The Nauvoo Endowment Companies
Devery S. Anderson, Gary Bergera
Signature Books , 2005. Hardback:
Suggested retail price: $39.95 (US)
Anderson and Bergera have done a thorough job of collecting available documentation related to the ritual work of the Nauvoo Temple during the dizzy two months of its actual usage. I have found the process of reading about this period both spiritually exciting and academically useful.
Though a large portion is republication of the journals of William Clayton and Heber Kimball, there are a variety of previously inaccessible sources made available here. The book is essentially bifurcate. On the one hand there are seemingly interminable lists of people who received any of the relevant ordinances. On the other there are firsthand accounts, most of them contemporary, of the experience of the temple during the winter of 1845-6. These range from the familiar and pleasant (eg Brigham Young evading the police by dispatching George Miller in Young's overcoat; the fact that Brigham Young left the temple once a week and slept about 4 hours per night) to the unfamiliar and sometimes unsettling (the swearing of blood oaths to avenge the loss of the beloved Prophet, the threat to exclude women temporarily from the endowment if they disturbed the peace). In places there are also excerpts that would never have been intended for publication by their writers, as they were recording details of the function of the temple in their private diaries, right along with an awareness of the penalties for publishing this information.
I should make this clear by reiterating: portions of this book include specific reference to temple rites that the diarists whose work is reprinted here would have rejected as an unholy sacrilege. I do not recommend this book or its companion volume to readers who are not comfortable with reading this material in a published format outside the walls of the temple. If your experience of the holy rites of the temple does not include reading about the structure of the endowment or the early implementation of it, then I would avoid this book.
I personally found the book immensely inspirational, and I had an image of the intense and loving commitment of an entire people to receiving the blessings of heaven in the way prescribed by their martyred prophet. Arising before dawn to stoke the stoves that would warm the sagging structure of the Nauvoo temple during a bitter midwestern winter, dancing together for an hour near midnight, then collapsing exhausted onto sofas and floor for a few hours of rest before gearing up for the next day. All this while their leaders were on the lam for charges of counterfeiting (apparently related to a counterfeiting ring within Nauvoo that was not directly affiliated with the church, although sceptics may dispute Brigham Young's answer to the charges as the Mormons felt themselves robbed by a fallen nation and in desperate need of funds to emigrate and care for their poor).
I have a rekindled admiration for Brigham Young and his colleagues. They amaze me. I'm grateful for the compilers for bringing this material to me, though I would only recommend the book to non-Mormons or those Mormons whose experience of the temple does not exclude perusing events recorded in private diaries and not intended for publication.
Sam Brown January 14, 2006
© 2006 Sam Brown