Mormon Endowment Ceremony Origins

By Sharon Lindbloom
13 June 2017

One hundred eighty years ago this month (June 2017) W.A. Cowdery, the Mormon editor of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, told readers about ancient Greece. He explained,

“The history of Greece for a period of three hundred years preceding the Trojan war, is intermixed with fables; but contains, notwithstanding, many facts entitled to credit.

“Erutheus, who cultivated the plains of Eleusis, instituted the Eleusinian mysteries. These mysteries were of a religious and moral nature, conveying the doctrines of the unity of God, the immortality of the soul, and a future state of reward and punishment. Cicero speaks of them in terms of high commendation. But the ceremonies connected with them, were childish and ridiculous.” (Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, June 1837, 526)

Mr. Cowdery left the LDS Church soon after this, so he never got to see the elements of what he called “childish and ridiculous” ceremonies incorporated into Mormonism.

When Joseph Smith introduced the LDS temple ceremony to his followers in 1842, it included several parallels to the ancient Eleusinian mysteries. According to (then) Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn,

“June [1837]. The Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate comments about the Eleusinian mysteries, which the American edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica and other sources in 1837 describe as being revealed by God from the beginning of the world and passed on to worthy initiates through washings and anointings, a new name and garment, vows of non-disclosure, lesser and greater rituals, presentation through drama, an oath of chastity, designation as prophets, priests, and kings, emphasis on attaining godhood, and a heavenly ascent past various guards to whom departed spirits must give magical passwords.” (D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, 626)

Second LDS President Brigham Young explained the endowment ceremony this way:

“Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 416. See also Ensign, “The Doctrine of Temple Work,” October 2003, 60 and Endowed from on High: Temple Preparation Seminar Teacher’s Manual, 2)

LDS leaders claim that Joseph Smith received the endowment ceremony via revelation. For example, LDS apostle John Widtsoe wrote,

“Joseph Smith received the temple endowment and its ritual, as all else that he promulgated, by revelation from God.” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, 113)

However, given the clear parallels of the Mormon temple endowment ceremony with the Eleusinian mysteries, as well as elements of Freemasonry, it’s evident that the Prophet employed these preexisting ceremonies to concoct his own secret and sacred ritual that is so central to Mormonism.

LDS biographer Richard Bushman notes,

“Intrigued by the Masonic rites, Joseph turned the materials to his own use. The Masonic elements that appeared in the temple endowment were embedded in a distinctive context – the Creation instead of the Temple of Solomon, exaltation rather than fraternity, God and Christ, not the Worshipful Master.” (Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 450)

What Joseph Smith ended up with was a strange mix of occult ritual and beliefs foreign to biblical Christianity, and equally foreign to Old Testament temple practices. The biblical temple was for offering blood and burnt sacrifices to God as temporary atonement for sin. It pointed to Christ as the full, final, and sufficient sacrifice.* It included none of these Eleusinian mysteries/Mormon temple endowment elements described by D. Michael Quinn:

  • Washings and anointings
  • A new name and garment
  • Vows of non-disclosure
  • Presentation through drama
  • Swearing an oath of chastity
  • Participants who are designated prophets, priests, and kings
  • Emphasis on attaining godhood
  • A heavenly ascent past various guards to whom departed spirits must give magical passwords

So when Mormonism claims,

“[LDS] Temples are patterned after Solomon’s temple and honor the Lord…” (Seventy Kent R. Richards, Director of the LDS Church’s Temple Department, Payson LDS Temple: A Special Edition of the Daily Herald, April 2015, 14)

It just isn’t true. Mormon temples are nothing like Solomon’s temple, and Joseph Smith did not get his endowment ceremony from God. In the Bible, King Solomon wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Joseph Smith’s repurposing of ancient occult rituals for use in Mormonism’s endowment ceremony is a fine example of that biblical truth.

 

* “But all the Old Testament believers knew that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). They pointed beyond themselves to Christ, who was the final sacrifice for sin. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:7, ‘Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.’ That was the final sacrifice for sin, because it was perfect and sufficient for all who believe. Most clearly of all Hebrews 10:12 says, ‘When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.’ So Christ brought to an end the Old Testament sacrifices for sin. He finished the great work of atonement. His death cannot be improved on. All we have to do now is trust him for that great work. We do not add to it.” (John Piper, “Present Your Bodies As a Living Sacrifice to God”)