What about the Masons?

 

Much ado is made about Joseph Smith’s relationship with the freemasons and the similarity of Masonic rituals with the temple ceremony.

There are a few interesting points to be made about this.  First, the similarities between the Mormon temple ceremony and the Masonic temple ceremony are striking, but to say that the two are exact is an overstatement.  Second, the timing of Joseph’s involvement in the Masons is suspicious to say the least.  His involvement with the Masons was unique.  Normally it takes a new initiate months to years to rise through the ranks of the Masonic Order.  It may take a number of years to rise to the highest levels.  Joseph Smith was initiated and rose through 32 or 33 possible degrees of Masonry in about two weeks.  This rapid rise is not unheard of, and is typically reserved for politicians or those of high social status.  Joseph would certainly have fit that category.  The temple ceremony, however, was “revealed” about two to three weeks after that.  The timing of these events is interesting.

The Legend of Hyrum Abiff is an allegorical play  presented in the masonic tradition.  This ritual play tells the story of the master architect in King Solomon’s Temple who is threatened by thugs in an effort to obtain the Master Mason’s secret password that he possessed.  Ultimately, he is killed but does not reveal his secrets.  Hyrum Abiff is referred to at “the widow’s son” (see below) which may be a biblical reference.

The LDS temple ceremony is also an allegorical play which uses similar signs, tokens, and penalties with oaths of secrecy.  Members follow the experiences of Adam an Eve as they progress to the Celestial Kingdom.

Similarities include the use of very similar handshakes, symbols, penalties, and some phraseology.  Also similar is the use of a symbolic, allegorical play to convey messages.  The clothing worn in the temple is also essentially the same with exception of the apron worn by participants.  In the Mormon temple the apron is fashioned to appear like leaves, where in the Masonic temple it is a tan colored lambskin used to represent the aprons worn in stone quarries.

Differences include the purpose of the rituals, the characters involved, and the religious essence of the Mormon ceremony.  The Masonic ritual is not a religious message.

Joseph Smith’s father (Joseph Smith, Sr.) was a long time mason as was his brother, Hyrum.  In 1842, Joseph Smith, Jr. became a mason and rose very quickly (a matter of weeks) through the ranks to a high degree Master Mason.  This rapid rise was evidently facilitated by his position as leader of the LDS church.  He was also one of the founding members of a Masonic Lodge in Nauvoo in 1842.  On May 4, 1842, just a couple of months after his initiation to Freemasonry, Smith instructed other Mormon leaders "in the principles of and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments, and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood...." (History of the Church, vol. 5, pg. 1, May 4, 1842).  This represents the beginning of the Mormon Temple ceremony.

There are some who believe that the last words uttered by Joseph Smith were part of a Masonic distress call.  On June 27, 1844, just seconds before Joseph Smith was shot at Carthage Jail in Carthage, Illinois, he rushed toward the open window, raised his hands and proclaimed, “Oh Lord my God.”  The full phrase "Oh, Lord, my God, is there no help for the widow's son?" would have been honored by all full Masons as a call for mercy.   This may have been a final attempt at an appeal for help from any Full Masons in the waiting crowd.

Conclusion

While it is probably not fair to characterize the Mormon temple ceremony as “stolen” from the Masonic tradition, the similarities between the rituals are more than casual.  Several of the elements are essentially the same.  So does that prove or disprove the divine nature of the Temple ceremony?  I would say no.

It is a little disconcerting that the Temple ceremony was not “revealed” until after Joseph Smith had received a full exposure to the Masonic ritual.  Apologist may argue that because the Masonic tradition had an ancient and divine origin, Joseph would have to familiarize himself with that ritual in order to make the Temple ceremony fully accurate.  I’m not sure that argument makes any sense.  If God wanted to reveal the temple ceremony, there would be no conceivable need for input or education from any other source. 

The reader is referred to an excellent book on the subject entitled The Mysteries of Godliness:  A History of Mormon Temple Worship by David John Buerger, 1994.  This book details the evolution of the temple ceremony from it’s rudimentary beginnings to the ceremony in place today.  It becomes very clear that the ceremony was not “revealed” as a finished product, but evolved and expanded with time.  If this were to be considered an eternal ceremony, there would be no need for so many (or perhaps any) changes over time.

In my mind, the initial plagiarism is obvious and the evolution of the ceremony over time deal a serious blow to the credibility of Joseph Smith.


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