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C.2.7 The Tower of Babel

This legend appears already in the Halliwell poem, which proves that it is very old. This version of the legend tells us of the building of the tower and the following interruption of the work due to the confusion brought by the different languages spoken by the workers, who were then dispersed all over the world. There is no mention of Masonry that did not seem to exist at that time. However we do not know its origin that is not mentioned in the Book of Genesis nor in Josephus. In the Halliwell poem, Nebuchadnezzar is described as the builder of the tower although he lived sixteen century after the real builder, Nimrod. Obviously the writer of the poem knew the legend, but was confused with the date and place of the erection as well as with the name of the builder. This poem did not have any influence on the following Masonic writings.

The same legend appears also one century later in the Cooke M.S., as well as in similar form in the following manuscripts. Here it is said that Masonry started with the building of the tower. Nimrod is made its Grand Master who wrote the first charges or Masonic Constitutions. This form of the legend was accepted by Masonry until the end of the seventeenth century or the beginning of the eighteenth’.

In the Halliwell poem the origin of Masonry is ascribed to Euclid and the Egyptians. The Cooke M.S., and later the Dowland, is based on the Polychronicon, or Universal History, written in Latin by the monk Ranulph Hihden and translated by Trevisa. The English Masons accepted this version of the legend.

Two other very similar versions of the legend have been proposed by Anderson in 1723 and by Dr. Krause in 1810. This later version is said to be based on the York Constitutions, although there are no evidence for this affirmation. Here again it is said that Masonry originated at the time of the construction of the tower, with Nimrod as its leader. According to these documents Masonry appeared next in the land of the Chaldeans, and not in Egypt.

At the end of the nineteenth century, or at the beginning of the twentieth’, this legendary origin of Freemasonry at the time of the construction of the Tower of Babel was rejected, and the Temple of King Solomon in Jerusalem was described as its place of birth. As a result the legend of the Tower of Babel changed as follow: before the Flood the religion was based on legends and symbols similar to those used in Freemasonry. This “antediluvian Masonry” was preserved by Noah and transmitted to his descendants. However this doctrine was lost for a long time and, when found again, King Solomon improved it at the time of the building of the Temple. This teaching is now known as “Freemasonry”. In this form of the Masonic Legend, the Tower of Babel is seen as the symbol of darkness and ignorance due to the confusion brought by the many languages, whereas the Temple of Solomon brought back light and knowledge that is typical of Speculative Masonry.