We now come to the year 537. The Jews have been taken to Babylon as captives over a period of time and remained in captivity for between 50 and 70 years.
The Persian King, Cyrus, has conquered Babylon and issued a Decree allowing all foreign nationals to return to their own lands. Under the Decree of Cyrus, an advance party of Jews led by Zerubbabel, returns to Israel. The treasures taken by Nebuchadnezzar are returned to them to be restored to the rebuilt Temple.
On their return to Jerusalem they re-establish themselves and prepare the land to support the returning population, so it is a few years before the work of rebuilding the Temple can commence.
DEGREE OF KNIGHT OF THE RED CROSS OF BABYLON
This series of Degrees consists of the degrees of Knight of the Sword, Knight of the East and lastly Knight of the East and West.
The Degrees depict certain historical incidents which occurred during the period of twenty years that begins with the release of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon and ends with the completion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. This degree is intimately associated with the Holy Royal Arch.
In the first year of his reign, Cyrus, King of Persia, released the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, restored to them the Holy Vessels belonging to King Solomon’s Temple and permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.
Zerubbabel, Prince of Judah, was appointed the King’s Commissioner over the province of Judea, which was occupied by the returning Jews and which had Jerusalem as its centre.
Having returned to Jerusalem, Zerubbabel and his Companions made preparations for the rebuilding of the Temple.
The Samaritans then wrote to Cambyses, who had succeeded Cyrus as King of Persia and Babylon, claiming that Jerusalem had once been a powerful city levying tribute on the surrounding tribes and that it might become so again if the people were permitted to rebuild their Temple. Cambyses, accordingly ordered the building to cease.
Upon the death of Cambyses and in the second year of the reign of Darius, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah succeeded in arousing the Jews to renewed efforts so that the work on the Temple began again.
Zerubbabel travelled to Babylon from Jerusalem, for there was an old friendship between him and Darius through which he hoped to enlist the King’s support. Zerubbabel was appointed one of the King’s personal body-guards and was successful in answering a riddle posed by the King. Darius was so pleased with Zerubbabel’s answer that he in response Zerubbabel’s request to be sent back to Jerusalem granted the same and ordered that those relics of King Solomon’s Temple which still remained in Babylon should go with him.
The symbolism of the Degree is that of perseverance and zeal in one’s duties and obligations. Especially important is the symbolism of the sword in this Degree, which being a weapon of offence is unexpected in the hands of a Mason. The Degree teaches it is to be used only in God’s service, in the cause of Justice or in self-defence according to the tradition first laid down in the Volume of the Sacred Law, Nehemiah, Chapter 4.
The colours of the Degree are green and crimson; green in allusion to the colour of the Ribbon of the Knights of the Sword of King Cyrus, and crimson in allusion to the colour of the Cross in the banners of the Knights of the East of King Darius.
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