The Templars: History and Myth: From Solomon's Temple to the Freemasons by Michael Haag
|The Templars: History and Myth: From Solomon's Temple to the Freemasons by Michael Haag|
|Reviewer: Magda Healey|
|Summary: An excellent introduction to the Templars for anybody interested in the history of the order or in the more recent speculations about its role, an account both scholarly and accessible; covering an enormous spread of time and space. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 384||Date: July 2009|
Despite being very descriptive, the title of 'The Templars: History and Myth: From Solomon's Temple to the Freemasons' still doesn't cover the full scope of Michael Haag's book. Notwithstanding its relatively modest page count, Templars not only manages to place the fascinating tale of the Knights' astonishing rise and spectacular fall in a rich historical context, but also provides an entertaining account of the Templars' 'afterlife': from the Masonic lore of the title to novels, films and games to conspiracy theories. There is also a travel guide and good list of source materials for further reading.
The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, commonly known as the Knights Templar, were an order of warrior monks founded in 1119 to protect pilgrims visiting the Jerusalem shrines and to defend the Holy Land. From humble beginnings, they grew to become one of the the wealthiest and most powerful bodies in the medieval world, playing a pivotal role in the history of the Crusades and maintaining the settlements of the Outermere. They soon grew in wealth and influence, with huge donations of property made in Europe and special rights given by the monarch and popes.
The Templars developed a financial network that allowed for safe transfers of money within the whole of the Christendom, and started to lend to the wealthy and the powerful. The Templar fortunes started to turn at the end of the 13th century, when the Mamelukes drove the last European forces out of the Holy Land: the Templars lost their main purpose of existence and eventually they became a casualty of their own wealth and the growing ambitions of King Philip the Fair of France: in 1307 the Templars were arrested in France and most of Europe, charged with heresy and obscenity; tortured and many confessed. In 1314 the Templars' last grand master, Jacques de Molay was burnt at the stake.
Haag's book starts with the ancient history of what was to become the Holy Land: biblical accounts of the arrival of the Tribes of Israel, the Ark of Covenant and King Solomon and his temple, to then present a fascinating account of the raise of Islam (which was initially perceived, especially in Byzantium, as another kind of vaguely Christian heresy) and the role of Jerusalem in all there major religions that still squabble over the location, two thousand years after the main events.
A narrative of the two hundred years of Templar history follows, enriched by informative contexts ranging from the Crusades as such to the Knights Hospitalliers to the conflicts within the Muslim world to the Christian heresies of Cathars and Gnostics. Haag also explores the enduring mystery of the papacy's role in the Templar trials, taking account of the recent discovery of the Chinon parchment in the Vatican Secret Archives (which, not so incidentally, reveals that pope absolved the Templars of accusations of heresy).
As fascinating as the two hundred years of Templars' actual history is, it pales into cultural insignificance in comparison to the posthumous life of the Templar myth. The location of their Jerusalem headquarters on the Temple Mount invited suppositions about their discovery of the ancient treasure, monetary but also mystical: from the Grail to the Ark of Covenant. The accusations of heresy suggested links with Gnostics and Eastern occult traditions. The rise of the Freemasons who created their own myths, often incorporating supposed Templar connections fuelled further speculations linking Templars to pretty much anything and everything of significance that happened in Western history.
Haag is pretty ruthless and very clear in debunking all the spurious links, showing that the great majority of those were concocted hundreds of years after the Templars' demise, and showing how momentous events in more recent European history (particularly the French revolution) have created the cultural climate in which the conspiracy theories flourished to explain what seemed like a catastrophic collapse of social order.
It's perhaps ironic that Freemasons and other (and more secret) supposedly Templar-linked conspiracies were originally blamed for revolutionary movements leading to a downfall of the elites, while now they are often linked to the exclusive and elitist cabals supposedly striving to subjugate the masses.
An entertaining survey of the best (and the worst) of Templar-inspired fiction, speculation and entertainment, as well as a travel guide to the best Templar sites complete the book.
Templars is an excellent introduction to the subject for anybody interested in the history of the order or in the more recent speculations about its role. Haag's prose isn't particularly dazzling, but it reads well and the narrative is sustained and cohesive. It's an accessible and popular account which is neither simplistic nor over-academic: a difficult balance to strike in a work covering such an enormous spread of time and space, but one that Haag copes with admirably.
Highly recommended, especially for those who learned about the Order from the Da Vinci Code and Ivanhoe, but also anybody else looking for a concise but comprehensive guide to all things Templar.
The review copy was sent to the Bookbag by the publisher - thank you!
Those interested in the history of the Middle East and the relationship between Muslim and Christian cultures will definitely like Sea of Faith by Stephen O'Shea ...while Barbarian in the Garden has a brilliant if entirely apocryphal (and anachronistic) Defense of the Templars. Gatty's Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland is a wonderful account of one spirited girl's pilgrimage to the Holy Land. You might also be interested in another Haag's books: Inferno Decoded: The essential companion to the myths, mysteries and locations of Dan Brown's Inferno.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Templars: History and Myth: From Solomon's Temple to the Freemasons by Michael Haag at Amazon.com.
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