According to the Law of Moses, priesthood holders had to be from the Tribe of Levi. Lehi was from the Tribe of Joseph, so that’s a problem. Nephi built a temple on the model of Solomon’s Temple. So how did the Nephites get priesthood? Historian Don Bradley says the answer might be in the lost pages, and speculates how Nephite priesthood functioned.
Don: That model of priesthood, where you have a king, who is a priest, has biblical precedent. The precedent is not ancient Israel’s Levitical priesthood. The precedent goes back earlier to the time of Abraham, when you have Melchizedek who is portrayed as a king and a priest. So the idea of people being ordained kings and priests, the gendered equivalent of which might be queens and priestesses, might be familiar to some people associated with Mormonism. I don’t know, maybe, the model for that, and one that Joseph Smith explicitly invokes in Nauvoo, talking about people being made kings and priests, queens and priestesses is Melchizedek.
So the model of priesthood among the Nephites is not Levitical. They replace a Levitical model priesthood with a Melchizedek model of priesthood. Those terms, Levitical or Aaronic, among others, are so familiar to Latter-day Saints. But they’re kind of familiar to us mostly in a different context that would give a different twist on what they mean. The model of priesthood here is Melchizedek in the biblical sense of Melchizedek being both King and high priest. So that’s the Nephite model of Priesthood.
If Lucy Harris didn’t burn the lost manuscript, who stole it? Historian Don Bradley thinks a big suspect might have been an extended member of the Harris family. What else does he know?
Don: It turns out, for instance, the Harris’s had a son-in-law who was a con man. He was a swindler. His name was Flanders Dike. Flanders Dike came from an entire family of swindlers. Two years after the manuscript disappeared, Flanders Dike is mentioned in a newspaper article saying he has skipped town. He’s left Palmyra, with about $1,000 of other people’s goods and money. There’s another notice in the paper several years later saying he’s escaped from jail after doing similar shenanigans again. There are accounts of other swindles carried out by various [relatives] like his father and his brothers. Lucy Mack Smith gives an account in her memoir, saying that Flanders Dike, at one time before the manuscript disappeared, he stole the Anthon transcript temporarily. So, this guy had already stolen documents, other documents associated with the coming fourth of the Book of Mormon. Then just four months later, the Book of Mormon manuscript goes missing. Why wouldn’t we suspect this guy?
I was also surprised to find out that Martin Harris missed his daughter’s wedding because he was helping Joseph translate the Book of Mormon! What other surprises does Don have in store? Check out our conversation….
Historian Don Bradley says that masonic implements were found with the golden plates. What were these implements, and how are they related to modern LDS temple ceremonies?
Don: Joseph, Sr. tells this guy [non-Mormon named Fayette Lapham] about the plates. He tells him that on the top plate there were the implements of masonry, as used by Masons of the present day. So I found this really interesting. Wow, Masonic stuff way back at the beginning of Mormonism.
In every single masonic lodge in the world, one of the things that they have in common is that there’s an altar. On that altar, there’s a sacred book, usually the Bible, and in Muslim countries/Islamic countries, it can be the Quran, and so on. There’s a sacred book. Do you know what’s on top of that book? A compass and square. You set a compass and the square on top of that sacred book.
Joseph, Sr. was very steeped in, at the very least, Masonic lore, but he is apparently also a member of a Masonic Lodge, apparently a Mason. He’s saying, based on Joseph, Jr.’s descriptions of the plates, and by this time he would have seen them himself, actually, as one of the eight witnesses, he’s saying, the basic Masonic implements, which at minimum, are going to be compass and square, were on the top of the Sacred Book. That’s how it is in masonic lodges. So, the specific Masonic implements that are on top of sacred books in the lodge are compass and square. So of course these are significant symbols for more than just Freemasons. They’re already showing up. Joseph Smith first goes to the hill, first sees the plates, first describes the plates to his father in 1823. Joseph Smith becomes a Freemason in 1842, when he’s 36. Almost 20 years before Joseph becomes a Freemason, he’s already describing the sacred relics of the Nephites in Masonic terms that have extra-Masonic/more than Masonic relevance for Latter-day Saints of sacred symbols. So again, why is it that it seems that Latter-day Saints would, post-Nauvoo, really recognize as part of our faith? He’s already there in the 1820s. Everything that I’ve talked about, where these Masonic or Nauvoo temple elements are popping up: First Vision, Joseph Smith’s first encounter with the plates in 1823, Joseph Smith’s translation of the lost pages in 1828, Joseph Smith’s translation of the extant Book of Mormon text–book of Ether, 1829. That’s all 1829, so far, before he, himself, becomes a Freemason, and already you’ve got loads of symbolic and structural content elements of the Nauvoo endowment. There’s something going on. Nauvoo endowment isn’t just Nauvoo. In fact, Nauvoo Mormonism is not really just Nauvoo. It’s already there, since you have Nauvoo elements in the stories of the brother of Jared, and Mosiah. [With] the Nauvoo temple, what Joseph is about is trying to bring people into the presence of God. This is what he says in his sermons. So you’re trying to give them keys. You can go talk to God yourself. You can stand in God’s presence.