(As a Mason myself, I found the following article very interesting and well worth sharing):

Finding the Freemasons in Jerusalem
by Nadav Shragai [1]

While conducting a dig in Zedekiah’s Cave recently, the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered remnants and artifacts that once belonged to the Freemasons. The findings point to a link between the mysterious fraternal organization and an underground quarry that runs below Jerusalem’s Old City, and they also debunk longstanding myths that the cave leads to the Temple Mount.

On Saturday, April 6, 1918, the Freemasons in the Land of Israel savored a sweet, unforgettable moment in their history. For the first time ever, members of the well-known global fraternal organization, which includes Jews, Christians and Muslims the world over, managed to reach their long-awaited destination, the Temple Mount. They were finally able to hold one of their traditional ceremonies in an underground space beneath the Dome of the Rock.

For the Freemasonry, whose membership considers King Solomon to be the group’s founder and first president, this was an earth-shattering, historic event. It was made possible thanks to help from one of their own, Sheik Khalil al-Danaf, and to the determination of the famed brigadier general from New Zealand, William Meldrum, one of the top commanders in the British armed forces stationed in the region who one year earlier had conquered Palestine from the Turks.

Since that time, the Freemasons in Jerusalem have been unable to return to the Temple Mount. The alternative has been Zedekiah’s Cave, just a short distance from Damascus Gate. This huge chalky cave, which has always been shrouded by mystery, stretches across 9,000 square meters underneath the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and continues until the Via Dolorosa in the Christian Quarter just north of the Temple Mount.

A number of historical sources claim that the cave continues southward to the Temple Mount area, yet we now know that these claims have no basis in fact. A mapping of the cave undertaken by the Israel Antiquities Authority in recent years debunks this theory.

Ancient traditional beliefs that posit the cave – which eventually became a giant quarry – was source for stones that were used in the construction of Solomon’s Temple also do not square with the facts. (In English, the cave is known as King Solomon’s Quarries.) There is no indisputable archaeological evidence that traces quarrying activity in the cave back to the days of the First Temple. It has been widely believed that Zedekiah, the king of Judea, fled the Babylonians through the cave.

Still, Dr. Yechiel Zelinger, the IAA’s excavation director, who led the exploratory digging of the cave in recent years, reveals that a great deal of evidence indicates traces from the Second Temple period. This has led experts to the more likely possibility that the cave was one of the primary sources of stone utilized by Herod the Great when he built the temple 2,000 years ago.

This assessment is based on findings that indicate hallmarks of the style of quarrying acceptable in those times. These hallmarks are evident on the cave walls as well as in the stones, whose size is characteristic of the stones that made up the walls surrounding the Temple Mount.

Another factor was the cave’s proximity to the Temple Mount as well as its relatively higher altitude compared to the mount, which suggests that it was easier to move the stones. This theory rests on more solid footing than the fairy tale linking the area to Solomon’s Temple.

Fascinating findings

The cave was sealed off for hundreds of years. Suleiman the Magnificent, who built the walls that surrounded Jerusalem, sought to deny enemies who wished to penetrate the city’s defenses, and ordered the closure of the tunnel. Were it not for a harmless stroll taken by James Turner Barclay, an American doctor and biblical archaeologist, his son, and his dog during a winter night in 1854, it is likely that the cave would have remained sealed up for many years afterward.

That night, not far from Damascus Gate, Barclay’s dog suddenly went missing. The father and son searched urgently for their beloved pet, combing the feet of the rocky cliff upon which the walls of the Old City were built. They finally spotted the dog in a deep well that had been exposed by heavy rains that had washed away the trash covering its opening.

The next day, Barclay and his son returned to the site, lit torches, and rediscovered the cave that had remained sealed for more than 300 years.

The Freemasons found the cave just a few years afterward, and in 1868 a group of about a dozen members, among them Charles Warren, the legendary English archaeologist, gathered at the site. Since then, the Freemasons have held numerous ceremonies there. Evidence of this was uncovered by Zelinger, who has been researching and excavating at the cave for the past 10 years. He has been assisted by groups of enthusiastic Evangelicals, including one from Tennessee.

One pastor from Tennessee claims to have found the secret passageway through which Zedekiah fled the Babylonians and made it to the steppes of Jericho. He also claims to have found the Ark of the Covenant and the menorah, but the moment they tried to photograph their discovery the items went up in flames thanks to the “holy spirit.”

The pastor and his ilk may continue to indulge themselves in fantasies, but they are extremely generous with the money they contribute to help fund the excavations. The antiquities authority has used these funds to extract more archaeological information, something it has not been able to do with previous sources of funding. Zelinger’s excavations have yielded significant findings, like coins that were used during the days of the Second Jewish Revolt in the year 132 C.E., pottery fragments and rings, as well as items that legally cannot be considered “antiquities” but that do shed light on the builders of those days as well as on the cave.

In May 2011, diggers exploring in the cave discovered a hammer engraved with the words “King Solomon” and a square and compass, the universal insignia of the Freemasonry. They also found a stone tablet with similar insignia combined with the word “Jerusalem,” items that appear to be remnants of the souvenir and replica industry that was thriving in the early 20th century. It is no accident that these findings were discovered in the cave, a place of great importance to the Freemasons. All of these items are linked to ceremonies that the Freemasons staged in the cave during the early part of the 20th century.

A great deal remains to be revealed about these ceremonies, but experts have learned more than was previously known. Dan Doron, a researcher and expert on the Freemasons and one of the organization’s leaders here in Israel, said that the group borrows its terminologies and concepts from stone builders from the Middle Ages. The organization took these concepts and infused them with moral significance. The spirit level, which is used by masons and carpenters to indicate whether a surface is horizontal, symbolizes equality.

“Beyond mere symbolism, Freemasonry is the philosophy of morality,” Doron said. “The principles of morality are the key. We’re not a religion, nor are we an alternative to religion, even though we do require our members to commit themselves to believing in a supreme power. Every individual who harbors the belief in an all-powerful being that created the universe, and then later ceased to be involved, will accept the responsibility of being a better human being when it comes to behavior, morality, and equality, or, as our motto states, liberty, equality, and fraternity.”

Wanted: Good people

There are said to be millions of Freemasons around the world, but in Israel the group’s membership numbers just 1,300. According to Doron, there once were more Freemasons here. “But the Freemasonry in Israel and abroad is going through tough times,” he said. “It is suffering as a result of the culture in the 21st century. It is a modernist environment that champions hedonism and leisure while putting values aside. In order to be better people, you don’t necessarily have to be Jewish or Christian or Muslim. In Israel today we have Christian chapters in Haifa and Karmiel as well as Arab Muslims and, of course, Jews. In the office of our largest chapter, one can find a symbol that combines the Star of David, the cross, and the crescent. Freemasonry is actually a very unique doctrine of morality that makes much use of proverbs as well as symbols.”

The Israeli chapters of the Freemasonry report to a headquarters known as “the largest chapter in the State of Israel,” which is located in Tel Aviv and includes a library, a museum, and an archive. The chapters do not delve into issues like religion or politics, which thus enables it to maintain joint chapters with Christian, Muslim, and Jewish members, including the “Holy City” chapter in Jerusalem.

There is a long list of notable figures who were once members of the Freemasonry. These individuals include members of all nationalities and faiths, among them 15 U.S. presidents; former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill; and intellectuals and cultural icons including Pushkin, Mozart, and Goethe. Even the late King Hussein of Jordan was a Freemason, but it is not known whether he took part in ceremonies in Zedekiah’s Cave.

There were also famous Jews who became members, including Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who was a registered Freemason although he was not an active member. There was also Avigdor Hameiri, who wrote the famous poem “From the Peak of Mount Scopus”; Ze’ev Raban, an artist and one of the founders of the Bezalel School of Arts and Design; Rabbi She’ar Yashuv Cohen, the former chief rabbi of Haifa; David Yellin; Sir Moses Montefiore; a number of members of the Rothschild family; Yosef Feinberg, a Zionist pioneer and one of the founders of Rishon Lezion; and David Tidhar, who wrote a book about the history of the Freemasons in Israel. Other notable figures who were said to be part of the fraternal organization are Zionist leader Charles Netter; Mark Twain; actor Michael Richards, who played Kramer on “Seinfeld”; and Yitzhak Rabin.

Conspiracy theorists have often told horror stories linked to the Freemasons, who have been accused of masterminding murder, plotting to take over the world, and worshipping Satan. There were those who claimed that members of one chapter plotted to assassinate the pope with the help of the Italian Mafia. Dan Brown’s best-seller “The Da Vinci Code” also generated interest in the subject.

In some Arab states, Freemasons were once persecuted, just as they were during the Nazi period. The Catholic Church was hardly enamored with the movement. The large number of famous individuals who made up their ranks often led the public to believe that the organization was a secretive outfit that was masterminding sinister plots. This may explain why the veil of secrecy that had shrouded the fraternal group for years was gradually lifted. The true nature of the organization is far less scary than what was originally feared.

The room at the YMCA

Zedekiah’s Cave, which today also serves as a pilgrimage site for Freemasons from Israel and abroad, was mapped by archaeologists. In recent years, it has been refurbished by the East Jerusalem Development Company. Its visitors’ section has been renovated and outfitted with lighting.

On display at the Rockefeller Museum is a replica of a human head with a mask, which was discovered by a British army general. Decades earlier, a French archaeologist, Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau, found an engraving of an animal that was reminiscent of a sphinx, which could be seen on one of the walls of the cave. The animal had four feet and wings that when spread created a “V” form. This engraved image was removed and taken to London, where it has been maintained to this day by the Palestine Exploration Fund.

Two years ago, the Israeli historical journal Segula noted some sites in which stones from the cave were used to build famous structures in recent years, including the clock tower above Jaffa Gate in 1907 (which was taken down by the British Mandate authorities because it was an eyesore that ruined the ancient scenery provided by the city walls) and the YMCA building in Jerusalem.

Inside the YMCA building, which was constructed nearly 100 years ago and was meant to serve all three religions, there is a special “unity room,” where the walls are empty save for one barren frame that allows anyone to fill it with whatever that person wishes. The building contractor was Baruch Katinka, a Freemason from the “Mitzpeh” chapter in Jerusalem.

With permission from the mandatory authorities, Katinka used stones from Zedekiah’s Cave. He even documented the construction of the altar in the building’s praying hall. “I had to gather 12 stones and organize them as an altar without breaking any part of them. I proposed to Edmuson [the British official in charge of the antiquities] that we travel to Beit El with a few laborers, and build the first altar there and also search for stones for our altar. Edmuson liked the idea and together we headed to Beit El, where we spent nearly two days until we managed to gather 12 stones that met our requirements.”

Rob Morris was a prominent Freemason who in 1872 wrote a book about Freemasons in the Holy Land. In his book, he described one of the first ceremonies that he and his friends held in Zedekiah’s Cave. Aspects of the ceremony were maintained to this day. “I laid my pocket Bible atop the stone in the middle of the cave and three candles around it which shower light, with a Goniometer placed nearby … We said a prayer, which the stone walls recited back to us in an echo … Fitting comments and exciting experiences were recalled by the respected brother Henry Peterman, the Prussian consulate to Jerusalem… After brother Peterman spoke, brother Captain Charles Warren of the Royal Engineering Corps made remarks … We were completely closed off in silence, secrecy, darkness, and at a depth of a quarter mile from the opening, we felt differently than we had ever felt before …”

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[1] Israel Hayom
Newsletter Friday April 27, 2012
http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=4105