Born in Blood,|
The lost secrets of Freemasonry
By John J. Robinson
New York: M. Evans and Company, 1989, xix + 376 pp.
Reviewed by Dr. Wallace McLeod
On Friday, the 13th of October 1307, 15,000 Knights Templar were arrested in France, and on March 14, 1314 their Grand Master Jacques de Molay was burnt at the stake. The story is familiar to some masonic circles. In the book under review John J. Robinson, an amateur historian who lives in Kentucky, and a non-mason, tells it again, but with a difference. He notes that, although in France the authorities acted without warning, in England there was some advance notice, and perhaps, he suggests, the Templars had time to go underground. Two generations later, in June of 1381, England saw the Rebellion of Wat TyIer (that is, Walter the Tyler - an evocative name); records of the time allude to a secret organization called the Great Society, which may have orchestrated the uprising. Mr. Robinson suggests that this obscure body was in some way derived from the remnants of the Templars, and that in due course it actually evolved into the freemasons, who studiously avoided the limelight until the four "original" lodges went public in 1717.
The book is extremely readable. Mr. Robinson writes well, and, as a serious historian, has carried out extensive research on events of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. He is a trifle sensationalist, and dwells on the bloody details of the Egyptian conquest of the Holy Land in 1291, the Scottish Wars at the time of Wallace and Bruce, the suppression of the Templars, and the Peasants' Rebellion, with perhaps greater enthusiasm than is necessary. Still, the reader will learn a lot of history fairly painlessly.
One point particularly worth noting, in a book by a non-mason dealing with the emergence of Freemasonry, is that the author is not hostile to the gentle Craft. He tells us that on one occasion he assured the custodian of the Masonic Library in Cincinnati that he "had no desire or intention to be anything other than fair" (xvi), and on the whole he has adhered to this aim. He devotes a chapter to refuting several of the false allegations made by the late and utterly unlamented Stephen Knight, in his book The Brotherhood (1985).
Mr. Robinsons researches into Freemasonry do not however exhibit the same depth as his work in other areas, and the range of books that he has consulted on the topic is neither broad nor up-to-date. In the reviewers opinion there are many places where he could be challenged. He speaks of the Old Charges that have been printed in most Books of Constitution since 1723 as if they were the same as the Old Charges of the Masons, the Manuscript Constitutions, that go back as far as 1390. He does not believe that the modern freemasons evolved from the medieval stonemasons, chiefly because his researches in England disclosed no evidence that any medieval guilds of stonemasons had existed there. Your reviewer is of course an unregenerate evolutionist, as he has explained ad nauseam more than once in the past few years.
Mr. Robinson runs through the ritual of the three degrees, and from time to time finds phrases and practices that, in his judgement, point to the Templars; and he suggests further that some of the puzzling words and names in Freemasonry are in fact corrupt French (the language of the Templars). The traditional name of the architect of the Templar, for example, he derives from the French Hira a' Biffe, which he translates "Hiram who was eliminated."
All very well, except that the name Hiram Abif, or something very similar, is found in the Hebrew Scriptures, in Luthers German translation, and in Coverdales Bible of 1535, at 2 Chronicles 4:16. Mr. Robinson speaks of the names "Juwes" and Peter Gower" as if they were standard Masonic fare, though most Masons will never have heard of them. With good reason; the former comes from a graffito of 1888 said to be connected with Jack the Ripper, and the latter is found only in the so-called Leland-Locke Manuscript, a forgery of 1753.
Altogether this is an entertaining and informative book, but not absolutely reliable in matters of detail; certainly thought provoking, and worth a look.
The Royal Arch Mason Magazine, J. E. Marsengill, ed.. Trenton, Missouri, USA. Summer 1990, vol. 16, No. 10. pp. 303-04.
Also see John Hamills review in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vol 104 (1991). Frederick Smyth, ed.. ISBN: 0 907655 21 1. pp. 239-40.