of nowhere and as promptly disappears again, who was accorded the honour of being designated Adon (lord), a title nowhere accorded to his predecessor, the Son of the Widow.
One is left with the somewhat daunting possibility that the Adoniram (that is, Hiram) who was about to kneel before his King in token of humility was no physical presence but a mystical recreation of the Principal Architect, now dead and buried. Before this possibility is dismissed out of hand, however, it is as well to read what the Jewish Encyclopaedia has to say about Hiram under the general heading Freemasonry.
According to Masonic legend he [Hiram] was killed by three workmen just at the completion of the Temple; and there is a mystery about his death as represented in the Masonic rites. This may possibly trace back to the rabbinic legend that while all the workmen were killed so that they should not build another temple devoted to idolatry, Hiram himself was raised to heaven like Enoch.
In this event, Hiram was singled out for some special favour. Like Enoch, he did not die. In the masonic tradition, therefore, his appearance before King Solomon on that celebrated visit to the newly completed Temple would have been possible, although it could only have been a spiritual appearance: a manifestation to the King of the original Hiram, now reinterred as near to the Sanctura Sanctorum as the Israelitish law would permit! One argument against this supposition, of course, is that while it is possible to accept that King Solomon was as specially favoured as Hiram, only in this case with the capacity to enjoy close and indeed physical contact with his dead servant, it is quite another thing to believe that the numerous retinue that accompanied the King was granted a like indulgence. On the other hand, there is no suggestion that those who accompanied the King on that occasion were granted the privilege of seeing Hiram, although in that case the raising by their King of an invisible body from a kneeling position would undoubtedly have been accompanied by the raising of a few eyebrows also. The fact that on this occasion Adonirara [Hiram] does not say one word to his Royal Master might be considered as bearing out this hypothesis.
The young and inexperienced Solomon, as we know, in his dream at Gibeon asked God for wisdom. The wisdom intended was practical wisdom, knowledge of men and affairs, even astuteness. Now Wisdom in the Biblical, indeed in any Ancient sense is not to be equated with anything so mundane as this. A god-like attribute, in Greek mythology it counted as its patron the goddess Athene herself, who invented the flute, the trumpet, the earthenware pot, the plough, the rake, the oxyoke, the horse-bridle, the chariot, and the ship. She first taught the science of numbers, and all women’s arts, such as cooking, weaving, and spirming. Chapters 1–9 of Proverbs make it clear that wisdom is regarded not only as a human achievement but as a universal reality the work of God that precedes his creation of the world. Indeed, this divine Wisdom is presented as a person who calls men and seeks to help them in their search for knowledge and as such constitutes a type of divine activity in behalf of men. It is the breath of the power of God that permeates all things. Wisdom in this greater sense, which was handed by God to Solomon, surely does not preclude the capacity to experience the kind of spiritual, indeed mystical, communion which is suggested by the writer or writers of the Installation ceremony of 1827.
While this may go some way towards explaining the sudden, indeed dramatic reappearance of the dead Hiram, it does not, of course, explain the interesting use of the appellation Adon : Lord. The use of this title I find the most interesting as well as most fascinating feature of the mystery.
In no other masonic context do we meet this title in connexion with Hiram; not even where we think we should be most likely to come across it: in his ordeal and death in the Temple. What comes most readily to mind on reading the appellation, however, is that Adon (Adonis) whose cult prevailed over the whole eastern Mediterranean. One recalls the shocked Ezekiel’s seeing even at the outer door of the north gateway into the Temple the women wailing for Tammuz (Adon). And this as late as 592 B.C.
Under the names of Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, and Attis, the peoples of Egypt and Western Asia represented the yearly decay and revival of life, especially of vegetable life, which they personified as a god who annually died and rose again from the dead. As Frazer has pointed out, The true name of the deity was Tammuz: the appellation of Adonis is merely the Semitic Adon, lord, a title of honour by which his worshippers addressed him.
What reasoning might lie behind the compiler’s, or compilers’, inclusion of the fertility god Adon(is) in this particular context — if indeed such is the case? If we ask ourselves, with what did the Adonis cult concern itself, and that exclusively, the answer is: death and resurrection. The god’s death at the gathering in of the harvest — the month of Tammuz wailings was from 20 June to 20 July, when heat and drought brought forth the demons of hunger and pestilence —and his resurrection with the starting of the new corn.
The connexion with the Installation ceremony becomes immediately obvious. Indeed, the connexion of such a mythological figure with masonry in toto needs little explanation, for what is Freemasonry about if it is not death and resurrection: the death of the old ego and the rebirth, assisted by masonic line and rule, of the new? The Installation ceremony carries the parallel a stage further, for here we have surely the symbolic annual death of the old Master and the beginning of the rule of the new: a clear recall of the Adonis Mysteries and as clear a return to practice once hallowed by millennia of tradition.
It may be objected first that the juxtaposition of the appellation Adon with that of Hiram, even if the intention of the compiler or compilers was to direct the attention of the participants in the ceremony to the essential factor in it, would place too great a burden on the ability of those participants to see correspondences: in other words, that the element of logic to which we today fondly believe we are accustomed is lacking. Now there is no known mythology that develops according to strict logical pattern. Mythologies being syncretistic, borrowings, fusings, and overlappings of elements are one of their most marked characteristics. One cannot, therefore, expect to find in masonic legend logical structures which are foreign to the genre as a whole.
Further, if we today fail to grasp the intended symbolism, the fault lies rather in ourselves than in the intention of the compiler or compilers ; or more accurately, in our education, which has all but totally neglected the fouridation blocks of a culture which once transcended the artificial boundaries of race and state.
Objection may also be raised to the juxtaposition, in a masonic context, of Adon, with all his pre-historic, pagan associations, with that of the Biblical Hiram Abif, whose devotion to the Hebrew Jahveh seems to have been indisputable. Two instances from the Bible itself should suffice to disperse this.
Corn deities such as Tammuz (Adon) being weeping deities, whom fertilising tears awoke to new life, the sowers of grain simulated the sorrow of divine mourners of the slain god when they cast the seed in the soil — to “die”: that it might spring up again as corn. The eclectic, indeed syncretistic nature of religion, as indeed of humanum genus, is evident from the psalmist David’s song:
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
Esther provides an even more striking example of the introduction into a Biblical context of deities considered anathema to the jealous Jahveh. Esther herself is none other that the Babylonian Ishtar, the lover of Tammuz (Adon), to save whom from eternal night (and the peoples of a dying world from the spectres of famine and death) she descended into the dreadful queendom of Eresh-ki-gal. Mordecai, the guardian of the surpassingly fair Esther, is the Babylonian Marduk, the sun genius, and creator of mankind. The wicked Haman, whose plan to hang Mordecai about-turns, so that he is hanged from his own gallows, is the Baal-Hammon of certain Phoenician and Mesopotamian regions well known to the Jews.
Esther reveals important spiritual and historical truths in legendary images. Emil Bock summarises the purpose of this revelation succinctly.
The deity of external sense-radiance turned demonic, Baal-Hammon, was the hate filled villain. Marduk, the shining one, arose against the principle of evil in the figure of a Judaean, robbed of his homeland. And the virginal-maternal goddess Isis-ishtar, as Esther, simultaneously degraded and elevated as the slave and consort of the foreign ruler, stood on the side of Marduk. It is an apocalyptic image which is unveiled to us in earthly dramatization.
If the above hypothesis regarding the inclusion of the mythological Adon is correct, the compiler, or compilers, of the Installation ceremony after the deliberations of 1827 were merely continuing a tradition hallowed by inclusion in the Volume of the Sacred Law.
They had however no need to go further than Masonic ritual for a justification of Adon’s inclusion in a ceremony so closely associated with death and rebirth, that of the Second Degree ceremony, where the juxtaposition of two fertility symbols closely associated with corn deities had existed from the beginning: the ear of corn near to a fall of water. Ears or sheaves of corn or wheat are attributes of all corn deities, says the Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, and symbolise the fertility of the earth, awakening lif, life springing from death …  Attis, the Adon of the Cybele cult of Western Asia (Phrygia) was the reaped yellow ear of corn. The ear of corn indeed was the central symbol of those greatest of all Mysteries — the Eleusinian: There was exhibited as the great, the admirable, the most perfect object of mystic contemplation, an ear of corn that had been reaped in silence. For the second element, water, All waters are symbolic of the Great Mother and associated with birth, the feminine principle, the universal womb, the prima materia.
The two symbols, among the most ancient and powerful the human mind has been able to conceive, come together in the phenomenon known as the Gardens of Adonis. These were baskets or pots filled with earth, in which wheat or barley were sown and tended, chiefly or exclusively by women, for eight days. Eight days symbolically represented the eight years which was the accepted cycle, the Great Year of a hundred lunations, of the Sacred King before he died, that is was slain, for the people. Forced up by the sun’s heat, the plants shot up rapidly, but having no root withered as quickly away; and at the end of eight days were carried out with the images of the dead Adon, and flung with them into the sea or into springs.
Finally, to what manner of man, or men, do we owe the inclusion of Adon-Hiram in what is one of the most significant of Masonic rituals? And under what circumstances was the inclusion of Adon-Hiram in the new, and standardised, ritual of 1827 effected?
Without knowing even their names or backgrounds, one can be sure of one thing: that their education must have been a severely classical one, one that would have made them familiar with the substance on which has been based the hypothesis in this paper. University men, they would have read Classics at Oxford, or Classics and Mathematics at Cambridge. Durham, the third oldest University in England, was founded only in 1832, its first undergraduates coming up a year later. Its curriculum also, being modelled on that of the older Universities, was as distinctly classical. Certainly, Neo-classicism was in the air in 1827, and had been for some time; Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn had appeared in his 1820 volume. Louis Cazamian has written of Keats’ favourite themes, as shown in the Odes, as the sculptural grace of Greek attitudes, the nostalgy [sic] of the charming myths of Hellas, the changing semons and the joy of the earth … in all, a Dionysian inspiration. Whether the compiler, or compilers, of the Initiation ceremony of 1827 had read the Urn, in which Keats catches, frozen in mid-stream, as it were, a festive celebration of earth’s generosity whose origins go back into the dawn of humankind, can be only a matter for conjecture. He or they would certainly be aware of Ovid’s Fasti, that curious little compendium of Roman religious customs and traditions, and it is inconceivable that they would have experienced a University education without being made aware (however deplorable was the tuition in the Oxford and Cambridge of the late eighteenth century) of the religio-mythological background of the ancient cultures.
Even assuming that the compiler, or compilers, were not University men, they would have had, at the public schools they attended, a classical education that was vastly more than a foundation for that which they then went on to at University. Tom Brown, in Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown at Oxford, writes of his lectures at St. Ambrose’s as a farce, all the books he was lectured on having been ‘done over and over again’ at Rugby. Even a clerical tutor employed to teach the most prestigious at home, such as the Grand Master, would have been fashioned in exactly the same mould.
What we know of the compiler, or more likely compilers, of the 1827 Ceremony of Installation, is that they were, in the words of Dundas, the Deputy Grand Master, in the Warrant, a Special Committee, and they and they alone were responsible for the momentous changes. This Special Committee had drawn up, revised, arranged or rearranged the Installation Ceremony, on the authority of the Grand Master, His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, fourth son of George III and Uncle to the Queen, one of the two avuncular ogres indeed who were the bane of her childhood. The Duke, a voracious book-collector be it noted, having approved the Ceremonial changes, issued a Warrant, dated 6 February 1827, authorizing ten ‘trusty and well-beloved Brothers’ (these included the Grand Secretary, the Grand Registrar, and the Masters of seven senior Lodges) to promulgate them.
The reason for this intense activity of 1827 is made clear. The Grand Lodge Proceedings for 6 June of the same year stated it categorically.
“The M.W Grand Master stated that finding there was much diversity in the Ceremonial of the Installation of Masters of Lodges, and feeling it to be most desirable that uniformity hould exist, His Royal Highness had deemed it expedient to issue a Warrant to certain intelligent others, directing them … to hold meetings for the purpose of promulgating and giving instructions in this important ceremony that conformity might be produced…” 
As bas been already stated, there is no appearance of Adoniram before 1827. Neither is there any trace of the story of Solomon’s inspection of the Temple in any text before that date. These additions must, consequently, have been included following the deliberations of the Select Committee.
What is impossible to believe is that such an important ceremony as the 1827 Installation Ceremony could have been drawn up, on instructions from the highest masonic authority with the declared intention of eradicating diversity in the ceremonial, and standardising it for the foreseeable future, without the most meticulous thought being given to every detail. Thus the inclusion of Solomon’s inspection of the Temple and his encounter with Adoniram (Adon-Hiram) must surely merit an importance far greater than that of a chance encounter of the King with an unidentifiable stone-mason. Quite as impossible to believe is that the compilers had forgotten that Hiram Abif was dead and buried, and were therefore guilty of an anachronistic howler for which any Eton schoolboy of the time would have been bent double over the block in Old School.
Since it made sense to them, it should, deductive reasoning being exercised, also make sense to us. What is offered above is a hypothesis which, it is to be hoped, goes at least some way to explaining a mystery that has been calling out for some time for explanation.
It conflicts in no way with masonic teaching; and as certainly accords with the view, held by many, that the roots of Freemasonry run far deeper than the Age of Reason when, most incongruously, they first threw up trunk and branches above the rationalistic surface.
- M. Black (ed.), Peake’s Commentary on the Bible, Nelson, 1962, p. 340.
- Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Pelican, 1966, p. 96.
- Peake, p. 349.
- Proverbs 7: 25.
- Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough, Macmillan, 1933, p. 325.
- Psalms CXXVI.
- Emil Bock, Kings and Prophets, Floris, 1989, p. 361.
- Bock, p. 362.
- Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols (J. C. Cooper), Thames and Hudson, 1978, pp. 42-3.
- Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, pp. 188-9.
- Frazer, pp. 341 seq.
- Quoted in Harry Carr, The Freemason at Work, p. 283.
- Carr, p. 283.