Return to the Temple

When the time came for fulfillment of the prophecies of the coming Messiah, heavenly activity was concentrated vigorously on the temple. Granted, it was Herod’s temple, which many Jews considered a mere parody of Solomon’s and which the pious sectaries claimed to be defiled; still it was there that the angel Gabriel came “from the presence of God” to “preach the gospel” in a long discourse to Zacharias behind the veil. This first chapter in Luke is peculiarly relevant to the study of the temple. Zacharias was a priest, and his wife a direct descendant of Aaron (Luke 1:5). Their condition is described in very un-Greek terms that seem to come right out of the Dead Sea Scrolls in bold relief. They were both “upright before the Lord” (yasarîm lipnê adonai), “walking in all the commandments” (mizwôt) and judgments (mispatîm) of the Lord, observing the law flawlessly in every respect. It had nothing to do with moral turpitude. Like Job, they were “upright and perfect.” The Greek word amemptoi, “blameless” (Luke 1:6), is equivalent to the Hebrew tamîm.

You would think them the last people in the world to need more religion; yet it was expressly to them that the gospel was given (Luke 1:9). Zacharias’s activity during his turn of duty entailed making the intense sacrifice, when he would go before the veil in the Holy of Holies while the multitude stood outside in the court in prayer (Luke 1:10). What happened is described by Luke with clinical precision (Luke 1:14), matched only by the story of Moroni’s visit to Joseph Smith.

Why did the angel make his special appearance? Explicitly to announce the birth of John the Baptist, which was to bring great joy to the world; John would be filled with the Holy Ghost from the womb and observe a way of life strictly withdrawn from worldly practices (Luke 1:15). This was to be a restoration: “He would bring back many of the children to the Lord their God” (Luke 1:16); he would precede the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, fulfilling the promise made long before: “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient” spirits to the way of righteousness (Luke 1:17; cf. Malachi 4:6). (This plainly deals with those who had passed on and looks to a reconstruction of the family.) As to the present generation, the coming prophet was sent to prepare for the Lord a people qualified (Luke 1:16-17). The angel then stated his own role: “I am Gabriel, and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings” (Luke 1:19). Again, just like Moroni.

Next the angel went to Mary, and again, the exact circumstances of the visit are given. She will have a child, and he shall rule and reign in the house of the Lord forever” (Luke 1:26-55). Mary burst into a song, declaring that the promises to the fathers were about to be fulfilled (Luke 1:46-55). On the eighth day, John’s parents brought him to the temple, where Zacharias, filled with the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:67), proclaimed the restoration of the glories and offices of the temple, culminating with work for the dead: He has taken pity on our fathers, “to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). All this had to do with great benefits for those who had died, to be effected specifically by one whose office was to baptize (Luke 2:76-79).

Like John, Jesus too was brought to the temple when he was eight days old; and there Simeon, being filled with the Holy Ghost (which had, we are expressly told, brought him to the temple for that purpose; cf. Luke 2:27), took the babe in his arms and proceeded to recite from Isaiah the restoration of that which had been prepared as a glory to the people of Israel as well to the nations (Luke 2:28-32). The next blessing was bestowed by the prophetess Anna, who never left the temple, where she engaged in fasting and prayer day and night.

One cannot help but wonder what those people did who spent all their time in the temple. Fasting and prayer were not a full-time activity, and much in the early Jewish and Christian literature indicates that there was much more to be done. Specifically what it was we are never told, for these things were not divulged to the world.

What is to be noted is how all this activity centers in the temple. In October 1983, I attended a conference of Jews and Christians on Holy Land studies in Washington, D.C. The subject was the restoration of the temple, and the three words constantly discussed—which would have been taboo just ten years before—were restoration [not reformation], dispensation, and revelation. Some of the clergy are beginning to want the temple back. It was at the temple that Simeon and Anna gave their prophetic blessings of Jesus, and that Gabriel hailed the work of John the Baptist, this babe who was surprisingly “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” (Luke 1:17) (instead of the other way around), and to bring a great light to them who sat in darkness—plainly his ministry of baptism was to apply to the dead as well as the living; and it was the same in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was at the temple that Jesus as a child revealed his special calling to do his Father’s business (Luke 2:46-49). And it was there that he made a general announcement of his messianic calling. After he had gone, the saints spent their days, Luke tells us, constantly meeting and praising God in the temple (Luke 24:53). The early church, in fact, was built around the temple, a thing which many new in-depth studies are bringing to light for the first time.1

The primacy of the temple as that appointed place through which God dealt with Israel, both Jewish and Christian, was never revoked. Since both Jews and Christians were without the temple after A.D. 70, both attempted to dismiss it as no longer necessary. Some rabbis disliked and denounced it, discouraging any discussion of its teachings and ordinances.2 The Christians, of course, claimed, in the spirit of Alexandrian intellectualism, that the crass, physical temple of old had been replaced by a more splendid spiritual structure in the heart of man. But for all the philosophizing, rationalizing, allegorizing, moralizing, and abstracting, both sides missed the temple sorely. Frequent attempts were made to reclaim it, to restore it, to copy it.3 “We are the heirs to that consecutive imagery. . . . While it is more directly observable in synagogues, churches too in some way or other are likely to express some reminiscence of the biblical shrines.”4 About 200 B.C. a circle of pious priests full of zeal for “the dignity of the temple worship . . . adopted the title of the sons of Zadok,” from whom are descended the Sadducees.5 The people of the Scrolls were devoted to the temple and, like the Essenes,6 “sent offerings to the temple without, however, participating in its cult, for they regarded the priests at Jerusalem as usurpers of the priesthood.” The rights of the synagogue were meant to be a reflection of the temple,7 and churches and cathedrals were designed with their Holy of Holies, their veils, and their ministers, who were even referred to as Levites (cf. fig. 13, p. 68).

But in reading the Bible, one can only ask all denominations today, Where is your temple? Wouldn’t you like to have it?8 S. Brandon answers, “Now in all that we otherwise know from the earliest New Testament sources, . . . there had been no repudiation of the Temple cultus either by Jesus or by his original followers; indeed the evidence is all to the contrary.”9 “There is an abundance of evidence that the Jerusalem Christians continued faithful in their reverence for the temple and in their observance of its cultus; indeed even Paul himself outwardly conformed to the ritual requirements of Judaism and . . . never critized the Temple and the services performed there.”10 “Even the Pharaisic Paul,” writes M. Black, “turns again and again to the language of the temple and the altar.”11 Acts 2:46, 5:42, and 21:20-26 show that “the church at Jerusalem . . . adhered to temple worship from the beginning.”12 And Luke 24:53 shows that “Jesus’ Messiahship . . . made no breach in the continuity of their Jewish faith and practice. It rather revealed to their minds a new wealth of meaning in the old ritual.”13 Indeed, “the first rallying point of Jewish Christianity was the courts of the holy Temple,” for all Jews “looked toward Jerusalem as the rightful center of their activities, and the place at which the returning Messiah would establish his final reign upon the earth.”14 This would seem to give the Mormons an edge, but that depends on what kind of temple we have.

Granted that many Jews want to rebuild the temple, and many Christians would apply the word freely and quite incorrectly to their church buildings, still the question remains: Once you have a structure, a temple, unique and strikingly different from synagogue and church, what do you do in it that makes it different? Here we can take the Bible for our guide. Certain well-known rites, ordinances, and fixtures can be easily copied. In temples and mysteries throughout the ancient world we find washing and anointing—types of ritual purification and healing—a special garment, prayer circles, veils, etc. But these are mere fixtures and properties. The ancient Roman word for rites to be visibly performed (whose Greek equivalent is drama, “actions carried out”) is the actio.

Temples in General

Hundreds of books and articles written since the beginning of the century draw attention to certain basic aspects common to temples throughout the world at all times.15 The temple is an imposing structure, the place where one gets one’s bearings from the universe, a place for the gathering of the entire race at an appointed time, namely the new year, to celebrate the beginning of a new age, the common birthday of mankind, i.e., the begetting of the race in a sacred marriage in which the king takes the role of the first ancestor. It is the “hierocentric point,”16 the place where all time, space, and humanity come together.17The world templum not only designates the template, the point of cutting between the cardo and decumanus from which the observer of the heavens makes his viewing, it is also the diminutive of the word tempus, denoting that it measures the divisions of time and space in a single pattern.18 There, all the records of the past are kept and all the prophecies for the future are divined.19 G. A. Ahlstrom concludes that the two basic symbols of the temple are in general (1) its cosmic symbolism, and (2) the paradise motif, setting it aside as a sort of halfway-house between heaven and earth.20 One center would establish others in distant places in the manner, as Augustine says,21 of a central fire that sends out sparks, each one of these setting a new fire to scatter new centers, etc., so that the whole world is embraced in a common unity around a common center.22 This idea is reflected in concern with cosmology, a theme dominant in the Jewish and Christian writings until the schools of rhetoric took over. “The earthly shrine [is] a microcosm of the cosmic shrine, . . . conceived as preserving the proportions of the cosmic abode of deity in reduced measure.”23 “The temples,” writes Hrozny, “were not only centers of religious life, they were also centers of cultural, economic, and even political life of Babylonia.” They were also schools and universities somewhat like medieval cloisters.24

Albright notes that the original temple of Solomon as a point of contact with the other world presented a “rich cosmic symbolism which was largely lost in the later Israelite and Jewish tradition.”25 Since the beginning of the century, widespread comparative studies have shown the uniformity and antiquity of this institution as well as its worldwide contamination and decay, so that not a single example remains in its purity, and yet by virtue of comparing hundreds of imperfect and fragmentary institutions, the original can be reconstructed with great confidence and clarity. In 1930 the so-called Cambridge School gave this doctrine the label of “patternism.”26 Scholars avoided it until after World War II; since that time it has been accepted as standard by many.

But it was Joseph Smith who first pointed this out, recalling a common heritage from what he calls the archaic religion, coming down from Adam in such institutions as Freemasonry, and clearly pointing out their defects as time produced its inevitable corruption. What he himself supplied single-handedly is the original article in all its splendor and complexity: quod erat demonstrandum (“that which had to be proven”). The cosmic pattern is presented in every external aspect of the Salt Lake Temple. At the dedication of that temple, Brigham Young explained to the people, “So we commence by laying the stone on the south-east corner because, there is the most light.”27 And at the dedication of the St. George Temple, “Precisely at 12 m President Brigham Young, at whose side stood Presidents John W. Young and Daniel H. Wells, broke ground at the south-east corner, and, kneeling on that particular spot, he offered the dedicatory prayer.”28

The Covenant and the Gathering

God made his covenant with Israel both individually and collectively; he required everyone to repair to a certain place at an appointed time to enter a covenant with him. The names by which the Jews designated the temples are House of the King, House of God; the temple at Jerusalem was called specifically the Dwelling, ha-bayit, which does not mean that God dwelt there all the time, for the other name for it was ‘ulam, meaning vestibule or passage. It was also the miqdash, or place sanctified or set apart; the naos or heykal, meaning shrine or sanctuary; to hieron, the holy. The most common word with the Jews today is the House, Herod’s temple being “the Second House.” “Josephus calls it the Deuteron Hieron.”29

“All this must be done at a certain place” he tells Israel; “and I will send an angel to direct you to it. Behave yourselves and pay attention to his voice, because he is acting in my name” (cf. Exodus 23:20-21). They come together as equals, camp in families, follow the directions, note the functions of the appointed priesthood, and hearken to the voice of their prophet and leader when he shows his face after conversing with the Lord. The appointed place always had some structure, even if it was only a tent or stone (usually a ring of standing stones). This structure was considered sacred and was preserved in the building of the temple, which was built to house the original structures.

What Was Done in the Temple? 

The central rite of the temple was certainly the offering of sacrifice—the slaughtering of beasts; yet the activities we read about in the Bible simply take that for granted and tell us of preaching, of feasting, and of music. The place seemed to be a general center of activity. The huge outer court allowed for this; the inner court was limited to Jews over twenty who had paid their tax for instruction or teaching, for the temple was a school. In fact, it was all those things for which the Kirtland Temple was dedicated in D&C 109. However, through the years both the structure and the uses to which it was put have remained completely baffling to scholars.30 What the temple really looked like remains today as puzzling as ever.31 Welcome light has finally come with the discovery of the great Temple Scroll from Qumran. This, as Yadin noted, was not a spiritual temple or an ideal model of a heavenly temple, but the temple which these people actually intended to rebuild as soon as the Lord would command them—a more perfect temple than that which the men at Jerusalem had defiled.32 Its purpose was the renewal of the covenant made at Sinai, i.e., the temple ordinances that were present before; from the beginning, the building was merely to accommodate them. This temple was to be in three levels, in three concentric squares or in three cubes, as Frank Cross sees it, the tabnît being “a model of the cosmic Tabernacle of Yahweh.”33 Joseph Smith takes it back to “the three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder—the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms,”34 the highest level being an assembly hall facing a veil that ran from one side of the room to the other. According to Cross, the place behind the veil was reached by workers who would ascend a winding staircase in a tower or “house of the winding stair,” which stood ten feet free of the building and was connected with the top story by a little bridge. In the Holy Place, for the priesthood, was the table of the “presence-bread” (i.e., shewbread).35 Every morning in the temple, twelve loaves were spread out for the twelve tribes, and the workers took the sacrament (Leviticus 24:5-9; cf. Exodus 25:23-30; 29:33-34). The most impressive rite of the temple was the “drinking of the new wine by the entire assembly,” which was to symbolize a ransom or redemption.

A stairway led to an upper story connected to the temple attic; equally impressive was the House of the Laver, containing a great bronze tank located in a separate building a few feet from the main temple, with dressing rooms at hand, emptying into a drain which carried the water off to be absorbed into the ground.

In the far northeast corner of the great enclosure is a roofed building supported by twelve columns with chains and pulleys; this is the place where the sacrificial animals were killed, far removed from the sacred precincts. From all this we see that the sacrificing of animals was only a part of the ritual activities that went on in the temple.36 According to Milgrom, “The entire scroll is the revealed word of God,”37 and it begins with the covenant with Moses and a section on the Holy of Holies, which unfortunately is the one part of the scroll which has been completely destroyed.

In both Jewish and Christian sources, one often reads of the five things—five covenants, five tokens, etc.—which are an organic part of the temple: When “prophecy ceased. The Urim and Thumim fell into disuse. . . . Corruption spread among the priesthood. . . . Was this God’s holy Temple?” asks S. J. D. Cohen.38 “Even the high priests were no longer legitimate high priests; they were regular priests who usurped the leadership”; the five things were gone, i.e., the sacred fire, the ark, the Urim and Thummim, the oil of anointing, and the holy spirit (prophecy). These five are the typical list of the schoolmen. According to the Gospel of Philip, the five secret ordinances of the Lord are (1) baptism, (2) chrism (anointing), (3) the eucharist, (4) the ordinance of salvation (sote—unexplained), and (5) the bridal chamber or highest ordinance.39 In a very old Mandaean manuscript recently discovered we read, “These five things [ordinances] about which you asked me,” says the Lord, addressing the apostles after the resurrection, “appear to the world to be small and foolish things, and yet they are great and honorable or exalted (eutaiait). I am he who will reveal to you its ordinances (mysteries). These five tokens are the mystery of the first man Adam.”40

Substitutes and Proxies

In the temple, and in other structures, the sacrifices could be substituted (the tent, standing stones, the enclosure, the mountain, all stood for the same appointed and sequestered spot, depending on which structure was the most convenient, and it was the same with the sacrifices). The beasts whose blood was shed were only incidental; they stood for something much more. Already in Exodus when Aaron is crowned with his cap or turban, the crown of sanctification is added (the round linen cap was to act as a cushion for a metal crown during a long ceremony). Later the cap alone would suffice, since it showed that the owner was qualified to wear the “crown of justification.” Aaron’s sons, arrayed in their holy garments, then appeared and put their hands on the head of a bullock before the tabernacle; it was killed at the door. Moses, dipping his finger in the blood, put it on the horns of the altar (Exodus 29:5-12). The same thing is done with a ram (Exodus 29:15-18). The same men then lay their hands upon the head of another ram, kill the ram, and put some of its blood on the right ear of Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:19-20). This recalls the rite of nailing the right ear of a servant to a door (there are only three nerves in the lobe of the ear) to signify an everlasting bond or covenant between the Lord and his servant (Exodus 21:6; Deuteronomy 15:16-17). Moses also marks with blood the thumb of the right hand of Aaron and his sons, as well as the big toe of the right foot (Exodus 29:20). In the Temple Scroll the bloody spot is placed in the palm of the right hand, whereupon the priest sprinkles the blood all around the altar to signify that this is the blood of sacrifice. It takes no great mental effort to see that the slaying of the ram is the same as the slaying of the ram which represents Isaac in the akedah, or “binding,” for Israel, an assurance of the resurrection,  a similitude of a great and last sacrifice.41

Today for the first time, Jewish scholars have become greatly concerned with this question: Did Isaac make the atoning sacrifice?42 But Isaac was not put to death! If not he, who then? What is being recognized is that there was much more to the ordinances than the scholars have been aware of. Thus H. G. May tells us that the “tabernacle (‘ohel), the ark (‘arôn), [and] the ephod (‘epôd) . . . may be closely related institutions.”43 “The ephod was a portable instrument of divination. . . . One suspects that it was the same instrument . . . [as the] urim and thummim.”44 Are all these things the same? How were they really used? Morton Smith has recently caused a sensation by calling attention to a thing deliberately bypassed by Jewish and Christian scholars alike, namely that for the temple the ancient saints always designated a mystery as an ordinance, and vice versa. He notes that Judaism itself was considered a “mystery religion” and that the rites of circumcision and passover were mysteries;45 that such early and orthodox Christian writers as Clement of Alexandria “think of Jesus as a ‘hierophant,’ a teacher of the mysteries.”46 As Dr. Smith sums it up, “This was the mystery of the kingdom—the mystery rite by which the kingdom was entered,” i.e., the ordinances of initiation.47 In Paul, he finds, this is “a preparatory purification,” followed “by unknown ceremonies” by which one became “united with Jesus,” and so ascended with him and “entered the kingdom of God.”48 The teaching was very secret and was limited to an “inner circle.”49

After administering the blood, Moses then took the oil of anointing and sprinkled it over Aaron and his sons, clothed in their garments; thereby they became sanctified (cf. Exodus 29:21). This is the oil of healing, which reverses the blows of death. The sons of Aaron were made bloody, as if they had been sacrificed, and then cleansed, as if cleared of their sins. Being “washed in the blood of the lamb” is thus no paradox—the blood actually cleanses them of what most needs cleansing by transferring their sins to another. Leviticus deals with the matter in detail. It begins with every man in Israel, who is for Jehovah bringing his offering from the herd, a male animal without blemish, as a personal, voluntary offering. He, not the priest, lays his hand on the animal’s head, after which it represents him as an offering and a ransom for his sins (Leviticus 1:2-4). The conditions of the atoning sacrifice are given; all follow the same pattern, and the feast that goes with it is eaten in humility—”and ye shall eat in sorrow” (cf. Genesis 3:17). The principle of proxy continues as we read that the priest is to serve as a substitute or proxy for the king or the people (Leviticus 4:10, 13). He in turn avoided being sacrificed by being bought off (redeemed) by another substitute, a bullock whose blood is sprinkled before the veil while some of it is put on the horns of the altar. This bull is not eaten; the whole animal is burned in the ash-dump outside the camp to eliminate completely all the sins of the people (Leviticus 4:1-12).

And so anciently the principle of proxy is carried out: a goat for a prince who has unwittingly sinned (Leviticus 4:22), a bullock for all the unwitting sins of Israel (Leviticus 4:13-14), a female kid as ransom for any commoner for his unintentional trespasses, a lamb or a kid; or if you could not afford that, two turtle doves; or if you could not afford them, two young pigeons (one for a sin offering and one for burning); if you could not afford that, one tenth of an ephah of flour would do (Leviticus 1:2-2:1). The bread and wine in the temple represent sacrifice and atonement. For sins against holy things, a perfect ram must be brought, or its equivalent in shekels (i.e., by weight of pieces of silver; Leviticus 5:15). A clear case comes from Leviticus 8:12-15: First, oil is poured on Aaron’s head to sanctify him; then his sons are brought in, properly attired, leading a bullock. They lay their hands upon its head, for it is to atone for their sins. Aaron kills the bullock, puts the blood on the altar, le-kapper, to make atonement for them. The rites with the Levites are the same. Thus the sacrifices are carried out in the temple without the shedding of human blood, but if human blood can be spared, why not all blood? Because this was the similitude of the shedding of blood for the atonement of sin. Properly, of course, the sinner’s own blood must be used, unless a go’el, a representative substitute advocate or redeemer, could be found to take one’s place. The willingness of the candidate to sacrifice his own life (the cakedah) is symbolized by the blood on the right thumb and right earlobe, where the blood would be if the throat had been cut.

Symbolic Representations

Great emphasis is laid on the assembly of the people, both in the Old Testament and the Temple Scroll, as the camp of Israel in the wilderness—an armed, walled camp, the image vividly depicted in the appointments of the Temple Scroll. One of the most baffling titles connected with the temple is that of Metatron, the title normally reserved to Enoch as the guide of the initiates through the temple. After much argument and research, it is widely agreed now that the root of the word is metator—the metator being one who goes ahead of the host to set up the camp and supervise operations. This is also indicated in the name of Enoch, which signifies a guide or instructor of initiates into the temple—the hekaloth. Anyone approaching the holy enclosure must identify himself in three steps—the admission of initiates is the central theme of the Manual of Discipline.50 First, at a distance, he seeks admission, giving a visible sign by raising his arms (a greeting that can be seen from afar and is a sign, among other things, that he is unarmed); approaching closer for inspection, he gives his name; then approaching for the final test, he actually makes physical contacts with certain grips, which are the most secret and decisive. His final acceptance is by the most intimate tokens of all, including an embrace, or a unio mystica (mystic union), in which the candidate becomes not only identified, but identical with the perfect model.51

The Arrested Sacrifice

The gospel is more than a catalogue of moral platitudes; these are matters of either eternal life or nothing. Nothing less than the sacrifice of Abraham is demanded of us (D&C 101:4). But how do we make it? In the way Abraham, Isaac, and Sarah all did.52 Each was willing and expected to be sacrificed, and each committed his or her all to prove it. In each case the sacrifice was interrupted at the last moment and a substitute provided: to their relief, someone else had been willing to pay the price, but not until after they had shown their good faith and willingness to go all the way—”lay not thy hand on the lad, . . . for now I know” (Genesis 22:12). Abraham had gone far enough; he had proven to himself and the angels who stood witness (we are told) that he was actually willing to perform the act. Therefore the Lord was satisfied with the token then, for he knew the heart of Abraham. This is the same for Isaac and Sarah and for us. And whoever is willing to make the sacrifice of Abraham to receive eternal life will show it by the same signs and tokens as Abraham, but he or she must do it in good faith and with real intent. Circumcision is another form of arrested sacrifice in which the victim’s own blood was shed and a permanent mark was left. It represents the sacrifice of Abraham who initiated it (Genesis 17:10-14; and cf. Exodus 21:6-7). It was the misunderstanding of both the seriousness of temple ordinances and their symbolic nature that gave rise to all the horror tales about temple ordinances in anti-Mormon literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.53

The Force of the Name

Anciently, the signs and tokens were accompanied by words, the most important being certain names.54 The epoch-making discoveries from Ebla put great emphasis on the primacy of the name in the rites of the temple and all its activities showing “local[ized] veneration of the divinised Name that corresponds to the veneration manifest in the personal names.”55 They are for identification, but they are more than that. Why is it necessary that all be done “in the name of the Son?” There is no mystic or esoteric allure to the logos, or spoken word. Like the other elements of ordinance, it is a means of communication. God says there is “no end to my works, neither to my words” (Moses 1:38), explaining in the same passage that his work and his glory is to “bring to pass the immortality and the eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). His whole concern, then, is to pass on to others what he has. The glory of God is intelligence, which he wishes to share with all others. Glory is shared intelligence. Hence his works always go along with his words. They are the means by which his thoughts are communicated to other beings and made intelligible to his children. Without works, words would be a futile exercise in a vacuum, the subject of endless and perplexed speculation by the Doctors of the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. According to the oldest of all temple documents, the Shabako Stone and the Sefer Yetzirah, the way one becomes a member of the universe is through one’s sensory perceptors. Whatever gets to us from out there must come through “the seven gateways” of the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.56 These are the avenues made functional by the initiatory rite of the Egyptian temples. The Opening of the Mouth, in which the organs of the senses are first washed and then anointed, is to make the organs efficient conveyors to a clear and active brain, by which the mind evaluates, structures, and comprehends reality. But the receptors work only one way:  the eyes, ears, nose, and taste buds do not broadcast what they receive. There is only one way that all those impressions—unified, structured, and enjoyed by the mind—can be conveyed to others, and that is by speech, by the word alone. It is the word alone that releases us and opens up a common universe of discourse. If we are full of grace and truth, we have the desire to seek truth and the grace to share what we have so that all can rejoice together. This can only be done through the word. “There is no end to my works, neither to my words” (cf. Moses 1:38; cf. 1:4). The two are inseparable, and all is made intelligible through that one circuit—the voice, the word, the name.


The ordinances are not deep, dark secrets to be kept as such from the world. It is easy to get a temple recommend and then later apostatize and spread abroad the so-called secrets of the temple. The basic idea of the ordinances from Moses back to Adam is separation from the world. The endowment represents steps by which one disengages from a corrupt, secular, imprisoned environment. Segregation is the first step in the law of Moses. The people must give up their worldly practices and avoid contamination. The Mosaic rites and especially the Temple Scroll show an almost fanatical preoccupation with being qadôs, “sanctified,” (cf. Gk. hagios, Lat. purus)—all of these words for holiness mean specifically “set apart,” “cut off,” not mingled to any degree, because we are dealing with two worlds, the one eternal and incorruptible, the other corruptible and temporal. The slightest taint of corruption means that the other world would be neither incorruptible nor eternal. The tiniest flaw in a building, institution, code, or character will inevitably prove fatal in the long run of eternity. The object of the rules laid down in Leviticus 10:10-12 is to make a sharp distinction lhabdîl (between what is holy and unholy, clean and unclean). Chapters 11 and 12 give a detailed catalog of what is clean and what is unclean, with the strictest rules for keeping the two absolutely separate. The lesson of absolute separation is forcefully brought home to Israel in the beginning of Exodus 19, where certain fences are set up at the foot of Mt. Sinai, with death the fate of any who cross the line. The teachings of Moses begin with a warning to make the people keep their distance (Exodus 19:21). The priests are authorized to approach more closely. Why? Because they are willing to take things more seriously. They are required to sanctify themselves, and Jehovah will come to them as a special group (Exodus 19:22). The priests themselves, however, must keep their proper distance: “They must not try to ascend any nearer to Jehovah or they will be overpowered”—blown up, yipraz (cf. Exodus 19:24).

Purification is the beginning and end of the Temple Scroll, and it goes back to Adam (Moses 6:8). Temple work began among Adam’s children when God set them apart, gave them a blessing, gave them a new name, registered them in the new Book of Generations of Adam (Genesis 5:1), setting the true family of Adam on its course beginning with Seth (whose name means “second, substitute, equal”—he was the living image of Adam [D&C 107:48], and his name shows that), followed by his son, Enos (meaning “man,” exactly the same as Adam and Enoch)—the line of patriarchs being carried down in the record.

The ordinances are not secret, and yet they are, so to speak, automatically scrambled for those not authorized to have them. Satan disobeyed orders when he revealed certain secrets to Adam and Eve, not because they were not known and done in other worlds, but because he was not authorized in that time and place to convey them. Likewise he conveyed certain secrets to Cain, who became Master Mahan, and to Lamech, who achieved the same degree of negative glory (Moses 5:29-31, 49-52). Lamech’s wives in turn “had not compassion” and spread the secret things abroad (Moses 5:47-48, 53). This is the classical account of the Watchers, angels who came to call the human race to repentance, but who, being tempted by the daughters of men, fell and gave away the covenants and the knowledge they possessed.57 This was their undoing, and was always treated as the most monstrous of crimes, divulging the pure ordinances of heaven to people unworthy to receive them, who then proceeded to exercise them in unrighteousness while proclaiming their own righteousness on the grounds of possessing them (cf. Genesis 6:4-6).

The oldest tradition common to many ancient people is that of the woman who got the secret name from the most high god. It is the Egyptian story of Re and the Son’s Eye. Isis, wishing to found the Egyptian Dynasty along matriarchal lines by endowing her sons with the priesthood, begged Re, their father, to tell her his secret name. It is the story of Epimetheus, who loosed all evils upon mankind when he deferred to Pandora’s request. Recently that story has turned up in the early Christian Coptic Third Apocryphon of John. Moreover, a two-volume work by Ludwig Laistner traces the Sphinx motif through ancient times. In the Bible it is Samson and Delilah. But the most significant telling of the story is in Moses 5:47-55, the story of Lamech, which reports how this pattern was spread throughout the entire world in the abominations of the ancients. This opens up a whole world of comparative studies telling us how it is that ceremonies resembling those of the temple are found throughout the ancient world.58

Why are these temple ordinances guarded with such secrecy when anyone who really wants to can find out what goes on? Even though everyone may discover what goes on in the temple, and many have already revealed it, the important thing is that I do not reveal these things; they must remain sacred to me. I must preserve a zone of sanctity which cannot be violated whether or not anyone else in the room has the remotest idea what the situation really is. For my covenants are all between me and my Heavenly Father, all others being present only as witnesses. Why witnesses, if this must be so intimate and private? Plainly others are involved in it, too. God’s work and his glory is to share that work and glory with others. Abraham said he sought diligently for these ordinances that he might administer them to others (Abraham 1:2). It is because others are engaged in the work that we know that we are not just imagining it. On the other hand I can never share my understanding of them completely with anyone but the Lord. No matter what happens, it will, then, always remain secret: only I know exactly the weight and force of the covenants I have made—I and the Lord with whom I have made them—unless I choose to reveal them. If I do not, then they are secret and sacred no matter what others may say or do. Anyone who would reveal these things has not understood them, and therefore that person has not given them away. You cannot reveal what you do not know! The constant concern is to keep Israel out of contact with the profane things of the world; the reason given is not absolute secrecy, but to keep these sacred things from becoming halal, that is, vulgar, popular, the subject of everyday discussion, in a word, trivia. This is what is meant by blasphemy, which signifies not some awful and horrible commitment to evil but simply taking holy things lightly. And what is wrong with being halal? What is evil in innocent everyday conversation about the temple? Even at its most innocuous, the bringing up of such matters in public can only lead to their cheapening, but, worst of all, to all manner of misunderstanding, misrepresentation, disputation, contention, contamination, and corruption.59 This is exactly what has happened throughout history—the possession of God’s secrets was a cause for vanity and self-congratulation. In some parts of the world where the greatest secrecy was observed—as at Eleusis and in Egypt, and it would appear that some of the secrets never leaked out—scholars marveled at how well those secrets were kept; the rites appear today surprisingly like those in the real temple.

When the Lord speaks of giving precious things to the dogs and pearls to the swine, it is not with contempt for those creatures, but with the futility of such a thing for all concerned—the dogs would find no value in precious things, which would be thrown away into dirt and trodden under foot.

With the sectaries of the second century and following, secrecy becomes a subject of great fascination; it tickles vanity and gives even the lowliest a feeling of superiority. It was not so with the early Christians: “Everyone should be given the highest mystery which he is worthy to receive. For if ye hide any mystery from a worthy person ye may be guilty of great condemnation.” Whoever asks and knocks should be given the benefit of the doubt, but we must not forget that it is very dangerous to give mysteries to the unworthy—it will harm them and everyone else.60 The mischief resulting from secrecy has been apparent throughout the history of religion.

There is no doubt at all that the early Christians were not only concerned with the temple but kept their knowledge of it and its ordinances secret.61 The Roman Catholics have always denied this, claiming that everything Christ taught was to be “preached from the house tops.” Roman Catholics are also very uncomfortable with the traditions of the temple. George MacRae goes so far as to assert that Luke gives a completely warped view in his attempt “to show that the primitive Christian community in Jerusalem focused its life around the temple . . . I don’t think Luke had any acquaintance with Jerusalem itself,” he writes, “and how the temple actually functioned in the lives of people.”62 The Christian temple ordinances emerge in the forty-day teachings of the Lord to the apostles, which MacRae calls the “revelation-discourse[s].”63 He considers them based on a complete misunderstanding perpetrated by the Gnostics.64 In all of his works to disqualify the teachings of the Lord after the resurrection, MacRae never gives the slightest hint that there might really have been a forty-day ministry.

Are the Conventional Ordinances Enough? 

The ordinances of some Christian churches today are Baptism, Confirmation, Communion (sacrament), Penance, Anointing of the Sick (Extreme Unction), Holy Order, and Matrimony. All of these have come in for examination, and some of them recently for drastic revision. The ancient records show that what corresponds to these rites today is complex and conflicting. Nobody really understands them. The discovery of early records has required constant reappraisal. The Reformation got rid of much ritual and liturgy of patently non-Christian origin; but as a result the liturgical poverty of Protestantism is one of its serious failings. How can such a defect be corrected? Can we trust to the taste and judgment of self-certifying institutions to impart sanctity to forms and observances? An example is the academic caps and gowns. Whether the design is by committees, synods, conventicles, or individuals, by what authority do they act? Wherein does the sanctity of these costumes reside?

The Catholic case is even more dubious. When at the monastery of Solesmnes in 1830 the serious study of old and forgotten manuscripts dealing with the mass was undertaken, it became apparent that there was nothing particularly ancient or Christian in the rites.65 Today the standard work on the mass is that of Eisenhofer and Lechner, who trace the origin from the Holy Office to four sources—and if there is one thing in which one is not lacking for evidence it is in the ritual of the church, attested in thousands of documents all over Europe.66 The four sources are as follows:

1.  The rites of the synagogue consisted of singing, preaching, scripture reading, and prayer. Reminders of the temple are important, but they didn’t make it a temple or transfer any of the ordinances.67

2. The adoption of antique cult practices, for example the practice of the annona, are clearly present in the mass. The word mass, messis, is in fact the Latin word for harvest ceremony. The council of Elvira in A.D. 444 forbade the use of candles and incense in churches, since they were a basic pagan practice everywhere. Parts of the mass thought by the apologists of the nineteenth century (such as the naive G. K. Chesterton) to go back to the days of the apostles are no later than the sixteenth century in origin. Such are the epiclesis and the monstrance, that climactic elevation of the host which has become the high point of the mass. The core of the Western rite was the Milanese order brought by Ambrose, a convert when he came from Antioch, via Ephesus and Lyons, while the foundation of the present Roman mass is the rite established at Aachen from the days of Charlemagne.

3.  Much of the splendor of the mass may be attributed to the Roman Imperial cult, as Andreas Alföldi has shown at length.68

4.  The Germanic and Celtic courts of the North contributed some of the most venerated rites of Christian churches. Henry St. John Feasey’s studies on the English Holy Week’s Ceremony show how deeply rooted in pagan antiquity these rites are.69

For years it was accepted doctrine that the early Christians had a choice between Amt and Geist (“office” and “spirit”), the two being mutually exclusive.  Rudolph Sohm made this into an article of faith: Whereas the old Jewish religion was steeped in hierarchy, form, and authority, the early Christians relinquished all that to be governed by nothing but a spirit of love—no organization of any kind, no offices, no orders, no structure, just the spirit that bloweth as it listeth. But then there was a reaction. It was easy for Adolf von Harnack to show how involved the Christians were in an ordinance such as the laying on of hands, on which they were absolutely insistent and which served, as the earliest writings make clear, as an ordinance of initiation, which would necessarily be initiation into an organization.70

More recently the coming forth of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the early Coptic Christian texts, as well as the rediscovery of a mass of apocalyptic writings, such as the books of Enoch and Abraham, bring out an intense concern with the ordinances of the temple. But this is the ideal temple, the heavenly temple after which the earthly temple is modeled. Needless to say, it is a very different structure from that which scholars have tried to construct through the years: To this day no one is sure what the temple was like or what was done in it. But the Temple Scroll is a link between the two; that document shows how the earthly temple insensibly fuses with the holy city and eventually embraces all the spirits in the world.71 The numerous accounts of the heavenly temple are found in a multitude of Ascension texts.72 These might appear as altogether fanciful were it not that they show a consistent picture of the temple and are supported by numerous points of contact with actual practices. We must not forget the forty-day literature, in which the Lord instructs the apostles in great secrecy after his resurrection in the rites and ordinances of a higher order, such as the prayer circle and “the bridal chamber.”73

The Terrible Questions

Since the 1950s there has been a revival of the liturgical movement—as if there was merit in liturgy itself—with an inevitable drift to pomp and ceremony. But if there is anything that sets the Mormon temple apart, it is the total lack of display, pomp, or ceremony within its precinct. It is amusing that after the many books written in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries describing the temple rites as a carnival of glamorous and occult shenanigans in the manner of Aleister Crowley, it should turn out that the Mormons have actually fewer ceremonial doings than almost any other church, including even the Quakers and Baptists, who make a conscious effort to put on some kind of show, even if it is only a show of austerity; for example, the severe eighteenth-century guise of the Mennonites at this late date seems to me to be pure theater. But no such pretense is necessary for the Latter-day Saints, because for them the temple should be a place for serious concern, with no place for pretense or show, no musical chants, bells, gorgeous vestments, processions, declamation, recitatives, trumpets, adornments, color, resounding intonements, nor incense—it is the temple work alone that counts. It should show soberness and austerity, and yet not show severity. It is there that one comes to grips with what the Doctors of the synagogue and the church have banned as “the Terrible Questions,” which deal with the fundamental questions of existence, and not in a philosophical, allegorical, or abstract manner. The rabbis and the fathers alike forbade discussion of these issues. Various Gnostic sects tried to keep reviving them, but to do that they had to resort to all manner of contrivance and fakery, mingling scripture with rumors and some authentic traditions.

How do we explain this vacuum? When the apostles met with the Lord behind closed doors, they asked the Lord why he always spoke to the people in parables. “Because,” he said, “to you it is given to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them, it is not given” (cf. Mark 4:11). By the mysteries of heaven he meant “the mysteries of godliness,” those ordinances which were closely guarded by the early saints, even at the risk of misunderstanding, scandal, and persecution. At a very early time, Origen, in his work on the first principles of the gospel, regretted that the church did not have clear information on any one of them. Thus, he says, the Bible tells us that there are angels but does not give us the slightest indication of what they were like (did they have wings?).74 In the same way Basil, in the fourth century, regrets the same lack of specific information about any of the ordinances.75 We know that the Christians baptized and married, he says, but we haven’t the slightest instruction as to how they did it. Was the Lord’s supper distributed in the same manner as the loaves and fishes? Were they the same ordinances?

The Creation Motif

According to the eminent N. A. Dahl, “most important has been the discovery of the importance of the worship of the temple, especially the great festivals [i.e., the rites in which all participate] as a common point of departure and coincidence. In the common worship, the creation was commemorated and re-enacted, and the future renewal for which Israel hoped, was prefigured.”76 M. Dahood sees the closest association between the name and the creation motif in the earliest temples, in such names as “the Voice has Created”–Creation by the Word.77 Where did the creation begin? The answer for the Jews was in the temple: “The first thing which emerged from the primordial waters was the temple,” from which point creation spread in all directions, specifically this earthly creation, for the temple was actually transplanted from a preexistent world created long before.78 The temple drama begins with the council in heaven when the creation is being planned.79

Many features of the Latter-day Saint version of creation are sound and scientific. First of all, this earth was part of a system of worlds made of the same elements and subject to the same physical laws. The creation was neither instantaneous nor simultaneous, as Aquinas describes it.80 The latter have become the fundamental ideas behind the word creation as it is used by scientists and religionists alike. All are agreed today that the word creation implies bringing something out of nothing instantaneously and completely. On the contrary, creation is a process in which one step leads to another over an indefinite period of time. The “episodic” nature of life is essential in this version. What we have is one ever ongoing play divided into distinct acts and scenes. Since there is no point at which everything emerges from nothing, we begin with an act and a scene in a play that has already been going on for untold ages and has already seen countless worlds come and go. Our story opens with unorganized matter, then an earth which is “only” earth, then a globe completely invested with water, then a division of the waters, causing the upthrust of earth by plate techtonics, which proceeds to “form mountains and hills,” down from which rush great rivers and small streams, supplied by the torrential rains that fall from the darkness that covers the face of the deep—the dense cloud-cover which begins to break up as first the sun, then the moon, then the stars appear. They were not created at that time; they were already there. Human history is not primarily concerned with the creatures of other ages or other planets; its proper beginning is placed at that momentous period of transition between the Cretaceous and the Tertiary when the first angiosperms appeared as grass, flowers, shrubs, and trees, supplying sustenance for the elephant, the lion, and other mammals. The mammoths were the first to appear of those herds of grazing animals, the herd which emerged as soon as the grass was provided—a very sudden event in the course of nature, “an explosion,” Loren Eiseley calls it.81 They supplied a livelihood for the predators—the lion, the tiger, and the bear, which preyed upon the herds. All these were in preparation for man. If the above rules out the whole fundamentalist picture of creation, Darwinism is no less rejected by the basic doctrine that the creation was both directed and planned. The planning began long before the actual operation was carried out, and the process required constant oversight and direction.

The Temple Drama

The principal recorded activity which took place at the ancient temples on the occasion of the great assembly was the temple drama, a ritual combat, a showdown between good and evil. Before the world could be safely launched on a new age or cycle of existence, the problem of evil had to be settled, for a faulted world could not be a safe or enduring one.

The drama begins with a prologue in heaven. The premortal council, as well as good and evil, are the subjects of the discussion. The argument is that an eternal, spiritual being is to be subjected to temptation, to which, in fact, it must yield if it is to experience a part of existence which must be taken into account; for sooner or later there must be opposition in all things, and the new world is to be set apart as a special place for testing.82 For that purpose it must be quarantined.  Man must be temporarily cut off from the presence of God and angels, that he might demonstrate to himself his capacity or incapacity for coping with evil. By yielding to temptation, man loses his immunity and innocence as the price of gaining knowledge. But since he cannot return to God in his fatally flawed condition, a Savior will be provided on certain conditions of obedience. The situation, and indeed the whole plot of the temple drama, is vividly set forth in the book of Moses, way back in 1830, before anyone ever thought of serious study of ancient temples except on a mystic or occult basis. The fourth chapter contains the provisions for Adam’s redemption, but first comes a matchless presentation of man’s condition. Moses’ situation is that of a man trapped in a sewer. The only way for him to escape is for someone to go beneath him so that he can stand on his shoulders and climb out. He must recognize the situation and make an effort to respond: the whole plan is one of repentance—the man must “repent and call upon God . . . forevermore” (Moses 5:8) in the name of the Son, who is to help him. He is, as it were, calling upon God to send the Son to his aid. Inter finitum et infinitum non est proportio, which means that all are equally in need of repentance. Ten miles falls as far short of infinity as 10,000 miles, and I am just as far from being “full of grace and truth” today as I ever was or will be.

The Combat

Every drama must have a conflict, and nothing is more impressive than the manner in which the problem of evil is treated in the temple. The showdown is of course between good and evil; and these, following the usual temple practice, are represented figuratively or by proxy. Before the altar in Jerusalem all the sins and vices of the people were shifted to the figure of a scapegoat, which thereby became an object of utter loathing, a pharmakos, an embodiment of all evil, driven out into the wilderness to perish, taking all the sins of the people with him. Elsewhere in the ancient world the combat is between the holy king and Mot or Seth, who is everything that is evil—the good guy versus the bad guy. But the God of Moses was wiser than that. In the scapegoat, Israel recognized that the enemy they were driving with stones and curses was the evil that was in themselves. They were the bad guys. In the Songs of David composed for the temple drama, the king cries out de profundis, from the depths; he is in utter despair, overwhelmed by the waters of darkness, overpowered and beaten by the evil one; yet the cause of it all, as he recognizes, is the king’s own guilt. That is the evil he is combatting: his psalms are penitential. By contrast, the ancient Greek choruses at the temple mourn for their afflictions but never for their sins—the characters in the play seek for the guilty parties but, like Oedipus, they absolutely refuse to recognize the guilt in themselves.83

Satan cannot force us to sin, in which case we would be helpless (innocent—no contest!); but he can bribe us to sin, in which case we are guilty and follow him on our own free will. We make covenants with the understanding that we mean to keep them, and the alternative is to place ourselves in Satan’s power (Moses 4:4; 5:23). We are placed here expressly to be proven herewith whether we will be true and faithful to our understanding with God, while Satan is allowed to try us and to tempt us, to invite and to entice, to see how far he can shake us.

In a direct frontal attack, as Moses discovers, Satan is stronger than mere mortals, and, for that reason, Satan is not permitted to make such frontal attacks. God has placed enmity, a wall of first defense, between the seed of the woman and the serpent; the first reaction to sin is one of loathing and revulsion, which is the safest protection one can possibly have against evil. Satan, however, knows how to overcome that, and God allows him to play his own game, which is to break down our resistance and win us to his side with money. There is no more impressive aspect to the temple drama than dealing with the problem of evil, which philosophers and theologians to this day consider ultimately insoluble. It is by using money as bait that Satan leaves it up to us to decide whether we will follow him or not, and God permits that arrangement, since that is the very purpose of the test. His maxim is a true one: “money answereth all things” (Ecclesiastes 10:19), which means that in this world money is the name of most every game going; and anyone who would play any other game must pay a heavy penalty for what Stuart Chase called the “the luxury of integrity.” In Satan’s world, “he who turneth away from sin maketh himself a prey”—you must play this game merely to survive.

The existence of this primordial temple drama has long been recognized. It is vividly set forth in the Memphis Theology, the oldest written record known—whether or not it began in Egypt; and the Shabako Stone makes it clear that the drama was already very old when it was performed to celebrate the dedication of the temple and the founding of the first dynasty of Egypt. It spread from there to Greece, where we have a collection of horrendous tragedies dealing with the subjects of good and evil, and in terms of power and gain.84 Not only Greece, however, but the rest of the world sooner or later adapted the same standard temple drama.85 It should be noted that this drama in its oldest and purest form was not meant to be a spectacle but an instructive demonstration.86 The theme is fully developed throughout the ancient world in all its detail, which can’t be treated here, though it should be noted that the purpose of it is a participation of mankind in rites and in seeking the assurance of resurrection.87

There is an instructive parallel between the loss of the First Tmple and the Second Temple by the Jews, and the loss of the Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples. In every case, it was for the same reason—the covetousness of the people. The temple doesn’t need to be protected; it doesn’t need security, since it is the only security. The positive side of the injunction to live up to every covenant made is that it will absolutely guarantee prosperity—the law of consecration being the most difficult of the tests. We have been repeatedly assured that if the Saints observe that law, they will never suffer by privation or persecution.

The Archaic Background

The greatest of Jewish philosophers, Maimonides, says that the altar in the temple was where Adam offered a sacrifice after he was created. Indeed, Adam was created from the very ground; as the Sages taught, Adam was created from the place where he made the atonement offering. In 2 Baruch we read, “This building . . . is not that . . . which was prepared beforehand here from the time when I took counsel to make Paradise, and showed it to Adam before he sinned.” Adam was shown the heavenly temple. “After these things I showed it to my servant Abraham by night among the portions of the victims, and again also I showed it to Moses on Mount Sinai when I showed him the likeness of the tabernacle and all its vessels. And now behold it is preserved with me, as also Paradise”88 (this was written just after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem). At the dedication of the St. George temple in 1877, Brigham Young said, “It is true that Solomon built a temple for the purpose of giving endowmnets, but . . . they gave very few if any endowments. . . . I will not say but what Enoch had temples and officiated therein, but we have no account of it”;89 but today we have a great amount of ancient material concerning Enoch, and much of it centers in the temple. Indeed the principal Hebrew record of Enoch’s doings is called the Hekhalot, or chambers of the temple, indicating the steps in initiation to which Enoch introduced his people as the guide or teacher of the ordinances. “The first man brought the five ordinances with him when he came out of the aeon of light,” says a newly discovered Mandaean manuscript; and “having completed his testing [agon] he ascended again with these good tokens and was received into the aeons of light.”90 Today much is being made of Abraham as the restorer rather than the initiator of the knowledge of God, recapitulating what had been given to Adam.  This is symbolized by his rebuilding of the ancient altar of the first fathers, last used by Noah. Abraham, according to Maimonides, dedicated the spot on Mount Moriah where the future temple was to stand, and “God also showed him the future temple service and the law.”91 There is a wealth of tradition now being zealously studied to show that the temple ordinances really go back to the beginning, as Joseph Smith declared. The four names associated with the tradition are those of Adam, Enoch, Abraham, and Elijah. The main concern is salvation for the dead, as is brought forth repeatedly in the so-called ascension literature. It is here that we find the significant equation of John the Baptist and Elijah. We recall that when Dives, the rich man, looked up to see Lazarus in heaven, he beheld him resting in Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22). Abraham, according to tradition, cooperates with Michael in interceding with God for sinners who have died. In fact, as K. Kohler observes, “The main power of Abraham is his constant intercession for spirits awaiting judgment in the other world.” This idea is expressed in the Kaddish, or prayers for the dead, in which Abraham seeks to bring about their salvation in the temple.92

Work For the Dead

At the time of the Crusades the orders of the Hospitalers and Templars were founded to provide protection and hospitality for those coming to the temple at Jerusalem. No one has the vaguest idea how it all began, writes a contemporary, and there are all sorts of wild stories going around.93 The accepted account was that such hospitality went back to the time when the temple was retaken by the Jews and Judas Maccabeus, when he “rescued the temple from profane hands” and found in the holy place great amounts of gold and silver. This money Judas dedicated for the salvation of the dead.94 To explain this activity we are told that when the Jewish casualties of the war were being collected and buried, it was found that many of them were wearing pagan charms around their necks. For this they would be condemned to hell. “When Judas Maccabeus saw and understood that it was a good and proper practice to pray for the dead he sent twelve pieces of silver to Jerusalem to be used for the building of a hospice for the poor who would be asked to pray for the dead, and Melchiar established the practice as a regular order of appointed brethren. Then Christ appeared to Zacharias while he was sacrificing and told him to go to the house in Jerusalem where John the Baptist was born.”95 Here we have garbled accounts connecting the work of John the Baptist to turn the hearts of the dead fathers to the children, a work for the dead which survived in the temple till the time of the Maccabees. Today some Roman Catholics see in Matthew 16:18, in the mention of the keys and the stone, the much desired admission to or exclusion from the temple, the gates in question being expressly the gates of the temple. The keys are the keys that open the gates that hold back (katischuo) those who are being retained in the other world. Along with this, the Rock is now identified with Abraham as well as Peter, particularly in his capacity as the champion for simple mortals.96

The Ancient Significance of the Veil

A study of the earliest Jewish shrines and monuments has pointed out the importance of the veil and its identity with the mantle worn by the high priest.97 It is at one and the same time the veil that hangs between the worlds (his “curtains are stretched out still” [Moses 7:30]), bearing on it the cosmic marks of the compass, the square, the omphalos or universal center, and the eben shetiyyah or solid earth on which a man kneels to praise God. In the temple these marks are clearly shown in the Astana examples (Taoist-Buddhist-Nestorian veils from sixth to seventh centuries A.D.). It is, according to the Talmud, at the veil that information is exchanged between the worlds.98 “For the man who is privileged to have children in this world will through them be worthy to enter,” according to the Zohar, ” ‘behind the partition [veil]’ in the world to come.”99 In the Testament of Levi the garment of the priesthood “refers to the garment of the angel or of the personified temple itself.”100 The mysteries of the marriage covenant, according to the Gospel of Philip, are hidden in types and images behind the veil.101 These symbols, it notes, are despised and misunderstood by the world.102 Second Jeu is one of those baffling documents conveniently and loosely designated as Gnostic. The Gnostics were numerous sectarians who copied the secrets of the early church, claiming to have received them secretly from one of the apostles or other disciples.  They waited, says Hegesippus, until the last apostle or eyewitness was dead before they came out of the woodwork, each claiming that he had the true gnosis.103 What they pretended to have was a catalogue mixing traditions and customs from various sources but always including some authentic teaching by which they could claim the respect and allegiance of Christians. One of the most remarkable of these is 2 Jeu. It tells how one approaches through the stages, passwords, and mysteries in a process which alone qualifies one to return to the Father. These ordinances cannot be obtained until one first receives baptism.104 “There are three stages to be passed through and at each one a password or name is required.”105 “There is a series of veils that are drawn before the great king. When you come to this barrier you must recite the mystery and give the proper answer.”106

The final stage is the complete Adam or Jeu (the name is a form of Jehovah). There Christ checks to make sure that everything has been done correctly; he questions everyone at the veil personally.107 All who pass through are in a world surrounded by light. This whole thing, says one of the most recent and thorough students of the subject, “introduces us into a world of the most mystifying speculation: the Temple is here considered as a person and the veil of the temple as a garment that is worn, as a personification of the sanctuary itself.”108 Theophylactus, commenting in the eleventh century on Hebrews 9:3, says the veil is of course the entrance to the tent. “The first veil divided the court of the people and the bronze altar from the tent where only the priests could enter. Next there was another veil to the holy of holies and through this veil only the high priest could go once a year. It was called the tent”109 because it was the place where one entered into the presence of God or was allowed to get a glimpse of him. Somewhat later, Simplicius describes the inner shrine rather as an anapausis or resting place, where the saints are given rest or, as in the celestial room, may rest awhile on their upward journey to the father.

The Opposition

It has always been a well-known principle among the Jews and Christians that Satan’s tactic is not the frontal attack but the clever counterfeit. The devil inverts the truth and imitates the divine ordinances, writes Tertullian,110 exactly as the Lord does them: “He baptizes the faithful, he promises by the bath the expiation of sins; in the rites of Mithra he marks the forehead of the soldiers. He has his ritual oblation of bread, he presents the image of a resurrection, and he crowns you with a throne under the blade”; it is all corruption and contamination.

But Is It Real? 

If the gospel is more than a catalogue of moral platitudes, if we are really dealing with the things of eternity, it cannot be practiced on an everyday level. Joseph Smith has given us the temple ordinances, but are they real? As the Temple Scroll tells us, these ordinances can only be had by revelation, and therefore they lie beyond the pale of ordinary discussion. It was Descartes who insisted that we are wasting our time trying to talk of eternal and infinite things in an everyday idiom. But Descartes also realized that there are certain tests which justify taking propositions seriously and pursuing further investigation.111 In the case of Joseph Smith we have to consider that (1) what he has given us is the only thing of its kind—true, there are resemblances everywhere but always they are speculative, fragmentary, uncertain, and conflicting; (2) there was in ancient times such an institution as he has given us; it is found at various levels of splendor or decay, but in the early days men were working hard to bring heaven down to earth; (3) this unifying and teaching institution was the core of every civilization; and (4) Joseph Smith brought forth the whole vast complex in a perfectly consistent and coordinated form, a work totally without parallel in the world today.112

The study of world religions and comparative religions which has exploded since the beginning of this century shows that Joseph Smith was right on target; moreover, he recognized a primal archaic order which had produced all manner of broken fragments and scattered traditions. The reality of this archaic order has been emerging only in the last two decades through the insight of men like de Santillana, who bring a scientific knowledge to a serious contemplation of the ancient heritage.113 The supreme issue remains today as then ever the same: Is this life everything? Is that all there is? Is there another dimension? In the temple, time, space, and lives are extended; everything there is “as in other worlds.” No matter how men try, they have never been able to liberate themselves from that question. The only alternative to eternal life remains, as the foremost artists and scientists of our time emphatically declare, an existence of absurdity. Between the temple and the absurd we are given no other choice.

To Prove Him Herewith

The supreme test was, in ancient as in modern times, an economic one. Every Israelite made his token sacrifice at the temple once a year, but at the same time he brought his basket, and consecrated all his property. The bulk of the old law is taken up with the economic obligations of the individual. The beginning and ending of the law is not legalism or ritualism but grace and truth; the whole teaching of the law is to be fair, compassionate, magnanimous, with heavy emphasis on equality. The first two commandments tell it all: If you really love God and your neighbor, there is no need to be commanded not to steal or lie, or do any contemptible thing. Yet they enter their covenants with the understanding that unless they fulfill rigorously and completely every covenant they make in the temple, Satan will have power over them. We are also told by the prophet that the ordinances are the same in every dispensation. Yet attempts have been made to mitigate and qualify the law of consecration, which, said Brigham Young, was easier to understand and more unequivocally clear than any other commandment. Unless the ordinances are observed exactly as prescribed, they will be a curse and not a blessing. And this is where Israel fails: The last of the covenants and promises is fittingly the hardest. The story of the rich young man shows that this is the breaking point: he was faithful in his prayers, tithes, and alms, but when the Lord said, “There is yet one thing remaining” (cf. Mark 10:21), namely the law of consecration, the young man could not take it. Many Latter-day Saints, also, are pure Teflon where this principle is concerned.

1. Discussed in Hugh W. Nibley, “The Idea of the Temple in History,” MS 120 (1958): 228-37, 247-49; Hugh W. Nibley, What Is a Temple? The Idea of the Temple in History (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1963); reprinted as “What Is a Temple?” in CWHN 4:357-61, esp. n. 13; cf. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica (Ecclesiastical History) X, 4, in PG 20:848-80.

2. See Shaye J. D. Cohen, “The Temple and the Synagogue,” in Truman G. Madsen, ed., The Temple in Antiquity (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 1984), 152-74.

3. Discussed in Hugh W. Nibley, “Christian Envy of the Temple,” Jewish Quarterly Review 50 (1959-60): 97-123, 229-40; reprinted in CWHN 4:391-434.

4. Carol L. Meyers, “The Elusive Temple,” Biblical Archeologist 45 (Winter 1982): 41.

5. A. Dupont-Sommer, The Jewish Sect of Qumran and the Essenes (New York: Macmillan, 1956), 69-70.

6. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XVIII, 1, 5.

7. Cohen, “The Temple and the Synagogue,” 169.

8. Nibley, “Christian Envy of the Temple,” 97-123, 229-40; in CWHN 4:391-434; cf. S. G. F. Brandon, The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church (London: SPCK, 1951), 120-21; James Hastings, ed., Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, 2 vols. (New York: Scribner, 1918), 2:556-57.

9. Brandon, Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church, 127.

10. Ibid., 263.

11. Matthew Black, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Doctrine (London: Athone, 1966), 80-81.

12. Samuel Davidson, An Introduction to the Study of the New Testament, 2 vols. (London: Longmans and Green, 1868), 1:264.

13. Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, 2:556.

14. H. E. Dana, Jewish Christianity, (New Orleans: Bible Institute Memorial, 1937), 18.

15. Nibley, “What Is a Temple?” in CWHN 4:357-61.

16. Hugh W. Nibley, “The Hierocentric State,” WPQ 4 (1951): 226-53; reprinted in CWHN 10:99-147. Varro, De Lingua Latina VII, 6-9.

17. Stefan Weinstock, “Templum,” Römische Mittheilungen 47 (1932): 100-101. Cf. Alfred Jeremias, Handbuch der altorientalischen Geisteskultur (Berlin: de Gruyler, 1929), 146, 185. Eric Burrows, “Some Cosmological Patterns in Babylonian Religion,” in Samuel Hooke, ed., The Labyrinth (London: SPCK, 1935), 45-70.

18. Weinstock, “Templum,” 102-3.

19. G. W. Ahlstrom, “Heaven on Earth—At Hazor and Arad,” in Birger A. Pearson, ed., Religious Syncretism in Antiquity, Essays in Conversation with Geo Widengren (Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1975), 67-71.

20. Ibid., 67-69.

21. Hugh W. Nibley, “Unrolling the Scrolls,” in CWHN 1:131-70; Hugh W. Nibley, “Treasures in the Heavens: Some Early Christian Insights into the Organizing of Worlds,” DJMT 8 (Autumn/Winter 1973): 76-98; reprinted as “Treasures in the Heavens,” in CWHN 1:171-214.

22. Cf. Frank M. Cross, “The Priestly Tabernacle in the Light of Recent Research,” in Madsen, ed., Temple in Antiquity, 94; William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1942), 103-5; cf. CWHN 1:210.

23. Cross, “Priestly Tabernacle in the Light of Recent Research,” 94.

24. Bedrich Hrozny, Ancient History of Western Asia, India and Crete, tr. J. Prochazka (New York: Philosophical Library, 1953), 93.

25. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, 154 (emphasis added).

26. See Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), x, 243; reprinted in CWHN 6:xv, 295.

27. Brigham Young, MS 15 (1853): 488 (emphasis added).

28. Deseret News, May 2, 1877.

29. Paul Jouön, “Les mots employés pour désigner ‘le Temple’ dans l’Ancien Testament, le Nouveau Testament et Josèphe,” Recherches de science religieuse 25 (1935): 329-43.

30. Carol L. Meyers, “Jachin and Boaz in Religious and Political Perspective,” in Madsen, ed., Temple in Antiquity, 136, notes that “countless attempts have been made to explain, describe, and otherwise comprehend . . . the twin pillars flanking [Solomon’s temple] entrance.”

31. Meyers, “Elusive Temple,” 33-41.

32. Yigael Yadin, The Temple Scroll (New York: Random House, 1985), 112-15.

33. Cross, “Priestly Tabernacle in the Light of Recent Research,” 93.

34. TPJS, 305.

35. Cf. Cross, “Priestly Tabernacle in the Light of Recent Research,” 93; Yadin, Temple Scroll, 122-46.

36. Gospel of Philip 115:27-29; Carl Schmidt, ed. and tr., Kephalaia (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1940), 33-38; Cohen, “Temple and the Synagogue,” 158.

37. Jacob Milgrom, “The Temple Scroll,” Bibilical Archeologist 41 (1978): 119.

38. Cohen, “Temple and the Synagogue,” 157-58.

39. Gospel of Philip 115:27-29.

40. Schmidt, Kephalaia, 38.

41. Hugh W. Nibley, “The Sacrifice of Isaac,” IE 73 (March 1970): 88.

42. Ibid., 84-93.

43. Herbert G. May, “Ephod and Ariel,” American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 56 (1939): 44.

44. Ibid., 51.

45. Morton Smith, The Secret Gospel (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), 83.

46. Ibid., 28.

47. Ibid., 96.

48. Ibid., 113-14.

49. Ibid., 141.

50. Hugh W. Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), 255-62. Brigham Young says that “they have been fully acquainted with every password, token and sign which have enabled them to pass by the porters through the doors into the celestial kingdom,” JD 10:172. Associated with these signs are the pilgrim signs of antiquity and the Middle Ages, badges of marks borne by pilgrims to various holy shrines. Thus in Pier’s Plowman we read, “On his hat were the signs of Sinai and the Shells of Galicha [the shrine of St. James of Compostella; they are the Western equivalent of the Jerusalem Temple], and the keys of Rome, . . . for men should know and see by his signs whom he hath sought,” Thomas Hugo, “Notes on a Collection of Pilgrims’ Signs, of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries, found in Thames,” Archaeologia 38 (1860): 130. Also related to these signs were the tesserae hospitales, which figure so largely in ancient rites; see Hugh W. Nibley, “Sparsiones,” Classical Journal 40 (1945): 538-43; reprinted in CWHN 10: 162-65. Those who are finally saved, says the Pistis Sophia, will not hereafter “have to give answer at the topos (station or place) nor apologies nor tokens, for they are without tokens and have not receivers (paralemptores, guides through the temple) but penetrate through all the kingdoms until they reach the highest level to which they have received the ordinances. They cannot put on the orders of the inheritance unless a sign and seal of the ineffable is placed upon them. . . . Then the veils will be parted to souls purified anew and they will receive new mysteries of the ultimate order.” Pistis Sophia II, 98, in Carl Schmidt, Pistis Sophia, tr. Violet McDermot (Leiden: Brill, 1978), 243.

51. Cf. Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 266, 278.

52. Nibley, “Sacrifice of Isaac,” 84-93.

53. See for example, Bruce Kinney, Mormonism: The Islam of America (New York: Revell, 1912), 123-27, and N. W. Green, Mormonism: Its Rise, Progress, and Present Condition (Hartford, CN: Belknap and Bliss, 1870), 41-53.

54. Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 250-53, 271-72.

55. Mitchell J. Dahood, “The Temple and Other Sacred Places in the Ebla Tablets,” in Madsen, ed., The Temple in Antiquity, 85-86.

56. Knut Stenring, tr., The Book of Formation (Sefer Yetzirah) (London: Rider and Son, 1923), 27-28. Shabako Stone, line 56; cf. Kurt Sethe, Das “Denkmal memphitischer Theologie”: Der Shabakostein des Britischen Museums (Hildesheim: Olms, 1964), 59.

57. See Hugh W. Nibley, “Enoch the Prophet,” in Pearl of Great Price Symposium (Provo: Brigham Young University, 1975), 78-87; reprinted in CWHN 2:3-18.

58. Ludwig Laistner, Das Rätsel der Sphinx (Berlin: Hertz, 1885).

59. 2 Jeu 43, in Carl Schmidt, The Books of Jeu and the Untitled Text in the Bruce Codex, tr. Violet McDermot (Leiden: Brill, 1978), 100-101.

60. Pistis Sophia III, 105-6, in Schmidt, Pistis Sophia, 268-70.

61. Cf. Hugh W. Nibley, “Evangelium Quadraginta Dierum,” Vigiliae Christianae 20 (1966): 1-24; reprinted as “Evangelium Quadraginta Dierum: The Forty-day Mission of Christ—The Forgotten Heritage,” in CWHN 4:10-44.

62. George MacRae, “The Temple as a House of Revelation in the Nag Nammadi Texts,” in Madsen, ed., The Temple in Antiquity, 186-87.

63. Ibid., 188.

64. Ibid., 187.

65. Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1970), 14; reprinted in CWHN 7:12-13.

66. Ludwig Eisenhofer and Joseph Lechner, The Liturgy of the Roman Rite (Freiburg: Herder and Herder, 1961).

67. Cohen, “Temple and the Synagogue,” 152-53.

68. Andreas Alföldi, Studien zur Geschichte der Weltkrise des 3. Jahrhunderts nach Christus (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1967), 297-301.

69. Henry J. Feasey, Ancient English Holy Week Ceremonial (London: Baker, 1897), passim.

70. Adolf von Harnack, The Constitution and Law of the Church in the First Two Centuries (New York: Williams and Norgate, 1910), 26.

71. Yadin, Temple Scroll, 112-15.

72. Cf. Martha Himmelfarb, “Apocalyptic Ascent and the Heavenly Temple,” Society of Biblical Literature 1987 Seminar Papers (Atlanta: Scholars, 1987), 210-17.

73. See n. 61.

74. Origen, Peri Archon (De Principiis) I, 9, in PG 11:120.

75. Basil, Letters 363, 265, 266, in PG 32:976-81, 984-96.

76. N. A. Dahl, cited in W. D. Davies and D. Daube, eds., The Background of the New Testament and Its Eschatology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956), 424 (emphasis added).

77. Dahood, “Temple and Other Sacred Places in the Ebla Tablets,” 85-86.

78. Philo, Questions and Answers on Genesis IV, 151; Questions and Answers on Exodus II, 83; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History X, 4, in PG 20:848-80. Alfred Jeremias, Das alte Testament im Lichte des alten Orients (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1916), 49-51.

79. Hugh W. Nibley, “The Expanding Gospel,” in Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 1978), 24-34; reprinted in this volume, pages 179-95.

80. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica q. 44-45, 65-66, 71 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), 426-57, 609-28, 662-64.

81. Loren Eiseley, The Star Thrower (New York: Times Books, 1978), 67.

82. Nibley, “The Expanding Gospel,” 34-37; reprinted in this volume, pages 195-99.

83. Cf. Hugh W. Nibley, “Three Shrines: Mantic, Sophic, and Sophistic,” in The Ancient State, CWHN 10 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S.), 343-51.

84. B. H. Stricker, “The Origin of the Greek Theatre,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 40 (December 1954): 34-47.

85. Jean Capart, Review of A. Rosenvasser, Nuevas textos literarios del antigio Egipto, in Chronique d’Égypte 13 (July 1937): 202.

86. Étienne Drioton, Le Texte Dramatique d’Edfou (Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, 1948), 7-8.

87. Jan Zandee, Review of Siegfried Morenz, Ägyptische Religion, in Bibliotheca Orientalis 19 (1962): 40.

88. 2 Baruch 4:3-6, in APOT 2:482.

89. JD 18:303.

90. Schmidt, Kephalaia, 38, lines 8-13.

91. Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed III, 45 (New York: Dover, 1955), 355.

92. K. Kohler, “The Pre-Talmudic Haggada,” Jewish Quarterly Review 7 (July 1985): 603-4; cf. Nibley, “Sacrifice of Isaac,” 58.

93. De Primordiis et Inventione Sacrae Religionis Jerosolymorum (On the Origin and Discovery of the Holy Religion of Jerusalem), in Monumenta de Bello Sacro (Memorials of the Holy War), Appendix II to Godfrey of Bouillon, in PL 155:1097.

94. Ibid., in PL 155:1098.

95. Ibid., in PL 155:1101.

96. Hugh W. Nibley, “Setting the Stage—The World of Abraham,” IE 73 (January 1970): 58.

97. J. Massyngberde Ford, “Thou Art ‘Abraham’ and upon This Rock . . . ,” Heythrop Journal 6 (1965): 289-301.

98. TB Hagigah 16a, in Goldschmidt, Babylonian Talmud, 3:839.

99. Vayera 115a, in Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon, trs., The Zohar, 5 vols. (New York: Soncino, 1984), 1:361.

100. Testament of Levi 10:3, in M. de Jonge, ed., Testamenta XII Patriarchum (Leiden: Brill, 1970), 16.

101. Cf. Gospel of Philip 84:21-30, in NHLE, 150.

102. Gospel of Philip 85:10-18, in ibid., 150.

103. Hegesippus in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History IV, 8, 103, in PG 5:1319-20; 20:321-24.

104. 2 Jeu 45, in Schmidt, Books of Jeu and the Untitled Text, 108.

105. 2 Jeu 44, ibid., 104.

106. 2 Jeu 44; 1 Jeu 33-38, in ibid., 105, 83-87.

107. 1 Jeu 41, in ibid., 97-98; cf. 2 Nephi 9:41.

108. Marc Philonenko, Les interpolations chrétiennes des Testaments des Douze Patriarches et les manuscrits de Qoumrân (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1960), 18.

109. Theophylactus, Expositio in Epistolam ad Hebraeos (Exposition on the Epistle to the Hebrews), in PG 125:297-98.

110. Tertullian, De Praescriptionibus adversus Haereticos (The Prescription against Heretics) I, 9, in PL 2:66-67.

111. Cf. René Descartes, “Discours de la méthode,” in Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, eds., Oeuvres de Descartes, 10 vols. (Paris: Vrin, 1973), 6:4-5, 31-40; René Descartes, “Meditationes de Prima Philosophia,” in ibid., 7:36-37; René Descartes, “Principia Philosophiae,” in ibid., 8:14-15.

112. Hugh W. Nibley, “Looking Backward,” in Madsen, ed., The Temple in Antiquity, 51; reprinted in CWHN 4:383.

113. Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, Hamlet’s Mill (Boston: Gambit, 1969).