Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Monumental Masonry

by W.M.Don Falconer
Lodge Endeavor No 429
The United Grand Lodge of New South Wales, Australia

(continued from The Earliest Masons)

By 3,000BC the Egyptians had developed a calendar with 365 days to the year, from which time their historical records are accurate. The development of writing and literature continued apace in Sumeria, but Egypt was supreme in the visual arts and architecture. Civilisation began to flourish and monumental masonry developed on an immense scale and with unprecedented complexity. The three Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and the huge Ziggurat of Urnammu in Mesopotamia are typical of this period. Although the scale of architecture in Mesopotamia was not as great as in Egypt, it was the Mesopotamians who were more innovative in their use of the arch, which they used extensively in tombs. The art of writing continued to develop and its use was becoming more widespread. Signs unearthed at Byblos in Lebanon date from around 2,500BC and are in a script similar to that then used in Syria. Pottery found at Byblos and Sidon, also in Lebanon, from the period 2,100BC to 1,700BC, provide some of the earliest evidence of the use of a linear script called pseudo-hieroglyphics. This was an early form of non-Egyptian alphabetic script variously designated as Canaanite, Sinaitic or proto-Phoenician.

This comparatively simple script progressively replaced the syllabic cuneiform scripts of Babylonia and Syria, as well as the complex hieroglyphic writing of Egypt, so that by about 1,500BC an alphabet was in general use. From this alphabet were progressively derived the Phoenician about 1,000BC, early Hebrew about 700BC, old Greek also about 700BC and formal Greek about 500BC whence the Roman was derived. With the development of writing in an era of prodigious monumental construction, coupled with the advances being made in moral and religious teaching, albeit spasmodically, it must reasonably be assumed that the speculative aspects of masonry also were developing and would have received considerable impetus when the building of so magnificent an edifice as King Solomon's Temple was commenced around 960BC at Jerusalem. The later desecration of the temple and its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar about 587BC must have had a serious impact on the faith of masons in those days, but that faith would have been renewed by the decree of Cyrus in 538BC, allowing the captives in Babylon to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the house of the Lord, initially under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, or Zerubbabel. The restoration and enlargement of the temple by Herod in the period 20BC to 64AD, when 1,000 priests were trained as masons to build the shrine, must have significantly enhanced speculative masonic thought.

(continued at Classical Masonry)

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