This is an audio recording that was made on March 19, 1897 by Wilford Woodruff, fourth president of the Church, at age 91, just one and a half years before his death. It is one of the oldest audio recordings ever made, using a “talking machine” or cylinder phonograph invented by Thomas Edison just two decades previously. This is a singular recording, as Truman G. Madsen has noted:
We hear the record of Christ’s redemptive power, his keys of authority, his organization, his pure and transforming doctrines, his spiritual gifts, and, above all, the empowering promises of his holy temple. (This Is My Testimony, Spoken by Myself into a Talking Machine, BYU Studies 5, no. 2 (2006))
Wilford Woodruff was a first-hand witness of the endowment as it was first given to the twelve apostles by Joseph Smith in a meeting on March 26, 1844, just weeks before the Prophet’s martyrdom. Here we listen to President Woodruff bear his solemn testimony of the great truths that he witnessed the prophet of God bestow in that great meeting. I can only imagine what it would have been like to be in attendance on that occasion and hear the restored ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ fall from the lips of God’s prophet for the first time in nearly two millenia.
Update (1/26/08): Aaron notes that this was not the very first time the endowment ceremony was given by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Elements of the temple ordinances were given by the Prophet in different forms and states of progression and development all the way back to 1831, as is the nature of how revelation is received and given (line upon line). The first “formal” endowment was given by the Prophet in the upper room of his red brick store in May 4, 1842 to nine people (only 3 from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). The ceremony presented on March 26, 1844, might have been the first given to the entire Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (can anyone confirm?). Certainly it was among the first endowments given, as there were only about 50 or so endowed members by the time of the Prophet’s death in June of 1844. Thanks, Aaron, for the clarification!
Update (1/27/08): BYU Studies has an MP3 of the recording here. They have also provided transcriptions in DOC format, and PDF format.
“Wilford Woodruff was a first-hand witness of the endowment as it was first given to the twelve apostles by Joseph Smith in a meeting on March 26, 1844, just weeks before the Prophet’s martyrdom.”
It was, of course, given before that date as well, but I’m not sure that’s clear from your post.
In response to your 1/26/08 post: “The ceremony presented on March 26, 1844, might have been the first given to the entire Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (can anyone confirm?).”
Truman Madson said in Volume VII of his “On Sacred Ground: Reflections on Joseph Smith” that “the most faithful of the Twelve” were given “the complete temple endowment” in the upper room of the Red Brick Store in 1842. He explained that this was a step toward the “Last Charge” meeting held in March 1844 in the same room, where “apparently at least nine of the Twelve were present; three were absent: William Smith, John E. Page, and Sidney Rigdon….” The wives of those Twelve Apostles that were present were also in attendance along with others of the faithful.
Of the nine who would receive the original endowment in the Red Brick Store, three would eventually leave the Church. 2/3rds would remain faithful until the end. Yet even Brigham Young testified that the endowments were not fully completed and functional until 1845 when those outside the Anointed Quorum were able to receive the endowment for themselves. Those who were presented the original Red Brick Store endowment in the upper room were reendowed when the temple was at a functional status. Because of variations that occurred in the wording of the endowments after temples were being built in Utah, Brigham Young ultimately authorized them to be written in scripted form, whereas before it was only something that could be heard and memorized. Because they were scripted, it provided a unity between the presentations in each temple, only after Brigham Young had spent months meticulously scrutinizing each page of text for discrepancies. It was Wilford Woodruff and Brigham Young Jr. wrote down the endowment for President Young’s review. Authorized adjustments have been made from time to time since then, but the blessings of the endowment are the same today as they were in 1844.
Tyler Andersen, could you confirm where you got the information about the scripts?