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AHIMAN REZON

The title given by Dermott to the Book of Constitutions of


the Grand Lodge of Ancient Freemasons in England, which
was established about the middle of the eighteenth century
in opposition to the legitimate Grand Lodge and its
adherents who were called the Moderns, and whose code of laws was contained in Anderson's
work known as the Book of Constitutions. Many attempts have been made to explain the
significance of this title ; thus according to Doctor Mackey, it is derived from three Hebrew
words, zhiln, meaning brothers; ..manah, to appoint, or to select in the sense of being placed
in a peculiar class (see Isaiah liii, 12), and ..ratzon, the will, pleasure, or meaning; and hence
the combination of the three words in the title, Ahiman Rezon, signifies the will of selected
Brethren- the law of a class or society of men who are chosen or selected from the rest of the
world as Brethren.
Doctor Dalcho (Ahiman Rezon of South Carolina, page 159, second edition) derives it from
ahi, a brother, manah, to prepare, and rezon, secret, so that, as he says, " Abiman Rezon
literally means the secrets of a prepared brother." But the best meaning of manah is that which
conveys the idea of being placed in or appointed to a certain, exclusive class, as we find in
Isaiah liii, 12 "he was numbered (nimenah) with the transgressors," placed in that class, being
taken out of every other order of men. Although rezon may come from ratzon, a will or law, it
can hardly be elected by any rules of etymology out of the Chaldee word raz, meaning a
secret, the termination in on being wanting; and furthermore the book called the Ahiman
Rezon does not contain the secrets, but only the public laws of Freemasonry. The derivation
of Dalcho seems therefore inadmissible.
Not less so is that of Brother W. S. Rockwell, who as recorded in the Ahiman Rezon of
Georgia (1859, page 3) thinks the derivation may be found in the Hebrew, ... amun, meaning a
builder or architect and .., rezon, as a noun, prince, and as an adjective, royal, and hence,
Ahiman Rezon, according to this etymology, wifl signify the royal builder, or, symbolically,
the Freemason. But to derive ahiman from amun, or rather amon, which is the masoretic
pronunciation, is to place all known laws of etymology at defiance. Rockwell himself,
however, furnishes the best argument against his strained derivation, when he admits that its
correctness will depend on the antiquity of the phrase, which he acknowledges that he doubts.
In this, he is right. The phrase is altogether a modern one, and has Dermott, the author of the
first work bearing the title, for its inventor.
Rockwell's conjectural derivation is, therefore, for this reason still more inadmissible than
Dalcho's.
But the most satisfactory explanation is as follows: In his prefatory address to the reader,
Dermott narrates a dream of his in which the four men appointed by Salomon to be porters at
the Tempel (First Chronicles ix, 17 ) appear to him sojourners from Jerusalem, and he tells
them that he is writing a history of Freemasonry; upon which, one of the four, named Ahiman,
says that no such history has ever yet been composed and suggests that it never can be.
It is clear, therefore, that the first word of the title is the name of this personage. What then
does Rezon signify? Now the Geneva or Breeches Bible, publishes in 1560 contains a table
giving the meanings of the Bible names and explains Ahiman as a prepared brother or brother
of the right hand and Rezon as a secretary, so that the title of the book would mean Brother
Secretary. That Dermott used the Geneva Bible is plain from the fact that he quotes from it in
his address to the reader, and therefore it may fairly be assumed that he selected these names
to suit his purpose from the list given in it, especially as he styles himself on his title-page
merely Secretary.
The first Book of Masonic Law published by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania was entitled:
Ahiman Rezon abridged and digested: as a Help to atilt are or would be Free and Accepted
Masons. It was prepared by the Grand Secretary, the Rev. Brother William Smith, D.D.,
Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, and was almost entirely a reprint of Dermott's
work; it was approved by the Grand Lodge November 22, 1781, published in, 1783, and
dedicated to Brother George Washington. It is reprinted in the introduction to the first or
edited reprint of the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, 1730-l808. On April
18, 1825, a revision of the Ahiman Rezon was adopted, being taken largely from Anderson's
Constitutions.
In the 1919 edition (page 210) are these comments: "The revision of 1825 contains the
following as the definition of the words Ahiman Rezon: The Book of Constitutions is usually
denominated Ahiman Rezon. The literal translation of Ahiman is A prepared Brother, from
manah, to prepare, and Rezon, secret; so that Ahiman Rezon literally means, the secrets of a
prepared Brother. It is likewise supposed to be a corruption of Achi Man Ratzon, the thoughts
or opinions of a true and faithful Brother. As the Ahiman Rezon is not a secret, but a
published book, and the above definition has been omitted from subsequent revisions of the
book, the words were submitted to Hebrew scholars for translation upon the assumption that
they are of Hebrew origin. The words however are not Hebrew.
"Subsequent inquiry leads to the belief that they come from the Spanish, and are thus
interpreted: Ahi, which is pronounced Ah-ee, is demonstrative and means there, as if pointing
to a thing or place; man may be considered a form of monta, which means the account,
amount, sum total, or fullness; while razon or rezon means reason, principle, or justice, the
word justice being used in the sense of law. If, therefore, we ascribe the words himan Rezon
to Spanish origin, their meaning is-There is the full account of the law."
But the history of the origin of the book is more important and more interesting than the
history of the derivation of its title.
The premier Grand Lodge of England was established in 1717 and ruled the Freemasons of
London and the South of England without opposition until in 1751 when some Irish
Freemasons established another body in London. This organization professed to work
"according to the old institutions," and the Brethren called themselves Ancient Freemasons
and the members of the older Grand Lodge.
Moderns, maintaining that they alone preserved the ancient usage of Freemasonry. The former
of these contending bodies, the Grand Lodge of England, had, In the year 1722, caused Dr.
James Anderson to collect and compile all the Statutes and Regulations by which the
Fraternity had in former times been governed. These, after having been submitted to due
revision, were published in 1723, by Anderson, with the title of The Constitutions of the
Freemasons. This work, of which several other edit out subsequently appeared, has always
been called the Book of Constitutions, and contains the foundations of the written law by
which the Grand Lodge if England and the Lodges deriving from it, both in that country and
in America, are governed.
But when the Irish Freemasons established their rival Grand Lodge, they found it necessary,
also, to have a Book of Constitutions. Accordingly, Laurence Dermott, who was at one time
their Grand Secretary, and afterward their Deputy Grand Master, compiled such a work, the
first edition of which was published by James Bedford, at London, in 1756, with the
following title: Ahiman Rezon: or a Help to a Brother; showing the Excellency of Secrecy,
and the first cause or motive of the Institution of Masonry; the Principles of the Craft; and the
Benefits from a strict Observance thereof, etc., etc. ; also the Old and New Regulations, etc.
To which is added the greatest collection of Masons' Songs, etc. By Bro. Laurence Dermott,
Secretary.
A second edition was published in 1764 with this title : Ahiman Rezon: or a help to all that are
or would be Free and Accepted Masons; containing the Quintessence of all that has been
published on the subject of Freemasonry, with many Additions, which renders this Work more
useful than any other Book of Constitution now extant. By Lau. Dermott, Secretary. London,
1764. A third edition was published in 1778, with the following title: Ahiman Rezon: or a
Help to all that are or would be Free and Accepted Masons (with many Additions). By Lau.
Dermott, D.G.M. Printed for James Jones, Grand Secretary; and sold by Peter Shatwell, in the
Strand. London, 1778.
Five other edit out were published: the fourth, in 1778; the fifth in 1787 ; the sixth in 1800 ;
the seventh in 1801; the eighth in 1807, and the ninth in 1813.
In this year, the Ancient Grand Lodge was dissolved by the union of the two Grand Lodges of
England, and a new Book of Constitutions having been adopted for the united body, the
Ahiman Rezon became useless, and no subsequent edition was ever published.
The earlier edit out of this work are among the rarest of Masonic publications, and are highly
prized by collectors.
In the year 1855, Leon Hyneman, of Philadelphia, who was engaged in a reprint of old
standard Masonic works, an enterprise which should have received better patronage than it
did, republished the second edition, with a few explanatory notes.
As this book contains those principles of Masonic law by which, over three-fourths of a
century, a large and intelligent portion of the Craft was governed; and as it is now becoming
rare and, to the generality of readers, inaccessible, some brief review of its contents may not
be uninteresting. In the preface or address to the reader, Dermott pokes fun at the history of
Freemasonry as written by Doctor Anderson and others, and wittily explains the reason why
he has not published a history of Freemasonry.
There is next a Philacteri for such Gentlemen as may be inclined to become Freemasons. This
article, which was not in the first edition, but appeared for the first time in the second, consists
of directions as to the method to be pursued by one who desires to be made a Freemason. This
is followed by an account of what Dermott calls Modern Masonry, that is, the system pursued
by the original Grand Lodge of England, and of the differences existing between it and
Ancient Masonry, or the system of his own Grand Lodge. He contends that there are material
differences between the two systems; that of the Ancient being universal, and that of the
Moderns not; a Modern being able with safety to communicate all his secrets to an Ancient,
while an Ancient cannot communicate his to a Modern; a Modem having no right to be called
free and accepted; all of which, in his opinion, show that the Ancient have secrets which are
not in the possession of the Moderns. This, he considers, a convincing proof that the Modern
Freemasons were innovators upon the established system, and had instituted their Lodges and
framed their ritual without a sufficient knowledge of the arcana of the Craft. But the Modern
Freemasons with more semblance of truth, thought that the additional secrets oi the Ancient
were only innovations that they had made upon the true body of Freemasonry; and hence,
they considered their ignorance of these newly invented secrets was the best evidence of their
own superior antiquity. In the later editions Dermott has published the famous Leland
Manuscript, together with the commentaries of Locke; also the resolutions adopted in 1772,
by which the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland agreed to maintain a "Brotherly
Connexion and correspondence" with the Grand Lodge of England (Ancient).
The Ahiman Rezon proper, then, begins with twenty-three pages of an encomium on
Freemasonry, and an explanation of its principles. Many a modem Masonic address is better
written, and contains more important and instructive matter than this prefatory discourse.
Then follow The Old Charges of the Free and Accepted Masons, taken from the 1738 edition
of Anderson's Constitutions. Next come A short charge to a new admitted Mason, The Ancient
manner of constituting a Lodge, a few prayers, and then the General Regulations of the Free
and Accepted Masons. These are borrowed mainly from the second edition of Anderson with
a few alterations and additions. After a comparison of the Dublin and London Regulations for
charity, the rest of the book, comprising more than a hundred pages, consists of A collection
of Masons Songs, of the poetical merits of which the less said the better for the literary
reputation of the writers.
Imperfect, however, as was this work, it for a long time constituted the statute book of the
Ancient Masons. Hence those Lodges in America which derived their authority from the
Dermott or Ancient Grand Lodge of England, accepted its contents as a true exposition of
Masonic law. Several of their Grand Lodges caused similar works to be compiled for their
own government, adopting the title of Ahiman Rezon, which thus became the peculiar
designation of the volume which contained the fundamental law of the Ancient, while the
original title of Book of Constitutions continued to be retained by the Moderns, to designate
the volume used by them for the same purpose .
Of the Ahiman Rezons compiled and published in America, the following are the principal:
1. Ahiman Rezon abridged and digested; as a help to all that are or would be Free and
Accepted Masons, etc. Published by order of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania; by
William Smith, D.D. Philadelphia, 1783. A new Ahiman Rezon was published by the
Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in 1825.
2. Charges and Regulation8 of the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted
Masons, extracted from the Ahiman Rezon, etc. Published by the consent and direction
of the Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia. Halivax, 1786.
3. The New Ahiman Rezon, containing the Laws and Constitution of Virginia, etc. By
John K. Reade, present Deputy Grand Master of Virginia, etc. Richmond, 1791.
Another edition was published in 1818, by James Henderson.
4. The Maryland Ahiman Rezon of Free and Accepted Masons, containing the History of
Masonry from the establishment of the Grand Lodge to the present time; with their
Ancient Charges, Addresses, Prayers, Lectures, Prologues, Epilogues, Songs, etc.,
collected from the Old Records, Faithful Traditions and Lodge Books; by G. Keating.
Compiled by order of the Grand Lodge of Maryland. Baltimore, 1797.
5. The Ahiman Rezon and Masonic Ritual, published by the order of the Grand Lodge of
North Carolina and Tennessee. Newbern, North Carolina, 1805.
6. An Ahiman Rezon, for the use of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina, Ancient York
Masons, and the Lodges under the Register and Masonic Jurisdiction thereof.
Compiled and arranged with considerable additions, at the request of 'the Grand
Lodge, and published by their authority. By Brother Frederick Dalcho, M.D., etc.
Charleston, South Carolina, 1807. A second edition was published by the same author,
in 1822, and a third, in 1852, by Dr. Gilbert G. Mackey. In this third edition, the title
was changed to that of The Ahiman Rezon, or Book of Constitutions, etc.
Furthermore, the Work was in a great measure purged of the peculiarities of Dermott,
and made to conform more closely to the Andersonian Constitutions. A fourth edition.
Was published by the same editor, in 1871, from which everything antagonistic to the
original Book of Constitutions has been omitted.
7. The Freemason's Library and General Ahiman Rezon ; containing a delineation of the
true principles of Freemasonry, etc.; by Samuel Cole. Baltimore, 1817. 8vo, 332 + 92
pages. There was a second edition in 1826.
8. Ahiman Rezon; prepared under the direction of the Grand Lodge of Georgia; by Wm.
S. Rockwell, Grand Master of Masons of Georgia. Savannah, 1859. 4to and 8vo, 404
pages. But neither this work nor the third and fourth edition of the Ahiman Rezon of
South Carolina had any connection in principle or theory with the Ahiman Rezon of
Dermott. They have borrowed the name from the Ancient Freemasons. but they derive
all their law aud their authorities from the Moderns, or, as Doctor Mackey preferred to
Call them, the legal Freemasons of the last century.
9. The General Ahiman Rezon and Freemason's Guild, by Daniel Sickles. New York,
1866. 8vo, 408 . Pages. This book, like Rockwell's, has no other connection with the
work of Dermott but the name.
Many of the Grand Lodges of the United States having derived their existence and authority
from the Dermott Grand Lodge, the influence of his Ahiman Rezon was for a long time
exercised over the Lodges of this country. Indeed, it is only within a comparatively recent
period that the true principles of Masonic law, as expounded in the first editions of Anderson's
Constitutions, have been universally adopted among American Freemasons.
However, it must be observed, in justice to Dermott, who has been rather too grossly abused
by Mitchell and a few other writers, that the innovations upon the old laws of Freemasonry,
which are to be found in the Ahiman Rezon, are for the most part not to be charged upon him,
but upon Doctor Anderson himself, who, for the first time, introduced them into the second
edition of the Book of Constitutions, published in 1738. It is surprising, and accountable only
on the ground of sheer carelessness on the part of the supervising committee, that the Grand
Lodge should, in 1738, have approved of these alterations made by Anderson, and still more
surprising that it was not until 1756 that a new or third edition of the Constitutions should
have been published, in which these alterations of 1738 were expunged, and the old
regulations and the old language restored. But whatever may have been the causes of this
oversight, it is not to be doubted that, at the time of the formation of the Grand Lodge of the
Ancient, the edition of the Book of Constitutions of 1738 was considered as the authorized
exponent of Masonic law by the earlier, or, as Doctor Mackey would say, the original or
regular Grand Lodge of England, and was adopted, with but little change, by Dermott as the
basis of his Ahiman Rezon. How much this edition of 1738 differed from that of 1723, which
is now considered the only true authority for ancient law, and how much it agreed with
Dermott's Ahiman Rezon, will he evident from the following specimens of the first of the Old
Charges, correctly taken from each of the three works:
First of the Old Charges in the Book of Constitutions, edition of 1723:
"A Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the
Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious libertine. But though in ancient times
Masons were charged, in every country, to be of the religion of that country or nation,
whatever it was, yet it is now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in
which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves; that is to be good men
and true, or men of honor aud honesty, by whatever denominations or persuasions they may
be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the center of union, and the means of
conciliating true friendship among persons that must have remained at a perpetual distance."
First of the Old Charges in the Book of Constitutions, edition of 1738:
"A Mason is obliged by his tenure to observe the moral law, as a true Noach.ida; and if he
rightly understands the Craft, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious libertine, nor
act against conscience.
"In Ancient times, the Christian Masons were charged to comply with the Christian usages of
each country where they traveled or worked. But Masonry being found in all nations, even of
divers religions, they are now only charged to adhere to that religion in which all men agree
(leaving each Brother to his own particular opinions; that is, to be good men and true, men of
honor and honesty, by whatever names, religions, or persuasions they may be distinguished;
for they all agree in the three great articles of Noah enough to preserve the cement of the
Lodge. Thus, Masonry is the center of their union, and the happy means of conciliating
persons that otherwise must have remained at a perpetual distance."
First of the Old Charges in Dermott's Ahiman Rezon:
"A Mason is obliged by his tenure to observe the moral law, as a true Noachido ; and if he
rightly understands the Craft, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious libertine, nor
act against conscience.
"In Ancient times, the Christian Masons were charged to comply with the Christian usages of
each country where they traveled or worked; being found in all nations, even of divers
religions.
"They are generally charged to adhere to that religion in which all men agree (leaving each
brother to his own particular opinions) ; that is, to be good men and true, men of honor and
honesty, by whatever names religions, or persuasions they may be distinguished; for they all
agree in the three great article of Noah enough to preserve the cement of the Lodge.
"Thus, Masonry is the center of their union, and the happy means of conciliating persons that
otherwise must have remained at a perpetual distance. "
The italics in the second and third extracts will show what innovations Anderson made in
1738 on the Charges as originally published in 1723, and how closely Dermott followed him
in adopting these changes. There is, in fact, much less difference between the Ahiman Rezon
of Dermott and Anderson's edition of the Book of Constitutions, printed in 1738, than there is
between the latter and the first edition of the Constitutions, printed in 1723. But the great
points of difference between the "Ancient" and the "Moderns," points which kept them apart
for so many years, are to be found in their work and ritual, for an account of which the reader
is referred to the article Ancient Freemasons.
Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry