[This review was written by FairMormon volunteer Rene Krywult.]
On Saturday, 25 October 2014, the Interpreter Foundation will host a conference on the topic of “Temple on the Mount Zion”, and it is only fitting that on this day, Interpreter Foundation will publish their proceedings of the 2012 conference which also had the temple as a main theme: Temple Insights.
At a size of 288 pages, the book Temple Insights contains 14 essays showing a continuous link of temple mysticism through the Old Testament and the Ancient Near Eastern context, the Book of Mormon and the ancient New World context, and modern day temples.
The conference was initially organized by Matthew Brown, who was an author and historian whose emphasis was on the history and doctrine of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and wrote several nonfiction books and research-based articles for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship at BYU. He worked as compiler and editor of the Journal for the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR; now FairMormon). Unfortunately he died in 2011, leaving behind his wife Jamie. Matthew “loved the temple and thirsted for the knowledge of heaven found therein.”
As this book is a set of thirteen very different essays, I find it bit difficult to write about, because of its diversity. I therefore decided to not deal with the essays in the order given in the book, but rather I want to organize them by topics. The first one is that of the ancient and historic context of the temple.
Temples and Ritual in History
Brown’s previously unpublished essay “The Handclasp, the Temple, and the King” starts the book, by analyzing OT verses describing the king as God’s anointed, whom God grasps by the hand, and how anointing and the handclasp between the Heavenly King and the mortal king of Israel was likely part of the coronation rite, which was held in the temple.
This topic is then expanded by David Calabro (“The Divine Handclasp in the Hebrew Bible”), who starts out with descriptions and analysis of ritual handclasps in the Old Testament and in Near Eastern Iconography, with examples from Egyptian, Hittite and Phoenician art, before then trying to find possible meanings of the gesture, linking it also to the ritual raising the hand as gestures accompanying oaths and covenants.
In “Edfu and Exodus”, John Gee (who is William [Bill] Gay Research Professor in the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University and chair of the Egyptology and Ancient Israel section of the Society for Biblical Literature. He has published articles on a variety of subjects, including the Egyptian temple) draws a connection between the Egyptian “Book of the Temple” and the book of Exodus, both in structure and topic, describing the temple from inside out. Gee concludes that both probably go back to a common source older than the both of them.
David Rolph and Jo Ann H. Seely ’s essay “The Crown of Creation” discusses the well known concept of the universe as a temple, links the creation story to the temple drama, shows how God, in creating the universe has the same roles the temple drama gives to Adam and Eve as archetype of each man and woman (that of king, priest and artisan), and how man, by participating in the temple drama, is raised to be the image of God, thus becoming the real crown of creation, participating in God’s creation by procreation. David Seely is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. He is a member of the international team of scholars that translated the Dead Sea Scrolls and published, together with Moshe Weinfeld, the Barkhi Nafshi hymns from Qumran in the Oxford series Discoveries in the Judaean Desert. Jo Ann is adjunct faculty in ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and has published articles in the The Book of Mormon Reference Companion, Anchor Bible Dictionary, BYU Studies, and the Studies in Scriptures series.
“From Dust to Exalted Crown: Royal and Temple Themes Common to the Psalms and the Dead Sea Scrolls” is the title David J. Larsen chose for his paper. Larsen, who holds a PhD in biblical theology from Andrews University and a bachelor’s degree in Near East studies from BYU, has research interests including Jewish and Christian apocalyptic and mysticism, pseudepigrapha and apocryphal literature, royal/Messianic themes in the Bible and in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and “ascent to heaven” traditions. And though this one is one of the shortest in the collection (a mere 11 pages including footnotes), it is an important one. Larsen, after showing how many of the Qumran texts rely on the “Royal Psalms” in the Bible (which, as can be seen in the papers by Brown, Calabro and the Seelys in this book, have a vital connection to the temple drama), then goes on to exaltation in the views of the Qumran community. How Adam and Eve are archetypal for Israelite temple ritual, which makes humans kings and priests, bringing the participant into the presence of God by a journey accompanied with covenants, making him part of the Divine Council. Bestowed with knowledge of the divine mysteries, one then becomes a teacher helping others on the way through divine mysteries, who then, as a group are raised to the same end. It is, Larsen shows, a journey where one is dressed in royal and priestly robes and receives a crown of righteousness, in a ritual setting.
Ancient temple rituals are also central to Donald W. Parry’s “Ancient Sacred Vestments: Scriptural Symbols and Meanings.” Parry, professor of the Hebrew Bible, Abraham O. Smoot Professorship, and a member of the International Team of Translators of the Dead Sea Scrolls, starts with the symbology of ritual vestments, and then discusses in detail how the ancient clothing worn in OT temples are part of the rituals and religious gestures that are conducted by those who occupy the path that leads from the profane to the sacred. The profane is removed, one is ritually washed, anointed, invested with special clothing, offers sacrifices, is ordained (hands are filled), and offers incense at the altar, before entering the veil. Putting on clothes, in a Christian context, is often seen as symbol of putting on Christ, as witnessed by the apostle Paul using the word “enduo,” when talking about putting on Christ, a word mainly used in the Septuagint for donning sacred vestments (symbols also for salvation, righteousness, glory, strength and resurrection) in order to be prepared to stand before God. Parry then goes on explaining how priestly officiants wearing sacred vestments, emulated celestial persons who wear sacred vestments, making one an image of those celestial persons. He concludes with showing how the ancient garbs of the High Priest point to Christ.
The last essay about the ancient context of the temple is Mark Alan Wright’s “The Axis Mundi: Ritual Complexes in Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon.” Wright (Assistant Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University and Associate Editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies at the Maxwell Institute, BA in Anthropology at UCLA and his MA and PhD in Anthropology [with a subfield of specialization in Mesoamerican Archaeology] from UC Riverside) introduces us to the fascinating parallels between Book of Mormon and Mayan temples as centers of the world, where rituals took place, kings were crowned, religious instruction was given, and as places of sacrifices and of men meeting God. In doing so, he is careful to point out that Mayan civilization was diverse enough that “the Mayans” would not have described themselves as belonging to the same culture. Each city was very much its own world. Nephites would surely have stuck out on some issues, but there was equally surely enough overlap that they could fit right in.
“Latter-day Houses of the Lord” by Richard O. Cowan, who was part of the religion faculty at BYU for more than 50 years and has chaired the committee producing Gospel Doctrine Sunday School manuals for the Church for more than a decade, traces the modern-day usage and understanding of temples from the Kirtland Temple to Nauvoo and the SLC temple. Architecture was used to teach principles. While the Kirtland Temple was preparatory (think of the vision of Christ and the conference of keys by Abraham, Moses, Abraham, Elias, and finally Elijah), the Nauvoo temple was dedicated to ritual usage. In 1879, the church reduced temple usage to rituals, and thus assembly rooms are missing from later temples. Through his paper, Cowan shows how temples have changed according to revelation, and how prophets have seen models in vision that then have been incorporated in the temples God’s people built.
Temple Mysticism and Scripture
Jeffrey M. Bradshaw (“The Ark and the Tent: Temple Symbolism in the Story of Noah”), Vice President of The Interpreter Foundation and a member of the Academy for Temple Studies Advisory Board, compares Moses’ tabernacle and Noah’s ark, and then identifies the story of Noah as a temple related drama, drawing of temple mysticism and symbols. After examining structural similarities between ark and tabernacle and bringing into the discussion further information about the Mesopotamian flood story, he shows how Noah’s ark is a beginning of a new creation, pointing out the central point of Day One in the Noah story. When Noah leaves the ark, they find themselves in a garden, not unlike the Garden of Eden in the way the Bible speaks about it. A covenant is established in signs and tokens. Noah is the new Adam. This is then followed by a fall/Judgement scene story, even though it is Ham who is judged, not Noah. In accordance with mostly non-Mormon sources quoted, Bradshaw points out, how Noah was not in “his” tent, but in the tent of the Shekhina, the presence of God, how being drunk was seen by the ancients as a synonym to “being caught up in a vision of God,” and how his “nakedness” was rather referring to garments God had made for Adam and Eve.
Mack C. Stirling follows a similar course in “Job: An LDS Reading.” The well known story of Job, one of the literary books of the Bible and part of the Wisdom literature (which is heavy in temple mysticism and symbols), he proposes, follows the temple endowment to the T. Following Hugh Nibley’s lead in “The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” the temple endowment is not discussed, though. Stirling focuses only on Job’s story, drawing on analysis of literary genres and literary tools, like chiasms, focusing on the existential questions asked by the ancient author. Doing this, he concludes that Job’s is a story about a spiritual journey, in which the two main questions are answered: “(1) Is it worthwhile to worship God for His own sake apart from material gain? (2) Can man, by coming to earth and worshipping God, enter into a process of becoming that allows him to participate in God’s life and being?” What follows is an easy to read and follow exegesis of the Book of Job with the above questions in mind, culminating with Job at the veil, speaking with God. Stirling then discusses Job’s journey in terms of Adam’s journey, beginning in a situation of security, going through tribulations, finding the way to God and being admitted into His presence, and shows how this journey is paralleled in Lehi’s dream in the Book of Mormon (which journey ends at a tree of life). This journey also is what each of us faces, from out premortal home with God, to the tribulations of this telestial world, and back to the eternal bliss of Celestial Kingdom, the presence of God, through Christ. In this way, the stories of Adam and Eve, of Job and of Lehi’s dream provide a framework for every human being’s existence.
In “Psalm 105: Chiasmus, Credo, Covenant, and Temple,” Stephen D. Ricks, professor of Hebrew and cognate learning at BYU, takes a close look at the literary structure of a psalm, reintroducing us to chiasmus both in modern and ancient texts, including the Book of Mormon, then uses this literary structure to not only show how the psalm contains the basic historic credo of the Israelites, as also seen in Deuteronomy and mirrored in 1Ne 17, and then goes on to show how an essential part of the psalm is a covenant (“a binding agreement between man and God, with sanctions in the event of the violation of the agreement”) between God and His people, which ties it back to the temple. Ricks shows this by pointing out the points of covenant: Preamble, Review of God’s relations with Israel, Terms of the Covenant, Formal witnesses, blessings and curses and reciting the covenant and depositing the text. This form is maintained in Exodus 19,20 23 and 24, and in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 1-6. Psalm 105 follows this form, too. The sacrament, which in Mormon understanding is a covenant, points 1 to 5 are also present.
David Bokovoy (“Ancient Temple Imagery in the Sermons of Jacob”), who holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East from Brandeis University, makes a compelling argument for Jacob, brother of Nephi, having deep knowledge of ancient Israelite temple ritual, concepts and imagery, for instance of the duty of the priest to expiate sin and make atonement before the Lord, of entering God’s presence. Jacob quotes temple related verses from the OT, like Psalm 95. The allusions to the temple are not forced, but very subtle. Of course, Jacob’s central topic, the atonement, is a temple topic itself, and it’s opposite, impurity is also expressed by Jacob in terms familiar and central to an ancient temple priest. The temple is also shown as a gate to heaven.
In Lisle G. Brown’s “Zacharaias and the Second Temple“ we follow Zacharias’ biography from entering the priesthood till the day the angel Gabriel appeared to him in Herod’s temple. Brown, author of ”Nauvoo Sealings, Adoptions, and Anointings: A Comprehensive Register of Persons Receiving LDS Temple Ordinances, 1841–1846,” after recounting the procedures to become a priest, focuses on the day when Zacharias prepared to bring one of the two central standing offerings. He points out that likely, a priest would only have a once in a life time chance to partake in the core of this ceremony, entering the Holy Room and burning incense on the Inner Altar. Brown paints a very visual picture of this day, immersing us in the ritual of the time, a ritual that became even more significant for Zacharias by seeing an angel in the temple, something that has not happened before nor after in the Second Temple.
Easy to read and well documented, this book is a treasure trove for those who want to get a better knowledge and understanding of temple ritual and mysticism, a guide line to help find new and richer meaning in scripture study and a comprehensive bibliography to further one’s own intellectual study of temples, ancient and modern.