Book Review: Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Masons

Nick Literski Mormon 72 Comments

Those who know me understand that this book would be of interest to me.  My experience reviewing it led to some trains of thought that I’d love to explore with others here.  In posting the below review, I’m hoping to spur some discussion along the following lines:

  1. Discussion of the book and/or the review
  2. Discussion of the relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism
  3. Discussion of the current state of LDS apologetics

Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Masons
Matthew B. Brown, Covenant Communications, Inc., 2009

In recent years, much has been said regarding the relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism, even to the point of errant speculation that the anticipated Dan Brown thriller, The Lost Symbol, would revolve around this fascinating topic.  It is only natural, therefore, that one or more LDS apologists would attempt to address the topic.  Gilbert W. Scharffs attempted to do so in 2007, with Mormons & Masons:  Setting the Record Straight, which received decidedly negative reviews.  In 2009, Matthew B. Brown presents his own effort, Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Masons.

Brown notes in his introduction that the topic raises questions which are “deserving of contemplation, some of them calling for in-depth investigation” (p.1).  Suggesting that it is “not possible” for the current volume to address every aspect of his topic, Brown assures his readers that he will deal with the “core” issues.

In his first chapter, Brown offers to educate his readers sufficiently to make “meaningful comparisons” between Masonic lodges and LDS temples.  Brown’s method, reminiscent of the earlier efforts of Kenneth Godfrey in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, is to focus almost entirely on supposed distinctions between the two.  While Brown cites a reluctance to inappropriately discuss details of Masonic ritual, he overcomes this feeling enough to demonstrate his lack of understanding on the subject.  For example, Brown refers to a candidate in the three essential degrees of Masonic initiation as being “given a piece of clothing that is modified as he progresses through these rites,” evidently referring to the distinct folding (not “modification”) of a white apron in each degree.  While such misconceptions might be forgivable, coming from a non-Mason, Brown reveals his true intent of vilifying the Fraternity.  Twice in this chapter, Brown claims, without citing any source, that “many (but not all) forms of Freemasonry” involve expectations that Masonic initiation will enable the candidate to enter the presence of deity.  Brown takes pains to emphasize this false claim, despite acknowledging that Freemasonry is emphatically not a religion.  Likewise, Brown alleges that the “fundamental natures” of Freemasonry and Mormonism are “completely opposite each other,” claiming that while LDS temples are places of “profound religiosity,” discussion of religion is “forbidden” at “all times” in a Masonic lodge building.  Contrary to Brown’s criticism, Masonic ritual is built on a religious foundation, making extensive reference to the Holy Bible.  While Freemasons do refrain from discussing religion in a partisan manner during lodge meetings, in order to avoid contention between brothers, it is both false and absurd to claim that all discussion of religion is “forbidden” within the building.  Further, notwithstanding Brown’s promise to avoid specific discussion of Masonic ritual, he employs a footnote of two full pages to list alleged “elements in the first three Masonic initiation ceremonies that have no connection whatsoever with Mormon ordinances.”  Most of the listed “elements” are, in fact, specific references to the clothing, furnishings, words, and actions of Masonic ritual.  Here too, Brown misrepresents the Fraternity, making it falsely appear that Masons worship “the ancient pagan deity called Fides,” and engage in political discussions during their degree ceremonies.

Having laid this shaky foundation, Brown moves to his second chapter, offering a very basic outline of the historical development of the Masonic Fraternity.  Unfortunately, Brown’s third chapter, what he calls “one of the most important parts of this book,” is far less cautious in offering the alleged “origins of Masonic practice.”  To his credit, Brown here avoids the common (and completely unsupportable) LDS apologetics claim that Freemasonry literally descends from ritual practices which took place in the Temple of Solomon.  In its place, Brown offers what he calls “a plausible answer to the long-standing question of Masonic ritual beginnings.”  Unfazed by the hundreds of historians who have long since admitted that the origins of Masonic ritual are lost in the mists of time, Brown confidently assures his readers that Freemasonry is the product of Catholic and primitive Christian ceremonies.  In fact, Brown goes so far as to imply that the Masons have conspired to hide this great secret, not “wanting” to know the real answers.

Brown supports his “Masonic origins” theory with several descriptions of early Christian rituals, and implements and architecture.  To the unwary reader, Brown appears to make a strong case.  After all, his argument is replete with words like “obvious,” “direct correspondences,” and “parallels.”  Brown evidently fails, however, to realize that he is using precisely the same methods and logic employed by those who posit a Masonic origin for Mormon temple ceremonies.  Innumerable authors, after all, have provided side-by-side parallels between Joseph Smith’s temple ordinances and the rituals of Freemasonry.   Nonetheless, Brown asserts that “[t]hose who are familiar with the initiation rites of Freemasonry cannot fail to recognize the parallels between this orthodox Christian ritual and that used for the induction of speculative Masons” (p. 46).  The same sentence could easily be written, and with equal validity, by substituting “Mormon” for “orthodox Christian.”  Conversely, Brown seems immune to the fact that just as he employed a list of distinctions between Masonic lodges and Mormon temples, others could readily compose a long list of differences between “orthodox Christian” rituals and Masonic rites.

Brown’s fourth chapter attempts, in a mere twelve pages, to tell the story of Freemasonry in Nauvoo, Illinois, complete with an analysis of Joseph Smith’s level of involvement in the lodge prior to the introduction of the endowment ceremony, as well as the answer to whether Joseph Smith was truly made a Mason “on sight.”  A look at Brown’s footnotes reveals that despite the ready availability of the actual records of Nauvoo Lodge at the LDS Church Historical Department, he relied entirely on Mervin Hogan’s brief, published transcript, which covers only the first few meetings of the lodge.  Perhaps this is why Brown makes the bold assertion that in 1842, there were “only thirty” Freemasons “in the general area” of Nauvoo, despite the fact that sufficient non-Mormon Freemasons resided in nearby towns (such as Warsaw, Carthage, and LaHarpe) to establish several other lodges near the same time.

Brown then makes the common mistake of attributing the establishment of Freemasonry among the Nauvoo Mormons to the influence of John C. Bennett, based on the single reminiscence of Ebenezer Robinson.  The problem with this assumption is that while Bennett did pen a petition asking the members of Quincy’s Bodley Lodge #1 to recommend forming a lodge in Nauvoo, this was simply the standard duty of any person designated as secretary of the proposed lodge, not an indication that the writer “spearheaded” (Brown’s word) the effort to organize.  On the other hand, Brown is to be commended for his proper explanation for Bodley Lodge’s refusal to grant the request.  While most LDS writers have attributed the refusal to religious animus, Brown correctly notes that the members of Bodley Lodge did not have the required first-hand knowledge that the Nauvoo petitioners were bona fide Masons.

On the other hand, Brown’s attempt to explain why Joseph Smith became involved in Freemasonry suffers from a mistake all too common among LDS apologists who wish to distance their prophet from Masonic ritual influences.  Despite the fact that any man who wishes to become a Freemason must affirm that he is not seeking membership for “mercenary” purposes (i.e. business, social, or political advantage), Brown suggests that Joseph Smith did exactly that, making the Mormon prophet a liar.  Brown’s citation of a single journal entry from Franklin D. Richards is poor support for this claim, particularly in light of other statements written on the subject by the same LDS leader.  Further, Brown’s attempt to answer whether or not Joseph Smith was “made a Mason on sight” seems to rely on his own interpretation of the phrase in question, betraying a clear failure to understand what that phrase means in Masonic parlance.

Also in this chapter, Brown attempts to downplay Joseph Smith’s direct involvement in Nauvoo Lodge, in a clear attempt to dismiss the idea that Masonic ritual influenced the Mormon endowment ceremony.  While Brown wisely ignores the LDS apologetic claims of B. H. Roberts and others that Joseph only attended three meetings (I demonstrated for the first time, at the Mormon History Association conference in Provo, Utah, that Joseph attended at least thirty such meetings), Brown nonetheless uses the short period between Joseph’s initiation and the first presentations of the endowment as a full representation of Joseph’s ongoing participation.  Likewise, Brown claims that when Joseph usually attended lodge meetings at times when his relatives were present, suggesting that this was his primary motive for being there.  In making this specious argument, Brown ignores the fact (intentionally or not) that several of Joseph’s relatives were standing officers in the lodge, present at nearly every meeting.  Finally, Brown points to Joseph’s brief journal entries for the same time period, speculating that since Joseph was “reading and meditating” for three days in April, those must have been the days when Joseph actually formulated the endowment—evidently without Masonic influence.

Brown’s fifth chapter purports to prove that Joseph Smith and his followers knew many things about the coming temple endowment long before Joseph became a Freemason, thus the endowment was not influenced by Freemasonry.  Unfortunately, this logic is founded on the premise that Joseph Smith knew nothing of Freemasonry prior to his March 1842 initiation—a premise that is completely untenable, based on available evidence.  In addition, it ignores the fact that several early leading Mormons were Freemasons prior to their Mormon baptisms.  Even aside from this problem, however, Brown chooses odd anecdotes to support his argument.  For example, Brown cites a March 1834 First Presidency letter as evidence that the Mormons already knew about how those who became members of the “Church of the Firstborn” would “receive white linen clothing and a crown, be made kings and priests, be seated upon the Lord’s throne to reign,” etc., as if this evidenced foreknowledge of the endowment, notwithstanding it was taken from the New Testament Book of Revelation.  Likewise, Brown points to the Kirtland School of the Prophets receiving “much good instructions [sic] preparatory to the endowment,” as if Mormons in Kirtland were being instructed to prepare for the Nauvoo-era endowment, notwithstanding the fact that this statement actually referred to the “endowment” of heavenly manifestations promised to the Mormons in Kirtland.  Based on such anecdotes, Brown concludes that it’s “obvious” that the Nauvoo-era temple ordinances originated before Joseph Smith knew anything at all about Freemasonry.

In chapter six, Brown writes of the May 1842 introduction of the endowment, giving brief but useful biographical sketches of the nine men who first received the ceremony from Joseph Smith.  Like LDS apologists before him, Brown points out that all nine men were Freemasons, yet none of them publicly accused Joseph Smith of plagiarizing Masonic rites.  Curiously, Brown mentions the dates on which each man became a Master Mason, yet does not address the fact that several were rushed through the degrees in Nauvoo Lodge very shortly before receiving the endowment, suggesting that this may have been a “required” preparation.

The final chapter, entitled “History, Theory &Myth,” represents Brown’s attempt to provide conclusive answers to fifteen issues raised by those he variously refers to as “commentators,” “theorists,” and “critics.”  Brown interestingly points out that if Freemasonry came from an ancient “pristine” ritual, then Joseph Smith’s temple ceremonies “should exhibit a pronounced affinity with the stonemasons’ rites of old.  Yet this is not how things stand” (p. 129).  Brown argues against the idea that Joseph Smith was inspired to “restore” what he saw in Masonic ritual to its original state.  Surprisingly, Brown seems to reject the possibility that deity saw that Joseph was exposed to Freemasonry as part of the revelatory process—an argument favored by many faithful LDS members who are familiar with Mormon-Masonic parallels.

In particular, Brown’s discussion of the Relief Society is problematic.  For example, Brown admits that a prayer referred to at the beginning of the Relief Society record book was Masonic.  The subject prayer was written on a piece of paper, and left atop an open Bible in the upper room of the Red Brick Store, where Joseph had been initiated as a Freemason one day earlier.  Evidently seeking to dismiss this Masonic prayer as any evidence of Masonic influence on the formation of the Relief Society, Brown concludes that “odds are” this was left over from the day before.  This betrays Brown’s lack of knowledge regarding Freemasonry, however, since the Bible is always closed at the end of a lodge meeting—it would not have been left open, let alone with a handwritten prayer on top.  Contrary to Brown’s speculation, the circumstances demonstrate an intentional arrangement, not a “leftover” from the night before.  Likewise, Brown attempts to dismiss the usage of Masonic terminology in Joseph’s instructions to the Relief Society by providing an alternate explanation to “grow up by degrees,” but avoids the bigger picture, in which the entire process of gaining membership in the Relief Society was directly parallel to that of joining a Masonic lodge—an apologist “sleight of hand.”

Throughout his fifteen “answers,” Brown repeats what appears by then a standard procedure.  Where there are parallels between Freemasonry and Mormonism, Brown lists specific differences to “prove” that one has nothing to do with the other.  In addition, Brown seems utterly immune to Occam’s razor.  The journal of Heber C. Kimball described a table in the celestial room of the Nauvoo Temple with the “celestial and terrestrial globes” positioned thereon—a standard feature of early Masonic lodges, which appears prominently in engravings of early 1800s lodge rooms.  Brown rephrases these as “spherical atlases” of the heavens and the earth, and “disproves” any Masonic connection by noting that there were also maps on the walls of the celestial room.  In case this isn’t enough to convince readers, Brown goes on to say that these “circular atlases…may well have come from the University of the City of Nauvoo, where Apostle Orson Pratt was teaching courses on astronomy” and measurement!  Brown even writes that “it is interesting to note” (Brown’s overused version of “And it came to pass” in this book) that Pratt was making “astronomical calculations” in December of 1845, as if this somehow bolsters his “anything but Masonic” theory.  Similarly, Brown argues against the idea that the Mormon use of “square and compass” iconography has anything at all to do with Freemasonry, based on the fact that a footnote in the 1599 Geneva Bible mentions these tools.

The summit of Brown’s “anything but Masonic” reasoning, however, comes in response to a journal entry by John D. Lee (p, 150-51).   Lee was appointed Temple Recorder in the original Nauvoo Temple, an office which has historically been more than just keeping ordinance records.  Even in modern LDS temples, this officer has the responsibility (with the assistance of subordinates, such as the Temple Engineer) to manage personnel and see that the physical function of the building itself continues smoothly.  In John D. Lee’s case, this responsibility included such functions as seeing that fires were stoked in the temple fireplaces, in order to allow comfortable use of the building.  Matthew Brown quotes from John D. Lee’s journal for the period of his Temple Recorder service (available at BYU Special Collections in typescript form) as follows:

“About 4 o’clock in the morning I entered the porch in the lower court where I met the porter who admitted me through the door which led to the foot, or nearly so, of a great flight of stairs which, by ascending, led me to the door of the outer court [of the attic story] which I found tiled within by an officer.  I, having the proper implements of that degree, gained admittance through the outer and inner courts which opened and led to the sacred departments [i.e., the endowment rooms]…Having entered, I found myself alone with the Tiler that kept the inner courts [and I/we] set about and soon got fires up in the different rooms and setting things in order for the day.”

Those familiar with Freemasonry will immediately recognize Lee’s remarkable choice of language in the above excerpt (and frankly, other portions of the same diary which Brown didn’t quote).  The Masonic use of “degree” hardly needs explanation.  Lee’s references to architectural features of a porch and a grand flight of stairs, are certainly familiar to those who have received the Fellowcraft Degree.  The Tiler is a Masonic officer, assigned with the duty of seeing that no “cowans and eavesdroppers” enter the Lodge under his watch.  The phrase, “proper implements” is used in Masonic ritual to refer to those items conferred upon a candidate during the performance of a particular degree.  It is also used with regard to the particular tools unique to a particular office with the Lodge—for instance the “proper implement” of the Tiler is a drawn sword.  None of this really matters to Brown, however.  Rather than reasonably question what conclusions should be drawn from Lee’s use of Masonic terminology, Brown insists on trying to convince his readers that Lee wasn’t using Masonic terminology at all—that it’s a “myth” to think that Lee did so.

In order to make his case, Brown demotes John D. Lee from Temple Recorder to “one of many volunteers who wanted to help with the operational work of the Nauvoo Temple,” assigned by Brigham Young to “act as a clerk and also ‘to attend to fires in the rooms and upper apartment, etc.’“  Having pretended that John D. Lee was an unimportant figure in relation to the Nauvoo Temple, Brown postulates:  “Some may argue that the word degree is a distinct Masonic term, but in this instance John D. Lee did not use it in the typical Masonic way for referring to an initiatic [sic] rank or status.  It appears that Lee was applying the word degree to the outer court of the attic story rooms.  In this sense he may have been referring to what Noah Webster’s 1828 English dictionary identified as a ‘step or portion…in elevation.’  He had just risen a considerable distance in elevation by climbing the temple stairs.”   Brown further questions the use of “Tiler,” suggesting fairly that Lee simply used the clearly-Masonic term to refer to a guard, without necessarily invoking Freemasonry, before concluding with his second bold statement:  “In light of the full quotation from Lee’s journal, it can be surmised that the ‘implements’ that gained him admittance through ‘the door of the outer court’ were pieces of firewood.”  Simply stated, Brown’s argument in this case is either intentionally misleading or embarrassing enough to remove his name from any further printings of this book.

A final word must address Brown’s use of sources.  An examination of Brown’s bibliography reveals that he used few primary sources.  Brown writes for a devout LDS audience, made up of readers who will never question the veracity of early Mormon leaders or the divinity of LDS scripture.  As such, Brown uses quotations from the Doctrine & Covenants and/or early Mormon authorities to “disprove” the implications of historical evidence.  This falls apart, however, if one of those authorities says something inconvenient to Brown’s arguments.  Thus, when Dimick B. Huntington is quoted as a source for profoundly Masonic comments by Joseph Smith, Brown weakens the quotation by pointing out that it was made 34 years after the events, notwithstanding the fact that Brown doesn’t question more “useful” statements made with much longer delays.  The opposite is also true—Brown readily dismisses Mormon apostates, but when Ebenezer Robinson makes a convenient statement blaming Nauvoo Freemasonry on John C. Bennett, Brown fails to mention that Ebenezer Robinson, who made the statement 48 years after the events, went on to join the Rigdonites, the RLDS, and the Whitmerites.  Neither does Brown mention that as a Whitmerite, Robinson considered Joseph Smith a fallen prophet.  Brown’s use of sources is anything but consistent, and is ultimately misleading to his readers.

In short, Brown does well to depart from certain traditional apologetic arguments which have proven invalid.  Rather than reflecting his own title, however, the only thing Brown seems to “explore” is new ways to evade the evidence of Freemasonry’s influence on early Mormonism.

Comments

comments

Comments 72

  1. The first response to this essay will get deleted as soon as our spam filter gets re-engaged, (it states “Build your own cheap computer » Blog Archive » What is the difference between XBOX live and Playstation network?”) but it is symbolic since the Book reviewed seems about as related to Masonry as the advertisement was to a comment to this post.

    Much better is Michael Lyon’s work on the subject, drawn mostly from Chinese systems.

    Alas, Ward’s original work (from when he was a British officer in Hong Kong before the Triad Lodges were made illegal), is only available, instead there is some sort of reworking of it (cf Triads, The (Kegan Paul China Library) by WARD (Hardcover – Dec 20, 2006) — most of Ward’s original volumes have copyrights in the 1920s).

    Interesting material there, as well as the ghost shirt issues that came up.

  2. I guess what I’m most interested in is why Joseph Smith adopted masonic ritual into the endowment ceremony and why so many specific rituals have been deleted over time. I have my own theories but it’s not based on any specific research evidence. My sense is that book reviewed in this post doesn’t really go into that but more along the line of yes, it’s similar, but not really.

  3. I am a fan of Matthew B. Brown as he has written what I consider some great books on Temples. Although I think this review is overly harsh(coming from apostate Nick I’m not surprised. All historians do what Brown did), I have to somewhat agree. He ignores and never comes to terms with obvious similarities. I am waiting for the book on Temples by a believing Mormon Mason who doesn’t have bias one way or another for both subjects.

    1. I find it impossible to be knowledgeable about Mormon Masonry and still be a believing Mormon. I tried for a while, but the truth is too inescapably damning.

  4. Greg Kearney in his podcast on Mormon Stories gives his perspective as a believing mormon and mason. As I recall he felt that Joseph Smith saw the ritual as an effective way to teach the princples of the temple. He also said, as I recall, that the temple ritual was identicle to the masonic.

  5. #4:
    Although I think this review is overly harsh (coming from apostate Nick I’m not surprised. All historians do what Brown did)…

    Despite being an “apostate,” I’m intolerant of bad historical writing on both sides of the LDS fence, Jettboy. In 2005, I wrote a review for the FARMS Review of Books on Clyde Forsberg’s Equal Rites, a decidedly anti-LDS book which was much worse than Brown’s current volume. That review is available online, and I’d encourage you to go read it in order to have a better idea of my balance on the issue.

    I am waiting for the book on Temples by a believing Mormon Mason who doesn’t have bias one way or another for both subjects.

    I don’t think this is a matter of LDS vs. Freemasons, Jettboy. That said, true objectivity isn’t humanly possible. A “believing Mormon Mason” does, after all, have a bias—even if it’s a bias you agree with. 🙂

  6. MM is privileged to have this book review from Nick Literski, who is so well-versed in this subject. If I don’t say it now, someone will sooner or later: Nick, WHEN is your book on Mormons and masonry coming out? It’s been so anxiously awaited.

    I was interested in your final paragraph. “In short, Brown does well to depart from certain traditional apologetic arguments which have proven invalid.” I haven’t read the book, but it doesn’t seem from your review that Brown gives a satisfactory explanation for the many similarities which are so obvious, even to those who know nothing about masonry. Where, for example, did Joseph Smith get the inspiration for the masonic compass and square symbols, which are prominent on the cover of his book? If the long-cherished Mormon apologetic view that the Mormon temple ceremony has its roots in an ancient tradition of which masonry is an apostate remnant is no longer considered valid, then what is the alternate explanation? Do you feel that this book has offered an attempt at a replacement theory? Or is the replacement apologetic to be that there ARE NO significant parallels between Mormons and masons?

  7. #8:
    If the long-cherished Mormon apologetic view that the Mormon temple ceremony has its roots in an ancient tradition of which masonry is an apostate remnant is no longer considered valid, then what is the alternate explanation?

    Keep in mind that Brown’s hypothesis (that Masonic ritual originates from primitive christian and Catholic ceremonies) ultimately isn’t much different from the traditional Adamic/Solomonic explanations. After all, the natural follow-up to Brown’s claim is to ask where those primitive christian and Catholic ceremonies came from. From an LDS perspective, that still leads us back to ancient cycles of revelation/apostacy/restoration. Brown has avoided the unsupportable reliance on Freemasonry’s legendary origins, but he’s simply added a “middle man” in the form of primitive christianity or Catholicism.

  8. excellent, excellent review, Nick. Things like this make me more excited for your book to be finished, and I echo BiV’s encouragement to move it along. 🙂 I ran into Brown in the BYU library this last summer (which was kind of awkward because I had already given a critical review of his First Vision book on JI), and he outlined this book, and I could tell from then that it would be a disaster.

    I reviewed Matthew Brown’s book on the first vision earlier in the summer, and outlined many of the same problems that you point to in this book. The link to that: http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/a-pillar-of-light-the-first-vision-and-history-for-the-masses/

    The biggest problem I see from this book that you outline here, and is indicative of not only apologetics but also New Mormon History in general, is the idea of an all-or-nothing influence. Brown believes that if he can show any points of difference, that would disprove any influence. Rather, the more accurate approach would be to acknowledge that Joseph Smith, and the larger antebellum culture in general, had more of a give-and-take outlook on these things; JS never accepted or rejected things wholesale, but rather incorporated smaller elements that either expanded or buttress his larger vision. I deal with this question at greater length at JI, specifically dealing with Thomas Dick. The link: http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/joseph-smith-thomas-dick-and-the-tricky-task-of-determining-influence/

    Again, great review, Nick.

  9. Nick,

    Thanks for writing a thorough review of Brown’s book. The distortion present in Brown’s analysis of the Lee diary seems to be found in many apologists work. Thank you for pointing out this distortion of the historical record. I hope reviews like this will force authors to reconsider doing shoddy work like Brown has written. Thanks Nick.

  10. Nick, I didn’t realize whether you were “apostate” or not, and to be honest, don’t really care. Your review stands or falls on its own merits. Thank you for writing it.

  11. As both a Mormon and and Freemason it was with great trepidation that I picked up Matthew Brown’s book Exploring the Connection between Mormons and Masons. Having read both the book and the Nick Literski’s review here on Mormon Matters, I have to say that Nick has given a polite, balanced, and informed review of the book. This book is scholastically flawed and intentionally misleading to its audience. Nick has listed a few of the books flaws which are rife on every page. While there is dearth of good information on the Mormon-Masonic connections, spending you money on this book would be a complete waste. Your time and money would be much better spent buying the book Revolutionary Brotherhood by Steven Bullock and rereading Michael Homer’s article “Similarity of Priesthood and Masonry” by Michael Homer while awaiting Nick’s book.

    Clinton Bartholomew Ph.D.
    Ann Arbor Fraternity Lodge #262
    Michigan Lodge of Research #1
    Scottish Rite Valley of Detroit (NMJ)
    Scottish Rite Research Society (SMJ)

  12. Nick, thanks for posting here. I read your posts with great interest.

    It seems that the company line follows Heber C. Kimball, who is quoted as saying, “…there is a similarity of preasthood in Masonry. Bro. Joseph says Masonry was taken from preasthood but has become degen[e]rated. but menny things are perfect.”

    I have understood this quote is talking about temple ceremonies which supposed had come from antiquity but had changed and only had so much “truth” remaining in them.

    I have read where Masons themselves don’t believe their ceremonies go back very many centuries. What is your understanding on that, Nick?

  13. There is no documentary evidence of Masonic rituals prior to about 1660, and even that is sketchy. The third, or “Master Mason,” degree didn’t actually exist until around 1725-1750, although there is earlier evidence for some of the foundational legends associated therewith. Masonic legends placing the origin of speculative Freemasonry as early as King Solomon, or even Adam, are just that—legends, intended as allegory (not that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, or other early Mormon Freemasons understood that to be the case).

  14. P.S., I should note that even Brown admits that Joseph & Brigham took the Masonic legends as history, but Brown excuses that by tossing snide remarks about how these men believed that their fellow Masons were “telling them the truth.”

  15. Nick, great review. Thanks for slogging through this. Now I have something from a credible source to direct my ward members to when they come to me about it.

    There is a lot to ponder here, and I’m pleased to see what you’ve come up with. Let me echo what has been already said by way of exhortation to finish your book. Thanks again.

  16. I am also working on a review of Brown’s book but want to toss in a comment today in case I don’t get my review finished before this conversation dies.

    There have been a few comments about “apologists,” all of which have added some poison to the proverbial well. My friend and fellow Jazz fan Ben (Boozer sucks!) noted that criticisms of Brown’s book here are “indicative of not only apologetics but also New Mormon History in general, is the idea of an all-or-nothing influence.”

    This comment is flawed to me because it seems to make too broad a characterization of apologetics and New Mormon History. Further, it seems to falsely dichotomize categories. (Is dichotomize a word?) For instance, I don’t see the apologetics of Richard Bushman or Terryl Givens of being based on “all-or-nothing influence. There are, after all, LDS apologists, new historians, or whatever we want to call them, who disagree with each other on certain matters. Ben, I see some problems resulting from the lens through which many of these studies are done, but the flaws can be exaggerated when they are compared to different approaches or questions altogether. I commented to that effect over at JI, so I’ll spare you the details again.

    But there isn’t a monolithic “apologetics,” to counter what seems implicit in BiV’s questions: “If the long-cherished Mormon apologetic view that the Mormon temple ceremony has its roots in an ancient tradition of which masonry is an apostate remnant is no longer considered valid, then what is the alternate explanation? Do you feel that this book has offered an attempt at a replacement theory? Or is the replacement apologetic to be that there ARE NO significant parallels between Mormons and masons?”

    There have been different approaches from different apologists on these matters. I hope to outline a few in my review of Brown’s book. In other words, I don’t see Brown as offering a “replacement apologetic” for some grou pof apologists who must march in line once the order has been given. Once Bookcraft has spoken the thinking has been done and so forth. But maybe I misunderstood your question, and if so, disregard this response.

    Joe says “The distortion present in Brown’s analysis of the Lee diary seems to be found in many apologists work.”

    This is simply non-substantive well-poisoning. It isn’t clear what this is even referring to, or is it guilt by association? Something else? Anyway, the comment seems to be little more than “go team!”

  17. Blair, I hear this meme about there not being a unified apologetic voice all the time and it seems to be the only point that ever gets made. But it still doesn’t deal with the problems Nick articulates about Brown’s book.

  18. Blair, I didn’t randomly declare Brown an apologist. Rather, my characterization was based on his relationship to organizations such as FAIR. Further, “apologist” is not in itself a perjorative, even when used by someone who disagrees with the perspective offered.

    You’ve noted, appropriately, that LDS apologists are not monolithic. I don’t believe that I’ve suggested this to be the case. Rather, I’ve made note of a few traditional arguments, which have been advanced by a number of LDS apologists over the course of decades. I believe those are fair observations, based on my extensive study of the relevant literature.

  19. Jared: “Blair, I hear this meme about there not being a unified apologetic voice all the time and it seems to be the only point that ever gets made. But it still doesn’t deal with the problems Nick articulates about Brown’s book.”

    It bears repeating. You hear it all the time because it is said in response to comments to the contrary that are made “all the time.” 🙂 Also I pointed out that I am working on a review of the book as well. This was to indicate my intention to “deal with the problems” and so forth. (Also, your didn’t deal with the problems I articulated about the fuzzy “apologist” talk in the comments.)

    Nick: you’ll note my comment was in response to “comments” rather than your review proper, which I’ll interact with in a bit.

    Chris: “Blair, I’m afraid that is how many of us read every one of your comments defending Mormon apologists.”

    What apologists was I defending? Terryl Givens?

  20. “Your didn’t deal with the problems I articulated about the fuzzy “apologist” talk in the comments”

    That’s because I don’t see it as a problem, but more of a deflection (by apologists and their affiliates). I’ll have to get back to you on that, though.

  21. If you don’t see it as a problem I would appreciate you explaining why, or at least explaining where my reasoning is faulty rather than just dismissing it though. 😉

  22. This is a great review, and very thorough. Thanks a million, Nick.

    I find it really disheartening that a book with such obvious scholastic problems will likely sell hundreds of thousands of copies.

  23. Just a quick note about FAIR and the apologetics of this issue.

    Matthew is indeed a valued member of FAIR. But there are definitely different points of view within the organization on this topic. We have a number of members who are also Masons, who readily acknowledge points of contact between Masonry and the Endowment. I’m not a Mason, but I personally fall into this latter camp myself.

    So no one should assume that Nick’s review is contra all Mormon apologetics. I suspect there are more than a few Mormon apologists who would agree with the substance of it.

    I think this is the same point Blair was trying to make above.

  24. As an example of how Mathew B. Brown presents the facts to best emphasize the differences instead of the connections, as the title of his book promises to explore, we can simply examine the first chapter of his book. In the first chapter Brown asks the same ten questions about the Mormon and Masonic Temples. Interestingly Brown chooses to emphasize the differences by calling the Masonic buildings Lodges instead of the equally common Temples. Based on the Brown’s response to these questions he tells the reader that the “fundamental natures of the two institutions (as presently constituted) are completely opposite each other.” (Brown, 14) However, each of his answers are worded to emphasize the differences and shield his reader from the similarities. Most of the questions display equally leading language, but as not to bore the reader I will discuss only one example.

    Who are Temples dedicated to?
    Mormon Temple- This question was answered by President Howard W. Hunter, who taught that “the temples we dedicate are dedicated to our Heavenly Father. These temples are His houses, built in His name for His glory and for His purposes.” Elder David B. Haight explained that Diety’s ownership is not figurative but that each temple, “is literally a house of the Lord, a place where He and His Spirit may dwell, where he may come or send others.” (Brown,8)

    Masonic Temple- Masonic lodges are typically dedicated to “the Saints John,” which means Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. “In the sixteenth century St. John the Baptist seems to have considered as the peculiar patron of Freemasonry; but subsequently this honor was divided between the two Saints John.” Near the beginning of the twentieth century in United States of America lodges were “universally erected or consecrated to God, and dedicated to the Holy Saint’s John.” (Brown,11)

    Here Brown is trying to draw distinction between Mormon and Masonic Temples suggesting that one is dedicated to God while the other is dedicated to the Saints John. However, a careful examination of the context, which Brown fails to provide, is important.
    Masonic manuals contemporary with the Nauvoo temple dedication would record the following said at the dedication of Masonic Temples, “In the name of the great Jehovah, to whom all honor and glory, I do solemnly dedicate this hall to Free-Masonry.” (Webb, 112)
    While I will not comment on the accuracy of the account, the readily available Masonic expose Light on Masonry published in 1829 in multiple printings following the Morgan Affair informs the reader that Masonic candidates would hear the following on entering the lodge for the first time:

    A poor blind candidate who has long been desirous of having and receiving a part of the right and benefits of this worshipful lodge dedicated (some say erected) to God and held forth to the holy order of St. John …

    and the candidate would make the following obligation at the alter of Freemasonry which I will quote in part:

    I, A.B. of my own free will and accord, in presence of Almight God and this worshipful lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, dedicated to God and held forth to holy order of St. John … (Bernard, 20)

    An Old Masonic catechism from the Old York Lecture asked the following questions of the candidate:

    Q. Our Lodges bong finished, furnished and decorated with ornaments, furniture and jewels, to whom they were consecrated?”
    A. To God.

    With this added information one can clearly see that Brown is making a distinction with out a difference if any distinction can be made at all.

    While an insider may find the statements from the general authorities compelling, a skeptic would certainly be justified in asking if God is a snowbird and spends his time down south in the winter and up north in the summer and ask to look see God’s dresser and if God makes his bed personally. Or in a more respectful manner he might just point out that the deeds of the building are both made out to earthly organizations.
    This is but one example Brown’s failure to truly EXPLORE the CONNECTIONS between Mormons and Masons.

    Clinton Bartholomew Ph.D.
    Fraternity Lodge #262 (Ann Arbor, MI)
    Michigan Lodge of Research #1 (Detroit, MI)
    Scottish Rite Masonry (Valley of Detroit, NMJ)
    Scottish Rite Lodge of Research (SMJ)

  25. Blair, your point is taken and I see the problem with wording my question the way I did. I agree that there are many different possibilities put forth by apologists. However, on this topic (in which I fully admit my ignorance) I had only ever heard one explanation for the similarities between Mormon temple ceremonies and those of the Masons. The ancient origin of Masonic rites has been pretty thoroughly debunked recently, and I wondered if there were alternate theories which had been set forth, either by Brown, or anyone else. I personally like the thought that Joseph may have been “exposed to Freemasonry as part of the revelatory process,” yet Nick says in his review that Brown rejects this possibility.

    I enjoy reading the works of apologists (some more than others, of course), but I hold to the idea that they must be held to as rigid a scholarly standard as other historians. Even first year college students are taught the weight to be given to second-hand sources or those written many years after an event. Just because they are writing for a popular audience does not mean their work should be judged less than rigorously. (On the other hand, I feel that scholarly works should be readable, understandable and interesting, or they are of just as little value!)

  26. I enjoy reading the works of apologists (some more than others, of course), but I hold to the idea that they must be held to as rigid a scholarly standard as other historians.

    I agree, only insofar as the subject at hand is historical and not in some other realm, as apologetics as an approach isn’t confined to questions of history.

  27. I write from the point of view of one who knows that Joseph Smith was, and is a prophet of God. I understand Nick writes from a point of view very different from mine. I respect his right to do so. I think every person who writes a comment, or post about the prophets should declare their attitude towards the prophet Joseph Smith and those who have followed him to the current day. This would allow for their readers to have a needed perspective.

    I haven’t seen Mr Brown’s book yet. However, I think the following excerpt from a letter by Heber C Kimball to Parley P Pratt, June 17, 1842 puts the issue being addressed in focus for those who “believe”.

    This issue doesn’t need to be made complicated. However, I realize with nearly every issue in church history their are those who persist in making the uncomplicated, complicated. I’m not saying that some of the issues in church aren’t complicated, but I am suggesting that making mountains out of molehills should be seen for what it is–intellectual hedonism.

    #13 Holden Caulfield quotes from this letter. Nick says there is no evidence of Masonic rituals prior to 1660. That doesn’t surprise me. Temple rites aren’t supposed to be evident.

    “we have received some pressious things through the Prophet on the preasthood that could caus your Soul to rejoice I can not give them to you on paper fore they are not to be riten. So you must come and get them fore your Self. -We have organised a Lodge here of Masons since we obtained a Charter. that was in March since that thare has near two hundred been made Masons Br Joseph and Sidny was the first that was Recieved in to the Lodg. all of the twelve have become members Except Orson P. he hangs back. he will wake up soon, thare is a similarity of preast Hood in masonary. Bro Joseph Ses Masonary was taken from preasthood but has become degenrated. but menny things are perfect. we have a procession on the 24th of June. which is cold by Masons St Johns day in the country.”

  28. Nick, interesting review. I had heard from someone else that the book wasn’t that good, so I don’t think I’ll be reading it.

    I heard the podcast GBSmith mentioned in #5 about the origins of Masonry. As I recall, Greg said Masonry seemed to originate in the Middle Ages. Is there any truth to this assertion?

  29. Post
    Author

    #33:
    I write from the point of view of one who knows that Joseph Smith was, and is a prophet of God. I understand Nick writes from a point of view very different from mine. I respect his right to do so.

    Jared, I’d be very interested in seeing you post your analysis of what parts of my above book review are based on, or “from a point of view” of Joseph Smith not being what he claimed. Specifically, I’d like to hear how believing Joseph Smith was a prophet would turn Brown’s factual errors (some of which I noted specifically above) into truths.

    Perhaps you would do well to re-read the review with an open mind. Then you might realize that the review says nothing whatsoever about whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet. Rather, the review addresses the statements and arguments made by Matthew B. Brown in the book at hand.

  30. Post
    Author

    #35:
    As I recall, Greg said Masonry seemed to originate in the Middle Ages. Is there any truth to this assertion?

    Only in a very broad sense. One can find certain aspects of Masonic ritual which have ancient parallels, but this doesn’t mean that Freemasonry itself has ancient origins.

  31. Post
    Author

    Perhaps I was unclear, MH. Freemasonry only goes back to the mid-1600s at best. Some would date Freemasonry only to the organization of the Grand Lodge of England in in 1717. When we talk about the “origins” of Freemasonry, things get far more murky. That’s part of the problem with Brown’s apparent confidence in his own hypothesis of a Catholic or Primitive christian “origin” of Freemasonry, MH. No responsible historian can confidently point to the “origins of Freemasonry” in any meaningful way.

    It’s like saying that Mormonism only goes back to the 1820 First Vision, or even just to Joseph Smith’s 1830 organization of The Church of Jesus Christ. We can call that the “origins” of Mormonism, but we can also look to many other threads of history which contributed to Mormonism, thus extending its “origins” in a broad sense by centuries.

  32. #36 Nick

    I haven’t, as yet, read Mr Brown’s book. So I can’t comment in any depth on your review.

    I wrote: I write from the point of view of one who knows that Joseph Smith was, and is a prophet of God. I understand Nick writes from a point of view very different from mine. I respect his right to do so.

    This was a parenthetical comment about my desire to see those who post and comment disclose their “religious affiliation”, that is; New Order Mormon, True Blue Mormon, Cafeteria Mormon, Agnostic, Atheist, Investigating Mormonism, Former Mormon, and etc.

    I think it would be useful to be able to click for a bio on those who post and comment.

  33. hahaha!! Jared, because everyone fits so neatly into those well-defined categories!! And so we can know right away, before even reading their post or comment, or thinking in depth about its merits or inconsistencies, whether their ideas will be right or wrong, true or false.
    GREAT IDEA. USEFUL.

  34. BiV–

    ha, ha, ha, ho, ho, ho and etc lol.

    We do the equivalent (having a bio)in college, politics, art, entertainment, you name it–understanding a contributors orientation is helpful. If this idea caught on in the ‘nacle I think the bio should be written by the contributor (optional of course).

    How would your bio read if you were to write one?

  35. From the Wiki:

    The origins and early development of Freemasonry are a matter of some debate and conjecture. A poem known as the “Regius Manuscript” has been dated to approximately 1390 and is the oldest known Masonic text.[6] There is evidence to suggest that there were Masonic lodges in existence in Scotland as early as the late sixteenth century[7] (for example the Lodge at Kilwinning, Scotland, has records that date to the late 1500s, and is mentioned in the Second Schaw Statutes (1599) which specified that “ye warden of ye lug of Kilwynning […] tak tryall of ye airt of memorie and science yrof, of everie fellowe of craft and everie prenteiss according to ayr of yr vocations”).[8] There are clear references to the existence of lodges in England by the mid-seventeenth century.[9]

    I was thinking the early Carbonari, the later one was an off-shoot of the Freemasons.

    My grandfather and greatgrandfather were both masons.

  36. My bio for Jared:

    Sometime New Order Mormon, True Blue Mormon, Anti-Mormon, Born-Again Mormon, Fundamentalist, Cafeteria Mormon, Agnostic, Investigating Mormon, So-called Intellectual, Searcher, with impossible-to-categorize emotions and connections to Mormonism.
    Failure, pyscho, lonely person in great pain.

  37. Jared — does it matter what they believe? Look at the ideas for themselves. Let the idea speak louder than the person. After all, Joseph Smith was just this young uppity 14 year old boy with no education, right? But it was his ideas that spoke to many people.

    Nick and I may disagree in our views of the church, but he’s done a spot on job discussing the shoddy historical work in this text. When apologists try to make claims to the world, and not bear their testimonies, they must play by the rules: do good research, and be as unbiased as possible (not that any history text really is unbiased). It seems clear that this text hasn’t done that. As a ‘true believer’ I fully agree with what Nick wrote, and would probably have been harsher about his claims too.

  38. BiV–

    The kind of Bio I’m thinking about could be written from a simple criteria. For example:

    Regarding the Book of Mormon: do you accept it as scripture? 1)Yes, 2)No 3)I don’t know

    The American people acquire the news from many sources. Each one of these sources can be identified by an editorial stance. Is there an application for this in the Bloggernacle? I, for one, think so.

  39. AndrewJDavis #47

    I agree with much of what you say about Nick’s post.

    I’m suggesting it would be a convenience to have an idea of a writers stance before reading them, especially for the first time.

  40. I think the three degrees of freemasonry are likely taken from the apprentice, jouneyman, and master levels in the skilled trades that all had their origins in medieval and earlier times. A person who traveled, a journeyman, to another town would have to be able to prove his skill and knowledge to a new guild hall by use of pass or key words and some type of signs or handclasps. I remember about fifty years ago watching Robin Hood on TV and seeing a master mason show Robin the five points of fellowship so he could enter a guild hall. That made my first visit to the temple interesting. I think freemasonry adopted these as a way of doing the same and I expect that was part of Joseph Smith’s interest in adopting the craft. It brings secrecy, charisma, and a sense of specialness to an initiate that helps him/her remain separate from the other. As I said above my sense is from Nick’s review that Brown is trying to say that yes there are similarities but not really.

  41. Jared:

    I find your suggestion very absurd, but your attempt to categorize and pre-compartmentalize everyone certainly explains a great deal about where your posts come from and how your mind works.

    I suggest taking any given post/comment and evaluating it on its own merits. It doesn’t really matter whether the writer is any of those things you suggest above (ie. New Order Mormon, True Blue Mormon, Cafeteria Mormon, Agnostic, Atheist, Investigating Mormonism, Former Mormon, and etc.) In fact, posting completely anon would also be a great way for ideas to live and die on their own merits. The main reason I like “tags”, whether or not they are real names, is that some people tend to always have insightful comments, while others I merely gloss over as they same basically the same thing to any topic…

  42. BiV #46–

    Your comment brings up a good point. A Bio should be written by the author themselves. By the way, you’re Auto-Bio is too harsh. Be kind to yourself.

  43. #52 BiV–

    Agreed, I didn’t expect my comment about a Bio to generate so much discussion.

    #51 Mike S.–Please be kind. I think the idea has merit. Please don’t demean me personally. If you want to address the merit or lack of merit in the idea, please do so. Let the idea live or die without introducing mean-spiritedness.

  44. Q. Our Lodges bong finished, furnished and decorated with ornaments, furniture and jewels…

    Suddenly Masonry seems much more interesting than I thought it was.

  45. Thanks for the review, Nick. I ended up having to write half a chapter on this for my death book just because there’s not yet a good treatment in circulation. I’d be delighted to be able to just point readers to your book and focus on my core interests. That said I’m very sympathetic to how long it takes to get a book to the stage where it’s ready for publication.

    My one word of caution for everybody working on this–you have to be very cautious about synchronizing Mormonism and Masonry. Masonry in 1820 wasn’t Masonry in 1842 wasn’t Masonry in 1717 wasn’t Masonry in 2000, wasn’t the fraternal, esoteric quest of various ancient and medieval traditions. With regard to Masonry particularly, Masonry in Illinois wasn’t Masonry in London may not even have been Masonry in New York. While there’s less geographical variation in Mormonism (note I said “less,” not “no”), Mormonism in Kirtland differs in some important ways from Mormonism in Nauvoo and in other important ways from Mormonism in Utah.

    The problem is that there are still living, breathing, arguing representatives of both Mormonism and Masonry, and most of us will be inclined to believe that in at least some crucial ways what we understand behind Mormonism and/or Masonry as practitioners is true of belief and practice at a different historic period. I personally think that the best shot for someone writing a compelling treatment is a sympathetic academic with friends in both traditions but without a horse in the devotional race. Get the history written well and sorted out, and then have active adherents write the devotional work that is needed to digest relevant findings. The problem, as Bullock and Stevenson have suggested, is that most outsiders don’t care enough to muddle through the stacks of often stereotyped, redundant, and esoteric records that both traditions have accrued over the centuries.

    Ben’s comment is particularly important in such a flexible set of traditions as those designated Masonic. The deterministic model of influence falls apart when there is so much fluidity in traditions.

    Nick, your comments read like you think Stevenson is more a Scottish freedom fighter than a credible historian of early Masonry. Do you not buy his argument that the English borrowed heavily from early 17th-century Scottish innovations?

    Nick, there is an important problem in the logic you use at a couple of points in this review that I would point out in the interest of improving your already excellent work. Your response to the question of whether Smith turned to Masonry for political protection falls flat for me. I agree that such a view is an inadequate account of Smith’s Mormon Masonry, but your reasoning isn’t strong. That Masons vow they are not seeking political gain would not make Smith (or anyone else) a liar for joining Masonry in the hopes of a better life related to the induction into the community. In fact, I suspect that induction for larger political gain was the rule rather than the exception. The pledge to not seek political gain seems more a reminder and a hedge against the implications of common human behavior than some inviolate pledge that it is only enlightenment or similar Kantian impulse that drives affiliation. That Smith called out to fellow Masons as he was shot to death suggests that he hoped at least then that his involvement in Masonry could protect him. Now of course, Smith did not turn to Masonry for frankly mercenary aims, nor was the desire for the fraternity’s protection his only reason for joining. But the syllogism you used: Masons pledge not to seek political gain, apologists says Smith sought political gain, therefore apologists believe (or should believe) Smith lied, sounds like the type of scholarship often employed in what many disparagingly term apologetics. The mental life of people is much more complex than the kind of stark contrasts implied by the syllogism.

    In fact, I think Smith was drawn to Masonry in part because he thought it would be good for the Mormons in terms of protection from vigilantes and procurement of political power. In that respect, he wasn’t that different from Ben Franklin or myriad others. That motivation was compatible though, with a pledge to avoid political partisanship (Smith saw his allegiance to his people as wholly separate from politics, and he felt that their protection was both crucial and compatible with fraternal oath-taking) and with a great fascination for the rich bodies of tradition that antebellum American Masonry made available, many of which Smith knew from sources other than Masonry, but which he found wonderfully integrated into a ritual system within the fraternal order.

    I agree the Bennett association is just Robinson casting aspersions, though, again, there may have been an important role for Bennett–remember that for many in Nauvoo Bennett’s mastery of the pomp and circumstance of frontier life looking toward the great cities of the East was intoxicating.

  46. Being new to Masonry I was interested in this review, as Nick had informed me elsewhere it was coming out. One thing I immediately noticed in Brow’s book was his incorrect information onthe interviewing process for Masonry. Yes some friends and possibly family are asked about a candidate, but I persoally was interviewed for over 2 hours myself. It was a wonderful interview where they helped me understand what Masonry was and what I was getting into. Overall I liked Brown’s tone instead of being so fanatical as others have been. Nick you point out some interesting weaknesses which I suspected as well, but am not as well versed as you are. I am going tobe someday though! Nice review.

  47. #56:
    Nick, your comments read like you think Stevenson is more a Scottish freedom fighter than a credible historian of early Masonry. Do you not buy his argument that the English borrowed heavily from early 17th-century Scottish innovations?

    Keep in mind, Sam, that I was answering someone’s question about the “origins” of Freemasonry, with the broadest of strokes. I was not writing a nuanced history of the Fraternity with due analysis of all theories. That said, I don’t believe anyone has a definitive answer to that very complex question.

    Your response to the question of whether Smith turned to Masonry for political protection falls flat for me.

    Perhaps it would be helpful, Sam, to consider that I wasn’t responding to such a question. As you suggest, human motivations are complex–they are rarely, if ever, attributable to a single factor. In all likelihood, Smith became a Freemason for a variety of reasons, some more prominent in his mind than others. Did he anticipate that Mormon involvement in the Fraternity might hedge against persecution? Probably. Did he hope that using the Grand Hailing Sign of Distress of a Master Mason would recruit aid from his fellows at Carthage? Undoubtably, since it did so when he was arrested at Dixon, Illinois. It’s probably also true that he was motivated in part by his extended family’s heavy participation in the Fraternity. It’s well documented that he anticipated a spiritual benefit upon himself and his followers.

    But the syllogism you used: Masons pledge not to seek political gain, apologists says Smith sought political gain, therefore apologists believe (or should believe) Smith lied, sounds like the type of scholarship often employed in what many disparagingly term apologetics.

    Indeed, if I had used such a syllogism, I should be intellectually flayed alive. You are mistaken, however, in assuming that I’ve done so (and honestly, Sam, you’re the only person who has responded in such a way to a comment that I’ve been making for various audiences over the past 4-5 years).

    Let me clarify the matter for you:

    (1) As you are surely aware, many vocal critics of Joseph Smith have pointed to parallels between Masonic ritual and the Mormon Endowment as evidence that he was a fraud, suggesting that these parallels prove blatant plaigarism.

    (2) This critical argument is flawed in a variety of ways, not the least of which is that Moses clearly made use of Egyptian and other traditions in his rituals, implements, and sacred architecture, yet these are still regarded by believers as revealed from deity. Further, the Bible even contains numerous incidents of fraudulent behavior on the part of men who were still considered holy and/or prophets.

    (3) Rather than address this critical argument in a rational way, the majority of 20th and 21st century LDS apologists have attempted to minimize Joseph Smith’s involvement and knowledge regarding Freemasonry, reasoning that if Joseph Smith knew next to nothing about Freemasonry, he couldn’t have plaigarized it in designing the Endowment. For example, since at least the time of B.H. Roberts, LDS apologists have attempted to claim that Joseph Smith only attended three Masonic meetings in his lifetime–the meetings in which he received his own three degrees. As I recall, you were present during my Provo MHA presentation, when even Ken Godfrey admitted that I had entirely disproven this traditional claim.

    (4) In many written works, LDS authors have posed the question of why Joseph Smith became a Freemason–Ken Godfrey being just one prime example. Because they wish to establish that Smith did not become a Freemason in order to “rip off” Masonic ritual, these authors have presented various alleged reasons for Joseph’s participation. These alleged reasons have typically fallen into the categories of protection against persecution, social integration, and political advantage.

    (5) We can be assured that LDS apologists have made the arguments in #4 above, in order to uphold the character of Joseph Smith against critics’ claims that he was a dishonest man who should not be considered a prophet. In making this supposed “defense,” however, LDS apologists have demonstrated an important lack of understanding regarding the Fraternity. They don’t research enough to know that a candidate for Masonic degrees makes an oath that his petition is not motivated by “mercenary purposes.” Since they don’t understand this simple fact, they ignorantly ascribe various “mercenary purposes” as Joseph Smith’s primary motivation for becoming a Freemason.

    (6) By ascribing primarily mercenary motivations to Joseph Smith’s participation in Freemasonry, these LDS apologists unintentionally create exactly the problem that they were trying to solve. While the critics have called Joseph a liar for supposedly plaigarizing ritual and claiming it was revealed from deity, the LDS apologists have effectively called Joseph a liar for having primary motivations that he swore he did not have.

    In other words, Sam, this traditional defense is no defense at all, and as such, I’ve been raising the point repeatedly in an effort to stamp it out. It’s a misguided attempt to address an already weak criticism, and frankly, authors like Brown could do much better.

  48. I have read Brown’s book and then gave it to my mason friend. He didn’t comment on it much. I thought it was informative, as I know little about Masonry.

    I think when you realize how many early church converts were Masons back in the 1800s, it seems likely to be influential in Mormonism as it was developed in to the church it is today.

    Some people seem to be defensive that temples couldn’t be influenced by Mason rituals, but if it was consistent with God’s will, why not? Certainly one could argue Protestant or Methodist or Catholic or Jewish rituals and teachings were influential on today’s church (baptism, sacrament, 10 commandments), so why are truths from these religions restored to one true church ok, but truths pulled from Masonry to be restored in the true church not ok? God didn’t start from scratch with Joseph Smith, He started with what was there (bible and modern rituals), and built upon them to clarify and correct them.

    Truth is truth, wherever it is found. It just sometimes needs to be reframed to fit the true teaching of God.

  49. Nick #58, I agree that the position you are fighting against has a variety of problems. I also think your syllogism is pithy. As originally presented it feels locked into an older mindset about historical standards that I think is nonproductive. But maybe that’s because it is attempting to express sentiments in the language of your audience, which I think is the point you’re making in #58. I still recommend moving beyond that language.

    And I didn’t get a vibe for your take on Stevenson. It reads as a little nationalistic but unobjectionable once the nationalistic tone is filtered out to me. Are there widely regarded flaws in his analysis?

  50. Sam, I’ve not personally read Stevenson, so I’m not prepared to comment with any validity on his work. Ultimately, I find the “real origins of Freemasonry” question about as useful and interesting as the “real location of Zarahemla,” or the “real identity of cureloms and cumoms.” Certainly this proves that I couldn’t possibly know as much as you do about the relationship between Freemasonry and early Mormonism, so by all means, get writing! 😉

  51. “#51 Mike S.–Please be kind. I think the idea has merit.”

    Jared it may be helpful for you to understand that this idea has about as much merit as advocating racial segregation. It was a bad idea. Besides, a writers orientation often comes through in their comments, if the ability to compartmentalize is what provides consistency to your worldview.

  52. #61, I’m bad at inferring intent from emoticons so am not sure best how to read this comment. I’ve had a hard time finding academic works on Masonry and don’t have a sense for how reliable their data are and was hoping you did. I have no claims to special expertise in Masonry and Mormonism and would really rather read someone else’s good work than write my own on the topic.

  53. Cowboy–

    Howdy-One of these times we’ll need to find a list of things we can agree on. I’m sure the list would be long. I’ll start with one possibility-John Wayne movies. I recently saw the last movie he made, Shootist. It was vintage Wayne. I’d give it 3/4 stars.

  54. Nick,
    I think that I remember that you had a website dedicated to LDS temples. I recall really liking the site, as it seemed like you’d spent considerable time and effort on everything. I was just thinking that it would be interesting for you to describe your history of temple research/interest and if and how that led into a study of freemasonry. Thank you.

  55. #65. BHodges…the review was done very well.

    I think there are some who like to think literally about things, and LDS teachings and Masonry can share that view, in that Masons were literal descendants of masons working on Solomon’s Temple, and for LDS that the restored gospel and temple rituals are word for word the teachings taught by prophets of old, including Solomon. However there is little evidence to support these literal points of view.

    I think Mormons and Masons can both have a similar approach that many things are more symbolic in nature…not literal, and in that (for both of them), there is power and meaning in my life in these times.

  56. I give the publisher an A for the cover art. The timing of release to pick up on interest generated by “The Lost Symbol” is also coincidently advantageous. After reading Nick’s review, I don’t think I will take the time to read it, but hope to read Nick’s or another book about the subject someday.

  57. @Nick’s number 58:

    Nick, I don’t know if you’re still reading this–I always come late to these things. If you would be willing to shed a little more light on your point number 3, in your response to Sam, I would greatly appreciate it. I believe I had an obligation at another session that prevented me from hearing your Provo paper (and if not, hopefully you’ll buy that excuse).

    Without having heard your paper, I am quick to believe that your research has shown JS’s attendence at a number of lodge meetings in Nauvoo. I also find the idea that JS did not have an awareness of Masonry (particularly given, as you point out, his own family’s involvement) at a much earlier time…ludicrous. Finally, I have no desire to minimize JS’s Masonic ties.

    Having said that, beyond attendance, the manuscript sources seem to indicate little involvement on JS’s part. Would it even be fair to say “unusually” or “uncharacteristically” little participation by JS? When comparing the lodge minutes to the minutes of the FRS of Nauvoo, or the municipal court records, or the city council proceedings, or the Mayor’s court docket books, or the high council minutes, or the misc. twelve minutes, or records of JS’s interactions with the Temple committee, or Nauvoo House association–it just seems that when he is present at the meetings of other organizations he generally features prominently as a participant, and this does not seem to be the case for the lodge–Hyrum, for instance (and obviously by position), is far more central to the organiation.

    The above assertion may simply betray my ignorance of Masonry. Perhaps the purpose of the minutes would preclude references to general discussion. Perhaps the organizational structure (if that is an appropriate phrase) would explain JS’s apparent silence. At any rate, I would genuinely appreciate your thoughts on this.

  58. There is a certain date for the origin of Masonry. The name Freemasonry was recomended by a decendant of one of the nine founders of the ‘Mysterious Force” in 1717 to change the old original name. Two of these decendants of the original association came from Russia to England for that purpose. One of those, Abraham Abiud, was a decendant of the original Hiram Abiud, whose name was changed to Abiff to conceal the idenity and date of the association. The one that recommended the name change to Freemasonry was Abraham Levy, a decendant of the original Moab Levy. There were nine original founders who determined that the date and name of the founders were to be the main secret in the association, and that this secret was to be kept forever in the hands of the decendants of these nine founders. These nine determined Jesus was destroying the name Jew and unless they founded an association to combat what Jesus called the Holy Ghost and destroy all of Jesus’ followers, the name Jew and their nation would dissapear. All nine were Jews. Shortly after the name change, Levy was murdered and his papers, etc stolen. Dr. James Anderson was present when the name change took place.
    The title St. John’s day, etc is the date of the anniversary of the founding of this association. The ‘three steps represent what Jesus called the ‘Father, son, and the Holy Ghost’. Hiram was given the title Master, taken from Jesus. The 33rd degree was the first of the degrees and was first given to these nine founders representing the age of Jesus when he was murdered. The hammer and its three raps in opening each meeting represents the hammer that drove the three nails in Jesus. Tobalcain Abiud was Hiram’s nephew and one that found Hiram’s body, the wake of the third degree is to cause every third degree mason to represent this Master Hiram ‘come alive’.I will stop here, but the stuff is out there, a decendant of Hiram Abiud (Abiff)caused this history to be published around 1924 out of a far East country. It is almost extinct, but I have seen an English copy, also one in Arabic with a Library of Jerusalem stamp on it. To most it will seem so far-fetched that many will reject this history, but the truth is out there anyway.

  59. #69:
    Having said that, beyond attendance, the manuscript sources seem to indicate little involvement on JS’s part. Would it even be fair to say “unusually” or “uncharacteristically” little participation by JS? When comparing the lodge minutes to the minutes of the FRS of Nauvoo, or the municipal court records, or the city council proceedings, or the Mayor’s court docket books, or the high council minutes, or the misc. twelve minutes, or records of JS’s interactions with the Temple committee, or Nauvoo House association–it just seems that when he is present at the meetings of other organizations he generally features prominently as a participant, and this does not seem to be the case for the lodge–Hyrum, for instance (and obviously by position), is far more central to the organiation.

    First, let me point out that the entire manuscript record book for Nauvoo Lodge Under Dispensation is housed in the LDS Historical Department. I had no difficulty at all getting access to this record, thus I see little excuse for a CES instructor, such as Mr. Brown, to rely on the very tiny (pamphlet/booklet sized) excerpt of the first few meetings, typescripted and published by Melvin Hogan.

    Second, your question underscores a major difficulty found in earlier attempts to explore this topic. With the exception of Melvin Hogan (who couldn’t write coherently enough to get commercially published–his papers at the U of U include scathing letters from publishers, talking about how they can’t make heads or tails of his writing), the subject has been treated by non-Mormon Masons, and non-Mason Mormons (and even Hogan was basically LDS in name only). Neither of these groups understand the esoterica and jargon of the other. As a result, they (especially the LDS authors, to be frank) have a tendency to miss important implications, even when they bother to look at original records.

    For those familiar with Masonic structure and terminology, the full Nauvoo Lodge recordbook and Joseph Smith’s journals demonstrate that he was far more involved than many have supposed. For example, one entry indicates that Joseph “introduced a few men into the lodge.” The meaning of that phrase is not immediately apparent to non-Masons, so it appears to mean he played tour guide and/or made social introductions for these men. In reality, however, that phrase is very specific in Masonic terminology. It refers to the ritual participation of the Senior Deacon—one of the most complex and demanding roles involved in conferring Masonic degree work. Joseph didn’t hold the lodge office of Senior Deacon, but one doesn’t need to do so in order to take the Senior Deacon role in degree work. This is a far cry from “only attending three meetings” or even being an uninvolved wallflower.

    Joseph’s actions with regard to the predominantly-Mormon lodges show up in a variety of contemporaneous records, and ultimately, they make it clear that he was deeply interested in the growth of Freemasonry among the Mormon people, having long-term intentions in that regard.

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