As some of you may be aware, my post from January 20, 2011, entitled “Should We Expect to Find the Temple Ordinances as One Coherent Whole in the Scriptures? Revisiting the Question”, generated a lengthy and impassioned discussion in the comments. There was much debate regarding the value of efforts to compare our modern temple ordinances with ancient ones, and the methods that should be used in such an endeavor. I very much appreciated this discussion and believe that many important points were raised. It was decided, by some of the involved parties, that a debate over all of the points that I suggested in the post would be a very large and time-consuming task, and that, therefore, it would be more profitable for us to discuss specific rituals (with the associated Scriptural passages), one at a time.
Before moving on with this project, I would just like to clear up a few points — a few misconceptions, maybe, regarding my initial post. First of all, I would like to emphasize that my answer to the titular question, “Should we expect to find the temple ordinances as one coherent whole in the Scriptures?”, was negative. There is, obviously, no passage, narrative, chapter, or any other unit in the Scriptures that presents the Endowment or the entirety of the LDS ritual system as a unity or “coherent whole.” I wasn’t attempting to argue for such. I did explain where we could perhaps look for temple themes outside of the traditional locations. Towards the end of the post, I went a step further and suggested that there is a possibility that (although this is not all clearly perceptible from the Scriptural accounts) the ancient Israelites may have performed ceremonies in the precincts of their temple that may have contained many rituals that are comparable to what we do today in our temples. I acknowledged that the theories upon which this assertion are based are conjectural/speculative, but I think that they are a good place to start.
So, in light of the fact that there has been interest (whether in the content of this material or simply in trying to prove me wrong), I will go on to look at one of the specific data points — “Temple Gates and Guardians”. The purpose of the remainder of this post will not be to compare an ancient ritual with a modern one, but simply to analyze what evidence there may be to support the suggested notion, as described in the original post. Again, due to the nature of such an analysis, this post will be quite lengthy — and, naturally, the topic will still not be explored in the necessary detail, as such a study would certainly take up too much time for me to write and for you to read. This was my initial assertion:
Temple gates and guardians: the procession would have to pass through a series of temple gates in order to reach the temple building itself. The gates would have been guarded by priests (1 Chron. 9:17-19) who required certain moral qualifications and passwords in order for the procession to pass through (see Psalm 24). It has been suggested that one of these passwords may have been associated with the name of the Lord and that this was a “new name” given to the candidate. These guardians of the gates likely represented the angels who guard the gates of the various heavens leading to the highest heaven.
The primary scriptural reference behind these concepts is Psalm 24. I cited also 1 Chron. 9:17-19, not necessarily because it supports the idea I am arguing for, but because it mentions that at the gates of the temple there were “gatekeepers.” We will discuss these a bit later. Let us look first at the principal scripture reference:
Psalm 24:1–10 KJV <A Psalm of David.> The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. 2 For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. 3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. 5 He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah. 7 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.
TT, in one of his responses to me regarding this Psalm, stated: “This is, as I understand it, a part of the ‘entrance liturgy’ to be sung by those coming to worship at the temple.” I agree. TT further asserted that “V. 3 is perhaps a question asked by someone outside, and 4-6 are the answers.” I also agree with this. TT, however, then closed off further interpretation of the background or meaning of the passage by concluding: “These are great passages and fascinating insights, but we have no idea how they were used, if at all, or when.” It is clear that through an analysis of the given text, the original life setting of the Psalm remains quite obscure. However, if we are bold enough to assert, as did TT, that this is an “entrance liturgy” sung by those coming to worship at the temple, there is surely something more that we can discover about said entrance liturgies and about the situation in which individuals or groups would have been attempting to gain entrance to the temple precincts.
We know that at the three major pilgrimage (ḥag) festivals, Passover, Pentacost/Shavuot, and Tabernacles/Succot, the Israelites were supposed to travel to the temple to “appear before the Lord” (Deut. 16:16; cf. Exod. 23:14-17; Exod. 34:23). So we know that on certain occasions, especially at these festal celebrations, there would be people (not just the men, Deut. 16:11, 14; Deut. 31:11–12)coming from all around to worship the Lord at the Temple in Jerusalem. We can gain some insight into the special importance of the Feast of Tabernacles in ancient Israel through the prophet Zechariah’s prophecy that in the end times all nations would be required to observe this temple pilgrimage, or they would receive no rain:
Zechariah 14:16 16 And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. 17 And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain.
We also see that Solomon, when he dedicated the Temple, did so at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles (1 Kgs. 8:2, Ethanim=Tishri). This dedicatory ceremony included a procession of Yahweh’s ark to the temple (1 Kgs. 8:1), perhaps much like the procession of the ark that King David once led (2 Sam. 6), which included “all of the house of Israel” following King David and the ark up to the sanctuary. This first procession was memorialized in Psalm 132, which emphasizes the ascension of the ark to the temple, and also the covenant that God made with David. The psalm was likely used in subsequent re-enactments of this event, as indicated by the accounts of Solomon’s dedicatory remarks, which quote from the Psalm (see 2 Chron. 6:41). A number of the Psalms, some of which may have been used liturgically in temple ceremonies, seem to refer to this procession (including Pss. 68 (cf. Num. 10:35); 47:5; 118; etc.), which strengthens the idea that at least part of what may have gone on in these annual pilgrimages to the Temple, especially the Feast of Tabernacles, may have included this re-enactment of the ark procession into the temple, most likely led (in early times) by the king. That such a re-enactment may have taken place should not be surprising, as these festivals often re-created/re-lived events of the past, such as the events associated with the Exodus.
Psalm 24 itself can most easily be understood in the context of this procession. The psalm starts out with a doxology (hymn of praise), praising the Lord for his Creation. This parallels the similar hymn (actually Psalm 96) that the Chronicler tells us was sung at the occasion of the David’s ark procession (1 Chron. 16:23-33). Psalm 24:3–4 indicates that the psalm is being sung by someone who desires to go up to the temple. Psalm 24:6 seems to indicate that this is a group of people (NRSV has “company”) that are going up to the temple. If we take Psalm 118 to describe a festal procession (see, e.g., Ps. 118:27, which has ḥag in the Heb.), we see that this psalm contains a similar exchange at the gates (Ps. 118:19–20) to what we find in Psalm 24:7–10. So what we have in Psalm 24 is likely a procession of pilgrims, led by an individual (likely the king/priest), who are accompanying Yahweh (represented by the ark) up to the temple. They are required to stop when they reach the temple gates.
Question and Answer Dialogue
Craig C. Broyles, in his recent study of temple entrance liturgies, saw a pattern established in Pss. 15, 24, and Isaiah 33:14b-16, of “(a) a double question of who may visit Yahweh’s holy hill, (b) a reply consisting of the qualifications for worshippers, and (c) a promise” (Broyles, “Psalms Concerning the Liturgies of Temple Entry”, in Peter W. Flint and Patrick D. Miller, eds., The Book of Psalms: Composition and Reception (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2005), 248).
In Psalm 24,As Yahweh and his company reach the gates, we hear the questions: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” Basically, what are the qualifications for one to be able to ascend up to the temple? We are not told in the psalm who is asking the question. However, if the psalm was used liturgically, we can imagine that there was likely more than one speaker, although the identity of the speakers involved has not been preserved. However, we have established the possibility that there was a procession that approached the temple gates. At the gates, there were likely levites/priests that were stationed there as gatekeepers. The role of these gatekeepers was debated in the comments of the OP. However, I think that we established that there could have been gatekeepers at the temple in the pre-exilic period. 2 Kgs. 25:18 is one passage (written before Chronicles) that claims that there were. I am willing to concede that we don’t know exactly what their role was. I don’t think that it is much of a stretch to assert that these gatekeepers likely had a role in the entrance liturgy presented in Psalm 24. While it is difficult to establish who is speaking in verses 3-4, I think it’s fair to assume that the speaker(s) in verses 5, 8a, 10a, could have been the gatekeepers. While Psalm 15, a parallel psalm representing an entrance liturgy, seems to direct the entry requirement questions to Yahweh himself (Ps. 15:1), I don’t think we need to dismiss the idea that the gatekeepers participated here, especially since there may have been a view that Yahweh himself was the ultimate/final gatekeeper. In Psalm 24, in particular, I believe that the most logical assumption is that the gatekeepers are involved, especially in 8a and 10a, and if we concede this, then I would also assert that the gatekeepers are also involved in the exchange in vv. 3-5, where the qualifications for entry are being established. Verse 5 seems to come from the gatekeepers or accompanying priest(s), declaring the blessings promised to those who fulfill the requirements. V. 6 seems to be an indication from the pilgrims that they do, indeed, comply with the requirements.
I will have to disagree with TT’s assertion that there were no moral requirements to enter the temple. As a matter of fact, in these “entrance liturgy” psalms (Pss. 24; 15; 118), with a few possible exceptions (“clean hands”), the only requirements that are given are moral requirements. In Psalm 118, for example, it is only “the righteous” that are allowed to pass through the gate (Ps. 118:20). Broyles asserts that the “qualifications are ethical, not sacral in nature” (p. 250). While in Psalm 24 there are only a couple of requirements listed, Psalm 15 gives ten qualifications — not dissimilar to the Decalogue given at Sinai, which can be viewed as similar requirements for beginning an ascension of the Holy Mountain to be in Yahweh’s presence. Mowinckel argued (as Broyles implies as well) that at some point the requirements for entry into the temple were likely seen as parallel to the commandments of the covenant given at Kadesh or Sinai. Because the festival was a time for the renewal of the covenant and commemoration of the events of the Exodus, the “toroth (laws) of entry” to the temple were imagined as being the laws which had been given as a covenant by revelation from Yahweh (see Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, vol. 1, pp. 177ff.). Entering the temple involved the revelation of moral requirements in the form of covenants from God, the acceptance of these on the part of the worshippers, and confirmation that these requirements were being met.
Having confirmed that the pilgrims are living up to the covenantal requirements, there is a call for the gates to be opened so that “the King of Glory may come in” (Ps. 24:7–9; cf. Ps. 118:19). Following this line of interpretation, Ps. 118:27 seems to indicate that the procession has been allowed to go through the gates, has received a blessing from the Lord, and now makes its way to the altar of the temple. Some argue that this is a separate context from that of Psalm 24, that it involves entrance through the innermost gate of the temple as opposed to the outermost in Psalm 24. It seems possible that such a dialogue was required at each of the several gates of the temple. The relevance of this will be noted later. However, returning to Psalm 24 and the request to open the gates is important. Broyles argues that in Psalm 24:8, 10, “the name of God [is] used as a ‘password’ through the gates” (p. 252). Also, he argues that the name “King of glory” used here is a “new name” — we assume this because the respondents in vv. 8 and 10 appear to not know the name. Following Broyles’ initial assertion, we can assume that this “new name” is also being used as a password to get through the gates.
None of this would seem strange to students of Jewish apocalyptic/mystical literature, which is arguably rooted in temple theology and practice. For the Jewish mystic to ascend to heaven to see the throne of God (which is, in essence, what is happening in our temple procession as I’ve described it), he had to pass through the various hekhalot (palaces), or heavenly levels, to reach the highest heaven where God resides. In many accounts, at each level there was a gate guarded by angels who required answers to questions in order to pass. The most common description of these passwords is that they consisted of various names of divine beings (principally God himself) that the mystic was required to know and repeat in order to pass. A thorough analysis of these ideas is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this post, but I think they are important ideas for understanding the context of our psalms. Although most of these types of texts are late (centuries after the period we’re talking about), the tradition that they follow seems to be a very conservative one, one that I would argue is based on ancient temple practice.
Cristopher Morray-Jones explains that the seven levels of heaven described in the late Rabbinic and Mystical Jewish texts are likely based on the seven levels of holiness of the ancient temple (the immediate temple area was divided into three levels of holiness corresponding to the idea of three heavens). Morray-Jones notes that R. Jose divided the sacred area into the following seven sections: “(1) the area within the balustrade…, from which gentiles were excluded; (2) the Court of Women; (3) the Court of Israel; (4) the Court of the Priests; (5) the area between the altar and the entrance to the sanctuary; (6) the sanctuary building; and (7) the Holy of Holies” (Morray-Jones, “The Temple Within”, SBL 1998 Seminar Papers, 422ff.).
In the later texts, there would be angelic guards at the gates of each of the celestial levels requiring passwords. I think it is reasonable to argue, based on the above, that the same structure may have existed in the ancient temple, the source of inspiration for these texts. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient extra-biblical documents, it has become increasingly clear that (at least some of) the Jews saw their priesthood as having an “angelic” status (see the work of Crispin Fletcher-Louis, Jim Davila, Carol Newsom, and, of course, Margaret Barker, among others). Both kings and priests are compared to, or described as, angelic/divine beings. I have written a number of posts on my solo blog about this concept. The liturgy of the temple was meant to represent/parallel the liturgy of heaven. The priests on earth played the role of the angels in heaven. In the context of the liturgical procession to the temple, which was arguably supposed to be imagined by the participants as an ascent to heaven, the priests who stood at the gates were likely seen as the angels who stood as sentinels to the various gates that led to God’s throne in the highest heaven. I realize that these assertions really deserve a full post of their own, but this is all I can do for now.
While I must agree that, in the end, the conclusions here are necessarily conjectural, I do believe that this is the direction that the evidence leads us. I think it’s reasonable to argue that the pilgrims going to the temple at the major hag festivals, especially the Feast of Tabernacles, participated in processions that ascended the Holy Mountain towards the temple. Also, that these processions participated in an “entrance liturgy” that involved a question-and-answer dialogue at one or more gates of the temple between the pilgrims (perhaps represented by an individual) and the priestly gatekeepers. A list of moral requirements was given (imagined to be laws given by Yahweh as covenantal) and the procession is deemed to be worthy to pass through the gate because of their adherence to these laws. It is possible that name(s) for God (including a “new name”) were given as passwords to get through the gates. The procession would have possibly had to repeat this ritual at multiple gates as they progressed towards the holiest areas of the sanctuary.
Now I invite you to compare this to our modern temple practices. There are obvious differences, but I imagine that you can find a number of similarities, as well. I will let you come to your own conclusions as to how these differences and similarities should be interpreted. I would point out that I find that these types of rituals do not generally come to mind when most parties (whether favorable or critical to the Church) attempt to compare/contrast the ancient temple with the modern LDS temple, but I think they are of great value to any such an endeavor.