Non-LDS Scholars and the Temple

A few years ago between Conference sessions, the Church broadcast a 45-minute film entitled Between Heaven and Earth. Centered on Temple typology, the film includes excerpts from Truman Madsen, John Lundquist and other LDS who have done significant scholarship on the Temple. However, the film also includes some very positive comments about the modern LDS temple from some prominent non-LDS scholars, both Christian and Jewish.

I assume that Truman Madsen personally asked these people to appear. Madsen “pursued biblical and literary studies with Robert Pfeiffer, Amos Wilder, Krister Stendahl, and later Helmut Koester. More recently, [Madsen has] become indebted to text experts who have also become friends—Frank Cross, James Charlesworth, W. D. Davies, David Noel Freedman, Raymond E. Brown, and in Israel, David Flusser, R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, and members of a new Jewish and Christian Dead Sea Scrolls team. ” Expressions of Faith- Testimonies of Latter-dy Scholars, 36. (An interesting volume itself for the personal stories from some well-known and less well-known LDS scholars in various fields.)

Here are a few excerpts.

Krister Stendahl
, is former dean of the Harvard Divinity school and emeritus Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm. He spoke at the dedication of the Swiss Temple to a non-LDS audience and authored the short Encyclopedia of Mormonism article, Baptism for the Dead: Ancient Sources (scroll down).

In antiquity, of course, a temple with its altars and big basins for lustrations, and the Jerusalem temple was a place where you went to carry out holy acts, sacrifices and the like. I feel that the Mormon experience of the temple has sort of restored that meaning to the word temple.

It’s quite unique. I know of no other religious tradition that has engendered that symbolism.

I find in Mormonism, in its renewing the temple perspective, and in its transcending, breaking through, making porous, the wall between time and eternity. It speaks to me as something good to hear about.

I feel very positively [about the LDS Temples], and have done all the time, and I would share that positive feeling with other people.

Frank Moore Cross, emeritus professor of Hebrew Bible at Harvard and a giant in the field, offers the following.

Someone who does not know much about temples or Mormons building temples should be directed to the Bible.

I am both interested and delighted to see so much of ancient religious tradition, particularly Biblical tradition, taken up in to the religious structures and rituals of the Mormons.

(Lawrence Schiffman of NYU is also featured.)

Now, I’m not suggesting that these people are crypto-Mormons. However, I find it significant that these scholars recognize some kind of continuity of tradition between our modern temples and the Biblical tradition, something few Christian ministries will grant us. The positive comments of these scholars evincing their feelings towards the LDS temple stem directly from Madsen choosing to attend Harvard and studying this field (which he seems never to have touched directly again, incidentally.) This raises a potential thread-jacking question. Given the large number of LDS graduate students in related field right now, will we see larger numbers of non-LDS scholars making the same kinds of positve judgements about LDS theology on the basis of interacting with LDS students?

I’ve shown this film to my Temple Preparation class before with positive effects. If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth your hour.

Edit: $6 from Church Distribution. VHS only.

8 thoughts on “Non-LDS Scholars and the Temple

  1. When I see non-LDS scholars saying friendly things about the LDS church, I often chuckle to myself about them going to hell because they are lukewarm; they learned the truth but won’t make the covenants. (Of course, I chuckle because the prospect is ridiculous, not because of any vindictive gloating.)

  2. I’m also a fan of the film. I’d be interested to know more about the general theological leanings of these scholars. Based on my experience with German Catholics and Protestants in particular, I would not be surprised to find out that openness toward Mormonism among learned members of other faiths generally correlates with progressive theology of a type that doesn’t fly very well in our own Church. It would be refreshing, though — especially after the conservative new Pope decried “sects” in one of his first speeches — to occasionally get some theological ‘shout-outs’ from the orthodox end of the spectrum.

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