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Mosaic Symbolism

In the religion of Moses, more than in any other which preceded or followed it, is symbolism the predominating idea. From the tabernacle, which may be considered as the central point of the whole system, down to the vestments which clothed the servants at the altar, there will be found an underlying principle of symbolism. Long before the days of Pythagoras the mystical nature of numbers had been inculcated by the Jewish lawgiver, and the very name of God was constructed in a symbolical form, to indicate His eternal nature. Much of the Jewish ritual of worship, delineated in the Pentateuch with so much precision as to its minutest details would almost seem puerile were it not for the symbolic idea that is conveyed. So the fringes of the garments are patiently described, not as decorations, but that by them the people, in looking upon the fringe, might "remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them." Well, therefore, has a modern writer remarked, that in the symbolism of the Mosaic worship it is only ignorance, that can find the details trifling or the prescriptions minute; for if we recognize the worth and beauty of symbolism, we shall in vain seek in the Mosaic symbols for one superfluous enactment or one superstitious idea.

To the Freemason the Mosaic symbolism is very significant, because from it Freemasonry has derived and transmitted for its own uses many of the most precious treasures of its own symbolical art. Indeed, except in some of the higher, and therefore more modern Degrees, the symbolism of Freemasonry is almost entirely deduced from the symbolism of Mosaism. Thus the symbol of the Temple, which persistently pervades the whole of the ancient Masonic system, comes to us directly from the symbolism of the Jewish tabernacle. If Solomon is revered by the Freemasons as their traditional Grand Master, it is because the Temple constructed by him was the symbol of the Divine life to be cultivated in every heart.

And this symbol was borrowed from the Mosaic tabernacle; and the Jewish thought, that every Hebrew was to be a tabernacle of the Lord, has been transmitted to the Masonic system, which teaches that every Freemason is to be a temple of the Grand Architect. The Papal Church, from which we get all ecclesiastical Symbolism borrowed its symbology from the ancient Romans. Hence most of the advanced Degrees of Freemasonry which partake of a Christian character are marked by Roman symbolism transmuted into Christian. But Craft Masonry, more ancient and more universal, finds its symbolic teachings almost exclusively in the Mosaic symbolism instituted in the wilderness.

If we inquire whence the Jewish lawgiver derived the symbolic system which he introduced into his religion, the history of his life will readily answer the question. Philo-Judaeus says that "Moses was instructed by the Egyptian priests in the philosophy of symbols and hieroglyphics as well as in the mysteries of the sacred animals." The sacred historian tells us that he was "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians"; and Manetho and other traditionary writers tell us that he was educated at Heliopolis as a priest, under his Egyptian name of Osarsiph, and that there he was taught the whole range of literature and science, which it was customary to impart to the priesthood of Egypt. When, then, at the head of his people, he passed away from the servitude of Egyptian taskmasters, and began in the wilderness to establish his new religion, it is not strange that he should have given a holy use to the symbols whose meaning he had learned in his ecclesiastical education on the banks of the Nile.

Thus is it that we find in the Mosaic symbolism so many identities with the Egyptian Ritual. Thus the Ark of the Covenant, the Breastplate of the High Priest, the Miter, and many other of the Jewish symbols, will find their analogies in the ritualistic ceremonies of the Egyptians. Reghellini, who has written an elaborate work on Masonry considered as the result of the Egyptian, Jewish, and Christian Religions, says on the subject: "Moses, in his mysteries, and after him Solomon, adopted a great part of the Egyptian symbols, which, after them, we Masons have preserved in our own" (see Doctor Mackey's revised Symbolism of Freemasonry).

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