Note:† This article is chapter one from the authorís book A Ready Reply.
MASONRY AND THE
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
"Didn't Joseph Smith borrow from Masonry when he composed the LDS temple endowment ceremony?"
"How can the Mormon temple be inspired when it contains Masonic elements?"
"How can you explain the resemblances between Masonry and the LDS temple?"
Numerous anti‑Mormon books and pamphlets have been written that document parallels between Masonry and the Mormon temple.† These parallels consist of two general types: similarities between Masonic ritual and LDS temple ceremonies (especially the endowment ceremony), and parallels between Masonic symbols and Mormon temple symbolism.
In addition, anti-Mormons point to the 1990 introduction of a new version of the temple endowment as evidence against the ceremony because it does not contain some of the Masonic elements and other items from the previous version.† They insist that if the endowment were inspired, no changes could be made in it.
What do the Masonic parallels and the changes in the endowment prove?† According to the critics, the parallels prove that LDS temple ceremonies and symbolism are occultic and Satanic, and were for the most part plagiarized from Masonry, while the changes supposedly show the endowment to be a man‑made product subject to the opinions and whims of the Mormon leadership.
Anti‑LDS critics believe their case on the Masonic parallels is strengthened by the fact that Joseph Smith and several other early Mormon officials became Masons during the Nauvoo period.
Borrowing from Masonry
I am perfectly willing to grant that Joseph Smith borrowed from masonry in preparing the symbolism and ordinances of the temple.† However, I do not accept the anti‑Mormon conclusion that this borrowing summarily invalidates the temple and its ceremonies.† Logically and historically speaking, the temple's symbolism and ordinances are not automatically discredited because Joseph employed some Masonic elements to express the sacred rites and concepts that the Lord revealed to him.
There is evidence that Masonic ritual is derived from earlier sources that contained remnants of true temple worship.† This evidence includes similarities between elements of Masonic ritual and certain early Christian initiation rites.† Anti‑Mormons avoid any discussion in this area.
Critics also tend to ignore the fact that Joseph Smith assigned new meanings to virtually all of the Masonic elements he used and placed them in Christ‑centered contexts far removed from their original setting.
In doing so, Joseph Smith was not alone.† In similar fashion, the ancient Hebrews employed many pagan religious designs and texts, and assigned new meanings and contexts to them.† So did the early Christians.
example, scholars have pointed out that the very design of Solomon's temple was
"characteristically Phoenician" and "somewhat reminiscent of
Babylonian shrines" (
Moreover, the Mosaic tabernacle was "very close in most essentials" to various pagan Egyptian portable structures, including the Egyptian "Tent of Purification" (Kitchen 9‑13; Reisner and Smith 13‑17; McDowell 110‑111).† And yet, according to Exodus 25‑30, it was Yahweh Himself who instructed the Israelites on how to build the tabernacle.
As is well known, there are numerous striking similarities between the Law of Moses and various earlier pagan legal codes, such as the Code of Eshnunna, the Code of Lipit‑Ishtar, and the Code of Hammurabi (Harrison 59‑61; Pritchard 162‑169).† Even the literary format of the Law, as it is presented in the book of Exodus, parallels the format used in earlier pagan codes of the ancient Near East (Achtemeier 1985:549).† Virtually all Bible scholars have noted that the Law of Moses seems to have been patterned after pagan codes.† Does this mean the Law was not inspired?† If we were to follow anti‑Mormon reasoning, we could very well answer in the affirmative.† But many scholars disagree and note that there are also differences between the Mosaic Law and the pagan codes.
One of the most popular symbolic types of the resurrection among the early Christians was the phoenix bird, a pagan symbol.† I quote Robin Lane Fox:
††††† Among pagan men of letters, the phoenix had long exerted a
particular influence.† It created itself
from its own ashes and united the mystery of a home in
References to the phoenix are widespread in early Christian literature (Fox 639‑641; Roberts and Donaldson 1:12, 3:554, 7:324, 441).
In fact, the early church used several representations that were either used by pagans or acceptable to them.† Christians of all persuasions might be interested to know that the image of the Good Shepherd carrying his sheep was a pagan symbol, as were other images that the ancient church employed.† I quote Henry Chadwick:
. before the end of the second century Christians were freely expressing their
faith in artistic terms.† Tertullian
mentions cups on which there were representations of the Good Shepherd carrying
his sheep.† Clement of
Another conventional pagan symbol which the Christians adopted was the Orante (also called Orans), a veiled female figure with her hands uplifted in prayer (Chadwick 278; Snyder 19-20).† The Orante had long been used as a pagan cultural symbol, and it appeared on Roman coins and in sepulchral art.
The point is that the ancient saints used pagan symbols that could be given new, Christian meanings.† I again quote Chadwick:
Christian paintings first appear not in churches but as funerary decoration in
the Roman catacombs.† The style of
painting is not dissimilar to that found on many ordinary pagan houses at
So what does all of this mean?† Do we therefore reject Solomon's temple?† Do we repudiate the Mosaic tabernacle? Do we spurn the Law of Moses?† Do we denounce the early Christians? After all, surely God would not allow true prophets to use such repugnant pagan stuff to build sacred structures or to express His sacred truths?† Right?† Of course not.† The plain fact of the matter is that prophets of God have frequently drawn on the symbols and literature of their cultural environment to express sacred truth.
Changes in the
The anti‑Mormon view of the changes in the endowment is based primarily on a fundamentalist understanding of scripture and of how God interacts with His prophets.† Anti‑Mormons are scandalized that modern LDS prophets would claim the authority to alter a ceremony which was allegedly revealed by God to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
However, the anti‑Mormon position is unreasonable in light of the fact that Bible prophets exercised similar authority with regard to scripture and to certain revealed ceremonies.
If anti‑LDS critics are disturbed by the changes in the endowment, are they equally upset over the well‑known fact that Mark and Luke deliberately downplayed Pilate's role in Jesus' execution in order to avoid offending their Roman audience?† To this day, Jewish critics assail Mark and Luke on this point (Levine 26‑27; Cohn 164‑190).
Are anti‑Mormons shocked that the authors of the New Testament Gospels took the liberty of omitting or correcting items from each other's writings that might have seemed offensive or inconsistent to their readers?† Some Bible commentators consider this to be proof that the Gospels aren't inspired, while other scholars more correctly see this as clear evidence that the ancient Christians simply did not have a fundamentalist view of scripture (Levine 25‑28, 65‑93; Wilson 32‑50, 137‑139; Cohn; Achtemeier 1980:57‑75; Barr 1‑50, 98‑147; Davis; Abraham).
If anti‑LDS critics see the changes in the endowment as evidence against the temple, do they similarly call into question the ancient Hebrew faith because of the changes in Hebrew worship which Ezekiel was obliged to make as a result of the Babylonian captivity?† Because of these changes, the Hebrews ceased to observe certain "eternal" rites which Jehovah had previously commanded them to observe (Harrison 267‑268; Achtemeier 1985:80, 305‑306, 1014, and the scriptural passages cited therein).
Joseph Smith's View of Masonry and the Differences Between Masonry and the Endowment
Two relevant topics that rarely if ever receive serious consideration in anti‑Mormon literature are (1) Joseph Smith's view of Masonry, and (2) the many differences between the endowment and Masonic ritual.† Anti‑LDS critics often avoid the fact that Joseph Smith saw Masonic ritual as a corrupt form of a true original.† And anti-Mormons are virtually silent on the numerous differences between Masonry and LDS temple rites.† I think it would be useful at this point to quote what some other LDS writers have said on these subjects.† Eugene Seaich:
relationship between Freemasonry and the LDS temple Endowment has long been a
matter of speculation amongst students of Mormon history.† Joseph Smith was of the opinion that Masonic
ritual was a corrupt form of the original Priesthood; but since the Masons
themselves make no claim to have existed prior to the time of the great
cathedral builders, anti‑Mormons have argued that similarities between
the two must be the result of deliberate plagiarism on the part of the
Church.† Very seldom, however, do they
think to ask whether Masonic ritual itself might be derived from earlier
sources, particularly traditions surviving from the
More remarkable still is that the Prophet not only claimed to recognize in Masonry survivals of ancient temple practice, but that he dared to correct what he found, offering in its place what he said was the uncorrupt prototype.† Thus, while Mormon temple ritual indeed bears some resemblance to Freemasonry, it also differs in significant points, showing that Joseph Smith had his own ideas about the proper form of the original.† Today it is becoming possible to compare his insights with newly recovered material dealing at first hand with early temple traditions. (1984:1)
the Freemasons happened to pick up surviving fragments of ... [the] ancient
temple scheme, it is only proof that such worship actually existed on the earth
at one time.† The famous Mystery Plays of
the Middle Ages also preserved elements of the temple scheme, with their cycles
of didactic [instructional] OT stories repeated on major holy days for the
edification and instruction of the masses.†
"Every man," for example, was but another "Adam" or
We have no idea how many different ways God may employ to inspire men to the work he intends them to perform; but it is undoubtedly providential that Joseph Smith came into contact with both the Book of Abraham facsimiles and Freemasonry at a time when he was required to restore the original temple scheme in all its detail. . . . Joseph Smith knew far more than the Masons, whose rites are but scattered clues to a larger, more perfect picture. (1983:75)
As revealed to the prophet, the endowment ordinance, as Mormons have realized from the beginning, was at least partially influenced by the ritual language of Masonry with which Joseph was intimately familiar.† Recent analysis confirms that the effect on Joseph Smith and the early Mormons of Freemasonry as an important culture contributor is undeniable. . . .
trust that . . . the reader is well aware of the plausibility‑‑in
fact, the necessity‑‑of God using a local and familiar cultural
medium through which to reveal truth.† As
Elizabethan English (personally comfortable to Joseph and to his contemporaries
as "scriptural language") provided the medium for the new
revelations, so masonry provided an organizational model on which a divine and
holy ritual (the endowment) could be readily assimilated and understood.† That there are resemblances . . . only
validates the scripturally sound principle that God's commandments are given
after the manner of the "weakness of men." . . . Thus Heber C.
Kimball wrote to Parley P. Pratt in
To those who know both the endowment and the masonic order, it is quite apparent that the latter provides only certain superficial aspects of the form of the LDS temple rite, and certainly little of the deep and intricate theological truths. . . . (G/4‑H/1)
Early Christian Evidence
The striking resemblance between the temple endowment and the early Christian rite of initiation is strong evidence that Joseph Smith did indeed restore the original ancient temple scheme.
The ancient Christian initiation rite appears to have been a conflation of the temple endowment with the ordinance of baptism.† Non‑members were not permitted to view the rite, and in most cases it was not administered to a person until he or she had been a believer for at least one year.† The rite was sometimes referred to as "the mystery," and the things involved therein were on occasion called "the mysteries."
During the rite of initiation, the candidate could be taught certain "higher teachings" which were reserved only for members who were deemed ready and worthy to receive them.† Extra‑scriptural higher teachings are mentioned by several early Christian bishops and apologists.† For example, Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150‑215), a prominent theologian in the early church and head of the Christian academy in Alexandria, stated that these higher teachings were not included in Christ's public preaching but were transmitted unwritten by the apostles and were given only to church members who were qualified to receive them (MaGill 47).† Clement declared that these sacred teachings were the key to entering into the "highest sphere" of heaven (MaGill 47).
The rite of initiation also included the administering of sacred signs and tokens, Garden‑of‑Eden scenes in the background, the rebuking of Satan with upraised arm, the wearing of sacred white clothing (some of which had markings identical to those on LDS temple garments), and the anointing of various parts of the body with oil.
Of course, the sacred nature of the temple prevents me from explaining the significance of these items in relation to the endowment.† However, suffice it to say that any Latter‑day Saint who has been to the temple will immediately see the significance of these things.
For those who would like to learn more about the early Christian rite of initiation and the extra‑scriptural higher teachings which accompanied it, I would suggest they consult the research that has been done on this subject by Seaich (1983:56‑75; 1984), Stephen E. Robinson (96‑103), Hugh Nibley, Blake Ostler, William Hamblin, Roger J. Adams, and Darrick Evenson (71‑101).
When discussing Mormonism and Masonry, anti‑LDS critics fail to deal with evidence which qualifies or disproves their arguments.† Many of the criticisms they advance against the temple can also be made against ancient Hebrew and early Christian worship.
Anti‑Mormons have yet to explain the impressive parallels between the LDS endowment ceremony and the early Christian rite of initiation.† The early church's initiation rite provides evidence for the divine origin of the LDS temple endowment.
Joseph Smith saw in Masonry remnants of the original temple scheme.† He therefore thought it appropriate and helpful to employ some Masonic elements to express the true original as it had been revealed to him by the Lord.† This in no way detracts from the beauty and inspiration of the temple.
In employing Masonic elements, the Prophet Joseph assigned new meanings to almost all of them and placed them in theological contexts far removed from their original setting.
Although there are some similarities between Masonry and the Mormon temple, there are also many differences.† Furthermore, Masonic ritual does not possess the intricate theological depth that is present in LDS temple ceremonies.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:† Michael
T. Griffith holds a Masterís degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University,
a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military
University, a Bachelorís degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two
Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air
Force.† He also holds an Advanced
Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from
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