Why Joppa?

by Earl D. Harris.


The seaport of Joppa pops up several times in the Masonic lore -- primarily as the place that King Hiram of Tyre delivered the timber for use in the Temple of King Solomon, in an explanation of a grip, and as the place where the ruffians attempted to escape Palestine on the way to Ethiopia. Almost every jurisdiction that names its lodges (as opposed to just naming them) has at least one lodge named “Joppa”. Is there any significance attached to this Mediterranean seaport from a Masonic symbolic point of view or, is it mentioned simply because it was there? More specifically, was there a reason why Joppa was chosen as the place where the ruffians attempted to leave Solomon’s jurisdiction?

Never becoming a major seaport because of its size and topography, over the centuries Joppa did develop as a logistical base for many ancient empires and civilizations. Located on the Mediterranean coast thirty five to forty miles northwest of Jerusalem and about three miles south of the mouth of the Yarkton River, the entrance to its small cove was from the north and not extremely safe. A natural breakwater of rocks ran parallel to and about 300 feet from the shore to form Joppa’s narrow and sometimes treacherous small cove. To the north from Joppa towards the Yarkton, were sandstone ridges that essentially prevented landing from the sea. Coastal sands penetrated inland to form a barrier to the sea hampering landing on the south.

Masonic tradition informs us that the coast of Joppa “was so precipitous that it was difficult for the workmen to ascend without assistance, given by Craftsmen stationed” along the walls of the harbour for that purpose. Even as late as 1842, when Baron Geramb visited the Holy Land, embarking and disembarking from a ship was difficult, if not outright dangerous because of the high rock borders of the cove and the required height of the bridges (docks) with relationship to the level of the sea. Without ladders the seamen (and passengers) had to have assistance to ascend to the docks.

Joppa is mentioned in secular records from the late bronze age of the mid -15th century B.C. thro’ the late 1st century A.D. It seems to have been traded back and forth between the great powers. From Thudmose 111 through the Ramesside period of Egypt when Joppa was an ordinance centre, through the Philistines, Israelites and Persian periods, and into the Greco-Roman period when it last served as a Roman sea base and was destroyed by Vespasian, Joppa is mentioned - ever so sparsely - in the secular records of ancient times in the eastern Mediterranean area, but, it does not seem to have been of any major strategic significance nor of major trading importance.

Excavations of the site show occupation at least from the Middle Bronze Age through the Hellenistic period in seven main strata, with several substrata, that corroborate the written secular and Biblical histories.

Our interest, of course, is the period that the land was controlled by the Israelites. Certain interpretations suggest that Joppa and its surrounding hinterland may have been part of the lands inherited by the tribe of Dan; however, others argue that it was not part of the Danite’s inheritance, but remained in the hands of the Philistines. Even if it was not part of the Danite inheritance, the description of the second commissioner’s district under Solomon, “in Makaz and in Shaalbin, and Bethshemesh, and Elonbethhanan” seems to include the area around Joppa as a definite part of Solomon’s realm. It is obvious that it was servicing as a seaport during the monarchical period when God told Jonah to take his message to Nineveh and Jonah attempted to flee to Tarshish by way of Joppa. And of course, it was the place to which timber was shipped by King Hiram of Tyre for Solomon’s building project in Jerusalem and again was the entrance port over 700 years later at the building of the second temple.

In Masonic writings, even as late as 1696 in the Edinburgh Register House Manuscripts there is not even a hint of the Hiramic Legend, much less Joppa. Joppa seems to have its first appearance shortly after formation of the first Grand Lodge in 1717, when Doctor Anderson casually mentions its historical account of The Craft in the Book of Constitution of 1723. But Anderson only mentions it in the historical sense, not in any ritualistic context, and then only in the Biblical setting as the port to which the timber for the temple was shipped. However, even as the fraternity and its ritual continued to develop, Joppa does not seem to have occupied any significance in the overall scheme. This is vividly shown by its total version of the Hiramic Legend found in Samuel Pritchards Masonry Dissected in 1730.

As we know Pritchard’s Masonry Dissected appears to have remained as an accepted, albeit disclaimed, monitorial work of the Lodges until the early 1760’s In 1760 an exposure, claiming to be workings of the Lodges under the Ancient’s practice, was published by H. Sergeant under the name of The Three Distinct Knocks, In this exposure the Hiramic Legend has been expanded to include a search for the assassins that describes one department of the Fellowcraft searchers going  “west to the sea of Joppa” In less than three years another alleged exposure, this time claiming to be the work of the “Moderns” also tells of a search for the assassins that carried one of them to “the sea side near Joppa” But neither of these accounts attaches any distinctive significance to this particular seaport.

As time and the Fraternity moved onward, we find no significance attached to Joppa in the Preston or Webb monitors. Indeed only the alleged exposure of the time seems to even mention Joppa at all. William Morgan’s Illustration of Masonry published in 1827, in three almost identical passages, mentions that the supposed assassins had attempted to gain passage to Ethiopia at the port of Joppa. But still no hint of any symbolic significance attached to this ancient seaport.

Time continues to march onward, and the Legend expanded on the lessons it was teaching. In this explanation, the need arose for the ruffians or assassins to attempt to escape to teach yet another lesson. The choice was an attempted escape through Joppa to Ethiopia. But why through Joppa? What symbolic significance did Joppa hold? The ritual itself makes no obvious suggestion of any purpose whatsoever. Neither do the Masonic writers over the centuries seem to attach any symbolic significance to this rough little harbour. In fact most do not even mention it, and if they do it is simply in its Biblical and historic sense as the seaport to which the timber and bother goods were delivered for Solomon’s building projects or in the legendary sense of being the place of the attempted escape from Solomon’s domain. In his Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry Brother Albert G. MacKey simply states that Joppa is a town in Palestine and the seaport of Jerusalem, from which it is distant about forty miles in a westerly direction. It was here that the King of Tyre sent ships laden with timber and marble to be forwarded overland to Solomon for the construction of the Temple. Its shore is extremely rough and much dreaded by navigators who, on account of its exposure, and the perpendicularly of its banks are compelled to be perpetually on their guard. Coil’s Masonic Encyclopaedia does not even list. It. Brother Charles C. Hunt, in his Masonic Concordance of the Holy Bible gives us an apparent interpretation of the name Joppa as  “beauty” and two definitions or explanations  “A Seaport Town of Jerusalem It was from this port that the ships of Hiram, King of Tyre. Transferred their cargoes of supplies for the temple to be shipped overland about forty miles to Jerusalem. B; It Is The Only Harbour between Egypt and Caramel and therefore of great commercial importance. It is now called Gaff and has (in 1948) about 40,000 inhabitants”

Maybe lies here the secret of “Why Joppa” Joppa was the only harbour between Egypt and Mt. Caramel. Carmel is located near the Mediterranean coast, south of the mouth of the Kishon River about sixty miles north of Joppa and almost eighty miles northwest of Jerusalem. The route from Carmel to Jerusalem is over many hills and small mountains, while the route from Joppa to Jerusalem is only thirty five to forty miles through valleys and small hills. From a physical - topographical - prospective Joppa was the only logical seaport for Jerusalem, at least on the Mediterranean coast.

Why did King Hiram ship the timbers and other supplies from Tyre to Solomon through Joppa? The overland route from Tyre to Jerusalem was too mountainous and too long. Likewise, the overland route from Carmel to Jerusalem was rough and long. Floating or shipping them to Joppa was relatively easy, and the route from Joppa to Jerusalem was much easier than from any other direction.

But why did the ruffians choose Joppa as their route of escape to Ethiopia? Or, how can you sail from Joppa to Ethiopia? Those questions have been answered previously. The question here is Why was the Joppa route chosen? After all, Solomon had a much larger seaport within his domain. Ezion-geber was at the northern end of the Gulf of Aquaba, a large inlet of the Red Sea. It was here that Solomon built a large smelter for refining the ores of the Arabah. Ezion-geber, as a busy harbour with direct access to the Red Sea, would have been the most logical route to Ethiopia. But Ezion-geber is also located almost one hundred sixty miles from Jerusalem over mountains and desert, and Joppa is only thirty five to forty miles away. Ezion-geber was more than four times as far away from Jerusalem than Joppa and over a much more harsh and dangerous route - although both routes were within Solomon’s jurisdiction. Even for the less-than-brilliant rogues with which the legend deals, the shorter, smoother, safer, and quicker route to exit the jurisdiction, was only logical. Besides, this was the way with which they were probably most familiar, as this was presumably the way they entered the realm.

Why Joppa? Geography dictated that it was the only logical place, both as the place to import the timbers from Tyre and as the place to leave the country the quickest. There appears to be no symbolic reason for the inclusion of Joppa in our legends.

The Bible refers to two Jerusalem’s. One, the material city of that name, the other symbolic, ”Holy City” Maybe if we look hard enough, we can find, or even create, a second Joppa We have just looked at the physical Joppa Now .... Joppa is not mentioned by name many times in the Bible. We have already seen that it is cited specifically as the port that was used to receive timbers and supplies for Solomon’s building projects and again for a like purpose at the second building of the temple. And it was at Joppa that Peter raised Tabitha (Dorcas) from the dead and later at the home of Simon the tanner, had the vision of a calling to carry his ministry to the gentiles. But we cannot overlook the story of Jonah, Remember Jonah was called by God to go to Ninevah and preach against his wickedness, fearing the mission Jonah attempted to flee Israeli and the presence of God himself by going to Tarshish through Joppa. The ship in which he sailed from Joppa was caught in a storm, and Jonah was thrown into the sea by the crew to save themselves and was swallowed by a large fish. After three days in the belly of the fish and after much repenting, he was cast upon the shore and only then did he follow the bidding of the Lord.

The great work in the temple (in which) Hiram was engaged is symbolic of the work you, and all men, do daily. As he supervised the workmen, so do you supervise and organize your life, dreams and hopes. The enemies he encountered... you meet constantly. As he wasn’t always victorious, neither will you be. But the hope that was held out for him will be held out for you, if you, like him are faithful to your trust....It is interesting to note that Hiram’s enemies came from the inner circle--- the worker’s whom he trusted. So do most of man’s adversaries. He will usually guard himself against attacks from those he believes he must fear, but has no reason to protect himself from those he loves and trust’s.

Brother Allen Robert identified these enemies as greed, jealously, and selfishness, Brother Joseph Fort Newton pointed out that three of the greatest thinkers identified the enemies to be the three primary causes of sin in the human heart, to wit; Socrates contended that one was ignorance, in that, “no man does evil unless he is so blinded by ignorance that he does not see the right” Plato, said that in spite of knowledge and the ability to see right and wrong clearly, man will still do wrong if in a dark mood, and that Passion stirs up sediments from the bottom of the mind and so clouds reason that even clear vision fails. While Aristotle identified the enemy that causes us to do evil as (M)oral (P)erversion, a spirit of sheer mischief, which does wrong, deliberately and in the face of right, calmly and with devilish cunning, for the sake of wrong and for the love of it. Brothers George S. Drafton George H. Steinetz Albert Pike and many others have all had different interpretations of the actual symbolism of the ruffians or assassins, and this symbolism varies from writer to writer from thinker to thinker from person to person from situation to situation and from time to time. But, the general philosophy remains the same; the assassins are those negative characteristics of man or mankind that have the tendency to assassinate, to maim, to kill, and to destroy the natural precepts embodied in the virtues of Hiram Abiff present in all of us.

“When faced with Truth...Divine Truth as symbolized by the judgment and wisdom of Solomon- when confronted with those eternal Truths set forth by the Great Architect of the Universe through the inspired writers of His Volume of The Sacred Law- these Ruffians take flight. They attempt to hide in the remotest regions of man’s own self, that eternal Ethiopia of man’s subconscious where they will be hard to distinguish from other trait’s.” Just as our assassins attempted to flee the judgement of Solomon to Ethiopia and Jonah attempted to flee to Tract. Joppa was the last civilized point that either our assassins or Jonah visited before being stopped, and having to face that which was fleeing. Wherever the assassins or Jonah went, they could not escape God or their own remorse and guilt. This remorse and guilt are stopped in the Joppa of Man. It is in his own Conscious, in his own logic, in his own intellect that man finds his Joppa, that place where the enemies, the ruffians, the assassins of his character can be stopped. It is only when man has Faith enough to allow Truth to enter his Joppa, his Conscious, it is only then that he can stop his inner ruffians.

Most Worshipful Brother Rob Morris, in one of the verses of his poem Quarry, Hill and Temple wrote

Thine at the midnight in the cave

Thine in the floats upon the wave

By Joppa’s hill

By Kedron’s rill

And thine when Sabbath rest we have

Yes, yes dear friend, my spirit saith

I’m thine until and after death

No bounds control

The Mason’s soul

Cemented with a Mason’s faith

Why Joppa? It was the only logical place.


Why Joppa by Earl D. Harris, P.G.M. Fellow and Past Master (1992) Georgia Lodge of Research Presented July 30, 1993 --- Atlanta Georgia


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