Saturday, December 29, 2007
"JOESPH SMITH AND KABBALAH: THE OCCULT CONNECTION" - PART 3
From the article:
Whatever one concludes about the varied hints of scattered early associations with Hermeticism, Joseph Smith had well-documented connections with one of the tradition's major legacies, Masonry....It is unlikely that Smith would have so fully involved himself and his church with the Masonic tradition if he had ot sensed therein some intrinsic compatibility with his own religion-making vision....Rite de Perfection, which in several degrees was influenced by Kabbalah. Kabbalah's importance in Masonic lore is also witnessed by Martinez de Pasqually and his late-eighteenth century Kabbalistic-Masonic restoration of ancient priesthood in the Order of Les Elus Cohen. Much of this Kabbalistic influence upon Masonry may have come from Rosicrucianism...infused as it was with alchemical and Kabbalistic symbolism. But some additional influence might be attributed to esoteric sources like the Frankist movement. The Frankist--followers of Jacob Frank, and successors to the Kabbalistically inclined Sabbatean heresy--had become active in Central European Masonic organizations in the late eighteenth century....
...the Scottish Rite developed by Pike was an evolution of the eighteenth-century French Masonic
John C. Bennett, one of the more eigmatic figures in Mormon history, was the indisputable impetus to Masonry's introduction in Nauvoo....
At about this time the practice of "spiritual wifery" or plural marriage was also introduced. Bennett made several exaggerated claims in his later exposes about libertine sexual practices, claiming the women of Nauvoo were inducted into three ritual orders based on the sexual favors expected of them. Such claims are not tenable, but nonetheless recent historians have noted the apparent association of the Relief Society with Masonry. And Bennett's more slanderous claims aside, it is a fact that the female leaders of the Relief Society in Nauvoo were at one time all wives of Joseph Smith....
During Joseph's final years in Nauvoo...his connection with Kabbalah becomes more concrete. In the spring of 1841 there apparently arrived in Nauvoo an extraordinary library of Kabbalistic writings belonging to a European Jew and convert to Mormonism who evidently new [sic] Kabbalah and its principal written works. This man, Alexander Neibaur, would soon become the prophet's friend and companion....
When and how Neibaur first came in contact with Kabbalah remains a mystery, though a careful evaluation of his history and personal travels offers a few hints. Given his father's position, his childhood in western Poland, his studies in Berlin and his subsequent conversion to Christianity, some contact with a reservoir of Kabbalistic knowledge among Sabbatean or Frankist Jews should be considered....That he not only knew something of Kabbalah, but apparently possessed a collection of original Jewish Kabbalistic works in Nauvoo, is however documented in material almost totally overlooked by Mormon historians.
Owens moves on to discuss the evidence of Kabbalah in the "King Follett Discourse":
On Sunday afternoon, 7 April 1844, Joseph Smith stood before a crowd estimated at 10,000 and delivered his greatest sermon, the King Follett Discourse....Zohar for help in supporting his introduction of these radical doctrinal assertions.
Van Hale, in his analysis of the discourse's doctrinal impact, notes four declarations made by Joseph Smith which have had an extraordinary and lasting impact on Mormon doctrine: men can become gods; there exist many Gods; the gods exist one above another innumerably; and God was once as man now is. Interestingly, these were all concepts that could, by various exegetical approaches, be found in the Hermetic-Kabbalistic tradition. But even more astoundingly, it appears Joseph actually turned to the
At this point Owens presents a complicated reinterpretation of the first words of Genesis called the Bereshith bara Elohim that I will not go into. If you are interested in the details, refer to the article.
Joseph wove Hebrew into several of his discourses during the final year of his life. In these late Nauvoo discourses, however, he interpreted the Hebrew not as a linguist but as a Kabbalist--a reflection of his own predilections and of the fortuitous aid of his tutor, Alexander Neibaur.146 But in conclusion, we need to step back from this discussion of words and see that behind them resides a unique vision, a vision characteristic of the occult Hermetic-Kabbalistic tradition. Harold Bloom called the King Follett Discourse "one of the truly remarkable sermons ever preached in America." It is also a remarkable evidence of the prophet's visionary ties to the archaic legacy of Jewish Gnosticism and to the single most influential force in the evolution of Christian occultism: the Kabbalah....
As Bloom noted, in Kabbalah and perhaps in Smith's practice "the function of sanctified human sexual intercourse essentially is theurgical....
It would be foolish at this late date to maintain that any single tradition engendered Joseph Smith's religious vision. Joseph was an American original--and we need not fear him being cast as a Masonic pundit, folk magician, Rosicrucian mystic, medieval Kabbalist, or ancient Gnostic. Nonetheless, we must recognize that something in the nature of the prophet, some element of his own intrinsic vision, did resonate with the occult traditions of the Western spiritual quest. Into the spirit and matter of his religious legacy, he wove these sympathies. Joseph carried his silver talisman, inscribed with the sigil of Jupiter and Hebrew letters cast in a magic square, upon his person to his death. He called Masonry a remnant of true priesthood, and over a thousand of his men in Nauvoo, including nearly every then current or future priesthood leader of his nascent church, went through the three separate steps of ritual initiation leading to the degree of Master Mason.
Dr. William J. Hamblin, of the Maxwell Institute in Provo, has reviewed Owen's article. I found the cached version easier to load. In his review he notes that
The Mormon History Association recently awarded Lance S. Owens's "Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection" its Best Article Award for 1995. With such an imprimatur the article deserves a closer critical evaluation than it has apparently heretofore received.
The refutation is longer than the article and goes into a good bit of technical detail. I was not convinced. Much of it concerns a question as to whether Joseph Smith could read Arabic. However, if there was a Hebrew translation of the material in question, and if Neibur could read Hebrew, this is not relevant. He does address the bedrock fact that it was a mystical experience that provided the source of Joseph Smith's religion but claims "kabbalists' own descriptions of their mystical experiences are fundamentally dissimilar to Joseph's descriptions of his prophetic experiences." There are a wide variety of experiences obtainable through Kabbalism. Has Hamblin compared all of them with Smith's experience. If not, how could Hamblin be sure that Smith did not use one of them? Smith did not concoct Mormonism out of his own experience or speculation. It was given to him by a disembodied spirit.
While arguing that Smith is mistaken in claiming that his quoted passage of the Zohar is from the opening paragraphs, Hamblin does admit it is found on pages 93 and 94 of a 376-page translation, so Smith apparently does quote the Zohar, though he either got his citation wrong or was using a different translation.
In another argument Hamblin states:
That the faithful shall be even as Christ and the Father certainly implies human deification, and thereby plurality of gods. Are we to assume that theZohar influenced the writing of the Book of Mormon? How do the alleged kabbalistic influences on Joseph in 1844 explain Doctrine and Covenants 76:57-58? "And [those in the Celestial Kingdom] are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son. Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God." This passage was revealed in February 1832, several years before Joseph began studying Hebrew, and a decade before his alleged studies in the Zohar. Why is the concept of the plurality of Gods found in 1832, if it derives from the Zohar?
That would rather appear to claim that Mormonism does in fact claim that humans become gods. Hamblin claims Owen's source is biblical--Psalm 82:6, John 10:34-35. A Christian does not believe in the plurality of the Gods, so Scripture can hardly be the source. It could be possible that the angel Maroni was the source. If so, a subsequent discovery of the material in the Zohar would serve to confirm a claim that Smith dabbled in the occult.
Hamblin offers another curious claim regarding Scripture:
ADM/Adam in Hebrew simply meansman or human. It is generally not a proper name in the Bible.
A picture of the Mormon Temple garments.
A Phoenix Masonry website offers an article by S. H. Goodwin titled "Mormonism and Masonry" where, on page 34, there is a picture of the west facade of the Nauvoo Temple showing the inverted pentagrams near the top. These are shown in more detail on page 51 where the sunstone on the Nauvoo Lodge is also shown.
A GayMormon website delves deeper into the occult symbolism on the Salt Lake City temple.
Picture of the restored Nauvoo Temple showing the sunstones.
The website of the Institute for Religious Research describing "Occultic and Masonic Influence in Early Mormonism"
Bill Schnoebelen's comparison between Mormonism and occult groups including Satanism.
Wikipedia's colorful history of John C. Bennett, close associate of Joseph Smith, including spiritual wifery.