An Ethiopian Journal

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Why Ethiopia?

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Los Altos Lodge No. 712
by Earl D. Harris, P.G.M., Georgia Member, Southern California Research Lodge

Last year when Worshipful Brother Lamar Pearson asked if I would deliver a paper to this August body I made two mistakes: First, I accepted; and second, I asked him what subject he would like me to address. To my question he promptly responded, “Why Ethiopia.” And that was almost my undoing.

While I was initially pondering the question, Brother Pearson went on to comment that he had never had anyone adequately explain why the ruffians, or criminals, in the Hiramic Legend had sought to escape by attempting to flee to Ethiopia. He went on to comment on the seeming impossibility of such a trip by ship or over the water from Joppa, noting that Joppa is on the Mediterranean Sea, Ethiopia is on the Red Sea, and the Suez Canal (which now connects the two) is but a recent man-made structure. Thus, in Solomon’s time there was no water route from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, and thus on to Ethiopia (other than around Africa).

And Brother Pearson was right .. at least to an extent. I too have inquired of my more learned Brethren and in general have been met by the most perplexing looks and a fairly standard “I don’t know.” inquiry in my limited Masonic library has also met with almost a void of information concerning Ethiopia. Mackey’s Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry shows an inclination to the thought that, if Ethiopia is found in the American and not the English and French accounts of the Hiramic Legend, its inclusion must be an American interpolation. (1) In his Masonic Encyclopedia, Henry W. Coil fails to even mention Ethiopia in connection with the legend. Examination of over a dozen American monitors and expose’s from William Morgan’s Illustrations of Masonry in 1827, to The Masonic Trestle-Board of 1843, to our own Masonic Manual, all support that part of the legend where the ruffians attempt to escape Solomon’s kingdom by boarding a ship sailing from the port of Joppa bound for Ethiopia. However, nowhere did I find any explanation of why the ship was bound for Ethiopia. Older English exposes, such as Samuel Prichard’s Masonry dissected of 1730, Three Distinct Knocks of 176O, and Jachin and Boaz of 1762, have no mention of such an attempted escape. The port of Joppa was mentioned in Three distinct Knocks and Jachin and Boaz, however, only in the sense of being near where the ruffians were eventually captured. Neither the attempt to board a ship nor Ethiopia itself is mentioned in any of these English accounts. Finding no support for any proposition in the literature available, a look at the geography and the political background may lend insight as to whether such a trip was even physically possible .. that is a trip by ship from the port of Joppa to the land of Ethiopia. Of the African nations only Egypt and Ethiopia can trace their history Into antiquity. Most recent discoveries have confirmed the presence of men in the Ethiopian area as early as 1.5 million years ago. Bas- reliefs dating about 1500 B.C. at Thebes show Ethiopians cultivating myrrh and incense. Egyptian hieroglyphics indicate a civilization in Ethiopia as early as the 2nd millennium B.C., and it is known that Egyptian pharaohs bought spices, myrrh, incense and other such precious goods from the Ethiopians during their reigns. It was called by the Egyptians “Punt,” or Land of God, as they believed certain of their divinities came from Ethiopia. It was also referred to as Habashat and later Abyssinia (2) From about 2000 B.C. until approximately 1100 B.C. Ethiopia was ruled by the northern Egyptian empires. (3) Known as Chus or Cush by the Hebrews, the Biblical Ethiopia was a region of the upper Nile basin, at times extending from south of the first cataract, then Nubia (now approximately the site of Aswan), and encompassing what is now lower modern Egypt and the Sudan, possibly extending into the north parts of modern Ethiopia or Abyssinia. (4) It is known that during the 21st Egyptian dynasty in the 11th century B.C., during the time of Kings Saul, David and Solomon, a powerful State was established in Cush, or Biblical Ethiopia, with Its capital at Napata, at approximately the third cataract in northern Sudan. Toward the end of the 8th century B.C. (less than 200 years after Solomon built the Temple) this State conquered Egypt and established the t or “Ethiopian” dynasty, (5) eventually extending its influence across north Africa from the Red Sea to the Atlantic. At this point several collateral items of interest may he considered: First, Westminster Historical Atlas of the Bible discloses that in Egypt a canal from the Nile to the extreme northwestern arm of the Arabian Gulf (or Red Sea – the arm we now know as the Gulf of Suez -) was dug long before Roman times and restored by (the Roman) Trajan (about 98-117 A.D. and that it furthered Rome’s) trade with countries east of the empire. (6) Could there have been a canal in Solomon’s time that connected the Nile with the Red Sea at the Gulf of Suez? Next, It is known that Solomon’s contact with Hiram of Tyre included not only the supply of some of the materials needed for the Temple but also cooperation with shipping, for which the Phoenicians were famous. In I Kings 10:27-28 it Is found that Hiram’s navy and Solomon’s servants sailed to the mysterious land of Ophir from which they brought gold and other rare items. Recently, in Peru’s highland jungle a U.S. explorer, Gene Savoy, discovered three ancient stone tablets, each measuring about 5 by 10 feet and weighing several tons. On these tablets are stylized inscriptions similar to Phoenician and Semitic hieroglyphics used in King Solomon’s time. One such inscription is said to be identical to the symbol that always appeared on the ships Solomon sent to Ophir, the Biblical source of his gold. Were Solomon’s gold mines actually in Peru? Did his servants sail across the Mediterranean and Atlantic or did they sail from the Red Sea, through Indian and Pacific Oceans to Peru? Although interesting these two theories are rather “far-fetched” and should be discounted for the purposes of this discussion. In all probability Solomon’s shipping contact with ports on the Red Sea or Arabian Gulf was through his own port of Exion-geber at the northern most point on the western fork of the Red Sea in the Gulf of Aqaba. It was here that he built a fleet of ships for the Red Sea trade and a large smelter for refining the ores of Arabah. (7) Solomon did obviously have contact with the Ethiopian culture, as especially witnessed by his visit from the Queen of Sheba. Actually, she was from an area known as Saba, now a part of Yemen, then a territory controlled by Ethiopia. The Arabian dynasty which began ruling in Ethiopia in the second century A.D. called themselves negus-nagast, or king of kings, In that they traced their decent to Menellk, whom they claimed to be the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. (8) But, again, this does not solve the problem of sailing from Joppa to Ethiopia. The answer to the physical problem of sailing from Joppa to Ethiopia has already been solved. Ethiopia in the Biblical sense was not Ethiopia of today. Its boundaries constantly changed even then. At times it was in the lower Nile region, even to lower modern Sudan and the northern part of modern Ethiopia. At other times It extended from the Atlantic Ocean, along the Mediterranean coast, down the Nile basin, across the Red Sea Into Arabia (Yemen and surrounding countries) One hundred years before the completion of Solomon’s temple It Is known to have had Its capital at Napata, a place near the third cataract In the Nile. And less than 200 years after the building of the Temple It controlled all of Egypt and was expanding along the Mediterranean coast. In Solomon’s time It Is not unreasonable to see that Nubia or Cush or Ethiopia was expanding rapidly northward along the Nile and was probably at or near the First Cataract, near what Is now Aswan. The practice of towing ships against the stream with draft animals was a well known practice even to the Egyptians, and was relatively cheap. This could be done even over the cataracts; thus making commerce up the Nile, especially with smaller boats, entirely feasible. It would be no special feat to sail from Joppa across a corner of the Mediterranean Sea, up the Nile at least as far as the first cataract, and on Into Biblical Ethiopia by the tow from draft animals. Now that it can be seen an actual journey could have been made by boat or ship from Joppa to Ethiopia (at least the Ethiopia of Biblical times), the question still remains .. Why was Ethiopia chosen as the ultimate place for escape? Although we fend little mentioned In Masonic literature concerning Ethiopia, we do find It mentioned many times In the Bible. Beginning In Genesis and ending In the New Testament book of Acts, we find Ethiopia mentioned not less than nineteen times. Other synonyms for “Ethiopia,” such as Cush of Chush or Chusthites, are also mentioned. At least one version of the Bible has several additional references. However, In almost all, Ethiopia is associated with other countries, notably Egypt and Libya, and almost always as a place far away. It is first mentioned in the second chapter of Genesis as the land encompassed by the second river, Gibon. (9) It Is spoken of as a place of mighty warriors and men of violence. (10) Even with a major seaport at Ezion-geber in the land of Edom on the Aqaba Gulf of the Red Sea where Solomon had his Red Sea fleet of ships, ( 11 ) a journey to the land of Ethiopia from Jerusalem was long, perilous and rough -over wastelands, mountains and then the sea.

Though Ethiopia was one of the more far reaches of the known world, It has long been known as a gathering place of many races .. a melting pot, where the Negro, Caucasian and Mongoloid, and blends In- between existed together. (12) A cross-roads for trade between Egypt (and other Mediterranean countries) and the of the East, Ethiopia also acquired many diverse customs and skills. In Its ancient capital of Axum, stands evidence of the skills of stone masons of the past in many magnificent ruins and in more than 125 obelisks. (13) As one of the more far reaches of the known cultures, and a place where skilled masons were obviously welcome, Ethiopia would be a most logical place for our three criminals to attempt to escape their sure reward for assassination committed. There they were far away from their crime, could be accepted for their skills, and could blend into the ethnic and racial conglomeration to possibly escape from even an extended search of such a mighty king as Solomon.

Why Ethiopia? Although our legend is largely fictional, Ethiopia would have been accessible by ship, even from Joppa, and was a practical choice. But as our legend is primarily a symbol or collection of symbols given to teach lessons, so too might the possibility of flight to Ethiopia be purely symbolic for the purpose of the legend.

Mackey, In his Symbolism of Freemasonry, has pointed out that Hiram Abiff Is, in the Masonic system, the symbol of human nature, as developed in the life here and the life to come; and so, while the Temple was .. the visible symbol of the world, its builder became the mythical symbol of man, the dweller and worker In that world.” (14)

He goes on to point out that man meets at least three obstacles in life’s pathway that could very well assassinate his character and moral growth. These are “Temptations (that) allure his youth, misfortunes (that) darken the pathway of his manhood, and (that ) his old age Is encumbered with infirmity and disease. (15)

Philosophers through the ages, Masonic and otherwise, have pointed out that within man’s own mind come the Ruffians which must be conquered in order for man to rise from the plane of his mere animal existence to the place of spiritual fulfillment in harmony with his Maker. In his short talk on Ruffians, (16) Reverend and Brother Joseph Fort Newton reminds us that three of the greatest Greek thinkers identified what they said to be the three causes of sin in the human heart. Socrates said the chef cause is ignorance, in that no man does evil unless he is so blinded by ignorance that he does not see the right. (17) Plato expanded upon this, saying that in spite of knowledge and the ability to see right and wrong clearly man still may do wrong if in a dark mood. Passion, he states, “stirs up sediments from the bottom of the mind and so clouds reason that even clear vision fails.” (18) Aristotle identified the third Ruffian to cause us to do evil as “moral perversion, a spirit of sheer mischief, which does wrong, deliberately and In the face of right, calmly and with devilish cunning, for the sake of wrong and for the love of It.” (19) The Ruffians have been characterized as “none other than the symbols of those lusts and passions welch in our own breasts, or in the breasts of others, make war on our characters and our lives,” … “the enemies to he feared by the soul are from within, and are nothing other than its own ignorance, lust, passions and sins. (20) Brother Allen Roberts In The Craft and its Symbols states these Ruffians of the soul are man’s constant companions, greed, jealousy and selfishness. (21) Brother George H. Steinmetz in his book Freemasonry – its Hidden Meaning, explains that the first Ruffian “Typifies material desires, greed, avarice and covetousness, which prompt the attempt to gain benefits regardless of the rights of others.” (22) The second “symbolizes the physical .. those attitudes of the mind rather than the material desires .. responsible for intolerance, bigotry, hatred and envy.” (23) The third he contends, arises when, not realizing that the Temple within him is not complete, man allows “Doubt” to strike down his “Faith” .. “Faith” that “which alone can give his desires.” (24) Illustrious Brother Albert Pike identified our Ruffians as the enemies and assassins of the social progress and individual welfare of mankind in general, specifically: the Kingcraft, which “strikes a blow at the throat, the seat of freedom of speech;” the Priestcraft, which “stabs at the heart, the home of freedom of conscience;” and the Mob-craft, which “fells his victim with a blow to the brain, which is the throne of freedom of thought.” Together they conspire to destroy liberty, without which man can make no advance.” (25) The actual symholism of the Ruffians may vary from interpretation to interpretation, from person to person, from situation to situation, from time to time, but such is the nature of symbols .. and rightfully so. The general concept remains the same; the Ruffians are those negative attributes of man or mankind which have the tendency to assassinate, to main, to kill, and to destroy our ability to bring ourselves into closer harmony with our Creator and to hailed a better society upon the precepts that God has given us. However these symbols are defined. When faced with TRUTH .. Divine TRUTH as symbolized by the judgement and wisdom of Solomon – when confronted with those eternal TRUTHS set forth by the Grand Architect of the Universe through the inspired writers of His Volume of Sacred Law – these Ruffians take flight. They attempt to hide in the remotest regions of man’s own self (Man’s internal Ethiopia), that place “to be found only through one’s own search for lost answers to the deeper and true mystery of what (man’s) life’s mission and eternity is and the failures of the weakness of the flesh.” (26) With TRUTH from GOD, man can find, can fight, can cope with and can finally conquer his inner Ruffians. Whether purely “an American interpolation” (27) to the Hiramic Legend, as contended by Brother Mackey when he pointed out that it was not found in the English or French accounts, or a genuine part of the Legend whose origins are lost in the mists of antiquity and simply not considered substantive by our English and French brethren, “Ethiopia” did exist as a place that could have been reached by ships from Joppa and does add symbolic significance to our Legend.

Why Ethiopia? It is only logical.


1. Albert G.Mackey, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. (Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Company, Inc.) Vol. I p. 341.

2. Encyclopedia Britannica, Macropaedia, Vol. 6 p. 1006

3. Encyclopedia Judaica, P. 943.

4. Louis F. Hartman, Encyclopedia dictionary of the Bible, (C.SS.R., 1963) p. 386.

5. Ibid.

6. George F. Wright and Floyd V. Filson, Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible, P. 88.

7. The Bible, I Kings, 9:26.

8. Encyclopedia Judaica, P. 943.

9. The Bible, Genesis 2:13

10. Ibid., II Chronicles 14:9, II Kings 19:9; etc. 11. Ibid., I Kings 9:26

12. Olivia Vlahos, African Beginnings, (Vicking Press, 1967), p. 30

13. Edna Kavia, The Land and People of Ethiopia, (J.B. Lippincott Co., 1965), pp.44-46

14. Albert G. Mackey, Symbolism of Freemasonry, (Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., Inc.), p. 231.

15. Ibid., p. 233.

16. Joseph Fort Newton, Short Talks on Masonry, (Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., Inc.) p. 117

17. Ibid., p. 120.

18. Ibid., p. 120.

19. Ibid., p. 121.

20. George S. Draffen, “The Hiramic Legend,” The Short Talk Bulletin, Vol. 67 No.10, October 1989. (The Masonic Service Association)

21. Allen E. Roberts, The Craft And Its Symbols, (Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., Inc.), p.82.

22. George H. Steinmetz, Freemasonry – Its Hidden Meaning (Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., Inc.), p. 167.

23. Ibid., p. 168.

24. Ibid., p. 169

25. Newton, p. 117 at p. 118.

26. Carl Wussow, Why Ethiopia, (Silas H. Shepherd Lodge of Research, Kiel, Wisconsin; March 28, 1987)

27. Mackey, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Vol. I, p. 341.


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Written by Tseday

October 12, 2008 at 12:36 am