Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed


Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845

The companion volume to The Nauvoo Endowment Companies and The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary Historythis book contains all the primary source references to Joseph Smith’s select anointed Quorum and its gatherings prior to the opening of the Nauvoo Temple.

Mormon History Association Best Documentary History Award

August, 2005


“Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed” The first Latter-day Saint temple ceremonies were performed, not in Kirtland, Ohio, but on the second floor of Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store in Nauvoo, Illinois. For nearly four years beginning in 1842, the prophet’s modest mercantile functioned as the de facto temple— site of the first washings, anointings, endowments, and sealings. In contrast, the grand edifice known as the Nauvoo Temple was in operation for only two months before the Saints left Illinois for the West.

Preparations to initiate the first members of Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, or Holy Order, as it was also known, were made on May 3, 1842. The walls of the second level of the Red Brick Store were painted with garden-themed murals, the rooms fitted with carpets, potted plants, and a veil hung from the ceiling. All the while, the ground level continued to operate as Joseph Smith’s general mercantile.

In this companion volume to The Nauvoo Endowment Companies and The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History, the editors have assembled all available primary references to the Anointed Quorum and its regular gatherings, both in the Red Brick Store and elsewhere (women were initially washed and anointed in Emma Smith’s bedroom and then escorted to the store) prior to the opening of the Nauvoo Temple. The sources include excerpts from the diaries of William Clayton, Joseph Fielding, Zina D. H. Jacobs, Heber C. Kimball, John Taylor, Willard Richards, George A. Smith, Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff, and Brigham Young; autobiographies and reminiscences by Joseph C. Kingsbury, George Miller, and Mercy Fielding Thompson; letters from Vilate Kimball and Lucius N. Scoville; the Manuscript History of Brigham Young; General Record of the Seventies, Book B; Bathsheba W. Smith’s unedited testimony from the 1892 Temple Lot Case; other manuscripts such as the Historian’s Office Journal and “Meetings of Anointed Quorum”; and published records such as the History of the Church, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate and Times and Seasons.
from the jacket flap:

Despite the secrecy imposed upon members of the Anointed Quorum, word of the gatherings above Joseph Smith’s store soon spread. In one instance, housekeeper Maria Jane Johnston helped prepare the special ceremonial clothing for John Smith to wear at the group’s meetings. In another, Ebenezer Robinson innocently opened the upstairs door at the mercantile and was startled to see church apostle John Taylor in a long white robe and “turban,” carrying a sword. Only Nauvoo’s elite were invited to participate in these new ceremonies—never more than ninety individuals and even fewer during Joseph Smith’s lifetime—and, as the editors of the current volume write, only those who had been introduced to the prophet’s doctrine of plural marriage.

An unusual aspect of the Quorum of the Anointed, compared to the membership in the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge, was that women were initiated as regular members. However, the women effectively disappear after Brigham Young’s assumption of leadership in 1844, following Joseph Smith’s death, and remain virtually absent until the Nauvoo Temple is completed nearly a year and a half later. Readers will also note some of the differences in protocol between what Smith instigated and what Young eventually settled on, for instance that members could be washed and anointed repeatedly but were “endowed” only once. There were not yet proxy ordinances.

Among Latter-day Saints today, temple worship is a sensitive topic; but the editors of this volume do not reveal anything that would be considered invasive or indelicate. In fact, the accounts, which come almost exclusively from the early LDS leadership itself, manifest discretion about what to report.

Never before have these primary, authoritative sources been correlated by date for comparison and fuller understanding of the gradual development of the temple ceremonies. Readers may find an added benefit in discovering some of their own ancestors’ names included in these records; but in fact, anyone interested in LDS temple worship will find this compilation of primary documents to be invaluable.

Devery S. Anderson has published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (winner of the Dialogue “Best Article in History” Award for 1999), the Journal of Mormon History, and elsewhere. His book, Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement was published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2015. He is an editor at Signature Books, and is currently researching a biography of LDS apostle Willard Richards. He holds a degree in history from the University of Utah and is finishing a master’s in publishing at the George Washington University. He lives in Salt Lake City.

Gary James Bergera is managing director of the Smith-Pettit Foundation in Salt Lake City, former managing director of Signature Books, and former managing editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. He is co-author of Brigham Young University: A House of Faith, editor of Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, The Autobiography of B. H. Roberts, Statements of the LDS First Presidency, and companion volumes of Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845, and The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845-1846 (also co-editor) and On Desert Trails with Everett Ruess, and a contributing author in The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith, Religion, Feminism, and Freedom of Conscience: A Mormon/Humanist Dialogue, and The Search for Harmony: Essays on Science and Mormonism. He is also the recipient of a Best Article Award from the Mormon History Association.

Todd Compton (Ph.D., UCLA) is the author of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith; co-editor of Mormonism and Early Christianity (a compilation of Hugh Nibley’s writings) and A Widow’s Tale: The 1884-1896 Diaries of Helen Mar Kimball Whitney; and a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Excavating Mormon Pasts: The New Historiography of the Last Half Century, Reconsidering ‘No Man Knows My History’: Fawn M. Brodie and Joseph Smith in Retrospect, and Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism.

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2 reviews for Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed

  1. Roger D. Launius, Journal of Mormon History

    One of the most significant beliefs about Mormon Nauvoo is that it is where Joseph Smith completed his work of restoration. Among the Mormons, a powerful interpretation is that Joseph Smith is significant not just for his life but for his religious innovations. As Ronald K. Esplin commented in an insightful essay about Nauvoo, “Nauvoo was, and is, and will be important to Latter-day Saints because it was the City of Joseph. It was the city he built, where he lived and acted, where he died. Above all, it was the city where he fulfilled his religious mission…. In a very real sense, his other labors were prologue.”1 Nothing was more significant to this achievement than the religious innovations he incorporated into the religion. The two books edited by Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera document in excruciating detail the efforts of Smith and his inner circle to establish the practice of the Mormon temple endowment. As documentary records that range far in reproducing primary source material on the subject, both works are of exceptional value. They open a window into the esoteric practices that emerged in Nauvoo in the 1840s and found their place in some strains of Mormonism following the death of the founding prophet.

    Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed deals with the development of the rituals that took place in the upper room of Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store beginning in 1842, portions of which were accidentally witnessed by some in the city. For instance, Ebenezer Robinson, who later embraced the Reorganized Church and later still departed from it, for example, described walking innocently into the upper room only to see “John Taylor, one of the twelve Apostles, in a long white garment, with a white turban on his head, and drawn sword in his hand, evidently representing the ‘cherubims and flaming sword which was placed at the east of the garden of Eden, to guard the tree of life’” (p. 79). Robinson was not part of Joseph Smith’s inner circle and did not participate in these ceremonies. Like others who became part of the Reorganized Church, he was repulsed by them.

    Not so many others—who embraced the endowment as Joseph Smith taught them, even as it evolved during the last couple of years of the prophet’s life. As George A. Smith recalled in 1874:

    He [Joseph Smith] stated that the Twelve were then instructed to administer in the ordinances of the Gospel for the dead, beginning with baptism and the laying on of hands. The work was at once commenced. It soon became apparent that some had long records of their dead, for whom they wished to administer. This was seen to be but the beginning of an immense work, and that to administer all the ordinances of the Gospel to the hosts of the dead was no light task. The Twelve asked Joseph if there could not be some shorter method of administering for so many. Joseph in effect replied—”The laws of the Lord are immutable, we must act in perfect compliance with what is revealed to us. We need not expect to do this vast work for the dead in a short time. I expect it will take at least a thousand years.” (38)

    These ideas anchor the faith of the Latter-day Saints to this day. This work does a fine job of documenting through primary sources how the ideas emerged in Nauvoo. Arranged chronologically, various sources are connected together to describe the process of teaching these ideas among the church’s elite.

    The Nauvoo Endowment Companies is in essence a sequel to Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed. It deals with efforts after Joseph Smith’s death to ensure that the temple endowment was administered to as many Saints as possible prior to the departure of the main part of the church from Nauvoo in 1846. Again, it arranges in chronological order the many accounts of temple work during 1845 and 1846. The washings and anointings; the eternal marriage ceremonies; the ritual passage from the Garden of Eden through the telestial, terrestrial, and celestial glories; the adoptions; and other endowments depicted in these primary accounts suggest the evolution of the rituals even after the death of Joseph Smith and the promulgation of this aspect of Mormon theology among the rank and file in the church.

    The events of this effort are related in such accounts as this one by Abraham Owen Smoot:

    On Saturday the 18th of Dec[ember] 1845, having been called on by the Council of the Twelve Apostles, I went to the Temple in Nauvoo to receive my endowment. At the hour of 8 o’clock in the morning I was received into the preparation rooms, with several others of my brethren, and I was there prepared to be conducted into the washing and anointing room, where I received my washings in clean and pure water, preparatory to my anointing, which I received under the hands of Samuel Bent, President of the High Council. I was then presented with a garment, b[e]aring the marks of the Priesthood, which I was instructed to wear as a prevention from evil. I was now prepared for the reception of further ordinances in the House of the Lord which were to me sublime, great and glorious, making on my mind endurable impressions, or as the prophet said, “engraving upon the heart or writ[t]en upon its inner parts &c.” (82-83)

    The haste with which these endowments were undertaken is revealing. On February 6, 1846, the last day before endowments were suspended, 512 people in eight different companies went through the Nauvoo Temple. The intention of making these ceremonies available to as many of the Latter-day Saints as possible prior to departing from the city was apparent in these actions. Such widespread administration helped to standardize the practice among those who went west with Brigham Young.

    What is most remarkable about both of these books from my perspective is the hierarchies created in the rituals in which men were endowed to become kings and gods and women to become queens and priestesses. The Mormon temple concept, as it emerged in Nauvoo with its secrecy, ritualistic washings and anointings, incantations, preoccupation with Old Testament images, and elaborate rites providing for eternal exaltation during which faithful Mormons would “inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths” (D&C 132:20), implies that those who did not experience this same endowment must occupy an eternally subservient station. The temple ritual as documented here always mandated a second-class position for women beneath their priesthood-holding husbands, but women of the faith would be exalted above all others. Did this set of ideas emerge ambivalently over time or was it deliberately fostered by status anxiety or other more subtle factors?

    Both Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed and The Nauvoo Endowment Companies are welcome additions to the literature of Mormon Nauvoo. They present highly useful documentary materials for all to review. Historians will find them helpful in understanding the evolution of the Mormon temple concept and the practice of rituals in the city. Genealogists and believing LDS will profit from the wealth of biographical and canonical material contained in these works.

    1Ronald K. Esplin, “The Significance of Nauvoo for Latter-day Saints,” Journal of Mormon History 16 (1990): 72.

  2. Stephen C. Taysom, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought

    Editors Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera focus on documents bearing on the origin and development of Smith’s “Anointed Quorum.” This group,first organized in May 1842, initially met in Smith’s Red Brick Store in Nauvoo and thereafter in a variety of private locations, including the homes of quorum members. At the group’s meetings,they would initiate new members and perform a ritual that would be more or less familiar to modern Mormons as the temple endowment.

    The documents collected in the first volume are drawn largely from the journals of quorum members, most of whom were very circumspect in writing about the ritual. The documents range in content and style from the specific and voluble to the vague and rhetorically enthusiastic.

    An example of the former is drawn from the journal of L. John Nuttall, who recorded an 1877 recollection from BrighamYoung. According to Nuttall, Young recalled that, when the first endowments were given in Nauvoo, “we had only one room to work in with the exception of a little side room or office where we were washed and anointed had our garments placed upon us and received our new name. And after he [Joseph Smith] had performed these ceremonies, he gave the key words, signs, tokens and penalties” (7). A rather more succinct and veiled entry is found in Smith’s diary entry from September 26, 1842, in which he wrote, simply, that he spent some time “in the large room over the store” (16). Although few of the documents contain specific information about the endowment itself, when read as a whole,
    these early sources provide historians with several important pieces of information, including the process by which new members of the quorum were selected and the role of the quorum’s meetings in the larger problem-solving operation of the Church.

    On the first point, this was a small, insular group of mostly American-born converts. The nationality issue is significant in view of the fact that Nauvoo was becoming increasingly internationalized, as first the British and later the Scandinavian missions were bringing thousands of new Latter-day Saints into Nauvoo each year. Most members of the Anointed Quorum were not part of that new demographic. Members of the quorum nominated those whom they believed to be trustworthy, thus creating a web of relationships that were mapped onto the demographics of this new, sacred unit.

    With regard to the second point, the documents included in this volume make it abundantly clear that Joseph Smith confronted the vast array of difficulties facing his Church in the 1840s through what he believed to be the profound spiritual power available through petitioning God in special prayer rites. These rites sanctified the entire meeting and created a sacred space in which revelation would flow unimpeded. Although the term “prayer circle” does not appear in any of the collected documents in the first volume, it is obvious from the context that the prayers offered during meetings of the Anointed Quorum involved dressing in temple robes, praying in a circle, and invoking the attention of God through the use of ritual signs. Heber C. Kimball referred to it in his journal as the “Holy Order,” and he recorded that the order prayed for rain July 10, 1845 (127). Smith and his fellow quorum members prayed about a wide range of practical issues during these sessions, including “the prosperity of Israel” (176) and “that the Lord would turn away the sickness now prevailing amongst the children in the City” (129).

    Prayers were also offered up for sick individuals, and what would be categorized by scholars of religion as prayers of cursing were also mentioned. For example, Willard Richards recorded a meeting after Joseph Smith’s death in which “George A. Smith prayed that the evils of the course William Smith had pursued would fall upon his own head” (135).

    In addition to the prayers themselves, the now-sanctified environment was used for the discussion of political, economic, and social problems that were pressing upon the Mormons. That these documents so clearly indicate
    that Smith conceived of and used the meetings of the Quorum of the Anointed not only to perform rituals but also as a setting uniquely suited to finding solutions to vexing problems is fascinating because the problem-solving function of temple worship among ordinary Mormons now represents one of the central features of temple worship; members speak often of receiving inspiration about practical problems during the time they spend in the temple.

    Also during the period covered by the first volume, women were inducted into the Anointed Quorum and the practice of plural marriage was introduced, largely through the auspices of the quorum and the relatives of quorum members. The records are largely silent on the issue of plural marriage, as one would expect, but Todd Compton’s insightful introductory essay to the first volume, as well as many of the footnotes, help readers identify subtle references to the practice.

    In sum, Volume 1 is about the creation of an elite group focused on ritual practices of mythological performance, apotropaic prayer, and eternal marriage. In subsequent volumes, Bergera and Anderson’s documents demonstrate how this process was first democratized and then modernized.

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