A Dearth of Understanding Mormon Freemasonry in Nauvoo

A Freemason’s Critique of Sam Brown
by Guest Poster Joe Steve Swick III

Joe Swick is a longtime student of the history and dogmas of Mormonism and Freemasonry. He received his Endowment in 1982 and was raised a Master Mason in 1995. He is twice Past Master of his local lodge, and twice Past High Priest of his Royal Arch Chapter, receiving the Masonic Order of High Priesthood in 2004.

I recently attended a lecture by Samuel M. Brown on the subject of Mormon Masonry, which was a brief summary of chapters from his new book, In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death,[i] particularly the chapter, “Negotiating Death and Afterlife in Nauvoo.”[ii] As a Freemason who has also received the LDS Temple Endowment, this topic is of particular interest to me. Unfortunately, there were several significant problems with the presentation of the subject of Mormonism and Freemasonry in Nauvoo, particularly as it touches the central themes of his book. Due to space constraints, I’d like to briefly look at just one of these troubling areas.

Almost unbelievably, Sam fails to anywhere significantly engage the funerary rites or traditions of Freemasons, as the same were known and practiced in Nauvoo. He never once mentions a single Latter-day Saint who was buried with “Masonic honors,” – such as Don Carlos Smith—even when there is significant contemporaneous recording of that fact (for instance, see  Woman’s Exponent, vol. 10, no. 6, 15 August 1881, page  42 as quoted, Holzapfel, A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History, Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 1997. Pages 121-123).  He fails to breathe even a word of recognition that what is arguably Joseph Smith’s greatest recorded discourse – i.e., the funeral sermon of King Follett—contained several clear Masonic references relevant to the topic of his book. These Masonic references likely exist because King Follett was the Prophet’s Masonic Brother, and the funeral itself was Masonic.

In this connection, Sam also fails to anywhere note that supreme Masonic symbol of death and its overcoming, or the place of that symbol in either LDS or Masonic funerary traditions. I am speaking, of course, of the apron.  Now, the apron is not a secret: anyone who has attended an LDS funeral or viewing has seen it; anyone who has attended a Masonic funeral or viewing has not only seen a Mason or two publically attired in aprons, but has heard the Master of the Lodge deliver remarks which expressly refer to the apron of the deceased.  Furthermore, the lecture delivered to a Mason when he is first presented with his apron (the “twin,” as it were, of the funeral remarks) is monitorial, and therefore may be mentioned without offending Masonic sensibilities. The Masonic apron lecture contains significant comments pertaining to the fundamental theme of Sam’s book, and I was most astonished to find that these monitorial ritual portions are never mentioned; it seems that Sam is unwilling to directly state that Masons –or Mormons– even wear aprons.

Similarly, Sam fails to mention the ring ceremony associated with a Lodge of Perfection in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. While not practiced in Illinois at the time, the ring and its ceremony was associated with Masonry at least since 1783, and it was well-known by Masons in the days of Joseph Smith. The ring was presented to every 14th degree candidate.  A plain band, it was inscribed with the motto, “Virtus Junxit Mors Non Separabit,” or “Virtue Unites What Death Cannot Separate.”[iii]

During the ceremony of reception, the candidate was specifically instructed:

“Receive this ring as a token of alliance, and that you have made a contract with Virtue and the virtuous.  Promise me dear brother, that this ring shall never depart from you until death;  and you never will give it to anybody but your wife, eldest son, or your dearest friend.” [iv]

This is significant, because it demonstrates a Masonic faith –related to their belief in the immortality of the soul — that our tenderest ties of kinship and fraternity extend beyond the grave. The 14th Degree ring was a reminder to the friends and loved ones of the departed that what virtue had joined, not even death had the power to separate. To use the words of William Penn:

They that love beyond the World cannot be separated by it. Death cannot kill what never dies. Nor can Spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same Divine Principle; the Root and Record of their friendship.  . . .This is the Comfort of Friends, that though they may be said to Die, yet their Friendship and Society are, in the best Sense, ever present, because Immortal . [v]

Again, this idea is central to Sam’s thesis, and yet somehow it is overlooked in his presentation. I wish to stress that these are not minor errors (of which there are, unfortunately, not a few in his book). Rather, these issues suggest a fundamental lack of appreciation of the content of Masonic ritual and tradition as the same relate to Sam Brown’s own chosen theme.

Numerous other similar objections to equally troubling factual and interpretive errors could be raised. For instance, Sam clearly misses the significance of the Hiramic Legend in Freemasonry, failing to appreciate that for Joseph Smith and his contemporaries, Hiram Abiff was an allegorical figure intended to represent Jesus Christ in both his death and resurrection. In my own opinion, this is a particularly egregious oversight, for it has direct bearing on the concept of the conquest of death in Freemasonry. Sam’s misreading and mishandling of Masonry on this issue strongly affects his assumptions, so that even where his arguments may otherwise have merit, it is difficult for me to have confidence in his conclusions.

Sam is well-known for his beautiful language and for his even-handed and non-polemical writing. However, while his language here is indeed beautiful, the polemic which has characterized the Mormon- Mason dialogue for the last century and a half seems to have negatively influenced his presentation. While overall his book is quite excellent, his treatment of Freemasonry savors more of Mormon apologia than of the sound, even analysis and keen insight which characterizes so much else of his writing.

 


[i] Samuel Morris Brown. In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

[ii] Ibid, chapter 7, pages 170-202.

[iii] Henry Andrew Francken. The Francken Manuscript, [of] 1783,  typescript. Kila, MT: Kessinger,  141.

[iv] Francken, 153.

[v] William Penn. Fruits of Solitude. Vol. I, Part 3. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14.

 

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    I look best in a Pampered Chef apron.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Steve Fleming

    Joe, you need to understand a bit more about what one does when one writes a history book. Sam’s intent was not to list every possible connection between Mormonism and Freemasonry (or the myriad other things he could have drawn parallels to) . No doubt he could have listed more, but the point of his book was to focus on death. His chapter on Masonry was only to serve that end. You note he could have listed other points that connected Masonry to Mormon concepts of death. Again, no doubt more parallels could have been drawn, but the points you make are not very clear. You give one example of person being buried with “Masonic honors” from an 1883 source (not contemporary). You then cite the ceremony of reception, whose language is not very clear regarding eternal relationships. Immediately after you cite William Penn, which is a lovely quote (it’s at the beginning of Harry Potter Book 7 as I recall) but you give no indication of how that quote is linked to the ceremony of reception. Was Penn a Freemason ? (he was a rather prominent Quaker) were the Freemasons influenced by him? You need to give us some evidence.

    So while you expertise in Mormonism and Masonry is useful here, you need to be better engaged in historical methods to make your critique valuable.

  • nate

    It seems to me like Joe’s points (very interesting and insightful) would simply enhance Sam’s thesis, not detract from their conclusions. Masonry is a rich and beautiful tradition, which is supposed to be esoteric and relatively inaccessible. That is what keeps it special to those who participate in it. Sam may not have able to expound fully upon Masonry the way an experienced and scholarly Mason like Joe could, but that is as it should be. There is no limit to the depth of Masonic exploration and knowledge. I think Masons should be content that LDS scholars are currently viewing Masonry in a sympathetic light. But Masons should not wish for too much exposure or exploration by non-Masons. Part of what I love about being a Mason is having an incredible rich and diverse universe of Masonic knowledge and insight that I only share with a few other men.

  • Bored in Vernal

    Steve #2
    I, too, am surprised that Sam’s discussion of Masonry in his Chapter 7, “Negotiating Death and Afterlife in Nauvoo” contains very little about Masonic influences in funerary practice in Nauvoo. Don Carlos Smith’s funeral is indeed indicative of this. A more contemporary reference is Eliza R. Snow’s poem “Death of General Don Carlos Smith,” published 8 days after the funeral. This poem contains at least 3 specific Masonic references that I can pick up (not being a Mason). I think it is valid to say that excluding Nauvoo funerary practice and its relationship with Masonry is a serious oversight in such a chapter.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Steve Fleming

    BiV, it was not my intent to say that Joe was wrong in saying that Sam had overlooked some important information. My point was only that the way that Joe presented his critique was problematic. My point was to critique Joe’s critique, not to defend Sam.

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    Steve says:

    “Joe, you need to understand a bit more about what one does when one writes a history book. Sam’s intent was not to list every possible connection between Mormonism and Freemasonry (or the myriad other things he could have drawn parallels to) .”

    My fundamental criticism of Sam’s book isn’t simply that it fails to mention or list every possible connection between Masonry and Mormon ritual. Rather, my criticism is that Sam fails to engage the actual subject of the conquest of death as it is found in contemporaneous Masonic ritual and tradition, and that his book suffers for this oversight. You will note that my own focus here is on this single issue, for which I provide several illustrative examples. Failure to look carefully at the specific shape of both Mormon and Masonic ritual and traditions — lack of examination of the specific details — means that it is far more difficult for a reader to accurately assess the validity of the claims being made relative thereto.

    I was quite surprised that in a book whose subject matter is the conquest of death, Brown did not discuss *specific* connections between traditions in Freemasonry and Mormonism. And, where Sam does actually mention Masonic tradition in any detail (as in the case of his discussion of the Hiramic Legend), he simply fails to get it right. Again, this is not a small “miss” on his part – it is alarming, because these are the only places a reader can evaluate Sam’s theory.

    You are of course correct, Steve: one can be forgiven for not including items that others find to be significant. However, Sam fails to even mention big ticket items which have direct bearing on his thesis. That is far less forgivable. And while it was not the focus of my very limited review, Sam fails to get even simple facts right: he misuses Masonic terminology, makes numerous factual errors leading to false conclusions, and outright “misreads” the Masonic tradition as it relates to the theme of his book. Lack of inclusion is one thing, but misstating facts and failing to understand what one DOES include is another. The number of errors of fact relating to Freemasonry in this single chapter are significant, and no amount of pretty verbiage can cover this up.

    Steve then says: “No doubt he could have listed more, but the point of his book was to focus on death. His chapter on Masonry was only to serve that end.”

    Again, the issue is quality and not quantity. As for the “ends” which this chapter serves, that is open to some discussion, I would think. I stand by my statement that the writing not only mischaracterizes Freemasonry, its ritual and traditions, but also that it smacks of apology. I think Sam would have been far better served to present evidence, and then interpret simply and honestly what Freemasonry has to say on the subject of the conquest of death and of the power of familial and social bonds to continue beyond death — a central theme of Masonic writing for the last three centuries at least. He could then compare and contrast this with Joseph Smith’s own theology. However, Sam instead chooses in the prettiest language to accept the view of Mormon critics of the Fraternity. He quietly calls Freemasonry a secret combination, in which candidates take upon themselves death oaths; he dismisses Masonry as more pageantry than power: an unsavory stew of conflicted notions and traditions from which Joseph Smith here and there drew out a useful thing or two. Dismissing Freemasonry in this way, he then argues for innovation by Joseph Smith on points that seem to me at least to have had their origins in the Craft long before finding any expression in Joseph Smith’s theology.

    Steve: “You give one example of person being buried with “Masonic honors” from an 1883 source (not contemporary). ”

    My apologies. I meant to state that Helen Mar Whitney was a contemporary and firsthand witness to these events, although she reported them after the fact. However, the Eliza R. Snow poem she quotes as the bulk of her recollection is in fact contemporaneous. It is also not insignificant that the “person” being buried with Masonic honors was in the first instance Don Carlos Smith — the brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as you will recall. The second instance is similarly significant: King Follett — whose Masonic membership and funeral are a matter of record — was the Masonic Brother of Joseph Smith, and the content of the King Follett discourse is therefore peppered with Masonic language.

    Steve: “You then cite the ceremony of reception, whose language is not very clear regarding eternal relationships.”

    Actually, it is quite clear: what virtue has joined, death cannot separate! The ring is a token of this understanding, and that is why it is presented to one dear to the heart of the deceased — the ring is a token of what is yet to come for those united by virtue. It is a critical omission on Sam’s part that he fails to appreciate the fact that Freemasons in Joseph Smith’s day were already familiar with the quite powerful notion that death could not break certain familial and fraternal ties, because those near and dear to us are UNITED to us BY VIRTUE.

    This meaning seemed clear enough to Joseph Smith, at least. As you may recall, he made use this understanding in his first lyceum discussion, where he illustrated the principle using his very own ring.

    Steve: “Immediately after you cite William Penn, which is a lovely quote . . . but you give no indication of how that quote is linked to the ceremony of reception.”

    Its only link is in the content, which sentiments are shared by Freemasons. I suppose I could have better quoted Masonic poets, such as Rob Morris, who in his 1854 poem known by every Freemason, said:

    There is a world where all are equal, we are hurrying to it fast,
    We shall meet upon the Level when the Gates of Death are past;
    We shall stand before the Orient and our Master will be there,
    To try the blocks we offer with His own unerring square.
    We shall meet upon the Level there, but never thence depart,
    There’s a Mansion, tis all ready for each trusting, faithful heart,
    There’s a Mansion and a welcome and a multitude is there;
    Who have met upon the Level and been tried upon the Square.
    ***
    Hands round! Ye faithful brotherhood, the bright fraternal chain,
    We part upon the Square below and meet in Heaven again;
    And the words of precious meaning, those words Masonic are:
    “We meet upon the Level and we part upon the Square.”

    The quote is rather long, but it may be summarized as follows:

    Freemasons believe in the immortality of the soul, and of the eternity of our familial and social bonds, because, Steve, WHAT VIRTUE HAS UNITED, DEATH CANNOT SEPARATE. That, Steve, is the nature of Rob Morris’ “Bright Fraternal Chain.” It is an indissoluble chain, forged of by the hand of God, each link bright and virtuous. Again, Masonic “Friendship and Society are, in the best Sense, ever present, because Immortal.”

    Steve: “So while your expertise in Mormonism and Masonry is useful here, you need to be better engaged in historical methods to make your critique valuable.”

    I appreciate your criticism, and admit my own weaknesses in presentation. However, that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. I also agree with Nate, adding only that Sam’s thesis would have only been helped and not hurt by a treatment of Masonry less encumbered by the polemical considerations of the past.

    Steve, I would appreciate your evaluation of my engagement of historical methods in my own forthcoming book, “Method Infinite: Freemasonry and the Mormon Restoration.”

    Kindest,
    Joe Steve Swick III

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Steve Fleming

    I look forward to your book Joe.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Joe,

    Forgive me, but aside from being a Freemason, what qualifications do you have that make you an expert on historical Freemasonry and/or Mormonism (or even a “scholar” of the subject(s))? Your presentation here doesn’t exactly lend credibility to your critiques, since (as Steve Fleming rightly points out) you apparently don’t understand the meaning of the word “contemporaneous” and quote William Penn–a 17th century Quaker–to prove your point about connections between 19th Mormonism and Freemasonry.

    I hear this refrain from Freemasons regularly–that historians who are not Freemasons misread historical Freemasonry–but I don’t seem to remember any of the critics actually participating in those conversations beyond drive-by critiques in the form of blog posts. Is there peer-reviewed material on 19th century Freemasonry that you can point us to that you feel accurately describes and analyzes Freemasonry? Perhaps your forthcoming book will make such a contribution.

  • http://loydo38.blogspot.com the narrator

    Chris, do you really want to go the way of an ad hominem?

    No offense, but your comment reeks of academic elitism.

  • Mel Johnson

    Joe’s critique informs the uninformed of the need to know more before adequately comprehending all of his points. One cannot competently talk of death and funerary practices in Nauvoo without a solid commentary on the intersections of contemporary Mormonism and Mormonism. To the naysayers, hush, be patient, and learn more anon when Joe’s knowledge becomes available to us.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Loyd–

    I didn’t realize it was ad hominem to question one’s self-professed scholarly credentials based on a blog post full of blatant errors. And if asking for peer-reviewed research on a subject is academic elitism, then guilty as charged.

  • Bored in Vernal

    Christopher,
    As the facilitator of this blog post, and the writer of Joe’s biographical details, I’m just wondering–where exactly are these “scholarly credentials” professed?

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Um, at the beginning of the blog post, Cheryl.

    “Joe Swick is a longtime student of the history and dogmas of Mormonism and Freemasonry. He received his Endowment in 1982 and was raised a Master Mason in 1995. He is twice Past Master of his local lodge, and twice Past High Priest of his Royal Arch Chapter, receiving the Masonic Order of High Priesthood in 2004.”

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    Chris: “Forgive me, but aside from being a Freemason, what qualifications do you have that make you an expert on historical Freemasonry and/or Mormonism (or even a “scholar” of the subject(s))?”

    I wasn’t aware that scholarly credentials were a qualification should I wish to make a blog post critical of a chapter of Sam Brown’s book. (Smile) I’m an Endowed Freemason, well-acquainted with both early LDS and Masonic literature, having read literally hundreds of books and several hundreds of papers and articles pertaining to this subject, over a period of roughly thirty years. While this does not mean that my views are necessarily better than Sam’s or even more insightful, it at the very least means that my opinions are well-informed by the relevant literature. I do not suppose that there is a Masonic source Sam references in his chapter, “Negotiating Death and Afterlife in Nauvoo,” with which I was not already very familiar. In fact, these sources have long been a matter of much back-channel discussion by Mormon-Masons (scholars and otherwise), many of whom have known and corresponded with me for decades.

    I would like to reiterate that overall, I really like *In Heaven as It Is on Earth*. Sam is a fantastic writer, and I would have preferred to be able to applaud his chapter on Freemasonry and Mormonism. However, I simply cannot do so. I cannot, because the chapter is has some serious problems in how it handles the subject of Freemasonry. One need not be a scholar to identify these difficulties: careful reading by one familiar with the sources should suffice. Before taking offense at my remarks, I ask you to consider that the opinions of a Mormon Freemason may signal to you the kind of response Sam’s chapter is likely to receive from others intimately familiar with both the LDS and Masonic traditions. My remarks are not a mere quibble over small details, Chris – although, as you know, there is plenty in those details one could quibble about!

    Chris: “your presentation here doesn’t exactly lend credibility to your critiques, since (as Steve Fleming rightly points out) you apparently don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘contemporaneous’”

    I can admit my own lack of care in how I presented this quote. However, — and contrary to your opining — while Helen Mar Whitney’s own telling is not contemporaneous, she was indeed present at the funeral, and the Eliza R. Snow poem which comprises the bulk of Whitney’s remarks on Don Carlos Smith’s funeral, was in fact written within days of the event — that is to say, it is contemporaneous.

    As I recall, my own critique of Sam’s book is that he “fails to anywhere significantly engage the funerary rites or traditions of Freemasons, as the same were known and practiced in Nauvoo.” In this regard, I mention Don Carlos Smith and King Follett as two examples of such funerals, for which we have contemporaneous records. You may dispute my choice of Whitney as a source, Chris. However, my fundamental criticism of Sam on this point is beyond reasonable disputation. As I suggest, Sam fails to anywhere significantly engage the funerary rites or traditions of Freemasons, as the same were known and practiced in Nauvoo. Frankly, I’m sorry that this is so.

    Chris: “[you] quote William Penn–a 17th century Quaker–to prove your point about connections between 19th Mormonism and Freemasonry.”

    No, I do not. Rather, I quote Penn as illustrative of a similar sentiment found in the 14th degree: i.e., that death cannot break virtuous familial and fraternal ties. This sentiment is found in Freemasonry both early (that is, prior to the days of Joseph Smith) and late (that is, among modern Masonic writers). It is also fairly explicit in the 1783 Ring Ceremony I quoted. I find little need to “prove” what Henry Francken himself had made so clear. Now, if you prefer that a Masonic author express similar sentiment, then please read the Rob Morris poem I quoted for Steve, in my lengthy response to him.

    Chris: “I hear this refrain from Freemasons regularly–that historians who are not Freemasons misread historical Freemasonry”

    Hmm. “Misreading historical Freemasonry” is one thing; misreading or misunderstanding the content of Masonic ritual and tradition is another. One can be dead on when it comes to historical facts, and still be very wrong when it comes to the meaning of Masonic ritual meaning and tradition. This can cause interpretive difficulties if the historical facts require interpretation in light of ritual and tradition.

    I confess that it is a small conceit that as a Freemason, I’m a generally a more able interpreter of Masonic ritual and tradition than non-Masonic interpreters of the same. I do not apologize for this; I’d simply point out that many Latter-day Saints share a similar small conceit when it comes to preferring LDS over non-LDS interpreters of the Mormon Temple ritual.

    Chris: “I don’t seem to remember any of the critics actually participating in those conversations beyond drive-by critiques in the form of blog posts.”

    My own experience has been that such participation is often not welcome. It is especially not welcome by those who would like to view themselves as more informed on Freemasonry than even the Freemasons. I’ve seen established Masonic writers and scholars provide sound citations in support of their views, only to be ridiculed and dismissed by non-Mason critics who believe they know better. This kind of dismissiveness is unfortunately common among some Latter-day Saints. For them, the starting-point in any discussion of Masonry is: “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.”[i]

    Chris: “Is there peer-reviewed material on 19th century Freemasonry that you can point us to that you feel accurately describes and analyzes Freemasonry?”

    Depending upon what you mean by “accurately describes and analyzes Freemasonry,” I can give a qualified yes. I’m a life member of the Scottish Rite Research Society, and I highly recommend the yearly transactions of that society as representing a high water mark in modern Masonic research (that’s why I’m a member). I would also point out that one need not be a Freemason to join: http://scottishrite.org/about/masonic-education/srrs/ . I have also been a corresponding member of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Research, here: http://quatuorcoronati.com/ . Again, membership in the Corresponding Circle is open to all, and I similarly recommend the transactions of the QC as some of the best Masonic scholarship available today. For those who prefer their research online, I would point to Pietre-Stones: http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/ . Generally scholarly in outlook, it is slightly less rigorous than the SRRC or the QC. However, Masonic authors from around the globe participate on Pietre-Stones, and significant articles from the SRRC and QC often find their way there.

    As for specific non-Masonic authors, I can recommend only a few. Margaret Jacob (http://preview.tinyurl.com/7tsqqc6) and Stephen C. Bullock (http://preview.tinyurl.com/7kbuz2e) most readily come to mind. I’m sure there are others that I’m forgetting at the moment (Jasper Ridley suddenly comes to mind) .

    Unfortunately, I would be hard pressed to find any title on Mormonism and Freemasonry that I could recommend – whether by Mason or Mormon writer. For, while the language is slightly more respectful on both sides of the fence, the current literature is largely a continuation of a tradition of polemical argument. This is exceedingly unfortunate.

    Honestly, my own concern about his presentation and conclusions notwithstanding, Sam’s chapter is still one of the best things on the subject currently available. And, to his credit in my eyes, he is at least one of a few LDS scholars apparently willing to entertain the idea Freemasonry had any significant influence on Mormon social institutions and their philosophical underpinnings.

    Chris: “Perhaps your forthcoming book will make such a contribution.”

    I am doing my endeavor, Chris. Like every serious author, it is my ardent wish to present facts clearly, interpret them fairly, and make an argument that is both honest and convincing.

    Best,
    Joe Steve Swick III

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    Steve: “Was William Penn a Freemason ?”

    Actually, it is commonly held that William Penn was indeed a Freemason. However, better documented is the Masonic membership of his grandson, John Penn.

    Steve: “You need to give us some evidence.”

    William Penn’s Masonic membership was never a point, Steve, and therefore requires no evidence. Rather, my reason for quoting him was simply that his words so aptly express the Masonic sentiment behind the ring ceremony of the 14th Degree. However, as I said: if you need a man who was clearly and unambiguously a Freemason to express a similar sentiment, I opt for the Rob Morris poem I quoted earlier. :-)

    Kindest,
    Joe Steve Swick III

  • Clyde R. Forsberg Jr.

    After reading this, I’m so very glad not to have any ties to Masonry and to have cut all ties to Mormonism in the mid-1980s. What a peevish, churlish, and pedantic thread you spin….

  • http://chriscarrollsmith.blogspot.com Christopher Smith

    Joe, I think your point would be better communicated if framed in a less confrontational manner. While using another scholar as a foil is certainly common and accepted practice in the academy, the best scholars try to be very diplomatic about it. In some cases, they don’t even mention the name of the person whose work they’re critiquing, though many readers will be able to pick up on it. A general statement at the beginning of your post that you felt Brown was too dismissive of Masonry would have sufficed, without any need to point out all the specific omissions, errors, and failures. Then you could have spent the rest of the post building your own case for the influence of Masonry on Joseph Smith’s ideas about death and the Chain, and all the commenters would have applauded your constructive insights instead of going into “fight” mode. This is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way and am still struggling with, myself: namely, that the most effective critiques are the ones that are so understated that they barely warrant being called critiques.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Thanks for the references, Joe. I look forward to your forthcoming book.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Steve Fleming

    Joe, I’m curious to hear references to William Penn being a Mason.

  • http://bycommonconsent.com BHodges

    Interesting:

    “A dearth of understanding…”
    “several significant problems…”
    “Almost unbelievably, Sam fails to anywhere …”
    “He fails to breathe even a word of recognition…”
    “I was most astonished …”
    “Sam is unwilling to directly state …”
    “Similarly, Sam fails to mention …”
    “I wish to stress that these are not minor errors”
    “(of which there are, unfortunately, not a few in his book).”
    ” Rather, these issues suggest a fundamental lack of appreciation…”
    “Numerous other similar objections to equally troubling factual and interpretive errors could be raised…”
    “a particularly egregious oversight…”
    “misreading and mishandling…”
    “even where his arguments may otherwise have merit, it is difficult for me to have confidence…”

    After all of this (without my commenting on the substantive problems of Swick’s perspective) we are relived to read his concluding remark:

    While overall his book is quite excellent…

    Indeed!

  • Bored in Vernal

    I find it difficult not to leap to the defense here, since this post came about at my request. It seems to me that it is being judged and found lacking as a scholarly review, when in fact this piece is intended as a blog post and a critique. I think the point has been made that Joe is critical of Sam’s work. Now, what do you think of the meat of what he says? Do you feel that Joe is correct that “Negotiating Death and Afterlife in Nauvoo” with respect to Masonic influences should necessarily include Masonic funerary practices, a discussion of the Masonic symbol of death (the apron), or the similarities in Masonic and Mormon beliefs that kinship ties extend beyond the grave? Are the lack of these elements a serious oversight in the chapter?

    Finally, those of you who have read the chapter, do you feel that Sam’s understated critique of Masonry is fair? I’d love to see some more discussion along these lines.

  • Bored in Vernal

    And Blair, I would absolutely love to have you comment on “the substantive problems of Swick’s perspective.” It seems to me that approach might move this discussion along into something more productive.

  • http://bycommonconsent.com BHodges

    Oops, forgot to add the ones in the comments:

    “Again, this is not a small “miss” on his part – it is alarming…”
    “fails to even mention big ticket items which have direct bearing on his thesis. That is far less forgivable…”
    “fails to get even simple facts right…”
    “misstating facts and failing to understand what one DOES include is another…”

    and etc.

    FWIW, I think it would have been fun to see Sam engage more in the funerary rites of Masonry, if Joe’s observations about the fraternity having more to say about eternal families, etc. are accurate. The book, I suspect, was already longer than what the publisher perhaps wanted.

    This post makes it seem as though the book is 1) a screed against Masons in beautiful language, and 2) fundamentally flawed as a result. In this way I think Joe’s review misunderstands the nature of Sam’s overall project, and could have contributed to the discussion in a better way than this. I didn’t get the impression Sam was following a particular apologetic agenda in smearing Masons, I thought his treatment was respectful. Further, I think Joe is implicitly arguing from a position of infallibility based on his being a mason and reading a lot of books, his seems to be a position which assumes there is one True way to understand the masonic past, which I think is unsustainable. I don’t doubt that an active mason’s contributions are simply flawed or useless, I think such views are very important. But they aren’t the epitome of truth, either.

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    Chris: “A general statement at the beginning of your post that you felt Brown was too dismissive of Masonry would have sufficed, without any need to point out all the specific omissions, errors, and failures. Then you could have spent the rest of the post building your own case for the influence of Masonry on Joseph Smith’s ideas about death and the Chain, and all the commenters would have applauded your constructive insights instead of going into “fight” mode.”

    Thank you for this feedback, Chris. I would point out that this is a blog post intended as a critique of a specific element of Sam’s book. The truth is, Sam’s book is well-written and undoubtedly will be well-received. My concern is that this means his conclusions — including his minimizing and negative evaluation of Freemasonry in Chapter 7 — will go largely unchallenged by many Latter-day Saints. My OP was not an attempt to rewrite his chapter for him according to my own whims. Such a blog does not even provide the space to adequately address the several serious problems his presentation raises for Freemasons who read him.

    Speaking frankly, Sam’s chapter says quite a number of unkind things about the Masonic Fraternity. And while he is certainly welcome to his views, he should expect that when he supports those opinions with errors of fact, or overlooked research or misreadings of ritual and tradition, then those familiar with the sources are going to be inclined to point out these weaknesses as mitigating against those very negative conclusions.

    I would not expect others to be in “fight mode,” as you say, unless my observations regarding Sam’s book are inaccurate — but I do not suppose they are. The truth is that for each claim I have made (factual errors, mishandling of the Hiramic Legend, omission of critical information, mischaracterization of Masonic ritual and tradition), I could easily provide examples that would exceed the length of the OP. I’m not just waving around an empty hat: if bloggers here would like me to provide more specific information on any one of these areas, I’d be most willing to do so, either as part of this thread or in a separate post, or as a full review of this specific chapter of Sam’s book.

    Kindest,
    Joe Steve Swick III

  • SmallAxe

    I’m with BiV on this. Let’s get over the fact that Joe could have framed his critique more productively; perhaps this is something that comes more easily with having produced a book-length work (and it sounds like Joe may have that opportunity in the future, and hopefully it will be rigorously reviewed).
    The question this raises for me, and I don’t see myself as a historian so I can’t really answer this, is how good of a historian is Sam? Is the material he does not include a choice he makes or an oversight he makes? I’m prone to defend him because I like him personally, but I don’t have the background on this to defend him intellectually.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Steve Fleming

    SmallAxe, Joe’s review seems only to be asking for more details, but that is another project (Joe’s). Sam clearly asserts that Masonry influenced Mormonism, so I’m not sure where the rub is. No one here is saying that Sam’s book is perfect or that the details that Joe and BiV offer aren’t interesting, but I just don’t see how they alter Sam’s thesis in any way. Again, we all look forward to more work on Mormonism and Masonry and hope that Joe’s book is enlightening.

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    Blair: [quotes my critical language, then notes I say, "While overall his book is quite excellent…" and responds] “Indeed!”

    Indeed. My negative remarks are not about the overall literary merit of Sam’s book. Rather, they are about what one finds, what one might be reasonably expected to find, and what one does NOT find in Chapter 7, “Negotiating Death and Afterlife in Nauvoo.” It is specifically about how Sam handles evidence regarding Mormonism and its relationship to Freemasonry.

    Blair, I wonder if you understand what in this chapter of Sam’s book might be objectionable to a Mormon Freemason? At the very least, Sam is aware that what he has said he may have offended Freemasons, and that his tone might be “insufficiently friendly to Masonic institutions” :

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2012/03/27/dear-bbc/#comment-252234

    As you were a participant in the thread I link to above, you may recall my own comment, that Sam’s difficulties are greater than whether or not his language is generally friendly to the Fraternity. But make no mistake about it, Blair: his language while polite is not friendly.

    Sam insinuates that Masonry was some kind of simple trading-in of the profound in favor of cheap pageantry covered in a thin patina of hermeticism: Mormonism’s “Nauvoo rites were not pageants but potent religious rituals,” whereas “Masonry for the large majority of participants was not as hermetic as some . . . have imagined” (Brown 180). His argues that 1820’s Freemasonry had become “drifted and diffused” [a polite euphemism for Heber C. Kimball's "degenerated" Masonry], that it was more or less an elbow-rubbing “secret combination” for rich, white social climbers with political aspirations. He states that antebellum Freemasonry was:

    “a paracivic fraternal organization, a social club for largely white male property owners. The fraternity allowed upwardly mobile men to COMBINE TOGETHER, [and] create political networks … American Masonry had DRIFTED AND DIFFUSED some by the 1820′s, even as it simultaneously grew more explicitly populous and religious” (Brown, 172).

    Sam provides no discussion here of just what he means by a more “drifted and diffused” Masonry; he does not discuss what the process of “drifting and diffusing” might have been. However, the language implies an unstated assumption shared by many Latter-day Saints, and as his book is for a largely Mormon audience, Sam is generally not required to defend such an assertion. It is an assertion presented without any supporting evidence whatsoever. In fact, Sam *cannot* support his assertion. He cannot demonstrate a “pristine” Masonic ritual from which circa 1820′s Masonry had “drifted and diffused.” Neither does he provide any discussion of, or evidence for, the idea that Masonry had somehow become “more religious” in the 1820′s (intending to suggest, I suppose, that the “drifting and diffusing” was of a ritual and not simply a religious character). By contrast, Masonic scholars generally argue that the trend in Masonry is just the opposite: that the trend is towards de-Christianization, with the first “wave” occurring following the establishment of the Grand Lodge in 1717, and then again, at the creation of the United Grand Lodge in 1813 (as an example, see N. Barker-Cryer, “The De-Christianizing of the Craft,” (AQC No. 97, 1984, pp. 34-60) and Michel L. Brodsky, “Why was the Craft De-Christianized?” (AQC No. 99, 1986, p.158)).

    Sam further claims that Joseph Smith had only appropriated from Masonry “new symbols to describe concepts he had been preaching for years” (Brown 179), which concepts “had not changed much” (Brown 177).

    Blair, you will note that Sam is asserting an apostate Freemasonry which was more about pageantry that ritual power — a “hermetic light” social club at best, and a degenerated “[secret] combination” at worst.

    These are assertions which are right properly offensive to Freemasons, and while politely stated, they are not supported nor defended by Sam.

  • http://bycommonconsent.com BHodges

    Joe: is there anything negative in particular Sam might have said about Masons that you would agree with? It’s a somewhat jerk-question, but the reason I ask is because I tend to get a bit uncomfy when a writer treats anything like an unmitigated good as you seem to be doing with Masonry.

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    Blair: Actually, yes, and as this is a critique I felt no need to comment on them. However, here is the point: before you criticize me for the language I use when taking Sam to task — before you tell me how unfair my treatment is– you might pause and consider precisely what Sam is saying about Freemasonry.

    Your previous comments to BiV are very good, and I’ll be sure to come back to them as my time this evening allows.

    Thank you, Blair.

    Joe Steve Swick III

  • Exequiel Medina

    Christopher, you said about Joe “you apparently don’t understand the meaning of the word “contemporaneous””. I think he actually understand its meaning. People from any date in the past or present are contemporaneous between them. Forget me if I misunderstood you.

  • Exequiel Medina

    I mean people from any date in the past are contemporaneous between them, etc.

  • http://chriscarrollsmith.blogspot.com Christopher Smith

    >> “I would not expect others to be in ‘fight mode,’ as you say, unless my observations regarding Sam’s book are inaccurate.”

    To be honest, a lot of people here are friends of Sam’s, and they’re going to go into fight mode out of sheer loyalty. It’s a lot easier to admit that your friend was wrong about some things if the correction is made in a friendly manner.

    >> “Speaking frankly, Sam’s chapter says quite a number of unkind things about the Masonic Fraternity.”

    I gathered that from your first comment, but not really from your post. Actually, I think this criticism is both fair and understandable, and I wish you’d spent some time discussing it in your post. When someone says, “I, as a member of group X, felt offended by some of the dismissive things that were said in the book,” that’s hard to argue with, and I think everyone is going to have to concede the point and make an effort to do better in the future. We all benefit from that sort of thing.

    FWIW, Joe, while I think your presentation could have been improved, I think you’re very much onto something with regard to Masonry’s role in shaping Smith’s theology of the Chain and the conquest of death. Don Bradley has written about how Joseph Smith’s “Grand Fundamental Principles of Mormonism”– particularly friendship– were borrowed from Masonry. This not only suggests that Masonry was an incredibly important influence, but also raises the question of whether Smith’s attempts to conquer death might have been in service of a more overarching principle, sacred kinship/friendship/fraternity.

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    SmallAxe: “Is the material [Sam] does not include a choice he makes or an oversight he makes?”

    I’m inclined towards “oversight,” as the omitted material would require some modification of his argument. I don’t suppose I’d be so noisy about what Sam has not included, if I felt that the material was generally consistent with or largely supported Sam’s thesis. Whether the content of Masonic funeral rites and the traditions surrounding the Masonic apron [1] impact Sam’s argument negatively may be open to some discussion; the lack of inclusion of these items in the text or footnotes suggests no discussion, except perhaps in a blogpost such as this.

    This is especially true of the ring ceremony. I would mention that the motto “What Virtue Unites Death Cannot Separate” was publicly known in upstate New York by 1828 at the very latest. In the January 12, 1828 edition of the American Masonic Record (published in Albany, N.Y.), the motto appears in Latin (i.e., Virtus Junxit Mors Non Separabit) on the first page. It is directly beneath a representation of the Divine Name in a triangle, surrounded by a glory, following the words UNITAS, CONCORDIA FRATRUM. Following the whole is an announcement of the next meeting of the Grand Council of the Princes of Jerusalem. [2] The inclusion of the Latin version of the motto suggests that its meaning was well-known among Masons, as is true with the other Latin phrases appearing in the AMR. However, my point is that the phrase was not only well-known in the Fraternity in a general sense, but was publicly available Joseph Smith’s immediate environment.

    I also wish to stress that my observation isn’t simply that Sam omits critical material. Of equal significance, is that he seriously misreads Masonic tradition. As I mentioned in the OP, his handling of the Hiramic Legend is problematic. It appears to be incorrect in specific details, [3] especially as the Legend is known in the United States. This is complicated by the fact that Sam fails to provide the source for any of his unexpected or out-of-the-ordinary components.

    And those components are not insignificant, given that the Hiramic Legend is so central to Masonic ritual and tradition. They have held deep import for Masons since the before the time of the Mormon Prophet, and so Brown’s handling of this particular part of Masonry is exceedingly unfortunate. Given this kind of interpretation of the central legend of Masonry, it is perhaps unsurprising that Sam characterizes the Freemasonry of Joseph Smith’s day as little more than a convivial society with a few “fragments of wisdom hidden within” (Brown 186). [4] He does not to see the Masonic system of Ancient Craft Masonry as a whole fabric, through the eyes of a Christian Freemason [5] for whom the Legend of Hiram Abiff is an allegory of Jesus. Jesus – that Master whose body like Hiram’s was indecently treated on the brow of a hill West of Mount Moriah:

    As every Christian is taught that his own life must imitate the life and death of Christ, so every Mason is ‘made to represent one of the brightest characters recorded in our annals’; but as the annals of Masonry are contained in the volume of the Sacred Law and not elsewhere, it is easy to see who the character is who is alluded to…. Under the name of Hiram, then, and beneath a veil of allegory, we see an allusion to another Master; and it is this Master, this Elder Brother who is alluded to in our lectures, whose ‘character we preserve.’ [6]

    To understand this point is to see in some small part what it was that captured the imaginations of men for generations — including Joseph Smith’s own. It deepens one’s understanding and appreciation of the Master Mason’s Degree, and unveils in some small measure the profound ritual power in Masonry which Sam so smoothly passes over as mere pageantry.
    ——
    [1] Or of equal significance because of its shared history, the Five Points of Fellowship — that most potent of Masonic symbols of the Conquest of Death and simultaneously of Fraternal Union. For Masons, the words “to be raised from a dead level to a living perpendicular” are sometimes applied to this symbol. And, a Mason may sometimes hear the subtle and sweet double entendre, that in his raising he is “to be reunited with the former companions of his toils.”

    [2] In the Scottish Rite, there are four distinct bodies: The Lodge of Perfection, which governs the 4 ~ 14 Degrees; the Council of the Princes of Jerusalem, which governs the 15th and 16th Degrees; The Chapter of the Rose Croix of Heredom, which governs the 17th and 18th Degrees, and the Consistory, which confers the 19th ~ 32 Degrees.

    [3] As a single example, contrary to Brown’s assertion that when Hiram was killed, he gave the sign beginning with the words “Oh Lord, My God,” every public exposure of the ritual states that in fact it is his companions who do so, at his raising:

    King Solomon is said to have made this exclamation on the receipt of the information of the death of Hiram Abiff. . . . Others say the sign was given and the exclamation made at the grave when Solomon went there to raise Hiram (Bernard, David. Light on Masonry. Utica: Williams and Williams, 1829 page 64).

    [4] In response, Masons early and late have said: “These examples were WISELY adopted for the purpose of concealing the mysteries of MASONRY — like the Cybil’s leaves, the secrets of the brotherhood would appear to the world as indistinct and scattered fragments, whilst they convey to MASONS an uniform and well-connected system” (Hutchinson, Spirit of Masonry, 1775, pp. 8-9).

    [5] For example, see “The Legend of the Third Degree,” pages 228-246 in Mackey, Albert G. The Symbolism of Freemasonry: Illustrating and Explaining Its Science and Philosophy, its Legends, Myths and Symbols. New York: Clark and Maynard 1869. While believing that the Christian interpretation of the Hiramic Legend was a relatively late addition to the Masonic system, Mackey notes that “[William] Hutchinson . . . has called the Master Mason’s order a Christian degree, and thus Christianizes the whole symbolism of its mythical history” (Mackey, Symbolism 244). He further notes that Christian interpreters of the ritual in his day included William Hutchinson and George Oliver in the UK, and Harris, Scott and Salem Towne in the United States (Ibid, 246). When reading Mackey, it is perhaps useful to keep in mind that the Master Mason’s Degree was a relatively late addition to the original system of Masonry, which until 1717 had only two degrees (that of Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft), and that most –if not all– the earliest known Masonic catechisms and exposures have a uniquely Christian context and content.

    [6] Walter Leslie Wilmshurst. The Meaning of Masonry. London: Rider, 1927, pp. 44, 45.

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    Chris: “Don Bradley has written about how Joseph Smith’s “Grand Fundamental Principles of Mormonism”– particularly friendship– were borrowed from Masonry.”

    Yes! Not to detract from another man’s work, but I would like to think that the exchanges I have had with Don on this subject over the years had at least a small influence on his presentation. Don would have to speak to that himself.

    Chris: ” This not only suggests that Masonry was an incredibly important influence, but also raises the question of whether Smith’s attempts to conquer death might have been in service of a more overarching principle, sacred kinship/friendship/fraternity.”

    That is precisely my view, Chris. When Joseph Smith states in 1843 that: “When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves. And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy. (D&C 130:1-2), it is difficult for me to not see in his remarks the Masonic concepts of human perfectibility (in imitation of the Master, the Builder’s Son [Matt. 13:55 (Carenter's son: τεκτονος υιος); Heb 11:10 (Builder: τεχνιτης)]) and sacred, eternal sociality. I readily confess that my reading is prejudiced by my own experiences as a Freemason.

    Kindest,
    Joe Steve Swick III

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    Blair: “I tend to get a bit uncomfy when a writer treats anything like an unmitigated good as you seem to be doing with Masonry.”

    I don’t know that I much believe in “unmitigated good,” of any institution, Blair. In the case of Freemasonry in the 1800′s, it seems to me at least that a bunch of knot-headed brothers in several lodges conspired to abduct, and later ended up killing, William Morgan. In the process, they almost sunk the Fraternity out of existence, and I wish those involved (which may have included a few Mormon Notables, btw) could be brought back from the dead for the sole purpose of subsequent generations of Freemasons telling them directly what immoral cretins they were, while pummelling them about the head and shoulders.

    If on the strength of Stephen Bullock (or even Stephen Dafoe!) Sam had specifically pointed to this event as an example of what he meant by a “drifted and diffused” Masonry — or as an example of Masons “combining together” for mischief, I’d have little to argue. However, he does not do this, and given the context of his remarks this does not seem to be his argument.

    I wish to clarify that it isn’t simply that Sam says negative things about Freemasonry that troubles me, Blair. Rather, it is that he makes these kinds of generalizations, that do not appear to be fully supported by the evidence he has presented.

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    Blair: “FWIW, I think it would have been fun to see Sam engage more in the funerary rites of Masonry, if Joe’s observations about the fraternity having more to say about eternal families, etc. are accurate. The book, I suspect, was already longer than what the publisher perhaps wanted.”

    As I suppose you can guess my own sentiments in the matter, “further affiant sayeth naught.”

    Blair: “This post makes it seem as though the book is 1) a screed against Masons in beautiful language, and 2) fundamentally flawed as a result.”

    On the contrary. I believe that I’ve said that on the whole I very much enjoyed Sam’s book. I have limited my comments to what Sam says about Freemasonry in Chapter 7 – “Negotiating Death and Afterlife in Nauvoo.” I do believe that Sam’s analysis of Freemasonry is fundamentally flawed, and that therefore his conclusions regarding the relationship of Freemasonry and Joseph Smith’s theology are problematic. How that may or may not affect the book on the whole, you’ll have to decide for yourself; it is reallly outside of my own concern here.

    Blair: “I think Joe’s review misunderstands the nature of Sam’s overall project”

    My review wasn’t about Sam’s overall project, but rather about his characterization of antebellum Freemasonry and its relationship to Joseph Smith’s theology in Chapter 7 of his book. I’d in no way wish to extend my critique to Sam’s entire effort.

    Blair: “I think Joe is implicitly arguing from a position of infallibility based on his being a mason and reading a lot of books”

    Actually, not! As you may recall after saying that I was a Mason and had “read lots of books,” I explicitly stated: “While this does not mean that my views are necessarily better than Sam’s or even more insightful, it at the very least means that my opinions are well-informed by the relevant literature.”

    I’m not quite sure where in this you read “infallibility.” I do later say that:

    “I confess that it is a small conceit that as a Freemason, I’m a generally a more able interpreter of Masonic ritual and tradition than non-Masonic interpreters of the same. I do not apologize for this; I’d simply point out that many Latter-day Saints share a similar small conceit when it comes to preferring LDS over non-LDS interpreters of the Mormon Temple ritual.”

    As I said, it is a small conceit, but I certainly would not wish to imply that my opinions are infallibile. Besides, Masons are like the old saw: get 10 of them in a room together, and you’ll get 20 opinions. :-)

    Blair: “his seems to be a position which assumes there is one True way to understand the masonic past, which I think is unsustainable.”

    I don’t suppose that I think any such thing about the “Masonic past,” Blair. I do not think this way about the past in the more general sense, and I certainly do not in this specific instance. Rather, my criticism of Sam’s chapter on Mormonism and Freemasonry is that he makes errors of fact, overlooks significant relevant research, and that he misreads Masonic ritual and tradition. While I agree that there is more than one way to view the past, I would like to see that these views are well-supported, do not fail to mention significant content that might require a modification of one’s argument, and that in the case where one discusses ritual history, that there is a recognition of the traditional (or at least relevant) ways that ritual might be understood.

    In Freemasonry, the central myth or legend involves a biblical figure. Yet, the Masonic telling of that figure’s life adds details not included in the biblical narrative. I’d suggest to you that if you can determine WHAT was added, it will become rather clear to you WHY these additions were made, and in this way you can approach what kinds of things the ritual might have meant to its framers. Suffice it to say that the framers of Masonic ritual were Christians, and the allegory of the Third Degree was initially intended for a primarily Christian fraternity. Even for Christian Masons, this does not suggest a single interpretation.

    However, Sam does not put forth ANY standard Masonic interpretation of the Hiramic legend, Christian or otherwise. On the one hand, he recognizes Hiram as “the archetypal widow’s son.” (Brown 108), but fails to note any of the reasons why this might be significant to Masons, Mormons or Christians. On the contrary, he opines that “some Masonic panegyrics position Abiff as a figure almost as mighty as Jesus,” (Ibid), as though Hiram and Jesus are somehow competing characters. As I have said, there is no single interpretation of the Hiramic legend; however, it would have been appropriate, it seems to me, to at least mention that in the days of Joseph Smith, Christian Freemasons saw in the story of Hiram Abiff an allegory of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Had this understanding guided Sam’s telling of the Hiramic myth, I think it would have been much more satisfying, and his chapter would have been much stronger.

    Incidentally — and a small digression — we have some ability to date elements of the Hiramic legend. the name Hiram Abiff first occurs in English in the Coverdale Bible of 1535, apparently based upon Luther’s German translation of 1534. The word Abiff is transliterated from Hebrew and means “his father.” Some translators recognize this as a euphemism for “master” as in a master craftsman (ergo, “Master Hiram). In fact, Josephus describes Hiram as an “artificer” or “craftsman” (Gk. Τεχνίτης) :

    “Now Solomon sent for an artificer (τεχνίτης) out of Tyre, whose name was Hiram: he was by birth of the tribe of Naphtali, on his mother’s side (for she was of that tribe); but his father was Ur, of the stock of the Israelites.” (Antiquities 8:76).

    Tellingly, Jesus himself is referred to in similar language. In Mark 6:3, he is called a builder, mason or a smith (Gk. τεκτων) and in Matt. 13:55, he is called the son of the builder, mason or smith (Gk. τεκτων). Josephus – so important in the framing of much of the Masonic tradition – uses the word τεκτων to refer to builders in general (τεκτονων in Antiquities 3.173), and masons in particular (τεκτωνας in Antiquities 3.171). The word may also indicate an architect. Given their interest in the building craft, Masons could not have helped but notice that in Hebrews 11:10, God Himself is called the τεχνίτης –that is, the Architect, or Builder.

    I have said far too much on this topic –well outside of Sam’s presentation—and for that I apologize. I leave it to you to connect the dots between builders, masons, and smiths, and how that might be relevant to Joseph Smith’s theology and its intersection with Freemasonry.

    Blair: “I don’t doubt that an active mason’s contributions are simply flawed or useless, I think such views are very important. But they aren’t the epitome of truth, either.”

    I don’t suppose I consider my opinions the epitome of truth, but I do think that my observations about Sam’s treatment of Freemasonry in Chapter 7 of his book have some merit — flawed and wandering though my discussion may be.

    Kindest,
    Joe Steve Swick III

  • Exequiel Medina

    Hi Joe, I think Mormon writers need to be careful about their criticism or apology of Freemasonry and the like (anti-Mormons, etc.). You said “Sam had specifically pointed to this event as an example of what he meant by a “drifted and diffused” Masonry — or as an example of Masons “combining together” for mischief”. Here I see a parallel with Mountain Meadows massacre, that is to say, Mormons “combining together” for mischief. Every institution has a crystal roof when looking to their history. Institutions are made of humans. Therefore, in my opinion, it is useless any effort of make appear the competitors a “drifted and diffused” institution from their history because I am making my own institution a “drifted and diffused” one.
    Also, their tendency of divorce Mormon Church from its Freemasonry and/or mystic, esoteric , occult roots may cause a huge disappointment on Church members when they start learning more of the “other side” from that side. Some years ago, in the university, I had to make a report about Freemasonry and its influence on Chile independence. Visiting their main library here in Chile I was very impressed with their handshake. It was the very First Aaronic Priesthood token!! and it was a shock for me because of that tendency of divorce and lack of information. Instantly it came to my mind I met “true messengers” or true messengers are the wisdom inside Freemasonry (I did not thought on people, we are imperfect/sinners, but on wisdom/teachings). They are not a religion, therefore, made more sense for me thinking on them (their teachings) as true messengers because it was Lucifer who talked of religion to Adam and Eve in the Mormon mythology but it is not explicitly stated about Peter, James and John (they just gave true wisdom to Adam and Eve).
    I think Church scholars can find other ways in order to integrate Church real history and old teachings with current ones. I am glad when reading books written by Hugh Nibley and his scholarly and mystic flavor. His books are a beautiful bridge between Kabbalah, Sacred Geometry (and many other mystical things) and the Church current beliefs. In my opinion, this makes a solid ground for church members, their encounters with mystical teachings or old Church teachings are softened and instead of think about leave the Church they start thinking on learn more, integrate wisdom from different sources and keep faithful to the Church. Of course there are others like me that leave the Church anyway but, at least, I am friendly to it (my old bishop read about old Church teachings like Adam God and because of misinformation he hates the Church now, he feel like the Church cheated him).

  • Clark

    Sorry I’m coming late to this. Looks like I missed all the fun. Sorry – been far too busy to read many blogs of late.
    Joe, as I’ve said before I look forward to your book. I was disappointed to hear you’d stopped working on it for a while and quite excited to hear you were continuing on it after the other book on Masonry and Mormonism died on the vine.

    While I can appreciate your points, I honestly think that until a careful robust book on Mormonism and Masonry is published and engaged with by the Mormon Studies community we just won’t see the appropriate engagement of the issue. There’s just too much there to deal with and too many blind spots that’s easy for even the very well informed to miss. Hopefully your book will change that – especially as other historians react to it correcting errors, filling in blanks but more importantly using it as a stepping stone to new ways of looking at old topics.

    BTW – I do hope you kept the chapter on cypers among Masons, Nauvoo and in Utah (especially by Brigham Young) I must confess that of all the things we’ve discussed over the years that was long my favorite.

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    Clark: “I do hope you kept the chapter on cypers among Masons, Nauvoo and in Utah (especially by Brigham Young) I must confess that of all the things we’ve discussed over the years that was long my favorite.”

    This topic has become increasingly important. I trust you heard (or at least heard about) Clinton Bartholomew’s discussion of Joseph Smith, the Book of Abraham, Holy Language . . . and Masonic ciphers. While I’m guessing that Clinton’s presentation came out to late for Sam to make any changes in his book, I think it has become increasingly difficult to maintain the view that “the KEP and the Book of Abraham contain few if any explicit Masonic references . . . . Only in 1841-1842, around the time of Smith’s [initiation] into the fraternity, did explicitly Masonic phrases appear” (Brown 177).

    Just to pique your interest, Clark: I promise that I have my own surprise regarding Masonic Mormon ciphers, once I’ve spent a bit more time in research. While not as flashy as the BY cipher (for instance), I think what I have will not fail to fascinate. :-)

    Thank you for your well-wishes regarding my book. Things really are moving forward, and if I only had a patron . . . (smile).

    Kindest,
    Joe Steve Swick III

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    Exequiel: “Some years ago . . . [while visiting the main Masonic] library here in Chile I was very impressed with their handshake. . . . Instantly it came to my mind I met “true messengers” or true messengers are the wisdom inside Freemasonry”

    LOL. Oh, my. There is a certain irony in that, without a doubt.

    Kindest,
    Joe Steve Swick III

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Steve Fleming

    Christopher Smith @32
    “To be honest, a lot of people here are friends of Sam’s, and they’re going to go into fight mode out of sheer loyalty.”

    This was certainly not my motive. As I explained in #5, my response had nothing to do with defending Sam. My response was honestly an attempt to explain how the writing of history works. I probably came across as condescending to Joe and I’m sorry for that. But I don’t have any particular loyalties to Sam other than wanting to get along with fellow scholars generally. I’m happy to see Sam’s work critiqued and will likely do so myself; that’s all part of the academic enterprise. But it is helpful to me as a scholar for such critiques to be done well.

    Again, I sincerely look forward to the work that Joe describes.

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    Steve Fleming (#41) “My response was honestly an attempt to explain how the writing of history works.”
    I believe that I understand enough about the writing of history in general — and the rules of logic in particular — to be able to identify in my own area of personal knowledge / expertise: 1) when an argument is supported by the facts in evidence and when it is not; and, 2) when an argument is made that does not take into account evidence that may modify that argument, or is made without fully considering relevant primary source documentation.

    You earlier remark (#26) that “Joe’s review seems only to be asking for more details,” and that while those details might be interesting, you “just don’t see how they alter Sam’s thesis in any way.”

    This would not be how I would characterize either my review or subsequent remarks. Rather, one cannot know if Sam’s comparison of Masonry and Mormonism’s respective views are correct, in the absence of any real consideration of actual Nauvoo-era Masonic ritual and tradition (as expressed in contemporaneous records) in the text proper or the footnotes of his chapter. I give as examples of my concern two specific areas that are entirely unexplored: the Masonic funerary tradition, including the apron (and in later remarks, the Five Points of Fellowship), and the tradition of the Scottish Rite’s 14th Degree ring and its motto, introduced in about 1783 and known publicly in Upstate New York at least by 1828.

    I mention these specific things because they do in fact challenge Sam’s characterization of Freemasonry *as it relates to his own thematic considerations* — i.e., the nature of the Conquest of Death in Freemasonry and Mormonism, and the concept of the Chain in both of these traditions.

    Further, in the one place he really does engage Masonic ritual and tradition — i.e., the Hiramic Legend — he doesn’t note the most relevant (i.e., the most common contemporaneous) interpretation of that Legend (i.e., a Christian interpretation, as I mentioned previously.

    Further, he does not indicate when his telling of this legend is a deviant tradition, and doesn’t cite his source for the same. For instance, Brown states that Hiram’s corpse was discovered and raised “in a secret tomb deep within … Solomon’s Temple.” This non-standard telling is found in only one early exposé of which I am aware, and is generally unknown among Freemasons. It may not be entirely reliable (it comes from an exposuere, after all). As Sam does not cite his source for this deviation or mention issues of reliability, it is difficult for a reader to evaluate. Most non-Masons will assume this is a standard account, while most Masons will assume that Sam is simply uninformed. Perhaps of equal importantnce, Sam does not tell his reader the possible significance of this deviant tradition. In this particular case, it is very significant for Christian interpretations of the legend. And, it is Christian understandings of the legend that one would assume to be most significant for the Mormon Prophet.

    While these details may not impact the overall thesis of his book, they are very important to the claims Sam makes in Chapter 7.

    Steve Fleming (#41) “I probably came across as condescending to Joe and I’m sorry for that. . . . But it is helpful to me as a scholar for such critiques to be done well.”

    The implication is that my critique was not done well. I respond that this was not intended as a scholarly critique, but rather a blogpost in which my remarks (in my own judgement at least) fall well within the range of “acceptable hyperbole.” Furthermore, in my critique I did what scholars unfamiliar with the sources could not have done: I suggested that Sam’s handling of the Masonic sources in this particular chapter was problematic; I provided additional sources that might modify his argument were they to be considered (sources, I suspect, that others here did not know existed before I mentioned them). In this sense, I believe that my critique is a good one, serving a useful purpose. Had I presented a full article for publication, doubtless I would have smoothed out issues of tone, and presentation of evidence. However, I again remind you that this is not a full article — it is a blog of a scant few paragraphs, touching on a single issue. That fuller treatment is still waiting for the proper venue.

    Kindest,
    Joe Steve Swick

  • Nick Literski

    #16
    Clyde Forsberg says: After reading this, I’m so very glad not to have any ties to Masonry and to have cut all ties to Mormonism in the mid-1980s. What a peevish, churlish, and pedantic thread you spin….

    For those who wonder why Mr. Forsberg seems so angry on this particular subject, you may wish to read my 2005 published review of his rather flawed (putting it nicely) book length treatment of Mormonism and Freemasonry.
    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=17&num=1&id=566
    Funny that he’s trolling blog discussions on the subject all these years later!

  • Clinton Bartholomew

    Due to personal considerations I am coming to this post late; and for this I wish to apologize. I wanted to add my own personal comments about Sam Brown’s book and Joe’s critique of this work. Having consumed Brown’s previous articles and interacted with Sam at the MHA, I eagerly awaited the publication of his book. Overall I found the book well written and engaging. Certainly Sam’s treatment of Freemasonry was a fair bit less polemic than previous works which have touched upon the intersection between Mormonism and Masonry. In particular I have to applaud Sam Brown’s treatment of the influence that Freemasonry likely had on Joseph with respect to his view of an eternal brotherhood.

    However, as a Freemason who has studied extensively the historical context of Freemasonry during the early 19th century, I must say that Sam Brown does make a number of missteps in his treatment of Freemasonry. As has been noted above the idea that “the KEP and the Book of Abraham contain few if any explicit Masonic references” is demonstrably incorrect as both have multiple references to Masonic material; and in fact his translation of the BoA relied heavily on the use of Masonic material. The specific areas of critique pointed out by Joe Swick in his review could be amplified in both number and detail. For example Sam Brown’s analysis in his chapters on the Adamic Language and the Great Chain of Belonging are seriously flawed by failing to examine the Masonic context for these ideas in Joseph Smith’s thoughts. Additionally, like Joe, I am somewhat troubled Brown’s treatment of Freemasonry in general and his interpretation of Joseph Smith ideas on the role that Freemasonry was to play in the church. While I would still whole heartedly recommend Sam’s book to anyone interested in Mormon History, it would be with the pointed caveat that when dealing with the topic of Freemasonry that Brown’s treatment is problematic and flawed.

  • Joe Steve Swick III

    Clinton: “I would still whole heartedly recommend Sam’s book to anyone interested in Mormon History.”

    I agree. Sam is a skilled writer, and is able to turn a memorable phrase. He is skilled at using understated language to clothe powerful ideas – a technique that ensures a good, balanced tone, and generally guarantees fruitful re-readings of his work.

    Clinton: “[My recommendation] would be with the pointed caveat that when dealing with the topic of Freemasonry that Brown’s treatment is problematic and flawed.”

    Precisely my view. Again, overall his book is quite excellent. My negative remarks are about how Sam handles evidence regarding Mormonism and its relationship to Freemasonry in Chapter 7, “Negotiating Death and Afterlife in Nauvoo.”

    Clinton: “The specific areas of critique pointed out by Joe Swick in his review could be amplified in both number and detail.”

    The views expressed in some of the comments notwithstanding (e.g,, that my criticisms are simply a result of my failure to appreciate “how history is done,” etc. etc.), I tried to be restrained, limiting my critique to two specific areas: the failure to consider actual Masonic funerary rites and traditions when exploring the intersection of Mormonism and Masonry on the idea of the conquest of death; and factual and interpretive errors in his recounting of the Hiramic Legend. As examples of my first crititicism I mention the Nauvoo Masonic funerals of Don Carlos Smith and of King Follett as entry points into such a discussion, and in this connection mention the Masonic Apron, the Five Points of Fellowship (this latter as a double metaphor for resurrection and for the continuation of our earthly familial and fraternal ties after death), and the 14th Degree Ring Ceremony (as another precursor to the Prophet’s ideas regarding the Great Chain). As examples of the second criticism of his recounting of the Hiramic Legend, I point out a few details, and note that he does not give the most common interpretation of that legend in Joseph Smith’s own day — that is, a Christian interpretation.

    I agree that beyond this, I could have raised a mountain of other points, but I thought that for the purpose of a blog review, these fairly large and obvious errors would suffice (I actually extend my critique to additional areas in my comments). The range of responses that my critique engendered here on FPR was quite eye-opening to me. Generally, the responses seemed to question not my arguments themselves, but rather my credentials to even raise such arguments in the first place. :-)

    Thank you for your own contribution to the conversation.

    Fraternally,
    Joe Swick

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    I think some of the tone is because many of us care a lot more about Sam Brown than we do freemasonry.

  • Pingback: A Dearth of Understanding Mormon Freemasonry in Nauvoo | Illuminati Conspiracy Archive Blog

  • Don Bradley

    Chris: “Don Bradley has written about how Joseph Smith’s “Grand Fundamental Principles of Mormonism”– particularly friendship– were borrowed from Masonry.”

    Joe:
    “Yes! Not to detract from another man’s work, but I would like to think that the exchanges I have had with Don on this subject over the years had at least a small influence on his presentation. Don would have to speak to that himself.”

    I am coming to this party *so* late. But, yes–certainly–Joe, you’ve been a decidedly positive influence on both my grand fundamental principles paper and later explorations in the Mormon-Masonic relationship, as has Clinton Bartholomew, to whom you introduced me.

    Don


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