It has been said that as King Solomon was building his temple, masons learned the temple ceremonies and passed them down through the centuries. Joseph Smith claimed these ceremonies were corrupted, and by revelation, Joseph was restoring true masonry. Is this a true story? We’ll learn more about this with historian Cheryl Bruno who has a new book coming out this year.
GT: The story that I understand, and I think this is what most Mormons hear, so we’ll go with the stereotype and then you can tell us whether that’s right or wrong. So, the story is that there were some masons in King Solomon’s temple, and they learned the temple ceremonies, and those were corrupted, and then Joseph Smith restored them to their proper frame. Is that a fair framing?
GT: Somehow, I knew you were going to say that.
Cheryl: No, the Masons have a legend that talks about King Solomon and when he was building his temple. He used masonry. But in Masonic parlance, it goes all the way back to Adam, who was a mason. They have lots of different legends. It’s not necessarily that they have a temple ceremony per se, but they do have rituals that speak about temple work and King Solomon. It’s said that Joseph Smith borrowed extensively from the Masonic ritual, when he formulated the temple ceremony.
GT: Okay. So from what I understand, masonry doesn’t go back to King Solomon’s time in reality.
Cheryl: That’s just their legend.
GT: That’s the legend. Okay. But is it true that Joseph Smith believed that?
Cheryl: Yes, many people in the United States in the 19th century did believe that that was a true story. But I don’t know. History was quite different back then. Truth wasn’t like we believe truth is today. It was more of, like the George Washington story of when he cut down a cherry tree, was a historical story that was told to show that he was an honest man. So it was a legitimate story to tell of the history. They didn’t care whether it was literally true or not. So today we would not use that as history. Because whether he was honest or not, we want to know what actually happened.
GT: So one of the things that I understand with masonry, is that it really, instead of dating to King Solomon’s time, which is like, 1000 BC, it really dates to the Middle Ages, which is off by what, 2000 years?
Cheryl: Yeah, we’re not exactly sure when masonry, as we know it, began. We know that in 1717, they had the first Grand Lodge meeting. We have Masonic documents from the 1300s. So we’re not real sure when exactly between those two dates it began as we know it today.
I have just one note I want to add. I spoke with Cheryl last summer and we thought the book was coming out this month, but there have been some production delays. It is definitely coming out this year and should be an amazing book.
When did Joseph Smith learn about masonry? Was it in Nauvoo or Kirtland? And when did he become a mason? Historian Cheryl Bruno will tell us more about Joseph’s Masonic connections and his involvement with Masonry.
Cheryl: Some people believe that Joseph may have been a Mason earlier than Nauvoo, but I don’t believe that. I believe that he knew quite a bit about Masonry. It was in his family. His brother-in-laws, his uncles, his father and his brother were Masons. With the Morgan affair, there were many books written, exposes written about it, so I’m sure that he knew a lot about it. In fact, there used to be traveling companies that would go around and give shows, showing what the Masonic ritual looked like. So he could have attended those and seen the actual ritual being played out. But I do not believe he was a Mason before Nauvoo.
GT: Okay, so it was really the Nauvoo period when he got into that.
GT: So as I understand it, I believe that he was–I don’t know the right language, but he was commissioned as a Mason on sight or something? Can you tell us about that?
Cheryl: This is another thing I sort of don’t agree with the common wisdom. They believe that he was made a Mason at sight. Abraham Jonas was the Grand Master in Illinois. He had the ability to just make someone a Mason, instead of the person learning about Masonry and learning all the ritual and then becoming [a Mason.] It usually took quite a period of time between the Entered Apprentice and the Fellow Craft and the Master Mason. They could just make you Master Mason right away. But I don’t believe that that particular thing happened, that he was made a Mason on sight, because there were certain things that had to happen. You had to open up a certain kind of a lodge in order for that to happen. Those things were not done exactly the way they needed to be done. I also write about that in the book. But it is true that he was made a Mason, a Fellow Craft and then a Master Mason, quickly within the period of two days, an Apprentice and a Fellow Craft and a Master Mason very quickly.
We will also talk about the Morgan Affair and how that started the anti-Masonic movement in the United States, as well as the involvement in masonry by Joseph’s family.
Many people know that there are similarities between Mormon temple ceremonies and Masonic ceremonies. What are the similarities and differences? Cheryl Bruno will answer these questions.
GT: I just had a conversation with somebody, and he says, “Do you know why they made these changes in 1990?” I know there was some big differences there. It sounds like there are different beliefs in that. My response was, “Well, it was due to The Godmakers, and that the church has tried to kind of sever some of the Masonic elements to make it more different. Is that is that a fair characterization?
Cheryl: I have a little different view and I am a believing Mormon, so that’s where I’m coming from. But I feel that the changes that they make in the temple ceremony make them more meaningful for people today. Symbolism is really important to me and sometimes I think it’s a real shame that some of those symbols are lost, but when it no longer means the same thing to people that are going through the temple, it needs to be removed. One of these [symbols] is women veiling their faces. That used to have a very different meaning to women than it does today. Today, it’s very oppressive. So it needs to be taken out of the ceremony, because it’s seen by women now as being oppressive. That’s not what the symbol was meant to convey, so it’s appropriate to change things so that the ritual now conveys something that it’s meant to convey. Because society has changed, and because people change, we need to also keep up with that in our [ceremonies].
GT: That’s interesting that you mentioned that. Tell me if this is a true statement. I believe in Joseph Smith’s day, in order to be a Mason, you had to be a man, you could not be a woman. So I’ve heard that when Joseph introduced the endowment ceremony, and he allowed women to participate, that that made a lot of Masons angry because women weren’t supposed to be part of this. Is that true?
Cheryl: No, and I wonder where that comes from, because I’ve tried to track down where that idea is coming from. First of all, there were women Masons in Joseph Smith’s time.
GT: Oh, really?
Cheryl: There were and we believe that some of the women in Nauvoo actually were part of, maybe the Heroines of Jericho. There’s a little bit of evidence there, which will be in my book, but I don’t think it had a lot to do with anything. But the Grand Lodge of Illinois had a lot of different problems with things that Joseph Smith was doing or that Masons were doing in Nauvoo. They come out with it quite clearly. “We’re having a problem with this or we’re having a problem with that,” and never was it ever said contemporaneously, that they had a problem with women being brought into ritual.
The Godmakers was a movie put together by former Mormon Ed Decker that tried to make temple endowment ceremonies look strange. It was very popular among evangelicals and anti-Mormons in the late 1980s. Jerald Tanner, a critic of Mormonism, was equally critical of the movie as an exaggeration of Mormon temple ceremonies.
What are your thoughts concerning the connections between freemasonry and Mormonism?