‘Da Vinci Code’ Author’s New Novel Prompts Mormons and Masons Discussion

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    By Brittany Leonard

    Ancient symbols, secret rites, conspiracies, politicians and the oldest fraternity in the world – the Freemasons have the history and image of a blockbuster thriller. That may be why Dan Brown, author of “The Da Vinci Code,” has turned his attention to the mysteries of the Masons and their connection to Mormons in his upcoming novel, “The Solomon Key.”

    In a predictably crafty fashion, Brown has encrypted clues in the jacket of his existing best seller to whet the appetites of code breakers and fans, specifically with the words “Is there no help for the widow”s son?”

    The phrase instantly connects the Freemasons with the LDS church, mainly because Joseph Smith is rumored to have uttered those words before he fell to his death after being shot in the Carthage, Ill., jail in 1844.

    However, the link between the Masonic order and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a far more tangled history.

    Joseph Smith Sr. joined a Masonic lodge when the family moved to Palmyra, N.Y., in 1816, and was followed by Joseph”s brother Hyrum Smith. The Freemasons” connection with many of the founding fathers, including eight signers of the Declaration of Independence and 13 presidents, among them George Washington, attracted many church members to the organization.

    Joseph, however, did not join until 1841, when the church members in Nauvoo opened up a lodge with the sponsorship of an existing Masonic lodge in Quincy, Ill.

    “Hyrum was a Mason, but it was probably more the influence of John C. Bennet, Newel K. Whitney and Heber C. Kimball that convinced Joseph to join,” said Alex Baugh, associate professor of church history at BYU.

    While Smith and his counselors sought out Masonry as a means to develop friendship and fellowship with other groups in the state, the opposite happened and many of the Masons were angered by the exploding growth of the Nauvoo lodge.

    According to the “Encyclopedia of Mormonism,” nearly 1,500 LDS men became associated with Illinois Freemasonry, including many members of the church”s governing priesthood bodies – at a time when the total number of non-LDS Masons in Illinois lodges barely reached 150.

    By 1842, negative feelings from other Masons compelled the Grand Lodge of Illinois to suspend Masonic activities in Nauvoo while an investigation proceeded. Although the investigation did not find any inaccuracies or irregularities in the lodge, the Masonic community never gave full support to the lodge and contributed to the some of the ant-Mormon sentiment in the area.

    The LDS church instigated a ban on Masonry after more issues erupted between the two groups and only recently lifted the restriction in 1984. Currently, faithful members of the church have no impediments to becoming Masons except for being able to devote enough time to their other responsibilities.

    “You have to be careful about devoting your time, the Masons are known for being a good, benevolent organization, but they do require time,” said Craig Ostler, associate professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.

    Most controversy and discussion about the Masons and the Mormons centers around the similarities found in symbols and rituals, including parallels between ceremonies in LDS temples and those in Masonic temples. Some anti-Mormon literature cites the similarities as proof that Joseph Smith did not receive revelation. However, a look at the history of Masonry casts doubt on those theories.

    “The Masons adopted familiar symbols, symbols you can find in Egyptian texts, on papyrus scrolls, they obviously want to prove their order goes back as far possible,” Ostler said. “The original temple ordinances, restored from antiquity, predate those Masonic symbols and rituals.”

    While Freemasonry is not a religion and does not espouse any religious devotion, the fraternity demands ethical behavior from its members and a common belief in a supreme being.

    Utah”s Grand Lodge, the highest Masonic authority in the state, offers a brief summary of their tenets on their Web site, describing a Mason”s conduct of “wise living, seeking to cultivate an honorable or virtuous character as individuals … overt honesty, compassion, fortitude, prudence, justice, and the pursuit of set of philosophical truth.”

    Whether Brown”s new book, slated for release later this year, will capture the same image of Masonry is up for speculation.

    (For comments, e-mail Brittany Leonard at )

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