FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Question: Do the temple endowment's similarities to Masonic rites have ancient roots?
Question: Do the temple endowment's similarities to Masonic rites have ancient roots?
Introduction to Criticism
Some have asked if the temple endowment’s similarities to the Masonic initiation rites have any ancient roots. One Latter-day Saint writer, Greg Kearney, wrote a blogpost responding to a critic of the Church who outlined many of the similarities between the two ceremonies. The critic’s list including Kearney’s commentary will be reproduced in full below. Additionally, the author of this article has silently added more commentary and footnotes to strengthen Kearney’s arguments.
Response to Criticism
All Seeing Eye
The all seeing eye is indeed used by the Masons but also by many others. It is found on the revers of the Great Seal of the United States for example. It’s name is actually the “Eye of Providence” and has its origins in early Renaissance Christian architecture. It is a recurring motif throughout the scriptures both ancient and modern (JST Genesis 7:42; Moses 7:36; Proverbs 5:21, 15:3; Psalm 33:13-14, 18; 34:15; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Jeremiah 32:19; Amos 9:8; Hebrews 4:13; 1 Peter 3:12; 2 Nephi 9:44; Jacob 2:10, 15; Mosiah 27:31; D&C 1:1; 38:7; 67:2; 121:2, 4, 24). At the dedication of King Solomon's Temple, Jehovah promised that his eyes would be upon that place perpetually (see 1 Kings 8:29, 9:3[; 2 Chronicles 6:40, 7:15-16]). Called 'the all-searching eye of the Great Jehovah' by the early brethren, this emblem represents God's ability to see all things (see D&C 88:41, 130:7)...According to latter-day revelation, heavenly eyes are said to represent one who is filled with 'light and knowledge' (D&C 77:4). If our eye is single to the glory of God, we too may someday be 'filled with light' and comprehend all things (D&C 88:67)."
Anointing with oil
A very old practice found in Christian (Exodus 29:7, 20; 30:22-23; 40:15; Leviticus 8:12; 14: 15-18; 1 Kings 1:39; 1 Samuel 16:1,13; Psalm 133:2 and footnote 2a), Jewish, and Islamic traditions. It is not, however, found in the Masonic tradition outside of the setting of a cornerstone with wine, oil, and corn.
Both groups use them. The reference comes from the Bible. The meaning of the symbols to the two groups is different, however. The Latter-day Saint use can be traced to Genesis 3:7 (See also 1 Samuel 2:19; 22:18; 1 Chronicles 15:27; 2 Samuel 6:14 where these aprons were worn by priests officiating in ordinances in temples). “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” The Masonic usage refers to aprons worn by stone masons in quarries. The aprons themselves differ. The Masonic one is white lamb’s skin; the Latter-day Saint apron is green representing the fig leaves spoken of in the creation story.
The Latter-day Saint usage of the symbol derives from the Book of Mormon’s “Deseret” which means “honeybee.” Hugh Nibley has proposed a very plausible ancient Egyptian etymology for deseret that stems from the Egyptian term that refers to the “bee crown” of the lower kingdom of Egypt.
"There seems to be some type of connection between the bee and the concept of a promised land. The Jaredites brought deseret, the honey bee, with them on the long and difficult voyage to their promised land. The land promised to the ancient Israelites was described as a land flowing with milk and honey (see Exodus 3:8, Leviticus 20:24, Deuteronomy 8:7-8, Jeremiah 11:5). This honey was sacrificed as a firstfruits offering on the altar of the Jerusalem Temple (see 2 Chronicles 31:5). The early Latter-day Saints were promised a land of inheritance in Jackson County, Missouri, and it too was said to be flowing with milk and honey (see D&C 38:18-19 [a revelation given in 1831–long before Joseph Smith joined Masonry]). Interestingly, Joseph Smith mentioned that the honey bee played a vital role in beautifying the land of Zion. And, of course, when the Latter-day Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley; they named their land of promise Deseret and 'adopted as their emblem the honey bee and the hive, symbols of industry.'
The bee was viewed symbolically in several ancient cultures. For instance, the bee represented 'government in good order' among the Hebrews. Perhaps a comparison could be made between bees working in their hive and the temple of priests of Israel who labored 'according to their order' (1 Chronicles 6:32). The bee was also used as a symbol by the early Christians. Church fathers such as Ambrose, Basil, Jerom, Tertullian, and Augistine all made comparisons between the life of Jesus Christ and the life of the bee. Some Christians even saw the bee as a symbol of the soul of man."
Square and Compass
Found in both the Latter-day Saint temple and among the Masons. Their symbolic use differs in each, however. The endowment does not use a physical square and compass as the Masons do. Hugh Nibley provided abundant evidence of the use of such symbols in ancient iconography. "Several architectural instruments were used by heavenly beings in the Old Testament, including the compass, the measuring rod, and plumbline. These instruments served as devices of creation as well as allegorical teaching tools (see Proverbs 8:27; Amos 7:7-8; Ezekiel 40:3, 47:3; Zechariah 2:1). The early Christians employed these symbols over many centuries in their artwork. They frequently depicted the Father and the Son in the act of creating the universe with a pair of compasses. They also portrayed scores of biblical characters in white robes that were adorned with the symbol of the square."
Emblem of the clasped hands/Special Handshakes
A very old symbol of brotherly love that can be found on tombstones in New England. Found even on the graves of women who would not have been Masons. This emblem has been well documented in early Christian iconography by Todd Compton and Stephen Ricks. Matthew B. Brown "argues that Psalms 41 and 73 feasibly indicate that when the king of Israel was initiated within the precincts of the temple into the office of kingship he passed through the veil of the Holy of Holies (see Exodus 26:33) and symbolically entered into God’s presence" by taking them by the right hand. David M. Calabro "explores what he describes as the 'divine handclasp' in the Hebrew Bible. The term refers to a handclasp between God and his human servant that had a place in ancient Israelite temple worship. Calabro indicates it was a ritual gesture that was part of temple rite performance with a priest acting as proxy for God in close interaction with mankind. While other scholars have suggested the gesture was indicative of deity transporting mankind to 'glory,' Calabro’s research proposes the clasping of right hands while facing one another was ritually indicative of God granting access to His chosen rather than transporting him."
Solemn Assembly in the Temple
This has no Masonic equivalent unless you consider a Grand Lodge meeting to be a Solemn Assembly (which Masons do not). Solemn assemblies have existed since the time of ancient Israel. They were held on Feast Day at the end of Passover (Deuteronomy 16:8), the end of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34-36), and on special occasions such as the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2 Chronicles 7:9-11). Joel prophesied that solemn assemblies would be held in times of crisis (Joel 2:15).
Special Garments applied to initiates
The temple garments worn by the Latter-day Saints the first time they attend the temple are the same as they use every day. Priests in ancient Israel wore breeches that were an inner “garment, extending from the waist to just below the knee or to the ankle, and covering each leg separately.” They were made out of find-twined linen (Exodus 28:42; 39:28; Leviticus 6:10), and since they were considered to be one of the “holy garments” belonging to the House of the Lord (Leviticus 16:4), they could only be worn by the priests, not by any of the other Israelites. Masons have special clothing, not undergarments, which symbolically show that they come to the lodge without any material possessions including clothing. Masons do not have symbolic clothing worn outside the lodge.
The phrase: “Holiness to the Lord”
The Masonic as well as the Latter-day Saint usage of this phase comes from the Bible: “And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD” (Exodus 28:36).
Moon symbol, Star symbols, Sun symbols
Mankind have been using the symbols of the heavens long before the establishment of Masons. Latter-day Saints use it in connection to their belief in the three degrees of Glory as recorded by Paul in the New Testament— who compared the three degrees of glory to the sun, moon, and stars (1 Corinthians 15:40-41).
New Name given
Practice is found in scripture (Saul becomes Paul, for example). The Masonic as well as Latter-day Saint practice comes from the Bible. See, for instance, Revelation 2:17. Matthew Brown wrote:
There is some evidence that, upon their enthronement, the kings of Israel took upon themselves a new name or throne name. One commentator states that “the accession ceremony in Judah included the conferment of a coronation name by the deity,” and he suggests that traces of this conferral can be seen in 2 Samuel 7:9 and 1 Kings 1:47. Generally, the act of “renaming is associated with a change in the status or condition of the person receiving the new name. The giving of the new name can be a sign that the receiver of the name is coming under the authority of the giver of the name.” In the Old Testament, new names are often indicative of adoption onto someone’s household and are thus equivalent to the conferral of a high honor upon the recipient. In the words of another scholar, the king “receives a new disposition expressed, according to oriental custom, in the giving to him of a new name, which indicates his new, intimate relationship with the god who has chosen him, and whom he represents.
Special Prayer circle
No such practice in Masonry. There is some evidence for the practice of prayer circles in early Christianity:
The prayer circle is also known from early Christian texts, and has been discussed at length by others. In my “Temple Prayers in Ancient Times,” that will appear this year in the next FARMS temples volume, I discuss other aspects of ancient temple prayer, notably posture and how prayer opens the veil to allow one to enjoy the presence of God.
Particularly impressive are the descriptions of the prayer circle given in the Christian Gnostic works known as the Pistis Sophia and the Books of Jeu, thought to date to the second century. In 1 Jeu 41, the resurrected Christ “said to them, the twelve: ‘Surround me, all of you.'” He then instructed them to “answer me and give glory with me as I give glory to my Father,” and offered a lengthy prayer. At the end of each utterance of the prayer, the apostles, in chorus, repeated, “Amen. Amen. Amen.”
One of the most remarkable descriptions is in the fifth book of the Pistis Sophia, where we find Jesus standing at the altar praying, surrounded by his apostles and women disciples clad in linen garments (Pistis Sophia 138). A short while later, Jesus commands the disciples to set out an offering of wine, water, and bread. He then stands before the offering, with the disciples behind him clad in linen garments and making signs with their hands as Christ prays (Pistis Sophia 142).The account of this offering is also found in another Coptic document, 2 Jeu 45-47, where Jesus has the disciples, men and women, dress in linen garments and surround him while he makes offerings at the altar and prays. The scene is followed by Jesus’ instructions on how the disciples can use the signs and names to pass by both gods and angels to enter the presence of the Father (2 Jeu 48-50). In 1 Jeu 41, Jesus has the twelve surround him while he prays and they repeat after him. In the following chapters (2 Jeu 42-43, rather than 1 Jeu), Jesus asks that the twelve and the women disciples surround him so he can teach them the mysteries of God. What then follows in the text is a discussion of signs, seals, and how to pass by the guardians at the veils to the presence of God.
Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood
Not found in Masonry. Obviously found within the Bible (Hebrews 7).
Blood/death oaths of secrecy with morbid gestures and words describing penalties agreed to if secrets are revealed
Mormons going through the temple post-1990 may not be familiar with these. Curses were associated with many covenants made by ancient Israelites for failure to live up to covenants.
Location (possession of) Throne of the “Holy of Holies”
Masons make no claim to possession of such. Neither do Latter-day Saints. Both groups make a reference to it in connection to the Temple of Solomon (Exodus 26:33–34).
In both cases it clearly has reference to the biblical usage (Exodus 26–27).
It is evident the parallels shouldn't be of concern to those that wish to see the antiquity of the ceremony and its correlative divinity. Joseph Smith tells us that the restoration is a "whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations"; but "not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fullness of times" (D&C 128:18). These parallels, some gathered from across the dispensations and some that appear to be new revelations, seem to fit this pattern of restoration and substantiate Joseph Smith's claims.
Further evidence substantiating the ancient roots of temple ceremonies may be forthcoming and Latter-day Saints should be encouraged to seek out that substantiation through further research of their own or through the work of other Latter-day Saint scholars.
For another treatment of this same question from a similar angle, see the paper linked in the footnote to the right.
- Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 2:32, 6 April 1853; Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, 2:84, 6 October 1854.
- Matthew B. Brown and Paul Thomas Smith, Symbols in Stone: Symbolism on the Early Temples of the Restoration (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 1997), 140–41.
- Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1955), 177–8.
- History of the Church, 1:197, 2 August 1831.
- George Albert Smith, Sharing the Gospel with Others (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1948), 134.
- Steven Olderr, Symbolism: A Comprehensive Dictionary (London: McFarland & Co., 1986), 10. Along these same lines Heber C. Kimball said that the land of Deseret was the Kingdom of God on the earth and was "organized after the order of God, and it is organized after the order of the Church of the Firstborn" (Journal of Discourses, 5:130, 2 August 1857).
- For a number of years there has been a claim circulated in [Latter-day Saint] literature that the ancient Hebrew temple priests wore the symbol of the beehive on their sacred clothing. Each of those who have made this claim have stated that this information can be found in the Mishnah but a specific reference has never been cited. So far as can be determined, no such reference exists. It is possible that this misunderstanding occurred when someone misread the material found in E. Cecil McGavin, Mormonism and Masonry (Salt Lake City: Stevens and Wallis, 1947), 66-67.
- Hilda M. Ransome, The Sacred Bee (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1937), 144–54.
- Brown and Smith, Symbols in Stone, 135–36.
- Hugh Nibley, Temple and Cosmos (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992) 139-73
- Biblical Archaeology Review, April 1995, 45; Clara Erskien Clemeent, A Handbook of Legendary and Mythological Art (Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1881), 290–91; Maria Gabriel Wosein, Sacred Dance: Encounter with the Gods (New York: Avon Books, 1974), 104; Harold Bayley, The Lost Language of Symbolism (London: Williams and Norgate, 1912), 1:74; Bernard Goldman, The Sacred Portal: A Primary Symbol in Ancient Judaic Art (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1966), plate 18; Encyclopedia Judaica, 5:1066; Bible Review, August 1996, 37. The symbol of the square is "frequently seen embroidered on the borders of the robes of the sacred personages represented in early Christian mosaics and frescoes...The precise meaning of these marks has not been satisfactorily determined" (William Smith and Samuel Cheetham, Dictionary of Christian Antiquities [New York: Kraus Reprint Co., 1968], 1:709). An example of the gamma mark on a piece of ancient Israelite clothing can be seen in Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 23, no. 1 [January/February 1997], 60...
- Brown and Smith, Symbols in Stone, 106.
- Stephen D. Ricks, "Dexiosis and Dextrarum Iunctio: The Sacred Handclasp in the Classical and Early Christian World," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 18, no. 1 (1989–2011) off-site; Todd M. Compton, “The handclasp and embrace as tokens of recognition,” By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, eds. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1990) 1: 611–42.
- Matthew B. Brown, "The Handclasp, the Temple, and the King," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 42 (2021): 421-426.
- David M. Calabro, "The Divine Handclasp in the Hebrew Bible and in Near Eastern Iconography," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 45 (2021): 37–52. See also David Calabro, “The Divine Handclasp in the Hebrew Bible and in Near Eastern Iconography,” in Temple Insights: Proceedings of the Interpreter Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference, “The Temple on Mount Zion,” 22 September 2012, eds. William J. Hamblin and David Rolph Seely (Orem, UT: The Interpreter Foundation; Salt Lake City: Eborn Books, 2014), 25–66.
- Scholars are unanimous in affirming that 1 Corinthians was written by Paul. See Robert Wall, New Interpreter's Bible ed. Leander E. Keck, 12 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 10:373.
- Both in the ancient Near East generally "and in Israel the custom prevailed that the king should take a new name at his accession" (Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel's Worship, 1:63). For further reading, see A.M. Honeyman, "The Evidence for Regnal Names Among the Hebrews," Journal of Biblical Literature, vol 67, 1948, 13-25. It has been pointed out by one scholar that the new name mentioned in Revelation 3:12 has a definite correlation to ancient coronation practices. "In giving of a new name to the believer [in Revelation 3:12], we might also see a parallel with the common oriental practice of giving new names to monarchs during the coronation and accession ceremonies" (Richard H. Wilkinson, "The stylos of Revelation 3:12 and Ancient Coronation Writes," Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 107, no. 3, September 1988, 500).
- Gerhard von Rad, The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), 229.
- T. David Andersen, "Renaming and Wedding Imagery in Isaiah 62," Biblica, vol 67, no. 1, 1986, 75. One scholar detects in the combination of 2 Kings 24:17 and Ezekiel 17:11-21 a ceremony wherein a king gives a handclasp to the king of Jerusalem, bestows a new name upon him, and enters into a covenant with him by swearing an oath (see Viberg, symbols of Laq, 37-39)
- See Otto Eissfeldt, "Renaming in the Old Testament," in Peter R. Ackroyd and Barnabas Lindars, eds., Words and Meanings (Cambridge: University Press, 1968), 73.
- Mowinckel, "He That Cometh", 66.
- Matthew Brown, The Gate of Heaven (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 1999), 132.
- For ancient Christian prayer circles, see Hugh Nibley, “The Early Christian Prayer Circle,” BYU Studies 19, no. 1 (Fall 1978): 41–47, reprinted as chapter 3 in Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity (Provo: FARMS; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1987), 45–99 and reproduced in Hugh Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies (Provo: FARMS; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986), 158–63, 182–83. For Latter-day Saint prayer circles, see D. Michael Quinn, “Latter-day Saint Prayer Circles,” BYU Studies 19, no. 1 (Fall 1978): 79–105, and the entries for “Altar” and “Prayer Circle” in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992). The reader should note, however, that Todd Compton was correct when he wrote that “some of the examples cited by Nibley are not really group prayers, are not circles, and so on, though there are some similarities to prayer circles” (Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 3:?).
- Carl Schmidt and Violet MacDermot, The Books of Jeu and the Untitled Text in the Bruce Codex (Leiden: Brill, 1978), 92–98.
- John Tvedtnes, "Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices," (presentation, FAIR Conference, Sandy, UT, 2001).
- René Lopez, "Israelite Covenants in the Light of Ancient Near Eastern Covenants," CTSJ 9/2 (2003): 92-111. off-site
- Similar thought about the dispensation of the fulness of times is reflected in Doctrine & Covenants 124:41–42.
- Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, "Freemasonry and the Origins of Modern Temple Ordinances," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 15 (2015): 159–237.