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Question: Does the Book of Mormon contain anti-Masonic language?
Question: Does the Book of Mormon contain anti-Masonic language?
It would seem unlikely that Joseph would be using anti-Masonic language and terms, given his family's close connection and association with the institution of Freemasonry
Many have speculated that the supposed use of anti-Masonic language in the Book of Mormon is 'proof' of 19th century authorship. The authors of these speculations fail to take into account four critical issues which discredit the association between the Gadianton robbers of the Book of Mormon and the anti-Masonry of the opening decades of the 19th century [1826 through 1845].
Joseph Smith grew up with and was surrounded by Freemasons in his home. Both his father, Joseph Smith, Sr., and his elder brother Hyrum Smith were Masons in New York. It would seem unlikely that Joseph would be using anti-Masonic language and terms, given his family's close connection and association with the institution of Freemasonry.
Joseph Smith, Jr. became a Mason himself
In 1842, Joseph Smith, Jr., became a Mason. Had Joseph intended to tie the Gadianton robbers to the Freemasons, it seems most unlikely that only 12 years later he would then join the very group which the critics' theories require that he oppose so vehemently in the Book of Mormon.
To credit the critics' theories, wrote anti-Mormon Theodore Schroeder, we must accept that
when the Book of Mormon was finished, Smith's 'obsession' [with anti-Masonry] suddenly and permanently disappears without any other explanation, and Joseph Smith himself became a Mason, in spite of this anti-Masonic obsession.
The Book of Mormon is a translation, and its phrasing may sometimes reflect the time and place in which it was translated
Any similarity between the language of the anti-Masonic movement and Joseph's translation can better be explained by Joseph using the language of his time and place rather than by a deliberate connection to anti-Masonry.
The phrase "secret combination" was not used exclusively in a Masonic context in Joseph Smith's day
Some have claimed that the phrase "secret combination" was used exclusively in a Masonic context in Joseph Smith's day. This is simply not the case, however. In 1788, during the debates at New York's state convention to ratify the federal constitution, Alexander Hamilton stated:
In this, the few must yield to the many; or, in other words, the particular must be sacrificed to the general interest. If the members of Congress are too dependent on the state legislatures, they will be eternally forming secret combinations from local views.
And, in 1826, Andrew Jackson complained about Henry Clay's "secrete [sic] combinations of base slander." Jackson was a prominent and well-known Mason, and his presidency was rich fodder for those who feared a Masonic conspiracy. Yet, despite the critics' claims that "secret combination" must refer only to Masons, a prominent Mason here complains about an attack on him in exactly those terms.
Latter-day Saints saw the Book of Mormon's prophecies as fulfilled by the U.S. government
Furthermore, the Saints of the 19th century saw the Book of Mormon's prophecies of latter-day "secret combinations" fulfilled by the persecution which they received at the hands of American citizens and the U.S. government. They did not invoke the Masons, which suggests that those who knew Joseph Smith did not recognize anti-Masonic themes in the Book of Mormon.
Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Cracking the Book of Mormon’s “Secret Combinations”?"Gregory L. Smith, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (November, 28, 2014)
The Book of Mormon has been explained by some as a product of Joseph Smith’s 19th century environment. Advocates of this thesis have argued that the phrase secret combinations is a reference to Freemasonry, and reflects Joseph’s preoccupation with this fraternity during the Book of Mormon’s composition in 1828–29. It is claimed that this phrase is rarely, if ever, used in a non-Masonic context during 1828–29, and that a type of “semantic narrowing” occurred which restricted the term to Freemasonry. Past studies have found a few counter-examples, which are reviewed, but none from during the precise years of interest. This study describes many newly-identified counterexamples, including: anti-Masonic authors who use the term to refer to non-Masonic groups, books translated in the United States, legislature bills, grand jury instructions, and works which so characterize slave rebellions, various historical groups and movements, Biblical figures, and religious groups. These examples are found before, during, and after the critical 1828–29 period. Examples from 1832 onward likewise demonstrate that no semantic shift occurred which restricted secret combination to Masonry. This element of the environmental hypothesis has now been robustly disproven.
Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Gossamer Thin: 2 Nephi’s “Flaxen Cord” and the Anti-Masonic Thesis"Gregory L. Smith, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (December 14, 2018)
Some have seen evidence of anti-Masonic rhetoric in the Book of Mormon and cite 2 Nephi 26:22 in support of this theory, since Satan leads sinners “by the neck with a flaxen cord.” It is claimed that this is a reference to Masonic initiation rituals, which feature a thick noose called a cable-tow or tow-rope. Examining the broader rhetorical context of 2 Nephi demonstrates that the “flaxen cord” more likely refers to something slight and almost undetectable. To test this hypothesis, I undertake a survey of the use of the phrase flaxen cord in 19th century publications. I also examine analogous phrases from the Bible. I examine fifty examples, seven of which are excluded because they do not contain enough information to support either claim. Of the remaining 43 examples, a full two-thirds (67%) describe a cord that is trivial or easily snapped. Only 7% denote a thick, strong rope, and 17% describe a thin rope that is strong. Given (1) the rhetorical context of 2 Nephi, (2) an expression that usually refers to a cord of trivial thickness and strength, and (3) virtually all poetic, scriptural, or allegorical uses imply fragility, the evidence overwhelmingly contradicts the anti-Masonic thesis.
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- Theodore Schroeder, "Authorship of the Book of Mormon: Psychologic Tests of W. F. Prince Critically Reviewed," American Journal of Psychology 30 (January 1919): 70.
- Paul Mouritsen, "Secret Combinations and Flaxen Cords: Anti-Masonic Rhetoric and the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/1 (2003): 64–77. off-site
- Jonathan Elliot, ed., The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, Together with the Journal of the Federal Convention, Luther Martin's Letter, Yates's Minutes, Congressional Opinions, Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of '98-99 and other Illustrations of the Constitution, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1861), 318, emphasis added.
- Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (New York and London: Norton, 1991), 340; cited in Daniel C. Peterson, ""Secret Combinations" Revisited," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992): 184–188.
- Daniel C. Peterson, "Notes on 'Gadianton Masonry'," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon eds. Stephen D. Ricks and William Hamblin (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 174–224.