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Gossamer Thin: 2 Nephi’s “Flaxen Cord” and the Anti- Masonic Thesis

TitleGossamer Thin: 2 Nephi’s “Flaxen Cord” and the Anti- Masonic Thesis
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsSmith, Gregory L.
JournalInterpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture
KeywordsAdversary; Flaxen Cord; Freemasonry; Imagery; Rhetoric; Satan; Symbolism

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 uses imply fragility, the evidence overwhelmingly contradicts the anti-Masonic thesis.


Scripture Reference

2 Nephi 26:22