Until 1989, when a Mason was initiated into the Holy Royal Arch he was given the secret word 'Jahbulon'. This one word is responsible for much of the religious controversy about Freemasonry - and for a vast amount of misunderstanding and misdirection. Since Stephen Knight's The Brotherhood has received such a high profile over the years, and is still being quoted as gospel, it seems necessary to note in passing certain of its claims and suggestions.
Knight, quite correctly, breaks Jahbulon down into three syllables revealing, quite incorrectly, 'a precise designation that describes a specific supernatural being - a compound deity composed of three separate personalities fused in one.' These are, in Knight's words:
YAH = Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews.
BUL = Baal, the ancient Canaanite fertility god associated with
'licentious rites of imitative magic'.
ON = Osiris, the Ancient Egyptian god of the underworld.49
Note the pejorative slant of the description of the second syllable; more subtly, note that Yahweh is 'God', while Baal and Osiris are 'god'. Knight then goes on to discuss Baal:
the 'false god' with whom Yahweh competed for the allegiance of the Israelites.. . the sixteenth-century demonologist John Weir identified Baal as a devil. This grotesque manifestation of evil had the body of a spider and three heads - those of a man, - a toad and a cat. A description of Baal to be found in de Plancy's Dictionary of Witchcraft is particularly apposite when considered in the light of the secretive and deceptive nature of Freemasonry: his voice was raucous, and he taught his followers guile, cunning and the ability to become invisible.50
This passage reveals a number of unexamined assumptions. First, and most simply, medieval and Renaissance demono-logists, following the lead of Sprenger and Kramer in Malleus Maleficarum (1486), used their imagination to paint demons as terrifyingly as possible. Second, it is standard practice for one religion to demonize the Gods of another; it is equivalent to the malign propaganda that politicians of different parties spread about each other today. Third, is Baal being seen as a Canaanite God, or as a demon, or as a devil, or, by the next page, as the Devil? As a logical progression it is fallacious, but it slips by very easily on the emotive level, allowing Knight to say a few pages further on, 'The implication was clear: if Christ was an acceptable part of Freemasonry even to a non-Christian, why not the devil as well?'
Instead of blithely accepting the colourful fictions of medieval demonology as fact, it is worth looking at Baal more closely. The word ba'al is simply Hebrew for 'lord, master, possessor or husband'; with different suffixes, it appears several times in the Old Testament in personal names and place names. It came to be applied as a title (not a name) for the God of the Canaanites, but in itself it is a neutral descriptive term, not a name. The plural word baalim used in the Old Testament refers to different local deities, the 'masters' or 'owners' of different peoples. It should be remembered that we are talking about a time when every 'nation' was basically a tribe, and every tribe had its own God or Gods.
The situation is further muddied by the name 'Beelzebub'. However one views Beelzebub - as the Devil (theologically unlikely), or a devil, or a demon (the word translated 'devils' in Mark 3:22), or as its original meaning, the title Ba'al-zbub, meaning Lord or Master of the Flies, which was simply the Israelites insulting their neighbouring tribe's God - it doesn't affect the fact that ba'al merely means 'master'.
The fact that the word ba'al is not regarded by Jews with the righteous horror given to it by Knight and others is borne out by its use in the title Baal Shem Top meaning 'master of the Good Name' or 'good master of the Name', given to the highly respected Israel ben Eliezer (1700-60), the Polish founder of Hasidic Judaism.
Interestingly, in the 'Ugaritic' Canaanite myths, Baal is the son of the High God, El. S.H. Hooke, Professor of Old Testament Studies at the University of London, points out 'how much of the Baal myth was taken over by the Hebrews and transferred to Yahweh when they settled in Canaan,'51 emphasizing still more the great care that needs to be taken (and rarely is) when in the twenty-first century one discusses the origins of belief, some three to four thousand years ago, in what is now known as the Judaeo-Christian God. Neither Christian nor Jewish theology arrived fully formed out of nowhere.
Far from being the Devil, then, Baal means 'master', and usually, but not always, refers to one particular early tribal God at a time when, to be historically factual, Yahweh was simply another particular early tribal God.
YES HEBREW WORDS MUST BE CAREFULLY EXAMINED IN THE LIGHT OF ALL CONTEXT USED; THEY MAY WELL DIFFER IN USE AND MEANING ACCORDING TO THE CONTEXT. IT'S LIKE OUR WORD "PRESENT" - IN ONE CONTEXT YOU ARE PRESENT AT A MEETING, IN ANOTHER CONTEXT YOU GIVE A PRESENT TO SOMEONE ON THEIR BIRTHDAY - INDEED VERY DIFFERENT MEANINGS AS TO THE CONTEXT USED - Keith Hunt
Rather than relying on Knight's exposition, it is worth quoting what the Freemasons themselves say about Jahbulon, in the lecture immediately following the revelation of the word to the Holy Royal Arch initiate:
It is a compound word, and the combination forms the word Jahbulon. It is in four languages, Chaldee, Hebrew, Syriac and Egyptian. Jah is the Chaldee name of God, signifying His Essence and Majesty Incomprehensible. It is also a Hebrew word, signifying I am and shall be, thereby expressing the actual, future, and eternal existence of the Most High. Bui is a Syriac word denoting Lord or Powerful, it is in itself a compound word, being formed from the preposition Beth, in or on, and Ul, Heaven, or on High; therefore the meaning of the word is Lord in Heaven, or on High, On is an Egyptian word, signifying Father of All, thereby expressing the omnipotence of the Father of All, as in that well-known prayer, Our Father, which art in Heaven. The various significations of the words may be thus collected: I am and shall be; Lord in Heaven or on High:
Father of All:
In every age,
In every clime adored
by saint, by savage, and by sage,
Jehovah, Jove or Lord.52
Whatever the validity of this etymology, the sentiment is somewhat different from Knight's interpretation. Is there not a case for accepting what the Freemasons themselves say they intend the word Jahbulon to represent?
INDEED, I SHALL GIVE THE BENEFIT OF THE ISSUE AS TO WHAT THE FREEMASONS SAY THEMSELVES, AS TO HOW THEY USE THE WORD - Keith Hunt
Walton Hannah calls the word 'blasphemous', yet makes no comment on the main text of the Holy Royal Arch lecture, which he reproduces in full, and which describes the fall of Adam, the need to be humble before God, the need for the right frame of mind in order for our prayers and praises to be acceptable to God, the frailty of man and his need for Divine favour, and the necessity to 'throw ourselves on the mercy of our Divine Creator and Judge' in the sure hope of salvation.53 There is nothing in that which is contrary to even the most orthodox of Christian teaching.
AND THAT IS ALSO TRUE. HERE IS WHERE FREEMASONRY HAS, LIKE ALL RELIGIONS, SOME TRUTHS. IF BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION HAD NOT SOME TRUTHS, IT COULD NOT DECEIVE THE MANY INTO BELIEVING IT WAS A VALID WORSHIP OF GOD IN HEAVEN. WHILE THE DEVIL HAS INSTITUTIONS THAT ARE FAR AND AWAY OUT, FROM PLANET PLUTO SHALL WE SAY, FOR THOSE MINDS THAT LIKE FAR AND WAY-OUT IDEOLOGIES, HE ALSO HAS MANY FORMS OF "GOD-CENTERED" GROUPS THAT APPEAR TO BE HOLY, GOOD, KIND, RIGHTEOUS, AND WITH A FORM OF GODLY RELIGION, TO BLIND THE MINDS OF MILLIONS, NAY BILLIONS, ON EARTH TODAY - Keith Hunt
So far as the origin of Jahbulon is concerned, the word seems to have been concocted in 1834 by a committee which revised the Holy Royal Arch ritual; they were attempting to recreate how the three original Grand Masters of legend would each have said the name of God. It was assumed that King Solomon would have spoken in Hebrew, King Hiram of Tyre in Syrian, and Hiram Abiff, the murdered mason at the centre of the Third Degree ritual, in Egyptian. In retrospect, the writers would no doubt have been horrified at the consequences of their creative use of etymology.
According to Hamill, when the word was dropped in 1989, to be replaced by the tetragrammaton YHWH, it was not as a result of external pressure from such critics as Hannah and Knight; the entire Holy Royal Arch ritual had been under debate within the Order since the early 1970s. He also points out that there has been much confusion among non-Masons about 'names' and 'words'. The word Jahbulon, which he is still obliged to call 'the tri-syllable word',
was erroneously referred to by outsiders as being an alternative name for God. It wasn't. It was the word for the Royal Arch; it was used as a test word if you went to a Chapter where you weren't known, in the same way as the words, the passwords in the Craft were used. In the rituals, a very strong differentiation was made between the Name and the word - and it was word with a small 'w', not with a capital, which was another accusation which went around.
The debate over this word, which has been briefly covered here, appears to have been blown out of all proportion, and to have taken on a significance it never merited.