By Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, Past Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales & the Australian Capital Territory.For the builders of the medieval period, the Jerusalem Temple, as the first great edifice built to the glory of God, was an inspiration as they worked on the great cathedrals. We take it for granted that the Temple they were thinking of was the First Temple, the sanctuary which King David had hoped to build but his son Solomon erected in his stead. But Solomon’s was not the only Temple in Jerusalem. The Royal Arch celebrates the Second Temple erected in 516 BCE by Zerubbavel – a more modest structure than its predecessor, even though the prophet Haggai had enthused that “the glory of the latter house will be greater than the former” (Hag. 2:9).
The story of the Temples does not end there. There was a third Temple; the cruel monarch Herod tried to placate the Jews by rebuilding the sanctuary in much more ornate fashion, but to little avail. It did not improve his standing with his subjects, and before long the Romans destroyed it in the year 70 CE. Yet it must have been an impressive edifice. According to rabbinic hyperbole, “Whoever did not see Herod’s building never saw a beautiful building in his life” (Bava Batra 4a). In the following century the Roman emperor Hadrian had ideas of creating a pagan temple on the sacred site, which provoked the Jews to revolt. The Jewish leader, Bar Kochba, defiantly struck coins “for the building of the Temple”, but he, his forces and plans were defeated.
As Christianity spread and the Roman Empire became Christianised under Constantine, a further bizarre chapter opened. The emperor Julian – “The Apostate” – was a pagan opponent of Christianity. Believing that his sun-god Phoebus was a universal god and more or less the same as the Jewish Deity, he convinced himself that he could counter the Christian belief in Jesus’ prophecy that the site would remain in ruins and that he could gain support from the Jews if he built a Temple in Jerusalem. The project, spearheaded in 363 CE by one Alypius of Antioch, began but was never completed.
Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” says that the Jews gave money and many came to Jerusalem to show their support, but it is more likely that the Jewish Diaspora showed more suspicion than interest. The building works were abandoned, probably because of bursting balls of fire. Julian was wounded in a campaign in Mesopotamia and may have been assassinated by one of his own officers.
By the Middle Ages, the Temple was merely a memory. Christian masons believed that the lack of a physical Temple was compensated on a spiritual level. Still, it gave them enhanced pride in their own craftsmanship to hope that their work would be worthy of the Temple. Temple symbolism carried over into speculative Freemasonry; one outcome was the practice of calling Masonic meeting-places Temples, though this gave the impression that the craft was a rival religion with its own houses of worship. To allay criticisms, Masons today prefer to call their meeting places Masonic centres.
Christians continue to attach little significance to building a Temple in the earthly Jerusalem. Jews, on the other hand, continue to believe that in the days of the Messiah, a new Temple will arise.
For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.
Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple’s book on the history, symbolism and teachings of Freemasonry, enlivened with personal reminiscences and humour.