Yesterday I briefly mentioned the weird idea, best known from Christopher Knight’s and Robert Lomas’s The Hiram Key (1997), that the Knights Templar discovered America and named it for an occult star called Merica which they learned about from Jewish Temple records. Their book, however, never explains where their information came from.
In the first mention of Merica, the two authors present it immediately following a discussion of Flavius Josephus’ account of the Essenes’ belief in a western paradise (= Greek Islands of the Blessed) from The Jewish Wars (2.8.11), but it certainly does not come from that source. Instead, they assert without a source that the Mandaeans have a similar belief in a western paradise but that “this place is marked by a star, the name of which is ‘Merica.’” The authors, again without a sources listed, identify this star with the evening star, Venus, and thus with the morning star, also Venus, the holy star of the Knights Templar and thus proof that the Templars and/or Freemasons founded America. They also claim that the Mandaeans have a “very Masonic” handshake.
The two authors then repeat the claim, again without a source, in Second Messiah (2001), to which they add that a “wide range” of scholars have embraced their claim “with open arms” because they hate Amerigo Vespucci and can’t imagine naming half the world for him. By “scholars” they apparently meant “conspiracy theorists.”
After Knight and Lomas, hundreds of other authors have repeated the claim. Not surprisingly, due to Knight and Lomas being so cagey about their sources, more than one later writer has mistakenly quoted Knight and Lomas and attributed it to Josephus. So far as I can tell, no one has an original source for it other than Knight and Lomas. Michael Anderson Bradley came closest, arguing that the name came from Atlantis in Grail Knights of North America (1998). Later writers, apparently to hide the lack of a true ancient pedigree, have taken to spelling the star “Merika” on the model of Arabic-named stars.
Standard accounts of the Mandaean religious beliefs state that their paradise was called “those carried away by truth” and was termed msunia kušṭa. According to a book published by Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley (The Mandaeans, Oxford University Press, 2002), modern Mandaeans believe paradise lies not in the “west” but at the North Pole. The regular word for “stars” is Malwasia, and the word for paradise is Mšunia Kušta, from the word “messiah.” So that’s a dead end.
Later writers also claim that the “Merica” star took its name from Ishtar’s “Star of Venus,” but the Babylonian name for Venus was Dilbat. So that doesn’t work.
There was an Egyptian First Dynasty official named Merika, whose tomb is at Saqqara, but the Mandaeans aren’t Egyptians and Merika wasn’t a star. “La Merica” was also the name for America mangled by illiterate Italian peasants, but that’s too late for our purposes.
So what do we do?
Knight and Lomas claim that the Templars learned of Merica from “Nasorean” scrolls found beneath the Temple Mount, but neither author shares how they allegedly learned of this; the best they will say is a circular argument that the star’s name proves the continent took its name from that, and that the continent proves the star’s name. The proof, they say, is on the Nasorean Scrolls, which are hidden, they believe, beneath Rosslyn Chapel, where the Sinclair Holy Bloodline Grail Kings keep them where only Freemasons are allowed to see them. Conveniently, this proof is forever inaccessible, and known to Knight and Lomas only from Freemason rituals, which they believe encode Templar beliefs.
I can’t find any mention of the alleged star prior to Knight and Lomas in 1997, and since they refuse to say where they got the idea from (other than Knight’s “research” into “religion”), I have to conclude that Knight made it up. So where did he take his inspiration? I would think that part of it must come from the myth of Shalim (Salem), the old Canaanite god of the evening star, whose name is believed to form part of Jerusalem. Since his name meant “completion,” the idea is that the evening star leads to the place of completion in the west, and thus to paradise. (Obviously, this reading is done in parallel with the Star of Bethlehem narrative, which seems to have cross-fertilized Knight’s claims about the “Merica” star.) So this must be the intellectual foundation for the “Merica” star, ascribed to the Templars via their occupation of the Temple Mount and their supposed veneration of a pre-Christian “goddess” also identified with Venus, the evening star.
But what of the name? I am flummoxed. I guess Knight made it up, unless he back-formed it out of either the name of America or, less likely, something like the version of Marduk given as Merodach in Jeremiah 50:2, identifying Shalim with some M-named deity or demon by virtue of being sons of El and/or identified with Venus. Another possibility is that Knight misread Mercia and transposed some letters, that British earldom having associations with Templars, according to old chronicles. Before it was an earldom, Mercia was a kingdom, and early Freemason conspiracy literature makes occasional reference to it. In 640 CE, for example, Masons claimed that the king of Mercia recognized a lodge of French masons, whose leader became general superintendent of masons throughout Mercia. In 793, masons, identified as Freemasons in later conspiracy literature, built the St. Albans for the King of Mercia. Another version of Freemason conspiracy literature states that Charles Martel, as grand master of masons, sent a contingent of Freemasons from France to Mercia in 701 to restore the craft after several hundred years of neglect. Since we know that Knight believes that the Freemasons are the directly connected to the Templars, this may be the most likely source of the otherwise unattested name of “Merica.”
That’s the closest I can come. As far I can see “Merica” springs into existence in 1997 from the pen of Christopher Knight, who refuses to tell anyone where he got the idea.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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