From Pietism to Palestine, 1845 to 1868
Christoph Hoffmann (1815-1885) founded the Temple Society at Kirschenhardthof, Germany, in 1861. While its origins go back to nineteenth century Protestant Pietism, its evolution is best understood when considering the religious, social and political influences extant at the time.
It began as a movement to revive Christian faith during the industrial revolution, which created economic prosperity for some, but left many people struggling in poverty under difficult social conditions. Hoffmann believed that the Church was ultimately responsible for providing social welfare, but was neglecting this key task as it was too closely intertwined with the State to be effective. The ongoing discontent with the Church strengthened Hoffmann’s resolve to find the solution to cure the social ills of the time. He came to believe that true Christianity was the answer. The Pietists tried hard to live by Biblical doctrine and were particularly mindful of Old Testament prophesies.
The ‘kingdom of God’, as preached by Jesus in the New Testament, was Hoffmann’s guiding star during his many years of living in conflict with the State Church. His idea was to work towards creation of communities of God’s people – the spiritual Temple – in the Holy Land. He started a trial community at Kirschenhardthof and, after having been expelled from the Protestant Church, founded a separate religious community in 1861, calling it Deutscher Tempel (German Temple), i.e. the Temple Society. Henceforth, the Templers were virtual outcasts from Protestant church and community life.
They had now reached the point of no return and decided to go to Palestine. In their quest to buy land in Palestine, Hoffmann and Hardegg sought the support of the Turkish authorities in Constantinople. They reached Haifa on 30 October 1868.
Settlement in Palestine, 1868 to 1941
Palestine was a neglected outpost of the Ottoman Empire when the Templers first settled in Haifa in 1868. Other settlements were soon founded in Jaffa (1869), Sarona (1871) and Jerusalem (1873) and, a generation later Wilhelma (1902), Betlehem (1906) and Waldheim* (1907). From initially hard beginnings, these communities went on to build the foundations for success: farms, flourmills, workshops, factories, shops, banks, hotels, hospitals, schools and even roads. Haifa was the largest Templer settlement. To this day, its main road is said to be the most magnificent in Israel.
The Templers flourished in Palestine for nearly 80 years; they even survived the British occupation during World War I, when many Templers were deported and interned in Egypt. Palestine was a British Mandated Territory from 1923 until 1948. Great Britain’s entry into World War II signalled the end for the Templers in Palestine. Their settlements of Wilhelma, Sarona, Betlehem and Waldheim were turned into internment camps, housing close to 2,000 people. In 1941, a large number of Templers was deported to Australia. The last remaining Templers were expelled in 1948 when the State of Israel was established .
Resettlement in Australia, 1941 to Now
The 665 Templers deported to Australia were interned in Tatura (Victoria) in July 1941. Templer community life in the camp was soon reestablished with school, religious services, sport and music. The camp was closed in 1947 and, with no possibility of return to Palestine, most of the Tatura Templers settled in Australia.
The Temple Society Australia (TSA) was founded in 1950 and communities were formed in Bentleigh, Boronia, Bayswater, Sydney, Tanunda (SA) and Wangaratta. By 1956, there were 1300 members Australia-wide. Today, these communities continue to live by the principles adopted 150 years ago.
* Waldheim was founded by Protestants who had split from the TS in the late 1870s