Volume LIIINovember 2006Number 4

First Edition of the Printed Law
of Ancient York Masonry is 250 Years Old
by Glenys Waldman, Librarian, The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania

The "Ahiman Rezon": or, a help to a Brother..., the Masonic law for the governance of the Jurisdiction of Pennsylvania, was compiled by Bro. Laurence Dermott and published 250 years ago. A lawyer, Bro. Dermott was Grand Secretary of the Ancients' Grand Lodge of England, and it was he who signed the Warrant for the (then Provincial "Ancients") Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in 1761.

Only 96 of the 209 pages in this small octavo volume are Masonic law, which, in part, compares old and new regulations. The rest of the book is devoted to Masonic songs (lyrics only, sung to well-known melodies), as well as miscellaneous prologues, epilogues and an oratorio called "Solomon's Temple."

No one seems to be sure what the words "Ahiman Rezon" mean, but as Henry W. Coil, 33º, says in his Masonic Encyclopedia (rev. ed. Richmond, VA: Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1995), "Laurence Dermott could have done nothing better to perpetuate his 'Book of Constitutions' for the Ancient Grand Lodge of England than to name it 'Ahiman Rezon,' for scholars have been arguing about the meaning thereof for two centuries." Bro. Coil goes on to say that, as of the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England, the "Ahiman Rezon" had ceased to be used there, "...but it had already become established in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and ...Georgia. Except for that name, it might have been forgotten that those states were still using the laws of the Ancients." Many tried to trace the words to Hebrew or Spanish, but, as Bro. Coil continues, it seems no one bothered to ask Brother Dermott. "In the preface to the "Ahiman Rezon," Bro. Dermott tells of a dream in which he talked with four men from Jerusalem. One of the four, named Ahiman, said that no one had or could write such a history of Masonry as Dermott proposed." Thus, Ahiman would be a proper name, indeed probably Hebrew. The Geneva Bible, from which Bro. Dermott quotes, explains that the name means "...a prepared brother, or brother of the right hand, and Rezon means a secretary, so that the whole would mean a prepared secretary, or a secretary of the right hand (brother)."

The first American edition of Bro. Dermott's "Ahiman Rezon" was ordered by Provincial Grand Master William Adcock, edited by Grand Secretary William Smith, D.D. (also Provost of the University of Pennsylvania), dedicated to Bro. General George Washington, and printed by Hall and Sellers of Philadelphia in 1783. While keeping the songs instead of the oratorio, Bro. Smith was allowed to add his sermon delivered at Christ Church, Philadelphia, during the "General" Communication on December 28, 1778. Later editions of the "Ahiman Rezon" include forms, illustrations of jewels, sometimes the Decisions of the Grand Masters and an index. After that first American edition, the "Ahiman Rezon" was not updated until 1825, but it is now kept so current that it is published in loose-leaf form. The newest full reprint, incorporating all updates, was published in 2005.

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