Joseph Smith believed that at the core of restoration theology was temple worship. However, he left behind few documents detailing how and when the endowment was revealed to him. That many Latter-day Saints have an interest in temples and temple ceremonies is evidenced by the fact that large collections of unpublished temple-related documents circulate among historians, theologians, and interested members. Even scholarly books such as Donald W. Parry’s Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism and Hugh Nibley’s Temple and Cosmos enjoy surprisingly brisk sales. Still most Latter-day Saints remain unfamiliar with the antecedents and historical development of modern temple ceremonies. Even revealed sacred rites, we believe, have a history that can be both interesting and instructive.
The Mysteries of Godliness attempts the first historical treatment of the development of the endowment and other temple rites. The preface acknowledges the sensitivity of this theme and promises “to treat the ceremony with respect” in order to “enhance understanding of the temple for both Latter-day Saints and others by providing a history of the endowment.” Yet, “given exaggerated claims about the temple and its origin by some enthusiastic apologists” [just who these persons are and what constitutes their exaggerated claims the author does not tell us], he argues that “a degree of specificity in detail is unavoidable.” Using many unpublished primary sources and published exposés written by anti-Mormons, Buerger traces endowment history from its beginnings in 1831 to the present day. His narrative is specific enough to offend the sensitivities of most devout Mormons, despite his disclaimers.