Edward Hunter’s Key of Rabbi Solomon and Mormonism

Recently, commenter Adonia Zanoni asked me to write a review of the nineteenth-century Key of Rabbi Solomon, as issued by Hell Fire Club.  This is probably late for most potential buyers, as only the 11-copy super deluxe edition remains for sale, but I’ll handle this as best I’m able.

Full disclosure: I might be working with Hell Fire on a project in the future, so keep that in mind when reading this review.

The Key consists of two booklets, one consisting of a facsimile of the original manuscript of the Key (currently in private hands), and the other a brief introduction to and transcript of the manuscript. All of this is attractively presented and printed, although you’ll certainly see differences based upon the edition acquired (I went for the cheap kidskin).

As for the manuscript itself, I’ve compared it with the Sibley Clavis edited by Joseph Peterson. Most of it corresponds in organization and chapters to that manuscript, although the text is different enough to suggest a different translator – up to a point.  That is, the book breaks off in the middle of the chapter of the talismans of Mercury, corresponding to Wednesday. Thus, if you were expecting a full Key, you will be disappointed.

Yet, sad to say, I’ve had to back burner a more in-depth examination of the book, in order to deal with one particular aspect of the book. Let’s look at the title page:

The Keys
of
Rabbi Solomon

Translated accurately from the
Hebrew into English
by
Edward Hunter

According to the book’s introduction included in the transcript, this Edward Hunter is identical to the man of the same name (1793-1883) who served as the presiding bishop of the Church of Latter-Day Saints for over three decades. Here are some illustrative quotes from the introduction:

It is now little surprise to that we find yet another top Mormon leader who has transcribed what can be determined as highly ritualized, magical, Solomonic arts.

This manuscript is hand written by the Mormon Bishop, Edward Hunter himself.

This manuscript is indeed that “smoking gun”, finally putting to rest the question surrounding Mormon Hermeticism, Kabbalism, and the practice of Solomonic ritual magic.

So – is it the “smoking gun”? Connections between the early Mormons, especially Joseph Smith, and ceremonial magic have been hotly debated back and forth for years. If I might dip into a highly complex and controversial question, I can say that what little literature I’ve read on the topic on both sides shows little knowledge of the literature and practice of ritual magic.

Let’s focus in on this manuscript now, with a discussion examination of the title page above. I think most readers will already be aware that King Solomon did not write any of the “keys” associated with him. Further, the Key of Solomon‘s origins lie in the Greek Hygromanteia, with no proof of Hebrew origins; indeed, what Hebrew copies we have, such as the Gollancz edition, are copies of much later editions translated into Hebrew. The introduction to the transcript claims that Hunter “transcribed” the book, but that is incorrect with regard to the statement on the title page, on which Hunter claims to have translated the book from Hebrew. I can expect a certain degree of deception on the title page of a grimoire, but this certainly raises questions as to how much we can believe any one part of it.

Next, is the Edward Hunter to whom this manuscript is ascribed the same person as the Mormon Bishop? As I’ve learned through researching figures such as “William Bellhouse” and “George Graham,” making sure that one has the right person out of many with a similar name is crucial when it comes to history. Can we connect these two Edward Hunters?

The book provides little helpful material. In the original listing, Hell Fire noted that the watermark of “Whatmans 1827” appeared on the paper. (This piece of information seems to have been lost in a website move that occurred in the last week, but you can still read it here.) Thus, it’s quite plausible that the date of composition occurred during Bishop Hunter’s life.

Beyond that, however, the old Hell Fire website description only tells us that the manuscript “is believed by specialists to have been [created] sometime around 1830 by the Bristol based merchant Edward Hunter,” who “later had links to the Mormon groups in the United States.” This was certainly not Bishop Hunter, who was born and raised in Pennsylvania. Thus, we have a gap between the promotional material and the introduction.

As you might recalled, we were assured that the the book is “hand written by the Mormon Bishop, Edward Hunter himself.” In that case, we might compare it to other writings attributed to him, including this letter from Edward Hunter to Joseph Smith from October 27, 1841. This is treacherous ground, as I cannot say definitively that one or the other of these documents was not written for Hunter by a clerk or employee, although the number of errors in both suggests a professional scribe was not involved in either one.

Nonetheless, I have gone through a few pages of both documents, extracted images of identical words, and present them below, based upon the principle of fair use:

Word Hunter Letter Hunter Clavis
That  Hunter Letter That  Hunter Clavis That
All  Hunter Letter All  Hunter Clavis Illustrations All
The Hunter Letter The Hunter Clavis Illustrations The
Expences  Hunter Letter Expences  Hunter Clavis Illustrations Expences
Being Hunter Letter Being Hunter Clavis Illustrations Being
And Hunter Letter And Hunter Clavis Illustrations And
Proper Hunter Letter Proper Hunter Clavis Illustrations Proper

The above items speak for themselves – but in case it remains unclear, I should point out in particular the crossbars in the “t”s in “that,” the lower part of the “g” in “being,” and the curve on the “d” in “and.”

At this point, the evidence points away from the Mormon bishop as the transcriber or translator of the book. I should add that, after having contacted the publisher, the editor, and a researcher involved in the Hunter Clavis, I have yet to see any countervailing evidence that might convince me otherwise. Perhaps it will be forthcoming in the following weeks, and I will update this post if it is.

Want to know more about the book? Do you have a perspective on the evidence? In either case, just leave it in the comments below.

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Published in: on April 24, 2018 at 6:33 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Key of Rabbi Solomon reviewed. […]

  2. Thanks for taking the time to review this work and informing me this is incomplete. I was wondering if this was a complete edition because the book appeared slim.

  3. There are at least 6 other extant manuscripts of this work, all of them more complete than this. Also the handwriting and use of abbreviations like ‘pp.’ is very 20th century. The Hebrew on the title page clearly indicates that the author was not competent in that language, and so could not have translated it from Hebrew.


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