at the Building of the Tower of Babel, the Art and Mystery of Masonry was first
introduc'd, and from thence handed down by Euclid, a worthy and excellent
Mathematician of the Egyptian, and he communicated it to Hiram, the Master-Mason
concern'd in the Building of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem."
Pritchard Masonry Dissected 1738
publishing Masonry Dissected the view
could be taken that it was not Prichard’s intention to flatter Freemasonry;
this is perhaps confirmed by his assigning its operative origin to the
construction of the Tower of Babel! Twice in his Constitutions
Anderson refers to "the
confusion at Babel"
as a point in a time-line reference and interestingly suggests, "...the
Sciences and Arts were both transmitted to later ages and distant climes
notwithstanding the confusion of languages or dialects which tho’ give help to
rise the masonic faculty and ancient universal practice of conversing without
speaking and knowing each other at a distance... "
then are we to make of the biblical account of the Tower of Babel? Perhaps we
are entitled to some preliminary confusion as prior to its construction we are
informed that the families descending from Noah were, "after their tongues". This is immediately followed by, "And
the whole earth was of one language and of one speech."
Notwithstanding, it was then
decided by the Canaanites, of the line of Noah, Ham and Cush, that on a plain in
the land of Shinar, they would build a city with a tower whose top reached to
heaven. This was intended to ensure their homogeneity.
it would appear that Pritchard was not familiar with the text in Genesis Chapter
11 for it clearly states that they said to one another “let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly” and that “they
had brick for stone and slime for mortar”. No self-respecting operative
freemason would be involved in such an undertaking. Therefore, we must reject
his assertion that it was from Babel that Freemasonry took its rise; indeed, to
suggest that it was is taking the rise out of Freemasonry!
to the narrative in Genesis, it appears that this oneness of language was deemed
to lead to unrestrained imagination. Therefore, it was by extra-terrestrial
intervention that language was confounded, the people scattered and the
construction remained unfinished. That is to say, Heaven and Earth did not meet
are we to understand this “confounding of language”? Perhaps in the first
instance it indicates that before another tongue could be understood there was a
learning process involved; multilingualism does exist although, for Freemasons
as Anderson indicates, signs and tokens may have mitigated linguistic
limitations. However, post-Babel,
might it not be the case that there remains a measure of confusion within
language? Delightful though it certainly is, we cannot really claim to derive
meaning from that delightful sound, made by babies, and designated
“babbling”. For, what ever we may think and feel, babbling from the mouths
of “babes and sucklings” cannot provide propositions that either can, or
cannot, be the case – even with unrestrained imagination. Yes, the claim is
being made that if a proposition can neither be the case, nor not be the case,
it confounds and confuses - though “scattered abroad upon the face of the
Earth” we are seeking clarity.
task for a freemason is to consider all propositions and apply to them a test of
meaningfulness. (Perhaps this would explain why religion and politics are not to
be discussed within the lodge!) Therefore, and with that, we must head for the
temple. The allegorical significance of King Solomon’s Temple is something
that unites freemasons “scattered abroad upon the face of the earth” even
though unable to understand the speech of one and others grand lodges. A main
purpose for building the temple was to provide a worthy location for the Ark of
the Covenant at which place the whole, the extent of things in the context of
the over-all, could be considered by an individual. A place where heaven and
earth might meet: a place where the imagination could be unrestrained.
the other hand, a temple was an administrative centre, a place where God and the
mammon of unrighteousness met – money changers et al! Perhaps it is the case
that on that threshing floor in Jerusalem the site where “temples”, Jewish,
Christian and Islamic converge, combine, coagulate, compete, challenge and
confront! Without a doubt, the urge to build bigger and better has been an
incredible incentive. Where a deity has been the fiction to maintain a polity it
has been the practice to build an edifice that has over-powered and subsumed all
that looked thereon. Perhaps Abu Simbel being a bench-mark that others have
sought to emulate. Indeed, when an edifice was constructed on the purported site
of an ascension it posed a challenge that was met by crusades and cathedral
building: the former unsuccessful, the latter stunning. Both activities well
combine to provide the romantic fiction that underpins some aspects of
contemporary Freemasonry. There is no problem with that – an essential strand
of the European Enlightenment was indeed romantic – perhaps the troubadour’s
legacy found in Goethe and Wagner.
perhaps it would be helpful to return to basics and consider a challenging New
Testament text. In The Acts of The Apostles we read in Chapter 7 that “Solomon
built him a house. Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with
hands”. The original disciples “broke
bread from house to house eating their meat with gladness and singleness of
heart”. The festive board does not have to be a million miles away
from this. Sharing a meal is a
serious human activity and from this association and sociability there can be a
reinforcement of moral determination and decisiveness.
where should such a meal be celebrated; what might be the import of the
indication that “The Most High” does
not dwell in temples made with hands? Oh dear has there been labour in vain?
It has to be the case that temples were constructed to be a statement of
command, control, compliance and conformity. Yes, they were so big - dwarfing
anything around – there in your face. Perhaps
the view could be taken that behaviours within temples are exaggerated and do
not always concur with behaviours outside. But, it is the behaviours outside
that are the test. That is why the temple experience is perhaps an ideal and
perhaps largely unattainable.
the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands where does this leave
Freemasons? As persons we are temples not made with hands and with us there
“dwells” the potential for worthiness. Yes, daily masonic improvement is
that which advances us and if faithfully applied will advance all those with
whom we engage. That is to say, we are what we do. But, what are we? Perhaps the
world is all that is the case; that my world is my language and the limits of my
world are the limits of my language. In Acts Chapter 2 we read of Pentecost and
devout men of every nation under heaven and they were confounded because, every
man heard them speak in his own language. Ah, here is the mitigation of
Babel! Not in a temple but in a public place. Yes, Freemasonry has to
be demonstrated where we are.
language can be the means of divide. Not confusion among languages, which can be
sorted; rather, confusion within language where we have a seriously less than
clear understanding of another’s worldview. We assume it is so different to
our own and yet with a little clarity we can realise that there is more that
unites us than separates. How and why is it that the mote of difference
over-powers the beam of convergence?
must be understood as a power that can enable Freemasons to understand and
respect different views, can enable us to avoid institutional disrespect and can
enable bridge-building between the shared areas that would otherwise remain