Questions About the LDS Temple Ceremony and Masonry
One of the best known facts about "Mormons" is that we build temples. And one of the most frightening accusations from our critics is that "the Mormon temple ceremony" is evil and is derived from questionable sources such as Masonry. What is the Mormon temple concept and the Mormon temple ceremony? What are its origins? Critics claim it has nothing to do with authentic Christian worship. This page offers my response to these accusations, and specifically deals with the question: "Is the Mormon Temple Ceremony derived from Masonry?" This is a lengthy page, but there is a short answer: No. While some elements of the Mormon temple ceremony may have been borrowed from Masonry and other modern sources, the core concepts of the LDS Temple point to authentic ancient origins, consistent with the LDS concept of "the Restoration." (Also see Mormon-Temple-Ceremony.com.) This work is part of my "Mormon Answers (LDSFAQ)" suite, which is solely my reasonability and reflects my personal understanding as well as biases. Also see Mormon-Temple-Ceremony.com and TempleStudy.com.
|The Salt Lake City Temple.||The Mexico City Temple.||The Chicago Temple.|
For official information on LDS Temples around the world, see the LDS.org section, "The House of the Lord." A useful unofficial resource for photos and basic info is LDSChurchTemples.com.
Vast resources about the Temple, with many deep and beautiful insights, can be found in past publications at the Maxwell Institute (see, for example, the book The Temple in Time and Eternity by Donald W. Parry, and Stephen D. Ricks) and, for more recent scholarship, at the new Mormon Interpreter. An example from the latter is "'I Have Revealed Your Name': The Hidden Temple in John 17" by William J. Hamblin, which shows that Christ was evoking temple imagery in the powerful teachings there. Even without understanding the temple concepts, John 17 is a remarkable text for LDS readers. But it will strengthen your appreciation of the restored LDS Temple concept when the ancient temple roots of John 17 are grasped. Enjoy!
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Mormon temples historically have included some elements that are also found in Free Masonry. Doesn't that indicate that Joseph Smith simply borrowed concepts from Masonry and other sources to make up the Mormon temple concept, in contrast to his claims of divine revelation as its source? Since the LDS Temple and the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith are key parts of the Latter-day Saint experience, it is a valid and important question to ask. Critics have argued that the Masonic links to the Temple show that Joseph was not an authentic prophet, and some Latter-day Saints have been unsettled by such claims. But I feel there are answers to these charges that need to be understood, and the process of exploring these issues can help us better appreciate the divine and ancient origins of the Temple.
Short summary of my response: The LDS (Mormon) Temple is a revealed and restored sacred institution. While there are some common elements with Masonry, some of them may better be explained in terms of common ancient sources (ancient Jewish and Christian practices) rather than modern plagiarism in the Mormon Temple. On the other hand, a variety of elements from Masonry or other modern sources may have been borrowed as teaching tools to carry out the teaching of revealed principles. Just as prophets convey their visions and revelations using the language tools and metaphors that they have available, so too the implementation of revealed teachings may draw upon modern elements in practical implementation. In any case, the elements common to Masonry and the LDS Temple represent only a small part of the temple, which shows many characteristic ancient elements, many of which were not known even to scholars in Joseph Smith's day (e.g., the ancient covenant formulary). (See, for example, "Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices" by John A. Tvedtnes at FAIRLDS.org.) In my opinion, revelation rather than plagiarism seems more logical as the source for the core of the LDS Temple concept.
I also explore the related question: Is the LDS Temple concept of ancient origin? Again, here is my short answer, followed by more detail below: The revealed LDS (Mormon) Temple concept restores many elements from ancient worship, including early Christian baptism for the dead, ancient patterns of covenant making, early Christian initiation rituals or "mysteries" (see Masonry and the LDS Temple with sections by W. John Walsh, Kenneth W. Godfrey, nnd Michael T. Griffith), and Christian worship in the Temple. Though revealed in modern times, the LDS Temple is a restoration of several things that God had previously revealed in earlier ages. Knowing this, one could almost ask the question, "Was Freemasonry derived from Mormonism?" (don't miss that excellent article by Eugene Seaich).
Latter-day Saints are unusual among modern Christian religions in their emphasis on the temple. While temple worship was an important part of ancient Judaism (e.g., Psalms 27:4) and early Christianity (see Acts 2:46, Acts 5:42, Matt. 21:12-14, Luke 24:53, Matt. 23:21; Matt. 21:12-13), it was also prophesied to be an important part of the Lord's work in the "last days" before the Second Coming of the Lord and afterwards in the great Millennium (see Isaiah 2:2-4, Rev. 7:15, Malachi 3:1-3, Ezek. 37:26-27). Unfortunately, a proper understanding of the temple and its rites and practices was one of the first things lost during the general apostasy that occurred beginning shortly after the Apostolic era, though many vestiges remained. Such vestiges can be seen in ceremonies, architecture, and priestly robes of various religious orders through the centuries.
|"In antiquity, . . . the Jerusalem Temple was a place where you went to carry out holy acts, sacrifices and the like. I feel that the Mormon experience of the Temple has sort of restored that meaning to the word Temple." |
--Krister Stendahl, Dean of Divinity Emeritus, Harvard University, from an interview played in the LDS video, Between Heaven and Earth, 2002.
"I am both interested and delighted to see so much of ancient religious tradition, particularly Biblical tradition, taken up into the religious structures and rituals of the Mormons."
You can hear some comments from Krister Stendahl on the LDS Temple and baptism for the dead about halfway through this short video from Mormon Messages:
Temples are houses of worship and prayer, wonderfully uplifting and special places to Latter-day Saints, places that help us focus on God the Father and Christ, places that help us become better people and better families. The details of many temple practices are sacred and not given out as public knowledge, but are as pearls of great price to be treasured. However, there are numerous references to temple symbols and concepts in the scriptures, and much of what is taught and done in the temple is alluded to in the Bible. LDS readers may wish to consider many Bible passages in light of the restored LDS Temple, including Rev. 3 (I find at least 5 aspects of the Endowment alluded to) and other sections of that book as well; Psalms 15, 24, 26, 27, and other Psalms; multiple portions in Isaiah; and many other short passages in the scriptures.
In my opinion, the evidence is very strong that the LDS temple concept is not a modern fabrication but is rooted in ancient Christian and Jewish temple practices - revealed practices, not man-made. I think that those ancient practices, in part dating back to Moses, Abraham, Enoch, and beyond, have been borrowed and corrupted by many subsequent religions and cultures. Looking into ancient practices, especially those of the Jews and the early Christians, helps give insight into the drama and symbolism of the Temple.
Ancient Covenants Patterns, Only Recently Identified by Scholars, Found in the LDS TempleMy understanding and appreciation of the meaning of the LDS Temple grew most dramatically not by reading LDS writings, but by reading two books by modern scholars dealing with ancient religious practices and symbols. Most helpful of all was the book Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985) by Jon D. Levenson, a Jewish scholar who was at the University of Chicago at the time, but now is at Harvard. Also of great value to me was Mircea Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane, transl. W. R. Trask, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1959). Eliade helped me to see the Temple from the ancient perspective of sacred space, to recognize its meaning and symbolism as the cosmic mountain, an axis that connects the underworld, the living, and the heavens and that provides orientation and directions for our journey in mortality. The significance of altars, of ritual drama, of the emphasis on the Creation (quite absent in Masonry!), and many other ancient aspects of the modern LDS Temple became much clearer and profound after reading Eliade. But Levenson's book was most valuable. On page after page, I encountered evidence that ancient Temple practices--covenant making, symbols, meanings--had been restored in a pure and powerful way in the modern LDS Temple. One of the most exciting discoveries was that the typical ancient form of covenant making had been restored. This ancient pattern for making a covenant between God and man or a king and his subjects is known as the "covenant formulary" and includes six major steps, though many ancient examples may only have a subset of the six:
This ancient pattern is becoming relatively well known now, and has even made its way into some mainstream Christian sermons, such as a sermon by Reverend Neil Bramble-Chapman (amazingly, he even mentions the ancient Christian doctrine of theosis in his sermon).
While I do not desire to discuss details of the Temple, each element of the ancient covenant formulary is clearly present in the LDS Temple. Modern recognition of the ancient covenant formulary dates back to the 1950s, when George Mendenhall and Klaus Baltzer began comparing biblical literature with other ancient treaties (see discussion in Levenson, p. 26; see also George Mendenhall, "Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition," Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 17, No. 3, 1954, pp. 50-76, as cited by Stephen Ricks in a related essay that I also highly recommend, "Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6," in King Benjamin's Speech, ed. John Welch and Stephen Ricks, Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998, pp. 233-275, with references pertaining to Mendenhall and other related sources cited on p. 274). Though these elements can be found scattered in the Bible, their significance and their relationship to each other was not appreciated in Joseph Smith's day. (Actually, there is still vigorous debate on these elements: see Covenant, Treaty, and Prophecy by E. C. Lucas, originally printed in Themelios, Vol. 8, No. 1, Sept. 1982, pp. 19-23. This article discusses the ancient six-part treaty concept proposed by Mendenhall and reviews some recent criticisms of Mendenhall's views.)
Other Scholarly Insights
There is much more in Levenson and other modern writings of ancient practices which puts the LDS Temple squarely into the realm of ancient practice. Some of the elements which deeply impressed me were the relationship between the Temple and the Sabbath day (sacred space and sacred time), the symbolism of the baptismal font (and subterranean waters in general) in the Temple, the relationship between mountains and Temples (also found strongly in the Bible and the Book of Mormon), the significance of covenant making, the link between Zion and the Temple, the things one does to show reverence for sacred ground, the significance of the Creation story, and so on. Levenson probably knows nothing of LDS Temples, yet his writings about the ancient Jewish experience did more for my understanding of LDS Temples than any modern LDS writer had.
Levenson's book is out of print, sadly, but a related summary of information about the ancient Middle Eastern temple concept is available online in John M. Lundquist's scholarly article, "What Is a Temple? A Preliminary Typology," originally printed in H. B. Huffman, F. A. Spina, and A. R. W. Green, eds., The Quest for the Kingdom of God: Studies in Honor of George E. Mendenhall (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1983), which was republished in Temples of the Ancient World, ed. by Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994, pp. 83-118). While Lundquist's article is not explicitly about the LDS Temple, those familiar with LDS temples will find strong evidence for its ancient roots. In fact, it's a tremendously exciting paper! Another gem is The Temple in Time and Eternity by Donald W. Parry, and Stephen D. Ricks, also available to read online at the Maxwell Institute.
After reading Eliade and Levenson, the works of Hugh Nibley, an LDS scholar, became especially significant to me. He has provided mountains of evidence that key parts of LDS Temple practices were present in the ancient world, most significantly among early Christians. There are a few books I must recommend to serious LDS students of the Temple. Mormonism and Early Christianity, Vol. 4 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 1987), and Temple and Cosmos, Vol. 12 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), are worth your time. Just the direct quotes from ancient Christian documents - many of which were not available in Joseph Smith's day - may surprise you. To me, this is consistent with the notion that the LDS Temple is a restoration of ancient revealed concepts. The "40-day literature," documents discussing the sacred things that Christ taught his disciples during his 40-day ministry after His Resurrection, are especially interesting. These things were sacred and were not intended to be passed on to the world or put into public texts. Also of value are Nibley's discussion of ancient writings about baptism for the dead, the early Christian prayer circle, sacred vestments, apocryphal writings, geometrical symbols, and more.
LDS people may also be interested to read the works of St. Cyril of Jerusalem at the Early Church Fathers Site. For example, I recommend Cyril's discourses on the mysteries found in lectures 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23 at the end of Book 1), including the lecture on "chrism." Cyril mentions some interesting rituals that correlate to a few specific details in the Temple. A bit startling, even.
Many early Christian documents help us better appreciate the authenticity of LDS temple concepts. One example is the early Christian document, The Gospel of Nicodemus, available in The Lost Books of the Bible, Alpha House, Inc., Newfoundland, 1926, reprinted by World Publishing, New York, 1972, pp. 63-91. According to the printed introduction, this document is of uncertain origin but clearly appears to have been composed by an early Christian. It claims to have been written by Nicodemus but was possibly a "pious fraud" written in the end of the third century (others have said it comes from the fifth century). "Whether it be canonical or not, it is of very great antiquity, and it is appealed to by several of the ancient Christians" (p. 63). This document teaches of Christ's descent into hell to free Adam and the prophets, patriarchs, and other saints, bringing them to Paradise (Chapters 17-20). Between His death and Resurrection, The Gospel of Nicodemus, in accordance with modern LDS revelation, teaches that Christ visited Adam and other dead saints in hell (instead, we would say it was the "spirit world"), where he used a handclasp to deliver Adam: "taking hold of Adam by his right hand, he ascended from hell, and all the saints of God followed him" (19:12). Just as Adam's journey in the Temple symbolizes the journey and covenants that each Saint must make, so Adam is the first whom other delivered saints follow in The Gospel of Nicodemus. We also read in Chapter 14 that Adam knew of the future baptism and mission of Christ and taught it to the patriarchs and prophets, who rejoiced - providing strong support for what others have seen as peculiar LDS views. Chapter 14 also speaks of Christ anointing the faithful with oil ("the oil of his mercy"), also stating that this "oil of mercy will continue to future generations, for those who shall be born of the water and the Holy Ghost unto eternal life" (14:7). In 20:11-12, we also read of the thief who dies with Christ. He approaches the angel who guards the gates of Paradise, explaining that Christ has given him a sign (the "sign of the cross") to show to the angel to prove that Adam should be admitted. (It also affirms another LDS view in Chapter 20, verses 3-4, stating that Enoch, like Elijah, was "translated" by God and has not yet tasted death.)
The role of handclasps in the Temple is not a modern innovation borrowed from Masonry, but was known to ancient Christians. Further information on the significance of the handclasp in early Christianity is given by Todd Comptom, "The Handclasp and Embrace as Tokens of Recognition," in By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., 2 vols. (Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1990), 1: 620 - 631.). Here is a excerpt (pp. 620-621):
The handclasp continued in early Christian ritual, both gnostic and "orthodox." According to Galatians 2:9, "the right hand of fellowship" (dexias koinoas didonai tini) is given "as a sign of friendship and trust," though this does not necessarily suggest ritual practice, such as we found in the Sabazian and Mithraic mysteries. The handclasp as marriage rite, however, continued in Christian surroundings. The salvific handclasp is nearly the trademark of the iconography of Christ's postcrucifixion descent into Hades. One of the most frequent scenes in this tradition is that of Christ grasping the hands of Adam and Eve to lift them up out of hell and to resurrect them. While sometimes he grasps their wrists, . . . in other depictions he lifts them with a true dextrarum iunctio. The fifth-century Gospel of Nicodemus describes a true handclasp: "And the Lord . . . took the right hand of Adam and went up out of hell (tenens dexteram Adae ascendit ab inferis), and all the saints followed him. . . . He went therefore into paradise holding our forefather by the hand, and delivered him, and all the righteous, unto Michael the archangel." Here the [handclasp] starts the ascent, continues it, and ends it on the threshold of paradise. A similar handclasp is used in the apocalyptic 1 Enoch: "And the angel Michael, . . . seizing me by my right hand and lifting me up, led me out into all the secrets of mercy; and he showed me all the secrets of righteousness."
Anti-Mormons love to mock LDS temple clothing. They don't care that what they mock is viewed as sacred to the LDS people. Such people probably don't care that similar clothing was sacred to devout early Christian and Jewish people as well. The use of sacred clothing closely related to that of the LDS Temple is indicated in numerous ancient documents that Joseph Smith did not have access to. One example is found in the description of the priestly initiation of Levi in one of the second-century B.C. Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Garden City: Doubleday, 1983), 1:791, as cited by John A. Tvedtnes, "Olive Oil: Symbol of the Holy Ghost," The Allegory of the Olive Tree, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: FARMS and Deseret Book, 1994), pp. 427-459):
And I saw seven men in white clothing, who were saying to me, "Arise, put on the vestments of the priesthood, the crown of righteousness, the oracle of understanding, the robe of truth, the breastplate of faith, the miter for the head, and the apron for prophetic power." Each carried one of these and put them on me and said, "From now on be a priest, you and all your posterity." The first anointed me with holy oil and gave me a staff. The second washed me with pure water, fed me by hand with bread and holy wine, and put on me a holy and glorious vestment. The third put on me something made of linen, like an ephod. The fourth placed . . . around me a girdle which was like purple. The fifth gave me a branch of rich olive wood. The sixth placed a wreath on my head. The seventh placed the priestly diadem on me and filled my hands with incense, in order that I might serve as priest for the Lord God. (Testament of Levi 8:2-10)
In addition to describing elements of clothing related to LDS temple clothing, this account also verifies the ancient nature of the LDS Temple initiatory rites of washing, anointing, and investiture in a priestly and royal context. priestly as well as royal initiations.
Another article of interest on related topics is "The Catholic Liturgy and the Mormon Temple" by Marcus von Wellnitz in BYU Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1, Winter 1981, pp. 3-35. Wellnitz shows that a variety of elements in ancient Catholic rites and architecture are shared with the LDS Temple. Tracing Catholic concepts to early Christian and ancient Jewish concepts provides meaningful insights into related LDS concepts. For example, rituals of washing and anointing were important, and the oil was applied to specific regions in a specific order with blessings being spoken that all reverbates remarkably well with the modern LDS Temple. (See especially pages 10 and 11 of Wellnitz.) Then, after application of water and oil, the Christian would receive a new white garment.
Other aspects of Catholic rites discussed by Wellnitz include:
Further, many ancient writings deal with the issue of heavenly ascent, wherein a prophet is taken on a journey to heaven and initiated in mysteries of the heavenly world. This ancient literature contains many strong LDS temple themes, some of which have been said to derive from Masonry. Joseph F. McConkie discusses the heavenly ascent literature in this passage from his article, "Premortal Existence, Foreordinations, and Heavenly Councils," in Apocryphal Writings and the Latter-day Saints, C. Wilfred Griggs, ed. (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1986, pp. 182-183):
The ascension of prophets to heavenly councils is a prominent motif in apocryphal literature which finds expression in the traditions of the Jews and elsewhere. In a marvelously interesting article on this subject, Dr. Joseph P. Schultz writes, "In the Mesopotamian texts, the heavenly ascent is made by the king who is both a wise scribe and visionary seer and is described as 'the Sent one.'" [Joseph P. Schultz, "Angelic Opposition to the Ascension of Moses and the Revelation of the Law," Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 61, April 1971, p. 294.] He summarizes the various aspects of this theme as follows:
1. Ascent to heaven
2. Entering the heavenly palace
3. Reception by the high god in his assembly
6. Robing in royal or heavenly garments
7. Handing over the heavenly book or heavenly tablets to the bearer of revelation
8. Calling with names of honor
9. Initiation into the heavenly secrets
10. Enthronement on the god-father's throne
11. Sending forth with a commission or message to instruct the generation
For the sake of brevity, we will cite only Enoch, Moses, and Levi as examples of these themes. In the Secrets of Enoch we read of the Lord instructing Michael to take from Enoch his "earthly garments" to anoint him with oil and then to dress him in the "garments of My glory," that he might enter the heavenly assembly (Secrets of Enoch 22:8-9).
Schultz summarizes the Talmudic tradition of Moses' ascent into heaven:The following motifs are present: ascent to heaven, enthronement (in our legend portrayed as grasping God's throne), robing in heavenly garments. To these motifs the sources cognate to our legend add the following: purification, anointing, calling with names of honor, initiation into heavenly secrets. [ibid., p. 295.]
The patriarch Levi is instructed on his ascension to "Arise, put on the robe of the priesthood, and the crown of righteousness, and the breastplate of understanding, and the garment of truth, and the plate of faith, and the turban of the head, and the ephod of prophecy." [Testament of Levi 8:1-11].
Another useful resource dealing with some of the above issues is "Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices" by John A. Tvedtnes at FAIRLDS.org. Also see Donald W. Parry, Temples in Antiquity (Salt Lake City: FARMS and Deseret Book, 1994). In addition, John Tvedtnes has made some other fascinating observations about the ancient temple concept. Here is an excerpt of a document he forwarded in early 2004 (not yet published, quoted with permission):
We must begin by noting that both Masons and Mormons have iconographic symbols, handclasps, and hand signs (with associated names) in their ceremonies. To some, this is sufficient to show a tie, especially since Joseph Smith was a mason. But most of the handclasps (tokens), hand signs, and names are not at all alike and there are only a few near overlaps. As for the iconographic symbols, such as the square, the compass, the all-seeing eye, the clasped hands, etc., these have long been known in Christian iconography, and are not peculiar to freemasonry, though they are not used in the Protestant churches. Another feature shared by the LDS and Masonic rites are the wearing of an apron (though different in design), but this can be shown to be of ancient origin (based on Genesis 3:7), as are handclasps, names, and signs. The concept of priesthood "after the order of Melchizedec," shared with Royal Arch Masonry, derives from the Bible (Hebrews 5:6), while the term "Elect Lady," applied to Emma Smith in D&C 25:3 and said by at least one critic to have been used in a French Masonic order that admitted women into special lodges, is also biblical (2 John 1:1). In addition to the unlikely existence of such a French order in the United States, the critic conveniently overlooks the fact that the revelation in which this title is used for Emma dates to July 1830, a dozen years before Joseph Smith became a Mason. . . .
[T]here is a corpus of documents from the second century B.C. through the fifth century A.D. that deal with elements of the endowment as it is taught in LDS temples and which demonstrates the antiquity of the ordinance. In order to place these early witnesses into perspective, we must note the definition of the endowment as given by Brigham Young:Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell. (Journal of Discourses 2.31; cf. Journal of Discourses 1.278; 8.106; History of the Church 7.240)
Elements of the endowment, as described here, are found in a number of early Jewish and Christian texts. Epiphanius (Heresies 36.13) cites the Gospel of Philip as saying, "The Lord revealed unto me what the soul must say as it goeth up into heaven, and how it must answer each of the powers above." In the Testament of Isaac 6:4, we read, "Then they (the angels) took me by the hand and led me to the curtain before the throne of the father." Note also the following from Apocalypse of Elijah 1:7-11:Therefore become sons to him since he is a father to you. Remember that he has prepared thrones and crowns for you in heaven, saying, "Everyone who will obey me will receive thrones and crowns among those who are mine." The Lord said, "I will write my name upon their forehead and I will seal their right hand, and they will not hunger or thirst. Neither will the son of lawlessness prevail over them, nor will the thrones hinder them, but they will walk with the angels up to my city." Now, as for the sinners, they will be shamed and they will not pass by the thrones, but the thrones of death will seize them and rule over them because the angels will not agree with them.
According to a vision attributed to Isaiah, Jesus had to give passwords to the angels while descending through the seven heavens to be born on earth:And those who kept the gate of the (third) heaven demanded the password, and the LORD gave (it) to them in order that he should not be recognized . . . And again I saw when he descended into the second heaven, that there again he gave the password, for those who kept the gates demanded (it), and the LORD gave (it) . . . And again I saw when he descended into the first heaven, that there he gave the password to those who kept the gates . . . And again he descended into the firmament where the prince of this world dwells, and he gave the password to those who (were) on the left . . . And he did not give the password (Martyrdom & Ascension of Isaiah 10:24-25, 27, 29, 31).
This is only a sampling of the interesting materials in this area.
Seeing the key concepts of the LDS Temple (or Mormon temple ceremony) so securely placed in the ancient world makes arguments of modern origins hard to swallow. There certainly are modern trappings and elements, no doubt, but the core is ancient. In no way can Masonry offer the numerous ancient, revealed elements found in the restored LDS Temple. Even the most basic issues - what is a Temple, what does it mean, what is its purpose - are absent or corrupted in most modern remnants of the ancient concepts, including synagogues, Catholic rituals, and Masonry.
Before discussing Masonry, though, let me deal with the common concern that secret practices of any kind are unchristian. Sacred teachings and sacred rituals did exist in early Christianity and were held in secrecy. This has been demonstrated by many scholars, including the eminent New Testament scholars Joachim Jeremias and Morton Smith (both non-LDS). See Jeremias's The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, New York: Scribners, 1966, and Smith's Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark, Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1973. Early anti-Christian critics, such as the professional critic Celsus in the 2nd century, condemned the Christians for being "a secret society" (Celsus, as cited by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1992, p. 111). Caecilius Natalis in the 3rd century wrote that Christians tended to "conceal and cloak whatever they worship" and said that they knew each other "by secret marks and insignia" and had secret rites (as cited by Peterson and Ricks, pp. 111-112). Early Christians defended themselves against such charges as Latter-day Saints do now, explaining the high values and morality of the Temple, yet pointing out that some sacred things are not to be revealed to the world. The early Christian Lactantius wrote:
"God orders us in quietness and silence to hide His secret and to keep it within our own conscience. . . . For a mystery ought to be most faithfully concealed and covered, especially by us, who bear the name of faith. But they accuse this silence of ours, as though it were the result of an evil conscience; whence they also invent some detestable things respecting those who are holy and blameless."
Lactantius, Divine Institutes, VII, 26, in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987, as cited by Peterson and Ricks, p. 112.
(Heard of the film "The God Makers"? Deja vu.)
Don't forget that the very word "mystery" in the New Testament means that which is not spoken - a sacred matter. Morton Smith (op. cit., pp. 179-184) demonstrates that this word was used by early Christians to describe secret rites and ordinances. Paul described himself and his coworkers as "stewards of the mystery of God" in 1 Cor. 4:1. We should not be surprised to later find Clement of Alexandria, Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Athanasius, and others carefully mentioning secret teachings and ordinances from Christ and the Apostles (see discussion in Ricks and Peterson, pp. 111-116), things which were not be shared with the public but which were at the heart of their religion. Other early Christian evidence points to a tradition of secret teachings and rituals, as Michael T. Griffith shows in his book, One Lord, One Faith: Writings of the Early Christian Fathers As Evidences of the Restoration (Horizon Publishers, 1996). His Web page, "Secrecy in Ancient Christianity", gives a relevant excerpt from his book. For more information on similar practices in early Christianity, see also my page Questions About LDS Practices, where I answer the question, "Christ said that "in secret have I said nothing" (John 18:20), so isn't the idea of secret temple ceremonies contrary to the Gospel?" My answer there relies heavily on Barry Robert Bickmore's excellent book, Restoring the Ancient Church (Ben Lomand, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999), now available online at FAIRLDS.org, which I strongly recommend to those interested in temples and the Restoration (the temple is the focus of only a fraction of the book).
There is much to be said on this topic, but I simply wish to say that sacred or secret teachings and rituals are not something to be condemned per se. What goes on in the Temple is of a sacred nature, but I assure you, based on my direct experiences, that it is uplifting, wholesome, and Christ-centered. In fact, it's a wonderful thing that every Latter-day Saint should strive for. The Temple is a divinely revealed institution that cannot be explained away as a modern fabrication or simple plagiarism from Masonry.
If the early Christians had temple worship, how was it lost? It was probably through the same type of long-term apostasy that resulted in loss of true baptism by immersion, in the loss of apostles and prophets, in the loss of a lay ministry ordained by the laying on of hands, in the less of a true knowledge of God and Christ as distinct persons in a united Godhead in whose image we are created, etc. (Of course, the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. may have been a catastrophic catalyst for the loss of Temple knowledge.) One non-LDS Christian historian offers this analysis:
The number of the faithful having greatly increased - the Christians from being persecuted having become the persecutors, and that of the most grasping and barbarous kind - the Church in the seventh century instituted the minor orders, among whom were the doorkeepers, who took the place of the deacons. In 692 everyone was ordered thenceforth to be admitted to the public worship of the Christians, their esoteric [secret] teachings of the first ages was entirely suppressed, and what had been pure cosmology and astronomy was turned into a pantheon of gods and saints. Nothing remained of the mysteries but the custom of secretly reciting the canon of the Mass. (C.W. Heckworth, The Secret Societies of All Ages and Countries, University Books, New Hyde Park, New York, 1965, p. 107, as cited by Darrick T. Evenson, The Gainsayers, Horizon Publishers, Bountiful, Utah, 1989, p. 89).Many details of those lost mysteries are not known to historians, for they were not written down:
An awful obligation to perpetual secrecy as to what was said and transacted behind closed doors in the initiation proper was imposed - an obligation so scrupulously observed through the centuries that not one account of the secrets of the holy of holies of the Mysteries has been published to gratify the curiosity of historians. (W. Kingsland, The Gnosis or Ancient Wisdom in the Christian Scripture, London, 1937, p. 75, as cited by Evenson, op. cit., p. 90.)
Some references to details in the early Christian mysteries were given anciently by Cyril of Jerusalem in his "Lecture on the Mysteries - The Rites of the Inner Chamber" (see The Works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 1969, vols. 1 and 2), where ancient relationships to several modern LDS temple practices can be seen. For more information about early Christian beliefs and their relationship to LDS theology and temple concepts, see Mormonism and Early Christianity, an excellent site by Barry Bickmore. Another useful source of information is the large Web page compiled by Darell Thorpe at www.restorationhistory.com entitled "Evidences for the Temple Endowment in Early Christianity."
More evidence that may indirectly support the general authenticity of the LDS temple concept comes from the book, Hidden Wisdom: Esoteric Traditions and the Roots of Christian Mysticism by G.G. Stroumsa (Leiden: Brill, 1996), reviewed by Barry Bickmore in "Them Sneaky Early Christians," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2000, pp. 35-56. Much of the meat of this review comes from early Christian writings that Bickmore applies to the topic, rather than relying on Professor Stroumsa's writings..
2005 Update: More on the Ancient Roots of the LDS Temple
A non-LDS scholar, Margaret Barker, has also commented on the relationship between the ancient Jewish temple and the significance of Adam in her 2004 essay, "Creation Theology" published by the Diocese of Wakefield. In this essay, she observes - as many others have - that Creation is a central theme of the ancient temple. Latter-day Saints who have been to the Temple also know that the Mormon temple ceremony is rooted in Creation, with the Endowment ceremony depicting the Creation and then representing our journey through the journey of Adam and Eve, who represent all of us when covenants are made at the altar. This fits well in the ancient Temple concept. Baker writes:
[T]he High Priest was the human, male and female as the image of God ["as the image" not "in the image"!]. Adam - which simply means the human -- Adam-male-and-female as the original High Priest is an important theme in temple theology. The Second Adam was the Great High Priest, and if we are the body of Christ, we all have this high priestly role.
The idea of Adam as a priest, and all of us as "Adams" following him in moving toward Christ is, in the mind of Margaret Barker, an authentic ancient concept from the ancient temple. And I dare say that we can find this restored in the LDS Temple.
Baker also notes the significance of angelic messengers, another important element in the LDS Endowment, and also discusses he centrality of covenants, which is also critical in the LDS Temple. In fact, in the LDS Temple, specific angelic messengers teach, instruct, and bring God's covenants to man, and angels are also generally mentioned as witnesses in covenant making in the LDS Temple. Here are the insights from Baker on these themes:
The Holy of Holies symbolised the Source and Centre of the Creation. "God in our midst" was the original purpose of the holy place. Moses was told to erect the tabernacle so that the LORD could dwell [the Greek says "be seen"] in the midst (Exod. 25.8). Isaiah saw the LORD enthroned in the Holy of Holies, and heard the seraphim declare that his glory filled the whole earth (Isai. 6). Since the glory was deemed to be the heavenly host, Isaiah saw the whole of the temple, and the creation it represented, filled with angels who were the messengers and mediators between the invisible and the visible worlds. This was the vision of God, the vision of the unity at the heart of all creation, and of the glory of God suffused through the whole creation by the angels. The angels were messengers, and their role in the creation was to guide and to teach.
The temple priests thought of themselves as these angels, with the High Priest as the chief of the angels, the image of the LORD. The role of the priests, and especially of the High Priest, was to teach, and by right teaching to ensure the well being of the creation and the security of the covenant which bound the creation into one. Just as the angels of Day One were a unity, so their teaching united and maintained the creation. Simeon, High Priest about 280 BCE was remembered for teaching: "The world is sustained by three things: by the Law, by the temple liturgy, and by deeds of loving kindness" (m.Pirke Aboth 1.2).
The Creation itself was envisaged as a vast web, woven together and held in place by the bonds of the eternal covenant. This is another familiar word: covenant. The historical approach to the Old Testament lists four covenants: with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses and with David, and there is Jeremiah"s prophecy of the new Covenant. None of these, however, can have been the covenant renewed at the Last Supper, because none of them deals with the remission of sins. This is another indication that we need to look below the surface, and certainly beyond the customary syllabus for Old Testament study, if we are to illuminate the New. Matthew, writing for a Jewish community, was the only evangelist who felt the need to define which covenant Jesus was renewing at the Last Supper, and his phrase "for the remission of sins" immediately identifies it as the temple covenant, the covenant renewed by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.
The eternal covenant, also described as the covenant of peace or wholeness, underlies the biblical world view. The creation was established and secured by the bonds of this covenant, and these bonds could be broken by human sin. If one or two bonds were broken, the system could cope with the breach, but if too many were broken, then the whole system collapsed. This was "the wrath", the inevitable result of human sin, unless some priestly process intervened to protect the creation and human society. The bonds of the covenant embraced in one system heaven and earth, the visible and invisible creation, the natural world and human society. All were inter-related, and there was one Law for all. To cut off any one part brought disaster and the system collapsed. Isaiah, who had glimpsed the glory of the LORD filling the earth, described what happened when the eternal covenant collapsed.
The combination of priests and angels, of ritual and teaching, all centered around Creation themes and covenant making, all point to a restoration of an ancient temple concept in the modern Mormon temple ceremony.
2012 Update: Resources from James L. Carroll
James L. Carroll's articles on LDS temples provide some intelligent perspectives that I had only recently noticed. See, for example, his significant paper, "An Interpreters History of the Israelite Three Room Temple Design" presented at the Ninth Annual BYU Religious Education Student Symposium, 2007 (PPT slides also available). Here's the abstract:
In 1842, Joseph Smith revealed the endowment which connected the temple tradition with the creation, the Garden of Eden, and the ritual activities of Adam and his descendents immediately after the fall. Ancient Israel under the Law of Moses also built several temples. These temples were not primarily used for endowments as we understand them today, but were part of an Aaronic order designed to be preparatory in nature. These temples each contained three main rooms or divisions. We survey several of the most important LDS and non-LDS theories that attempt to explain the meaning of these rooms and show that even most non-LDS scholars believe that the Israelite temple design was connected with the creation, the Garden of Eden, and the fall of man. Thus, although these temples were not identical to the modern temple pattern revealed through the Endowment, they were designed to teach many of the same fundamental gospel principles. The majority of these scholarly opinions were given many years after Joseph revealed the Endowment, illustrating the inspiration of the prophet.
In recent years, critics have charged that early LDS contacts with Masonry provided the source for LDS teachings and practices relative to the Temple. There are a number of common symbols and elements, but they are superficial and hardly account for the core content of LDS practices and teachings relative to the Temple. A particular symbol or detail may match, sometimes even exactly, but those few common elements represent only a tiny fraction of what is found in the temple and hardly qualify as a major source for its ceremonies and teachings. Several direct parallels can be easily explained in terms of related ancient origins going back to Bible times. More significant sources of temple material are obviously the Bible, the Book of Abraham and the Book of Moses, all available long before Joseph Smith investigated Masonry. However, I believe that Joseph Smith did borrow a few outward things from Masonry if they fit a revealed purpose (or they may have matched an ancient and revealed detail) or if they were helpful in teaching revealed concepts. Insight into possible reasons for borrowing elements from Masonry comes from an LDS Mason, George Kearney, who has posted a variety of helpful comments on an LDS discussion group at FAIRLDS.org. Here is an excerpt from one of his comments:
But while both rituals [the LDS Temple and Masonry] teach great truths, the truths they teach are different. Masonry teaches the truth of brotherly love and tolerance by means of the legend of Hiram Abiff the master builder of Solomon's Temple. The endowment teaches of God relationship to mankind and the plan of salvation through the allegory of Adam and Eve.
The question then becomes why would Joseph use the Masonic ritual? Joseph Smith served as chaplain of the lodge in Nauvoo (Rising Sun Lodge, U.D.) and as such had occasion to see the remarkable way that the Masonic ritual is used to teach complex ideas by means of ritualist repetition of information. It is useful to note here that Nauvoo was being populated by thousands of people many of whom did not read English well and may have had only a passing familiarity with it. In New York City in the 1840's the biggest newspapers were still published in Dutch for example.
So Joseph, faced with the task of teaching a new and somewhat complex set of ideas to a population made up on uneducated farmers and tradesmen turns to the Masonic ritual as the means of instruction. He did so I believe because it was already a ritual which the men of his community was familiar with. They would, therefore, focus on what was being taught, the message, not on how it was being taught, the messenger or the ritual, which they knew already.
As the Saints moved west they lost the tie to the Masonic institution and as they did the ritual of the temple came to take on greater and greater importance to them. In effect the very reason that Joseph had chosen the ritual in the first place was lost with the loss of Masonry among the saints. Over the years the brethren have noticed this trend to focus on the ritual at the exclusion of what the ritual is teaching and have, from time to time, simplified the endowment ritual, removing various Masonic portions which had, as the years went by, become meaningless to all but a handful of LDS Freemason who knew of their origins.
In the end it is important to remember that no one ever was made a Mason in an LDS Temple and no one has ever received their endowment in a Masonic Lodge.
I believe that there may be several core, essential items in the Mormon temple ceremony that can be taught and achieved in only one exact way, but that other parts are rather fluid and can be adapted, modified, reworded or expressed in a variety of ways, as the leaders of the Church see fit. Yes, there have been some changes in the Mormon temple over the years - changes which I see as minor. For example, in the older versions of the temple ceremony, details of "penalties," which are often said to be Masonic in nature, have been replaced with a more general verbal warning embodying the same concept but in an "improved" form. The use of such "penalties" in covenant making can be shown to be an authentic, ancient practice from Biblical times, but their removal from the Temple poses no real problem because they were not part of the core of the Endowment. In the Journal of Discourses 2:31, Brigham Young explained that the Endowment constituted "the key words, the signs and tokens" - but made no mention of the penalties. Brigham Young's definition of the Endowment is cited in the modern LDS Temple.
It should be obvious to members that details of how the creation story is presented is an area where many modes of expression are possible, e.g., using live actors and narrative or using a beautiful film, as long as the message is conveyed. I believe that the revealed temple ceremony comprised many principles which had to be embodied in a modern vessel of some form. If Joseph did borrow from a very few elements from 19th century America (e.g., a modern minister representing the mingling of scripture with human teachings) or even from Masonry as part of that embodiment, we should not be shocked. If a few Masonic-like elements were not really essential and have been replaced with more generic forms, I cannot object. If 20th century technology is now used to portray the creation story, we should only rejoice at the added beauty and richness. But at the heart of the temple experience is an impressively ancient, inspired, and unchanging core that cannot be explained by its common elements with Masonry or modern sources.
The temple puts an emphasis on Christ as Savior and teaches that this life is a battle between good and evil in which Satan must be cast out and rejected. These themes are essentially absent in Masonry. Key temple practices such as baptism for the dead, marriage for time and eternity, and the sealing of families have no apparent connection to fraternal Mason practices. The focus on a personal, loving God is absent in Masonry. The equal partnership between man and woman in the Temple is also absent in Masonry, where women are excluded from Masonic ritual. Further, in stark contrast to the many ranks and levels among Masons, there is total equality and an absence of ranks for participants in the Temple. The LDS Endowment ceremony, which offers sacred covenants to follow God and Christ and provides instruction to prepare faithful members for the next life, does employ some symbols also found in Masonry, but the meaning and usage is different.
While some elements related to Masonry may have been borrowed simply as a vehicle to assist with the instruction, some apparent parallels are probably not derived from Masonry. The Christian cross is remarkably similar to the ancient Egyptian ankh symbol, which represented life and eternity. Some Christians may have noted and enjoyed the shared meaning in the symbol, but it hardly means that Christianity was derived from pagan religion. (And does the common use of the swastika symbol mean that Nazism is derived from the Hindu religion, where the swastika is still used as a symbol of the sun?) Likewise many ancient practices other than Masonry employ rituals to teach men about their duties. Similarities of two separate system need not imply plagiarism, but may raise the possibility of common ancestry. This concept is illustrated in the following excerpt taken from Vol. 2 of The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, from an article entitled "Freemasonry and the Temple" by Kenneth Godfrey:
Many sacred ceremonies existed in the ancient world. Modified over centuries, these rituals existed in some form among ancient Egyptians, Coptic Christians, Israelites, and Masons, and in the Catholic and Protestant liturgies. Common elements include the wearing of special clothing, ritualistic speech, the dramatization of archetypal themes, instruction, and the use of symbolic gestures. One theme common to many--found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Egyptian pyramid texts, and Coptic prayer circles, for example--is man's journey through life and his quest, following death, to successfully pass the sentinels guarding the entrance to eternal bliss with the gods. Though these ceremonies vary greatly, significant common points raise the possibility of a common remote source.
The Egyptian pyramid texts, for example, feature six main themes: (1) emphasis on a primordial written document behind the rites; (2) purification (including anointing, lustration, and clothing); (3) the Creation (resurrection and awakening texts); (4) the garden (including tree and ritual meal motifs); (5) travel (protection, a ferryman, and Osirian texts); and (6) ascension (including victory, coronation, admission to heavenly company, and Horus texts). Like such ancient ceremonies, the LDS temple Endowment presents aspects of these themes in figurative terms. It, too, presents, not a picture of immediate reality, but a model setting forth the pattern of human life on earth and the divine plan of which it is part.
Masonic ceremonies are also allegorical, depicting life's states--youth, manhood, and old age--each with its associated burdens and challenges, followed by death and hoped-for immortality. There is no universal agreement concerning when Freemasonry began. Some historians trace the order's origin to Solomon, Enoch, or even Adam. Others argue that while some Masonic symbolism may be ancient, as an institution it began in the Middle Ages or later.
Though in this dispensation the LDS Endowment dates from Kirtland and Nauvoo (see Kirtland Temple; Nauvoo Temple), Latter-day Saints believe that temple ordinances are as old as man and that the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ, including its necessary ritual and teachings, were first revealed to Adam. These saving principles and ordinances were subsequently revealed to Seth; Noah; Melchizedek; Abraham, and each prophet to whom the priesthood was given, including Peter. Latter-day Saints believe that the ordinances performed in LDS temples today replicate rituals that were part of God's teachings from the beginning.
Those who know the Temple and the LDS scriptures should realize that there are abundant Temple-related concepts in the works of Joseph Smith predating Joseph's introduction to Masonry in 1842. In particular, the Pearl of Great Price, with the Book of Abraham and the Book of Moses, are richly endowed with temple concepts and symbols for those that have ears to hear. Masonry is not the core source for the Endowment.
For those interested in understanding the basics of Masonry, the classic work on the topic is the nineteenth century work, Duncan's Ritual and Monitor of Freemasonry (Malcolm C. Duncan, McKay Publishing, New York, 1865), which covers the York rite of Masonry to which Joseph Smith was exposed. In examining this text and its many illustrations, I found a number of items that can be found in the temple. But I also noticed that these parallel represent a very small fraction of Masonry. It is significant how many concepts and symbols of importance to Masonry are not part of the LDS Endowment. For example, Masonry is full of lore about Hiram Abiff and the masons of Solomon's time, all totally absent in the Temple. The use of special foot positions, of ropes, blindfolds (covers for the head), spelling out of names, the 24-inch gauge, the significance of directions, jewels, mosaic pavement, etc., etc. - all of which is absent from the Temple. Whatever the relationship between Masonry and the Temple, the majority of Temple material is not found in Masonry and visa versa. Further, many of the parallels to Masonry are found in the Bible or other ancient sources, including the concepts of priesthood, of anointing with oil, elders, high priests, curses and blessings, etc. Again, plagiarism from Masonry is an inadequate explanation for the marvelous LDS Temple, in spite of several close parallels.
There is no question that many early LDS people found Masonry interesting and positive as a fraternal organization. Joseph Smith himself became a Mason in 1842 - clearly after the Church was reorganized (1830) and most LDS doctrine had been established (including the Books of Abraham and Moses, with many temple-related concepts). It is true that the LDS Endowment ceremony was officially introduced two months after Joseph became a Mason, but the essence of the Temple concept and practice had been revealed or foreshadowed in the 1830s. Temple construction among Latter-day Saints began in the early 1830s. The fullness of temple worship was restored over a period of years, culminating in the 1840s, but "[a]lmost from the organization of the Church [in 1830], Joseph promised the people a higher endowment, a continuation of that received in baptism. . . . At the dedication [of the Kirtland temple in 1836], some ordinances were given preparatory to the fuller endowment to come. There was nothing new about temple work when it came in its greater completeness. It was expected" (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations , 1960, p. 111).
Section 124 of the Doctrine and Covenants offers noteworthy evidence that the LDS temple was not derived from Masonry. This revelation was written on Jan. 19, 1841, over one year before Joseph became a Mason, yet makes mention of many key elements that would be found in the Nauvoo temple. This list, taken from Matthew B. Brown ("Of Your Own Selves Shall Men Arise," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1998, pp. 97-131, with the citation from pp. 125-126), includes:
Joseph's personal involvement with Masonry was extremely limited. Critics often say that he became "a master Mason" or make much of the fact that Joseph and his peer, Sidney Rigdon, achieved the "sublime degree" (equivalent to the rank of Master) in Masonry, as if that represents serious and lifelong involvement in the organization. The fact is that both Joseph and Sidney attended three meetings over a period of two days in a Masonic lodge under the leadership of non-LDS Grand Master Abraham Jonas. That exposure, however, would have introduced Joseph to elements that are found in both Masonry and the Temple - but those common elements also have common ancient sources, and many of the most significant elements of the Temple are not found in those degrees of Masonry. Nevertheless, it is possible that some elements of Masonry that fit the revealed Temple concept were used as a vessel or framework, or even that some things were found to be appropriate vehicles for conveying revealed concepts - but that is a long ways from explaining the origins of the LDS Temple. James L. Carroll, an LDS person familiar with Masonry, sent me the following comment (used with permission):
I am working on a comparison of common elements between the Masons, Mormons, Greko-Romans, Egyptians, and Gnostics. How anyone could deny an ancient origin to the Endowment is beyond me. The question is always asked "Why is the Endowment similar to Free Masonry?" The question that is never asked is "What elements are similar, and do those elements have a more ancient source?" What is staggering to me is the consistency with which Joseph removed those things in Masonry that had no ancient origin, and kept only those elements that did! Joseph was amazing. If he was not inspired he was the best guesser ever!
Some have argued that advancing rapidly in Masonry in just three days implies that Joseph was already been familiar with Masonry through contact with family members or friends who were Masons. Indeed, it is possible that Joseph's contact with Masonry may have been much greater than I have recognized. But my basic position would remain unchanged: elements from Masonry may have been used or adapted as a reasonable framework in which to present revealed Temple concepts, but even borrowing such elements does not account for the core aspects of the Temple, which go far beyond anything unique to Masonry, but are remarkably at home with more ancient concepts from Jewish and Christian worship in ways that point to authentic revealed origins - part of the Restoration of the fullness of the Gospel.
Correction of a previous error: Previously on this page, I wrote that Joseph and Sidney "received only the first three of over 30 degrees in Masonry. Both Joseph and Sidney were raised to the "sublime degree," but this made them mere novices." I have been corrected by a Mason, Art de Hoyos, whose name and words I use with permission:
It is a mistake to suggest that Joseph and Sidney received "only the first three of over 30 degrees in Masonry," or that the additional Scottish Rite degrees (the other 30), confer anything above the degree of Master Mason. I will briefly explain. Grand Master Abraham Jonas only had the authority to administer the three degrees of "Ancient Craft Masonry" (Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason). He did not have the authority to confer the 30 degrees of the Scottish Rite.
In fact, the Scottish Rite was not established in Illinois until after the martyrdom. (See Alphonse Cerza, A History of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in Illinois, 1846-1965 [Bloomington, IL: Pantagraph, 1966]).
Non-Masons frequently--and incorrectly--assume that the degrees of the Scottish Rite are "higher" than those of the Grand Lodge, but this is incorrect. In other words, a Master Mason is as "high" as a 33d degree. All appendent bodies of Masonry (such as the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, the C.B.C.S., the A.M.D., the Royal Order of Scotland, etc.) are subordinate to the Grand Lodge, and only attempt to explain the teachings of the three Craft degrees.
Joseph and Sidney had all the "Masonry" they needed to make them as "high" as any Mason living.
Another LDS Mason also informed me that the Master Mason degree actually is the highest level that a Mason may attain, even if it could be obtained after such a brief involvement in Masonry. This person notes that while "there are 29 more degrees after the Master Mason degree in the Scottish Rite, . . . those degrees and the Scottish Rite itself are appendent orders and nothing more. One may become a Master Mason and not chose to participate in either the Scottish Rite or the York Rite and never feel slighted, since those orders, again, or only appendent in designation.")
I appreciate the correction. Achieving the rank of Master may actually have been as high as Joseph could go, but it still does not make Joseph a highly experienced, lifelong Mason. His advancement from outsider to Master began and ended in just three days.
As E. Cecil McGavin explains in Mormonism and Masonry (Bookcraft Publishers, Salt Lake City, 1956, p. 66):
"The Prophet was so busy with Church matters that he never took an active part in lodge work. It seems from the meager records that are extant, that Joseph Smith attended as many meetings on those two days as he did during the rest of his lifetime [about 6 total]. Initiated in haste and hurriedly promoted through three degrees, he learned scarcely nothing about the secret practices and elaborate ritual of the Masons. In the months that followed, he left the lodge work in the hands of others, never attending more than three subsequent meetings and never receiving a higher degree. . . .
"On the third day of the protracted meeting the Grand master was kept busy instructing the lodge, yet Joseph Smith did not attend a single meeting of the fraternity that day. It was not his plan to neglect Church business in order to promote the lodge. The morning of March 17 , he attended a meeting of the high council. . . . Later on that historic day, he organized the Relief Society. From the moment, he never took an active part in Masonry."
Some critics say that Joseph made mention of ranks and degrees when he organized the Relief Society that day. Perhaps he did and perhaps he was impressed with the organization of Masonry. But the Relief Society organization (the LDS women's organization, now said to be the largest and oldest continually operating women's organization in the world) does not display obvious Masonic themes, in my opinion, and certainly has nothing secret or even very symbolic about it. From the beginning, it has been a public organization aimed to foster charity, service, education, and Christlike living.
Several months later, we learn that Joseph was still a novice. In writing about the circumstances of Joseph's remarkable prophecy about the Saints going to the Rocky Mountains, B.H. Roberts indirectly reveals that Joseph had not become much of a leader in Masonry (B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol. 2, Ch. 51, p.181 - p.182):
On the 6th of August, 1842, with quite a number of his brethren, he [Joseph Smith] crossed the Mississippi river to the town of Montrose, to be present at the installation of the Masonic Lodge of the Rising Sun. A block schoolhouse had been prepared with shade in front, under which was a barrel of ice water, Judge James Adams was the highest Masonic authority in the state of Illinois, and had been sent there to organize this lodge. He [Judge Adams] and Hyrum Smith, being high Masons, went into the house to perform some ceremonies which the others were not entitled to witness. These, including Joseph Smith, remained under the bowery. Joseph, as he was tasting the cold water, warned the brethren not to be too free with it. With the tumbler still in his hand he prophesied that the saints would yet go to the Rocky Mountains; and, said he, this water tastes much like that of the crystal streams that are running from the snow-capped mountains. . . . [The rest of this prophecy is given on the Prophecies of Joseph Smith page].
There is no evidence that anyone revealed secrets of Masonry to Joseph Smith prior to his initiation in 1842. Such a breach of secrecy would have been grounds for expulsion from Masonry. In fact, it appears that Joseph joined the Masons to learn about ancient things that he did not yet know. Franklin D. Richards said that "Joseph, the Prophet, was aware that there were some things about Masonry which had come down from the beginning and he desired to know what they were, hence the lodge" (as cited by Brown, pp. 122-123).
Joseph's limited and late involvement with Masonry does not hinder some critics from finding strong Masonic influence in things revealed through Joseph Smith long before he became a Mason. Sidney Rigdon is often cited as a possible source of Masonic influence on Joseph, but he also became a Mason in the 1840s, too late to pass on any Mason lore to young Joseph (see Thomas J. Gregory, "Sidney Rigdon: Post Nauvoo," BYU Studies, Vol. 21, Winter 1981, p. 59, as cited by Hamblin, Peterson and Mitton in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1994). However, Heber C. Kimball, an early apostle, joined the Masons in 1825 before the Church was founded. Joseph's brother, Hyrum, joined the Mount Moriah Lodge No. 112 in Palmyra, New York in the 1820s (Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer, Univ. of Illinois Press, Urbana, Illinois, 1986, p. 83). In the 1840s, Masonry became fairly popular among the members of the Church. A Masonic lodge was organized in Nauvoo in March of 1842 by Abraham Jonas, a Jewish Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Illinois (Kimball, p. 84). The lodges in the Nauvoo area soon had 1,492 members, including the First Presidency and most Apostles. The Mormon Masons were criticized for being unorthodox and allowing most anybody to join, appearing to a "degree mill." Why the interest? Perhaps because of the similarities they saw between restored teachings and the ancient remnants in Masonry. Heber C. Kimball expressed his feelings on this issue in a letter to Parley P. Pratt on June 17, 1842:
We have received some precious things through the Prophet on the priesthood that would cause your soul to rejoice. I can not give them to you on paper for they are not to be written. So you must come and get them for your self. We have organized a lodge here of Masons since we obtained a charter. That was in March. Since that there was near two hundred been made masons. Br. Joseph and Sidney [Rigdon] was the first that was received into the lodge. All of the twelve apostles have become members except Orson Pratt. He hangs back. He will wake up soon, there is a similarity of priesthood in Masonry. Bro. Joseph says Masonry was taken from priesthood but has become degenerated. But many things are perfect." (quoted in Kimball, p. 85)
Later in 1858, he said, "We have the true Masonry. The Masonry of today is received from the apostasy which took place in the days of Solomon and David. They have now and then a thing that is correct, but we have the real thing" (Kimball, p. 85).
Based on the quotes given immediately above, Heber C. Kimball's experience in Masonry seems to have helped him to appreciate the temple ceremony rather than raise doubts about Joseph's inspiration and integrity. He did not see the temple as something that the Joseph the novice had stolen from Masonry, but as a divine restoration from God.
Charles Charvatt, who was acquainted with Joseph in Nauvoo, is quoted as saying that "there were some signs and tokens with their meanings and significance which we [Freemasons] did not have. Joseph restored them and explained them to us" (Manuscripts of Samuel C. Young, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, as cited by Matthew B. Brown, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1998, p. 130). Likewise, James Cummings, a Mason who was present when Joseph was initiated, is quoted as saying that "the Prophet explained many things about the rites that even Masons do not pretend to understand but which he made most clear and beautiful" (Horace H. Cummings, "True Stories from My Journal," Juvenile Instructor, Vol. 64, No. 8, Aug. 1929, p. 441, as cited by Brown, p. 130). Joseph was seen as a restorer, not a plagiarizer, and obviously had more to offer than could be derived from Masonry alone.
Of course, one could argue that faithful Latter-day Saints like Heber C. Kimball would strive to interpret Joseph's actions favorably. What about LDS Masons who later fell away from the Church or became enemies to Joseph? There were several. Importantly, they, too, did not suggest that the temple was plagiarized, even though they attacked the Church on many other issues. A review of such cases in offered by E.C. McGavin in Mormonism and Masonry, 1956, pp. 140-143.
One prominent LDS Mason who was familiar with the Temple and then later rebelled against the Church was John C. Bennett. (As with several other bitter anti-Mormon critics who were once LDS, he had been excommunicated for adultery.) Bennett was also expelled from the Masonic lodge and there many public notices to keep him out of Masonry (McGavin, p. 140). Bennett turned against the Church and said much against Joseph, but never suggested that the Temple was plagiarized from Masonry. In one pamphlet, he did write about the Temple and called it the "Order Lodge" (perhaps after the United Order system of consecration) and offered drawings showing the appearance of rooms and the long robes worn by people in the Temple. He spoke of "mysterious rites" that were claimed to from "a special revelation from heaven," and said that only the elite could go in and that there was an oath of secrecy. He described some of the ceremonies, but did not suggest that Joseph borrowed from Masonry. If he could have made an argument out of Masonry and the LDS temple to discredit Joseph Smith, he probably would have done so.
Likewise, Increase Van Deusen wrote the anti-LDS publication, Spiritual Delusions in 1847, wherein he discussed temple ceremonies at length (60 pages), but never referenced Masonry. He was a Mason, but did not argue that the LDS temple was based on Masonry.
George W. Harris was another Mason who became an LDS leader and later rejected the Church, as did his wife. Neither ever accused Joseph of having used Masonry to create LDS temple ceremonies. Harris did write against the Church and spoke of the signs and tokens of the temple, but said they were "peculiar to this secret organization" (the temple).
An entry in the Nauvoo journal of Joseph Fielding seems to summarize the attitude of many LDS members about the relationship between the Temple and Masonry:
Many have joined the Masonic Institution this seems to have been a Stepping Stone or Preparation for something else, the true Origin of Masonry, this I have also seen and rejoice in it....
(As cited by Andrew F. Ehat, "'They Might Have Known That He Was Not a Fallen Prophet' - The Nauvoo Journal of Joseph Fielding," BYU Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2, Winter 1979, pp. 133-166, citation on p. 145.)
What about non-LDS Masons? Many Masons in Illinois were suspicious of the Latter-day Saints and opposed LDS involvement in Masonry. Indeed, there was significant conflict between non-LDS Masons and the LDS Masons, and many non-LDS folks were outraged that Grandmaster Jonas had allowed the vile Mormons into Masonry. Surely some non-LDS Masons had heard of details of the temple ceremonies from anti-LDS critics. However, Masonic officials at the time of the controversy surrounding Mormons and the Nauvoo Lodge did not complain that Joseph had stolen or misappropriated secret rites from Masonry (McGavin, pp. 140-141). Those false charges only came much later.
Please remember that when Joseph taught other LDS men about the Temple and the Endowment - before he ever became a Mason - some of those men included active Masons. If he then borrowed from Masonry to create the Endowment or other ceremonies, surely those who knew Masonry would have objected. Those who later did leave the Church surely would have announced the theft to the world. However, "the men who knew Masonry best were the ones who realized the true source of [Joseph's] wisdom" (McGavin, p. 135).
In our day, there are some Mormons who are Masons. I've heard from several of them and they affirm that the relationships do not explain the LDS temple ceremony. Some think he borrowed various elements, but there is not consensus on how much was borrowed. Here, for example, is one comment from D. Charles Pyle, a LDS member with extensive expertise in Masonry, from correspondence in Jan. 2005:
Whether Masonry formed the impetus of revelation concerning the origins of the temple ceremony is open to question, in my view. I know that there is a tendency on the part of some to look for similarities in places where they may not be. For instance, one "high-ranking" Mormon Mason I know is of the opinion that Joseph Smith got the idea of prayer circles from the Most Excellent Master Degree and that the use of a veil came from Royal Arch Masonry. But, not only was Joseph Smith NEVER a Royal Arch Mason and he NEVER actually saw or participated either Chapter Degree, Royal Arch Masonry in America uses four veils, blue, purple, scarlet, and white, and none of these ever existed in the form and usage of Mormon temple veils, so far as I could tell.
The "prayer circle" of the Most Excellent Master Degree is nothing like that found in the temple, and is not referred to as the true order of prayer. [He then refers to details of the prayer circle that are profoundly absent in Masonry.] In addition, those who adhere to such a theory of origins are hard pressed to show where Joseph Smith would have adapted such an idea or where Joseph Smith would have had his brother, Hyrum, or his father, betray their obligations as Royal Arch Masons to tell Joseph Smith anything relative to these Degrees. And, if he had been aware of these, why did not he use this information much earlier, such as in Kirtland or Far West? Even if he had went on open exposures of the ritual that were published by his time, such as Morgan, these were not enough of use to him to formulate these portions of the temple ceremony.
LDS people familiar with Masonry in Joseph's day and ours don't see how Masonry could account for the LDS Temple. An accurate knowledge of Masonry will not devastate a Latter-day Saint's belief in Joseph Smith as a true prophet of God.
Most LDS people that I know who are familiar with Masonry and the Temple can't accept the theory that Masonry was the source of Temple ceremonies, in spite of some common elements. For example, I recently received the following e-mail, used with permission, from a Latter-day Saint who joined the Masons:
Almost immediately upon becoming an Apprentice people in the Lodge began (not all the people, a few actually) telling me that Joseph Smith stole Masonic tradition, etc. As I passed from Apprentice, to Fellowcraft, to Master Mason, I kept expecting to see these great consistencies between Lodge and the Temple. Finally one evening when the fellow who was usually the most annoying approached me . . . and once again started in on me about Joseph and Masonic tradition I told him that there [were] very [few] significant similarities between the two ceremonies and that there really was little to be talking about on the subject, he got angry, basically called me a liar, and walked away. I guess the crux of all this is I am still trying to figure out what important information Joseph stole, or used. There are likenesses - so what?
Do several common elements or "likenesses" in ceremonies really imply plagiarism or derivation? What can we infer when common elements are present? A study of comparative religion (e.g., the wonderful works of Mircea Eliade) shows that many themes and symbols have been around for a long time. I suspect that part of the explanation is that many truths were revealed anciently, beginning at the time of Adam, and forms of those truths were handed down and corrupted through the ages, with periodic times of restitution and renewal. We must be cautious, therefore, in claiming one culture or religion as the source for another with similar concepts, when both may have common ancient roots. This is true of Masonry and Mormonism. Both claim to have ancient roots, with the latter claiming to be a divine restoration of what once existed among the early Christians and the early prophets of old. Critics often look to Masonry or other modern sources for things found in LDS doctrine, even when a much more plausible and ancient source is obviously the Bible. This is an important point which calls for several examples.
An example of errant claims of Masonic origins is found in a book by Professor John L. Brooke, The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), which is reviewed by Hamblin, Peterson and Mitton in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1994, pp. 3-58. In many cases, Brooke claims to find a common element between the two systems, and concludes that Masonry is the source of LDS practice, while overlooking obvious Biblical origins. On page 101, for example, Brooke writes: "In words replicated in Mormon doctrine, the high priest in the Royal Arch [Masonry] was to be 'a priest forever after the order of Melchizedec.'" What Brooke fails to disclose is that Hebrews 5:6 is the obvious source for this very phrase. Later in the book, it is clear that Brooke is aware of Hebrews as the source for the Masonic material (p. 194), but he still claims that Mormons took the idea from Masonry. It looks like a deliberately misleading argument.
In the same manner, Brooke says that our "baptism for the dead [is based on] Spiritualist doctrine" (p. 28) and on the "radical heritage" of "the German pietist mystics at Ephrata" (p. 243). He makes no reference to an obvious Biblical source for the practice in 1 Corinthians 15:29.
Brooke also claims Masonic influence on Joseph while he translated the Book of Mormon, nearly fifteen years before he became a Mason. Brooke looks to Sidney Rigdon as the source of Masonic influence in the Book of Mormon, but he did not become a Mason until the 1840s, as noted above. According to Hamblin et al., p.52:
Professor Brooke also notes that a John Rigdon and a Thomas Rigdon were Masons in 1829, but fails to demonstrate that these Rigdons had any relationship, beyond name, to Sidney. And Brooke indulges in another ante hoc fallacy by claiming that the Mormon temple ceremony could have been influenced at its origin by "the European Lodges of Adoption" (p. 250), despite the fact that "the Rite of Adoption . . . has never been introduced into America." [Albert Mackey, An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry (Chicago: Masonic History Co., 1921), 1:29. Brooke cites Mackey as the source for his information on the Lodge of Adoption (388 n. 45), but, for some reason, fails to inform his readers that this lodge, which supposedly influenced the LDS temple endowment, did not exist in the United States in Joseph's day. Elsewhere Brooke holds that Mormon ritual relationships are with "American Freemasonry" (p. 236).] (A failed attempt was first made in 1855.). . . .
Brooke sees significance in the fact that "the first Masonic degree, the Entered Apprentice, included a recitation of the first three verses of the Creation Story in Genesis" (p. 249), which he sees as a "very specific parallel [to] the ritual drama of Creation and the Fall from the Garden of Eden" (p. 249) in the LDS temple ceremony. Yet the significance of this brief citation from Genesis diminishes dramatically when we note that ten pages from Webb's Freemason's Monitor include lengthy quotes from Exodus (pp. 147, 150, 153), 2 Chronicles (p. 145), Psalms (pp. 131-32, 147-48), 2 Thessalonians (p. 140), Haggai (p. 151), Zechariah (p. 152) John (p. 153), Deuteronomy (p. 153), Numbers (p. 154), Hebrews (p. 154), and Amos (p. 154) in relation to Masonic ceremonies. Considering the frequent use of quotations from the Bible in connection with early Masonic ceremonies, why should we presume that Joseph was decisively influenced in the development of the LDS temple creation drama by three verses from Genesis in a Masonic manual, verses which he had already read many times in the Bible? The Masonic rites as a whole have absolutely nothing to do with the preexistence, the creation, or the Garden of Eden.
Brooke's "overwhelming evidence" that the temple ceremonies are derived from Masonry (p. 249) is limited to only a few motifs, which actually differ in meaning relative to their claimed Masonic counterparts. If the Temple ceremonies had more than a superficial and occasional resemblance to Masonry, then we would have expected those early Mormons who knew Masonry well to have been disturbed by the parallels. Especially from those who left and turned against the Church, we would have expected attacks stating that Joseph obviously plagiarized the ceremonies he claimed to have been given by revelation. I am unaware of any such attacks having been made. Those who knew Masonry well could see that there may have been some common roots, but the idea that the Temple was derived from Masonry simply doesn't stand up to inspection. The roots are more clearly in Christianity and the Gospel rather than in Masonry.
Hamblin et al. expound on the strong differences between Masonry and LDS Temple practice (pp. 54-55):
Neither Brooke's nor any other environmentalist explanation has ever attempted to account for the vast number of striking differences between Mormon ideas and symbolism and those of the Masons. For example, Webb's Freemason's Monitor - a source Brooke claims influenced Joseph (pp. 157, 365 n. 26) . . . mentions many ideas and symbols that have absolutely no parallel in Mormonism. Where in Mormonism will we find the symbolic significance of the Royal Arch (pp. 201-2); Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian architectural styles (pp. 57-59); the five senses (pp. 60-65); the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences (pp. 67-69); a sword pointing to a naked heart (p. 79); the anchor (p. 79); the forty-seventh problem of Euclid (pp. 79-80); the hour-glass (p. 80); scythe (pp. 80-81); chisel and mallet (p. 85); lodge, Grand Master, and Deputy Grand Master (p. 92); the Junior Warden (p. 107); Orders of Knighthood (p. 165); Knights of the Red Cross (p. 166); Knights Templar and Knights of Malta (pp. 179-95); the Knights of Calatrava (p. 196); and the Knights of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (p. 196)? If Joseph really borrowed his ideas from Masonry, why are the similarities limited to only a few items, many of which have known parallels to more ancient mysteries? [In general, see Truman G. Madsen, ed., The Temple in Antiquity: Ancient Records and Modern Perspectives (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1984); Hugh W. Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment ((Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975); idem., Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1992); Donald W. Parry, ed., Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1994).
Brooke also alleges that George Oliver's The Antiquities of Freemasonry was a source for the Temple and the Book of Abraham. But Oliver relies on numerous ancient sources which have no manifestation at all in Joseph's works (Herodotus, Berosus, Ammianus Marcellinus, Rabbi Gedaliah ben Joseph, Jamblichus, Palladius, Augustine, etc.) If the Book of Abraham is derived from Oliver's work, Hamblin et al. properly ask "why do we find no reference to the Egyptian places, people, or gods cited by Oliver, such as Thoth, Horus, Hermes, Amenophis, Tanis, Thusimares, Janias, and even Trismegistus himself?" (p. 55). Hamblin et al. offer this concluding thought (p.56):
What, then, is the significance of the alleged similarities between Masonry and LDS doctrine and the temple endowment? In reality, the fact that early Latter-day Saints might have borrowed and transformed a few symbols from the Masons, even were it conceded, would no more explain Mormon origins or the temple endowment than the fact that early Christians borrowed the crux ansata from the pagan Egyptian ankh explains the origins of early Christianity. . . . On the contrary, there is a large body of work which indicates that the closest analogues are to the rituals and esoteric doctrines of early Christianity and Judaism in the eastern Mediterranean in the first two or three centuries before and after Christ. [See, for instance, besides the items mentioned in footnote 95, Keith E. Norman, "Deification: The Content of Athanasian Soteriology" (Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1980); idem., "Divinization: The Forgotten Teaching of Early Christianity," Sunstone 1 (Winter 1975): 14-19. Numerous other parallels are covered in cursory fashion, with considerable bibliography, in Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1992).]
Melvin J. Ballard also spoke about the alleged Masonic connection in a General Conference address in 1913 (Conference Report, October 1913, p.126):
When the Prophet Joseph declared that Elijah delivered to him the keys of the salvation of the living and the dead he asserted a wonderful truth. Was Elijah possessed of the same knowledge and intelligence he had while he dwelt upon the earth? It has been asserted by some that the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained from masonry some or most all of the ceremonies had by us in our temples. Recently I have had an opportunity to investigate most thoroughly the history and connection of the membership of the Church with masonry, when certain lodges were organized in the city of Nauvoo and other places; and I satisfied myself, and without giving you the detailed evidence, I assert to you that the evidence given by masons themselves proves conclusively that Joseph Smith never knew the first thing of masonry until years after he had received the visit of Elijah, and had delivered to men the keys of the holy priesthood, and the ceremonies and ordinances had by us in these sacred temples, and had given the endowments to men long before he knew the first thing pertaining to the ordinances and the ceremonies of masonry. What is masonry? Why, a fragment of the old truth coming down perhaps from Solomon's temple of ancient days, and but a fragment, as Christianity is but a fragment of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was only to be had and enjoyed by those who hold the holy priesthood. The prophet Elijah revealed these truths; he possessed them anciently and he gave them in their perfectness, and simplicity and purity to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
When critics point to common elements between the Temple and Masonry, they often allege that common ancient origins cannot be the source because Masonry is said to be a recent development. For example, Edward Ashment claims that the origins of Masonry are known to be medieval Europe, not the ancient temple of Solomon ("The LDS Temple Ceremony: Historical Origins and Religious Value," Dialogue, Vol. 27, No. 3, 1994, pp. 289-298, as cited by Matthew B. Brown, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1998, pp. 97-131). But this notion has long been discredited. The best scholars of Masonry are still unable to identify its origins (see John Hamil, The Craft: A History of English Freemasonry, Wellingborough, England: Crucible, 1986, pp. 15, 24, as cited by Brown, p. 114; and Fred L. Pick and G. Norman Knight, The Pocket History of Freemasonry, rev. ed., London, Muller, 1977, p. 13, as cited by Brown, p. 114). But even identifying the origins of the organization of Masonry would do nothing to identify the sources of its ritual elements, which could easily be more ancient that the organization. In fact, it appears that Masonic rites and symbols were borrowed from previously existing symbols. It is highly unjustified to say that such symbols and rites date no earlier than the Medieval Era, especially when many of them can be found in much more ancient sources such as the Bible and ancient Egyptian scrolls (including Facsimile No. 2 in the Book of Abraham, where two important Masonic symbols - the compass and the square - are readily visible in the lower right hand portion of the Facsimile).
A former BYU student, David John Buerger, recently published a book, The Mysteries of Godliness (Smith Research Associates, San Francisco, 1994, 234 pages) which deals with LDS temple practices. This book, lent to me recently by a friend troubled by its claims, exposes much that is meant to be sacred - something enemies of the Church have been doing for years. Buerger does so with slightly more taste than many critics, but is most disappointing in his treatment. A good review of his book is found in the work of Matthew B. Brown, "Of Your Own Selves Shall Men Arise," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1998, pp. 97-131.
Blissfully ignoring the huge body of work tying the LDS temple to ancient rituals and religion, Buerger mentions but quickly sets aside such possibilities, urging us instead to look for contemporaneous sources for the LDS Temple (pp. 41-43). This immediately leads to a discussion of Masonry. The possibility of Masonry itself having ancient roots is dismissed by alleging that historians of Masonry agree that its roots cannot be traced beyond the eighteenth century (pp. 45-46) - a weak argument, for scholars simply do not know when Masonry originated.
Like other critics of the Mormon temple ceremony, Buerger is too eager to fit the evidence into a Masonic mold. Since many LDS Temple concepts were already being revealed and mentioned prior to Joseph's introduction to Masonry in 1842, Buerger wishes to find evidence of Masonic influence on Joseph at an earlier date. He offers an 1835 quote from Joseph as evidence that Joseph was already using Masonic lingo (p. 48):
One quotation in the History of the Church records Smith in 1835 using Masonic terms to condemn the "abominations" of Protestants and praying that his "well fitted" comments "may be like a nail in a sure place, driven by the master of assemblies."
Buerger does not offer any documentation that such language is derived from Masonry. In fact, his argument is easily shattered when one realizes that Joseph is quoting the Bible, not some little known Masonic text. Isaiah 22:23 reads:"And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house." Ecclesiastes 12:11 says, "The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd."
Buerger's quote seems to suggest that Joseph's reference to "well fitted" comments might be a reference to the fitting of stones of Masons. Had he given the actual quote from Joseph, his suggestion of Masonic overtones would have been much weaker. If anything, Joseph is using the language of tailors rather than of Masons, in addition to quoting the King James Bible. Here is Joseph's statement from History of the Church, Vol.2, p. 346:
I had liberty in speaking. Some Presbyterians were present, as I afterwards learned; and I expect that some of my sayings sat like a garment that was well fitted, as I exposed their abominations in the language of the scriptures; and I pray God that it may be like a nail in a sure place, driven by the master of assemblies.
What Buerger offers as evidence of early Masonic influence in Joseph's language is entirely bogus.
One of Buerger's best apparent evidences for Masonic ties to the Temple is a 1911 First Presidency statement that he takes as an admission of his point. The statement reads: "Because of their Masonic characters, the ceremonies of the temple are sacred and not for the public" (James R. Clark, ed., Messages of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1970, Vol. 4, p. 250, as cited by Brown, pp. 108-109). Here, the word "Masonic" can be taken as synonymous with "secret" - and the word "masonic" has been used in that sense a number of times, as presented in an extensive footnote by Brown (pp. 108-109). Thus, Joseph Smith said "The Secret of Masonry is to keep a secret" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 329). Websters Third New International Dictionary of the English Language defines "masonic" as "suggestive of or resembling Freemasons or Freemasonry (as in a display of fraternal spirit or secrecy)." The First Presidency quotation above appears to use the word "masonic" also in the sense of secrecy. It is unreasonable to interpret the 1911 statement as some admission of non-divine origins for the LDS Temple or as an acceptance of Masonry as one of the sources of the Temple.
Those reading Buerger must beware of other deficiencies in the work (let alone his insulting and grossly inappropriate treatment of that which is sacred to the LDS faith). For one thing, he seems to rely most heavily on anti-Mormon books, even ludicrous ones, citing them heavily throughout the text. He also perpetuates a variety of myths, including the idea that the origins of Masonry are known and recent, and the old myth that Brigham Young was a Mason before joining the Church. Minutes from the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge show that Brigham Young was not initiated as a Mason until 1842 - and Buerger supposedly read these minutes (See Brown, p. 110). Buerger also claims that the Kirtland Temple followed Masonic patterns in its architecture, repeating a poorly justified claim once made by Reed Durham. (See Brown, p. 111, for a more detailed discussion.)
Buerger also claims that the LDS Temple had an oath of vengeance beginning with the Nauvoo Temple that was required of all initiates (p. 134). Buerger claims that the desires of vengeance that some Mormons felt after the murder of their Prophet, following years of persecution, were "institutionalized in the temple rites." (p. 135) Buerger suggests that Saints were encouraged to take vengeance and claims that the negative publicity from the 1904 Smoot Hearings (Congressional hearings over the seating of a Mormon Senator from Utah) forced the Church to de-emphasize the oath in the Endowment, apparently changing it from an oath of vengeance to just a prayer rather than an oath. By no later than 1912, according to Buerger, it had become a simple prayer that God, not humans, would avenge the martyrs. But during the Smoot Hearings around 1904, apostate Mormons revealed the details of the temple ceremony and the alleged oath, which turns out to be an oath that Mormons would PRAY to God to avenge the blood of the slain prophets. This is recorded in U.S. Senate Document 486 (59th Congress, 1st Session), Proceedings Before the Committee on Privileges and Elections of the United States Senate in the Matter of the Protests Against the Right of Hon. Reed Smoot, a Senator from the State of Utah, to hold his Seat, 4 vols.[+1 vol. index] (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1906). Consider the contrast between appealing to God for divine vengeance against murderers versus demanding Mormons take an oath to carry out acts of violent vengeance. In light of what the alleged oath of vengeance appears to have been, at least according to hostile testimony from apostates, I think there is little basis for claiming that the Church institutionalized acts of violence. The Saints were generally quite good at avoiding the very thing that Buerger says was fomented in the Temple. (The most terrible exception from later in Utah being the Mountain Meadows Massacre, where a significant group of Saints attacked and wiped out a wagon train of people from Missouri who, according to inaccurate rumors, were believed by some to include mobbers who had persecuted Mormons in Missouri. But the terrible crime at Mountain Meadows was done contrary to the teachings and orders of Brigham Young and was a grotesque violation of Church principles, not an expression of Church teachings.) In the midst of ongoing persecution, there was precious little vengeance against our enemies throughout our years of persecution, and almost nothing done, even by the weakest of Saints, after the murder of Joseph. Institutionalized vengeance? I can't buy that.
The requirement to pray to God to avenge slain prophets was apparently removed in 1927. Even so, there is a biblical basis for the concept of praying for God to avenge the blood of the prophets. In Revelation 6:9-10, "the souls of them that were slain for the word of God" cry unto the Lord, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on earth?" (Rev 6:10).
2004 Update: FARMS has a useful review of Buerger's book: "The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship" by Matthew Brown, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1998, pp. 97-131.
An article by Lance S. Owens, "Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection," Dialogue Vol. 27, No. 3 (1994), pages 117-94, was recently reviewed by William Hamblin in "'Everything Is Everything': Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah?", FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1996, pp. 251-325, which is available online. The following excerpt is from pages 286-289:
For a correct understanding of the relationship between Joseph Smith and Freemasonry, it is vital first to clearly distinguish between the various types of Freemasonry, especially between the esoteric and nonesoteric forms. Next, we must establish when and where the different types of Freemasonry existed, and what ideas were universal or unique to a particular branch. Finally, it is important to identify which types of Freemasonry were accessible to Joseph Smith, and when. 102
With this in mind, Owens's assertion that Joseph had an "almost twenty-year association with Masons" (p. 169) is highly misleading in light of the fact that Joseph himself was a Mason for only the last two years of his life.103 The fact that Hyrum Smith became a Mason in the 1820s tells us nothing about Joseph's knowledge of, or attitudes about, Freemasonry, beyond the bare proposition that he knew it existed and was probably not ill-disposed to the movement.104
Owens is completely uncritical in his assertions about the potential of Freemasonry to transmit esoteric knowledge to Joseph. While providing no evidence, he asserts that Albert Pike's 1871 "views [on the esoteric background of Freemasonry] reflected lore already established in Masonry during the [Nauvoo] period" (p. 168). If this is so he should demonstrate it with evidence from the early 1840s rather than 1871. Following Michael Homer, Owens asserts that "the Scottish Rite developed by [the same Albert] Pike was an evolution of the eighteenth-century French Masonic Rite de Perfection, which in several degrees was influenced by Kabbalah" (p. 168).105 This is an intriguing claim, since "the actual existence of this Rite [of Perfection] has been placed in doubt." The evidence for the supposed Rite de Perfection consists of "a "traditional' list [of grades] which was published by Masonic writers (maçonnologues) of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries."106 We are thus expected to believe that Joseph was influenced by a form of Masonry that apparently did not even exist! But even if Pike in the late nineteenth century was copying a real -- as opposed to mythological -- French Masonic rite of the eighteenth century, how can Pike's late nineteenth-century esoteric version of Freemasonry possibly have influenced Joseph Smith?
In a similar ante hoc claim, Homer also appeals to the Rite of Adoption as a possible source of influence on Joseph Smith.107 John Brooke has made a similar argument, to which we have responded elsewhere:Brooke indulges in another ante hoc fallacy by claiming that the Mormon temple ceremony could have been influenced at its origin by "the European Lodges of Adoption," despite the fact that "the Rite of Adoption . . . has never been introduced into America." (A failed attempt was first made in 1855.)108
Owens has wisely avoided explicitly claiming Adoptive Masonry as a possible antecedent for celestial marriage, hinting instead that plural marriage was introduced into Mormonism under the influence of Cagliostro's "Egyptian" Masonic rites, because Cagliostro introduced women -- not polygamy -- into his organization (p. 153). This avoids the appearance of anachronism, but not the reality, since Cagliostro's "Egyptian" Masonry was itself Adoptive. Thus Cagliostro's "Egyptian" Masonry was also not found in the contemporary United States, and indeed had been suppressed in Europe shortly after the fall of Napoleon, two decades before Joseph became a Mason!109 How Joseph could have been influenced by esoteric French or Italian Masonic orders, thousands of miles away, which did not exist when Joseph was initiated, remains a mystery.110
Unfortunately for Owens's thesis, Joseph was initiated into one of the least esoteric systems of Freemasonry, the York rite.111 Owens tacitly recognizes that Joseph's direct contacts with Freemasonry were insufficient to account for its alleged hermetic influence. He therefore asserts that "[John C.] Bennett may very well have brought something more than [York] Blue Lodge Masonry to Nauvoo" (p. 172), and that "the Masonry [Bennett] brought to Nauvoo had several unusual occult aspects" (p. 170). Does Owens provide any evidence for these assertions? Simply a further assertion that "Bennett's interests, including religion, medicine, the military, and Masonry, suggest a person inclined towards investigating the more esoteric aspects of Masonry" (p. 170). Just why interest in religion, medicine, and the military suggests an inclination toward esotericism is never explained.
For an intelligent discussion of these issues to be undertaken we need specific evidence of which Masonic rites were used in Nauvoo, when, by whom, what the rites contained, and what lore they claimed. Because some Masonic rite, somewhere in Europe, in a non-English context, decades before or after Joseph was born, had some esoteric content, we cannot therefore conclude that Joseph Smith in Nauvoo in 1842 was influenced by these ideas. Owens's thesis requires us to believe that Joseph was influenced by forms of Freemasonry that did not exist in the United States, that had ceased to exist before his birth, that developed only after his death, or -- as in the case of the Rite de Perfection -- that probably didn't even exist at all.
References Cited by Hamblin
102 Michael W. Homer, "'Similarity of Priesthood in Masonry': The Relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism," Dialogue 27/3 (1994): 1-116, is useful and provides helpful bibliography, but frequently fails to follow these methodological imperatives.
103 See, further, the comments in William J. Hamblin, Daniel C. Peterson, and George L. Mitton, "Mormon in the Fiery Furnace: or Loftes Tryk Goes to Cambridge," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/2 (1994): 52-58 [the full article spans pages 3-58].
104 Witness the endless confusion and contradiction on the issue of the so-called "Gadianton Masons." Many critics of the Book of Mormon agree that the Gadiantons are just Masons in disguise, but no one can come up with a coherent explanation of why Joseph -- if he authored the book -- never used the Book of Mormon as a Masonic exposé. On the failure of the "Gadianton Mason" theory, see Daniel C. Peterson, "Notes on "Gadianton Masonry,'" in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin (Salt Lake City: Deseret Books and FARMS, 1990), 174-224.
105 Owens failed to provide a reference to his citation of Homer (p. 168 n. 108); see Homer, "Similarity of Priesthood in Masonry," 94.
106 Daniel Ligou, ed., Dictionnaire de la Franc-Maçonnerie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1987), 1020.
107 Homer, "Similarity of Masonry," discusses Adoptive Masonry on 29, 40, 94.
108 Hamblin, Peterson, and Mitton, "Mormon in the Fiery Furnace," 52; cf. Albert Mackey, An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry (Chicago: Masonic History, 1921), 1:29.
109 After a decade of preliminary attempts, the Rite of Egypt (Rite de Misraim) was founded by Cagliostro in Venice in 1788 and was introduced in France after 1810, where it was linked with anti-Royalist Bonapartist circles. As such, it was suppressed in 1820 and briefly revived between 1838 and 1841. Ligou, Dictionnaire de la Franc-Maçonnerie, 13, 178-81, 1018-19. On Cagliostro, see ibid., 176-84, and Massimo Introvigne, "Arcana Arcanorum: Cagliostro's Legacy in Contemporary Magical Movements," Syzygy: Journal of Alternative Religion and Culture 1 (Spring/Summer 1992): 117-35.
110 It is possible that late eighteenth-century English Freemasons were first influenced by developments on the Continent, then either translated or orally transmitted this lore to English Masons, who then somehow passed it on to American frontier Masons in the mid-nineteenth century. If Owens wishes to maintain such a causal development, he needs to demonstrate it with contemporary primary sources, not simply assert it.
111 Also known as Blue Lodge. Owens himself acknowledges that the basic three degrees of the York rite into which Joseph was initiated had few "layerings of esoteric accretions" (p. 169).
To me, the LDS Temple is Biblical, noble, inspired, and well rooted in ancient revealed temple practices in a way that points to divine restoration as its source. Some common elements to Masonry, Catholic rituals, and other systems are due to common ancient ancestry rather than plagiarism. I deplore the lurid lies about the LDS Temple found in some anti-Mormon works like "The God Makers," and also reject the allegation that the Temple was derived from Masonry. As one familiar with the Temple, I honestly see it as an authentic, divinely revealed institution and as evidence that Joseph Smith received by revelation something that was had among the earliest Christians and ancient Jewish prophets.
Q. The Bible says the veil of the temple was torn apart when Christ died. Doesn't that mean that there is no longer a need for temples?
A. You can find some discussion of this topic at LDS.net forums. I'm not fully sure what the rending of the veil should mean. I like the idea that it represents the opening of the blessings of the Atonement to all, as well as symbolizing the sacrifice of the flesh of Christ (Heb. 10:20 equates the flesh of Christ with the veil of the temple) that also eliminates the need for the animal sacrifices that were performed in the Jewish Temple. But to argue that the teariing of the veil somehow shows that God has eliminated the need for temples altogether is quite a stretch. That interpretetation contradicts biblical statements about the importance of temples after the death of Christ. First, we find the early Christians after the death of Christ still cherished the temple and met their often (Acts 2:46). The temple was also prophesied to be an important part of the Lord's work in the "last days" before the Second Coming of the Lord and afterwards in the great Millennium (see Isaiah 2:2-4, Rev. 7:15, Malachi 3:1-3, Ezek. 37:26-27). It is the place that the Lord will return to as part of the Second Coming and the place where the saints will serve God day and night doing work in the Millennium (Rev. 7:15). So no, the value of the Temple was not ended when Christ died. It is still needed and will play an important role. Its role has changed, though, and the nature of the ordinances there has shifted from animal sacrifices done by one high priest to ordinances available to all who will come based on the completed Atonement of Christ that allows us to pass through the veil and enter the presence of God. Remember, in the past, it was only one high priest who symbolically could enter the presence of God. With the ripping of the veil, one can argue, that great blessing is now available to all who will come to the Temple and partake of the full blessings of the Atonement.
Q. I heard that the Temple used to have oaths dealing with death for breaking covenants, and that this was removed. How can this be? If the Temple comes from God, how could it be changed?
A. It's a misconception to think that every word and action of the Temple is cast in stone. It's a place of instruction where symbols and other things have been used to convey key concepts, and where the manner of teaching can be adjusted over time. The ancient-style oaths (like those of Bible times) referring to penalties for broken covenants were not essential - the concept of keeping covenants is still taught without them. There was never any teaching that the references to penalties were essential - they were instructional. There are several parts of the Temple ceremonies that could be recast into different forms or presented in different ways without loss of the revealed core.
Revelation, like scripture, is cast in the language and cultural perspective of the recipient. A revelation given to Isaiah will be written much differently than a similar one given to Abraham or Paul. Don't confuse the form of a revelation with its origin or content. The same applies to the Temple.
As Brigham Young said, "Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father." He then made reference to "key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood," but made no mention of oaths. Thus, there are a few core elements to the Endowment which do not include the oaths. Apart from the core elements, the rest may be just means of presentation and educational tools, subject to change.
However, you should understand that ancient Jewish and Middle Eastern covenants often involved oaths associated with the concept of a severe penalty for violating the oath. This is explained in Thomas R. Valletta's article, "The Captain and the Covenant," in Alma, the Testimony of the Word (Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1992, pp. 226-227):
Oaths and "Cutting a Covenant"
The texts of both Old Testament covenants and covenant renewals and Ancient Near Eastern treaties support the notion of the serious binding nature of covenants. Considerable scholarly effort has been expended detailing the comparisons between their structural similarities (see Baltzer; McCarthy). In 1954, George E. Mendenhall compared the structure of the Sinai Covenant with that of the Hittite treaties of the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C. (p. 54). The Hittite treaties, in his estimation, have an identical structural typology with that of the biblical covenant. He also suggests that initially there was a formal oath which was "a conditional self cursing, an appeal to the gods to punish the promiser if he defaults" (p. 52). There was, according to Mendenhall, "some solemn ceremony which accompanied the oath" (p. 61). Weinfeld agrees that the covenant had to be "confirmed by an oath (eg Gen 21:22-24; 26:26-31; Deut 29:9-29; Josh 9:15-20; 2 Kgs. 11:4; Ezek 16:8; 17:13-19); which included most probably a conditional imprecation: "May thus and thus happen to me if I violate the obligation" (p. 256). "Sacrifices accompanied the oath in connection with a covenant," according to M. H. Pope, which may be the origin of the Hebrew idiom "to cut a covenant with" someone. He explains:In the sacrifices of the covenant the animals were cut in two, and one or both parties passed between the pieces (Gen. 15:10, 17). In Jeremiah 34:18 those who break the covenant with the Lord are told that they will be made like the calf which they cut in two and passed between its parts. This suggests that the oath which bound the parties to a covenant may have stipulated in the conditional curse that the violator should be treated like the sacrificial animal. (p. 576)
This imagery illuminates the divine warnings of an impending sword to come down upon a covenant-breaking Israel. For example, in Leviticus 26:25, we read: "And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy" (compare Deut 32:41; Jer 46:10). Metaphorically and historically, a covenant-breaking Israel faced the terrible prospect of a punishing sword.
Baltzer, Klaus. The Covenant Formulary, in Old Testament, Jewish, and Early Christian Writings. Trans. David E. Green. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1971.
McCarthy, Dennis J. Old Testament Covenant. Richmond, VA: Knox, 1972.
Mendenhall, G. E. "Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition." The Biblical Archaeologist (Sept 1954) 17:50-75.
Pope, M. H. "Oaths." The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. 4 vols. Ed. George A. Buttrick. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1962. 3:575-76.
Weinfeld, M. "Berith." Trans. John T. Willis. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. 4 vols. Ed. G. J. Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975. 2:253-79.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has an article, "Covenant, the New" by Archibald McCaig, which also explains that "the ancient Semitic method of making a covenant" involved a reference to death for failure to keep the covenant:
the sacrificial animals being divided, and the parties passing between the pieces, implying that they deserved death if they broke the engagement. The technical Hebrew phrase for making a covenant is "to cut a covenant."
Further insight comes from the journal Biblica has an interesting article related to this topic by Paul Sanders, "So May God Do To Me!," Vol. 85, No. 1, 2004, pp. 91-98. (The link is for a PDF file. There is also an HTML version, but if you don't have Greek and Hebrew fonts installed, some parts will not look right.) From the summary:
In the Hebrew Bible we find the self-imprecation "So may God do to me and more also!" (2 Sam 3,35, 1 Kgs 2,23, etc.). In many cases, the phrase is immediately conditioned: "So may God do to me and more also, if you will not be the commander of the army" (2 Sam 19,14). God may punish the speaker, if the latter fails his promise. Ancient Mesopotamian sources suggest that the word "So" in the Hebrew expression originally referred to a gesture in use when taking an oath: the touching of the throat.
In light of this information about ancient oaths, the early and presumably optional inclusion of symbolic penalties with oaths made in the Temple is remarkably consistent with ancient Semitic covenants. Such penalties should not be viewed as recent innovations from Masonry, but as legitimate concepts from the ancient covenant-making patterns. (See also "Simile Curses in the Ancient Near East, Old Testament, and Book of Mormon" by Mark J. Morrise.)
Q. Why would any LDS person want to join Masonry? Shouldn't we be offended by the corruption of ancient Temple rites?
A. From what I know, some see Masonry it as a good social opportunity and forum for being more involved in the community or whatever. Others are fascinated by its ancient roots and wish to understand it more deeply. But for most members, now that we have and appreciate the Temple ceremony, joining Masonry doesn't make a lot of sense, in my opinion. But in the early days of the Church, Masonry was a central social organization in American life, and many, many people joined. In fact, in Evidences and Reconciliations, John A. Widtsoe noted that one of the reasons for Joseph and other early Church members joining the Masons was the need of the Church to have friends who could help it, especially in light of all the persecutions it had received (p. 357).
I am not aware of anything genuinely evil in Masonry, and those who know it well see it as genuinely good or benign. Local leaders in the Church often quietly discourage joining, but I think the Church has no official position on it (or on hundreds of other organizations). Most of Masonry has nothing to do with the temple, and the parts that do aren't sacrilegious or harmful, as far as I can tell.
Does possible derivation from some aspects of the ancient temple make it offensive? Hugh Nibley writes that many things in our culture appear to have been derived from the ancient temple concept. It could be that drama, music, dance, and maybe even handshakes derive from the Temple. The graduation ceremonies for people finishing college have derivation, perhaps, from the ancient temple - with the use of robes, funny hats, the rite-of-passage concept, discourses and speeches, etc. The fact that there are some similarities and some common ancient roots doesn't make a graduation ceremony evil. It's just hollow and silly, perhaps, compared to the real thing.
Q. Why do LDS Temples use occult symbols?
A. Similarity in symbols does not mean similarity in meaning. The cross-like Ankh symbol was used in pagan rituals of Egypt, but that does not make the symbol of the cross something pagan (though we prefer not to use the cross to remember Christ, wishing to focus on his victory over death through the Resurrection). If I walk into a cathedral and see a cross, it would be silly for me to condemn the Catholics for promoting pagan Egyptian rites with that symbol. The same applies to temples used in the LDS Temple, such as the stars, moons, or suns on the exteriror of the Salt Lake Temple.
The use of stars, including inverted five-pointed stars on some temples like the Nauvoo Temple, is often said to be evidence that LDS Temples are tied to the occult. However, at the time the Nauvoo Temple was deisgned, the five-pointed star was not a widely established symbol for the occult, but still carried an ancient positive meaning. On this topic, please see the excellent article by Matthew Brown, "Inverted Stars On LDS Temples," originally published at FAIRLDS.org, 2002, now archived at Archive.org. See also "Temples/Inverted Stars on LDS Temples" at FAIRMormon.org. Note that the Bible uses the symbolism of heavenly bodies to describe the work of God. Specifically, the symbols of the stars, the moon, and the sun are used in describing the next life (1 Cor. 15: 40-42 and other places). Is it a shock to find the same symbols on some LDS temples, given that the temple is about preparing us for the next life? Further, in Revelation 22:16, Christ refers to himself as "the bright and morning star," and for early Latter-day Saints, the morning star symbol referred to the coming of Christ and His millennial reign--a perfectly appropriate symbol for the temple. Brown's article also shows that stars, including inverted stars, were used by early Christians as valid Christian symbols. Inverted stars did not become associated with the occult until after the time of Joseph Smith, as Brown documents. The symbol of the star--whether it has five or six points--and the pentagram can be used for good or evil purposes. The fact that Satan worshippers have given evil meanings to the star, the broken cross, the goat, the moon, or whatever does not make the symbols inherently evil.
For further illustration, a Jewish building with the inverted five-pointed star can be seen was the 1862 Congregation B'nai B'rith Temple, originally located at Temple and Broadway downtownWilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. See the photo at http://www.wilshireboulevardtemple.org/common/viewphoto.php?id=248. Also see the old Hanover Marketkirche with its inverted 5-pointed star beneath the cross. These examples are among those listed in the comments to "The Ancient Pentagram--A Christian Symbol" at TempleStudy.com. As pointed out at FAIRMormon.org, "A connection between the 'inverted pentagram' and Satan 'is almost certainly a 19th century invention by Eliphas Levi' who was a 'defrocked priest.' [The Mathematical Gazette, vol. 78, no. 483 (November 1994): 319] He did not begin publishing references to this idea until 1854, a decade after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith."
The all-seeing eye, a symbol seen in at least one old LDS Temple, is an ancient religious concept from Judaism and Christianity. I once saw a photo of it on a very old Catholic cathedral in Europe, and believe it is fairly common in Christianity and some aspects of Judaism. God sees all; His eye sees all. Yes, some secret societies with totalitarian aims may have adopted it, and may even be behind its placement on the US dollar bill, but it's another case of wicked people adopting a symbol with positive meanings. See Job 28:10: "his eye seeth every precious thing." Nothing wrong with that. And 2 Nephi 9:44 and Mosiah 27:31 refer to God's "all-searching eye."
Was Freemasonry Derived from Mormonism? - a well-documented article by Eugene Seaich. Ancient roots are shown for some of the Masonic elements that are similar to LDS temple concepts.
The LDS Temple Endowment: An Introduction - by Barry Bickmore
What Is a Temple? A Preliminary Typology by John Lundquist - a review of what scholars know about the ancient temple concept in the Middle East. Those familiar with Mormon temples and the history of the Temple in Mormonism should see extensive evidence that it is a restoration of an ancient concept that could not have simply been plagiarized from Masonry. See also "Sinai as Sanctuary and Mountain of God" - an article at FARMS that builds on the work Lundquist.
Mormonism and Early Christianity (an excellent site by Barry Bickmore)
Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices by John A. Tvedtnes at FAIRLDS.org. This offers strong evidence for the ancient nature of the Temple.
Masonry and the LDS Temple with short articles by W. John Walsh, Kenneth W. Godfrey, nnd Michael T. Griffith. This page contains information about differences between Masonry and the LDS Temple and stronger parallels to other ancient rites, including the early Christian "mysteries" or rite of initiation.
Lessons from the Elephantine Papyri Regarding Book of Mormon Names and Nephi's Temple - a page of mine which also answers the question, "Would good Hebrews in the New World have dared to build their own temple?" Ancient Jews in Egypt saw no problem with that.
The House of the Lord - information about LDS Temples at LDS.org.
Can Temple Ceremonies Change? - an article at FAIRLDS.org.
Christian Envy of the Temple by Hugh Nibley
The Early Christian Prayer Circle by Hugh W. Nibley
The Meaning of the Temple by Hugh W. Nibley
Secrecy in Ancient Christianity - An excerpt of Michael T. Griffith's book, One Lord, One Faith: Writings of the Early Christian Fathers As Evidences of the Restoration (Horizon Publishers, 1996).
Masonry and the Mormon Temple - another great Web page and book excerpt from Michael T. Griffith.
Them Sneaky Early Christians by Barry Bickmore.
Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah? - William J. Hamblin reviews a book alleging that the Kabbalah influenced Joseph Smith. Available in FARMS Review of Books, 1996, Vol. 2, pp. 251-325.
"Ask the Apologist" (Was the LDS Temple Plagiarized from Masonry?) by Greg Kearney at FAIRLDS.org.
"Can a husband and wife be together forever?" - from Mormon.org.
Covenant, Treaty, and Prophecy by E. C. Lucas. This article discusses the ancient six-part treaty concept proposed by Mendenhall and reviews some recent criticisms of Mendenhall's views.
James L. Carroll on Temples - Intelligent contributions on temples and their ancient roots by James L. Carroll. See, for example, his significant paper, An Interpreters History of the Israelite Three Room Temple Design.
LDS Temple Preparation FAQ - a page by helping those who are planning on going to the Temple. The page answers many common questions and offers helpful advice.
The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship - Matthew Brown's review of an anti-Mormon book by David Buerger.
The Nauvoo Temple - article by Lisle Brown that includes detailed information on the symbolism in this wonderful temple built by Joseph Smith.
Early Church Fathers - read the texts of early Christian writers. Lots of material that will resonate with LDS people.
FamilySearch.org -Online genealogy information. One of the greatest resources on the Web, sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Biblica Article: Example of gestures Used as a Penalty in Ancient Hebrew Oaths - a post on my blog, Mormanity.
Mormon-Temple-Ceremony.com: information on the Mormon Temple. (New site, still under construction.)
Coronation Ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II - details of the Queen's coronation, based on ancient English traditions, which include anointing the queen with oil in several places, with some interesting parallels to the Temple. One of many examples of ancient Temple-related practices that have diffused into other systems. (Thanks to Wade Englund for pointing out this page.)