The Phoenicians and a Passage to Ethiopia
By: C.Matulewicz, P.M.
In the legend of the third degree we see three ruffians seeking to escape prosecution for their crime by making their way to the port city of Joppa. This course of action makes little sense for two reasons:
the first being that the sea port of Joppa is on the Mediterranean coast which during the biblical period of Solomon would be impossible to reach Ethiopia from this port (until the Suez Canal was finished in 1869). The second and more compelling is that the men of Tyre were descended from the Phoenicians which were one of the widest spread peoples of the ancient world.
Looking at the problems of geography and the seafaring tradition of the Phoenicians we as Masons must look at the use of Ethiopia as a symbol as opposed to literal safe haven if we are to understand its inclusion in our ritual.
Accidents of Geography
Looking at a map of biblical Israel during the time of Solomon we are struck with Joppa being situated along the western coast, roughly 30 miles northwest of Jerusalem. Biblically the quality of the anchorage made it the port of Jerusalem. It was to Joppa that Hiram floated down from Tyre the fir trees of Lebanon (2 Chron 2:16), and, later, Zerubbabel, acting on the edict of Cyrus, caused to be brought here cedar trees from the same mountains (Ezra 3:7). But without the use of the Suez Canal it is impossible to sail from this sea port to Ethiopia as a ship would need to venture across the Mediterranean, through the straights of Gibraltar, and around the horn of Africa to do so. This would be expensive, dangerous, and incredibly unlikely due to the situation of Elath and the Red Sea.
Elath is an ancient Hebrew port city, controlled by the Israelites during the time of Solomon. This port city was located at the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba which extends into the Red Sea, and served as the sea port linking the Kingdom of Solomon to the traders of Arabia and the riches of the Kingdom of Ethiopia. This port would have provided the most direct rout to Ethiopia and would have been known by the men of Tyre particularly if we are to read the Bible we see that Solomon saw the value of the sea port we read that Solomon built a "navy of ships" at Ezion-Geber beside Elath; from there it sailed to Ophir manned by his servants and those of Hiram, king of Tyre (I Kings 9:26; I Chron. 8:17). Solomon actually sourced gold for the Temple at Ophir.
Biblically we associate Ophir with Ethiopia, and the tradition of the Queen of Sheba. Let’s read that passage from Kings one more time.
"And King Solomon made a navy of ships in Eziongeber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red sea, in the land of Edom. And Hiram sent in the navy his servants, shipmen that had knowledge of the sea, with the servants of Solomon. And they came to Ophir, and fetched from thence gold, four hundred and twenty talents, and brought it to king Solomon." (1 Kings 9:26-28)
Given the geography and the fact that men of Tyre are documented actually building ships next to the most likely port city to embark for Ethiopia from and actually went to a city Biblically associated with Ethiopia and the Queen of Sheba (The Ophir was the Brother of Sheba) and came back to Jerusalem with materials for the very building the ruffians were working on it seems increasingly unlikely that the workmen would have headed to Joppa to make their way to Ethiopia. The logic of the route, even for panicked ruffians fleeing justice does not make sense.
Men of Tyre
The men of Tyre, servants of King Hiram, were descended from the ancient Phoenicians. As we read in 1 Kings these men of Tyre were noted by their knowledge of the sea a fact compounds the geographical problem of Joppa. The Phoenicians were the most skilled and respected seamen of the ancient Mediterranean, their trading routes spanned through the Iberian Peninsula and modern Morocco to the East coast of Africa to India. These seamen spanned the extent of the world with their trade, and were the first to circumnavigate Africa, begging the question how could men of Tyre with their seafaring tradition head to Joppa to get to Ethiopia, particularly if some of the workmen had already visited Ethiopia by way of Eloth?
The Biblical city of Joffa (Joppa), 30 miles away from Jerusalem was the major seaport for the city. Joppa was the landing point for the cedars provided by King Hiram for the temple, and it had a long Phoenician tradition. This was one of the cities founded by the Canaanites, from whom the Phoenicians were descended which was later absorbed by the Israelites. This city of Joppa makes even less sense as an embarkation point for Ethiopia when we consider that the city still had a large Phoenician population who would have well known that it was not possible to able to sail to Ethiopia from Joppa.
Our Ritual is myth and allegory, and in my opinion nothing is included without an intention. Were there better ways to get to Ethiopia, yes… but the inquiry is the excitement my Brothers. This paper was written and presented to the Maryland Masonic Lodge of Research, a body dedicated to exploring Masonic ideas and presenting research to like minded Brethren. When papers are not ready we meet to discuss Masonic topics and share ideas. If this paper interests you look for our meetings www.mmlr.org, we would love to talk about our gentle craft with you…