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Palmyra 1691 – 1754

Vom Orientinteresse der Anglikaner über die Tempelfaszination der Freimaurer zur frühmodernen Archäologie

Zwierlein, Cornel

Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung, Vol. 49 (2022), Iss. 1: pp. 1–44

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PD Dr. Cornel Zwierlein, Friedrich-Meinecke-Institut, FU Berlin, Koserstraße 20, 14195 Berlin.

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Abstract

Palmyra 1691 – 1754.

From the Oriental Interest of the Anglicans via the Temple Fascination of the Freemasons to Early Modern Archaeology

In 1691, William Hallifax, Anglican chaplain to the English Levant Company, visited the ruins of Tadmor (Palmyra) with a small group of travelers. His description of his trip and the ruins appeared in the “Philosophical Transactions” of the Royal Society and sparked a discussion about the history of the ruins and their enigmatic inscriptions in the Western Republic of Letters. This article examines three successive interpretations of the ruins. In the conservative wings of the Anglican Church, the city of Palmyra was thought to have been founded by Solomon. In the historical development of the city, parallels were seen with the episcopal sees of the early Christian church, which had supposedly consisted of quasi independent dioceses, governed by bishops of equal rank at the top, downplaying any supremacy of the pope or of a secular ruler. With this emphasis on the decentralized organization of the early Christian church, the so-called “non-juring” bishops and other members of the Anglican Church bolstered their own position in times of crisis. After the Glorious Revolution, Clergymen such as Abednego Seller and Thomas Smith no longer obeyed King William (and Queen Mary) in ecclesiastical matters and therefore needed an episcopal ecclesiology that, if thought through the end, should work without the idea of a supreme head, be it a pope or a Protestant monarch.

A direct line can be drawn from this perception, anchored in Christian Orientalism and older traditions of exegetical speculation and reconstruction of the buildings mentioned in the Bible (Noah’s Ark, the Tabernacle, the Temple of Solomon), to the reception of Palmyra among Newton’s disciples and the early Freemasons. In unison with geognostic research and debate about the shape, age, and structure of the earth, they speculated about the earliest history of architecture by noting correspondences between astronomical constellations and building forms and symbols on earth: Freemasons regarded the Temple of Solomon as the first great work of art of ‘Masonry’. Thus, Palmyra could be integrated into a whole series of ancient buildings and symbols, which referred back to the divine creation of the earth at the very beginning of time.

A third approach to Palmyra emerged with the sober description by the English scholar Robert Wood, who dropped all links to mythical prehistoric times and analysed the ruins of Palmyra primarily as a document of the period around 250 AD. An example of the early forms of modern archaeological historicism, Wood’s way of thinking was close to that of Johann Joachim Winckelmann. All three forms of reception of Palmyra in the Western Republic of Letters became an integral part of European cultural memory that survives the physical destruction of the ruins in 2015.