The Holy Land and the Holy Sites – Part 3

This four-part series will consider ‘masonic’ aspiration and activity regarding the Holy Land and The Holy Sites; leitmotivs include:- pilgrimage, prophecy, tourism, exploration, colonialization and empire. And, ‘to return freemasonry to the place of its nativity’

Part 1: Introduction and The High Degrees considered the possibility that the Christian higher degrees were a means by which the Church could assimilate and control freemasonries. It was noted that a masonic Order aspired ‘to acquire possession of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem….’; just how that decision was made and the extent to which the Order might go to achieve the objective was considered. Contemporaneously, even Napoleon failed to acquire possession of the Holy Land! 

Part 2: The American Grand Lodge and The American Grand Tourist considered the GL of Maine’s aspiration to, ‘…. ascertain whether any vestiges of ancient Masonry can be discovered in Palestine’. Also, there was a look at Bro. Mark Twain’s outrageous account of his visit to the Holy Land which he described as, ‘the record of a pleasure trip…. a record of a picnic’.   

Part 3: The American Masonic Tourist and The English Imperial Exploration.

Part 4: The Masonic Military Explorer and The Masonic Pathetic Tourist.

Each part will seek to identify ‘masonic’ Holy Land interest, aspiration and activity with leitmotifs:- pilgrimage, prophecy, tourism, exploration, colonialization and empire. And, aspirations to ‘return freemasonry to the place of its nativity’.

The American Mason’s Tour and The English Imperial Exploration.

In 1529, the Ottoman Empire reached the Gates of Vienna. Thereafter contraction with the European empires seeking expansion and influence south and east.

Did each empire aspire to include the Holy Land within its, ‘boundaries set’?

After the Crimean War and with great prescience, the May 12th 1860 edition of The New York Times reported that, ‘Alarming for the peace of the world was the condition of Turkey [Ottoman Empire] when the Tsar Nicholas invited England to draw up with him the last will and testament of the sick man of Europe’.

Throughout the century 1814-1914, British foreign policy aspired to balance the Continental European and Russian empires to ensure that no one empire would be able to dominate any, or all, of the others.

It didn’t deter Britain, with the largest empire in history, seeking to expand it, ‘wider still and wider’! 

The American Masonic Tourist… Rob Morris was a most colourful, innovative and energetic Freemason.

However, his heterodoxy and apparent self- promotion ensured his notoriety and unpopularity; especially, arising from founding the co-masonic Eastern Star and his ‘Conservators’, an attempt to create a Pan-American, overarching, masonic jurisdiction, something to which most of the State Grand Lodges objected.

Morris’ travelogue, Freemasonry in the Holy Land or Handmarks of Hiram’s Builders is prefixed:

‘At the issuance of the present volume [April 1872] however, a measure is on foot, with the best prospects of success, to organize The Solomon’s Lodge at Jerusalem under American auspices.’

On 17th February 1873, it was the GL of Canada which warranted Royal Solomon Mother Lodge N° 293, ‘to work in Jerusalem and surroundings’.

Perhaps the lack of interest from USA GLs arose from Civil War recovery and distancing from anything ‘Morris’.

Morris’ reasons for visiting the Holy Land in 1868 could not be further from those of Mark Twain.

He raised $9,000 ($165,000 today) from masonic sponsors to finance his ‘peculiar mission’.

He claimed, ‘not to be playing the tourist’ but rather, ‘to be engaged in a work of exploration’; although, neither theodolite, sextant nor trowel were included in his list of travelling items.

He had promised to repay his sponsors in kind.

‘I consider all emblems of Bible or Divine origin are Masonic property.

I made up a list of Holy Land specimens, such as the fraternity were most likely to value such as I should most value, in the way of Biblical and Masonic illustrations, a catalogue embracing specimens.

To make full collections of objects illustrating Masonic traditions and Biblical customs, these to be distributed generously to contributors on my return, upon plans previously arranged’.

Grand Tour or Grand Larceny? A Rob Morris mission statement can be constructed from:-   

  • His belief that, ‘a large proportion of American Masons were professing Christians who accepted that the Bible was of divine authenticity, unlike the French and German infidel Freemasons’. (Infidels? They believed that Freemasonry was for the cause of humanity rather than a handservant of religion!)
  • His desire,’…. to visit the Motherland of Freemasonry to confirm that masonic unity is based on the Abrahamic faith and to examine the condition of the Masonic institution in the land of its nativity’. (See Part 2 and the GL of Maine’s similar aspiration. If ‘masonic unity is based on the Abrahamic faith’, what is the role of the rest of the Old Testament  and the New Testament in ‘Regular’ freemasonries?)
  • His assertion that,’…. the Holy Scriptures are the instruction books of the Lodge and that a perfect knowledge of the Holy Land is needed for a perfect knowledge of the Holy Scriptures’. (Masonic improvement/advancement is working towards, but never achieving, an ideal: a ‘perfect knowledge’ of anything is somewhat unlikely.)  
  • His assertion that, ‘As Freemasons lack biblical knowledge’, he had a need to, ‘…. publish his travels to show that the web and woof of Masonic traditions are true and prove the figures of the pattern are real and genuine’. (This series is seeking to understand if there is a masonic need to, ‘scientifically’ verify the Bible.)   

Morris wrote, ‘The American colony near Joppa, [established to await the Second Coming, see Part 2] is entirely broken up.

Four of the colonists who were there on my arrival in May, I found to be members of the Masonic order…….

The Maine Colony in Joppa has again been heard from.

They now number twenty-five, and are in a state of bliss, in consequence of the departure of their leader, Adams.’

Morris needed to explain that it would not be possible, as promised, to bring back from KST, stones bearing masons’ marks.

‘…. although the Temple of Solomon is absolutely gone effaced, from the earth yet its foundation remains …. the platform, the hill, the mound artificially erected to serve as a basis for the sublime structure…….

We thought we had certain knowledge of Mount Zion also, but the most recent and successful explorers have cast doubt even on this and deny that the modern Zion corresponds with the ancient.’

‘Zion’ pertains to The City of David and ‘Mount Zion’ to that lower part of Mount Moriah on which the City of David stands.

Some in archaeology suggest that ‘the mound artificially erected’ – the levelled-off summit of Mount Moriah known as the Temple Mount – was constructed later than in Solomon’s time.

If King Solomon Temple was ever built, perhaps Morris’ claim that all vestiges had been ‘effaced from the earth’ was greatly exaggerated people were and perhaps still are, looking in the wrong place.

He wrote;

‘All parties agree that the Temple stood somewhere in a rectangular spot, called by the names of Haram and Moriah and that the Mount of Olives was on the whole or part of a hill indicated on the map.’

Abrahamic faith and the ‘First and Holy Lodge’ notwithstanding, Morris decided that Freemasonry began with the building of KST, and that ‘the first Freemasons were Solomon, King of Israel; Hiram, King of Tyre; and, Hiram the Architect’.

If the Temple was ever built, where might it have been? In a northern extension of The City of David – south of the Temple Mount – just below where the Al Aqsa Mosque now stands?

Morris returned to the USA laden with Holy Land artefacts; it is unlikely that any would have counted as evidence for ancient freemasonries; however, perhaps the sponsors were happy with holiday souvenirs.

The Gihon Spring provided a natural water source for the City of David but not up to the area around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for which, the heiress of Coutts Bank was burdened to finance the provision of a water supply for thirsting pilgrims.

Might those who drank from this water, never thirst again?

……and The English Imperial Exploration.  

To mitigate a lack of clean fresh water for pilgrims, an 1864 London elite – in which English Freemasonry was very well represented – formed a Jerusalem Water Relief Society.

For a necessary survey, Angela Burdett-Coutts contributed £500 (£70,000 today).

Surveys provide a basis for military planning; unsurprisingly, the British Government was supportive.

The Royal Engineers were detailed to provide their expertise to undertake an Ordnance Survey (note the military connotation of ‘ordnance’) led by Capt. Charles Wilson R.E.

The cooperation of the Jerusalem authorities with this project led to the formation in 1865 of the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) of which, Rob Morris wrote….

‘John Bull, plebeian, can do nothing except under the shadow of the throne and in the path of the nobility. [How insightful was that! Was Freemasonry part of that process?]

Therefore, it was deemed a good and happy thing to secure the Queen of England as ” Patron ” of the Palestine Exploration Fund; and such names as the Dukes of Argyle and Devonshire, the Earls of Carnarvon, Derby, Russell, Zetland (the latter the then Grand Master of Masons), and Shaftesbury; the Bishops of London, Oxford, Ely and Ripon; the Deans of St. Paul’s, Westminster, Christ’s Church and Canterbury, and a host of minor functionaries [sic] seventy-eight in all, to constitute the committee.’

The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque were built on the ‘levelled’ summit of Mount Moriah which became known as, The Temple Mount; for Muslims’, Haram.

But long before that, the City of David was located on a lower reach of Mount Moriah, depicted as Mount Zion.

This was the highest point for which there was a natural water supply, the Spring of Gihon.

This most likely determined the location of the original fortified settlement which later became The City of David. 

By whom and when was the summit of Mount Moriah levelled? It would seem almost to the level of The City of David: that is a massive civil engineering undertaking – perhaps unlikely before the Romans.  

Other than the promise of a water supply, how was cooperation with the Jerusalem authorities created? Names of two of the ruling families in the region were Pasha [see Part 1] and Effendi; both had family members ruling in the region’s freemasonries.

Demonstrably benign, there is an effective, well-justified level of trust among Freemasons; this trust has facilitated human progress through the agencies of government, business and civil society. 

At this time, both ‘science’ (better, scientific methodology) and ‘faith’, were in their different ways, reeling from the 1859 publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species.

Perhaps the PEF was part of a ‘fightback’? If ‘science’ can cast doubt on the Bible, perhaps ‘science’ can verify it? Even though, the text ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen’ would indicate that ‘scientific’ proof is neither necessary nor appropriate for the acceptation of biblical truths.

The PEF’s stated aims and objectives were for, ‘an inductive enquiry…. applying the rules of science to the exploration of, ‘the Archaeology, Geography, Geology and Natural History of the Holy Land.

‘Exploration’, ‘Science’ and ‘inductive’ notwithstanding, the PEF expressed, ‘interest in the Country in which the documents of our faith were written’.

This indicates a raison d’etre to prove that the Bible was true.

Capt. Wilson’s surveys remained topographically authoritative for decades; he became Director of the Palestine Pilgrims’ Text Society and 1901-5, Chairman of the PEF. 

A person cannot play both football and baseball at the same time; necessarily, it is one or the other.

Why? Because the rules are different. Scientific methodology has its rules, faith-based revelation has its rules.

They are different and therefore both cannot be ‘played’ by the same person at the same time, they are incommensurate. Mark well, ne’er the twain shall meet.

Part 4 will consider a masonic exemplar of Jerusalem exploration; and sadly, of a pathetic masonic tourist.  

All images author’s own collection. 

Article by: Gerald Reilly

Gerald Reilly was initiated in 1995 into St Osyth's Priory Lodge 2063. Essex. England (UGLE). 

He was a founder member of Josh Heller's Allthingsmasonic, and with Josh co-wrote 'The Temple that Never Sleeps' (Cornerstone Books, 2006) he is committed to the development of e-Freemasonry.

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