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Does Mitt Romney Think He Is a Son of Abraham and That the Land of Zion Will Be his Inheritance?

Exploring the deeper tenets of Mormon theology.

While in Jerusalem Mitt Romney made an appearance at the Wailing Wall in a  yarmulke. Was he just trying to pay tribute to Orthodox tradition or does he think he’s a Jew? Perhaps both.

Conservative Christianity teaches “ supersessionism,” the idea that God’s covenant with Christians replaced his covenant with the Jews and now Christians are the Chosen People, the spiritual heirs of Abraham. Mormonism takes this a step further, teaching that Mormons are not only the spiritual heirs of Abraham, they are his physical descendants as well.

Mormonism includes a ritual called the “ patriarchal blessing” in which a member in good standing receives a set of pronouncements spoken by an older male who is thought, during the ritual itself, to act as a latter-day prophet. Like many of Mormonism’s better known distinctive features, such as  plural marriage and wearing  sacred undergarments, the practice was instituted by Joseph Smith himself.* One of the most central functions of the patriarchal blessing is to reveal which great-grandson of Abraham a person can claim as his ancestor. Per Mormonwiki:

"Through these blessings, Latter-day Saints are told their lineage from the tribes of Israel. All tribes have been represented, but Latter-day Saints descend mostly from the sons of Joseph—Ephraim and Manasseh."

One former Mormon  describes the experience: “While reading my patriarchal blessing I took note that it says I was: ‘born through the loins of Ephraim.’ I found it fascinating how patriarchs could tell which tribes people were descended from."

This peculiar-seeming teaching offers a fascinating window into the way sacred stories emerge and evolve. It also offers a window into one way religious sects compete and seek status.

In the Bible story, the Hebrew people are divided into 12 tribes based on the 12 sons of Jacob, one of whom is Joseph of the “Technicolor Dreamcoat.” The story of Jacob’s 12 sons and the 12 tribes of Israel bring together two passions of the Bible writers, both of which play a central role in Mormonism: genealogy and numerology. The concept of Chosen People creates a fixation on bloodlines, and the Bible writers often go to great lengths to establish the lineage of powerful men. In fact, two of the New Testament writers, each with a different audience in mind, offered contradictory genealogies of Jesus that theologians have struggled for centuries to reconcile. The Mormon religion continued and expanded the obsession with bloodlines to the point that vaults in  Granite Mountain, Utah, now house almost two million rolls of microfilm with genealogical records. Mormonism teaches that family is forever, which is why a man controls his wife’s standing in heaven and members can be baptized on behalf of deceased antecedents, and it is terribly important to know who your ancestors were.

The number 12 traces its own lineage of significance clear back to the signs of the zodiac and manifests repeatedly in the Bible. Joseph Smith himself was deeply influenced by Freemasonry, which provided the sacred symbols that appear on Mormon undergarments. It also  reinforced a fascination with numerology and biblical numerology in particular.

Thus there were 12 signs of the Zodiac, 12 months in the year, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 stones in the pectoral, and 12 oxen supporting the molten sea in the Temple. There were 12 apostles in the new law, and the New Jerusalem has 12 gates, 12 foundations, is 12,000 furlongs square, and the number of the sealed is 12 times 12,000.

The numbers three and seven also had early magical significance that shaped the  beliefs of Bible writers and early Christians. Think seven days of creation, three days before the resurrection, the holy trinity, or the command to forgive your neighbor “70 times seven.” Like the number 12, three and seven are  built into the structure of the Mormon bureaucracy.

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