The Discoveries of the Workmen in the Royal Arch Degree

The following monitorial instructions on the discoveries of the workmen in the Royal Arch Degree appear on pp. 133-138 of “The Book of the Chapter” by Albert G. Mackey.

The Keystone.

Until within a few years, architectural authorities have denied the antiquity of the arch and keystone, and have attributed their invention to a period not anterior to the era of the Roman emperor Augustus. Such a theory, if correct, would of course invalidate the historical truth of an important portion of the Royal Arch degree. Fortunately, therefore, the researches of modern archaeologists have traced the existence of the arch as far back as five hundred and fifty years before the building of King Solomon’s temple, and thus completely reconciled the traditions of Freemasonry with the accuracy of history.

Mr. Wilkinson, the great Egyptian traveler, says that the arch “was evidently used in the tombs of the Egyptians as early as the commencement of the eighteenth dynasty, or about 1540 B.C.; and judging from some of the drawings at Beni Hassan, it seems to have been known in the time of the first Osirtasen, whom I suppose to have been contemporary with Joseph.” [Wilkinson, John. Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, vol. II. p. 117.]

“After this,” says Kitto, “it seems unreasonable to doubt that the arch was known to the Hebrews also, and employed in their buildings.”

But in the decision of the question we are not left to the suggestions of probability. Portions of the immense substructions of the temple of Solomon still exist, and have been recently discovered and explored. Messrs. Scoles and Catherwood, two English architects, were the first to notice the commencement of the spandril of an arch springing from these subterranean works towards Mount Zion, and Dr. Jarvis suggests that this arch “may have been part of the construction of Solomon’s private entrance into the temple.” [Jarvis, Samuel. Church of the Redeemed, vol. I. p. 258.] The researches of subsequent travelers have discovered other vaults and arches beneath the temple, evidently the work of Solomon.

Three Squares.

Freemasonry is throughout so connected a system that we are continually meeting in an inferior degree with something that is left to fee explained in a higher. Such is the case with the three squares of our ancient Grand Masters, whose peculiar history can only be understood by those who have advanced to the degree of Select Master.

Ark of the Covenant.

The following quotation from the learned Dr. Lightfoot’s “Prospect of the Temple,” (ch. 15), will at this time be read with interest by the Royal Arch Mason:

“It is fancied by the Jews, that Solomon, when he built the temple, foreseeing that the temple should be destroyed, caused very obscure and intricate vaults under ground to be made, wherein to hide the ark when any such danger came; that howsoever it went with the temple, yet the ark, which was the very life of the temple, might be saved. And they understand that passage in 2 Chronicles 35:3, ‘Josiah said unto the Levites, put the holy ark into the house which Solomon, the son of David, did build,’ &c., as if Josiah, having heard by the reading of Moses’ manuscript and by Huldah’s prophecy of the danger that hung over Jerusalem,—commanded to convey the ark into this vault, that it might be secured; and with it, say they, they laid up Aaron’s rod, the pot of manna, and the anointing oil. For while the ark stood in its place, upon the stone mentioned,—they hold that Aaron’s rod and the pot of manna stood before it; but, now, were all conveyed into obscurity—and the stone upon which the ark stood lay over the mouth of the vault. But Rabbi Solomon, which useth not, ordinarily, to forsake such traditions, hath given a more serious gloss upon the place; namely, that whereas Manasseh and Amon had removed the ark out of its habitation, and set up images and abominations there of their own,—Joshua speaketh to the priests to restore it to its place again. What became of the ark, at the burning of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, we read not; it is most likely, it went to the fire also. However it sped, it was not in the second temple; and is one of the five choice things that the Jews reckon wanting there. Yet they had an ark there also of their own making, as they had a breast-plate of judgment; which, though they both wanted the glory of the former, which was giving of oracles, yet did they stand current as to the other matters of their worship, as the former breast-plate and ark had done.” [Lightfoot, John. Prospect of the Temple. pp. 295-6.]

The idea of the concealment of an ark and its accompanying treasures always prevailed in the Jewish church. The account given by the talmudists is undoubtedly mythical, but there must, as certainly, have been some foundation for the myth, for every myth has a substratum of truth. The masonic tradition differs from the rabbinical, but is in every way more reconcilable with truth, or at least with probability. The ark constructed by Moses, Aholiab and Bezaleel was burnt at the destruction of the first temple—but there was an exact representation of it in the second, of whose origin Royal Arch Masonry alone gives an account.

The Book of the Law — Long Lost But Now Found.

The Book of the Law furnishes us with the following passages, which may be appropriately read.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” — Genesis 1:1-3.

“And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.” — Deuteronomy 31:24-26.

“And thou shalt put the mercy-seat above, upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee.” — Exodus 25:21.

There was a tradition among the Jews that the Book of the Law was lost during the captivity, and that it was among the treasures discovered during the building of the second temple. The same opinion was entertained by the early Christian fathers, such for instance as Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clemens Alexandrinus, “for,” says Prideaux, “they (the Christian fathers) hold that all the Scriptures were lost and destroyed in the Babylonish captivity, and that Ezra restored them all again by divine revelation.” [Prideaux, Humphrey. Old and New Testament Connected, vol. I. p. 368.] The truth of the tradition is very generally denied by biblical scholars, who attribute its origin to the fact that Ezra collected together the copies of the laws, expurgated them of the errors which had crept into them during the captivity, and arranged a new and correct edition. But the truth or falsity of the legend does not affect the masonic symbolism. The Book of the Law is the will of God, which, lost to us in our darkness, must be recovered as precedent to our learning what is TRUTH. As captives to error, truth is lost to us; when freedom is restored, the first reward will be its discovery.

Pot of Manna.

“And Moses said, this is the thing which the Lord commandeth, Fill an omer of the manna, to be kept for your generations; that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt. And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up before the Lord, to be kept for your generations. As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the testimony to be kept.” — Exodus 16:32-34.

Aaron’s Rod.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token.” — Numbers 17:10.

Mystic Key.

In one of the highest degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Rite we find the following explanation of the symbolism of the key which is equally applicable to Royal Arch Masonry. “The key demonstrates that having obtained the key to our sublime mysteries, the mason, if he behaves with justice, fervency and zeal to his companions, will soon arrive at the true meaning of the masonic society.”

But the symbolism is here still further extended. It is within the sacred pages of the law that this invaluable key is found, which teaches us that it is only in the revelations of the Supreme Architect of the Universe that DIVINE TRUTH is to be discovered.

The full text of Mackey’s monitorial instructions on the Royal Arch degree may be found at:

Royal Arch from Mackey’s “The Book of the Chapter”