Part 2: Joseph Smith and his Masonic initiation and the development of the Mormon temple ceremonies
Now let us consider the history of the specific matter at hand Joseph Smith, his Masonic initiation and the development of the Mormon temple ceremonies. Joseph Smith presided over the organization of the LDS church in april of 1830. About 10 years after his first vision of God the father and the son the saint suffered intense persecution from the beginning of the organization of the church. Persecution often at the hands of armed mobs forced the saints to move from new york to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri and then Illinois. In 1842 most of the then thousands of latter-day saints in America were living in and around Nauvoo Illinois, a community which the saints had built as a refuge from religious persecution. By 1842 review had grown to become the second largest city in the state after Chicago. Several Mormon Masons petitioned the Masonic grand lodge of Illinois for a dispensation to form a new lodge in Nauvoo.
In the context of the persecution I mentioned and perhaps out of admiration for an organization like freemasonry that promoted fellowship and solidarity among its brethren, Joseph Smith petitioned for his own admission as a freemason. On the 15th and 16th of march 1842, Joseph Smith received the first three degrees of Freemasonry on the third floor of the LDS community building or cultural hall. Seven weeks later on, may 4th 1842 in the same room Joseph Smith privately officiated over a group of latter-day saints at the first group administration of the endowment which became a crucial part of the LDS temple ceremonies. There is much more that could be said about the novel lodge but these are the basic facts that concern is here. One theory to explain these facts is the idea that Joseph Smith simply stole the Masonic rituals of his own initiation for the administration of the first LDS temple endowment ceremonies, seven weeks later another theory is that the two bodies of ritual have nothing at all to do with each other.
I have a different approach altogether to the relationship between the Masonic initiation rituals and the Mormon temple endowment. However, to understand my approach it is necessary to understand two important things about the context of the LDS temple rituals. First the timing of their development and second the pattern under which Joseph Smith’s received what he called divine revelation. I shall consider each of these subjects in turn. Some people seem to be under the impression that the LDS temple endowment ceremony came out of nowhere in 1842 with no prior indication that they were forthcoming. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over a long period of time, Joseph Smith reported that he had received revelations regard temple worship. Years before reaching Nauvoo, in Ohio in 1836 Smith had built and dedicated the Kirtland temple, sort of a practice temple where Smith administered sacred rituals or ordinances of washing and anointing. In january 1841 Smith reported that he had received a revelation from the Lord commanding the construction of a temple in Nauvoo. In part this revelation state of the following speaking in the voice of the lord.
“for this cause I commanded Moses that he should build a tabernacle that those ordinances might be revealed which had been hid from before the world was. Therefore verily I say unto you that your anointings and your washings and your oracle’s and your most holy places wherein you receive conversations and your statutes and judgments are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name. And verily I say unto you let this house be built unto my name that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people for I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world. And I will show unto my servant Joseph all things pertaining to this house and the priesthood thereof”
Thus from no later than January 1841 Smith expected that important ceremonies and rituals or ordinances would be revealed in connection with the building of the temple. These rituals would involve oracle’s which in 1833 had been defined as divine statements and commandments.
There would be conversations of some sort as well as statutes and judgments. The revelation of these ordinances would include items of importance that had been hidden from before the world’s creation. Another influence on the development of LDS temple worship involved the translation of Egyptian papyri. From 1835 to 1842 Joseph Smith worked with several Egyptian papyri that he said contained writings of the biblical patriarch Abraham writings that later became part of LDS scripture as the book of Abraham. We can tell that some of this material clearly has a relationship to the endowment that Joseph Smith administered at Nauvoo. Because the book of Abraham in the pearl of great price makes passing references to writing that is available presumably as part of the endowment ritual in the temple. We are not now in possession of the papyri from which Joseph Smith translated the book of Abraham. However, some other papyri that had been in his possession was discovered in the new york metropolitan museum of art in 1967. In turn that papyri involves an Egyptian ritual text known as the book of breathing’s which is essentially an initiatory text. Thus in the period leading up to the Nauvoo endowment we see Joseph Smith involved in the development of temple ritual. We also see him involved in the study of ancient texts involving initiatory ritual. Let us now consider the pattern under which Joseph Smith received what he called divine revelations much debate as possible concerning the source of Joseph Smith’s revelations. Were they from the devil as some anti-Mormons claimed? Was it from the depths of his own soul as some psychologists would say today? Was it from God as Joseph Smith claimed? Mormons themselves would say that people should study this matter out prayerfully and god will reveal the truth of the matter to the honest diligent seeker. For our purposes here it’s important to note that most modern scholars who’ve studied the matter agree that Joseph Smith believed that he really received divine revelation. In that context, it is important to note that there was a pattern to how Joseph Smith received many of his revelations. On several crucial occasions Joseph Smith encountered some sort of sacred texts. In pondering such a text as Smith described it his mind was opened by the spirit of god and Smith received a vision a visit of divine messengers or some other type of revelation that greatly expanded upon Smith’s understanding of some important doctrine.
Let’s consider some examples. The first instance occurred in Smith’s youth in the spring of 1820 when he was 14 years old. I have briefly touched upon this instance all earlier Joseph Smith’s youth occurred during the years of the so-called second great awakening in the united states, a period of intense religious revivalism. Controversies over religious doctrine pitted one church against another in many communities, especially in the American northeast. In this context as Joseph Smith described it, he was studying the Bible. When a portion of the epistle of James made a great impression on him. This portion states if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God and it shall be given him. In response to this idea, Joseph Smith went out to ask of God what church Joseph should join as a result of which as he reported it he received a personal visitation from God the father and the son. This encounter with the sacred text in the Bible resulted in what latter-day saints call the first vision of Joseph Smith’s from which everything else that has become the LDS belief system ultimately derives. The first vision is a source of latter-day saint teaching about the nature of God and his Christ. This is the first instance of the pattern, text, prayer and pivotal divine guidance with massive implications for the doctrine of the church. Another instance involves a distinctive LDS scripture. Joseph Smith reported that a messenger from God put into Smith’s possession, a collection of metal plates within scripts on them transcribed mostly by the ancient American prophet named Mormon and his son. This record is known as the book of Mormon. This was largely an ancient record of God’s dealings with a group of Israelites whom God directed to leave the middle east about 600 be before the fall of Jerusalem to the babylonian.S as the book of Mormon records it those people finally reached the Americas and over the course of about 900 years enjoyed the presence of prophets of their own and ultimately the personal visitation of Jesus Christ after his resurrection. In the course of translating the book of Mormon in may, 1829 Joseph Smith came upon references to baptism, a matter that prompted him to prayer. In response to this prayer as he put it a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light revealed himself to be the resurrected John, the Baptist and ordained Joseph Smith with a measure of priesthood authority sufficient to perform baptisms. John, the Baptist promised that in due time Joseph would receive a full measure of priesthood authority which as Smith reported happened soon after with the angelic visitation of the ancient apostles Peter James and John. Thus, Joseph Smith’s encounter with a few references in the book of Mormon which was a sacred text to him resulted in the restoration of priesthood authority through angelic visitation. This priesthood authority ultimately was the authority by which Joseph organized the LDS church.
Here again we see the pattern, text, prayer and pivotal divine guidance with massive implications for the doctrine of the church. A third instance involves the LDS doctrine of the afterlife. As Joseph Smith reported he had been instructed of god to go through the bible and render read translations of portions where the text had become corrupted over the centuries of biblical transmission. While engaged in this effort in february 1832, Smith came to a port of the gospel of John dealing with the resurrection of the dead. “they shall come forth. They that have done good unto the resurrection of life and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation”. Smith was in the midst of contemplating this text when he received a vision of several distinct kingdoms of glory and other domains to which the souls of humanity shall be assigned after their final judgment. His description of this vision runs to almost 2,900 words about eight pages of text in the LDS scriptures and encompasses a description of the celestial kingdom. The destination of those who shall overcome all things. The terrestrial kingdom, the destination of good people who nonetheless are not valiant in the testimony of Christ and the telestial kingdom whither go the liars adulterers and whoremongers of the world. And a vision of those who are truly damned in outer darkness with the devil and his angels. This vision represents a major development in the way that latter-day saints think of themselves, their life on this earth and their eternal destinies. And here again, we see the pattern, texts, prayer and pivotal divine guidance with massive implications for the doctrine of the church. I believe that this pattern is key to understanding the emergence of the LDS temple ceremonies. As we have seen Joseph Smith came to his Masonic initiation in 1842 with years of experiences that gave his initiation a unique context for Smith. For over 20 years Smith had shown a pattern of encountering sacred texts pondering them prayerfully and then receiving major revelation. For several years, for seven years Smith had been in possession of ancient Egyptian texts that dealt with ritual initiation. For six years on and off Smith had been involved in the development of rituals for temple worship. For over a year based on other revelations he had received, Smith had been expecting to receive major revelations involving the bestow of temple rituals.. With these sorts of concerns on his mind Joseph Smith received the first three degrees of Masonic initiation in March 1842. The experience of going through the Masonic rituals of initiation has been described elsewhere by responsible Masonic authors those who have been through the crafts degrees of Masonic initiation know that when the ceremonies are conducted well, they are solemn occasions that can make a long-lasting impression upon the candidate. It is my belief that the three Masonic ceremonies of ritual initiation constituted for Smith, another sacred text for him to ponder and meditate upon. In turn, I believe this pondering and contemplation over the weeks following his initiation became a context for Smith to receive a major revelation consistent with the pattern in which Smith had received some major revelations before. In this revelation, I believe that Smith received the LDS temple endowment ceremony. A development that he had been expecting for some time. Thus, Joseph Smith’s Masonic initiation was a sort of catalyst an event that prepared Smith’s mind to receive the major temple related revelation that he had been waiting for over a year. Smith’s Masonic initiation also provided him with the sword of ritual vocabulary, something that his general protestant upbringing in upstate new york had not provided to him. According to this interpretation of events, Joseph Smith neither violated his obligations as a freemason by revealing Masonic ritual nor plundered Masonic ritual for the LDS endowment ceremony. The experience of Masonic initiation prepared Smith’s mind to receive through revelation, an extensive body of ritual for the LDS temple endowment. However, the one was not stolen from the other. A direct comparison of important aspects of the Masonic rituals of initiation with the LDS temple endowment ceremony is highly instructive regarding the relationship of the two.
Part 3: Bodies Of Ritual