There are 14 thoughts on “Gossamer Thin: 2 Nephi’s “Flaxen Cord” and the Anti-Masonic Thesis”.

  1. Greg, the strength of flaxen cords (properly made flax rope is strong) became lost over time in some of the literature from a misreading or misremembering of the biblical passage. Because the strong flaxen cords binding Samson were no match for his strength (Judges 15:8), they were described comparatively as burned flaxen cords, which are weaker in a burned condition.

    The word choice doesn’t come from Joseph, but from the English-language translation, which was delivered to him (2n2724). The meaning at 2n2620 is probably strong but light, something often not noticeable, but nevertheless strong.

  2. Jim

    It is true that masonry infiltrated the church during the Nauvoo era however it was not encouraged and practiced in the church during the Kirtland years

    The Book of Mormon earned its reputation honestly as an anti Masonic text

    There are numerous warnings by Joseph and other leaders about the evils of secret fraternal organizations that use secret signs and oaths

    One of the primary goals and benefits of masonry is to support and defend fellow members of the order over all non members of the order for purposes of getting gain and excelling above those outside of the order

  3. This analysis is all very interesting, extensive and well done in its examination of many references both scriptural and otherwise. The problem with all this, though, is that it takes as a starting point that early leaders and members of the Church may have held a bias against Freemasonry.

    To be sure there was during the time period an anti-Masonic sentiment and it even manifested itself as a political party. There may even have been individual members with such sentiments. The fact is, though, that the relationship between the Church and Freemasonry is richer than the majority of members are aware. After all, Hyrum and, later Joseph were both participants in speculative masonry. Additionally, multiple lodges were chartered during the Nauvoo era. Yes, there were strains because it was felt by non-LDS Masons and their Grand Lodge that LDS men were being advanced through the degrees more rapidly than their non-LDS counterparts. If I remember correctly from my readings, there were about 1500 LDS members of the fraternity. Whether of York Rite or Scots Rite I don’t recall now.

    In addition, at the time of July 1847 arrival in the Salt Lake Valley every man entering, with the exception, I think, of a 16 year old lad, were all Freemasons.

    There are several similarities between Masonic rites and our Temple revealed practices but they are best described as, and left being called, similarities. The fact is that Temples, the ordinances, practices, instruction and the covenants entered into there are all the result of God ordaining and instructing it to be done. In the case of Freemasonry it is a fraternity instituted by men to elevate man’s intellect and behavior on Earth. A phrase heard both by Mason’s and LDS members at times is that the intent is to “make bad men good and good men better”. One is a noble fraternal desire to be respected. The Latter-day objective is one of a devine imperative.

    Finally, in my humble opinion, any thought of Latter-day scripture alluding to an anti-Masonic reference or focus is not borne out by history and practice in the Church. While there have been strains and even animosities between the two entities there are commonalities that should be given more deliberative consideration and respect.

    • I take that starting point only because it’s the assumption used by Vogel and others who have advocated “the anti-Masonic thesis.”

      Such a thesis was more compelling when one could argue that “secret combinations” meant exclusively Freemasonry in Joseph’s time and place, especially during the Book of Mormon’s dictation.

      That claim has, I think, been laid definitively to rest by my earlier paper here:

      Gregory L. Smith, “Cracking the Book of Mormon’s ‘Secret Combinations’?” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 13 (2014): 63–109,

      Once that lynch pin is gone, the other supposed “parallels” are pretty slight–and a great deal of the anti-masonic material and rhetoric that would have made juicy reading for inclusion in Joseph’s “frontier scripture” is even more conspicuous by its absence.

      WW Phelps saw it as anti-Masonic–but prior to his conversion, Phelps was editor of an anti-Masonic paper. Given his considerable obsession with the topic, it’s not surprising he may have initially seen it through that lens. But it certainly doesn’t seem to have _remained_ a preoccupation of Joseph or other members, which is strange if the Book of Mormon is as obsessed and concerned about it as the anti-Masonic thesis requires.

  4. This article provides a great example of why the contextual narrative relating to a certain passage of scripture often provides a much broader, balanced and more accurate view than singular keyword interpretations that don’t take context into consideration.

    I think the reason that some people find the flaxen cord narrative in 2 Nephi 26:22 to be a compelling reference to Masonry is not because of just the use of the term “flaxen cord”.

    Admittedly, there are lots of words in scripture that have multiple possible meanings depending on how they are used.

    It is important to remember that there are many aspects of masonry that show up in the Book of Mormon, including the entering into secret conspiratorial covenants with blood oaths and swearing by the neck.

    Indeed, that passage in 2 Nephi 26 comes at the tail end of a prophecy presented earlier in the chapter about how the believing Gentiles will stumble in the latter days and put down the power of God while they preach up to themselves their own wisdom and learning to “get gain” as they grind upon the face of the poor.

    That same passage is referencing “secret combinations” done in “darkness” in “times of old according to the secret combinations of the devil”.

    It is identifying the secret combination in the last days that infiltrates the gentiles as originating in ancient times by Satan.

    It designates Satan as the “founder of murder”, an obvious reference to the satanic/Masonic ritual that he entered into with Cain and revealed that great secret that you can murder to get gain.

    It is extremely difficult to believe the passage is not making a direct and explicit reference to the first secret combination between Satan and Cain from which much of Masonic ritual is derived and thus, the use of the term flaxen cord probably means just what it appears to mean.

    29 And Satan said unto Cain: Swear unto me by thy throat, and if thou tell it thou shalt die; and swear thy brethren by their heads, and by the living God, that they tell it not; for if they tell it, they shall surely die; and this that thy father may not know it; and this day I will deliver thy brother Abel into thine hands.

    30 And Satan sware unto Cain that he would do according to his commands. And all these things were done in secret.

    31 And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain. Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness.

    32 And Cain went into the field, and Cain talked with Abel, his brother. And it came to pass that while they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him.

    BTW, In your article, you said: “one melodramatic mention of a hangman’s noose uses the precise term flaxen cord ”

    Thank you for disclosing that find. I personally find it quite compelling in view of where the contextual narrative points us.

  5. Great article–good, thorough work. But unless I missed it somehow, you overlooked the obvious message of 26:22:

    “He leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.”

    The idea here is one of contrast. Satan leads sinners “with a [light] flaxen cord” until he can bind them “with his *strong* cords forever.”

    To me, the meaning is quite plain and supports your thesis completely.

    • Thanks! I did touch briefly on that aspect when I wrote:

      “The “everlasting chains” or “awful chains from whence there is no deliverance” of the second half of the polemic (v. 19, 22) are clear parallels to Satan “bind[ing] them with his strong cords forever” in the first half (v. 22)….Only when he has accomplished his long, drawn-out, ever-downward seduction do the “everlasting” and “strong” chains then bind. (There is also an ironic counterpoint between the heavy, inviolable chains with which they will one day be bound, and the thin line with which Satan “carefully” leads them unawares toward that end.)”

      I sort of blurred the “strong cords” and everlasting change imagery; should have been clearer.

      But, your independently-arrived-at confirmation is good evidence of how the anti-Masonic thesis’ predetermined conclusion likely drove the reading, because the textual evidence is so clearly against it.

      A conviction that Masonry rituals must be in there helps lead a reader to ignore all the clues.

    • Greg, I’d like to contact you privately about something. I’m assuming you can access my email address. Thanks!
      Best wishes,
      Jack Lyon

  6. Pingback: Gossamer Thin: 2 Nephi’s “Flaxen Cord” and the Anti-Masonic Thesis - Gregory L. Smith - The Mormonist

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