The recently-published Method Infinite: Freemasonry and the Mormon Restoration by Cheryl L. Bruno, Joe Steve Swick III, and Nicholas S. Literski (Greg Kofford Books, 2022) is an insightful and information-packed volume about a plethora of possible points of contact between Freemasonry and the Restoration of the Church of Christ.
While many studies of Masonry and the Latter Day Saint movement focus primarily on temple rituals, Method Infinite covers the entirety of Joseph Smith’s life and follows the influence of Masonic ideas and rituals into some of the major branches of Mormonism that emerged in the aftermath of the Prophet’s death. The book starts with a brief history of Freemasonry and its existence in the early United States of America, then discusses how Joseph Smith grew up in an environment saturated with Freemasonry. It points to ideas that were being discussed or practiced by Freemasons and compares these with strains of Latter Day Saint thought and action, suggesting that Joseph Smith saw himself as the restorer of the pure form of Masonry from the outset and that he viewed the Freemasonry practiced at the time as an apostate or spurious form of Masonry. Evidences for this idea that are pointed out have to do with the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, the way various organizations within or connected to the Church were organized, specific teachings of Joseph Smith and other early Church leaders, the ways that the City of Nauvoo was organized politically and religiously, and in temple rituals. The closest I’ve seen any study of the intersection of Masonry and Mormonism come to what this book achieves is Michael Homer’s Joseph’s Temples: The Dynamic Relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism (University of Utah Press, 2014), though that one doesn’t go as deeply into some of the areas of intersection that Method Infinite brings up outside of the temple rituals. An incredible amount of information and analysis is presented in Method Infinite, and I have to say that I had a fair amount of “ah-ha” moments while reading.
As a Latter-day Saint, it can be disconcerting to look at the possibility that Joseph Smith was influenced by Freemasonry because it opens up questions of whether Joseph Smith was acting under God’s instructions or whether he was cobblinging together ideas that he liked from other groups to make his own religion (at least that’s how I’ve felt while reading about Masonry and the Church). This book approaches the issue from the perspective that the reality is somewhere in the middle, including the scriptures that Joseph Smith translated, which may be an idea that is uncomfortable for some readers. That being said, I did have a lot of moments while reading the book where what they shared helped me make sense of aspects of what Latter Day Saints believed and did in the early days of the Church. As an example of this, one most interesting to me was how the Danites (or whatever name you want to use) were essentially intended to function as a secret Mason-like order that was used to coordinate on protection of the Saints. The history of that organization was explored, pointing out how widespread it was among the Latter Day Saints in Missouri and how aspects of it survived in Nauvoo, even if it wasn’t as overt as it had been during the Missouri-Mormon War. With everything that the book discusses, though, I would say that my main complaint was that the book made efforts to cover so much ground that it sometimes blazed through topics faster and with less depth than I would have liked. At 509 pages, though, I can very much see that there was a need for concise discussions to get through everything they wanted to discuss.
Overall, I found Method Infinite: Freemasonry and the Mormon Restoration by Cheryl L. Bruno, Joe Steve Swick III, and Nicholas S. Literski (Greg Kofford Books, 2022) to be a fascinating read and would recommend it to scholars and others interested in gaining a deeper understanding of both 19th century American Freemasonry and the early Latter Day Saint movement.
Chad, I’d be really interested to see your personal take on Bradshaw’s Freemasonry and the Origins of Latter-day Saint Temple Ordinances and your comparison of the two books.
If I get around to reading the Bradshaw one sometime soon, I’ll do that!
I agree with Chad, there was an incredible amount of information in Method Infinite, although their treatment of the parallels with ancient practices was not as strong as Jeff Bradshaw’s (as I pointed out in my Meridian piece. I’m personally more interested in that, but I strongly recommend both rather than one or the other). They complement each other well.