Saturday, November 27, 2010

New Book by Stephen Dafoe: Illustrated History of the Knights Hospitaller

Author Stephen Dafoe has followed up his two recent Knight Templar books—Nobly Born (2007) and The Compasses and the Cross (2008)— with an equally beautifully illustrated third volume, on the Knights Hospitaller.

From the Lewis Masonic website:

by Stephen Dafoe
Lewis Masonic, 2010. £19.99
ISBN: 9780711034976

This richly illustrated book recounts the entire history of the Knights Hospitaller, from their beginnings nine centuries ago to the present day. Founded during the medieval crusades ­their full name is the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem -to run hospices. They grew in power and royal favour, conquering territories, including the island of Malta, with which they have long been associated, and Rhodes, building formidable castles such as Krak de Chevaliers in the Middle East. For a while they led the fight against the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean but the increasing power of European nations meant that their territory and powers were gradually taken away in the ensuing centuries but they still survive today.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Templars Discover America!

Last week while I was traveling in the northeast, I drove through Newport, Rhode Island and visited one of the legendary —with a strong emphasis on the word "legend"—sites of the supposed presence of the Knights Templar in America, the Newport Tower.

There is absolutely no evidence that the Knights Templar had known about the Americas in the 13th and 14th centuries, but that hasn’t stopped the speculation that they did. Various researchers have claimed that the Templars had based much of their wealth on Aztec gold and silver. Aztec tales abounded of a “great white god” from the East who had come to bring civilization to them. But there is no archeological evidence of any European presence in the region prior to the Spanish conquistadors. And that “great white god” stuff was ancient history to the Aztecs by then. That they meant Templars is highly unlikely.

Authors Tim Wallace-Murphy and Marilyn Hopkins, and several others, have advanced the notion that, while the Order flourished, the Templars ventured across the North Atlantic, following a similar path as the Vikings, and traded with the Native American population of northeastern Canada. After the dissolution of the Order, the Templars moved to Scotland, so the legend goes, and the Saint-Clair (or Sinclair) family became their protectors. And this is where the tale of the Templars discovering America really kicks in.

Henry Saint-Clair and the Zeno Narrative
In 1396, it is alleged that the Earl of Orkney, Henry Saint-Clair, went into partnership with a Venetian merchant family known as the Zenos. Saint-Clair is said by some to have made two trips across the North Atlantic almost a full century before Columbus. Based on a document called the Zeno Narrative, it has been speculated that the Sinclairs and the Zenos hoped to establish colonies in the Americas, away from the influence and reach of the Catholic Church.

The Zeno narrative is based on letters between real brothers from Venice, Antonio, Carlo and Nicolo Zeno, and was published anonymously in 1558. In it, a voyage is described by Nicolo Zeno in 1385 from Venice to England and Flanders, in which he claimed to have been shipwrecked on a large island called “Frislanda.” It is a mythical place, complete with a mythical prince. Referred to in the narrative as Prince Zichmni, Nicolo claims to have undertaken voyages to what is presumably Greenland for him over the space of two decades. At the end of the tale, after encountering strange and exotic people and places, Prince Zichmni remains in Greenland, starting a settlement called Trin.

True believers say that Prince Zichmni is in reality the Earl of Orkney, Henry Saint-Clair, and that the giant island nation of Frislanda is actually the smallish Orkney Island off the coast of Scotland – curious, since Nicolo described an island larger than Ireland. The Zeno Narrative comes complete with a map, but while portions of it and the narrative sort of match up with Iceland, Scotland and other North Sea and North Atlantic geography, the glaring flaw is the mythical “Frislanda” doesn’t.

A series of authors have made convoluted attempts to explain how Zichmni and Saint-Clair are one and the same, beginning in the late 1700s. In the 1870s, a geographer named Richard Henry Major took up the Sinclair cause and the Zeno narrative, and it is his fiddling that is the principal source of the nonsense. There had never been any suggestion in any record of the family history that Henry was an explorer of any kind, nor that he had ventured far from Orkney or Scotland at any time in his life, but that never kept a good myth down. Major took huge leaps of imagination, not to mention outright fabrication, in his mistranslation and interpretation of the narrative, forcing it to fit the Henry Saint-Clair mold.

Saint-Clairs and Sinclairs around the world were ecstatic. Here was “proof” that the Saint-Clairs, descended from the Knights Templar, builders of Rosslyn Chapel, founders of Freemasonry in Scotland, had also been the “discoverers” of America, a hundred years before that upstart Columbus. New Zealand resident Roland Saint-Clair wrote a glowing “biography” of Henry, calling him an “Orcadian Argonaut.” Thomas Sinclair in Chicago started a “Society of Sancto-Claro” and made announcements about Henry’s fame as the “Discoverer of America” as a counterpoint to the Columbian Exposition that was celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus. Never mind that, even if Henry really had sailed across the North Atlantic and established a colony at Tinn, it was Greenland, not America. Pesky details, we know. So, others have added further conjecture to the tale, claiming Saint-Clair explored into Nova Scotia, and as far south as what is now Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The Zeno Narrative has been debunked as a hoax by scores of researchers, and it has been shown to have actually been copied from Columbus’ own descriptions, and others, of Mexico and the Caribbean islands, with some artful name changes. And the accompanying map was apparently copied from a chart made in 1539. Finally, Nicolo Zeno has been conclusively placed in Italy during the period he was supposed to have been sailing and exploring. Court records show that he was less than heroic, being convicted of embezzlement in 1396 and imprisoned for five years.

Author Andrew Sinclair today continues to cling to the story, and has claimed that the mythical expedition was a secret mission of Templars, Gnostics and Freemasons to establish a religious and military empire in the New World, with Venetian cooperation. Most historians, geologists and archeologists place little credence in the theory. Well, okay. None, really. But there are some curious items that have been linked to the tale: the Westford Knight and the Newport Tower. And, of course, Rosslyn Chapel.

The Westford Knight
Located near the town square in Westford, Massachusetts is a slab of rock that is purported to have been carved with the image of a Knight Templar, holding a sword and a shield. Most who have examined the rock say it appears to have been a combination of natural erosion lines with a “punch-carving” of a sword hilt, while the shield has been painted on recently. True believers say it was placed along a popular path for tribal traffic in the late 1300s by Henry Saint-Clair’s expeditions. Archeologists say that’s nonsense. It was more than likely buried under a hillside at that time, and the sword carving was made in the 1800s by a pair of boys. The Templars themselves had not existed as an Order for almost 100 years at the time of Saint-Clair’s alleged expedition, so the question is obvious: why would anyone take the time to carve a 12th century image of a knight on a rock when there was no real connection to them to begin with?

The Newport Tower
A little bigger and a lot more enigmatic is a round, stone tower in Newport, Rhode Island. At first glance, it certainly looks like the ruins of a medieval European tower. And without a great leap of imagination, if you believe that post-trial Templars were stomping around the New England coast three centuries before it became New England, it might even look like a round Templar church.

Of course, it’s looked like other things to other researchers too, depending on their personal pet theory – everything from a Viking observatory, to a Portuguese or Irish signaling tower, to a 14th century Scottish church, which would place it right up Henry Saint-Clair’s bailiwick. Of course, like the Westford Knight, the Newport Tower is only “near” Saint-Clair’s mythical settlement in Greenland, in the same way that Miami is “near” Las Vegas, but who cares when trying to shore up a good myth? Naturally, the fable has been altered to suit the “evidence,” and claims have been made that Saint-Clair explored as far south as Nova Scotia, and, just so he could build this tower, Rhode Island.

Unfortunately, what it looks most like is exactly what local folklore has claimed for centuries: a windmill, patterned after an almost identical structure in Chesterton, England, and built in 1675 by Rhode Island’s first governor, Benedict Arnold (not the famous Revolutionary War turncoat of the same name). Arnold was originally from the area around Chesterton, and it has long been said that he patterned the Newport windmill after the one seen back home in his youth. Some researchers have discounted this theory, saying the Chesterton windmill hadn’t yet been constructed when Arnold was in the area, so controversy remains. But the tower is far too narrow to be anything even remotely resembling a church, even if there was once an outer wooden structure encircling it (of which there is no archeological evidence).

Carbon-14 dating made of mortar from the tower in 1992 placed the probable construction date between 1635 and 1698. But Scott Wolter in his book "The Hooked X" attempts to connect the tower to Templars, the Kensington Rune Stone in Minnesota, and more. Claims that findings from a 2008 excavation at the tower turned up shells with mortar on them dating to the 1400s have not been published for peer review, and there is speculation that the sea shells, and not the mortar, triggered the medieval period carbon date.

A-maize-ing Rosslyn Chapel “Evidence”
It is hard to pick up a book that talks about Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel without encountering an almost breathless description of an archway decorated in carvings that “proves” the Sinclairs came to America and returned with knowledge no one else could have had when the chapel was built in 1446. The “proof” is a decorative band of carvings that are usually described as “corn” or “maize” plants, and aloe vera – vegetation that existed at the time only in the Americas. There’s only one way that they could have gotten there: Henry Saint-Clair and his Templar explorers had to have gone to America and seen them!

In Greenland? Forgive us, logic returned for a second. But again, the question arises, if you believe the Zeno narrative, what was corn or aloe vera doing in Greenland for Henry Saint-Clair to find it there, since any backyard gardener can tell you Greenland is a lousy place for a cornfield? Of course, no one can say when those particular carvings were made, apart from the certainty that they wouldn’t have been put in until the building itself was completed. And there’s also the possibility that they are just carvings of wheat, lilies and strawberries, in which case all of this is just huffing and puffing.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Ongoing Battle Over Jerusalem's Temple Mount

On the list of history's top ten colossally stupid failures of international diplomacy has to be the 2000 Camp David Summit between Palestinian leaders and Israel, brokered by then US president Bill Clinton. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made the incredible concession to divide Jerusalem between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as long as Jews would still be allowed to continue visiting the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. PA leader Yasser Arafat had the ultimate victory over Israel in the palm of his hand. And he turned it down. Because, you see, the Palestinians' position is that Solomon's Temple, and the later Temple rebuilt by Herod, never existed. At least, they never existed on the Temple Mount.

The Crusaders who came to Jerusalem and found the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, both standing on the Temple Mount, assumed that what they were seeing was actually the King Solomon’s Palace and the Solomon’s Temple described in the Bible, and not more recent buildings constructed by the Muslims. Whether the Templars believed this or not, no one can say.
The place called Solomon’s Stables is actually below the upper level of the Mount itself, and is a large area made up of arched passageways that acted as sort of a supporting sub-basement for the area of the Temple above, probably constructed when King Herod rebuilt the Temple. The Mount itself is a wild combination of natural rock, monumental stonework and clever engineering, and the “stables” were part of an extensive attempt to make the top of the plateau level. During the period of the Crusades, they were actually used as stables, with room, it was said, for 2,000 horses, or 1,500 camels. Humps take up more space.

Today there is little visible evidence of the Templars’ presence on the Mount – and Muslims today deny that the Temple of Solomon was ever on the Mount to begin with. Such is the battle between politics and archeology. If they admit the Temple existed here before the arrival of Islam, then it would mean that Jews could claim “first dibs” on the Mount, yank down the mosques, rebuild the Temple and trigger Armageddon, as prophesized in Revelation 16. And, politically, whoever controls the top of the Mount has psychological and spiritual control over Jerusalem, regardless of what the U.N. may say. It’s sort of an ecclesiastical game of “king of the hill,” and they take it very seriously.

The Islamic authorities that have control of the Mount, called the Waqf, absolutely forbid any messing about in the foundation of the site, while engaging in a feverish building program themselves up top (Nuances aside, Waqf, in Arabic, literally means hold, confinement or prohibition). In 1996, Israeli archeologists opened a subterranean tunnel’s entrance, which erupted into riots by enraged Muslims. Eighty-five Palestinians and 16 Israelis were killed, and more than 1,200 Palestinians and 87 Israelis were wounded. The Palestinian press frequently reports that the Israelis are attempting to weaken the structure of the Mount, in order to cause the collapse of the mosques and the Dome of the Rock, and therefore, start a new war.

As for Solomon’s Stables, they were converted into a mosque in 1996, capable of holding 7,000 people. Hamfisted excavation was carried out hastily by the Waqf, and many critics say that much archeological material was destroyed by the Arabs, further obscuring evidence of the original Temple. Others day that the Waqf has done a credible job, only removing material that was in the area after the Crusader period.

The latest salvo in this rewriting of history happened this past week, as the Palestinians once again alleged that the Mount is not the previous location of Solomon's Temple. Or Herod's Temple. Or that it was ever even Jewish. Really.

It's sort of the archeological version of "These aren't the droids you're looking for."

From a Reuters article, Israel angered by Palestinian report on Western Wall:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the Palestinian leadership on Thursday to renounce an official Palestinian report asserting the Western Wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites, is not Jewish.

Al-Mutawakil Taha, deputy information minister in the Palestinian Authority, published a five-page study on Wednesday disputing Jews' reverence of the shrine as a retaining wall of the compound of Biblical Jewish Temples destroyed centuries ago.

The wall is adjacent to a politically sensitive holy complex in a part of Jerusalem that Israel captured in a 1967 war. The area, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, is home to al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

"Denial of the connection between the Jewish people and the Western Wall by the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Information is baseless and scandalous," Netanyahu said in a statement issued by the prime minister's office.

"The Israeli government expects the leaders of the Palestinian Authority to renounce the document and condemn it, and to stop twisting historical facts," he said.

In the report, Taha wrote the Western wall is a "Muslim wall and an integral part of al-Aqsa mosque and Haram al-Sharif," a position echoing past statements by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Taha issued the document after Israel approved on Sunday a five-year renovation plan for the Western Wall area.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem, where the Western Wall is located, after the 1967 conflict and claimed all of Jerusalem as its capital in a move that has not won international recognition.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they want to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

U.S.-brokered peace talks are supposed to address the issue of Jerusalem, but the negotiations were put on hold by the Palestinians shortly after they began in September when Netanyahu refused to extend a partial building freeze in West Bank settlements.

Netanyahu said the Palestinian position paper on the Western Wall "raises a very serious question" as to whether the Palestinian Authority truly intends to reach a peace agreement with Israel "based on co-existence and mutual recognition."

From Israel Today Magazine:

On Monday, the Palestinian Ministry of Information in Ramallah published a “study” claiming that the Western Wall is an integral part of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Haram al-Sharif (the Islamic term for the Temple Mount).

According to the study, what the Jews call the Western Wall of the Temple compound originally built King Solomon and expanded by King Herod is a wholly Islamic site with no connection to the Jews whatsoever.

“This wall was never part of the so-called Temple Mount, but Muslim tolerance allowed the Jews to stand in front of it and weep over its destruction,” wrote the study’s author, Al-Mutawakel Taha. “During the British mandate in Palestine, the number of Jews who visited the wall increased to a point where the Muslims felt threatened.”

Taha ignored the mountains of archeological and written evidence that affirm ancient Jewish life and temple worship in Jerusalem, and insisted that the Jews have utterly failed to prove their connection to the holy site.

The study concludes that “no Muslim or Arab or Palestinian had the right to give up one stone” of the Western Wall, signaling once again that peace between Israel and the current Palestinian leadership will be impossible without the Jews surrendering not only their land, but their faith and identity.