Three Centuries of Anderson’s Constitutions
Part Four

March 22, 2024

Three Centuries of Anderson’s <i>Constitutions</i><br>Part Four

František Kupka (1871–1957), Babylon. Oil on canvas, 27½ × 40 inches. 1906.

While it is correct that Freemasonry’s legends devote much attention to Solomon’s Temple, James Anderson’s 1723 The Constitutions of the Free-Masons displays a fascination with the architecture of many other cultures as well.

Following the stories related in the Old Charges of Masonry, Anderson discusses how, after the building of Solomon’s Temple, the skilled Masons who labored under Solomon and Hiram Abiff then spread to other lands, bringing their skills and expertise—and the Masonic institution itself—with them:

So that after the Erection of Solomon’s Temple, Masonry was improv’d in all the neighbouring Nations; for the many Artists employed about it, under Hiram Abif, after it was finish’d, dispers’d themselves into Syria, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Chaldea, Babylonia, Media, Persia, Arabia, Africa, Lesser Asia, Greece and other Parts of Europe, where they taught this liberal Art to the free born Sons of eminent Persons, by whose Dexterity the Kings, Princes, and Potentates, built many glorious Piles, and became the GRAND MASTERS, each in his own Territory, and were emulous of excelling in this Royal Art; nay, even in INDIA . . . . But none of the Nations, nor all together, could rival the Israelites, far less excel them, in Masonry; and their Temple remain’d the constant Pattern.

Here, Anderson relates the Masonic tradition that the Temple of Solomon remained the ultimate standard of architectural beauty and proportion, even as impressive works were subsequently constructed in lands beyond the Kingdom of Israel.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

Throughout the Constitutions, Anderson refers to certain buildings as being one of the “Wonders” of the ancient world. Several such lists survive from classical literature. The historian Herodotus may have originated the tradition, although his list does not survive. Diodorus Siculus framed the list that is generally accepted:

  1. The Great Pyramid of Giza
  2. The Temple of Artemis
  3. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  4. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
  5. The Lighthouse of Alexandria
  6. The Colossus of Rhodes
  7. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia

These were literally described in Greek not as “Wonders” but as “things to be seen.” That is, these lists were really a kind of ancient travelogue.

Anderson comments upon all of these and more in the text of the Constitutions:

1. “. . . one of those Egyptian PYRAMIDS is reckon’d the First of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Account of which, by Historians and Travellers, is almost incredible.”

2. “. . . the Temple of Diana at Ephesus. . . became another of the Seven Wonders of the World . . . .”

3. “. . . the Walls and City, the Palaces and Hanging-Gardens, the Bridge and Temple of BABYLON, the Third of the Seven Wonders of the World”

4. “. . . usually reckon’d the Fourth of the Seven Wonders of the World, viz. the Mausoleum, or Tomb of Mausolus, King of Caria, between Lycia and Jonia, at Helicarnassus . . . .”

5. “The . . . King of Egypt, PTOLOMEUS PHILADELPHUS, that great Improver of the liberal Arts, and of all useful Knowledge, who gather’d the greatest Library upon Earth, and had the Old Testament (at least the Pentateuch) first translated into Greek, became an excellent Architect and GENERAL MASTER-MASON, having among his other great Buildings, erected the famous TOWER of PHAROS, the Fifth of the Seven Wonders of the World . . . .”

Anderson gives an alternate in this footnote: “Though some, instead of this, mention as the Fifth Wonder, the great OBELISK of Semiramis, 150 Foot high, and 24 Foot square at Bottom, or 90 Foot in Circuit at the Ground, all one intire Stone, rising pyramidically, brought from Armenia to Babylon about the Time of the Siege of Troy, if we may believe the History of SEMIRAMIS.”

6. The statue “of JUPITER OLYMPIUS, sitting in his Temple in Achaia, between the Cities of Elis and Pisa, made of innumerable small Pieces of Porphyry, so exceeding grand and proportion’d, that it was reckon’d one of the Seven Wonders . . . .”

7. “ . . . the famous COLOSSUS at Rhodes was another, and the greatest Statue that ever was erected, made of Metal, and dedicated to the SUN, 70 Cubits high, like a great Tower at a distance, at the Entry of an Harbour, striding wide enough for the largest Ships under sail, built in 12 Years by CARES a famous Mason and Statuary of Sicyon, and Scholar to the great Lysippus of the same Fraternity.”

As we can see, Anderson has really listed nine ancient wonders. Yet, it is a tenth wonder that captures his ultimate esteem: the Temple of Solomon.

“. . . we must conclude its Prospect to transcend our Imagination; and that it was justly esteem’d by far the finest Piece of Masonry upon Earth before or since, and the chief Wonder of the World . . . .”

Thus, while Anderson takes care to specify that the impressive works of the nations were “vastly inferior” to the “holy, charming, lovely Temple of GOD” as erected by the Freemasons working under the care of King Solomon, he does not scorn them as nothing more than the works of unbelievers. In the long narrative of geometry and architecture that forms the basis of the Traditional History, all significant works of every nation and religion—and sacred sites in particular—can be seen as part of the story.

Shawn E. Eyer is the Director of Education of The George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association.