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Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Secrets of a Prepared Brother

The Ahiman Rezon, or Book of Constitutions, has been used in various forms as the book of Masonic law and as a monitorial text by Masonic Grand Jurisdictions for at least two centuries. Though many Grand Jurisdictions have ceased to use Ahiman Rezon as the title for their constitutions and codes of law, some jurisdictions – such as those in Pennsylvania and South Carolina – have retained those two mysterious words. The debate concerning the origin and true meaning of the words, “Ahiman Rezon,” has carried on for years without a concrete resolution. Possibilities include: "to help a brother", "will of selected brethren", "The secrets of prepared brethren", "Royal Builders" and "Brother Secretary".

The following, from Daniel Sickles’ The General Ahiman Rezon and Freemason’s Guide (New York: Masonic Publishing and Manufacturing Co. 1889, pp. 5-6), is offered for the reader’s further investigation into the meaning of those two words - Ahiman Rezon. [Note: M.W. Brother Rockwell was Grand Master of Masons in Georgia from 1857 until 1862.]


THESE two words have acquired a wide Masonic celebrity. They constituted the title of the Book of Constitutions, used by the division of Freemasons, which separated from the Grand Lodge of England in 1736, and have since become the usual designation of such works in this country. DERMOTT, in 1772, styled his book the TRUE Ahiman Rezon, and he claimed for his portion of the Order the practice of Ancient Masonry. The inference is obvious that there was a spurious work under this title then extant. An inquiry into their meaning is, therefore, not irrelevant.

I have met with no exposition of the signification of this phrase, except in the edition first published in South Carolina by Dr. DALCHO, in 1807, and reprinted, with additions, in 1822; and afterward re-arranged and edited by Dr. MACKEY in 1852; and, also, in the "Lexicon of Freemasonry," by the last-mentioned distinguished author.

The following is Dr. DALCHO'S definition in the edition of 1822: "The Book of Constitutions is usually denominated AHIMAN REZON. The literal translation of ahiman is a prepared brother, from manah, to prepare; and that of 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."

There are several difficulties which seem to render this definition inadmissible. The derivations do not appear to be in accordance with the structure of the Hebrew language (if the words be Hebrew); and the phrase, with this view of its derivation, has no grammatical construction. The Hebrews were accustomed to a species of inversion, which in our language has no parallel: for example, the great work of Jehovah would be in Hebrew ‏מעשה יהוי הנדוֹל‎, literally, work of Jehovah the great. Now, if the phrase under consideration was intended to import "the secrets of a prepared brother," the construction would have been, according to the example just quoted, ahi rezon man. But there are further objections to this rendering of the phrase into English. True, ‏מנה‎ MNE, to divide, to number, in its piel form, signifies to appoint, to constitute, and, in that sense, to prepare; yet, in accordance with the genius of the Hebrew tongue, it undergoes a change in its vocalization. Its stem-letter is doubled, and the vowel sound softened; it is pronounced minnah, and its derivative should be ahiminnah. In Chaldee, ‏רז‎ RZ signifies a secret, and might be imported into the Hebrew, but its plural is razin; besides, it is something of a misnomer to call a published book "Secrets of a prepared brother."

The last suggestion of Dr. DALCHO would seem more plausible, if it were not open to the same grammatical objection. MAN can not signify true or faithful, unless derived from ‏אמן‎ AMN, and then the compound word would be achiamon; and if the ‏א‎ A of AMN suffered elision, it would indicate a different radical, and if no elision took place, the two letters ‏י‎ I and ‏א‎ A would not coalesce, but the ‏י‎ I resumes its consonant sound as in ‏בנימין‎ BNIMIN (which we sound Benjamin), the vocalization would then be Abhjamon.

Dr. MACKEY thus renders it:—"This title is derived from three Hebrew words—ahim, brothers; manah, to select or appoint; and ratzon, the will or law—and it, consequently, signifies "the law of appointed or selected brothers."

It is true, that this definition more nearly accords with what the book contains, than that proposed by DALCHO; yet, there would seem to be no less formidable objections to this view of its signification. The verb ‏מנה‎ MNE, above referred to by DALCHO, in Kal, (i.e., its active form) means to appoint, but its radical meaning is to number; it was one of the prophetic words written by the spectral hand on the wall of Belshazzar's banqueting-room. It is itself a derivative, and will not rid us of the final ‏ה‎ E, and if it be any part of the root of the word, we must read ahimanah. It is just to
notice, that the radical of this verb, signifying something divided ‏מן‎ MN, from the obsolete root ‏מנן‎ MNN, when in composition, conveys the idea of a law, rule or precept, in conformity with which something is done; as, for example, ‏מפי יהוה‎ MPhI IHOH by command of JEHOVAH (II. Chron. xxxvi. 12), but then the grammatical construction would require some other signification of rezon, and it should be construed as an adjective, in conformity with the example above quoted, and it might read ahi, being the genitive singular (‏אהי‎ AHI,) the "Supreme Law of a Brother."


binaryburn said...

Very good article on AHIMAN REZON!! I never really understood what the words meant. Just being raised not too long ago I have'nt been able to read it throughly. Thanks for the blog post!!

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The Palmetto Bug said...

binaryburn: I'm glad you enjoyed it.