3. Joseph's Plagiarism in Book of Mormon and Other Revelations

Book of Mormon

Early Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt made a statement concerning the Book of Mormon:

"The Book of Mormon must be either true or false. If true, it is one of the most important messages ever sent from God…If False, it is one of the most cunning, wicked, bold, deep-laid impositions ever palmed upon the world, calculated to deceive and ruin millions…The nature of the "Book of Mormon" is such, that if true, no one can possibly be saved and reject it; If false, no one can possibly be saved and receive it…If, after a rigid examination, it be found imposition, it should be extensively published to the world as such; the evidences and arguments on which the imposture was detected, should be clearly and logically stated, that those who have been sincerely yet unfortunately deceived, may perceive the nature of deception, and to be reclaimed, and that those who continue to publish the delusion may be exposed and silenced…by strong and powerful arguments - by evidences adduced from scripture and reason…" (Orson Pratt's Works, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, Liverpool, 1851, pp. 1, 2.)

Joseph's mother recorded that long before Joseph had received the gold plates he was well aware of the stories contained therein:

"During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would to with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them." (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 85)

Joseph told these stories well before his brother Alvin's death in November, 1823. Yet he never got the plates until September, 1827. Where did all this specific information come from? We have no record of these kinds of details being given to Joseph through his annual interviews with Moroni. Where else but from Joseph's fertile imagination and the source materials to which he had access?

The Indian mounds that dotted western New York were a constant source of speculation during the time Joseph grew up there. It was a common legend that western New York and Ohio had once been the site of a terrible slaughter and that the mounds were the cemeteries of an entire race. In 1821, a Palmyra newspaper stated that diggers on the Erie Canal had unearthed "several brass plates" along with skeletons and fragments of pottery. (Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, pp. 35-36)

That Native Americans descended from the Hebrews was a popular theory at the time Joseph lived. America's most distinguished preachers - William Penn, Roger Williams, Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards - had all espoused the theory. A Jewish rabbi, M. M. Noah, summarized the parallels between the cultures of Hebraic and Indian customs in Joseph's hometown paper on October 11, 1825. Joseph unquestionably had access to the Wayne Sentinel, for on August 11, 1826 his father was listed among the delinquent subscribers as owing $5.60. (Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 45-46)

Ethan Smith was a minister of a Congregational Church in Poultney, Vermont from 1821 to 1826 when he wrote View of the Hebrews. It was first published in 1823 (the Book of Mormon was published 6 years later in 1829). Interestingly, Oliver Cowdery, scribe, and later witness of the Book of Mormon, lived in Poultney for 22 years until 1825. Cowdery's stepmother and three of his sisters were members of Ethan Smith's congregation. No direct evidence exists that would prove or disprove Joseph Smith had read View of the Hebrews. Another book, The Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed, was in the local Manchester Library (five miles from Joseph Smith's home) and extant records show that it was reportedly checked out during the years 1826 to 1828. This book includes a long selection from Ethan Smith's book and attempts to establish a Hebrew origin for Native Americans.

Ethan Smith's theory of the origin of the Indian mounds was exactly the same as that which formed the heart of the Book of Mormon story:

"Israel brought into this new continent a considerable degree of civilization; and the better part of them long laboured to maintain it. But others fell into the hunting and consequently savage state; whose barbarous hordes invaded their more civilized brethren, and eventually annihilated most of them, and all in these northern regions!" (View of the Hebrews, p. 184)

Ethan Smith also reported the legend, said to have come from an Indian chief, that they:

"…had not long since a book which they had for a long time preserved. But having lost the knowledge of reading it, they concluded it would be of no further use to them; and they buried it with an Indian chief." (View of the Hebrews, p. 223)

Perhaps this is where Joseph first got the idea to "find" the golden plates. That he knew about this legend was clear, for he quoted it in his church newspaper years later as evidence of the historical accuracy of the Book of Mormon. (Times and Seasons, Nauvoo, Illinois, Vol. 3 (June 1, 1842), pp. 813-814)

Consider the similarities between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews as summarized by Elder B. H. Roberts:

Book of Mormon View of the Hebrews
Gives an Israelitish origin of the American Indian. Pleads for an Israelitish origin of the American Indian on every page.
Deals with the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of Israel. Deals with the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of Israel.
Deals with the future gathering of Israel and the restoration of the ten tribes. Deals with the future gathering of Israel and the restoration of the ten tribes.
Emphasizes and uses much of the material from the prophecies of Isaiah, including whole chapters. Emphasizes and uses much of the material from the prophecies of Isaiah, including whole chapters.
Makes a special appeal to the Gentiles of the New World--esp. the people of the United States to become nursing fathers and mothers unto Israel in the New World, holding out great promises to the great Gentile nation that shall occupy America, if it acquiesces in the divine program. Makes a special appeal to the Gentiles of the New World--esp. the people of the United States to become nursing fathers and mothers unto Israel in the New World, holding out great promises to the great Gentile nation that shall occupy America, if it acquiesces in the divine program.
The peopling of the New World was by migrations from the Old World. The peopling of the New World was by migrations from the Old World.
Migrating Jaredites are taken into "that quarter where there never had man been". Its migrating people are taken into a country where "never man dwelt".
The colony enters into a valley of a great river. Peoples journeyed northward and encountered "seas" of "many waters" in the course of their long journey. The motive of their journey was religious. Ether is prominently connected with recording the matter. The colony enters into a valley of a great river. Peoples journeyed northward and encountered "seas of many waters" in the course of their long journey. The motive of their journey was religious. Ethan is prominently connected with recording the matter.
Nephites divide into two classes, the one civilized, the other followed a wild hunting and indolent lifestyle that ultimately led to barbarism. The lost tribes divide into two classes, the one fostering the arts that make for civilization, the other followed a wild hunting and indolent lifestyle that ultimately led to barbarism.
Long and dismal wars break out between the Nephites and Lamanites. Long and dismal wars break out between the civilized and barbarous divisions of people.
The Lamanites utterly exterminate the Nephites. (The same thing occurs with the Jaredite peoples in the exact place the Nephites would later be exterminated). The savage division utterly exterminates the civilized one.
Civilized people develop a culture of mechanic arts; of written language; of the knowledge and use of iron and other metals; and of navigation. Civilized people develop a culture of mechanic arts; of written language; of the knowledge and use of iron and other metals; and of navigation.
Unity of race--the Hebrew race and no other is assumed for the inhabitants of ancient America. Unity of race--the Hebrew race, and no other is assumed for the inhabitants of ancient America.
Book of Mormon peoples are assumed to occupy the whole extent of the American continents. With the possible exception of the Eskimos of the extreme north, this race of Hebrew peoples occupied the whole extent of the American continents.
The original language of the people was Hebrew. The Indian tongue had one source--the Hebrew.
Joseph Smith used an instrument in translating the Book of Mormon called Urim and Thummim which he described as two stones and a breastplate. View of the Hebrews describes an instrument among the mound finds comprising a breast plate with two white buckhorn buttons attached, "in imitation of the precious stones of the Urim."
Admits the existence of idolatry and human sacrifice. Admits the existence of idolatry and human sacrifice.
Prophets extol generosity to the poor and denounce pride as a trait of the people. Polygamy is denounced under certain conditions as in the practices of David and Solomon. Generosity to the poor is extolled and pride is denounced as a trait of the American Indian. Polygamy is denounced
Lost sacred records would be restored to the Lamanites along with the return of their lost favor with God in the last days. Indian traditions of a "Lost Book of God" and the promise of its restoration to the Indians, with a return of their lost favor with the Great Spirit are quoted.
Sacred records were hidden or buried by Moroni, a character that corresponds to this Indian tradition in the Hill Cumorah. Ethan Smith's sacred book was buried with some "high priest," "keeper of the sacred tradition."
Reports of extensive military fortifications erected throughout large areas with military "watch towers" here and there overlooking them. Reports of extensive military fortifications linking cities together over wide areas of Ohio and Mississippi valleys, with military "watch towers" overlooking them.
Reports of prayer or sacred towers. Describes sacred towers or "high places," in some instances devoted to true worship, in other cases to idolatrous practices.
Some Book of Mormon people effect a change from monarchial governments to republican forms of government. Part of Ethan Smith's ancient inhabitants effect a change from monarchial governments to republican forms of government.
Civil and ecclesiastical powers are united in the same person in Book of Mormon republican people. Civil and ecclesiastical powers are united in the same person in Ethan Smith's republics.
Lehi, first of Nephite prophets taught the existence of a necessary opposition in all things--righteousness opposed to wickedness--good to bad; life to death, and so following. Some of Ethan Smith's peoples believed in the constant struggle between the good and the bad principle by which the world is governed.
The gospel was clearly preached among the ancient inhabitants of Americas. Ethan Smith's book speaks of the gospel having been preached in the ancient America.
The Book of Mormon brings the risen Messiah to the New World, gives him a ministry, disciples and a church Ethan Smith's book gives, in considerable detail, the story of the Mexican culture-hero Quetzalcoatl--who in so many things is reminiscent of the Christ.

Elder Roberts closes these parallels with this imposing question:

"Can such numerous and startling points of resemblance and suggestive contact be merely coincidence?" (B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, (University of Illinois Press, 1985), p. 242)

Joseph borrowed liberally from the Bible in creating the Book of Mormon. Approximately 25,000 words in the Book of Mormon consist of passages from the Old Testament, mainly chapters from Isaiah that Ethan Smith mentioned in View of the Hebrews. Another 2,000 words were taken from the New Testament. (Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, p. 58)

The original text of II Nephi 16:2 reads:

"Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly."

This is a quotation from the King James Version of the Bible, specifically Isaiah 6:2. In a rare grammatical mistake, the KJV has an incorrect plural for 'seraph'. The correct plural should be "seraphim", as the later text of II Nephi 16:2 reads. How does one explain that Joseph would make the exact spelling error in the Book of Mormon "translation" that the writers of the KJV of the Bible made centuries before?

Joseph even appears to have plagiarized his father. For many years his mother cherished the details of several of her husband's dreams, and one of these was incorporated wholesale into the Book of Mormon as a vision by Lehi, the father of Nephi.

The Vision of Lehi
(Book of Mormon (1830), pp. 18-20)
Dream of Joseph Smith, Sr.
(Lucy Smith: Biographical Sketches, pp. 58-59)
…me thought I saw a dark and dreary wilderness… I thought I was traveling in an open and desolate field, which appeared very barren…
I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable, to make one happy…most sweet, above all that I ever had before tasted…I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also… …a tree, such as I had never seen before…I found it delicious beyond description. As I was eating, I said in my heart, "I cannot eat this alone, I must bring my wife and children."…
And I beheld a rod of iron; and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree… I beheld a beautiful stream of water, which ran from the east to the west…I could see a rope running along the bank of it…
…a great and spacious building…filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceeding fine, and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those which had come at, and were partaking of the fruit. I beheld a spacious building…filled with people, who were very finely dressed. When these people observed us in the low valley, under the tree, they pointed the finger of scorn at us.


Joseph Lied

Apologist Response

Hugh Nibley decried the identification of parallelism as an invalid approach for determining the authenticity of the Book of Mormon

"There are "outside" parallels for every event in the Old and New Testaments, yet that does not prove anything. Of recent years literary studies have shown parallels not to be the exception but the rule in the world of creative writing, and it is well known that great inventions and scientific discoveries have a way of appearing at about the same time in separate places. A scholar by the name of Karl Joel has recently amassed a huge amount of material on the subject, and though we need not accept his conclusion that the same sort of thing that is happening in one place at a given time will be found to be happening all over the world at that moment (!), still his vast volumes present a great wealth of undeniable parallels. The fact that two theories or books present parallelism, no matter how striking, may imply a common source, but it certainly does not in itself prove that the one is derived from the other. We know (thanks to Brodie) that there was a great and widespread interest in the Indian problem in Joseph's day, and we also know that these people of that day had a way of referring everything to the Bible; in that case it is hard to see how anyone could have avoided the Indian-Hebrew tie-up…

"One of Brodie's favorite insinuations is that Joseph Smith was a charlatan because he constantly used the language of the King James Bible, including whole passages from the ancient scriptures, in modern revelations. That is the equivalent of accusing an author of stealing words from the dictionary. Jesus and the disciples constantly spoke the language of the prophets, not in the original but in the religious idiom of their own time and place. Just so the prophets themselves quote from the Psalms and the law. Now the religious idiom of the West was the language of the King James Bible; that was and still is the standard of "formal" English for great occasions. If Joseph Smith had been living in Germany he would not have used the King James version at all--he would have spoken Luther German, but that would not prove him a hoax and a plagiarist. Of course Brodie knows this, but she repeatedly insinuates that the use of Bible language by Joseph Smith implies fraud." (Hugh Nibley, No Ma'am, That's Not History)

An LDS Historian (believed to be D. Michael Quinn prior to his disillusionment with church leadership), pointed out that borrowing from ancient scripture occurred often in the New Testament, and that Lucy Mack Smith's account of her husband's vision may actually have been influenced by the publication of the Book of Mormon rather than the other way around:

"Relating her family's history from memory in 1845, when Lucy Mack Smith came to the early visions of her son Joseph Smith, she (or her ghost writers, Howard and Martha Coray) simply quoted from the published version in the Times and Seasons. When Lucy related the first visionary experiences of her husband that had occurred in 1811 (34 years prior to the time that the 69-year-old woman sought to reconstruct her life's experiences), they appeared remarkably close to the dream related by Lehi in the Book of Mormon. The Tanners conclude that the original 1811 dream is the Item X that Joseph Smith copied into the Book of Mormon Lehi dream (Item Y). But the Tanners are confusing the elements of the textual parallel: the subject of comparison is the written description of the dreams, and if one insists on the post hoc ergo propter hoc analysis of similarities, then the Lucy Mack Smith version written in 1845 was the Item Y that was dependent on, copied from, derived from, the fifteen-year-earlier published dream in the Book of Mormon. (Item X). If one looks for an Item A, B, or C that was an antecedent for the Lehi dream in the Book of Mormon, the Tree of Life symbols and texts of the ancient world deserve a consideration which the Tanners will not give because they are already convinced that the Book of Mormon is not an ancient text…

"This ancient insistence upon repetitive patterns and archetypes is reflected in a distaste for "originality" that pervades written scripture. The Tanners have done a commendable job of showing the passages from the Book of Mormon that are virtual quotations or paraphrases of the Bible (pages 74-79), and had they wanted to they could have quoted from studies showing similar patternism in the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants. Rather than discrediting these two books as legitimate works of scripture, that characteristic of apparent borrowing is completely consistent with biblical scripture. Large revelatory passages of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Nahum, Obadiah, and Zephaniah are so similar as to appear to have been used interchangeably by their authors as they sought to reconstruct the "word of the Lord" to them. Moreover, many standard texts of the New Testament in Greek list the hundreds of quotations and paraphrases from the Old Testament and Apocrypha." (Response to the Tanners by a Latter-Day Saint Historian)


Did Joseph Smith Write the Book of Mormon?


Joseph had no need to justify having ancient records in his translation of the Bible. He simply modified the King James version on the basis of raw revelation. This included modernizing many sentences as well as making occasional changes in doctrine. He even inserted in the Book of Genesis a prophecy of his own coming. Joseph, son of Jacob, was made to say:

"Thus saith the Lord God of my fathers unto me, A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins, and he shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins…and his name shall be called Joseph, and it shall be after the name of his father…" (JST Genesis 50:27, 33)

Joseph also elaborated significantly on the prophecy of Isaiah (chapter 29) concerning the learned man and the sealed book. He added numerous details which closely matched the event of Martin Harris visiting Charles Anthon for confirmation of the reformed Eygptian, in which the Book of Mormon was claimed to be written. The prophecy of Isaiah was also made to include references to the Book of Mormon witnesses and the return of the golden plates to the Lord.

This went beyond plagiarism to the actual spinning of pre-existing scripture to support the divinity of Joseph's mission and the church he established.

Book of Abraham

As a result of the School of the Prophets established in March 1833, Joseph learned that Elohim, one of the Hebrew words for God, is plural. This likely provided the foundation for his claim in the Book of Abraham that "The Gods organized the earth." (Millennial Star, Vol. 3 (Liverpool, England, August 1842), p. 71).

Joseph also possessed a copy of Thomas Dick's Philosophy of a Future State (Vol. 1 & 2), a dissertation on astronomy and metaphysics. One can see many of Dick's ideas woven into the Book of Abraham; for example, the thesis that matter is eternal and indestructible, and the mathematics of the heavens - the innumerable stars and vast distances. Abraham relates that there is one star, Kolob, near the throne of God, and that one revolution of Kolob takes 1,000 years. The stars are inhabited by spirits that differ among themselves in quality of intelligence as the stars differ in magnitude. These concepts apparently came directly from Thomas Dick, who speculated that the stars are peopled by "various orders of intelligences," and that these intelligences were "progressive beings" in various stages of evolution toward perfection. Dick also speculated that "the systems of the universe revolve around a common centre…the throne of God." (see Philosophy of a Future State (Brookfield, Massachusetts, 2nd ed., 1830), pp. 101, 230, 241, 249; Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, pp. 171-173; Marvin S. Hill, Quest for Refuge).

The Book of Abraham also discusses the origin of African-Americans, a major political and moral question at the time the book was published. As a youth, Joseph had read in his geography book the common tradition that all races of men are descended from the three sons of Noah: Ham, Shem, and Japheth (see Thomas T. Smiley: Sacred Geography (Philadelphia, 1824). The copy owned by Joseph Smith is currently in the library of the Reorganized Church in Independence, Missouri). Noah had cursed Ham, stating that Canaan, the son of Ham, should be a "servant of servants" unto his brethren. This story, which the Southern preachers of Joseph's day used to justify slavery, was apparently expanded by Joseph in the Book of Abraham. He claimed that Pharaoh, first ruler of Egypt, was the son of Egyptus, daughter of Ham. The Egyptians thus inherited Noah's curse of a black skin, including a denial to the right of the priesthood. This provided an avenue for Joseph to express his views on the question of slavery. Soon afterward he published a statement in his church newspaper attacking the abolitionist position as being:

"…calculated to lay waste the fair states of the South, and let loose upon the world a community of people, who might, peradventure, overrun our society, and violate the most sacred principles of human society, chastity and virtue… the first mention we have of slavery is found in the Holy Bible…and so far from that prediction being averse to the mind of God, it remains as a lasting monument of the decree of Jehovah, to the shame and confusion of all who have cried out against the South, in consequence of their holding the sons of Ham in servitude…I can say, the curse is not yet taken off from the sons of Canaan, neither will be until it is affected by as great a power as caused it to come…" (History of the Church, Vol. 2, pp. 436-438)

Emanuel Swedenborg

In 1784 a man by the name of Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about his visions of the afterlife. His teachings were remarkably similar to what Joseph Smith later claimed to receive as revelation. For example, Swedenborg taught: "There are three heavens," described as "entirely distinct from each other." He called the highest heaven "the Celestial Kingdom," and stated that the inhabitants of the three heavens corresponded to the "sun, moon and stars." This directly parallels Joseph's vision on the degrees of glory as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76.

By Joseph Smith's own statements, he was familiar with Swedenborg's writings. Joseph told a convert by the name of Edward Hunter that:

"Emanuel Swedenborg had a view of the world to come, but for daily food he perished." (Statement in 1839 by Joseph Smith to Edward Hunter, a Swedenborgian convert who later became the presiding bishop of the Church)

While Joseph clearly did not base all his theology on Swedenborg (there are several important differences), there are similarities to what Swedenborg wrote. The following table discusses some of these similarities:

Emanuel Swedenborg Joseph Smith

(Heaven and Hell, chapter 5)

There are three heavens: the celestial, the spiritual, and the natural. Those of a lower heaven are unable to see those in a higher heaven. Furthermore, the celestial heaven has three divisions.

(Doctrine and Covenants, 76, 131:1)

There are three heavens: the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms. Those of a lower heaven are unable to see those in a higher heaven. Furthermore, the celestial kingdom has three divisions.

(Conjugial Love, 20-21, 54(5), 155)

Swedenborg witnessed a marriage ceremony in heaven, in which the husband wore priesthood robes like those of Aaron while the wife was arrayed as a queen. Also, marriage between man and woman is necessary to inherit the highest heaven.

(Doctrine and Covenants, 131:2)

LDS temple marriages are believed to carry over to heaven, and involve clothing similar to what Swedenborg described. Also, marriage between man and woman is necessary to inherit the highest degree of the Celestial kingdom.

(Heaven and Hell, 421-422)

After dying, people enter a world of spirits that is nearly identical to this one. Afterward, they inherit a degree of glory based on how they lived while incarnate.

(Alma 12:24, 34:32-34, 40:21)

After dying, people go to the spirit world, which exists here on this world. Afterward, they inherit a degree of glory based on how they lived on the earth as well as in the spirit world.

(Heaven and Hell, 27, 35)

Societies of angels exist whose primary function is to communicate between the kingdoms of heaven.

(Doctrine and Covenants, 76:86-88)

Angels are appointed to minister to lower kingdoms of heaven.

Emanuel Swedenborg received his divine calling on April 6, 1744. One year later on April 6, 1745 the Lord appeared to him again.

(Doctrine and Covenants, 20:1)

The LDS church was established on April 6, 1830. It also teaches that Jesus was born on April 6.

(Last Judgement, 33-39; True Christian Religion, 647)

The church established by Christ died spiritually due to apostasy and false doctrines. The Lord's church would be re-established and again act as a link with heaven.

(Joseph Smith History, 1:16)

The church established by Christ died spiritually due to apostasy and false doctrines. The Lord's church was restored through Joseph Smith.

(True Christian Religion, 340-342, Heaven and Hell, 427)

One of the great errors of Christianity is justification by faith alone. People will be judged for their actions as well.

(Alma 11:34-37)

Faith is meaningless without works. People will be judged for their actions as well.

(Arcana Coelestia, vol. 1)

The creation and Garden of Eden stories are allegories of our spiritual progress.

The LDS counterpart to this idea is found in the temple endowment.

Apologist Response

Regarding the similarities between Joseph and Swedenborg, Craig Miller said:

"My conclusion was that Joseph Smith had little clue about who Swedenborg was. Few people of his economic strata would have had the time to wade through reams of the "Writings" to find the ideas that JS plucked out of thin air. The ideas he was familiar with were not common topics of conversation among Swedenborgians and were not available in Heaven and Hell (which he MIGHT have come across) except for the idea of three heavens, etc. About 2/3 of the unique similarities have no connection to Swedenborg that I could find. Simultaneous discovery is not as uncommon a phenomenon as you might believe. Why would two people invent the television in different parts of the globe without consulting one another? Somehow, humans are all connected." (personal note to the author; see Miller's speech at a Sunstone symposium on August 2002)

Temple Ceremonies

Joseph Smith was initiated as an entered apprentice Mason on March 15, 1842, and received the fellow craft and master degrees the following day. He introduced the full endowment ceremony which included the secret signs, tokens, passwords, and penalties, just 7 weeks later on May 4, 1842 (see History of the Church, Vol. 5, pp. 1-2).

"The clearest evidence of Masonic influence on the Nauvoo temple ceremony is a comparison of texts. Three elements of the Nauvoo endowment and its contemporary Masonic ritual resemble each other so closely that they are sometimes identical. These are the tokens, signs, and penalties." (David Buerger, Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship, Chapter 3: Joseph Smith's Ritual)

There was no effort in the early history of the church to conceal any similarities between Masonic rituals and the Mormon Temple Endowment. Indeed, men like Heber C. Kimball said that:

"Bro Joseph Ses Masonary was taken from preasthood but has become degen[e]rated. But menny things are perfect." (Letter from Heber C. Kimball to Parley P. Pratt, June 17, 1842)

Despite claims that Masonry extends back to Solomon's Temple, in fact the rites of Masonry emerged around the thirteenth century. It originated in Britain as a trade guild, though it incorporated symbols dating back to various cults in antiquity. Masonry thus comes from an era that Mormon doctrine associates with the great apostasy. For Mormonism to copy its crowning ordinances from rites that emerged during the dark ages presents a problem.

As Mervin Hogan, a Mormon Mason, explained in 1991:

"[L]ittle room for doubt can exist in the mind of an informed, objective analyst that the Mormon Temple Endowment and the rituals of ancient Craft Masonry are seemingly intimately and definitely involved." (Mervin B. Hogan, Freemasonry and Mormon Ritual (Salt Lake City: author, 1991), p. 22)

A detailed comparison between the endowment and Masonry proves this to be unquestionably true.

Note that the endowment conducted in the Kirtland Temple prior to Joseph's induction into Masonry apparently didn't contain any of these elements. It was only after his induction that the Masonic rituals found their way into the endowment conducted in the Nauvoo Temple. These Masonic signs and tokens are considered critical by the LDS church, as the individual is believed to be required to present them before being allowed into the Celestial Kingdom.


Early LDS Endowment at Kirtland

Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, pp. 279-283

How Obvious Would It Have To Be?

Apologist Response

Apologists have stated that despite the apparent similarities between the LDS temple and Masonry, the actual content and meaning of the two are very different:

"With all of these things in mind, and recognizing that there are in fact parallels between certain elements of the LDS temple ceremonies and some of the ceremonies in freemasonry, I have come to the conclusion that the parallels largely occur within the form of the ceremony, and not in the content of the ceremony or in the ordinances themselves." (Benjamin McGuire, Mormonism 201: The Temple)

"The answer is that to those who know both [the Masonic and LDS temple ceremonies], the resemblance is not striking at all; it is not nearly so striking as the resemblance between the church Joseph Smith founded and the other churches, and yet even though the Mormon Church and these institutions present one parallel after another, they are really totally different in form and meaning." (Hugh Nibley, No Ma'am, That's Not History)

An LDS Historian (believed to be D. Michael Quinn) acknowledged the connection to Masonry, but said that we should also look at the possibility of ancient parallels going back to Solomon's temple:

"Joseph Smith's initiation as a Master Mason in 1842 may indeed have acted as a catalyst for him to seek further revelation about the ceremonies that Masons claimed came from the Temple of Solomon, and (in view of what I will discuss later about scriptural phraseology) it is possible that Masonic phraseology influenced the development of the wording used to teach the sacred elements of the LDS endowment. Nevertheless, before repudiating Mormon temple ordinances by historical parallel, one should consider the ancient rites and ceremonies in Egyptian documents, semitic manuscripts, and early Christian sources. This is a more appropriate test, since the LDS claim is that the temple ordinances existed prior to Masonry and prior to Solomon's temple. The existence of parallels in ancient rites and LDS ordinances therefore is of at least equal importance as Masonic-LDS parallels." (Response to the Tanners by a Latter-Day Saint Historian)

A Man of His Times

Joseph was born into a period of religious and cultural upheaval. There was great optimism and experimentation among the people of his generation, as they cast off the shackles of organized religion and left civilization behind to forge new frontiers. His family adopted an unorthodox, individualistic approach to religion. Joseph's religious experiences were consistent with what many others were claiming to experience during that time. For example:

  • Evangelists flooded the area where Joseph lived, stirring people into revivalist fits of excitement. These Pentecostal years, which coincided with Joseph's adolescence and early manhood, were the most fertile in America's history for the sprouting of prophets.
  • In 1817 Isaac Bullard, wearing nothing but a bearskin girdle and his beard, gathered a following of "Pilgrims" in Woodstock, Vermont…half a dozen hills away from the old Smith farm. He regarded washing as a sin and championed free love and communism.
  • Ann Lee claimed to be the reincarnated Christ and founded the Shakers, including community halls in Sodus Bay, only 30 miles from Palmyra.
  • Jemima Wilkinson also claimed to be the Christ and that she would never die. She lived and had a following in Jerusalem, 25 miles from Joseph's home.
  • Matthias walked around New York City brandishing a sword and a 7-foot ruler, shouting that he had come to redeem the world.
  • In the south of Ohio, Dylks, the "Leatherwood God," also proclaimed his divinity to his congregation.
  • In the same decade that Joseph announced his mission, William Miller claimed that Jesus would visit the earth in March, 1843 and usher in the millennium. He was followed by thousands.
  • John Humphrey Noyes believed the millennium had already begun, and laid plans for a community based on Bible communism, free love, and scientific propagation.
  • Elias Smith from Vermont at the age of 16 had a strikingly similar experience to Joseph in the woods near Woodstock, when he saw "the Lamb upon Mt. Sion," and a bright glory in the forest. (The Life, Conversion, Preaching…of Elias Smith, 1816, p. 58).
  • John Samuel Thompson, who taught in the Palmyra Academy in 1825, had seen in a dream Christ descending from the firmament "in a glare of brightness exceeding tenfold the brilliancy of the meridian Sun," and heard Him say: "I commission you to go and tell mankind that I am come; and bid every man to shout victory!" (Christian Guide, 1826, p. 71)
  • Asa Wild of Amsterdam, New York, talked with "the awful and glorious majesty of the Great Jehovah," and learned "that every denomination of professing Christians had become extremely corrupt," that two thirds of the world's inhabitants were about to be destroyed and the remainder ushered into the millennium. Wild said that "Much more the Lord revealed, but forbids my relating it in this way. I shall soon publish a cheap pamphlet, my religious experience and travel in the divine life." This account was published in the Wayne Sentinel, October 22, 1823. (Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, pp. 12-15, 22-23)

Joseph's claims to seeing God and receiving numerous visitations by angels were consistent with similar extravagant claims by others during his day.