Pronounced Zer-oobbawbel, the accent or emphasis on the last syllable. In writing the life of Zerubbabel from a Masonic point of view, it is incumbent that reference should be made to the legends as well as to the more strictly historical details of his eventful career. With the traditions of the Royal Arch, and some other of the higher Degrees, Zerubbabel is not less intimately connected than is Solomon with those of Symbolic or Ancient Craft Masonry. To understand those traditions properly, they must be placed in their appropriate place in the life of him who plays so important a part in them. Some of these legends have the concurrent support of Scripture, some are related by Josephus, and some appear to have no historical foundation. Without, therefore, vouching for their authenticity, they must be recounted, to make the Masonic life of the builder of the second Temple complete.
Zerubbabel, who, in the Book of Ezra, is called Sheshbazzar, the Prince of Judah, was the grandson of that King Jehoiachin, or Jeconiah, who had been deposed by Nebuchadnezzar and carried as a captive to Babylon. In him, therefore, was vested the regal authority, and on him, as such, the command of the returning captives was bestowed by Cyrus, who on that occasion, according to a Masonic tradition, presented to him the sword which Nebuchadnezzar had received from his grandfather, Jehoiachin.
As soon as the Degree of the Persian monarch had been promulgated to his Jewish subjects, the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, with the Priests and Levites, assembled at Babylon, and prepared to return to Jerusalem, for the purpose of rebuilding the Temple. Some few from the other Tribes, whose love of their country and its ancient worship had not been obliterated by the luxuries of the Babylonian court, united with the followers of Zerubbabel, and accompanied him to Jerusalem.
The greater number, however, remained; and even of the Priests, who were divided into twenty-four courses, only four courses returned, who, however, divided themselves, each class into six, so as again to make up the old number. Cyrus also restored to the Jews the greater part of the sacred vessels of the Temple which had been carried away by Nebuchadnezzar, and five thousand and four hundred were received by Zerubbabel, the remainder being brought back, many years after, by Ezra. Only forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty Israelites, exclusive of servants and slaves, accompanied Zerubbabel, out of whom he selected seven thousand of the most valiant, whom he placed as an advanced guard at the head of the people.
Their progress homeward was not altogether unattended with danger; for tradition informs us that at the river Euphrates they were opposed by the Assyrians, who, incited by the temptation of the vast amount of golden vessels which they were carrying, drew up in hostile array, and, notwithstanding the remonstrances of the Jews, and the Edict of Cyrus, disputed their passage. Zerubbabel, however, repulsed the enemy with such ardor as to insure a signal victory, most of the Assyrians having been slain in the battle, or drowned in their attempt to cross the river in their retreat. The rest of the journey was uninterrupted, and, after a march of four months, Zerubbabel arrived at Jerusalem, with his weary followers, at seven o'clock in the morning of the 22d of June, five hundred and thirty-five years before Christ.
During their captivity, the Jews had continued, without intermission, to practice the rights of Freemasonry, and had established at various places regular Lodges in Chaldea. Especially, according to the Rabbinical traditions, had they instituted their mystic Fraternity al Naharda, on the Euphlates; anal, according to the same authority, we are informed that Zerubbabel carried with him to Jerusalem all the secret knowledge which was the property of that Institution, and established a similar Fraternity in Judea. This coincides with, and gives additional strength to, the traditions of the Royal Arch Degree.
As soon as the pious pilgrims had arrived at Jerusalem, and taken a needful rest of seven days, a Tabernacle for the temporary purposes of divine worship was erected near the ruins of the ancient Temple, and a Council was called, in which Zerubbabel presided as King, Jeshua as High Priest, and Haggai as Scribe, or principal officer of State. It was there determined to commence the building of the second Temple upon the same holy spot which had been occupied by the first, and the people liberally contributed sixty-one thousand drachms of gold, and five thousand minas of silver, or nearly a quarter of a million of dollars, toward defraying the expenses; a sum which sinks into utter insignificance, when compared with the immense amount appropriated by David and Solomon to the construction of their Temple.
The site having been thus determined upon, it was found necessary to begin by removing the rubbish of the old Temple, which still encumbered the earth, and prevented the workmen from making the necessary oarrangements for laying the foundation. It was during this operation that an important discovery was made by three Sojourners, who had not originally accompanied Zerubbabel, but who, sojourning some time longer at Babylon, followed their countrymen at a later period, and had arrived at Jerusalem just in time to assist in the removal of the rubbish.
These three Sojourners, whose fortune it was to discover that stone of foundation, so intimately connected with the history of Freemasonry and to which we have before had repeated occasion to allude, are supposed by a Masonic tradition to have been Esdras, Zachariah, and Nehemiah, the three holy men, who, for refusing to worship the golden image, had been thrown by Nebuchadnezzar into a fiery furnace, from which they emerged uninjured. In the Chaldee language, they were known by the names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
It was in penetrating into some of the subterranean vaults, that the Masonic stone of foundation, with other important mysteries connected with it, were discovered by the three fortunate Sojourners, and presented by them to Zerubbabel and his companions Jeshua and Haggai, whose traditionary knowledge of Freemasonry, which they had received in a direct line from the builders of the first Temple, enabled them at once to appreciate the great importance on these treasures.
As soon as that wonderful discovery was made, on which depends not only the existence of the Royal Arch Degree, but the most important mystery of Freemasonry, the Jews proceeded on a certain day, before the rising of the sun, to lay the foundation-stone of the second Temple; and for that purpose, we are told, Zerubbabel selected that stone of foundation which had been discovered by the three Sojourners. On this occasion, we learn that the young rejoiced with shouts and acclamations, but that the ancient people disturbed them with their groans and lamentations, when they reflected on the superb magnificence of the first Temple, and compared it with the expected inferiority of the present structure.
As in the building of the first Temple, so in this, the Tyrians and Sidonians were engaged to furnish the timber from the Forests of Lebanon, and to conduct it in the same manner on floats by sea to Joppa. Scarcely had the workmen well commenced their labors, when they were interrupted by the Samaritans, who made application to be permitted to unite with them in the construction of the Temple. But the Jews, who looked upon them as idolaters, refused to accept of their services.
The Samaritans in consequence became their bitter enemies, and so prevailed, by misrepresentations, with the ministers of Cyrus, as to cause them to put such obstructions in the way of the construction of the edifice as seriously to impede its progress for several years. With such difficulty and danger were the works conducted during this period, that the workmen were compelled to labor with the trowel in one hand and the sword in the other. To commemorate these worthy Craftsmen, who were thus ready, either to fight or to labor in the cause of God, as circumstances might require, the sword and trowel crosswise, or, as the Heralds would say, en Satire, have been placed upon the Royal Arch Tracing Board or Carpet of our English Brethren. In the American instructions this expressive symbol of valor and piety was unfortunately omitted.
In the seventh year after the restoration of the Jews, Cyrus, their friend and benefactor, died, and his son Cambyses, in Scripture called Ahasuerus, ascended the throne. The Samaritans and the other enemies of the Jews, now becoming bolder in their designs, succeeded in obtaining from Cambyses a peremptory order for the stoppage of all the works at Jerusalem, and the Temple consequently remained in an unfinished state until the second year of the reign of Darius, the successor of Cambyses.
Darius appears to have had, like Cyrus, a great friendship for the Israelites, and especially for Zerubbabel, with whom he was well acquainted in his youth. We are informed, as an evidence of this, that, when a private man, he made a vow, that if he should ever ascend the throne, he would restore all the vessels of the Temple that had been retained by Cyrus. Zerubbabel, being well aware of the friendly disposition of the King, determined, immediately after his accession to power, to make a personal application to him for his assistance and protection in rebuilding the Temple. Accordingly he departed from Jerusalem, and after a journey full of peril, in which he was continually attacked by parties of his enemies, he was arrested as a spy by the Persian guards in the vicinity of Babylon, and carried in chains before Darius, who, however, immediately recognized him as the friend and companion of his youth, and ordering him instantly to be released from his bonds, invited him to be present at a magnificent feast which he was about to give to the Court.
It is said that on this occasion, Zerubbabel, having explained to Darius the occasion of his visit, implored the interposition of his authority for the protection of the Israelites engaged in the restoration of the Temple. The King promised to grant all his requests, provided he would reveal to him the secrets of Freemasonry. But this the faithful Prince at once refused to do. He declined the favor of the monarch at the price of his infamy, and expressed his willingness rather to meet death or exile, than to violate his sacred obligations as a Freemason.
This firmness and fidelity only raised his character still higher in the estimation of Darius, who seems, indeed, to have been endowed with many noble qualities both of heart and mind. It was on this occasion, at the feast given by King Darius, that, agreeably to the custom of Eastern monarchs, he proposed to his courtiers the question whether the power of wine, women, or the King, was the strongest.
Answers were made by different persons, assigning to each of these the precedency in power; but when Zerubbabel was called on to assert his opinion, he declared that though the power of wine and of the King might be great, that of women was still greater, but that above all things truth bore the victory. Josephus says that the sentiments of Zerubbabel having been deemed to contain the most wisdom, the King commanded him to ask something over and above what he had promised as the prize of the victor in the philosophic discussion. Zerubbabel then called upon the monarch to fulfill the vow that he had made in his youth, to rebuild the Temple, and restore the vessels that had been taken away by Nebuchadnezzar.
The King forthwith granted his request, promised him the most ample protection in the future prosecution of the works, and sent him home to Jerusalem laden with honors, and under the conduct of an escort.
Henceforth, although from time to time annoyed by their adversaries, the builders met with no serious obstruction, and finally, twenty years after its commencement, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius, and on the third day of the month Adar, 515 5 ears B.C., the Temple was completed, the capstone celebrated, and the house solemnly dedicated to Jehovah with the greatest joy. After this we hear nothing further of Zerubbabel, nor is the time or manner of his death either recorded in Scripture or preserved by Masonic tradition. We have, however, reason for believing that he lived to a good old age, since we find no successor of him mentioned until Artaxerxes appointed Ezra as the Governor of Judea, fifty-seven years after the completion of the Temple.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry