Adoniram: The Fourth Grand Master
RIC Charles Varn
by RIC Charles Varn, Grand Principal Conductor of the Work, Grand Council of South Carolina
There are many characters in the legends of masonry that we have become familiar with: King Solomon of Israel appears in a great number of degrees and is the anchor of many appendant bodies. King Hiram of Tyre is also featured in many degrees, generally in a supporting role to King Solomon. Hiram Abiff also appears repeatedly, usually as an integral character. The temple is used so often as a symbol it becomes a character unto itself. One character, while not appearing in the Craft degrees, appears in many of the appendant bodies: Adoniram ben Abda, the successor of Hiram Abiff.
Adoniram is mentioned 5 times in the Scriptures by name:
- 2 Samuel 20:24 “Adoniram was in charge of forced labor; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was recorder”
- 1 Kings 4:6 “Ahishar-palace administrator; Adoniram son of Abda-in charge of forced labor.”
- 1 Kings 5:13-14 “King Solomon conscripted laborers from all Israel–thirty thousand men. He sent them off to Lebanon in shifts of ten thousand a month, so that they spent one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor.”
- 1 Kings 12:18 “King Rehoboam sent out Adoniram, who was in charge of forced labor, but all Israel stoned him to death. King Rehoboam, however, managed to get into his chariot and escape to Jerusalem.”
- 2 Chronicles 10:18 “King Rehoboam sent out Adoniram, who was in charge of forced labor, but the Israelites stoned him to death. King Rehoboam, however, managed to get into his chariot and escape to Jerusalem.
There may be other instances of the scripture referring to him by the names Hadoniram, Adonhiram, or other variations, but from these 5 verses we see that Adoniram served in the courts of King David, Solomon, and Rehoboam as a high-ranking vassal. He was charged with receiving the levies and tributes and he was stoned to death by the people after the King increased the levies against the advice of his council. It has been proposed that there was a second Adoniram, perhaps his son to explain the length of his service. It is uncertain which tribe he belonged to or if he was even an Israelite. In a paper written by Rev. CJ Ball, published by Lodge Quatrour Coronati, he theorizes that Adoniram may have a foreigner, and based on the structure of his and Abda’s name some biblical scholars believe he would have been a Canaanite.1 In each of these 5 verses it indicates that Adoniram was over the forced labor which is a reference to Deuteronomy chapter 20 verse 10-11 “When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you” making Adoniram the overseer of all the people conquered by King David in their labors both for the temple and other public works.2
Moving on from the scriptural character to the masonic traditions he is found as the primary character in Adoniramite Masonry, a branch of freemasonry that was primarily practiced in France. Mackey writes that there were three schools of Masonry during the 18th century. Those who believed Hiram Abiff was the chief architect of the temple and Adoniram was a separate, less important character; Those who believe Hiram Abiff was the chief architect of the temple and King Solomon bestowed the title “Adon”, meaning exalted, on Hiram and that Adon Hiram Abiff and Adoniram were the same person, this can be refuted by Masonic lore to the description of the length of service Adoniram provided to the several kings of Israel in scripture as well as their respective deaths, and the possibility that Hiram Abiff was actually married to Adoniram’s sister3; and those who believed Hiram was a secondary character to Adoniram, and Adoniram was the primary architect based on scripture stating Adoniram was over the labor and Hiram Abiff was merely a skilled craftsman. The first Adonhiramite Masonry originates in and is primarily seen in France sometime in the early 18th century. Albert Mackey posits that this is due to a poor translation of Hebrew texts into French and a lack of biblical knowledge. In this version of Freemasonry, Adoniram takes the place of Hiram Abiff as the chief architect of the temple. The Adonhiramite Masonry had twelve degrees4:
- Master Mason
- Perfect Master
- Elect of Nine
- Elect of Perignan
- Elect of Fifteen
- Minor Architect
- Grand Architect or Scottish Fellow
- Scottish Master
- Knight of the Sword, Knight of the East, or of the Eagle
- Knight of Rose Croix
Scottish Rite Masons of the Southern Jurisdiction will notice a striking similarity in the names of several of the Adonhiramite degrees and the degrees of the Lodge of Perfection. This is likely due to the origin of both the Scottish Rite and Adoniramite Masonry being of a French nature and one may have influenced the other. The Knight of the Eagle appears in some later texts in reference to the “Select of 27” which could be a reference to the Select Master degree in the Cryptic Council, but this may be a coincidence.
1 Ball, Rev. C.J. n.d. “The Proper Names of Masonic Tradition; A Philological Study.” Ars Quatuor Coronatorum Vol. 5: 136-141.
2 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915. “Adoniram.” Bible Study Tools. Edited by James Orr. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/adoniram.html.
3 Mackey, Albert G. 2014. “Encyclopedia of Masonry and its Kindred Sciences.” Phoenix Masonry. Accessed February 12, 2018. http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/mackeys_encyclopedia/index.htm.
4 Dafoe, Stephen. 2008. Adonhiram. Edited by Stephen Dafoe. Accessed April 5, 2018. http://masonicdictionary.com/adonhiram.html.