Question: Do the temple endowment's similarities to Masonic initiation rites have ancient roots?

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Question: Do temple endowments’ similarities to the Masonic ceremonies have any ancient roots?

Some have asked if the temple endowment’s similariites to the Masonic ceremonies have any ancient roots. One Latter-day Saint writer, Greg Kearney, wrote a blogpost responding to a critic of the Church who outlined many of the similarities (with mistakes that were pointed out by Kearney). His list including his commentary will be reproduced as well as some additional commentary by the author of this article:

All Seeing Eye

The all seeing eye is indeed used by the Masons but also by many others. It is found on the revers of the Great Seal of the United States for example. It’s name is actually the “Eye of Providence” and has its origins in ancient Christian architecture.

Anointing with oil

A very old practice found in Christian (Exodus 29:7, 20; 30:22-23; 40:15; Leviticus 8:12; 14: 15-18; 1 Kings 1:39; 1 Samuel 16:1,13; Psalm 133:2 and footnote 2a). Jewish and Islamic traditions. It is not, however, found in the Masonic tradition outside of the setting of a cornerstone with wine, oil and corn.

Apron

Both groups use them. The reference comes from the Bible; the symbology is different, however. The LDS use can be traced to Gen. 3:7 (See also 1 Samuel 2:19; 22:18; 1 Chronicles 15:27; 2 Samuel 6:14 where these aprons were worn by priests officiating in ordinances in temples) “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” The Masonic usage refers to aprons worn by stone masons in quarries. The aprons themselves differ. The Masonic one is white lamb’s skin; the LDS apron in green representing the fig leaves spoken of in the creation story.

Beehive

The Latter-day Saint usage of the symbol derives from the Book of Mormon’s “Deseret” which means “honeybee”. Hugh Nibley has proposed a very plausible ancient Egyptian etymology for deseret that stems from the Egytian term that refers to the “bee crown” of the lower kingdom of Egypt[1]

Square and Compass

Found in both the LDS temple and among the Masons. Their symbolic use differs in each, however. The endowment does not use a physical square and compass as the Masons do. Hugh Nibley provided abundant evidence of the use of such symbols in ancient iconography[2]

Emblem of the clasped hands/Special Handshakes

A very old symbol of brotherly love that can be found on tombstones in New England. Found even on the graves of women who would not have been Masons. This emblem has been well documented in early Christian iconography by Todd Compton and Stephen Ricks[3]

Solemn Assembly in the Temple

This has no Masonic equivalent unless you consider a Grand Lodge meeting to be a Solemn Assembly (which Masons do not). Solemn assemblies have existed since the time of ancient Israel. They were held on Feast Day at the end of Passover (Deuteronomy 16:8), the end of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34-36), and on special occasions such as the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2 Chronicles 7:9-11). Joel prophesied that solemn assemblies would be held in times of crisis (Joel 2:15).

Special Garments applied to initiates

The temple garments worn by the Latter-day Saints the first time they attend the temple are the same as they use every day. Priests in ancient Israel wore breeches that were an inner “garment, extending from the wasit to just below the knee or to the ankle, and covering each leg separately.” They were made out of find-twined linen (Exodus 28:42; 39:28; Leviticus 6:10), and since they were considered to be one of the “holy garments” belonging to the House of the Lord (Leviticus 16:4), they could only be worn by the priests, not by any of the other Israelites. Masons have special clothing, not undergarments, which symbolically show that they come to the lodge without any material possessions including clothing. Masons do not have symbolic clothing worn outside the lodge.

The phrase: “Holiness to the Lord”

The Masonic as well as the LDS usage of this phase comes from the Bible (Exodus 28:36 “And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD.”)

Moon symbol, Star symbols, Sun symbols

Mankind have been using the symbols of the heavens long before the establishment of Masons. Latter-day Saints use it in connection to their belief in the three degrees of Glory as recorded by Paul in the New Testament— who compared the three degrees of glory to the sun, moon, and stars (1 Corinthians 15:40-41).

New Name given

Practice is found in scripture (Saul becomes Paul, for example). The Masonic as well as LDS practice comes from the Bible. See for instance Revelation 2:17. Matthew Brown wrote:

There is some evidence that, upon their enthronement, the kings of Israel took upon themselves a new name or throne name.[4] One commentator states that “the accession ceremony in Judah included the conferment of a coronation name by the deity,” and he suggests that traces of this conferral can be seen in 2 Samuel 7:9 and 1 Kings 1:47.[5] Generally, the act of “renaming is associated with a change in the status or condition of the person receiving the new name. The giving of the new name can be a sign that the receiver of the name is coming under the authority of the giver of the name.”[6] In the Old Testament, new names are often indicative of adoption onto someone’s household and are thus equivalent to the conferral of a high honor upon the recipient.[7] In the words of another scholar, the king “receives a new disposition expressed, according to oriental custom, in the giving to him of a new name, which indicates his new, intimate relationship with the god who has chosen him, and whom he represents.[8][9]

Special Prayer circle

No such practice in Masonry. There is substantial evidence for this practice in early Christianity.

Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood

Not found in Masonry. Obviously found within the Bible (Hebrews 7)

Blood/death oaths of secrecy with morbid gestures and words describing penalties agreed to if secrets are revealed.

Mormons going through the temple post-1990 may not be familiar with these. Curses were associated with many covenants made by ancient Israelites for failure to live up to covenants[10]

Location (possession of) Throne of the “Holy of Holies”

Masons make no claim to possession of such. Neither do Latter-day Saints. Both groups make a reference to in in connection to the Temple of Solomon (Exodus 26:33–34)

Tabernacles, Temples

In both cases clearly a reference to the Bible usage (Exodus 26–27).

Thus the parallels shouldn't be of concern to those that wish to see the antiquity of the ceremony. Joseph Smith tells us that the restoration is a "whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations". But "not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fullness of times" (D&C 128:18). These parallels, gathered from across the dispensations, seem to fit this pattern of restoration and substantiate Joseph Smith's claims.

Notes

  1. Hugh Nibley, “Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites” (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1955), 177–8.
  2. Hugh Nibley, “Temple and Cosmos” (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992) 139-73
  3. Ricks, Stephen D. (2006) "Dexiosis and Dextrarum Iunctio: The Sacred Handclasp in the Classical and Early Christian World," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 1989–2011: Vol. 18 : No. 1 , Article 22. off-site; Todd M. Compton, “The handclasp and embrace as tokens of recognition.” In By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, edited by John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks. 2 vols. Vol. 1, 611–42. (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1990).
  4. Both in the ancient Near East generally "and in Israel the custom prevailed that the king should take a new name at his accession" (Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel's Worship, 1:63). For further reading, see A.M. Honeyman, "The Evidence for Regnal Names Among the Hebrews," Journal of Biblical Literature, vol 67, 1948, 13-25. It has been pointed out by one scholar that the new name mentioned in Revelation 3:12 has a definite correlation to ancient coronation practices. "In giving of a new name to the believer [in Revelation 3:12], we might also see a parallel with the common oriental practice of giving new names to monarchs during the coronation and accession ceremonies" (Richard H. Wilkinson, "The stylos of Revelation 3:12 and Ancient Coronation Writes," Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 107, no. 3, September 1988, 500).
  5. Gerhard von Rad, "The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), 229.
  6. T. David Andersen, "Renaming and Wedding Imagery in Isaiah 62," Biblica, vol 67, no. 1, 1986, 75. One scholar detects in the combination of 2 Kings 24:17 and Ezekiel 17:11-21 a ceremony wherein a king gives a handclasp to the king of Jerusalem, bestows a new name upon him, and enters into a covenant with him by swearing an oath (see Viberg, symbols of Laq, 37-39)
  7. See Otto Eissfeldt, "Renaming in the Old Testament," in Peter R. Ackroyd and Barnabas Lindars, eds., Words and Meanings (Cambridge: University Press, 1968), 73.
  8. Mowinckel, "He That Cometh", 66.
  9. Matthew Brown, “The Gate of Heaven” (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 1999), 132.
  10. René Lopez, "Israelite Covenants in the Light of Ancient Near Eastern Covenants," CTSJ 9/2 (2003): 92-111. off-site