More to LDS Garments Than Meets the Eye

A few days ago I discussed the new video from the Church discussing basics of the LDS garment. Today I’d like to mention some interesting connections it has to ancient religion. Our critics assume that Joseph Smith just plagiarized the concept of the Temple from pieces of Free Masonry mingled with scripture or other influences from Joseph’s environment. There is no question that there are some common elements with Masonry, as I discuss on my LDSFAQ page on temples and Masonry. But for those wondering if the Temple is a modern invention, there I raise several issues there that point to  ancient roots for key aspects of the Temple.

One issue that I am adding to my previous comments on the Temple is the antiquity of the LDS concept of temple garments, including the use of some simple marks on the garments to remind us of covenants to follow God. For those interested in better understanding the ancient nature of the LDS temple and its practices, there are some outstanding and thought-provoking resources you may wish to consider.

I suggest beginning with Blake Ostler’s article “Clothed Upon” in BYU Studies, 1982. Brother Ostler explains the numerous connections between the endowment and sacred garments in the ancient world. There is a reasonable case to be made that the LDS temple and LDS temple garments can be viewed as a restoration of ancient concepts that are not easily explained as elements from Joseph’s environment. There are some intriguing surprises in that article for LDS people familiar with the Temple.

After reading Ostler, take a look at a later article from John W. Welch and Claire Foley, “Gammadia on Early Jewish and Christian Garments,” BYU Studies, vol. 36:3 (1996–97). There you will find more interesting connections with the ancient world of Christianity and Judaism. Of course, some symbols of note such as the compass and square go back long before modern Masonry and can even be seen in the ancient Egyptian document we have in the Book of Abraham, known as Facsimile 2.

Many minor details in the LDS temple and in temple clothing can change with time, but core elements are unchanged and speak not of modern copying but very ancient roots, in ways that can enhance our respect for the temple. There is more to it (and to temple garments) than meets the eye.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

98 thoughts on “More to LDS Garments Than Meets the Eye

  1. Jeff, the two articles you linked are mildly interesting, but they don't provide any support that I can see for the antiquity of LDS beliefs and practices.

    I was born and raised Jewish, right through Hebrew School and Bar Mitzvah and beyond, and I see nothing remotely Jewish about LDS notions of priesthood, temple, etc. Nephite culture and theology is that of 19th-century frontier Christianity; it has no resemblance to the First Temple Judaism in which Nephi was supposedly reared. And Mormon temples have not even the remotest resemblance to the Jewish temples, in terms of appearance, ritual, or function. Ditto for the ancient Israelite priesthood and the LDS priesthood.

    Plenty of bona fide scholars have written genuine histories tracing Jewish beliefs and practices from ancient times through the present. The relation of contemporary forms of Judaism to their ancient antecedents is well understood and extensively documented; it's a matter of history accessible to Jewish and non-Jewish scholars alike.

    One certainly cannot say the same about Mormon beliefs and practices, whose relation to the ancient world is a matter of faith, not of of any evidence that is even remotely persuasive to non-LDS scholars.

    For an example of how an authentically ancient tradition can demonstrate its ancientness, you might want to read (as just one of many good histories) Jacob Neusner's A Short History of Judaism.

    Then you might want to ask why it is that no similar book has ever been written about Mormonism.

  2. +OK. You blithely make assertions about things that are notoriously hard to prove one way or another. Your scorn is misplaced when you write that "Nephite culture and theology is that of 19c frontier Christianity". I'm no expert on that, but surely evidence can be asserted either way, and it will be difficult to conclusively support your assertion. In contrast, I can conclusively support the inaccessibility to J. Smith of syntax and lexis in the BofM.

    Nephi's killing of Laban is rooted in notions clearly found in the book of Exodus. I've heard a 60-year-old Jewish convert to Mormonism declare more than once in a Mormon sacrament meeting that Mormonism is the completion of Judaism. He's faced heavy intolerance from his father repeatedly with aplomb.

    Also, if a "bona fide" scholar supports the BofM in one way or another, then to you they are no longer legitimate. Your approach is in itself illegitimate.

  3. I am not at all as well-read on these kinds of topics as I should be, but I have done a little. However, I have read the New Testament. A lot. And I am confused as to why Mormons want to trace their religious genealogy back into the Old Testament world. I am confused as to why Mormons like Nibley get so excited when they find similarities between ancient Egyptian ritualistic practice and contemporary Mormonism. That should be a warning sign, in my opinion, that something is amiss. Sure, maybe Mormonism and ancient Eygptian ritual have a common ancestor. But even if they do, who or what exactly is that ancestor? The writings of Paul in the New Testament more than suggest that Christ represents a complete and total break with the old ways. The Book of Mormon claims that secret signs and passwords have their origin in Satan. Polygamy didn't start with Abraham, but with a descendent of Cain, according to the Bible.

    But even if this is true that Mormonism is the original ancient religion, and as such, has rituals and signs and passwords and garments – if this is true, shouldn't Mormonism stop trying to make nice with the Protestant world, which has thoroughly and totally rejected all of this stuff over the centuries? Isn't Mormonism actually closer spiritual kin to Kabalah, Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, Hermeticism, and other occult traditions?

  4. Ancient Prophets did have many wives and concubines.

    In the Bible God condemns divorce (along with other immoral actions) but yet mainstream Christianity has a very high divorce rate. Yeah, people complain about Mormons, but mainstream Christianity does not practice what it preaches either.

    The compass and square are found in many ancient cultures. Some ancient people before the time of Christ knew about Christ.

  5. I am surprised you again touch on Masonry. Yes Joseph did take from Masonry. One only has to go through the Masonic rite to see that.
    I am very surprised that you do not mention that masons were very likely in the crowd that killed Joseph. The one thing joseph did that was highly offensive to Masonry was his Polyandry. Chasing and marrying the wives of living Masons is loudly and strictly prohibited.
    I would love to see you spend your time on Joseph breaking sacred vows to Masonry regarding Polyandry..
    BTW, what would LDS men do if there was a knock on the door and it was Joseph picking up your 14 year old daughter for a church dance?
    I note that in the church essay they mention one of his wives was "almost fifteen". That is very juvenile writing. It's like a kid sayin dad, I'm almost sixteen can I borrow the car. Transparency would dictate that the Church would be forthright and say the girl was fourteen. But they can't do it.
    Many of us have been driven from the church by rabid and nasty leadership. Our sins have been far less than Joseph's.
    I do not make insults. I am being transparent.

  6. Orbiting Kolob, if you think the articles fail to make the connection between ancient Israel and early Christianity, that tells me far more about you than said articles. Both contain extensive bibliographies to back the assertions made in each. This tells me that your are intellectually dishonest and that is without even reading the rest of your comment.

    Jeff thank you for the post, I found it very informative and even inspiring. Keep up the good work. The fact you get so many critics posting here tells me you're doing something right.

    Your apologia, and sources linking to others apologia, helped remove a lot of stumbling blocks from me when I was a teenager and was first confronted with the difficulties regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Your work has and will continue to have a special place in my life. So thanks again for both then and now.

  7. I always appreciate your comments, Orbiting Kolob. It's so sad when faithful Mormons resort to attacking a commenter who reacts critically.
    I think some Mormons do too much to associate their temple rites with a history that does not exist before the Masons made it up. The real truth of the matter is that more and more Mormons feel bewildered and downright bored by the temple ritual, especially women. Why not discuss how to make the temple make sense to people today, rather than try to justify it with a nonexistent historicity? Why not discuss the shadow of polygamy that still rests upon the temple ritual?
    As for the beheading Laban comment, are you aware of its roots in masonic folklore? Look up the "sword being used to behead a sleeping enemy" story. Joseph was a real wiz at remixing preexisting culture. The only problem is he claimed it came from god's lips to his ears, and not from his imagination and resourcefulness.

  8. "The real truth of the matter is that more and more Mormons feel bewildered and downright bored by the temple ritual, especially women."

    In the past year, I have done a lot more research and pondering on the garden narrative and how the story, as presented in the temple, relates to me. And I can tell you that I have had some amazing insights that I think about almost every day. It has affected the way that I view my marriage–that I am nothing without my spouse in the eternities. "Bewildered?" Sounds like you're describing a first-timer.

    A Mormon will get what they put into their temple experience, just like a religious person will get what they put into their own religious experience in general. If what you're saying is true (I'm sure that you're actually just generalizing based off of an assumption), then the problem may be that we are bored because we expect to be entertained. The temple experience is not a social network, nor is the film directed by Michael Bay. It's not about being entertained. It's about mediation, pondering, feeling, cosmology, engagement, and instruction. When you're not in the right frame of mind that night, or at that time in your life, then it will be boring.

    "Why not discuss the shadow of polygamy that still rests upon the temple ritual?"
    What are you talking about here?

  9. Pierce,

    Polygamy is an unavoidable condition of exaltation. If one must be sealed eternally in marriage to be exalted, then this means an equal number of men and women will need to be exalted in order to avoid polygamous relationships in the after-life. This is the logical conclusion one must draw if one accepts the doctrine of exaltation as it is understood today. The temple is where one meets the requirements of exaltation through saving ordinances. This is just one example of how the shadow of polygamy continues in the church today. Also, the truthfulness of the church is entirely dependent on the handling of polygamy. One may say that all one needs to have a testimony of the church is to believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, but there are other Mormon sects that believe this, too. These sects broke away from Mormonism after the martyrdom and abandoned polygamy. So, one may say that one then needs a testimony of Brigham Young, but fundamentalist Mormons sects today still have a testimony of Brigham Young, and apparently they are false. So, to distinguish ourselves from them, we must then say that one needs a testimony in the Manifesto of 1890. It all comes down to that. As members of the Salt Lake branch of Mormonism, all truth claims come down to the Manifesto of 1890. Polygamy is never going away. It can't. The SL Mormons can never say that polygamy was wrong when it was practiced. They need it to have been from God. And they need it now not to be approved by God. If polygamy was wrong then, they are wrong now. If it is right now, they are wrong now. They require it to be both right then and wrong now. Otherwise, there is another branch of Mormonism out there that can lay claim to being the church Joseph restored.

  10. I see your points and don't really dispute them. However, I don't really see how polygamy casts a shadow on the temple ritual itself, which is what was stated and how I understood it. I take it now that you don't actually mean that polygamy is part of the ceremony, correct? Because I have never seen that.

    "Polygamy is an unavoidable condition of exaltation.
    This is a hyper-inflated statement to me. Here's why: It is an unavoidable condition of exaltation for whom? Everyone? It is impossible to make that assumption or to talk numbers in this scenario. I think the answer to that question is "no."
    Your logic is sound, and I think plenty of people believe that and have believed that. Righteous women may very well outnumber men. But how many, and what this theory means to the individual is not something that concerns me as a Latter-Day Saint. Polygamous sealings are not happening now, nor are they foreshadowed in the temple in any way.

    What you have is a theory, and implying that opening this dialogue up as a way to enrich our temple experience doesn't make sense.

    "These sects broke away from Mormonism after the martyrdom and abandoned polygamy."
    This is an interesting thought, but personally, I think the LDS church distinguishes itself in many ways aside from polygamy. Its size, legacy, integrity, missionary efforts, reach, production, organization, community and cultural impact, temple building, and many other factors indicate that this church is the snowball that started in 1830. Add to that the majority of the saints, apostles, and church records that followed the SLC church, and that many branches have fizzled out or disavowed the unique teachings of JS (i.e.Community of Christ).

    To me, the truthfulness of the church in comparison to others doesn't have anything to do with polygamy, but by its fruits. I think this one has much more fruit.

  11. A reminder to commenters: posts on specific topics like the LDS temple are not a license for off-topic rants on other topics. I appreciate that you may have a list of big things you don't like about the LDS faith and its leaders past or present, but not every post here is a suitable place for your views, and those views may occasionally be deleted. Sorry if that further offends you.

  12. Pierce –

    "Polygamous sealings are not happening now"?

    Oaks and Nelson(?) are usual examples of even LDS leaders engaging in recent ploygamous sealings. Was there a press release announcing a discontination of this practice?

  13. I used to care if the temple rituals were ancient. I don't care any more but I cherish them none the less. I don't care how the covenants are presented, what matters to me is that I made the covenants. I find comfort in God allowing me to make covenants with Him. I find nothing wrong with wearing sacred clothing as a reminder of those covenants. We should focus on the antiquity of the covenants and not if the presentation of the covenants were ancient. Even if the covenants are not ancient, I still wouldn't care, after all, the fullness of the gospel has been revealed in our day and not in any other previous day.


  14. Morm,
    A man in the church cannot be married to 2 living women in the church, which is what I'm talking about right now. Polygamy in any fashion is not required nor is it mentioned in the temple ceremony, which is avast anonymous seemed to have asserted

  15. It seems interesting to me that you will use apocrypha and other dubious writings to support the antiquity of the LDS concept of temple garments when the Bible will not.
    My question is, when will the Quran, The Vedas, or the Jehovah's Witnesses NWT be a supporting text?
    How do you determine what's authoritative when it comes to LDS theology? Does it matter?

  16. Pier,

    Your comment was actually directed at thekidsaresleeping who may or may not have been anonymous. What thekidsaresleeping and anonymous seemed to assert was the Brigham Young promoted and later propagated doctrine that plygamy is a requirement for exaltion. An assetion you clearly seemed to understand when you replied with the "tedious, monotonous" retorts of that was just a theory, not offical doctrine. Again you have reduced another Church forefather's teachings to "hyper-inflated statement"s and theories.

    As thekidsaresleeping clearly decribe in the response, the marriage exaltion revelations were revealed together w polygamy and were promoted, propagated together, hence the shadow. In addition to the foundational reasons thekidsaresleeping explained, it is in fact still practiced in theory. I am not aware of anyone here or anywhere else suggesting the marriage ceremony between two people explicitly describing polygamy or a third human party to the marriage.

    1. What are you going on about? Did you even fully read the conversation? Thekidsaresleeping was coming from a logical angle by talking about how an equal number of men and women need to be exalted. I didn't brush it off as unofficial doctrine. What kids said was a theory, as kids was approaching this from a logical standpoint, and as polygamy is not required for my personal exaltation, according to the current temple ceremony and teachings of current church leaders. That seemed to make sense to the person I was speaking to.
      I would appreciate you keeping your insults to yourself as you make better attempts to grasp a conversation between other people. If you want to join the conversation and take the 'Brigham Young taught so and so angle,' just state your case honestly and cordially.

  17. Funny. Declaring "hyper-inflated statement" is of course not at all the same as brushing something off as unoffical doctrine. Then there is the usual insults, while requesting you not be insulted. kindaof like violently protesting imaginary violence. Your decision to cease and desist is a long time coming especially considering your behavior caused Mormanity to have to close a comment section recently. You are beginning to learn respect for someone you supposedly admire.

  18. For the record, I'm the anonymous that was deleted, and I'm not thekidsaresleeping. Also, I made no attacks on any current or past leaders, and I'm not offended, so please don't assign feelings to me, Jeff. I'm perfectly fine with Mormons believing what they believe, but the selective ignorance can stand a little sunlight once in a while.

  19. Sorry. Regarding the deleted comment, I overreacted on the fly. Saw an email come in showing a comment about the creepiness of polygamy – I certainly don't like that concept at all, by the way – and thought, "Why do people think any post on any topic is an excuse to rant about polygamy?" Delete. But this overlooked the fact that polygamy had already been raised on this post and my deletion wasn't really fair. I really don't like deleting comments. Probably should have left it, or actually, should have acted earlier to keep the discussion along lines I felt were on-topic.