The Hiram Key
Authors: Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas
reviewed by Theresa Welsh
A classic of alternative history, The Hiram Key presents a powerful and original picture of the birth of Christianity and the even older origins of freemasonry. The book is significant mainly because the authors are both Master Masons and have used their knowledge of the esoteric initiations of Masonic Temples in unraveling the same mysteries tackled by other authors in this genre.
What emerges from their research is a new theory of the identity of the mysterious “Hiram Abiff” who is known to Masons as the architect of King Solomon’s temple, along with some far-reaching implications. According to these authors, Hiram Abiff was not Solomon’s architect as established in Masonic lore; he was, rather, a person who lived 500 years before the son of King David began building the first Jewish temple in Jeruselem. They believe the pharaoh Sequenenre Tao, who lived during the end of the time when the Hyksos held power in Egypt, fits the description of the story of Hiram Abiff. The traditional story is that Hiram held secrets that were used to build the temple. Three of his workmen wanted those secrets and threatened him to try to get him to reveal what he knew. But Hiram would not reveal the secrets and was killed by a blow to the head. He is revered by Masons who place great value on the preservation of secret knowledge. Hiram chose to die rather than violate the trust placed in him to keep the secrets. In this, the story echoes other mythical tales.
The Egyptians, say the authors, used a secret ceremony to transition from one pharaoh to another, and this ceremony was an enactment of death and resurrection. The authors believe the ceremony involved drugs to make the pharaoh-to-be ritually “die” during which he went to the underworld and obtained the power which passed from the previous pharaoh, who was actually dead. He was then “resurrected” and took his place as a god-king. Once this king-making ceremony was completed, no one would question the right of the newly-initiated pharaoh to take the place of the previous pharaoh. This ceremony dates from the early kingdom, when upper and lower Egypt were first united. The two Egypts attained stability through the pharaoh, and they were symbolically joined by two pillars located at Thebes and Memphis, uniting upper and lower Egypt. This concept of two pillars was later incorporated into Solomon’s temple and is the origin of the pillars in Masonic Temples, which always feature twin pillars called Boaz and Jachin. From the Egyptians also comes the concept of “ma’at,” which meant treating people fairly, being just in dealings with others, and this too found its way into Masonic beliefs.
The authors discovered that Sequenenre Tao had been killed in exactly the manner attributed to Hiram Abiff, and they theorize that he was killed by representatives of the Hyksos leader, who ruled, but was not pharaoh. He could never be pharaoh without passing through the resurrection ceremony. The Hyksos assasins demanded to know the secret, but Sequenenre Tao would not reveal it and was killed. The book provides pictures of the pharaoh’s mummy, showing the injuries to his head, and a grisly picture of the remains of the supposed assassin, who was punished by being castrated and mummified while still alive. Even many centuries after his death, it is apparent from the facial expression of his remains that he died in great pain.
So how did Hiram Abiff get associated with an Egyptian pharaoh? The authors believe the story passed down through Moses, an Egyptian prince who knew of the resurrection ceremony. Later, during the Babylonian captivity, the prophet Ezekiel pronounced that the Jewish people must shed their Egyptian past. They kept the story of the faithful man who preferred death to revealing secrets, but they changed the context and invented an architect of Solomon’s temple who became Hiram Abiff. Ezekiel also had a vision of a new temple that was to have a powerful influence down through the years, even though it was never actually built.
The twin pillars that symbolized stability for the Egyptians found their way into beliefs of Jewish sects at the time of Jesus, taking the form of two messiahs, one a political leader and the other a spiritual leader. The authors theorize that Jewish ideas handed down from the Egyptians were the source of political protest at the time of the Roman occupation of Jeruselem. Jesus and his brother James, along with John the Baptist, were part of the Qumran (called Nasorean or Essene) community that held to these ideas. John and Jesus were the original two messiahs, but when John was killed, James replaced him. Jesus was the political messiah, and he did a lot more recruiting among the Jewish population than seemed sensible to his ascetic brother James, the spiritual messiah. As messiah, Jesus was heir to the “secrets” including knowledge of the resurrection ceremony. The authors say this ceremony, used to introduce a new recruit to the Essene sect, was the basis of the belief that Jesus literally resurrected Lazurus and that Jesus himself rose from the dead. Unlike the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Hiram Key states that Jesus really did die on the cross. At that time, his brother James took the role of both messiahs.
The authors are of the belief that Jesus was a man, not a God, and that this was the belief of the early Jeruselem church headed by Jesus’ brother James. They make use of the Dead Sea scrolls and the Nag Hamadi finds in arriving at this conclusion. According to them (and many other authors), most of the current Christian beliefs were invented by Constantine at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, long after the original community led by James had been persecuted into obscurity. They point out, however, that a still-existing sect, the Mandaeans of Iraq, trace their origins to John the Baptist. This group does not believe in the divinity of Jesus. The Christian religions today draw their doctrines largely from Paul, who never knew Jesus and whose teachings departed from those of the Essenes. The authors theorize that James wanted nothing to do with Paul and that there is no basis for the Catholic belief that Peter was the first Pope or that the church at Rome reflected the beliefs of the Jeruselem sect to which Jesus belonged.
The authors draw on many Masonic traditions in the book, looking for ancient beliefs that match the often-strange and largely-forgotten meanings of Masonic ceremonies. In searching out the roots of freemasonry, the authors find the most plausible explanation is the one advanced by many other authors -- that the Masons are the successors to the Kinghts Templar whose order was established to protect Jeruselem, to provide safety to pilgrims, but more importantly, to guard its secrets. Like the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Knight and Lomas point to evidence that the first Templars were excavating under the remains of the temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. They postulate that what they found was scrolls containing the secrets passed down from Egypt, secrets and possibly treasures they kept throughout their existence and passed to Scotland when evil King Philip of France, with the approval of Pope Clement V, ordered the capture of the Knights Templar. Although Philip succeeded in torturing and killing the Templar leader, Jacques de Molay, many of the Templars fled to Scotland where they found refuge with the Sinclair (St. Clair) family, who became the hereditary grand masters of Scottish freemasonry.
According to these authors, through the ancient ceremonies still used by Masons, we can learn the truth about our history. I found the book interesting, but not entirely convincing. The authors seem to have gone out of their way to antagonize Christians in stating their thesis and this probably dooms their ideas from gaining much foothold. If what they say about Jesus is so, then one must inescapably accept that the authors of the New Testament simply made up a lot of what they wrote, or got it garbled after so many years had passed between the events and thier writing of the gospels. It seems pretty clear to me that the Bible says Jesus raised Lazurus from the dead and that Jesus appeared to his disciples after his crucifixion, implying a real (not symbolic) resurrection from the dead. Although Knight and Lomas are not the first authors to suggest Christianity is based on nonsense, they take on a powerful lobby in so stating. They also provide almost nothing in support of this idea except the Masonic tradition of a resurrection ceremony in which the initiate ritually dies and returns to life.
The authors cover a huge sweep of history, from the Sumerians down to present day. They tell us the Templars sailed to America well before Columbus. Original with them is a new and plausible source for the word “America” which they suggest comes from “Merica” which was a Nasorean term meaning a perfect land across the ocean. They cite evidence from Roslyn Chapel in Scotland, built before Columbus, but with carvings of New World plants (a much better source for this is Andrew Sinclair’s book, The Sword and the Grail-- mentioned in my review of The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar by Steven Sora). They believe the United States was founded on Masonic principles, and certainly it is true that George Washington was a Master Mason and many of the founding fathers were Masons.
For anyone interested in the history of the Masonic movement, this book has lots to offer. However, the authors do not provide sources for many of their theories, which are often based on flimsy evidence. Neither author is a professional archeologist or historian. Amateurs have the advantage that they can skip across disciplines and don’t have to worry about losing their academic appointment if their conclusions go too far beyond orthodoxy. But amateurs also sometimes jump to unwarranted conclusions. Knight and Lomas may have incorrectly connected the dots in some places, but they have given us plenty to think about. If you ‘re interested in alternate theories of history, The Hiram Key delivers some original insights you won’t get elsewhere.