Abstract: Some have seen evidence of anti-Masonic rhetoric in the Book of Mormon and cite 2 Nephi 26:22 in support of this theory, since Satan leads sinners "by the neck with a flaxen cord." It is claimed that this is a reference to Masonic initiation rituals, which feature a thick noose called a cable-tow or tow-rope. Examining the broader rhetorical context of 2 Nephi demonstrates that the "flaxen cord" more likely refers to something slight and almost undetectable. To test this hypothesis, I undertake a survey of the use of the phrase flaxen cord in 19th century publications. I also examine analogous phrases from the Bible. I examine fifty examples, seven of which are excluded because they do not contain enough information to support either claim. Of the remaining 43 examples, a full two-thirds (67%) describe a cord that is trivial or easily snapped. Only 7% denote a thick, strong rope, and 17% describe a thin rope that is strong. Given (1) the rhetorical context of 2 Nephi, (2) an expression that usually refers to a cord of trivial thickness and strength, and (3) virtually all poetic, scriptural, or allegorical manner uses imply fragility, the evidence overwhelmingly contradicts the anti-Masonic thesis.
About the Author
Gregory L. Smith studied research physiology and English at the University of Alberta but escaped into medical school before earning his bachelor’s degree. He was an associate editor of the Mormon Studies Review at BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship from 2011–2012. He works as a rural family doctor providing cradle-to-grave care.