Some Latter-day Saints accept that Freemasonry descends from the builders of King Solomon's Temple, but that's just a myth, says LDS author Matthew B. Brown. The evidence actually points to early Christianity.
Some critics claim that Joseph Smith concocted the Mormon temple ceremonies after becoming a Freemason, but that's also a myth, Brown says. The history and richness of LDS temple ordinances cannot be explained away by comparisons to Freemasonry.
"Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Masons" (Covenant Communications, 2009) takes on such myths that keep "critic, bystander and Saints alike" from seeing the bigger picture. The book and companion DVD documentary appeal to history to demonstrate how Masonry can't account for LDS temple ordinances.
"We can see better parallels in the ancient world in many ways than we see in Masonry," LDS scholar Daniel Peterson says on the documentary. "Masonry does not account for all the parallels to the ancient world. … Does it have something to do with the temple? I think undeniably so. Does it account for it? Absolutely not."
Brown's book details how modern Masonic scholars say the fraternal order did not descend from the builders of King Solomon's Temple, as once stated in Masonic constitutions. They say the claim is "romantic and wholly fictitious."
Brown quotes one scholar, Dr. Andrew Prescott, as saying that legends about "ancient charters" were used by 15th century stonemasons "to protect (them) from the effects of recent labor legislation."
"That's the mythology that you have to get past in order to understand the bigger picture here," Brown says. " … It was done just for the purpose of getting a prestigious pedigree. And so you have to start sorting things out from that point."
While there is "no solid consensus on where the Masonic organization and its rituals came from," orthodox Christianity is "the place to start looking," Brown writes. He quotes several sources that link Freemasonry with the early Christian church.
One source, Robert Cooper of the Grand Lodge of Scotland Museum and Library, said, "Freemasonry adopted much Christian symbolism and iconography. … Freemasonry doubtless used other sources and invented some, but the majority were adopted from Christianity."
Another, John Hamill of the United Grand Lodge of England, said, "None of the symbolism employed in Freemasonry is peculiar to Freemasonry. It has all been borrowed."
Brown says many elements of Freemasonry's rites — such as the Tiler (guard) and dramatization of a legend, among others — are "solidly grounded in, and very likely drew from, the initiation ceremonies of the orthodox Christian church."
"When you're trying to determine where did they get their ritual and symbolism, you can see that there are some exacting parallels between what Freemasons do during their ceremonies and what Christian kings or priests or monks do during their initiation ceremonies," Brown says on the documentary. "And when you put them together, it's unmistakable that there's a connection between the two."
LDS Church founder Joseph Smith was a member of the fraternal organization, becoming a Master Mason in March 1842. Forty-eight days later, he introduced the temple endowment.
"This is where people think there is controversy," Peterson says. "I don't agree with that particular point of view, because I look backward a lot farther into the history to see what is going on before that point in time."
According to Brown, "the theory that Joseph Smith took ritual elements from the Freemasons in order to create the LDS temple ceremony is principally founded upon the concept of time. … But when a much broader survey of time is taken by the student of the past and the events of history are scrutinized in a much more careful manner, then this theory takes on the appearance of a movie fa?de; it is not nearly as sturdy as it looks."
Brown argues that the Prophet knew and thought much about the Nauvoo-era endowment long before he was introduced to Freemasonry. He references instructions and teachings given prior to 1842 dealing with the pattern for the temple, outlining activities to perform there, and principles like eternal marriage, baptism for the dead and the three degrees of glory.
Critics claim that symbols on the Salt Lake Temple were taken from Masonry, but Brown says they were present in Mormon practice long before Joseph Smith became a Freemason. For example, Brown found 20 references to the "all-seeing eye" and four references to bees in LDS history occurring before 1842.
References to a more complete endowment, beyond what was introduced in the Kirtland Temple, were also made before 1842.
By examining history, "it becomes obvious that the Nauvoo-era temple ordinances and doctrines did not suspiciously materialize after Joseph Smith became a Freemason," Brown writes.
Before joining the fraternity, Joseph Smith had associates who were Freemasons, including brother Hyrum Smith and apostle Heber C. Kimball. Brown, however, says there is no evidence suggesting the Prophet knew about Masonic secrets before becoming a Freemason himself. In fact, revealing such secrets would be grounds for punishment, and "there is no evidence of any such action being taken against a Mormon Mason for making improper disclosures to Joseph Smith."
The nine men who first received the Nauvoo ordinances were all Freemasons.
"And there was no mistaking that there were some resemblances between the two rituals for, as Heber C. Kimball wrote just a month after being endowed, 'There is a similarity of Priesthood in Masonry,'" Brown writes. "And yet, no incredulous cry about bootlegging or fraud rang out from this group against the Prophet."