This past Saturday I attended the temple with my husband. This was the first time I’d experienced the endowment ceremony since coming to believe that Hyrum Smith, rather than Joseph Smith, may have been the third man Martha Brotherton described in her 1842 affidavit.
In my post earlier this summer suggesting Hyrum was implicated in promoting illicit intercourse, I described honored figures of the past who had fallen into transgression, only to repent and become the greatest. I mentioned Saul of Tarsus, Alma the Younger, and Moses’ brother Aaron.
I completely overlooked Adam and Eve, the iconic figures who transgressed and yet were then promised the salvation of Christ could redeem them.
For those not familiar with the endowment, let me repeat Glen M. Leonard’s description. The endowment:
[set] forth a pattern or figurative model for life. The teachings began with a recital of the creation of the earth and its preparation to host life. The story carried the familiar ring of the Genesis account, echoed as well in Joseph Smith’s revealed book of Moses and book of Abraham. The disobedience and expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden set the stage for an explanation of Christ’s atonement for that original transgression and for the sins of the entire human family. Also included was a recital of man’s tendency to stray from the truth through apostasy and the need for apostolic authority to administer authoritative ordinances and teach true gospel principles. Participants were reminded that in addition to the Savior’s redemptive gift they must be obedient to God’s commandments to obtain a celestial glory. Within the context of these gospel instructions, the initiates made covenants of personal virtue and benevolence and of commitment to the church. They agreed to devote their talents and means to spread the gospel, to strengthen the church, and to prepare the earth for the return of Jesus Christ. 1
I have previously made reference to the commitment to personal virtue, the requirement that the endowed individual refrain from sex with anyone other than a legal spouse. 2 What I had failed to understand was the power of the creation narrative for those affected by the heresy of illicit intercourse.
The individuals involved in the initial endowment ceremony were Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith (both of whom officiated) as well as James Adams, William Law, William Marks, George Miller, Brigham Young, Newel K. Whitney, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards. We have reason to know that the majority of these men had been touched by the scandal of illicit intercourse, whether through their own involvement or because a family member had become persuaded to lend credence to the corrupt teachings arising from Dr. John C. Bennett. 3
As I participated in the endowment ceremony this past weekend, I was immersed in what this experience would have meant to someone in 1842 who had been touched by the illicit intercourse heresy.
The teachings began with a recital of the creation of the earth and its preparation to host life. The story carried the familiar ring of the Genesis account, echoed as well in Joseph Smith’s revealed book of Moses and book of Abraham.
Those receiving the endowment in May 1842 would have been exposed to the March 1842 publication of the Book of Abraham, which taught that all mankind had been co-eternal with God. This would transform any creation narrative into a story of how God created this world for His beloved children. The glory of His preparations for our mortal experience would be imbued with the wonder of knowing that God did this for us, His children who He already knew and loved.
Adam and Eve
The disobedience and expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden
Next we see the innocence of Adam and Eve and watch the familiar tale unfold. As portrayed in Genesis and the Book of Moses account, a serpent (symbolic of Satan) attempts to thwart God by corrupting Adam and Eve. The fruit Satan offers is widely understood in the Christian world to be an euphemism for sex 4.
The serpent is able to persuade Eve to accept the need for the fruit, and Eve persuades Adam to partake of the fruit with her.
Having partaken of the fruit, the eyes of Adam and Eve are opened, and they realize they are naked. They create aprons for themselves of fig leaves 5 and they hide from the presence of God.
In Nauvoo, many had partaken of the evil aspects of sexual intercourse. Many of them had hidden their acts from the Church authorities, claiming it was a secret teaching. The pain of the fallen Adam and Eve in hiding from God would have been understood to represent the initiates’ 1842 contemporaries who were still hiding their transgression from the Church. For those who might have transgressed, they would have seen themselves in Adam and Eve.
When God converses with the fallen Adam and Eve, He learns that Adam fell having been tempted by Eve, and she fell because she had harkened to the serpent.
The serpent is cast out, resonant with the tale that Satan or Lucifer was cast out of heaven for rebellion. To those participating in the endowment ceremony in 1842, the message would be that the deceivers behind the fall of so many innocents would be tracked down and cast out.
As for Eve, she is told that because of her transgression God “will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
For Adam, he is told that because he harkened to Eve, God curses “the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also, and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field. By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou shalt return unto the ground–for thou shalt surely die–for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou wast, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
Then Adam and Eve are driven out of the Garden of Eden.
It is not clear how the punishment of Adam and Eve would have been perceived by those receiving the endowment in 1842, but from the perspective of history, the illicit intercourse heresy would result in John C. Bennett being cast out, like the serpent in the biblical tale. Bennett’s accusations would “greatly multiply” the sorrow of the Mormon faithful. They would be driven from their beautiful Nauvoo into the western wilderness. They would literally eat thistles as part of their diet in the west that would become Utah.
The Salvation of Christ
The… Garden of Eden set the stage for an explanation of Christ’s atonement for that original transgression and for the sins of the entire human family.
In the Book of Moses, Joseph Smith had revealed that Adam and Eve were taught that Christ would come and atone for their sins. God had commanded Adam to offer sacrifices, a thing the Book of Moses indicates Adam didn’t understand. Then the role of Christ was explained to Adam:
I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.
And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. 6
Of those receiving the endowment in 1842, some had transgressed. Others knew of loved ones who had transgressed or at least been invited to walk the disobedient path. For these, the promise that Christ would redeem Adam and Eve from their transgression would be powerful. It would resonate with the Book of Mormon teachings regarding the salvation that Jesus Christ offers all mankind.
It would resonate with the general Christian tradition they had all known before they had ever embraced the restored gospel. But the King James Bible they had read in their youth did not contain the information that Adam and Eve learned that Christ would redeem them from the fall. The idea that the original man and woman of mankind had known Christ would be their salvation was unique to Mormonism. The personal interaction between God and His loved children would have been powerful to these early Mormons, particularly to those who had recently repented of severe transgression.
Obedience and Apostasy
Also included was a recital of man’s tendency to stray from the truth through apostasy and the need for apostolic authority to administer authoritative ordinances and teach true gospel principles. Participants were reminded that in addition to the Savior’s redemptive gift they must be obedient to God’s commandments to obtain a celestial glory.
Those receiving the endowment in May 1842 knew they were surrounded by those who were still mired in apostasy. It was to be the duty of this group to reach out and teach true gospel principles to the fallen, as well as all who had been damaged by the heresy through hearsay.
Obedience to the pure Gospel would be the way to obtain Celestial glory.
Only a small subset of those receiving the endowment in May 1842 knew that Celestial marriage included the possibility of plural marriage. These few were Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards. But plural marriages within the context of Celestial marriage were to be for eternity. They were not to be the temporary liaisons taught by John C. Bennett and described by Martha Brotherton.
Building Up the Kingdom of God
Within the context of these gospel instructions, the initiates made covenants of personal virtue and benevolence and of commitment to the church. They agreed to devote their talents and means to spread the gospel, to strengthen the church, and to prepare the earth for the return of Jesus Christ.
As I mentioned in my post, Endowed with Power, a striking element of the endowment was the requirement that initiates promise to avoid extramarital sexuality.
One key aspect of the benevolence Leonard mentions is the admonition to avoid speaking ill of the Lord’s anointed. This teaching has been publicly explored in our contemporary context, as addressed by Dallin H. Oaks in his discourse on Criticism. 7
In the context of 1842, however, the topic of speaking ill of the Lord’s anointed included the claim some were making that Joseph Smith taught that illicit intercourse was acceptable. It also included rumors such as the one arising from Martha Brotherton’s experience where leaders were being condemned for actions of which they had repented.
The 1842 individuals experiencing the endowment ceremony were reminded in this experience that their all was to go to building up the Kingdom of God. Any who had previously sinned would have been reminded how their errors had taken away from building up the Kingdom of God. It is possible they reflected on the Book of Mormon sermon where Alma admonishes his son, Corianton, who had abandoned the ministry to pursue the harlot Isabel. 8
It is striking to note that the two men administering the initial endowment ceremony were Joseph and Hyrum Smith. These are the two who would be killed in June 1844. For those who believed in the goodness of Joseph and Hyrum, their deaths would be seen as an ultimate sacrifice on behalf of upholding the Gospel of Christ in the face of violent apostasy.
Prodigals Welcomed Home
The endowment narrative speaks to those who believe they are God’s children, acknowledging that temptation may lead to transgression. But the transgression can be overcome by the blood of Christ and the willing obedience of the repentant soul.
The promise of the gospel restored via Joseph Smith was that all who repented could be redeemed and welcomed into God’s kingdom. The endowment ordinance, like baptism, could be administered on behalf of deceased individuals, preparing both the living and the dead to accept God’s offered salvation and exaltation.
Many of those receiving the endowment in May 1842 yearned for absolution, whether on their own behalf or on the part of loved ones who had not yet repented. In the endowment narrative, sins and transgressions were not merely forgiven. Our ability to cast ourselves on the saving arm of Christ was exalted to a level that encompassed all eternity and all of mankind.
I imagine Joseph Smith sharing the endowment with this small band of those he believed were faithful to him, trusting that they would help him combat the scourge of their day. Hyrum, Brigham, Heber, Newell, and Willard would stand at his side, continuing the legacy that historians agree Joseph advocated during his life. Others would fall into diverse paths,
often honorably attempting to continue the monogamous legacy they believed Joseph had championed in life. William Law, of those present that day, would become Mormonism’s Judas, sealing the initial wound inflicted by Dr. Bennett, Mormonism’s serpent.
In our days, the importance of the endowment is the promise that anyone may repent and become exalted through the atonement of Jesus Christ. All we are prodigals. Yet like Adam and Eve, we can trust in Christ to bring us home, if we will but repent and remain true.
- Leonard, Glen M., Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise, (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 2002), 258-259, cited by Devery S. Anderson, The Anointed Quorum in Nauvoo, 1842-45, Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Fall 2003), pp. 137-138, available 22 Aug 2016 at https://archive.org/stream/AnointedQuorum/Anointed%20Quorum_djvu.txt ↩
- I am not certain what the wording of the original endowment was, but I am certain that it did not allow for random liaisons of temporary duration, which was the hallmark of Bennett’s illicit intercourse or “spiritual wifery” heresy. ↩
- It appears Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, and Hyrum Smith were the three men involved in attempting to persuade Martha Brotherton to become a polygamous wife in approximately December 1841, William Law had committed adultery by this point according to Hyrum Smith’s report to the City Council in 1844, Hyrum Smith, William Law, and George Miller had been involved in documenting John C. Bennett’s sins prior to becoming a Mormon, Newel K. Whitney had sent his son away from Nauvoo to keep him from further involvement with the Chauncey brothers, and Willard Richards had been involved in the expulsion of Benjamin Winchester and Ebenezer Robinson from the printing offices in January 1842. ↩
- See Martin S. Pribble, Fruit as a Sexual Metaphor in Religious Writings, online 22 Aug 2016 at http://martinspribble.com/2014/05/fruit-sexual-metaphor/. ↩
- According to some, the fruit of which Adam and Eve would have likely been understood to have partaken would be the fig. ↩
- Moses 5:9-11 ↩
- Oaks, Dallin H., Criticism, Ensign February 1987, online 22 Aug 2016 at https://www.lds.org/ensign/1987/02/criticism?lang=eng. ↩
- Alma 39-42 ↩