Episode 152: Mormonism and Masonry part 4: Joseph Smith and Beyond

George Miller returns to finish the series on Mormons and Masonry.

Episode 152

38 comments on “Episode 152: Mormonism and Masonry part 4: Joseph Smith and Beyond”

  1. Verminpants Reply

    Yet again John Larsen, you are my homeboy!! Truly appreciate your work. Just don’t go soft on me and lick the bottom of ‘Outstanding Mormon Scholars’. Keep cussing. Remain healthily skeptical without being overly cynical!!! What you do best.

  2. Ano Reply

    George

    It seems like so many of your suppositions rest on very questionable evidence, with very little supporting evidence.

    For instance, you quote from Franklin D. Richards, to substantiate that-

     “The Masons admitted some keys of knowledge appertaining to Masonry were lost” and that “Joseph inquired of the Lord concerning the matter and He revealed to the
    Prophet true Masonry, as we have it in our temples. Owing to the
    superior knowledge Joseph had received, the Masons became jealous and
    cut off the Mormon Lodge”

    You accept his statement as the gospel truth.

    First of all, Franklin was not present with Brigham when Joseph supposedly past the endowment information on to Brigham, so Franklin’s testimony is pretty much second hand and secondary.

    Secondly it was just Franklin’s opinion of what had taken place.

    Lastly, he did not make that statement during the life of Joseph Smith while all of the controversial things were happening in Nauvoo from a contemporary view. He made that statement over 50 years later in 1899, as an apologetic attempt to justify the relationship between Brigham Young’s version of the Masonic Endowment and the rights of Free Masonry from when it came… and as an apologetic explanation of why traditional masonry had rejected the Mormons from their lodges.

    If you would acknowledge when you are stretching and speculating, which is virtually always, you would appear more credible to your audiance. 

    • Anonymous Reply

      Frankly your analysis as to the reliability of the Franklin D. Richards’s statement is problematic. Franklin himself was a Freemason in Nauvoo and at the end of his Master’s Mason’s degree he was told that due to the death of Hiram Abiff that the Master’s word was lost. He was then told that if he continued through the degrees he would obtain the Master Mason’s word. Therefore Franklin D. Richards was primed to remember anything he heard on the subject. Second there is no reason that this should be a secondary source, as there is no reason that Joseph Smith’s receipt of the true Master’s word  should have been something reserved for only those in Joseph Smith first quorum of the anointed. Given that Franklin D. Richards remarks are entirely congruent with the Masonic legends as he would have known them as a Master Mason, I see no reason to doubt his statement. Can you give any reason to doubt Franklin D. Richards comments?

      While there is no reason to doubt his statement, there are numerous reasons to trust his statement.

      1. The Smith’s was very interested in sacred names as can be attested to by their Masonic dagger, Masonic parchments and Jupiter talismans.
      2. Joseph Smith should interest in sacred names of God as evidenced the “Sample of Pure Language document.”
      3. The revised Sample of the Pure Language includes the name of God in Adamic with glyphs based on the Royal Arch cipher.
      4. The Egyptian alphabet lists the Egyptian version of this name also tied to the same hieroglyphs.
      5. The choice of these hieroglyphs corresponds to the a sacred name on the Jupiter Talisman.
      6. Contemporary statements attributed to Joseph Smith in Nauvoo suggest that Joseph Smith had gained the Master’s word.
      7. Examination of the Strangite movement provides solid evidence that James Strang’s leadership was called into question because he did not know the Master’s word.
      8. Strang later received this word from member of Joseph Smith Holy Order of High Priesthood (which takes its name from Masonry) and reference to it show up with Masonic vocabulary in his Book of the Law.
      9. Contemporary Masonic literature talks about the Masonry’s prime and most sacred secret to the be name of God.
      10. All of Joseph Smith’s scriptures (BoM, PoGP and D&C) also mention the importance of knowing the sacred and secret name of God.

      There is also other evidence that I have not laid out above which others have identified. Of course you are free to think that Franklin D. Richards is just lying about this, but I must say, I don’t see why you would come to this conclusion.

      • Dude Reply

        George,

        quick question.  I was initiated into a fraternity in college prior to attending the temple for the first time.  I was surprised to see so much that was familiar to both.  After listening to these excellent podcasts, I’m guessing that most or all fraternities and other such organizations that have initiatory rites borrow heavily from masonry, and that most of their founding members were  masons?
        -thanks!

        • Anonymous Reply

          Hey Dude- You are correct that college fraternity initiations are ultimately predominantly derived from Masonic sources. However, that doesn’t mean that their founding members were Freemasons, instead they could have read readily available Masonic exposes or their rituals could be secondarily linked to Freemasonry.

    • Anonymous Reply

      Frankly your analysis as to the reliability of the Franklin D. Richards’s statement is problematic. Franklin himself was a Freemason in Nauvoo and at the end of his Master’s Mason’s degree he was told that due to the death of Hiram Abiff that the Master’s word was lost. He was then told that if he continued through the degrees he would obtain the Master Mason’s word. Therefore Franklin D. Richards was primed to remember anything he heard on the subject. Second there is no reason that this should be a secondary source, as there is no reason that Joseph Smith’s receipt of the true Master’s word  should have been something reserved for only those in Joseph Smith first quorum of the anointed. Given that Franklin D. Richards remarks are entirely congruent with the Masonic legends as he would have known them as a Master Mason, I see no reason to doubt his statement. Can you give any reason to doubt Franklin D. Richards comments?

      While there is no reason to doubt his statement, there are numerous reasons to trust his statement.

      1. The Smith’s was very interested in sacred names as can be attested to by their Masonic dagger, Masonic parchments and Jupiter talismans.
      2. Joseph Smith should interest in sacred names of God as evidenced the “Sample of Pure Language document.”
      3. The revised Sample of the Pure Language includes the name of God in Adamic with glyphs based on the Royal Arch cipher.
      4. The Egyptian alphabet lists the Egyptian version of this name also tied to the same hieroglyphs.
      5. The choice of these hieroglyphs corresponds to the a sacred name on the Jupiter Talisman.
      6. Contemporary statements attributed to Joseph Smith in Nauvoo suggest that Joseph Smith had gained the Master’s word.
      7. Examination of the Strangite movement provides solid evidence that James Strang’s leadership was called into question because he did not know the Master’s word.
      8. Strang later received this word from member of Joseph Smith Holy Order of High Priesthood (which takes its name from Masonry) and reference to it show up with Masonic vocabulary in his Book of the Law.
      9. Contemporary Masonic literature talks about the Masonry’s prime and most sacred secret to the be name of God.
      10. All of Joseph Smith’s scriptures (BoM, PoGP and D&C) also mention the importance of knowing the sacred and secret name of God.

      There is also other evidence that I have not laid out above which others have identified. Of course you are free to think that Franklin D. Richards is just lying about this, but I must say, I don’t see why you would come to this conclusion.

  3. Nielper Reply

    I was extremely happy to see that Part 4 of this podcast had been posted.  I love, love, love the information you have uncovered.  I’m halfway through Antiquities of Freemasonry and I feel like I’m reading the theme song to our religion.  SO much of what inspired Joseph Smith is found within those pages.  You are going pretty quickly on the podcast.  I noticed you very briefly mentioned Hutchinson and his book “The Spirit of Masonry” that was the source of George Oliver’s book A of F.  Do you think JS had access to Hutchinson’s book – perhaps in the lodge his family attended?  Can’t wait for your articles and books.   I’m also curious to see how the church Apologists will handle this information.  

    • Anonymous Reply

      Hey Nielper – I thrilled to hear that you are reading “Antiquities of Freemasonry”. I have heard from a number of people now who are making their way through the book, and most are having the same reaction as you. Sorry we are moving so quick through the podcasts, I really needed to get back to writing so that everyone can have the data in its fullest form.

      I did mention Hutchinson’s “The Spirit of Masonry” the podcast; and yes I do think that Joseph Smith was familiar with the book. Hutchinson’s book, along with Salem Town’s “A System of Speculative Masonry” were probably the most popular Masonic books  prior to the Morgan Affair in New York. In the second podcast I discussed mother Smith’s use of the term “faculty of abrac.” The most extensive treatment of that phrase is contained in Hutchinson’s work. Also of interest is Hutchinson’s discussion of the Masonic Universal language which Hutchinson claims actually the pure and unadulterated language spoken by Adam. I believe this is where Joseph Smith gained his interest in the Adamic language.

      Personally, I am unsure how church apologists will handle this information. Personally, I think that that truth is truth; and according to Joseph Smith, one the Grand Fundamental Principles of Mormonism is Truth.

      • Fifth Columnist Reply

        George, the apologists will do anything they can to defend the Church, anything. They will look for any and every way to attack every finding you have made. Don’t underestimate the ferocity of an entire FARMS review dedicated to your thesis.

        By the way, the apologists don’t “think that truth is truth.” Truth is toeing the party line and you most definitely are not.

        Good luck.

        • Anonymous Reply

          As far as toeing the party line, well a job as tightrope walker working in a carnie has not ever been my hope in life.

      • RobF Reply

        I’m reading Salem Town now…wow.  If anything JS seems to resonate with the spirit and language of Town even more than with AoF.  All of a sudden JS makes so much more sense–he is clearly singular, yet part of a greater whole.  If anything I’m thinking Google Books was raised up by the Lord to more easily bring this work to light!

  4. Anonymous Reply

    As I listened to this episode I kept thinking, “So Joseph Smith has basically co-opted Masonic symbols and signs for use in his own ‘grand design.'”  I don’t know why that wasn’t obvious to me.  Seems he did that with almost everything in Mormonism. 

    • Hermes Reply

      Like most ideologies, Mormonism is essentially parasitic, taking culture from elsewhere and trying to make it work in slightly new contexts.  Only these days we Brighamite LDS pretend that we never rely on outside sources or evolve (at least not until the prophet says we can).

      • Anonymous Reply

        I agree, the mainstream LDS believer largely ignores “change”, instead holding strong to the illusion of perfect unchanging continuity and consistency from time immemorial. Sadly, be placing Joseph on a pedestal and closing our eyes to his method of gaining “revelation”, we cut ourselves off from the power and grandeur of what an inquiring minds like Joseph Smith’s can produce. There is so much wonderful food for thought in the intellect and writing of man, so much revelation and yearning to build a temple in Zion, and so much energy to be harnessed for the creation of a better world.

    • Anonymous Reply

      Heather I like the sentiment your phrasing here carries. That being said, let me offer you my own view. The long held belief by many is that Joseph Smith willy nilly borrowed anything and everything from every source he encountered. John describes this in the final podcast as Joseph being a magpie, somehow flitting from source to source ingesting anything he could get into his craw. While I chose not disagree with John in the podcast, my own take diverges from John’s substantially.

      My own examination of Joseph Smith’s endeavors to weave his grand design of Mormonism, is that the overarching and dominant pattern is a fully Christianized Freemasonry stretching from the beginning of existence to the eternities. The pattern emerges in Vermont and continues to weave its Mandelbrot set in successively larger patterns in New York, Kirtland, Missouri and Nauvoo up until his death in Carthage jail. Joseph Smith’s borrowings seem systematic in order to create a seed which grows and matures organically, with Joseph Smith revealing to the public little by little his grand design.

      Many have tried to view Mormonism through the lens of an evolutionary model, where the church in Kirtland is a new species than that found in New York, and where the Nauvoo church is another entirely new species. I think this model is seriously flawed. I prefer a developmental lens, as opposed to a evolutionary lens. The church sprouts in New York, flowers in Kirtland and Missouri amidst many bees, and finally produces its Masonic fruit in Nauvoo.

      In the end there is much to learn from Joseph Smith’s weaving, and I think his final Grand Design is really quite beautiful. That is not to say that Smith’s weave is the only true pattern, nor that it has no rough edges or areas that easily untangle, but I have find beauty in his needle work and grandeur in the design.

      Of course others will see things differently, and they are welcome to their well reasoned opinions, but I find I like Joseph’s piece of art.

  5. JackUK Reply

    So George, with Mormonism now having largely divested itself of its Masonic imagery and inspiration what are we left with? Do you think modern Mormonism bears much resemblance to what Joseph intended it to be? What do you think the impact has been on the Church as the years have passed and successive generations of LDS leaders have arisen with no connection to these original sources of inspiration for the Restoration? Do you think we are poorer for the loss?

    I used to wonder why the Brethren had virtually nothing to say about the symbols of the endowment and never explained them beyond the most basic platitudes. Now I wonder if the original vision and plan for a Christian religion expressed through Masonic symbolism was lost in the gunsmoke of Carthage Jail and never fully transmitted to Joseph’s potential successors. Perhaps the current leadership does not understand the nature of the ceremony worked in the LDS temple?

    Thanks to you and John for this facinating and outstanding series.
    S&F 

  6. Fred W. Anson Reply

    George, have you gotten any “bites” from potential publishers yet? 
    (And I’m still hopeful that Signature Books is lurking but not posting in these discussion threads)

    • Anonymous Reply

      Me and Mike have bites from both Dialogue and the JWHA. The JWHA even offered to allow us to publish a few articles then compile those into a book later on.

      • Fred W. Anson Reply

        Fantastic!  I really like the imprints that the John Whitmer History Association have done – real quality work.  And their roster of members is simply stunning – it’s like a “who’s who” of all my RLDS/CoC heroes. 

        It sounds like you guys are in good hands.  I’m rubbing my hands with glee and anticipation – I can hardly wait to add the hard copy version(s) of this research to my library.  And I’m sure that I’m not alone.

  7. Jacob Brown Reply

    Wonderful information! It really challenges my understanding of Mormonism and its origins. Just when I think I have most of it figured out,something new comes along to knock me off the track. 

    There is no way I could have enough time to research and learn all this stuff. Glad to have people that can pull it all together for lazy people like me.

    • Fred W. Anson Reply

      YOU WROTE
      “Just when I think I have most of it figured out,something new comes along to knock me off the track.”

      MY RESPONSE
      Yes, but isn’t that what makes Mormon Studies so darn fascinating?

      I think that we’re seeing some of the best that’s ever been done coming to fruition. These are exciting times to be in the field.

      • Anonymous Reply

        I agree with you Fred. This is a really exciting time to be involved in Mormon History. Some of things that are coming down the pipeline from others I have talked to are very exciting. I think there is another flood of understanding on its way.

  8. JT Reply

    George,

    Are you familiar wth Mark D. Thomas’s chapter (10) in his book Digging in Cumorah in which he discusses the Book of Mormon/Mason connection.

    He contrasts Dan Peterson’s take (to dismissive of the connection) against Dan Vogel’s (too exclusive a connection)

    Thomas does connect Ether 8 prophesies to 19th century Masonry – but recognizes it as only one example of many forms that recur in history. “Secret combinatio” points to a universal symbol of a socially destructive force that rears it’s head to carry a society beyond the point of no return, so to speak.

    He connects the G. Robbers to the bands described in Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews) and makes a few points of poor fit between the Book of Mormon’s portrayal of secret combinations and Masonry. Masons did notmrun around in the woods with bloody lamb skin loin cloths though Indians did (well, maybe not bloody all the time.)

    Where does the argument that Joseph, at the point of writing the Book of Mormon, was just borrowing loosely from the Morgan controversely,mmix with the idea of elite political string pullers that George Washington fretted about, that is, current in the 19th century conspiracy theories of history with things like tories in the American Revolution and events of the French Revolution feeding it.

    Have you done a study of pre-1820 uses of the term?

    Does the Antiquities on Free Masonry (which I assume Thomas did not know about) completely shift the weight of evidence in this matter?

    JT

    • JT Reply

      George,

      Your response to Heather-ME below gave me helpful context for your response to this question.

      Also, I apologize for all the typos, I’m writing on an iPad!

      JT

      • JT Reply

        PS

        And having read more comments I see I have to just sit down and read Antiquities or Freemasonry, etc.

    • Anonymous Reply

      Hey JT- I have not read Thomas’s treatment, but I am somewhat familiar with it from secondary sources. The views of both Peterson and Vogel are probably best summed up by listening to a Sunstone Symposium in which they both discussed the matter entitled Mormonism’s ‘Anti-Masonick Bible’.
      https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/shop/products/?product_id=2519&category=3

      Peterson sees the Gadianton Robbers as an ancient group of guerrilla warriors, and thus dismisses a Masonic connection. Personally, I don’t think this position is tenable, and his reasons for discounting the Masonic connection are misguided. On the other hand, Peterson does make some strong points when he points out that Joseph and the Mormons were Jacksonian Democrats almost to a man, which seriously undermines Vogel belief that Joseph was an anti-Mason. It is here, and largely only here, that I think Peterson is correct. 

      In the end I think that Vogel’s case in much stronger that of Peterson’s. The influence of Masonic sentiments during the 1820s is clear in the BoM’s portrayal of the Gadianton Robbers. However, that does not mean that Vogel’s view is entirely accurate. Vogel misses the mark when he claims Joseph Smith was anti-Masonic. In fact Joseph Smith is pro-Masonic, as long as it is the Speculative tradition, but he is anti-Masonic if we are talking about the Spurious tradition.

      What most commentators on this subject have noted is that militaristic and highly political activities of the Gadianton Robbers, which they believe are absent from the Morgan Affair. However, what these writers have largely missed, is the erroneous accusations against Freemasons in their involvement in the French Revolution. Joseph Smith is working the anti-Illuminati/Freemasonic connection, either consciously or unconsciously, into his portrayal of the Gadianton Robbers. This early 1800s portrayal of Freemasonry is an important factor which nobody has addressed, and which radically shifts the balance.

      As for AoF, yes it does shift the balance. Keep in mind that the strongest argument against the Gadianton Robbers being related to Freemasonry is Quinn’s incorrect idea that neither Masons nor anti-Masons portrayed the origin of Freemasonry with Satan. However, this is incorrect, as this is exactly the portrayal of Spurious Freemasonry as dictated by AoF. I hope this answers your question, if not, then please ask some followup questions.

      • JT Reply

        Thanks, this was very helpful.  

        I recently downloaded AoF and am looking forward to reading it, along with Town and Hutchinson, which I also got (Google books rocks).  

        I’ll look forward to listening to Peterson and Vogel – thanks for the link.

  9. nielper Reply

    I would love to hear another podcast on this topic.  I feel like I am just getting my feet wet.  John, I hope you will do more podcasts with George as he continues with his research.  This has definitely been one of the most intellectually satisfying discussions on Mormonism I’ve encountered.  I finally understand the source of inspiration for Joseph Smith’s radical new religion.  I am still not content with my understanding of polygamy however.  I suspect there is much more to it than we currently know.   Love, love, love this podcast.

  10. Anonymous Reply

    Loved this series, thanks to George and John for putting all this info out there.  I do not buy into all your conclusions George, but I am on board with most of your conclusions.  Some of which I had never thought of prior to listening to the podcast.
    One thing I did not hear either of you mention when discussing how and why the church has distanced itself from Masonry is that Masonry and it’s origins are very damaging to the foundation of many of the things that modern day mormons hold dear.
    As soon as it became common knowledge that Masonry was not ancient in origin, it ruled out the ancient origins of the endowment and everything that goes with it.  Along with that it is shows Joseph Smith to be anything but a prophet that received direct revelation from God and places the modern day temple ceremony right up there with the book of abraham.
    To me this is the main reason that church has been forced to distance itself from Masonry and it has done a very fine job.  Most active members (myself included up until 2 year ago) are aware of only a small connection with Masonry but are placated by the oft repeated misinformation that masonry originated with Adam or Solomon’s temple.  Usually this is enough to get an active believing member to shelf the masonry connection.

    • Anonymous Reply

      Hey BM- I am glad to hear that the podcasts got you thinking. First of all I think you bring up some good points. You mention the mythic history of Freemasonry and how many Mormons buy into this history, believing that Freemasonry finds its roots in Solomon’s temple. FWIW that is why I spent almost so long discussing the evolution of Masonic myth in hopes of discouraging Mormons from taking this tact.

      You then go on to say that the church has distanced itself from Masonry because Masonry’s authentic historical origins are very damaging to many of the things that modern day Mormons are told. While I think there is truth to what you say, I think from a historical standpoint, that we must be cautious in this interpretation. In fact Mormon distancing from its Masonic origins does not begin in the 1880s when the authentic school of Masonry begins to gain in popularity, but instead begins much earlier, beginning with the death of Joseph Smith in what church leaders believed was a Masonic plot, continuing with Mormon-Masonic tensions in Utah, and finally coming to a complete close with the formation of the Grand Lodge of Utah. All of this took place before the authentic school of Masonic history rose to prominence. When the generation that “knew not Joseph” and his Masonic inclinations finally passed away, the institutional memory of the Mormon-Masonic connection finally died.

      Thus the Utah distancing from Masonry was largely not because of problems with historicity, rather it was due to tensions between Mormons and Masons and the loss of institutional memory due to circumstances. That being said, modern day apologists who try to nay-say a Mormon-Masonic connection are in an entirely different boat, and they are largely paddling upstream against the evidence.

    • Anonymous Reply

      Hey BM- I am glad to hear that the podcasts got you thinking. First of all I think you bring up some good points. You mention the mythic history of Freemasonry and how many Mormons buy into this history, believing that Freemasonry finds its roots in Solomon’s temple. FWIW that is why I spent almost so long discussing the evolution of Masonic myth in hopes of discouraging Mormons from taking this tact.

      You then go on to say that the church has distanced itself from Masonry because Masonry’s authentic historical origins are very damaging to many of the things that modern day Mormons are told. While I think there is truth to what you say, I think from a historical standpoint, that we must be cautious in this interpretation. In fact Mormon distancing from its Masonic origins does not begin in the 1880s when the authentic school of Masonry begins to gain in popularity, but instead begins much earlier, beginning with the death of Joseph Smith in what church leaders believed was a Masonic plot, continuing with Mormon-Masonic tensions in Utah, and finally coming to a complete close with the formation of the Grand Lodge of Utah. All of this took place before the authentic school of Masonic history rose to prominence. When the generation that “knew not Joseph” and his Masonic inclinations finally passed away, the institutional memory of the Mormon-Masonic connection finally died.

      Thus the Utah distancing from Masonry was largely not because of problems with historicity, rather it was due to tensions between Mormons and Masons and the loss of institutional memory due to circumstances. That being said, modern day apologists who try to nay-say a Mormon-Masonic connection are in an entirely different boat, and they are largely paddling upstream against the evidence.

  11. Will D Reply

    Best George Miller podcast yet!  We need to bring him back for Church history discussions.  

  12. Chris Merris Reply

    George – 

    Just listened to all of the podcasts on this – let me just say this was entertaining and very informative and I greatly look forward to any forthcoming publications.  You and John did some amazing work on these podcasts.  Thanks a ton.
    I was a little perplexed by the ending in which you kind of danced around the issue of Joseph Smith and the truth of the Church.  I can’t understand how someone with your level of knowledge would still want to be part of LDS Church.  Do you stick around for family reasons, or do you somehow believe that Joseph was still a “prophet” in some way?  It seemed pretty obvious from the podcasts that you’re not a traditional believer.

    Not sure if you’ll get notified so long after the podcast – but just wanted to chime in.  Thanks again,

    -Chris

  13. Leslie North Reply

    What a great series. Thank you for going into depth. I enjoyed hearing the modern-day practical application and meaning of being a mason; support for growing from youth to manhood and then sharing and creating your own “kingdom.” It would be such a blessing if there were more of this ritual and support institutionally for women. Yes, there is YW and then Relief Society, but RS has evolved into a Sunday meeting where we study about the words of men. There’s something missing for LDS women to meet legitimately and discuss growing from Maiden, to Mother to WiseWoman.

  14. Bradenator56 Reply

    George. Can you explain the history of Antiquities of Masonry? Is it authentic history of masonry or did the beliefs taught in it get concocted in the 1730s?

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