The Noahchites

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

File:Shem, Ham and Japheth.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

It may be a surprise to some Freemasons that Hiram Abiff wasn't always in a prominent role in the Master Mason Degree. In fact, the first reference to the Hiramic legend occurs in 1730 in Samuel Prichard's Masonry Dissected. In this work, Prichard refers to Hiram as "Grand Master Hiram". We do know that by 1738, the Hiramic Legend seems to be in place, as Dr. James Anderson's Constitutions of 1738 states that after the completion of the Temple, "their joy was soon intterupted by the death of their dear Master, Hiram Abiff, whom the decently interred in the Lodge near the Temple according to ancient usage." If Hiram wasn't always featured in the Master Mason degree until sometime around 1730, then what was the degree like?

In 1936, a document entitled: The whole Institution of free Masonry opened and proved by the best of tradition and still some reference to scripture, was discovered. The document, which came to be known as The Graham Manuscript, comprises two small pieces of parchment which have been dated to 1726. It was written in very old English, and thought to be a copy from another document.  Translated into Modern English it reads:
"We have it by tradition, and still some reference to scripture for it caused Shem, Ham and
Japheth to go to their father Noah's grave for to see if they could find anything about him to
lead them to the valuable secret which this famous preacher had...
For I hope all will allow that all things needful for the new world was in the Ark with Noah.
Now these 3 men had already agreed that if they did not find the very thing itself,
that the first thing that they found was to be to them as a secret...
They not doubting, but did most firmly believe that God was able and would also
prove willing, through their faith, prayer and obedience, to cause what they did find to prove
as valuable to them as if they had received the secret at first from God Himself at its headspring.
So [they] came to the grave, finding nothing save the dead body almost consumed away.
Taking a grip at a finger, it came away... so from joint to joint... so to the wrist...
so to the elbow... so they reared up the dead body... and supported it...
setting foot to foot... knee to knee... breast to breast... cheek to cheek... and hand to back...
and cried out 'Help, Oh Father'...
As if they had said 'Oh Father of Heaven, help us now, for Our earthly father cannot'...
so laid down the dead body again and not knowing what to do...
so one said: 'Here is yet marrow in this bone' and
the second said: 'But a dry bone' and
the third said: 'It stinketh'.
So they agreed to give it a name as is known to free masonry to this day...
so went to their undertakings, and afterwards works stood."


So it can be said then without a doubt that Noah held an important role in the Master Mason degree prior to the introduction of Hiram Abiff. This is further illustrated in Albert Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and it's Kindred Sciences. Under the entry for Noah, Mackey states: "In all the old Masonic manuscript Constitutions that are extant, Noah and the Flood play an important part in the Legend of the Craft. Hence, as the Masonic system became developed, the Patriareh was looked upon as what was called a Patron of Freemasonry. This connection of Noah with the mystic history of the Order was rendered still closer with the influence of many symbols borrowed from the Arkite Worship, one of the most predominant of the ancient faiths. So intimately were incorporated the legends of Noah with the legends of Freemasonry that Freemasons began, at length, to be called, and are still called, Noachidae, or the descendants of Noah a term first applied by Doctor Anderson, and very frequently used at a much later day."

With all of the characters in the Old and New Testaments, then why would Noah be chosen to be represented in the Master Mason degree prior to Hiram Abiff?

Noah was important for a few reasons:
1. He and his ancestors would have been the progenitors of the Human Race after the flood, as well as the saviors of the animals of the land that he held in the Ark.

2. He carried the Noachide Laws, or the six laws given to Adam by God to which a seventh was given to Noah. These were the laws which would be followed by his people until he gave Moses the Ten Commandments.

The Noachide Laws were:
1. Renounce all idols.
2. Worship the one true God.
3. Commit no murder.
4. Be not defiled by incest.
5. Do not steal.
6. Be just.
7. Eat no flesh with blood in it.

3. He would have been the keeper of antediluvian knowledge, especially the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Mackey acknowledges these points further down in his entry for Noah: "The writer of the Cooke MS. (1410/1450 A.D.) had before him an original which may have been written about 1350 A.D. The author of that original frankly acknowledges that many of his historical statements are taken from "the polycronicon," a sort of universal history, or omnium gatherum, in which were collected scraps and fragments of lore of many kinds, especially about the remote past, and without any attempt to distinguish genuine history from myths, legends, tales, fables. It was from such a polycilronicon that the writer of the Cooke original drew the story of Noah and the Deluge which the Cooke condenses into a paragraph beginning at line 290. According to the old tale thus taken from the polychronicon men knew that God would destroy the world out of vengeance, either by fire or by water; therefore in order to save them from destruction, men wrote the secrets of the Arts and Sciences on two "pilers of stone." When the vengeance came, it turned out to be by water as Noah had expected, and for 365 days he and his family lived in the Ark. With him mere his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives. Many years afterwards, the "cronyelere telleth," the two pillars were found; Pythagoras found one, and Hermes the other.

The 0ld Charges (Masonic MS, Old Constitutions, etc., they also were called) which served as a charter for the first permanent Lodges of the Freemasons were held in great reverence; in them was this story of Noah and the pillars, and it is from this source, it is reasonable to believe, that pillar and column symbolism came to be used in Speculative Masonry; and since the use of the Arts and Sciences traced directly back to Noah's sons who recovered their use after the Deluge, practitioners of them were sometimes called "Sons of Noah."
The first, or 1723, edition of the Book of Constitutions of the Mother Grand Lodge touches but lightly on the story of Noah, but in the second, or 1738. edition the whole account is changed, the Arl; itself is described as having been a Masonic masterpiece, and Noah and his three sons are described as "four Grand officers." "And it came to pass as they journeyed from the East of the plains of Mount Ararat, where the Ark rested toward the West, they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there as Noachidae, or Sons of Noah . . ." In a footnote the author explains the word: "The first name of Masons, according to some old traditions."

What those "old traditions" were nobody knows because there is no evidence that Operative Freemasons called themselves by that name. But it was in some use prior to 1738, for in 1734 Lord Weyrnouth ordered a letter to be sent to the Prov. Grand Master at Calcutta in which this curious statement was included: "Providence has fixed your Lodge near those learn'd Indians that affect to be called Noachidae, the strict observance of his Precepts taught in those Parts by the Disciples of the great Zoroastres, the learned Archimagus of Bactria, a Grand Master of the Magians, whose religion is much preserved in India (which we have no concern about), and also many of the Rituals of the Ancient Fraternity used in his time, perhaps more than they are sensible of themselves. Sow if it was consistent with your other Business, to discover in those parts the Remains of Old Masonry and transmit them to us, we would be all thankful ...." (A. Q. C. XI, p. 35.)

If ever "Noachidae" was in use as a name for Masons it could not have been extensive, because the word (an ugly hybrid) is almost never met with in early Lodge Alinutes or Histories; it is probable that such small use of it as is encountered in American Lodges in the first half of the Nineteenth Century (it is now wholly obsolete) was directly owing to the popularity here of the writings of the Rev. George Oliver who never hesitated to give to fancies out of his own mind the same weight as the verdict records of history.
There mere two reasons for the place of Noah and his sons in Masonic thought and traditions. It is obvious that the writer of the Cooke MS—or rather, the author of the original of which the Cooke is a copy —had an historical problem to solve: if the Deluge destroyed everything how were the Arts and Sciences, Geometry especially, preserved and recorded?

The story of the pillars and of the use made of them by Noah's sons, which, as was seen, he found ready-made in a polychronicon, was his solution. Second, the story of the sons of Noah had a point to it of value for Masons who sought to make clear to their own minds the religious foundations of the Craft. If Masonry w as geometry and architecture it is as old as the world; if it existed in Stoah's time it existed before Christianity, or Judaism either; and yet it now works in Christian lands; how could a "Christian" society have a pre-Christian origin? The answer was that under the separate religions is a ground, or fundamental, or matrix of a universal religion which consists of a belief in God and Brotherhood among men, and righteousness. Oliver himself gives one of the clearest expressions of this idea in a paragraph of his in A Dictionary of Symbolical Masonry (New York; 1855; p. 190): "NOACHIDAE, Sons of Noah; the first name of Freemasons; whence we may observe that believing the world u as framed by one supreme God, and is governed by him; and loving and worshiping him; and honoring our parents; and loving our neighbor as ourselves; and being merciful even to brute beasts, is the oldest of all religions."

Not all the versions of the Old Charges contain the Noah story in the same form; the Graham MS. version which has so many details peculiar to itself, and is really an Old Catechism more than a version of the Old Charges, gives the Noah story in a different form and reads in it a different lesson; and it has the lost secrets discovered after the death of Noah rather than after the death of Niram. In his Ahiman Rezon, or Book of Constitutions, writing as Grand Secretary for the Ancient Grand lodge of 1751, Laurence Dermott ridicules the whole story; but it is only as history that he ridicules it, not as symbolism, because (to judge by such written remains of it as have survived) the Ancient Ritual connected the Great Pillars with the two "pillars" in the Cooke MS. Also, in both Ancient and Modern symbolism and in the Royal Arch, the Ark is used as an emblem. (This identification of the Ark with Noah's Ark may be a mistake on the part of Eighteenth Century Ritualists, because before 1717 Operative Gilds kept their papers in a "coffin"— which later reappears under the name "casket," "the Lodge," and "ark.")"

Prior to being Widow's Sons, Freemasons were sometimes identified as NOACHIDES or NOACHITES or "Sons of Noah". This is further confirmed again by Mackey under the entry for NOACHIDAE (NOACHITES) in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and It's Kindred Sciences.  Mackey states: "The descendants of Noah. A term applied to Freemasons on the theory, derived from the Legend of the Craft, that Noah was the father and founder of the Masonic system of theology. Hence the Freemasons claim to be his descendants, because in times past they preserved the pure principles of his religion amid the corruptions of surrounding faiths. Doctor Anderson first used the word in this sense in the second edition of the Book of Constitutions: "A Mason is obliged by his tenure to observe the moral law as a true Noachida."  Aside from being the Sons of Noah, the Noachides were essentially those that followed the Noachide Laws up until the time of Moses.  In following the moral laws of a Freemason, Freemasons were also following the Noachide Laws, and therefore were associated with the Noachides. 

It is easy to see the similarities between the Noachite Legend given in the Graham Manuscript and the current Hiramic legend. Both include raising from the grave, the five points of fellowship and the pact to record whatever was observed during the actions in at attempt to recover lost knowledge. Furthermore, the words and actions around the grave should strike some level of familiarity with Master Masons. Given the similarities, I think one can say that the Noachite Legend was mostly transformed into the the Hiramic Legend that we know today. Noah and his sons still are represented in Freemasonry in one of the Allied Masonic Degrees, in that of the "Royal Ark Mariner". Noah is also alluded to one of the emblems of a Master Mason, "The Anchor and the Ark." I think that the brethren who went through the Master Mason degree prior to when Hiram Abiff was part of it still had a profound and deeply moving experience. I can only imagine how interesting the degree would have been to witness with Noah being the main figure. All this being said, I might be the only Freemason that is disappointed that real grip of a Master Mason isn't called: "It Stinketh". It would be a much easier explanation than Covid-19 to explain why we're now bumping elbows instead of shaking hands.
~DAL

WB Darin A. Lahners is a Past Master of and Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com


1 comment:

  1. >the first reference to the Hiramic legend occurs in 1730

    So the first we see of the Noah raising third degree is about 1723 and just 7 years later this Masonic landmark is replaced with the Hiram non-raising. Who had the authority to do that?

    As I recall, the first lodge in which we see the new third degree is a lodge in which the sitting Master is not a member of that lodge. Does this suggest that the introduction of the new third degree was from outside mainstream Masonry? Chevalier Ramsay perhaps?

    Interestingly the account of the death of Hiram is remarkably similar to that of James the Just? What is going on?

    ReplyDelete