Should We Expect to Find the Temple Ordinances as One Coherent Whole in the Scriptures? Revisiting the Question

For my first substantive post here on M*, I wanted to take you back to an issue that was discussed on this blog by M* Ben, back in 2005. M* Ben raised some very relevant and interesting queries for those of us who are familiar with the LDS temple ordinances: “Should we find the Temple ordinances in the Old Testament? If so, should we see them presented as they are today?” His preliminary answers to these two questions were “yes to the first and no to the second.” I agree with M* Ben’s initial conclusions, but I would like to approach these questions from, perhaps, a different angle and present to you some different results.  I believe that the temple ordinances that we know today may have been presented as more of a “coherent whole” than M* Ben assumed. (Just to forewarn you, this post may be a little on the long side)

M* Ben, in his post, noted the difficulty that members of the Church have had when they have tried to search the Bible for evidence of the temple ceremonies as we know them. He noted, for example:

…John K. Edmunds, who served as Salt Lake Temple President from 1972 to 1977, wrote of having “researched the biblical record of the Tabernacle built by Moses and the Temple built in Jerusalem for some perceptible record of the holy endowment: but all in vain.” Through Temple Doors (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1979), 67.

However, although this is the predictable conclusion that one would come to by searching where he was apparently searching, we have since had many scholars (both in the Church and out) that I believe have opened the doors to a more fruitful understanding of where the remnants of the ancient temple ordinances may be hiding.  Before moving on, I would like to present what I think is a good expectation for us as Latter-day Saints to have when we ponder these questions. I think this statement from BYU Professor Richard O. Cowan sums it up pretty well:

Modern revelation affirms that both the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon were built so that “those ordinances might be revealed which had been hid from before the world was” (D&C 124:38). Hence the Lord’s people in these Old Testament times had access to at least some of the temple ordinances that would be restored in the latter days. …The Lord’s requirements for exaltation, and therefore the need for temples, were the same then as they are now. (Richard O. Cowan, “Sacred Temples Ancient and Modern,” in The Temple in Time and Eternity (Provo: FARMS, 1999), p. 105)

So the ordinances of the temple that we know (or most of them) must have been, in some form, extant in OT times. However, there are a few reasons why we should not expect to find them in the traditional accounts of the tabernacle and temple in the OT record.

  1. Although M*Ben largely dismissed this point, I firmly believe that the details of sacred ordinances of the ancient temple were generally not written down. It is well known that the Jews had a strong oral tradition (the oral Torah/Law) that consisted of the most sacred teachings that were only to be passed down by word-of-mouth. For centuries, these teaching were passed on orally until attempts were made to put them in writing in about 200 AD — this written version of the oral tradition is generally known as the Mishnah (and who knows how much, by that time, it resembled the original traditions). Now I’m not necessarily claiming that the oral Torah contained information about the temple ordinances, but we can see that many sacred matters were originally passed down orally, so we would not expect to find them in our Scriptures. FYI, the early Christians also had a “secret tradition”, that arguably did concern ordinances, that they believed was passed down orally from Christ to the Apostles and then on to the Church.
  2. The records that we do have in our Scriptures regarding the tabernacle and temple (e.g., parts of Exodus and Chronicles) are largely dated (by scholars) to periods after the destruction of the First Temple, and so cannot be deemed reliable as a source for descriptions of what went on in the temple in earlier times.
  3. It is likely that many of the details that would have given more insight into ancient temple practices were edited out by biblical redactors. More specifically, for example, an individual/group known as the Deuteronomist(s) has been postulated by scholars to have edited much of the first five “books of Moses” and wrote their own histories (e.g., the books of Kings) in a way that excluded many earlier doctrines/practices that they no longer agreed with.

If we can’t find information on the temple ordinances in the expected/traditional places, where, then, do we look? It is my belief that we must look in those books that are more likely dated to the First Temple period, or that possibly reflect the theology of that period.  A few examples:

  1. The Psalms: many, though certainly not all (there is never a full consensus in academia), scholars would claim that many of the biblical psalms could be dated to the First Temple period, and that they were possibly used in the liturgy (rituals) of that temple. So, in short, some of the psalms may have been hymns that accompanied temple ceremonies and may reflect the theology/practices of that setting.
  2. The writings of pre-Exilic prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel: some of the OT prophets would have known and been active in temple ceremonies. The vision of Isaiah, where he saw the Lord sitting on his throne (Isa. 6), apparently took place in the temple (whether earthly or heavenly).  Ezekiel was a temple priest and his writings contain many direct and indirect allusions to the temple.
  3. Other biblical writings: some other biblical texts, such as the book of Job, are apparently very old and contain many of the same themes that we see in the above mentioned examples. Also, apocalyptic writings, like the Book of Daniel, seem to employ ancient temple-related themes.
  4. “Extra-biblical” religious texts: many other early Jewish religious texts — those that we call Pseudepigrapha or Apocrypha — especially those with a more apocalyptic flavor, seem to have preserved the ancient temple themes better than most of the canonical Scriptures. This is likely due to the editing and selective placement of the books that we now have in our Bible. The documents that were more temple-related were known and read (we see this at Qumran) more widely at some point, but in the end didn’t make it into the scriptural canon.

Searching through these books helps to lend evidence to the idea that the temple ordinances that we know were practiced anciently.  Much more can be said about this, and I really need to provide you with specific examples, but this post is necessarily just a broad overview. However, I still haven’t clearly answered the initial question of whether or not we can expect to see the temple ordinances as a “coherent whole” in ancient times. To answer this question, M*Ben’s post argued that we shouldn’t expect to, as the ordinances were likely not presented together in one ceremony. And he is probably correct to argue that Adam and Eve and the Patriarchs, from what we read in the available texts, seem to have received different ordinances at different times.  However, this is not a very efficient means to pass on the rites to larger numbers of people — in a more institutionalized manner as we would expect for corporate Israel (or in the Church today).  It is logical to assume that in Israel there would have been a systematizing or “grouping together” of the ordinances in order to pass them on en mass.  It is my belief that we need to look to the records (or scholarly reconstructions) of the coronation of kings and the initiation of priests (both of which apparently took place in or near the temple), and there we will find series of practices that are very familiar to us.

I am obviously skipping many details and background information here, but please bear with me as I try to present this without dragging this post out too long.  A number of scholars (both LDS and non-LDS) have studied and tried to reconstruct the rituals surrounding the coronation of kings and/or the initiation of temple priests. Although scholars have tried to dismiss and move past this research, there was a lot of good work done on this in the early to mid 20th century. Much of it surrounded the idea that in ancient Israel there was a great festival in the Autumn (the New Year) that accompanied the coronation of the Davidic king.  This festival was a precursor to what was later known as the Feast of Tabernacles.  Scholars believed it could largely be reconstructed through a close analysis of some of the Psalms. To make a long explanation short, I will point out a few of the practices that are believed to have been a part of this festival, which would have involved most specifically the person of the king, and have taken place during the festival on a specific day (or perhaps spread over a few days). I will only mention the most relevant elements:

  • Temple dedication: the Temple of the Lord, which represented the created cosmos, the Garden of Eden and the place of the Throne of God, would have been dedicated (and perhaps re-dedicated annually) at this festival.
  • Adam and Jehovah: Various scholars have argued that in these festival rituals, the king represented Adam, the primeval man and first king. It is possible that at some point in the rituals the king also represented Jehovah.
  • Procession to temple: the king would have participated in a procession that led up to the temple grounds.
  • Washing and anointing: the king would have been washed (perhaps in the Gihon spring) and anointed as part of the coronation ritual.
  • New Name: it has been suggested by some scholars that the king would have received a new (royal) name in association with these rites.
  • Clothing in Robes: the king would have been clothed in robes that were appropriate for his coronation and ordination as Melchizedek priest (whoa, another post is needed for this one! See Psalm 110). We know that priests, in their duties, would change from their colored (worldly) robes into white linen when officiating in the temple.
  • Ritual battle: a dramatization of the primeval battle between light and darkness, between Jehovah and the Dragon may have been presented.
  • Creation drama: the dramatic victory over evil would have been followed by a representation of the creation of the world. (See Pss. 74:13-17; 89:8-11 for these last two points)
  • Ascension to heaven: the procession up the holy mountain to the temple would have been imagined as an ascension to the Throne of God in the highest heaven (see Ps. 68:17-26).
  • 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.
  • Laws and Covenants: the moral standards required for passage through the gates would have been revealed to the candidates by revelation from the Lord (after the manner of the Law given to Moses on Mt Sinai). The New Year festival is also seen as the time in which the Davidic covenant would have been remembered and renewed.
  • Prayer Circle: after passing through the innermost gate to the temple court, the procession may have approached and circled around the temple altar. This ritual may have represented the motions of the angels that encircle the Throne of God in Heaven. (see Pss. 24; 118)
  • Enthronement: The ultimate goal of these ceremonies appears to have been an expectation of an epiphany — a vision of the Lord on his Throne (see Ps. 24:6 RSV; Ps. 27:8). The throne was in the Holy of Holies, which represented the Kingdom of God in the highest heaven. There is also some suggestion that the king would have entered the temple, pass through the veil, and have been crowned in the Holy of Holies and seated on the representation of the Throne of God therein (see 1 Chron. 29:23).

For a more extensive outline of the scholarly reconstructions of the festival rituals, including references from the Psalms, see here.

Now I know that I haven’t given you much background information or sources for all of this, and I must admit that much of it is somewhat speculative, but I really believe that there is something to it. The foregoing is based on a great deal of research that I have done and have been putting together for the past while.  A lot of the information I have is based on theories that are now dated and that many scholars dismiss.  However, it is derived largely from evidence in the Scriptures and also through comparison with known Jewish traditions and the rituals of other surrounding cultures.  In the future, if there is interest, perhaps I can go into further detail on specific points of this reconstruction.  I hope that this post has served to at least open up the possibility in your mind that the essential elements of our modern temple ceremonies may have been presented as one organic whole at the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

182 thoughts on “Should We Expect to Find the Temple Ordinances as One Coherent Whole in the Scriptures? Revisiting the Question

  1. Thank you for this post. I’m not really convinced, however, because I’m not sure how we can establish any genealogical connection. What is the basis for comparison that is being used here that is able to identify what is the same and what is different? Are the standards for sameness so low that basically any ritual at all would qualify? And what about all of the things that are different, or not there? Baptism for the dead? Sealing? Totally different conception of priesthood? The idea of an afterlife that is at work in our rituals that is totally absent from those you describe? The participation of women? Etc, etc, etc? If we want to do these kinds of comparisons, what responsibility do we have to accounting for the differences?
    Also, why do you think that the last 60 years of scholars have for the most part rejected the Myth and Ritual school ideas which this approach seeks to revive?

  2. Check out the Book of Philip (discovered in 1945 in Nag Hamadi, Egypt) and Cyril of Jerusalem to look for similarities to 2nd and 3rd Century A.D. temple ceremonies:

    Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Theologian http://elvis.rowan.edu/~kilroy/JEK/03/18.html

    Cyril of Jerusalem, (translated into English in 1951)

    Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 21, in NPNF Series 2, 7:146-151 153-156 (see http://sacred-texts.com/chr/ecf/207/2070037.htm )

    The Gospel of Philip, in Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (translated into English in 1977) p 135. 139, 142, 151 http://wesley.nnu.edu/Biblical_Studies/noncanon/gospels/gosphil.htm

  3. Might I suggest reading the book “Who Shall Ascend Into The Hill of the Lord” By LeGrand L. Baker and Stephen Ricks. I think you might find its 1400 ages to be a good answer to the this blog topic. The first printing sold out, so you can still find a couple online. I know they are looking to do a paperback re-print this year. But if you want an authoritative source for this topic, I am not sure you will find a better one out than this book.

  4. Matthew B. Brown’s “The Gate of Heaven” touches on this topic. David L, you have brought out some new information that I think is very interesting.

    As you say, people looking for “the complete temple ceremony as we know it” in either the OT or the NT will be disappointed. But there are enough references for me to be satisfied that some kind of temple ceremony, and the accompanying deep, sacred discussion of ritual and ordinances, took place during the OT times and during the 1st century AD.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for the great comments.

    I am familiar with “Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord” and I think it is a good attempt to give a comprehensive LDS treatment of the topic. I think that their approach is too speculative in places — they stretch the evidence beyond what I feel is appropriate to try to make some of their claims. However, the book is very interesting and I think it certainly deserves a read. Nibley also has some great stuff, as you mention, Brian.

    I am also familiar with the Gospel of Philip and think its a great example of what rites the early Christians were familiar with. I’ll have to take a look at the links you posted, R Biddulph, and also yours, TT.

    As far as your questions, TT, you raise some important points (as always) and I’ll be happy to answer them carefully. However, I have been preparing a talk that I’m giving in a church meeting tonight, and now I’m on my way out to head to said meeting. I’ll try to get to your points either later tonight or tomorrow.

    Thanks,
    David

  6. David, with your review or summation of the Who Shall Ascend, do you feel that the evidence is a stretch because of what you say in the text alone, or were to pull from the original sources? In another sense, did you go to the original sources from the book and are further substantiated in your position?

  7. I think in this discussion we are also forgetting the place of the Book of Mormon. In the first chapter (once we get past Nephi’s colophon), we have Lehi having a theophany with many temple concepts included. Later, the Vision of the Tree of Life becomes very temple oriented, as does Jacob’s and Benjamin’s teaching at the temple. There are many other such teachings that apply throughout the book.

    Also, we need to consider more than just the events related directly to the temple/tabernacle. Altars in the wilderness represented a holy place/space. Jacob’s ladder was a temple event, for example.

    The key to the temple is for the individual to have an ascension or theophany to the throne of God. When we focus on that main key, then all of the rites of the ancient and modern temples come together.

    As for baptism for the dead, the Marcionite Christians practiced it. It is possible that it was not part of the Mosaic covenant, which is based upon the Levitical/Aaronic priesthood. Secondly, Israel focused on itself, where all its members had been circumcised and sacrificed at Yahweh’s altar. When Christianity took the gospel to the world, suddenly there was a whole world of ancestors who had never received any ordinance whatsoever.

    As for the Myth and Ritual school, it is being revived by many newer scholars. Many are studying the Bible in light of the other ancient volumes of writings out there. Many scholars today accept the concept of the Deuteronomists changing the temple ritual from what it was previously. This means we must search other sources to figure out what was contained therein. It was with this focus that OT scholar Margaret Barker spoke at the 2005 Joseph Smith Symposium at the Library of Congress, where she favorably compared Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life with the First Temple’s practices.

    We see in the Bible where Jeremiah condemns the temple priests, while praising the Rechabites, desert dwellers who still sacrificed upon altars in high places! Being able to use other texts (even those within the Bible, such as Ezekiel and Isaiah) to figure out the ancient temple rites can lead us in a positive direction. I’m glad that David Larsen seeks to open our minds to such possibilities.

  8. @ Rameumptom, I think that is what I like about Who Shall Ascend is it focuses on these core concepts. The first half of the book is Psalms and Old Testament, and the second half is on the Book of Mormon and how they relate to one another. Sufficient to say, the average Latter-Day Saint doesn’t seem to approach this idea that in the scriptures we see a great deal more of temple and feast of tabernacles type ritual than is apparent on casual reading.

  9. Thanks David, I know we’ve had some of these methodological discussion before, so I appreciate you attempting to work through them again.

    Ram,

    “Altars in the wilderness represented a holy place/space. Jacob’s ladder was a temple event, for example.The key to the temple is for the individual to have an ascension or theophany to the throne of God.”

    I think that this gets to some of my concerns with this methodology. The fact is that hierophanies are not particular to ancient Judaism, nor even in ancient Judaism do they occur in the same ways. There is vast diversity. The fact is that there is nothing particularly special, with a few small exceptions, about ancient Israelite temple practices. They were pretty much just like their neighbors. The OT contains numerous accounts, some connected to the temple, and some not, of ascension. So, why do we say that they are all species of the same temple genus, and not that the temple(s) are species of the same hierophany genus? Or is there even a genus at all? Aren’t these practices all different not only in how they are practiced, but what they meant in the particular period in which they were produced? What is lost in our attempt to homogenize these practices as all sharing some fundamental, core idea? I think there is a ton of evidence for why, more often than not, these represent misreadings and do damage to a historical, and even phenomenological, appreciation for how these rituals were practiced and understood. The effort to homogenize and harmonize these diverse practices into a narrative, one made after our own image and likeness, is more of a hindrance. Just one example that I mentioned, is that the notion of the afterlife radically changes how ascension is understood, and this is not present at all in earlier accounts like Jacob’s ladder. How would paying attention to that difference change things?

    “As for baptism for the dead, the Marcionite Christians practiced it. It is possible that it was not part of the Mosaic covenant, which is based upon the Levitical/Aaronic priesthood. Secondly, Israel focused on itself, where all its members had been circumcised and sacrificed at Yahweh’s altar.”

    Here, you suggest that baptism for the dead comes later for two reasons: 1) it is not just a “aaronic priesthood” practice, even though non of the other practices we have associated with our own Aaronic priesthood match anything like what the Levites did; and 2) the dead in Israel didn’t need to be saved because they already had performed the rites at the temple. Last I checked, sacrificing at the temple is not baptism, so these connections don’t even make sense. Again, this is an example of radically misunderstanding the ancient temple in order to make it appear like the modern temple.

    “As for the Myth and Ritual school, it is being revived by many newer scholars. Many are studying the Bible in light of the other ancient volumes of writings out there.”

    Not that this is a news flash, but people besides the Myth and Ritual school study the Bible in the context of other ancient literature. In fact, I’d venture to say that everyone does, and the recent return by amateur scholars like Barker to these older methods has nothing to do with the presence of ancient literature.

    “Many scholars today accept the concept of the Deuteronomists changing the temple ritual from what it was previously. This means we must search other sources to figure out what was contained therein.”

    Yes, everyone accepts that the Jeremiah reforms were significant. But your conclusion does not follow from your premise. There is no reason to think that other sources necessarily contain this information, I would say especially sources that date centuries after these reforms, as the case of 1 Enoch.

    “compared Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life with the First Temple’s practices.”

    Is there any reason at all in the Book of Mormon to think that Lehi or Nephi understood these experiences as having to do with the temple? I really don’t think so. They weren’t priests. Sure, they built a temple, but we here essentially nothing about it and basically never again for the rest of the book. This temple-centrism seems to distort rather than illuminate these accounts by reading them through a lens which there is no evidence that they shared.

  10. You don’t need to read anything but 3 Ne. 11-14; it’s all touched on there. For further reading, go to John Welch’s “The Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple.”

  11. @ TT: We have plenty of reason to think that the Temple was the center of much of Lehi and Nephi’s life. Lehi’s sode experience in the first chapter of the book of mormon carries many aspects that are familiar to the temple of ancient Israel and the attending feasts. I see no reason to conclude that the symbolism of the Tree of Life as well as all the other symbols could be seen as being related to temple experiences.

  12. James,

    “Lehi’s sode experience in the first chapter of the book of mormon carries many aspects that are familiar to the temple of ancient Israel and the attending feasts.”

    Could you back up this assertion with some references to the primary sources please?

    “I see no reason to conclude that the symbolism of the Tree of Life as well as all the other symbols could be seen as being related to temple experiences.”

    I agree.

  13. @ TT: I know you just agreed with me, but I mistyped. I actually do think there are symbolic connections between the vision and the temple. You are asking for sources? Okay. Let me see if these help. But to say up front, this subject is way too long for a blog comment to do justice to. However, I think between the Nibley book, the Baker and Ricks book, along with others, you will find much more authoritative and comprehensive treatments of this question to support the idea that there are indeed connections.

    If you are willing to agree that the sode experience similar to what is experienced in temple worship, both the generic and the individual experiences, incorporate the elements of being brought to the pre-existence, being shown the council of the Gods, learning of our role in the plan of the head God, as well as our commitments made to follow the plan on this earth, then 1 Nephi is exactly that. 1 Nephi 5-16 not only speaks to this experience of going to the throne of God as would be in the pre-existant drama of the Psalms, but there is also equal enough reverence in verse 16 to show that Nephi knew there were somethings to sacred to communicate outside of the proper places. Other prophets in the Old Testament have given similar experiences like those in Jeremiah 1:4-6 and Ezekiel 1:3-28.

    These relate back to the ancient temple as referred to in Psalms, Isaiah, Job and others. But I suppose these sources are predicated on the idea or assumption that these are not simply poems or poetic language expressing a generic feeling on God and his work, or a historical experience, but are in fact a reflection of the feelings of temple experience. Psalm 136:1-11 refers to similar language of life before creation as well as the creation itself. This being, again, a convoluted, but piecemeal section of the ancient temple drama. The idea of the ancient drama was that the experience was to be much like "sode" as experienced by prophets both ancient and modern, but in a more generic sense for those participating in the feast of tabernacles or temple drama. Psalm 82 also refers to this returning to the council of the gods and having God identify each individual as one of his children and heir to godhood as well as the details of the plan.

    The tree of life vision relates symbolically in the sense that many of the symbols of the ancient temple were reflected in the dream. Mainly the Tree of Life and the menorah symbol. The menorah symbol being a tree shape as well as having three sets of arms stretched to the heavens (you connect the dots). As part of Nephi’s version of the Tree of Life vision in 1 Nephi 11, Nephi has a similar sode experience, much like the one relayed by Lehi. Referencing this same sode experience, Nephi relates being brought to a place where the plan of God was presented as well as the Saviors role in that plan, also clarifying that the symbol of the tree being a representation of the Son of God (v.6). This was done on a high mountain (V.1) often used to represent a temple and sacred place where God communicates sacred knowledge and responsibility for that obtaining that knowledge.

    If these connections are not sufficient, then I would, again, suggest reading the books that everyone has encouraged. They will give you a more in-depth response for sure. For the record, I do believe they connect and support one another.

  14. James,
    Thanks, I will respond more specifically in a second. Quickly, I’ve read these books. I disagree with them. Let’s talk about the specific primary sources that supposedly make the case that these books are making, and see if these are convincing readings, or whether they don’t work.
    I’ve worked with this material before, but I’m afraid I am not recognizing your term “sode experience.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

  15. If you have in fact read these books, then you should be no doubt be familiar with the term. Daniel C Peterson also speaks of sode in ‘Ye are Gods.” Sometimes it is translated from Sodh meaning “secret.”The popular dictionary of Judaism defines sodh as follows: A method of biblical exegesis. Sodh is an esoteric method based on the idea that scripture has more than one level of meaning. It was used in the account of the creation in Genesis, and the Chariot vision in Ezekiel.

    I suggest you read the following article from Joseph F. McConkie if you wish to see other support of this term being translated to being also used as the word “council.” Thus the idea being that part of the sode or sodh experience is part of the individual being brought to the premortal council where the plan of salvation, the creation of the earth, and the role of the Savior are presented.

    http://rsc.byu.edu/pubJMcConkiePremortalExistence.php

    I think I am done on this. I don’t mean to hijack the post in commentary. I apologize.

  16. James,

    “If you are willing to agree that the sode experience similar to what is experienced in temple worship”

    This is precisely the point that needs to be demonstrated rather than assumed. First, what is meant by “temple worship”? Are we talking just about the endowment? Or, does this mean the sealing, baptism for the dead, and washing and anointing? To what extent does vicariousness play a role in how we understand “temple worship” in the modern sense? I suppose we could also ask, which temple worship. The temple ceremony has evolved and changed to reflect different theological visions, sometimes emphasizing one thing, while others emphasizing another. Or, we could ask, to what extent does gender play a role. In our temple ceremony, gender is an ever-present category, from the division to the reunion, from the different covenants made, to the ways that men and women are symbolically portrayed. Yet, the very way you’ve framed it presumes a singular, transhistorical “temple experience,” even though we don’t have that in our own dispensation, let alone assuming a singular version in the past.

    “incorporate the elements of being brought to the pre-existence, being shown the council of the Gods, learning of our role in the plan of the head God, as well as our commitments made to follow the plan on this earth, then 1 Nephi is exactly that.”

    Let me grand for the moment that this is what is happening in 1 Nephi (I actually think it is a pretty selective reading, leaving out much of what Nephi is interested in telling about, most notably, the place of the promised land and the exodus themes which are completely unaccounted for in your summary), there is just one thing missing. A temple, or concern about a temple, or an explicit reference to the temple as providing an archetype. What you’ve done is presume that these elements have to do with the temple, rather than allowing that at times they may be associated with temples, and at other times they may not. Instead of presuming that the “temple experience” is the genus, perhaps we ought to consider visions of God as sometimes associated with the rituals of the temple, and other times not, perhaps even in opposition to them.

    “Other prophets in the Old Testament have given similar experiences like those in Jeremiah 1:4–6 and Ezekiel 1:3–28.”

    Prophetic call narratives are sometimes associated with the temple. Sometimes they aren’t. Nor is there necessarily any reason to associate these with rituals, certainly not ones that all Israelites, or even all priests, or even certain priests would follow. I’m not convinced that Jeremiah is making reference to temple rituals here in his call narrative at all.

    “these are not simply poems or poetic language expressing a generic feeling on God and his work, or a historical experience, but are in fact a reflection of the feelings of temple experience.”

    These, of course, aren’t the only two options. And, I’m not arguing that ancient texts like the Ps., or Isaiah, don’t reflect on the ancient temple. I’m problematizing the too easy connection between what is happening historically there and what kinds of things we do. I’m also cautioning against ahistorical harmonizations of ancient accounts about the temple that don’t take into consideration its multivalient, and historically situated, symbolism.

    Gotta run. I will get to the rest later.

  17. Perhaps it would be best if I were to say that the beauty of the scriptures are that they can be read at different levels and in different ways depending on how the spirit speaks to the reader (assuming that it is the Holy Spirit). Christ taught in parables for this same reason. I hope my comments were not meant to be read that this is the ONLY way they were intended. In some cases, our interpretations can be suppositions of faith.

    However, if you read the Joseph F. McConkie article I posted, his sourcing for this interpretation comes from interpretations of the original texts of the Greek and Hebrew texts. In other words, to the scholars who are more well versed on this than I am, this is not an assumption, it is a legitimate foundation or paradigm from which to view the texts of the Old Testament, the Book of Mormon, and even some apocryphal writings. I am sure that misinterpretation of semantics over temple worship and temple content or doctrine would need to be clarified to make sure we are in fact talking on the same subjects.

  18. “The key to the temple is for the individual to have an ascension or theophany to the throne of God. When we focus on that main key, then all of the rites of the ancient and modern temples come together.”

    Bingo.

  19. David,

    I don’t have time to make a huge comment. But I’m very excited about your current subject.

    May I make a few requests:
    1) Interested in Masonic connection
    2) Interested in (as you hinted at) why a Melchezidek priesthood ordinance would be around anciently during Moses’ times.

    I’ll think of more.

    Personally, it seems the masonic connection has two possiblities — JS and BY intentionally borrowed from the familiar, but sacred. I see no problem with this any more than the BoM ‘quoting’ the KJV.

    Or, the masonic ceremony has to be ancient too, and some how connected in. (Emphasis on ‘somehow.’)

  20. Just curious Bruce Neilson, based on your last comment you seem to speak from the paradigm that you know the masonic temple ritual enough to know how these two are similar. Are you a mason, or how do you come to your conclusion that they are similar?

  21. I partly agree with TT that these temple proofs are making assumptions that may or may not be right. Part of this is that my understanding of what I have read in the Scriptures related to Temple Ritual seems to come from several sources. There isn’t just one “temple experience” in any of the examples. Like any divine revelation delivered to humans, temple experience changes to fit the language and understanding of the people. That is why I have no problem believing that what we have today is relatively divorced from OT and NT rituals, but uses the more modern Masonry as a template along with unique modern revelations.

    Where I disagree with TT is the assumption that these ritual have nothing to do with Temples. I disagree that there has to be any other kinds of evidence. This is because I am confused as to what TT is insisting would be evidential. I have seen lots of theories that are mainstream in literature and history that are on far less grounds of reasoning. In fact, I believe what has been presented here has everything to do with Temples. This is so long as we understand that the temple experiences and rituals are a template themselves of universal themes rather than the final product.

  22. James,

    No, I am not a Mason. But I was bad once and let someone show the Masonic ceremony to me (or some of it any how) on the internet once. :)

    The two rituals have a lot in common in terms of form but are pretty much entirely different in interpretation and ‘meaning.’ (Or from what I saw in my short peek. I was at work and busy and never did go back and take a longer look.)

  23. James:

    “Psalm 136:1–11 refers to similar language of life before creation as well as the creation itself. This being, again, a convoluted, but piecemeal section of the ancient temple drama.”

    What is the reason for associating this with the temple? Is it solely because it is a Psalm? What is the argument for it being a part of “the temple drama”? Why not simply see it in its most obvious form as a praise hymn for God’s love? Further, I want to really press on the specific categorization of this as both “convoluted” and “piecemeal.” With respect to what? What is the standard by which you are judging this psalm in order to make that determination? Finally, I see the creation, but no preexistence here. What makes you see it?

    “The idea of the ancient drama was that the experience was to be much like “sode” as experienced by prophets both ancient and modern, but in a more generic sense for those participating in the feast of tabernacles or temple drama. ”

    Thanks for clarifying. Sodh revelations do indeed occur in a few places in the OT (Deut. Not once is the term used in reference to the temple. The closest thing you get is Isa 6, but I don’t believe the term isn’t used (can’t check right now). Further, you have jumped from this narrative element in prophetic callings to the “ancient drama.” What is the basis for believing that these experiences were ritualized in any way? And even if they were, why see them as connected to the temple? I don’t see any reason to associate these divine council experiences with any ritual in the ancient temple. You’re going to have to elaborate on the connection you see to Sukkot, and how you see Sukkot related to this supposed “temple drama.”

    “Psalm 82 also refers to this returning to the council of the gods and having God identify each individual as one of his children and heir to godhood as well as the details of the plan.”

    I think you’re overreading this passage. Yes, it is a divine council, but he does not speak to each human being, but rather the other members of the council. Nor does this explicitly relate itself to the temple in any way.

    “The tree of life vision relates symbolically in the sense that many of the symbols of the ancient temple were reflected in the dream. Mainly the Tree of Life and the menorah symbol. The menorah symbol being a tree shape as well as having three sets of arms stretched to the heavens (you connect the dots). As part of Nephi’s version of the Tree of Life vision in 1 Nephi 11, Nephi has a similar sode experience, much like the one relayed by Lehi. Referencing this same sode experience, Nephi relates being brought to a place where the plan of God was presented as well as the Saviors role in that plan, also clarifying that the symbol of the tree being a representation of the Son of God (v.6). This was done on a high mountain (V.1) often used to represent a temple and sacred place where God communicates sacred knowledge and responsibility for that obtaining that knowledge.”

    Whew. Okay. Why do you see these as specifically temple symbols? Nephi and Lehi don’t make those connections. There is no severn braches. No incense burning. No oil. They never invoke the temple instruments, nor the temple itself. Plus, the interpretations of the temple instruments you offer are not the only ones. It was thought to symbolize the burning bush (no burning in Lehi’s vision) or the seven days of creation as well. That is, there is no single interpretation of this symbol, and if you want to make the case that Lehi understood the tree he saw to be a representation of this symbol, I think there needs to be some real evidence from the BoM text for that claim. Instead, Lehi and Nephi spend a great deal of time interpreting it, asking for interpretation, etc. Never is the temple invoked as an explanation. In fact, he tells you exactly what it means in 1 Ne 11:25: “I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God.”

    “The popular dictionary of Judaism defines sodh as follows: A method of biblical exegesis. Sodh is an esoteric method based on the idea that scripture has more than one level of meaning. It was used in the account of the creation in Genesis, and the Chariot vision in Ezekiel.”

    This understanding of sodh, I believe, is from later Merkabah mysticism or Kaballah, and doesn’t have much to do with the few sodh revelations in the OT.

    “I suggest you read the following article from Joseph F. McConkie if you wish to see other support of this term being translated to being also used as the word “council.” Thus the idea being that part of the sode or sodh experience is part of the individual being brought to the premortal council where the plan of salvation, the creation of the earth, and the role of the Savior are presented.”

    Thank you for the link. I read it with interest. It seems to be a pretty bare reading of later sources that speak about the pre-existence with early biblical accounts of the divine council. Essentially, he seems to conflate these two things as if they are the same, and assume that every reference to the divine council is a reference to pre-existence, and vice versa. Now, I know the article is dated, but there are several cringy things about it, like referenes to “late Judaism” which has anti-Semetic roots, and the ahistorical treatment of texts from the 9th c. BCE to the 3rd c. CE. Anyway, for better up to date LDS-informed work on the divine council, check out David Bokovoy’s stuff.

    “Perhaps it would be best if I were to say that the beauty of the scriptures are that they can be read at different levels and in different ways depending on how the spirit speaks to the reader (assuming that it is the Holy Spirit). Christ taught in parables for this same reason. I hope my comments were not meant to be read that this is the ONLY way they were intended. In some cases, our interpretations can be suppositions of faith.”

    I’m all for allowing that the scriptures mean different things, but I think we also need to be careful about how we do that. If we are asserting, as this OP does and your comments did, that we are speaking about real history that we are reconstructing about the ancient temple, then I think we have to adhere to the standards of reasonable burdens of proof. In my view, those aren’t met. If, in contrast, we want to say that we understand our modern temple experiences as ritualization of what we read about in various ascension, prophetic call, and temple narratives, not understood as historical, but hermeneutical, then I think we are on more solid footing. But your suggestion about the parables and the Spirit leads me to think that this is just another way of slipping a historical claim back in, but not having to actually prove it. I don’t think that works either.

    “However, if you read the Joseph F. McConkie article I posted, his sourcing for this interpretation comes from interpretations of the original texts of the Greek and Hebrew texts.”

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think JFM ever actually learned these languages, at least not with any expertise.

    “In other words, to the scholars who are more well versed on this than I am, this is not an assumption, it is a legitimate foundation or paradigm from which to view the texts of the Old Testament, the Book of Mormon, and even some apocryphal writings.”

    Sure, and there are scholars who think differently. I’d rather not appeal to any one’s authority, but rather hash out the ideas themselves to see if they hold up.

    “I am sure that misinterpretation of semantics over temple worship and temple content or doctrine would need to be clarified to make sure we are in fact talking on the same subjects.”

    I agree, and I think precision is incredibly important. It is for this reason that I think we need to confront the differences, to grapple with what that means, and work out the meaning of different “temple” experiences and other hierophanies. Ultimately, I think that this leads not only to a more responsible interpretation of temples, ancient and modern, but also a more intellectually and spiritually satisfying one.

    Jettboy,

    “Where I disagree with TT is the assumption that these ritual have nothing to do with Temples. I disagree that there has to be any other kinds of evidence. This is because I am confused as to what TT is insisting would be evidential. I have seen lots of theories that are mainstream in literature and history that are on far less grounds of reasoning. In fact, I believe what has been presented here has everything to do with Temples. This is so long as we understand that the temple experiences and rituals are a template themselves of universal themes rather than the final product.”

    Part of the problem that I have with the kinds of theories advanced about the ancient temple here is that they are non-falsifiable. Any differences between our temple and the ancient one are attributed to apostasy, loss, suppression, or coded language. The standard I am looking for is that when we connect something to the ancient temple (a song, a prophetic call, a vision, a creation story, etc.), that there be some reason within the text itself that suggest that interpretation, rather than just assuming that if it is about creation it is also about the temple. Further, I am suggesting that we look at each of these texts individually to interpret them closely, rather than lumping them all together as proof texts. For instance, I’d like to know why we categorize something as a “temple ritual” at all, and see what the criteria are for making that determination.

  24. Bruce,

    “The two rituals have a lot in common in terms of form but are pretty much entirely different in interpretation and ‘meaning.’”

    Bruce, I think that this is an excellent observation. It also happens to be the same point that I’m trying to make about how we interpret ancient things that “appear” similar, but on closer examination are pretty much entirely different in meaning.

  25. If I could chime in real briefly; the problem with theories such as those put forth in the OP is that they start with a particular conclusion (i.e., “the ordinances of the temple that we know (or most of them) must have been, in some form, extant in OT times”) and then comb the available resources to support the claim. If the evidence is somewhat lacking, its lack is explained in terms that can neither be totally proven or disproven (i.e., an oral tradition, bad editing, etc.). The issue, though, is that such a conclusion is really an assumption and entirely shapes the construction of the narrative.

    The assumption could be switched with similar results: The sports we play must have been, in some form, extant in OT times.

    Now we comb through the historical sources available to show vague similarities between football, ice hockey, and ping pong in comparison with the performances of those in the ancient near east. There very well may be some kind of a genealogy here linking one group with the other. However, such a genealogy should be traced rather than assumed; and should, moreover, be sensitive to the differences. It might seem ridiculous to assume that ping pong came from (or through) the near east, but as far as the temple ordinances are concerned, we so desperately want them–at least any important part of them–to have an ancient origin that we willingly connect the dots to make it work.

  26. TT, you seem pretty set on your position. So I am not going to try and share anymore with you on this.

    But since you feel that JFM is not fluent with these languages, it might be of interest for you to know that Stephen Ricks knows over 20 languages including Hebrew and Greek. He co-wrote the book Who Shall Ascend, the one that you claim to have read but is also somehow simultaneously unaware of the word Sode (used multiple times in the book including the definition of the word you were also unaware of.) Might I suggest keeping a slightly more open mind to the idea if in fact you really are wanting to know more on the subject.

  27. TT and SmallAxe,

    I appreciate your warnings that we can’t prove anything this way, but trust me, I for one already knew that and suspect the OPer does too, since I see no where he claims he’s going to prove a specific theory.

    But why should proof matter at this point? Narrative building like this is the basis for hypothesizing, and this is pretty much how hypotheses are made. Plus, narratives like this tends to be interesting in and of themselves.

    Plus, this is religion were talking about. It’s based on faith at the outset and unapologetically so. Building faith-based narratives has it’s own value as well, especially on a site like M* that is specifically meant for the faithful.

    Besides, you have to start somewhere. Are either of you ready to advance your own better theory about the temple ceremonies ancient connections? (Or are you just assuming there is none? I mean that as a serious question. I haven’t read many posts from either of you, so I have no real view of ‘where you are coming from.’)

  28. SmallAxe, I understand your point, but I think you are making a analogy with your sports comparison that is not really valid. The OT and NT both mention temples, as does the BoM. What happened in them? Well, we have some ideas, but we also get hints that things happened in them that are pretty great (Elizabeth’s husband visited by an angel while in the temple, all of the mysteries surrounding Moses, etc). There are also a lot of references to greater, more profound mysteries that are too sacred to be written (several times in the BoM and at the Mount of Transfiguration and with Moses). It is not that great of a stretch to think that some of these mysteries were revealed to the righteous in other times in one way or another.

    It seems like you are taking the opposite approach, which is to do everything you can *not* to see anything unique about the temple experiences in past times.

    A more realistic approach would be to say: there are interesting references to temples in the past, and interested references to mysteries that are kept sacred, but we don’t want to push things too far.

  29. David,

    I love mulling over this topic, and will have to read the post in more detail when I have time.

    I did want to say that I found it interesting that you focus more on later books in the OT. My personal experience in gaining a conviction of the ancient roots and connections in temple worship came when studying more in Exodus than anywhere. But now you make me want to search more later in the OT.

    My study of the Psalms in this light has been limited to Ps. 3 which was thrilling enough to me. You’ve given me more to want to ponder. Thanks.

    my conviction of the connection with the temple and ancient scripture comes first with my own experiences with the Spirit in studying the scriptures. I think it’s harder for people to gain a testimony of the reality of the ancient roots of the temple first through scholarship. And I think at some level it’s hard to be too specific and certain about it all, but I think we can know and feel connections and pieces of the whole coming together through the Spirit as we study different topics.

    I’m no scholar, but having had one of those “pure intelligence” moments that helped me know and feel the connection (and that came while reading earlier in the OT than you focus on), I have since become

  30. Wow, I feel bad that it’s taken me so long to get back to these comments. Now I’m a little late in the debate and not sure where to start. I’ll go back to TT’s first comment — I apologize if I’m beating to death the same points or re-addressing what others have already commented on.

    TT said:
    “I’m not really convinced, however, because I’m not sure how we can establish any genealogical connection.”
    I find this comment somewhat odd. I’m not sure what you mean by that. I certainly wouldn’t expect there to be a direct line of influence. Rather, I think the concept of dispensationalism, as taught by Joseph Smith, is the key factor here. The idea is that these temple ordinances are revealed anew at each dispensation. From this perspective, we can expect to see the same essential doctrines and ordinances in each dispensation, with some differences based on the time, culture, etc., are to be expected as well.

    “What is the basis for comparison that is being used here that is able to identify what is the same and what is different? Are the standards for sameness so low that basically any ritual at all would qualify? And what about all of the things that are different, or not there?”
    Again, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say with your second question here. Not just any ritual would qualify — it would have to be one that appears to be similar! :)
    Basically, if we take at face value the claim by our modern prophets that the same ordinances of salvation have existed from the beginning (a claim which you apparently want to throw out), then we should have some hope that we would be able to find evidence of such. If we find something that is apparently similar, then we should point it out — not that we have absolute certainty that it is exactly the same, but some things are similar enough to be worth mentioning. What about things that are different or not there? Well, this also should be expected. We should not think that we are going to find our temple endowment word-for-word, or the like, but we should hope to find rituals that reflect a similar function and purpose. I think you’re being a little too black-or-white with this, TT. Our temple experience is basically a ritualized heavenly ascent, and we should expect to see evidence for this type of practice in ancient texts — and I believe we do. We should expect to see washings and anointings, clothing and new names — and we do. We should expect to see guardians at veils/gates who need to be satisfied in order to let you pass — and we do. There are too many similarities to dismiss this as coincidence.

    “Baptism for the dead?”
    I know some LDS scholars who have argued that baptisms for the dead were practiced in ancient temples. We do know that rituals for the benefit of the dead were practiced in Egypt and other ancient cultures. In my personal view, I don’t see why we should expect that there were any ordinances done for the dead before the death and resurrection of Christ. In my understanding, vicarious work for the dead wouldn’t have been possible, or at least effective, until Christ had died and opened up the way for spirits to be released from Prison. It is after the Resurrection that we start seeing talk of baptism for the dead (perpetuated by the Marcionites, Copts, etc., as has been mentioned).
    However, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a somewhat parallel idea of vicarious work in the ancient temple. Sacrifice is nothing if not a vicarious act. On the Day of Atonement, for example, the sacrificial animal was killed vicariously,in place of a human victim — ultimately in place of the Son of God. I’m not saying that this is the same concept as the one behind baptism for the dead. In my view, the parallel is that while we perform ordinances vicariously for people who died in the past, in ancient temples, they performed ordinances vicariously pointing towards Christ, who would die in the future.

    “Sealing?”
    I do not have direct evidence for sealings being performed anciently. But saying that this ordinance didn’t exist because there is no record of it is an argument from silence. As I argued in my post, we can’t expect to see everything laid out plainly in the Scriptures. On this topic, however, Margaret Barker (and I know you don’t like her work), who, as you know, is not LDS, discusses the creation as if it were a giant web that connects all creatures. Corruption/sin destroys or “unravels” this great tapestry, breaking our connection with each other and with God. The work of atonement, in her view, is the “binding” of the creation back together to its perfect, primeval state. While she may call it something different, it sounds like a pretty similar idea to “sealing.” Again, I think you are requiring too much here, TT.

    “Totally different conception of priesthood?”
    I can’t do this question justice in my comments here. Simply put, I really don’t think that there was a totally different conception of the priesthood. When we read the biblical text, we are generally reading the words of people who have, in my understanding, rejected the Melchizedek Priesthood and elevated the Aaronic. Psalm 110 is pretty clear in stating that the king in Israel was ordained as a Melchizedek priest. We can see evidence for the King’s priestly role throughout the biblical text. Solomon and other kings offer sacrifice, they appoint priests, they enter the temple — they run the whole national religious show. The Aaronic Priesthood is subordinate to them. Why don’t we get this picture in the overall reading of the Bible? Because when the Bible passed through the hands of the Jewish leaders of the Second Temple period, they emphasized the superiority of the Aaronic Priesthood. What happened to the kings of the line of David and their Melchizedek Priesthood? We don’t know. After Zerubbabel, they seem to disappear. That’s when we see the rise of the Aaronic High Priest in both religious and political power. They took over the role of the kings. Of course this is my own theory and I could go on and on about, but I’ll spare you the details for now. But this is why the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews had to emphasize that Jesus’ Melchizedek Priesthood was superior to the Aaronic Priesthood that ran the show in those days.

    “The idea of an afterlife that is at work in our rituals that is totally absent from those you describe?”
    Again, I believe that this is an argument from silence. I think that there is just a lack of discussion of this aspect in the Bible. We know that other ancient cultures, like the Egyptians and Greeks, were very interested in the afterlife and their temple rituals were very much concerned with this. Why should the Hebrews be any different? I know that you don’t approve of this type of reasoning, but I want you to give me some good reasons why we shouldn’t believe that the ancient Israelites didn’t have some kind of belief in the Afterlife. They certainly seemed to have believed in resurrection from the dead.

    “The participation of women?”
    Again, what evidence do you have that women did not participate in ancient temple practices, if that is what you meant? For example, Psalm 87 seems to be some kind of liturgical hymn, which mentions singers and dancers. How do we know that some of these weren’t women? Even better is Psalm 68:24-25 that talks of a sacred procession into the sanctuary that included damsels/maidens. Just because the priesthood was composed of men doesn’t mean that women couldn’t participate.

    “If we want to do these kinds of comparisons, what responsibility do we have to accounting for the differences?”
    Well, we should certainly be aware of the differences as well. I don’t think I’ve ever claimed that the ancient temple was exactly the same as our modern temples — I’m just saying that there are more similarities than may be immediately apparent. Again, I am just saying that we should expect that many of the essential ordinances should be perceptible in the ancient texts. There are many factors that would make the actual practice of those rituals in ancient times different than today. Furthermore, we should especially expect any references to them in written texts to contain differences or be lacking in specific details.

    “Also, why do you think that the last 60 years of scholars have for the most part rejected the Myth and Ritual school ideas which this approach seeks to revive?”
    Good question. I attempted to answer this question to some degree in a paper I recently gave at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting this past November. First of all, I think you can have a perfectly decent understanding of the New Year Festival without going to the Myth and Ritual sources. Mowinckel’s reconstruction of the festival was independent of their research, and he disagreed with them on many points through the years. Second, while there methods were sometimes questionable, I think their instincts were correct. Their conclusions weren’t solely based on cross-cultural comparisons, but drew substantially on evidence from the Scriptures and Jewish tradition. As I said in my paper, I think one of the factors that makes it easy to dismiss “myth and ritual” type constructions is the following:

    “Another factor … is what seems to me to be a reluctance on the part of many modern scholars to read the Psalms in a cultic setting. There is a tendency among many, notably those who favor a post-modern or heavily historical-critical approach, to neglect the ritual world that must have served as background to the composition and use of these psalms, preferring to see them as personal expressions of piety, lamentation, and so on.”

    While we should certainly use care in analyzing, and more so in comparing, ancient cultures, I think we risk missing the “big picture” when we are too afraid of an academic faux pas to make some logical connections. In rejecting all of the conclusions of the Myth and Ritual-type thinking altogether, because their methods were sometimes faulty and some of their findings exaggerated, I really do think we’re throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. And I think too much reluctance to seek and recognize evidence of the truth claims of modern revelation doesn’t do anyone any good. As William James once said: “there are two kinds of scholarly temperaments: those that dread above all the risk of possibly mistaking falsehoods for truths, and those that fear even more the risk of missing potentially valuable truths.” I would put myself in the latter category.

  31. Nice comments David.

    I would also note a key difference between the Jerusalem temple/tabernacle and today’s temples that can at least partially explain the differences: only the high priest could enter into the ancient Holy of Holies, while everyone else was limited to the outer or inner courts (depending on priesthood status). Today’s temples separate the Holy of Holies from the Celestial Room, but all endowed may enter within the CR. Still, we see limited temple access for those with the Aaronic Priesthood (youth, for example, doing baptisms).

    The key point to modern and ancient temples, including the many non-Jewish temples, is to bring people back into the presence of God. This, in fact, was Moses’ main goal at Sinai (D&C 84:19-27). Because the keys to the MP are different than the keys to the AP, there are going to be variations and differences.

    But in many ancient texts, we can see concepts of the modern temple. In Adam and Eve Against Satan we see Adam begging for a boon from the Garden, so God sends three arch-angels to retrieve three tokens of the Garden. In this case, it is gold, frankincense and myrrh, symbols of the future King of Israel. And in the Apocalypse of Paul, we see him ascending through the levels of heaven with the Holy Ghost (as a small child) as his guide. They arrive before a sentinel on a throne, who questions Paul, and Paul is told to give the sentinel the token he has. Upon giving it, he is allowed to pass to the next level of heaven.

    That Lehi’s vision in 1 Nephi 1, has many similarities to John’s Revelation, the Ascension of Isaiah, and Ezekiel, is not IMHO a coincidence. Each sees the throne of God, is given a book to read/digest, and in Lehi and Isaiah’s visions they see Christ descend. Nephi sees many similar things in the Vision of the Tree of Life.

    Isaiah 6 and Abraham 3 show the two prophets at the premortal Grand Council, with Isaiah standing in as Christ as the one who answers God’s question, "Whom shall I send?"

    I don’t think any of us is going to pretend that the ancient temple liturgy included Peter, James and John; or included Christian ministers (as in the pre-1990 endowment). But all have the focus of taking us back to the premortal existence, the concept of the Fall, vicarious works as a symbol of Christ, and an ascension to the throne of God.

  32. Are either of you ready to advance your own better theory about the temple ceremonies ancient connections? (Or are you just assuming there is none? I mean that as a serious question. I haven’t read many posts from either of you, so I have no real view of ‘where you are coming from.’)

    One related post is this: http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/05/symptoms-of-parallel-o-mania/ . A better theory would avoid the problems mentioned in the post.

    In developing a better theory I would say that a primary point of importance is motivation–why do we want to study the ancient world? If the answer is to reaffirm our own truth claims, then I suspect that we will almost always engage in a poor analysis of the material. On the other hand, if our motivation is to accurately reconstruct an understanding of the past, we will manipulate the material much less (I say “much less” because motivations toward accuracy are never that simple). In being sensitive to the historical context we are at least more prepared to identify similarities and differences. In tracing the historical development of the temple we may be able to create a kind of genealogy or reception history of similar ideas and practices. We should also treat differences as important as similarities; and theologically speaking, we should be open to the possibility that the differences we notice may enrich our performance of rituals. We should also (perhaps summarizing my point here) not assume that our notion of “temple” equals their notion of “temple”. We might begin with noticing our temptation to equate the two, but we should then fully pursue the differences within the apparent similarities and the similarities in the apparent differences.

  33. In response to comment #9 from James Newmark:

    “David, with your review or summation of the Who Shall Ascend, do you feel that the evidence is a stretch because of what you say in the text alone, or were to pull from the original sources? In another sense, did you go to the original sources from the book and are further substantiated in your position?”

    Well, I’m comparing what I have personally studied of the original texts and scholars’ theories with what they have come up with. The main problem that I have is that they describe details that I don’t see in the source texts. They put several parts of the festival proceedings in the pre-mortal realm that I can’t, at the moment, see as justifiable. Furthermore, their analysis, for example, of the royal marriage seems too speculative, providing details such as the men and women being separated on two sides of a room, etc., that I don’t see in the text. I don’t have the book with me at the moment and haven’t read it for a while, so I can’t comment in greater detail. I just think they were very speculative with some of their details and I think went a bit too far in trying to make it as much like the modern temple ordinances as possible. Having said this, I admire their efforts and, as I said, I think the book is definitely worth a look.

  34. SmallAxe said: “In tracing the historical development of the temple we may be able to create a kind of genealogy or reception history of similar ideas and practices”

    I agree this is the ultimate test. Until we have that, our ‘hypotheses’ are really just guesses. *At most*, they suggest plausability.

    But I feel like you are missing the big picture. Finding a genealogy means we *actually have a candidate* to try to trace. How did we find that candidate in the first place? You’d pretty much have to find it by first coming up with a series of parallels worth pursuing.

    The problem is that I see Dave as finding the initial candidate and you are already complaining that he has no genealogy.

    It is hard to believe your objection isn’t informed by your own beliefs and biases, to be honest. (Not that I know what those are. I just mean that when someone is this adamant right out of the gate, you know *something* is up, even if you don’t know what.)

    I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt here that what you are really reacting to is past poor apologetics where someone finds a candidate then declares victory. But do you see David doing that? I don’t. In fact, he freely points out the problems with other analyses in the past.

  35. I’m going to respond more fully if I get some more time later today, but I want to address a few things.
    1. Do I, or smallaxe, have closed minds and are “adamant” out of the gate? The fact is that we have been having this methodological discussion with David Larsen for years, and with Bryce Hammond years before that. In fact, come think of it, I’ve been thinking critically about this issue for almost 10 years, and even once published a small piece on it. There are probably over 30 posts on FPR that deal with the methodological problems that we see with a certain branch of LDS apologetics, including the movement to see temple parallels. We’ve offered responses to Margaret Barker’s work, Daniel Peterson’s, and comment generally on this movement. That said, I am certainly open to being persuaded. I don’t have any axe to grind or anything, I just think it is poor scholarship that causes us to miss a lot of important stuff about both ancient and modern temples. We are willing to debate these issues, to look at texts closely together, to admit when we are wrong, etc. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in our willingness to have an honest, sincere conversation and evaluation of claims.

    2. I’d say that in general, the issue that is probably the most pressing is a theoretical/methodological question about “comparison.” What does it mean to say that “something is familiar”? Are there any rules that govern that connection between one thing and another? How are differences accounted for in determining something is “familiar”? The question of Masonic rites has been raised, and has been deemed to be “not similar enough.” Fair enough, but what are the rules that govern that determination? In another example, what about sports? There are rituals, ascensions, special robes, festivals, etc, etc?
    In making these comparisons, does it make a difference that Egyptians from 3000 BCE were doing something, and Israelites from 250 BCE were doing something else? Are there any limits on what historical connections can be drawn?
    I reflected a bit on the need for greater theorizing on the issue of comparison here:
    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/04/the-magical-connection-between-mormonism-and-early-christianity/

  36. @TT, I think we have to take each instance on its own consideration. Not everything we look at is going to fit. Many things may not fit, and especially when we move away from the Jewish/Christian realm to Egyptian or other areas, we probably will see less and less.

    I think we would fall into parallelomania if we try to force everything to match. But there are certain key events that seem to pop up frequently that do tie in. I think those are the things David is focusing upon: especially modern and ancient ascension rites.

    Perhaps a big reason why this is important, is that such rites are rare in modern Christianity. Most traditional Christians do not understand or recognize the patterns found in Psalms, Isaiah 6, Ezekiel, etc. It is more likely that they connect Ezekiel with Erich Von Daniken’s Chariot of the Gods than with temple ascension rites (I know I did before joining the Church).

    That we do not find direct ties for everything in our current temple (baptism for the dead, women initiates, etc) is not too concerning for me. Religion evolves, and we even see evolution of religion within the Bible itself, such as moving from the Noachic Law to the Mosaic Law to the Christian Law. Yet, even in this we can possibly find a symbolic connection with the modern temple (moving from the fall represented at the Flood to the Terrestrial law of Moses, and back to the celestial Law of Christ).

    Whether such connections are intentional or not, they can still be valid in this situation. Why? Because symbolism has long been a Biblical tradition. Mishnah and pesher (including those in the Dead Sea Scrolls) explain Biblical prophesy in light of current events. So the Pesher/Commentary on Habakkuk could see the Romans as the Kittim of their day, regardless of whether Habakkuk initially meant it that way or not.

    That the modern temple’s goal is to bring people into God’s presence and make them as He is relates well with ancient texts, both Biblical and non-Biblical. The main issue I think is to determine HOW they relate in conjunction one with another. That we are also discussing various groups with different views and levels of understanding must also be taken into account. For example, that the First Temple (pre-Josian reforms) was different than the later Temple, must be taken into account. That Gnostic Christians viewed spiritual ascent different than the proto-orthodox Christians also validates this.

    Not everything is going to flow equally. Different cultures with different levels of heavenly understanding are going to create differences. I think what we are looking for, at least at this time, is the low hanging fruit. The key components that are held in common.

  37. I started composing this a few hours ago, and only got back to it now, so there may be several relevant comments in between.

    Bruce, I readily admit that David is offering a more nuanced view than many other apologetic attempts, and I appreciate that; especially his last comment. The problem I have though is with his thesis: “[T]he ordinances of the temple that we know (or most of them) must have been, in some form, extant in OT times.” This relates to TT’s series of questions: Which ordinances? Why “must” they have been extant? What does it mean to have been extant “in some form”? How much form must be similar in order to say that they and us practiced the same ritual?

    A more fitting claim in line with my theory asserted above would read: “Some communities in the ancient near east believed that all beings are interconnected–like a tapestry. We also believe in the interconnection of human beings by means of sealings.” We would then reconstruct this notion of interconnectedness in the ANE independent of our notion of sealing–only building on the evidence available and willing to accept that in the end the two beliefs/practices may not be related.

    I should also note that your notion of “having a candidate” is problematic. You already presume some kind of connection; a “must” in David’s sense. My suggestion is to take the notion of X in the OT, contextualize it in its historical setting, trace its development through time, and then compare with our notion of X’. We may find striking similarities, but the differences are equally valuable; and we should remain open to the possibility that X and X’ are in fact two different things.

  38. Thanks, Rameumpton, for your helpful comments (#10) I’ll try to respond to some of TT’s counter-arguments.

    TT said:
    “The OT contains numerous accounts, some connected to the temple, and some not, of ascension. So, why do we say that they are all species of the same temple genus, and not that the temple(s) are species of the same hierophany genus? Or is there even a genus at all? Aren’t these practices all different not only in how they are practiced, but what they meant in the particular period in which they were produced? What is lost in our attempt to homogenize these practices as all sharing some fundamental, core idea?”

    I think, perhaps, you make too much of the fact that some of us have been labeling these rituals/experiences as part of a “temple genus.” What I would say is that these rituals, visions, etc., share themes with the temple. I don’t have a problem saying that temple rituals are part of a “hierophany genus.” As I inferred before, I see the temple as a concrete, “institutionalized” version of the ascent to heaven experience. And while I do recognize that there are differences in the ascent narratives and differences in ritual practices, I see the overall purpose and function as being pretty consistent.

    Stepping back a bit, I’d like to say more about the temple as a ritualized heavenly ascent. You talk of the differences in these types of visions, and you’re right — but I think that there is enough of a pattern to argue that they are generally related. We have these traditions where the prophet/visionary ascends to a high place (whether it is a hill, mountain, or heaven itself) and has a vision of God (most often on his throne surrounded by angels). Moses’ ascent to the top of Sinai to talk with God is one of the most obvious examples. Then Moses is commanded to build the Tabernacle, and I think that it’s reasonable to argue that the Tabernacle was a physical reconstruction of Moses’ ascent experience. Likewise, the later Temple followed the same pattern. The ascent into the temple to the Holy of Holies was supposed to represent an ascent up to God’s throne on top of the Holy Mountain. With this in mind, I don’t think it matters much if we call these experiences theophanies, ascent visions, or what — and I think that associating them with the temple is appropriate too. The temple ritualizes the ascent experience, and I think that later texts may also produce narratives that are based on (sometimes dim) recollections of temple ritual.

    Are there differences in the accounts of these practices? Yes, but, again, I think that is to be expected. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t generally based on a core theme.

  39. “and we should remain open to the possibility that X and X’ are in fact two different things.”

    I feel like this is the big hang up.

    I’m willing to give David a chance on this. Finding parallels is not a denial that X and X are in fact two different things in some ways. Some thing can be simulateously the same and different. They can be both connected (in some ways) and unconnected (in other ways.)

    Sometimes it just boils down to a difference in tone.

    By the way, do you consider ancient atomism and modern atomic theory to be X and X that are the same or different?

    To me, that last question seems rather meaningless. To even ask the question seems like you’ve already missed the point.

    If I understand David’s approach, it seems like it would be a pretty viable way to look at the two atomic theories and compare them as a good starting out point.

    To follow our discussion through, ancient and modern atomism are in face genealogically connected. But what if we didn’t know that? What if the records proving that were ‘lost forever.’

    It seems that the approach you are suggesting would shut down a whole legtimate possible area of research. It would be nearly impossible to connected the two atomisms together definitively, yet they would in fact be directly connected.

    That is why I agree that genalogy is the ultimate test. But I can’t buy that there is something fundamentally wrong with doing this sort of research as long as you are not making wild claims based on it.

  40. Thank you David for taking the time to share such an enlightening post! You have greatly added to what I already knew to be true, that the Temple ordinances, in one form or another, have been with humankind since the beginning.

  41. i like a parallel as much as anyone, and many of these are titilating to be sure.

    one thought: the time period between antiquity and today might be worth a look. for instance, horn tooting and all, here i am doing armchair hackjob modern/mormon history/studies or whatever as it relates to baptism for the dead:

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2009/12/baptism-for-the-dead-and-william-hone%e2%80%99s-apocryphal-new-testament/

    and one question: why is it not enough that joseph smith taught and practiced the awesome stuff that he did? does it lose all it’s awesomeness without the legend? or might it actually seem even awesomer when placed in the historical context of his day and the reception of the ancient, allowing for some insight into his creativity and boldness as a human thinker?

    ok, so that was more than one.

  42. TT,

    First, I can appreciate that you have actually made some attempts to give your own theory on this subject and how it should be approached. (And following with our previous conversation, this is how one avoids ‘rejectionism’ or in other words becoming enamoured only with explanation spoilers.)

    “The question of Masonic rites has been raised, and has been deemed to be “not similar enough.” Fair enough, but what are the rules that govern that determination?”

    I certainly didn’t say this. I have long felt that there is a strong connection between Masonry and the Temple. I am merely not sure how to assess that. Your article gives some good suggestions worthy of consideration. I.e. part of a genre.

    Interestly, it seems this is David’s argument too in post #42. I am not sure there is that much difference between your two approaches save that you are looking for more modern connections and he for more ancient ones. It seems to me that both are worthy places to look — and if we are starting with a belief in God I’d personally expect to find both types of connections. (I’d actually expect to find more modern ones, if only because of better record keeping.)

    Also, you insist you have no ‘ax to grind.’ When said that way, I could accept the statement. But what I am really talking about is ‘bias.’ You have a worldview and you are human, so you do many things to force fit the world into that view. Those that deny they do this merely haven’t matured enough rationally to be aware of it yet. (Not saying this is you. I suspect you’ll agree with me on this.)

    Is this the same as ‘having an ax to grind’? I don’t think so. But some would say yes. But in that sense, we all have an ax to grind and the best thing we can do for ourselves is come to admit to ourselves what ours is.

    On the other hand, you point out that you have an on going debate here that I was not aware of. So it’s only natural that your adamant response would come across as stranger to me than it really is. (Me not being aware of the history.)

    I look forward to your participation on this. But for a newcomer to the ‘debate’ like myself, I hope you can see why I can agree with both you and Dave and not really (yet) see that much that isn’t compatible.

  43. David,
    I think that modern skepticism regarding Bro. Nibley, Sis. Barker, and parallelomania stems from the 1970’s reaction against the work of Albright and Mowinckel, who created a lot of extrapolations that didn’t later seem justified. It is hard, for instance, to argue that Alt or Thompson goes too far in how they interpret the Bible and Biblical history when you are willing to go to similar lengths in your own interpretation. Even if you have some notion of original unity and dissemination of ideas through cultures and peoples over time, the idea itself isn’t able to be falsified (short of time travel). That doesn’t make it wrong, but it lifts it from the realm of academic inquiry and into the realm of faith claims and mythology. We should be clear regarding the short of history we are engaged in.

  44. @ “That is why I agree that genalogy is the ultimate test.”

    Faith is the ultimate test. Genealogy would be the proof. Because of all the translations given of the Old and New Testaments it is easy to say that the “proof” of the text cannot be found within the text itself. Perhaps the desire to see things connect is based on the concept that all truth is part of one whole gospel block. Perhaps this is why some choose to not believe something until it has its place or proof that fits into the whole. I like this quote from Howard W. Hunter:

    “When we encounter apparent conflict in our studies and scholarly work, it is because we see only a part of this great whole. Our understanding of the truth we seek may be partial or limited. We may hold an opinion or an idea about the world or human nature that is not entirely true. When we encounter situations of seeming conflict, we should not feel angry or discouraged, but rather we should confront the matter with great optimism and hope. For we know that this apparent conflict is only a prelude to a new understanding . . .

    The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 183

    I approach the idea that temple worship and temple concepts are taught in more places than the temple, and more times than the present. In fact, we have reason to believe, based on Lectures on Faith and other teachings, that the principles taught in temple drama and ritual have been taught since the Garden of Eden wether in a formal temple or in a place God had prepared the teaching to take place. While we might not have all the substantiation or validation that such a connection exists, but that does not mean that it does not exist or is connected. I believe they are connected when the rites are practiced under the proper authority and are recorded or translated in accordance with the Spirit and order of God. Some of the confusion might lie in the fact that we have to sift through information we might not ever be able to authenticate with secular methods and tests.

  45. Unfortunately, I am not making much headway by starting at the first and trying to work my way back through all of the comments. Please believe me that I think they are all worthy of a response and I appreciate everyone’s participation in this discussion — I’m just taking too long with each comment to be able to answer them all.

    I think what it boils down to, for me, is the claim by Joseph Smith, which TT and SmallAxe seem to be ignoring or dismissing, that the Priesthood and the ordinances were instituted before the foundation of the world and have been given to mankind in each dispensation (not a direct quote). This is why, SmallAxe, these ordinances “must” have been extant in ancient times (besides, that was not my theory, as you wrongly stated, but a quote from BYU Professor Richard Cowan).

    Now if you want argue against Joseph Smith’s declaration — if you want to say that he was flat out wrong, then that’s your prerogative. I wouldn’t report you to your bishops, even if I did know your real names. ;) However, I firmly believe that what the Prophet was saying is true. So I think it’s reasonable practice to, when you have statement or claim that you want to investigate, begin looking for evidence. Can we really find evidence for the essential ordinances of salvation that we’re familiar with in ancient sources? In my view, there is some surprisingly good evidence that similar ordinances did exist.

    Now, back to methodology. I recognize that it would be helpful to have some kind of standard or typology for making these comparisons. However, I have not specifically worked one up. If you would like to do so, I would be happy to help you test it. I am merely pointing out rituals that others have illuminated or reconstructed, or that I have seen in the original texts, and suggested that they seem very familiar to those who participate in modern temple practices. Moreover, these rituals have been placed together into a “coherent whole” not by myself, but by non-LDS scholars who would not have the same “agenda” that I do — that would not have the same assumptions or framework in mind when they attempted their reconstructions. But it just so happens that, to me, their reconstructions seem strangely similar to what we are familiar with today. I don’t think I am trying to force any pre-conceived results here too strongly.

    So, again, why do we try to compare Mormon practices with ancient ones? Why can’t we just be content to view Joseph and his religion as a fantastic modern religious phenomenon? Because that is not what he claimed he was all about. The specific claim is that Mormonism is a restoration of ancient beliefs and practices. Aren’t you even a little curious to investigate whether this is true or not? Or do you start with the assumption that it is not true and work your hardest to tear down anyone who suspects it might be?

  46. “Now if you want argue against Joseph Smith’s declaration — if you want to say that he was flat out wrong, then that’s your prerogative.”

    I agree with David on this. An argument of ‘here, let’s look modern instead’ doesn’t seem to make sense on it’s own unless taken within a context of ‘it can’t be ancient.’ (Which would probably imply, ‘Joseph Smith was wrong about that.’)

    A sage warning of parallelmania makes good sense. Hostility to seeking for ancient connections does not in light of a faithful worldview. (Which is assumed here.)

    I think I sensed ‘hostility’ before because I didn’t know about past discussions. But I admit that I feel David’s approach is justified based on a faithful worldview. It probably doesn’t make sense outside that worldview, at least not as scholarship.

    “That doesn’t make it wrong, but it lifts it from the realm of academic inquiry and into the realm of faith claims and mythology”

    Sometimes there is much more in common between those than we give credit. We want to split religion and myth and academics wide apart in ways that are historically not correct and simply impossible in real life.

    I think, for example, that all historical interpretations tend to be claims of mythology in large measure. We reinterpret the past to match our current world views.

    I remember listening to Jennifer Burns excellent history of the USA and couldn’t help but notice that she interprets all of it through the lens of racial and class struggles for equality. I do not deny that is part of out history, but it certainly isn’t the main theme (as if history had a theme.) Yet how would you ever do history at all if you aren’t first starting with a ‘problem’ of interest to a modern audience and then use that as your basis for research?

    I assert that Jennifer Burns is both a good scholar and a good myth builder. I assert that you can’t be a good scholar without being a good myth builder. (Though you can be a good myth builder without being a good scholar.)

    That doesn’t mean I don’t think there is a difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ scholarship. And it doesn’t mean you can’t have religion building that has no real connection to scholarship at all.

    But I guess I see it this way: either Joseph Smith was correct that there is an ancient connection between the temple and older ordinances, or he was wrong.

    If correct, then what David is doing is legitimate both as myth building and scholarship. If not, then it’s just myth building. But true ‘myth building’ is always based on the assumption of truth, isn’t it? So David is still approaching it the right (and only) way it could have been approach.

    Either way, ‘hostility’ to the approach can’t be justified except from a point of view where you wish to see a different myth built. (Not that you were being hostile. I just mean in general.)

  47. David,
    Do you happen to have that direct quote? Because I’m really interested in what Joseph Smith said on the matter (since that is the determinant of faithfulness in scholarship, apparently and that appears to be what this thread has become about).

    I don’t mind saying that Joseph Smith said that the priesthood and its ordinances appeared in several dispensations over time. I’m skeptical that we have a good idea of what that means. Certainly, the priesthood operated differently in different eras and dispensations (it certainly did during the OT and NT periods). So what such a statement would mean is up for grabs. In other words, I think that more than one kind of Mormon dispensationalism is available for faithful scholars to pursue.

  48. “So what such a statement would mean is up for grabs. In other words, I think that more than one kind of Mormon dispensationalism is available for faithful scholars to pursue.”

    This I can agree with.

    John says this is about faithfulness. I totally disagree. This is about articulating a position. (Which may or may not be informed by faithfulness.)

    David is saying ‘based on my reading of Joseph Smith, and given that I believe he is a prophet, I expect to find similarities to ancient rites.’

    This is a clearly articulated position and one that can now, in some measure, be tested.

    Those that are disagreeing with that position don’t seem to be articulating a position quite so clearly.

    For example, I enjoyed TT’s post about the temple. I have nothing to disagree with it over. But I would still be hard pressed to say what TT’s position really is. Merely saying that the temple has a modern context isn’t the same as saying it has no ancient context.

    If one is *only* arguing that it happens to be productive to look at the temple’s modern context, how does that eliminate possible value of looking at an ancient context?

    If one is *only* arguing that establishing that the temple has an ancient context will prove difficult, then there should be no objection. Only a warning of the difficulty of the endeavor. But was that ever in doubt?

    If one is arguing that establishing that the temple has an ancient context is impossible, I’d expect a stronger argument than has been articulated. Why is it *impossible.*?

    If one is arguing that it *does not* have an ancient context, then I’d expect an argument as to why that is the person’s position.

    Right now, I see a lot of objections, but not a lot of counter theories being offered, at least not fully articulated counter theories on par with what David is offering.

    No, I do not believe finding parallel’s proves anything by itself – at all. But that does not somehow eliminate the value of this sort of research from someone self motivated to do it.

  49. “based on my reading of Joseph Smith, and given that I believe he is a prophet, I expect to find similarities to ancient rites.”

    How is adherence to that particular set of conditions not a righteousness test?

    I think that the ancient temple can offer interesting parallels. I believe that our ability to distinguish genuine parallels from occasional coincidences is faulty. I think that if you scour all of human experience, you are bound to find loads of coincidences. I think that unless you are really willing accept that these could just be coincidences, prophetic statement or no, then you are engaging in searching for pre-determined results.

    I never said that this wasn’t valuable; I questioned whether it is truly academic (that is to say, whether it is falsifiable).

  50. John C,

    I confess, I agree with you that scouring history and seeking parallels is a non-falsifiable process. I put very little stock in Hugh Nibley’s initial findings because of that, but the same is to be said of “Mormon Parallel” (which is just parallelmania trying to match Mormon scripture to the 19th century.) But I don’t agree that makes Hugh Nibley’s work not scholarship. I don’t even agree it makes “Mormon Parallel” not scholarship.

    I even, several comments back, admitted I believed in the strong possiblity that much (of the Mormon Temple is rooted in the modern. I see nothing ‘unfaithful’ about this position since, er, I admitted I hold it.

    That being said, I simply do not see how David’s position is somehow a ‘righteousness test.’ (And let’s be clear, you actually responded to my take on David’s position, not David’s position.) I simply do not see where you are coming from on this.

    Surely you are aware that members of the Church do generally believe that large parts of the temple ceremony have ancient origins, even if they aren’t fast to articulate what parts or how many. Having someone want to research possible connections makes sense to me and I just can’t agree that someone happening to hold this view is putting yours or anyone’s righteousness to a test. That’s a massive stretch.

    Also, I think falsifiability is over rated. But I admit it’s important. I would never come to accept a study as anything but exploratory without having passed some falsifiable tests.

  51. I apologize, I was thinking that David wanted TT and smallaxe to define where they stood regarding their position on as-yet unknown statements of Joseph Smith and that he stated his position on said statements as THE position of a believer. If I misread his position, I am a big dummyhead, but it wouldn’t be the first time.

    Regarding David’s work, there is nothing wrong with it, per se, except that if something isn’t falsifiable, then it can’t be proven true either. So David could be chasing a white rabbit down a hole for all he or I or anyone knows. Consider, for instance, all the time and effort that went into justifying the priesthood ban back in the day. I imagine some folks would like their time and effort back now.

    That said, I don’t see anything wrong with the project so long as it is appropriately qualified as not constituting and never going to be constituting definitive proof.

  52. All,

    A few points. This can easily get too long, so I’m going to characterize some of the main arguments that I see at play. If you feel I’ve misrepesented, go ahead and correct me.

    1. <i>Can’t we just all relax and say that this is just innocent "hypothesizing" (31) or an engagement in symbolic readings of scripture like midrash (not Mishnah) and pesher (39)?</i>

    This is basically asking, why does history matter? I guess that it doesn’t matter to some people, but if you want to make historical claims, then it should matter to you.

    Ultimately, I think that David’s review of _Who Shall Ascend_ is spot on:
    "The main problem that I have is that they describe details that I don’t see in the source texts. They put several parts of the festival proceedings in the pre-mortal realm that I can’t, at the moment, see as justifiable." (35)

    This is exactly my problem with David’s work here. (Note that no one has suggested that he does not believe in JS because he thinks Ricks’ scholarship is faulty.)

    If we wanted to adopt a particular hermeneutical approach that was something like midrash, I’m fine with that. But I think in the age of critical biblical studies, we need to do so self-consciously and in an informed way. I think that that means that we have to take seriously the reasons why these methods have been abandoned as means to getting at what scripture is saying. Honestly, I am arguing, and I think others are too, that we CAN make connections between what we do and ancient religioius practices, if done under certain conditions, with the proper caveats. Those caveats include making historical claims that are not verifiable, and focusing on the differences as relevant, not to be brushed aside. For me, this would look something like this: http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/04/the-magical-connection-between-mormonism-and-early-christianity/

    <i>2. Ancient people (mostly Jews) have temples, rituals, ascension, etc. I mean, there is obviously some connection and similarity, right? </i>

    When Ram 34 says: "The key point to modern and ancient temples, including the many non-Jewish temples, is to bring people back into the presence of God," and then cites the D&amp;C as proof, it lacks credibility. It assumes the afterlife is operative, which it wasn’t, in ancient Israel (1st temple). It says nothing about satisfying God, or worship, or providing a house. Basically, it assumes the temple is about humans, when ancient Israelites would have said the exact opposite! The temple is for God, not us. Let’s demonstrate that this the purpose of the ancient Jerusalem temple from the text.

    David 33: "Our temple experience is basically a ritualized heavenly ascent, and we should expect to see evidence for this type of practice in ancient texts — and I believe we do. We should expect to see washings and anointings, clothing and new names — and we do. We should expect to see guardians at veils/gates who need to be satisfied in order to let you pass — and we do. There are too many similarities to dismiss this as coincidence."

    And Ram 34: "But all have the focus of taking us back to the premortal existence, the concept of the Fall, vicarious works as a symbol of Christ, and an ascension to the throne of God."

    So, if these are the essential elements of ancient temples (W&amp;A, clothing new names, guardians, premortal existence, Fall, vicarious work [as a symbol for Christ!], and ascension], can you provide a single text that has all of these elements in it? If not, what does that mean to your theory? Furthermore, this doesn’t really tell us about how these things meant differently. What if the passing of guardians in ancient texts is about tricking evil subdeities, rather than demonstrating a knowledge of the covenant? Or what if the "Fall" in these texts is about the demonic forces creating matter? Shouldn’t we consider how the meaning is different in our supposed parallels?

    Geoff’s comment here is indicative: "A more realistic approach would be to say: there are interesting references to temples in the past, and interested references to mysteries that are kept sacred, but we don’t want to push things too far." (32)

    I suppose that is exactly what we are saying. I think the issue is what is "too far." I’ve been accused of having a standard of proof that is too high. If what is meant by that is that I have a standard of proof at all, then I suppose that I am guilty. I don’t think it is too much to ask that if you are going to assert that prophetic call narratives are evidence of 1) rituals 2) having to do with the temple that there be some evidence in the text for either of those two claims. Then, to ask that we consider how the prophetic call narrative is similar to our own temple rituals, but not with respect to 1) covenants, 2) ritual, 3) signs and tokens, 4) the role of gender, 5) creation, 6) concern for afterlife, 7) robes, etc, etc, etc. Further, I don’t that that we can say that ancient text A from time X has 1 and 7, ancient text B from time Y has 4 and 5, ancient text C from time Z has 3 and 6 prove something. Instead, we need to take each separately, in their own context. And what about the really critical things in our own temple that are ignored by shoehorning into the ancient parallels? What are some of the real differences worth considering? Afterlife. Sacrifices. Notions of ritual cleanness. Gender as a part of the story. Covenants. Priesthood. Or what about things that took place in the ancient temple that have no parallel to ours? Divination. The idea that there can be more than one temple, not just in Jerusalem. Lack of similar concepts of ritualized time. The fact that the most important stuff took place outside the ancient temple, which is how it was experienced by all but a few. How access to the temple was limited. What kinds of rituals are connected to temples and what aren’t. This stuff is key to better understanding not just ancient temples, but also our own. By focusing on differences, we can see what is distinctive and precious about how we do the temple.

    David 33: "saying that this ordinance didn’t exist because there is no record of it is an argument from silence."

    No, saying that an ordinance DID exist even though there is no evidence is an argument from silence. Concluding that there is no ordinance because there is no evidence for it is a logical inference. For instance, if I said that it is possible that aliens taught the Egyptians, and we just don’t have the texts to confirm it, that is an argument from silence. If I say that the ancient texts we have that indicate the sources of Egyptian knowledge don’t mention aliens, therefor aliens did not teach the Egyptians, I have made a logical inference.

    What is really at stake in the issue of comparison? Why do we think it wrong to make weak or tenuous comparisons? Basically, because we think it is a distortion of the evidence. I don’t have the time, but I’d love to get into the example David gives about the Tabernacle as a ritualization of Moses’ ascension. I’d love to show the thing that this theory doesn’t take into account, or how it is a late theory rooted in its own philosohpical and political situation. Perhaps we could expand on this as the test case for why a symbolic, structuralist approach like the one David is advancing ultimately fails, and misses a lot of what a more historicist account can provide (for instance, David completely ignores a political and economic function of the ancient temple by seeing it solely as a symbolic ascent). For a good example of how I think that these approaches distort evidence, see http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/09/apostasy-watch-the-temple-in-san-apollinare-nuovo-nuovo/

    <i>3. Joseph Smith taught this, and therefor if you disagree with him you are wrong. This is the only faithful perspective. </i>

    I agree with John C. that we should be evaluating the specific quote rather than any recollection or reformulation of it.

    But ultimately, I don’t think we are required by JS to believe anything that isn’t true, especially when it comes to historical claim that are falsifiable. Nor do I think we are required to accept "at face value" everything a prophet taught, whether it is regards Adam-God, the curse of Cain, the BoM as taking place on the full scale of the American continents, or any number of things which you know as well as I that previous prophets, including JS, have taught that we no longer believe. If this is both the starting point, and the ultimate authority in determining the validity of the position you hold, I’m afraid that you are in a very weak position.

    David 33: When we read the biblical text, we are generally reading the words of people who have, in my understanding, rejected the Melchizedek Priesthood and elevated the Aaronic. Psalm 110 is pretty clear in stating that the king in Israel was ordained as a Melchizedek priest. We can see evidence for the King’s priestly role throughout the biblical text. Solomon and other kings offer sacrifice, they appoint priests, they enter the temple — they run the whole national religious show. The Aaronic Priesthood is subordinate to them. Why don’t we get this picture in the overall reading of the Bible? Because when the Bible passed through the hands of the Jewish leaders of the Second Temple period, they emphasized the superiority of the Aaronic Priesthood. What happened to the kings of the line of David and their Melchizedek Priesthood? We don’t know. After Zerubbabel, they seem to disappear. That’s when we see the rise of the Aaronic High Priest in both religious and political power. They took over the role of the kings. Of course this is my own theory and I could go on and on about, but I’ll spare you the details for now. But this is why the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews had to emphasize that Jesus’ Melchizedek Priesthood was superior to the Aaronic Priesthood that ran the show in those days.

    David 33: "Psalm 68:24–25 that talks of a sacred procession into the sanctuary that included damsels/maidens. Just because the priesthood was composed of men doesn’t mean that women couldn’t participate."

    First, I’m sure you know that non-priests, let alone women were explicitly excluded from the sanctuary, so I won’t bother getting the numerous references. This text says that the dancers and musicians processed "amidst the maidens playing timbrels." This doesn’t in any way say that the maidens entered, only that the procession passed through them on the way into the sanctuary. Further, I mean honestly, can we get more of a stretch to our current practices? We don’t process with music and dancing.

    David 33: "I am just saying that we should expect that many of the essential ordinances should be perceptible in the ancient texts. There are many factors that would make the actual practice of those rituals in ancient times different than today. Furthermore, we should especially expect any references to them in written texts to contain differences or be lacking in specific details."

    My problem is precisely with the way that you dismiss differences here. You don’t take them seriously at all. You assume that there is an underlying "essence" between them, so that differences are not relevant. Or, the differences are because the written text can’t actually describe it. What if you were to take the differences seriously? You can’t because you a priori committment is that the differences aren’t important, and no evidence can persuade you otherwise because it is a committment that has insulated itself from the requirement of evidence. This is bad scholarship, bad apologetics, and ultimately bad for Mormonism. It makes us look stupid.

    David 33: "a reluctance on the part of many modern scholars to read the Psalms in a cultic setting…those who favor a post-modern or heavily historical-critical approach, to neglect the ritual world that must have served as background"

    Seriously!?! Any and every introduction to the Psalms suggests that many had a liturgical function in the temple. The resistance, perhaps, is to see all of them, or some that have nothing to do with the temple, in this light, but that is because the evidence doesn’t suggest it rather than some preconceived bias against seeing Ps. liturgically. This is a terrible argument for why Myth and Ritual has largely been rejected. The reasons why historians and postmodernists reject M&amp;R is not because they don’t see the Psalms culticly, but because the conclusions of M&amp;R don’t follow from the evidence.

    In framing your revival of these earlier theories as some sort of courageous act, as opposed to those "too afraid of an academic faux pas," as revealing some "truth," you’re completely missing what is going on here. This is not some moral contest where only those brave enough to make bold claims are virtuous. If anything, I’d say that you’re not being courageous enough in confronting the real problems that challenge what you already knew before you started your studies. Those who are truly afraid are unwilling to reformulate their assumptions. What this is really about is allowing ourselves to confront the difficult issues, not seeking comfort in "similarities," or untestable hypotheses.

  53. John,

    As for David’s position, I guess I’ll have to let him speak for himself. What I can say is that *I* did not perceive him as suggesting anything but that he’d like to pursue *his* understanding of Joseph Smith’s statements.

    “That said, I don’t see anything wrong with the project so long as it is appropriately qualified as not constituting and never going to be constituting definitive proof.”

    This, I can completely agree with.

    And David might be chasing a white rabbit down a hole.

    But so what?

    Let’s face it, here are the possiblities:

    1. The LDS church’s truth claims are true
    2. The LDS Church’s truth claims are false.

    If 1, then David is probably right to look for at least *some* ancient connections.

    If 2 then we have to add more possibilities

    A. Something out there is “more true” than the LDS Church
    B. Nothing out there is “more true” than the LDS Church (all are equivalantly ‘true’)
    C. All religions and ideologies are equally false.

    If A, then David is wasting his time. He should go join that other more true religion and stop exploring Mormon thought, much less Mormon temple connections to ancient rites.

    If B or C, David is not wasting his time unless he decides he is. It is justifiable on religious grounds alone. Or in other words, it’s up to him to decide what a productive use of his time is because there is no longer an intrinsicly more valueable place to spend his time.

    So really only 2A posses a problem.

  54. about this:

    “So, again, why do we try to compare Mormon practices with ancient ones? Why can’t we just be content to view Joseph and his religion as a fantastic modern religious phenomenon? Because that is not what he claimed he was all about. The specific claim is that Mormonism is a restoration of ancient beliefs and practices. Aren’t you even a little curious to investigate whether this is true or not? Or do you start with the assumption that it is not true and work your hardest to tear down anyone who suspects it might be?”

    i have been charged with drawing too fine a line between faith and study and what not … but i would say that this perspective is theological and apologetic not scholarly. which is totally fine until the one espousing such a view decides to head down the academic path, for better or worse.

    let’s say that a visionary claims to be intiated by extra-terrestials into the ancient egyptian mysteries in a giant pyramid in the sky. actually, we don’t have to imagine that hard:

    http://www.summum.us/insidethepyramid/?class=FirstEncounter

    now i want to go to grad school and study this and call it scholarship. so what do i do? do i start looking for proof of aliens? do i start comparing the rituals restored by said visionary in his s.l.c pyramid with the results of egyptology? do i ignore modern parallels between the visionary’s writings and teachings, assuming that he was not very well read and/or that the ancient sources probably would not have been accessible to him in some form?

    http://www.summum.us/philosophy/kybalion.shtml

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kybalion

  55. “If 1, then David is probably right to look for at least *some* ancient connections.”

    Bruce, it sounds like you are saying that if the church is true David is correct. And, if David is wrong, then the church isn’t true. Is that what you’re saying?

  56. TT,

    I feel like you just took a well nuanced position and simplified it beyond reason. Actually, I think beyond belief. But that is just me.

    Also, you quoted where I was specifically talking about whether or not David is ‘wasting his time.’ My whole point was that ‘wasting time’ means very little outside of a perspective where there is an ultimate true religion, it is on the earth, and we aren’t part of it. If you disagree, I’d be very curious to hear your own alternative point of view.

    Here, let’s turn this around because it’s easier that way. Please articulate a position one might have whereby the truth claims of the LDS Church are all true but the temple has no ancient connections whatsoever. Are you suggesting that God revealed it for the first time in this dispensation as a possibility? I’m open to that. But then how do we explain all the statements made to the effect that it was instituted from the foundation of the world, or the many quotes that it was ancient in origins? If you select one point of view, you have to follow it through to it’s logical conclusions. You don’t get to have ‘one offs.’ I am only asking for an example. It doesn’t have to be your personal position.

    Even John C suggested that the ordinances are ancient in at least some sense. (See #51). He is just challenging whether or not we have the ability to detect them anciently because they might have significantly changed. This strikes me as a viable point, but not a viable reason to be concerned with someone else researching a different point of view. (And John has said many times that he has no issue with it other than it’s not falsifiable. John equates ‘falsifiable’ with ‘academic.’ I do not.)

  57. “and one question: why is it not enough that joseph smith taught and practiced the awesome stuff that he did? does it lose all it’s awesomeness without the legend?”

    This seems like a gimme. The LDS Church, or any religion for that matter, would disappear quite quickly if the ‘awesome stuff’ taught in it is officially believed to not be true. So I guess my answer is ‘yes, you have to have the legend.’

    Can you give me a counter example of a religion without legend? I doubt such things exist or even could exist. It’s a contradiction.

    “or might it actually seem even awesomer when placed in the historical context of his day and the reception of the ancient, allowing for some insight into his creativity and boldness as a human thinker?”

    Not by a long shot. I’m curious why someone would even say this. It can’t possibly be true. How in the world could a human created (but false) set of beliefs ever be ‘awesomer’ than ones that came from God and are therefore true? This suggestion perplexes me.

    Now if I were to start with the assumption that there is no God, then the most ‘awesome’ we can hope for is the coolest human created theology. Then I would buy that Joseph Smith’s theology was ‘awesome’ yet untrue, probably even ‘more awesome’ then many around it. But now it’s a subjective taste, isn’t it? Like flavors of ice cream.

  58. “I agree with John C. that we should be evaluating the specific quote rather than any recollection or reformulation of it.”

    I agree too, actually. I hate abstract statements.

  59. “1. Can’t we just all relax and say that this is just innocent “hypothesizing” (31)…”

    “This is basically asking, why does history matter?”

    Huh?

    How does coming up with a historical hypothesis in any way suggest history does not matter? Don’t you sort of, oh, I don’t know, have have to have one to start out?

    Does having a scientific hypothesis mean you don’t take science seriously? Just what exactly is the alternative? Are we supposed to instead read what ‘the authorities’ say and go with that?

    Obviously I’m being silly here. But then so were you.

    I am going to skip past this line of thought and suggest that your real concern is that you don’t believe this is just a hypothesis. You believe its going to be an outright claim that ‘I’ve found an ancient temple ceremony and it’s the same as the Mormon one.’

  60. Bruce,
    Whether or not David is wasting his time has essentially nothing to do with the status of the church’s truthfulness. You presented a simply dichotomy, one that I don’t find particularly nuanced, of Church True or Church Not True (without defining either “church” or “true” and then suggested that David if the church is true, David is correct. If the church is not true, David is either wasting his time or engaged in an entirely meaningless activity. I’m not sure that I find any of these premises particularly compelling. I think it is closer to the alternatives that we’ve been presenting: either David is reading the evidence correctly to make his case, or not. While he may see the truthfulness of the church, or of JS, as contingent on his own theories about ancient culture, I do not, nor do I think we are compelled to make that connection just because he does.

    “Please articulate a position one might have whereby the truth claims of the LDS Church are all true but the temple has no ancient connections whatsoever. ”

    I think that this is a reasonable request in theory, but I am honestly not sure about what you mean by some of these terms. What constitutes a “truth claim”? Is Adam-God a “truth claim” in the same way as the claim that all modern temple ordanances are also ancient? Does your and David’s admission that only “some” aspects of our ordinances are ancient qualify as saying “all truth claims…are true,” or is this qualified statement also a violation of the standard that they “are all true.” What is the theory of truth that we are using? Is it only positivist notion of literal history, so that we must imagine that the book of Moses provides a transcript of Adam’s conversations with an angel and with God, passed down verbatum 3000 years until Moses wrote it down? Finally, what exactly consistutes a connection?

    If I were to articulate my own view, which is not dependant on the standards of truth that you may or may not be requiring of me, I’d say that the best way to understand our temple practices is by looking closely at them to determine the significant features, looking at them the way that they were understood by early saints, and how that view has evolved, including the new kind of myth making from Nibley to David here as religious expressions. Specifically, I think that the best way to understand the relationship between the ancient temple and JS’s temple practices is to look at the kinds of interpretations that he is using. What in antiquity inspires him? Basically, I think that we can adopt a theory of revelation like Nate Oman puts forth: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2010/07/how-to-write-a-revelation/ Seeing Joseph as the author of a particular idea is not evidence that God did not inspire it. We don’t have to see Joseph as a blank vessel into which “ancient” knowledge is poured as the only way to understand the temple. Rather, we can see him as a keen reader of the Bible, of Masonic rites, and creative thinking who saw something new and great in combining them.

    Basically, one problem is that we actually have two different theories of dispensations at work. In one, all things are the same in each dispensation: the structure of the church, the priesthood, the ordinances, etc. In the other, this dispensation is the “fulness,” where were have something new and different from previous dispensations (like the understanding of the true nature of God) or the fulness of the temple. We move back and forth between these. One of the biggest problem with the first is that things aren’t even the same in our own church, let alone any essential correspondence to antiquity. I’ve asked this before, but when we talk about the modern temple, which one are we talking about? Certainly, the “blood oaths” we once took made the temple mean differently than our more spiritualized version today. And Adam-God used to be a prominent part of the temple. Berger’s _Mysteries of Godliness_ traces how much the temple has changed even in our own times. Why are we prentending that there is some static “temple” either today or in antiquity to which we make comparisons?

    In sum, I don’t think that we need to expect to find ancient origins of the temple any more than ancient origins of the curse of Cain or home teaching or the second quorum of the 70.

    “How does coming up with a historical hypothesis in any way suggest history does not matter? Don’t you sort of, oh, I don’t know, have have to have one to start out?”

    Bruce, my objection is that you seem to want to stop at hypothesizing, and not actually test it. In my view, David’s hypothesis fails, and I outline the reasons why I think. You suggest that “proof” isn’t really all that important and that the narrative of David’s hypothesis has instrinsic value when you say in 31: “But why should proof matter at this point? Narrative building like this is the basis for hypothesizing, and this is pretty much how hypotheses are made. Plus, narratives like this tends to be interesting in and of themselves.” In my view, we are not dealing with a hypothesis which awaits testing, but a hypothesis which we are testing and which, in my view, history does not support. David seems to think so too, which is why he begins and ends with JS’s supposed claim that we should expect to find this, and then forces the texts into this theory, without allowing other theories to be tested against it. In this view, David is not offering a hypothesis because he refuses to test it, and you seemed to be suggesting that that “proof” doesn’t matter at this point (even though this theory has been around for 60 years…).

  61. He is right you know. Proof doesn’t mean a hill of beans. Revelation and Personal Testimonies of the Restored Gospel are what is important. When the spirit witnesses evidence contrary to the World’s opinions, evidences, and hypothesis then all the science and studies are of secondary importance if they are important at all. If you don’t like the “proof” you can always dismiss it. Wait, you are. So what? You are no more important than anyone else here and therefore your words are no more valid.

    Scream where is the proof? where is the provability? And I’ll raise you a spiritual experience that you can’t touch with your words or learning. I may disagree with the ordinances as a coherent whole, but I have no doubt pieces are there. The spirit whispers this to me. What else matters to those who believe in the Holy?

    In other words, keep up the good work David Larson. Your research speaks to me and my soul. The doubtful will always doubt while the faithful learn wisdom and great treasures of Heavenly knowledge.

  62. Jettbody,
    David is engaging in biblical interpretation. He is doing either a good job or a bad job. That has nothing to do with the Spirit or with your or my testimony. If the Spriti is revealing to you the truth of David’s interpretations, i suggest you speak to your bishop and have him send a letter to the prophet so that he can establish it as official doctrine.

  63. As yet, TT has not offered an example as requested. I wonder if he is actually engaged in a discussion or just trying to run the train off the tracks.

    He noted that perhaps Joseph Smith was a quick read of Bible and Masonry in creating the temple rite. The problems with this view is

    1. The key concepts of the temple are found in the Book of Mormon. Joseph was young at the time and we would not expect him to be the Bible expert at that time (given statements of his lack of education by Emma and others) that would be required to insert such temple themes into the BoM.

    2. The Masonic rite may have been used as a springboard for the Nauvoo endowment, but Joseph still had to come up with concepts such as baptism for the dead, eternal marriage, tying priesthood into the rite, and including women in the endowment.

    So it cannot be as easy as TT suggests.

    Are there risks of parallelmania? Of course. But some ancient events are so intricate in the event that the connections are apparent to any temple goer.

    David needs to have a starting point. That the Book of Mormon claims to be ancient, and the concept of Restoration means ancient things are restored, we either must accept such basic claims as a beginning of his research, or we are not working from the same page or terminology. Suddenly we would be comparing apples to oranges, if we cannot allow David to begin:

    1. Joseph Smith claimed to restore ancient things.
    2. Temple rites are ancient things needing to be restored.
    3. Therefore, Joseph Smith’s restoration of temple rites should be found in the ancient rites and writings.

    If TT cannot agree with #1, then he is not ready to actually discuss David’s thesis on the same level.

  64. First of all, TT, thanks for having the conversation with me.

    “Whether or not David is wasting his time has essentially nothing to do with the status of the church’s truthfulness”

    How could that be? Seems like a strange comment to me. Of course whether or not a thing is ‘true’ is in some way related to whether or not it’s a waste of time to spend time on it. However, note that my position *is not* that if it’s true, it’s worth spending time on and if it’s false, it’s not. Nuance my friend!

    “and you seemed to be suggesting that that “proof” doesn’t matter at this point (even though this theory has been around for 60 years…).”

    Okay, you might be right about this. But put yourself in my shoes for a moment. This is all brand new to me. Maybe after I spend 60 years working on it, I’ll feel the same way as you. But for the moment, this is interesting stuff that seems like a worthy hypothesis, or at a minimum, a worthy way to ‘look at things religiously.’ Heck, I’m basing it on a single post. You assume to much to assume I’m just going to come over to your side based on what little we’ve all talked about so far.

  65. “Please articulate a position one might have whereby the truth claims of the LDS Church are all true but the temple has no ancient connections whatsoever. ”

    “I think that this is a reasonable request in theory”

    I’m glad you think so.

    In fact, I’m going to go one better. I’m going to claim that not only does it seem like a reasonable request, but it actually is one!

    For example, you spend considerable time asking me if Adam-God is a current truth claim of Mormonism. Well, heck, it wasn’t even during the 19th century amongst most Mormons and it certainly isn’t now. So why are you even bring it up? Were you really that confused by my comment about what the ‘truth claims’ of Mormonism are? I’m going to venture guess that you weren’t. You were probably making a point, but honestly, you just lost me instead.

    All I’m asking is if you can put any stake in the ground and suggest any point of view – if only for the sake of playing devil’s advocate – that matches my suggested criteria. I’m not asking for it to be your personal beliefs.

    Heck, I even suggested a possible approach myself. So I don’t think there is anything difficult about my request at all.

    TT, I don’t think you really see just how ‘all over the map’ you are in your argument. It probably doesn’t feel that way to you because you have access to what’s inside your head. I do not.

    I honestly see no coherent world view being suggested by you, as of yet, for me to consider as an alternative to David’s theories. Maybe the reason I can ‘imbibe’ David’s theories so easily is because they hew really close to what we might call ‘the standard Mormon view.’ I can go read books on it, I hear about it at Church, I was raised in a home that taught it, etc.

    So perhaps it’s unfair for me to jump to my earlier conclusions (which I already backed down on, so don’t give me a hard time) that you might not have an articulatable view. But it’s no more fair for you to assume I can somehow just understand where you are coming from.

    Also, I do not buy the argument that the LDS Church has no definable set of beliefs that are truth claims. I think it would be absurd to assert such a position. Are you really going to deny that the LDS Church teaches that the Book of Mormon is historical? Isn’t that really and truly an easily recognizable and quite authoritatively official ‘truth claim’ of the LDS Church? I could easily give you 4 or 5 more without much thought. So I find it hard to believe you are really caught up on Adam-God or what have you.

    It’s not that the LDS Church thinks one is a bad person, or even ‘unsaved,’ if they disagree with the official doctrines. LDS doctrine isn’t Evangelicalism. But that doesn’t mean the LDS Church has no official and easily recognizable truth claims, as you seem to be suggesting.

    Another problem is that your statements of what you do believe allow for some pretty wide different possible interpretations.

    For example, you say:
    “Specifically, I think that the best way to understand the relationship between the ancient temple and JS’s temple practices is to look at the kinds of interpretations that he is using. What in antiquity inspires him?”

    “Seeing Joseph as the author of a particular idea is not evidence that God did not inspire it. We don’t have to see Joseph as a blank vessel into which “ancient” knowledge is poured as the only way to understand the temple.”

    “In sum, I don’t think that we need to expect to find ancient origins of the temple any more than ancient origins of the curse of Cain or home teaching or the second quorum of the 70.”

    Now look at those statements. Do you honestly believe I disagree with them as presently constituted? They sound good to me. Heck, my perception is that LDS people in general accept that Joseph Smith wasn’t just some blank vessel that God poured solely ancient knowledge into. I guess I thought LDS people generally accepted that there is a lot of “Joseph” in the LDS Church and that God lets humans run the Church and come up with their own ideas most of the time.

    So am I to understand your statements above in that way: as a mere (and I might add basically useless to this conversation) claim that Joseph sometimes received ancient things from God and sometimes used his own genius to come up with things? Well, duh! When put that way, it’s incontrovertible.

    But now you owe me an explanation of why you are assuming the temple ceremony isn’t one of those ancient things, especially since Joseph seems to have believed that.

    What I’d prefer is for you to say something more like “Yes, I accept that God can and does put ancient things into Joseph’s mind, but I don’t believe the temple is ancient for the following reasons…”

    Or take the reverse position (if only for the sake of argument) and say, “Suppose Joseph received nothing ancient from God. Would that really mean the temple ceremony isn’t still inspired of God?”

    Or ignore my suggestions and come up with your own. But take an actual position one way or another.

    Then we’ll be able to have a critical discussion comparing David’s view point (which I at least understand) and the one you are suggesting.

  66. I think I’m glad that the comment I thought I left last nite actually didn’t end up showing up. This is way outside of my realm of comfort on the scholarly front.

    But I can say as others have said that I have had very real spiritual experiences as I have pondered the temple and the scriptures and I have no doubt there is a connection between the ancient and the modern. One of my most powerful “pure intelligence” moments is related to this topic and I felt as though layers were being taken off my eyes. I have since engaged the scriptures so differently, and I continue to feel there is a rich and deep connection between ancient temple rites and our temple worship today. I feel the temple in this way turning my heart to the ancient saints as I ponder the parallels between our rites of worship, purification, and remembrance.

  67. Here are a few quotes I’ve been able to find on the internet. I don’t know that I’ve found exactly what I was thinking of, but I think the general idea that the temple ordinances are both revealed and restored from ancient times is demonstrated.

    “Now the purpose in Himself in the winding up scene of the last dispensation is that all things pertaining to that dispensation should be conducted precisely in accordance with the preceding dispensations…. He set the temple ordinances to be the same forever and ever and set Adam to watch over them, to reveal them from heaven to man, or to send angels to reveal them.”
    – Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol.4, p. 208

    Joseph Smith anticipated “a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories…from the days of Adam even to the present time” (D&C 128:18)

    [Jehovah] continued to [Noah] the keys, the covenants, the power and the glory, with which he blessed Adam at the beginning; and the offering of sacrifice, which also shall be continued at the last time; for all the ordinances and duties that ever have been required by [p.211] the Priesthood, under the directions and commandments of the Almighty in any of the dispensations, shall all be had in the last dispensation, therefore all things had under the authority of the Priesthood at any former period, shall be had again, bringing to pass the restoration spoken of by the mouth of all the Holy Prophets; then shall the sons of Levi offer an acceptable offering to the Lord. ‘And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord.’ (See Mal. 3:3).
    It will be necessary here to make a few observations on the doctrine set forth in the above quotation, and it is generally supposed that sacrifice was entirely done away when the Great Sacrifice [i.e., the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus] was offered up, and that there will be no necessity for the ordinance of sacrifice in future: but those who assert this are certainly not acquainted with the duties, privileges and authority of the priesthood, or with the Prophets . . . .
    These sacrifices, as well as every ordinance belonging to the Priesthood, will, when the Temple of the Lord shall be built, and the sons of Levi be purified, be fully restored and attended to in all their powers, ramifications, and blessings. This ever did and ever will exist when the [p.212] powers of the Melchisedic Priesthood are sufficiently manifest; else how can the restitution of all things spoken of by the holy Prophets be brought to pass? It is not to be understood that the law of Moses will be established again with all its rites and variety of ceremonies; this has never been spoken of by the Prophets; but those things which existed prior to Moses’ day, namely, sacrifice, will be continued. (History of the Church 4:211).

    D&C 124:28, 38 seems to refer to the idea of ancient temple practices restored.

    Apostle Russell M. Nelson, “Prepare for Blessings of the Temple,” Ensign, March 2002.
    “The temple endowment was given by revelation. . . . Temples, ordinances, covenants, endowments, and sealings have been restored, precisely as prophesied. . . . A review of the Old Testament and the books of Moses and Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price may be especially enlightening after one is more familiar with the temple endowment. These books of ancient scripture underscore the antiquity of temple work and the enduring nature of its ordinances.”

    Temple Preparation Seminar Manual, 2003 / Lesson 3.
    “the Lord has always commanded His people to build temples. He has revealed the work to be done in temples. . . . Temple work in its fulness has been restored in our day through the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

    Apostle Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, September 1993.
    “Isn’t it marvelous to ponder how much the Prophet Joseph Smith learned throughout the extended process of restoring the holy apostleship, the holy priesthood, the holy endowment, the holy sealing power.”

    “The Ancient Order of the Endowment Revealed . . . . The ancient order of the endowment restored.” “He tried to impress upon the Saints the great responsibility which was upon them in having a house of the Lord where these sacred ordinances which had been revealed to him could be given to the Saints.”
    Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1949), 4: lesson 133/34 and 138/39; Melchizedek Priesthood quorum manual; copyrighted by LDS Church President George Albert Smith.

    “The temple ritual as revealed to Joseph Smith and communicated by him to his brethren is essentially symbolic. Its ordinances are not only ancient but also represent profound truths.”
    John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith – Seeker After Truth (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1951), –.

  68. Again, I thank everyone for their comments. It’s been rather difficult for me to keep up with the flow of the debate — I think it’s mostly because I’m in such a different time zone from the rest of you. Whenever I write a response, I think it’s generally being ignored because I’m usually responding to comments that have long since been responded to by others while I was working or sleeping. I thank Jettboy, Michelle, Rameumptum, Bruce, Geoff, JA, and others for your supporting comments. I’m sorry that it’s been difficult for me to respond to each comment individually.

    I am particularly disappointed that although I have spent good time trying to respond to TT, SmallAxe and others (sorry to those I have missed), answering specific questions and accusations that they have raised, it seems to have been in vain as there is virtually no acknowledgment or response from them. Yet this is not much different than their original responses to the post, which did not seem to take into consideration what I actually said but merely leveled criticism at the approach that I took, dismissing it as “myth-making” and such.

    While it is obvious that these individuals don’t believe in the approach or methods I am using, they have given no response regarding any of the specific conclusions. What do you make, for example, of the following point that I made in the original post:

    “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.”

    I think it isn’t difficult to demonstrate that this was a feature of the ancient temple, although one that is not often acknowledged. Do you find this similar (and let’s not argue over “how similar”) to what we do in our temples today, or not? If so, what do you make of that similarity? Would this have been a feature of religious worship in the early 19th century that would have been obvious to Joseph Smith? If not, then what do we make of that observation? I think these questions are worthy of our/your consideration. Why do you insist that this is a failed approach? There are new ideas that are frequently being brought up and discussed. I don’t know who has “proved” this line of thinking to have failed. It’s easy to dismiss these points by saying that there are differences, coincidences, and the like, but you can’t be so quick to ignore the amazing similarities.

    TT said:
    “In sum, I don’t think that we need to expect to find ancient origins of the temple any more than ancient origins of the curse of Cain or home teaching or the second quorum of the 70.”
    TT, you’re confusing superficial details (in my opinion) with core concepts and rituals. You seem to be ignoring the fact that there actually existed an ancient temple. This is not the product of my imagination. Joseph Smith (in my understanding, feel free to disagree) claims to have restored rites that belonged to that ancient temple. Is this the case or not? If he had been solely claiming to have come up with a new temple experience that really had no relation to that institution that we read about in the Bible or any ancient practice whatsoever, then I could see your explanation as fitting.

    I quote from TT’s proposed approach to these matters:
    “Seeing Joseph as the author of a particular idea is not evidence that God did not inspire it. We don’t have to see Joseph as a blank vessel into which “ancient” knowledge is poured as the only way to understand the temple. Rather, we can see him as a keen reader of the Bible, of Masonic rites, and creative thinking who saw something new and great in combining them.”

    Again, the problem is that this is not what Joseph Smith claimed that he was doing and this is not what the Church claims that Joseph was doing (and don’t call it a “supposed” claim, you know very well that this is a commonly known assertion). Joseph claimed that he received the ordinances by revelation and that they were of ancient origin, and in fact, they were established before the foundation of the world. That is the claim that we must be engaged in analyzing. As Bruce said, no one is suggesting that he was simply a empty vessel that the Lord has “poured” ancient material into. I don’t think that this is the case with any prophet. However, I think that the image is rather that he received the core ideas and rituals that pertain to salvation that have been given in each dispensation. Thus, while the more superficial details may (and do, as you have noted) change, the core theology and rituals remain the same. To say that all of what he gave us can be attributed to him being a “keen reader of the Bible, of Masonic rites, and creative thinking”, although it may be an interesting approach to you and make sense in your mind, is to deny what he claimed to be and what others believed him to be. Just as you find my approach ridiculous and out-dated and wish simple-minded people like me would just shut up, I also find your approach highly unacceptable.

  69. David,
    I don’t really see a reason to assume that the modern rites are exact duplicates of ancient rites from those quotes. Until we start seeing blood sacrifice restored, We just don’t have enough evidence to make the claims you are making. There is a reason Mowinckel is mostly dismissed today, it is because people saw that the only evidence for his theories was his say-so. You are, essentially, engaged in the same project, which is fine as a devotional work, but expecting it to be convincing in the academic arena is silly. Of course, you don’t seem to expect it to be convincing in the academic arena, so that’s just fine.

    For that matter, assuming any temple is eternal or unassailable is manifestly wrong. Temple rites have changed in our lifetime. So, you can talk about the ideas behind temple rites being eternal or there being general aspects of temple rites being similar, but an insistence that the rites, the movements, the meanings, and so forth are eternal and unchanging should be contradicted by your own experience. An insistence otherwise is a denial of reality, which, amongst other things, is totally a historical. Whatever Joseph Smith meant, he clearly didn’t mean that the endowment and the washings and anointings he revealed were to be understood as being the exact thing that has been done for centuries and should be done for eternity because, if that was the case, the church is already deep in apostasy.

    Can we say, for instance, that God speaks to every nation according to their understanding and according to their language? Yes. It’s in the scriptures and everything. Does that mean that God could have made up wholly new ordinances in our era to teach things to people in our era that were similar to things he taught in older eras? Of course. So, there is your alternate theory.

    Finally, I don’t like how you read the Bible (based on this brief blog post). It seems like you want the appearance of objectivity, but not the rigor thereof. To dismiss the Pentateuch because it is to late, but to swallow Isaiah and Ezekiel whole smacks of selective acceptance of scholarship and it definitely smacks of selective reading. You do actually seem to be finding what you are looking for.

  70. David,
    Whether or not it was common practice in religious settings for there to be gate guardians in Joseph’s era, it was common practice in the Masonry of the time, so I tend to think that might be the inspiration. It is evident that God or Joseph (or both) drew on a lot of masonry in his version of the temple ordinance (perhaps because it was ancient, but more likely because it was a way of reaching all those Masons who were about to be endowed).

    We also know that human sacrifice was practiced in ancient temples. Specifically, it was apparently the duty of the king to kill his firstborn son in some Phoenician cities if the political/military situation was really really dire. The terminology used for it is similar to the terminology used in the passage surrounding Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. Should we then assume that, in the future perfected temple, all fathers will be expected to sacrifice their firstborn sons?

    One of the Skousen kids once published a map that indicated that the four rivers leading from Eden were the Missouri, the Ohio, the Mississippi, and another river (I don’t recall). The map was a map of the current USA with the rivers in their current position. This map seemed patently ridiculous to me, but it can’t be refuted. That’s the sort of endeavor you seem to be engaged in here. Not that what you are doing is ridiculous, but it could be and it would have the exact same amount of proof.

  71. “If the Spirit is revealing to you the truth of David’s interpretations, i suggest you speak to your bishop and have him send a letter to the prophet so that he can establish it as official doctrine.”

    This proves that you have no understanding of a spiritual witness. Even more problematic is that it proves you have no understanding of spirituality as it relates to every day Mormonism, and what “truth” means in a religious community. It is sad that this discussion went from a discussion about if only partial or the whole of the Temple experience exists in the ancient Scriptures degenerated into a question of its existence at all. Seems to me trying to make trouble more than a discussion of the topic. It did make for an interesting conversation, albeit lacking counter-theories of any better enlightenment.

    “Just as you find my approach ridiculous and out-dated and wish simple-minded people like me would just shut up, I also find your approach highly unacceptable.”

    Exactly. Why don’t they just come out and say what their responses imply? Where, for instance, is their “proof” that the interpretations are “out of context” or “historically inaccurate” or other accusations made? They make those statements with some claim of authority, but discuss no evidence themselves that they so highly prize. It comes down to wonderful responses by those who are attacked and more “no its not” childish returns. They are, as aptly named, rejectionists who like to break down and never construct.

    “TT, you’re confusing superficial details (in my opinion) with core concepts and rituals.”

    If they haven’t already, I would suggest they read “Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell to understand the actual discussion and not the side tracking. Having read that, if they disagree with the approach and explain why then at least we would have a better understanding of their own positions. I personally believe that, details aside, history and human experience is interconnected in such a way that “anachronism” is a philosophy and not an argument. As such, what we find across cultures that have “different meanings” and therefore not related is an illusion. Study the development of languages, even recent word history, to understand how that can happen. Just because we reinterpret doesn’t mean we reinvent.

  72. Well, a lot has been said since I left my last comment, and I’ll try to keep this short since the back and forth is already quite long. My previous comments focus on a fairly simple point–we should be careful and circumspect in the process of interpretation. I imagine we would agree with this at face value, but it seems like we’re having some disagreement about the specifics.

    TT and I have never denied that the temple ceremonies may have ancient connections. We have challenged, though, the ease of 1) Understanding what modern prophets have meant in making statements to this effect. 2) Handling the ancient material in the process of interpretation.

    Regarding #1, take this portion of the quote in #69: “He set the temple ordinances to be the same forever and ever….” Determining what this means takes a degree of interpretation since even in our life times the temple ordinances have changed. David suggests “form and function” is what remains the same; but what exactly is form and function versus those things that are not form and function, and how do we differentiate between the two? Why are we to believe that JS also understood this statement this way? I could go on with several more questions necessary to properly interpret this statement.

    It seems to me, that if we are going to begin our “research” by accepting that JS restored ancient things and then go into the sources to look for such things, then we should at least be clear about what we’re looking for. I do not see this clarity in the OP, or in most of the parallelomania type projects.

    Regarding #2, interpreting ancient sources may or may not involve the Spirit (the Spirit can also work on the mind); but this process of interpretation cannot evade the rules of interpretation. Proper interpretation must pay attention to context. How does the book of Leviticus, for instance, understand the Tabernacle? How does the book of Exodus understand the Tabernacle? How do later sources understand the temple, and non-Biblical sources? Properly addressing these kinds of issues can only be done by bracketing one’s assumptions for the time being and attempting to reconstruct the various contexts of earlier meaning.

    If anyone is looking for an alternative theory, it is just this–be careful and circumspect in the process of interpretation. We’re not asking for an overhaul, just more caution.

  73. Dave,

    Thanks for those quotes. It’s better to talk about specifics.

    It was sort of unfair for us to make a claim and then not have a specific quote that could be responded to. But I think you plugged that hole quite well.

  74. virtually no acknowledgment or response from them

    Are you serious? Please restate any questions I/we have not responded to. Number them one through whatever, and I/we will respond.

    What do you make, for example, of the following point that I made in the original post:

    We’ve never denied that there are similarities, only that you properly handle them.

    Do you find this similar (and let’s not argue over “how similar”) to what we do in our temples today, or not?

    Yes.

    If so, what do you make of that similarity?

    That two religious communities in two different time periods have similar practices to a certain degree.

    Would this have been a feature of religious worship in the early 19th century that would have been obvious to Joseph Smith?

    I don’t know, although John C. seems to suggest so. The problem with your theory, though, is that it notes the practices of the ancient temple to such a vague degree that it’s difficult to rule things out. For instance, the notion of new names was certainly around in the 19th century in terms of pen names (Mark Twain), nicknames, terms of endearment, etc. We could say the same thing about guards requiring entrants to provide passwords, etc.

    If not, then what do we make of that observation?

    This relates to my last post about being careful and circumspect. I’m not sure any of us are qualified to answer that question. Understanding the context of the ancient world is difficult enough, let alone the ANE and 19th century America. I’m certainly open to some notion of revelation.

    I think these questions are worthy of our/your consideration. Why do you insist that this is a failed approach?

    It’s a failed approach for the very reasons I laid out in this post: http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/05/symptoms-of-parallel-o-mania/

    I think you need to clarify preciously what you’re trying to accomplish and why. If you’re trying to vet the ancient connections of modern temple performances you should move carefully and not hide behind “I’m doing religious work which is not susceptible to the tools of the world” (I’m not sure if you made a similar statement, but others certainly have). If you are doing religious work, then you shouldn’t make some historical argument.

  75. “If anyone is looking for an alternative theory, it is just this–be careful and circumspect in the process of interpretation. We’re not asking for an overhaul, just more caution.”

    SmallAxe, I think this is a very reasonable statement.

    Half time time we seem to be in complete agreement. (Have you noticed that?) So what, exactly, are we disagreeing over? It’s not very clear. So let me take a stab at defining our differences.

    You say: “It seems to me, that if we are going to begin our “research” by accepting that JS restored ancient things and then go into the sources to look for such things, then we should at least be clear about what we’re looking for. I do not see this clarity in the OP, or in most of the parallelomania type projects.”

    Consider the following set of assumptions:

    1. The temple is a mixture of ancient and modern. (We can deduce this because prophets told us it was ancient, but we know it changed modernly.)
    2. The temple ceremony can and does change, adapting to the needs of the people of it’s time.
    3. But there is some level of consistency of “form and function,” BUT we don’t necessarily know what the consistent stuff is.

    It seems to me that this is the set of assumptions David is starting with. But in any case, it’s the set of assumptions *I’m* starting with.

    You seem to be either agreeing with these assumptions (i.e. you believe that God revealed ancient things about ancient temple ceremonies to Joseph Smith because he is a prophet) or at least you are unwilling to deny them. I would submit that being unwilling to deny them is the same as accepting them, at least for the sake of discussion. So I ask that you argue from the standpoint that these assumptions are true so that we all have a common set of assumptions, which seem necessary for this discussion to not waste lots of time and energy.

    Given those assumptions, how *would* one go about “being careful”? How would one “be clear about what we’re looking for”?

    I guess my point is that it seems to me that David’s approach is — given that set of assumptions — about as good as it gets.

    You seem like you are arguing that you could suggest a better approach. Well, okay, what is that better approach (given that set of assumptions.)?

    I guess, to me, when I read your responses, it sounds less like a valid warning and more like a statement of ‘You won’t find anything. Abandon all hope. And even if you do find something, it would be a waste of time because it will just be a coincidence anyhow.’

    Now this probably isn’t what you mean. But I would suggest that I’m not the only one that has been interpreting you that way. And I’d submit that it’s isn’t all the fault of those that have misinterpreted you. Let’s admit that internet discussions lack tone, so it’s hard. And let’s admit that you haven’t done that well clarifying your own position. (That I have to finally say ‘let’s start with these as our stated common assumptions’ shows that I was unable to glean your own real ones out of the conversation so far.)

    When it comes right down to it, I agree with you that the ‘finding parallels’ approach is massively problematic. When Jehovah’s Witnesses approached me with ‘proof’ of the ancientness of their teachings I don’t really feel like it proves very much, if anything, for exactly the reasons you outlined.

    But I live by a rule: if there isn’t a better alternative, then the bad one is also the best one.

    My concerns with what you guys are saying is that you are pointing out that this approach is ‘bad’ (true enough) but seem to be failing to notice that it’s also ‘best’ given our supposed shared set of assumptions.

    If I am wrong about that, in your opinion, then present an alternative. Present how David could start into his research in such a way that he is, to your satisfaction, ‘being clear in what he is looking for.’ So far, I’m seeing no such suggestions. Put your money where your mouth is.

    Or deny one of my assumptions. Say, “Actually, I don’t accept assumption #x.” Then we can easily assess that as a possible source for our differences of opinion.

  76. ““I’m doing religious work which is not susceptible to the tools of the world” (I’m not sure if you made a similar statement, but others certainly have).”

    That was my argument.

    “If you are doing religious work, then you shouldn’t make some historical argument.”

    I call bull on that one.

    SmallAxe, did Joseph Smith do religious work? Is the Book of Mormon not a record that claims to be an ancient record and thus a real historical document?

    I’m curious, SmallAxe, how do you feel about LDS scholars attempts to find ancient parallels with the Book of Mormon? Do you feel such scholarship is misguided and not worth doing?

    How would you recommend that it is done? (Yes, I know ‘with caution.’ I mean give me a better understanding of methodologically how to do it. By the way, read your post and liked it.)

  77. SmallAxe, thanks for your input. However, I think you and TT have different axes to grind here. You are giving specific issues that should be taken into context, for example, how Leviticus or Exodus view the temple.

    TT has not given any criteria. He reminds me of an issue that arose on the first LDS email list for antiquities, Morm-Ant (run by William Hamblin). It was a great list until someone chose to shoot down every comment in the manner TT is. It led to a shouting contest between two people, and Bill finally shut down the list and left the open Internet for years. Its replacement, SAMU-L started with the same problems, because the same individual began the same discussion stoppers. Several of us wrote the owner of the list and told him that this person needed to go, because we weren’t interested in another list melt down.

    Smallaxe, while you are asking for us to consider certain issues, TT is trying to make the whole thing a non-starter. This is doubly shown by his seemingly refusal to give criteria for his own theory, as requested several times.

    David has offered a hypotheses. It is a beginning work, not an ending work. It will require refinement. I think he’ll agree that the key areas of focus will revolve around the endowment (not baptism for the dead), and the ancient and modern rite of entering into God’s presence. In doing so, we will find similarities and differences. Why? Because the endowment is adapted to the culture and day. We have adapted our endowment in modern times several times. Joseph’s endowment lasted most of the day, and he told Brigham Young to shorten it. Pre-1990 the Utah Church understood masonic symbols and Christian ministers’ teachings better than an international Church ever could. So, changes were made to make the endowment understandable to former Buddhists and other non-Christians/masons/etc.

    Yet the key ingredients remained: sacred covenants, tokens, and an ascension into God’s presence/celestial room.

    I think those are the places to begin, and from there we can expand or contract it as the evidence shows us.

  78. I’m going to weigh in on the issue of whether or not it’s worth David’s time to do this.

    As I see it, religion is about a set of beliefs — let’s call them an ‘explanations’ — of what God and Morality are like and how humankind fits into that scheme. Religions are attempting to answer the biggest and most important questions of humanity – the things that are the most profound and most meaningful to us.

    Does anyone doubt this? If so, let’s discuss this assumption of mine. I think I’m right about it, but let’s be critical of my position.

    Personally, my experiences have led me to believe that no human being, even the most die hard atheist, fully escapes traces of Theism precisely because we need for our lives to have meaning, and morality and sacrifice is how humans are wired for meaning. This is one of the main reasons why atheists all too often seem like theists. They fall into the very same patterns of thought they decry in Theists. (It’s humorous to watch someone like Richard Dawkins, who regularly does everything he says is wrong with religion. Apparently atheism is no protection from the problems of religion.)

    Given that human need, we must now face two possibilities, and as far as I can tell, there are only two:

    Possibility 1: The World is Lovecraftian
    One possibility, is that there is no worthwhile answer to your profoundest questions of life and meaning. This is what I call the “Lovecraftian” point of view. All that we hold nearest and dearest in our hearts is all but illusion.

    Possibility 2: There is something we can rightly call “God”
    Another possibility is that there is such an answer to your deepest questions. Or in other words, there is some sort of objectively correct answer about meaning, morality, God, etc. (Here, I use “God” quite loosely, to encompass any human theistic or semi-theistic view.)

    What is possibility #3? Try to suggest one that can’t be fit into one of the two above. I doubt you can do it.

    Religion and History in a Lovecraftian World
    If we start with the “Lovecraftian” view, then I see no harm in mixing religion and history. Isn’t that what *all* religions do? Didn’t the NT authors assume the OT was historical? Didn’t they assume they were part of something ancient — an ancient relationship with an ancient God?

    Can you think of any exceptions to this? I can’t. From Hinduism, to Buddhism, to all forms of Christianity, to Islam, to Jewish. All mix religion and history.

    In a Lovecraftian world, it seems to be a necessary religious element to create the ‘spiritual illusion’ of religious history. Everyone does it, and David is merely engaging in this time honored and incredibly valuable practice. You are right that it’s not, strictly speaking, good scholarship if we are assuming there is no God, but it’s undoubtedly very good religion making.

    So from within this point of view, SmallAxe and TT are right, and it also doesn’t matter. They are wrong in their rightness.

    Religion and History in a World with God
    On the other hand, if we start with the point of view that there is something out there – maybe just objective morality – we are already positing the existence of something that can be called “God.”

    From here the logic becomes inescapable: researching “God” just makes sense. Yeah, we might get a lot of it wrong. But how could it ever be useless or meaningless? We were sincerely trying to seek “God.”

    Jesus and Paul Made Historical Claims
    And let’s admit it, Jesus and Paul were the master Parallel-o-mania-meisters.

    And so what? Does that make them wrong? They may be poor scholars, but great revelation receivers. They might be objectively right about their ancient claims and still have a ridiculous scholarly epistemology. They might be objectively right in their ancient claims and it might be wholly unfalsifiable. And so what?

    On the other hand, if the world is “Lovecraftian” does it matter that they are wrong?

    The fact is the world was better off that they mixed the ancient and modern for their times. We are better off that we do the same now. Being ‘wrong’ is literally the ‘right’ thing to be in the topsy turvy world of Lovecraft.

    I’d rather that Paul and Jesus were actually right, of course. But I see nothing wrong with the parallel-o-mania efforts of Jesus and Paul either way. So why would I be concerned with David’s?

    Please give me a scenario where it’s problematic. I’m just not seeing it.

  79. I have a lot to say, and I’d love to go line by line and respond to everything. I am honestly making a good faith effort to focus on what is most important, so if I’ve missed something you consider to be vital, it is not because I am evading, but because I’m editing so that we can keep the discussion manageable. I will go back to what you see as important. I don’t have a ton of time to get to everything this morning, so I thought a good place to start would be David’s claim about angels, gates, etc. I too have suggested we focus on a specific passage to do a close reading to see what we discover.

    “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.”

    I think it isn’t difficult to demonstrate that this was a feature of the ancient temple, although one that is not often acknowledged. Do you find this similar (and let’s not argue over “how similar”) to what we do in our temples today, or not? If so, what do you make of that similarity? Would this have been a feature of religious worship in the early 19th century that would have been obvious to Joseph Smith? If not, then what do we make of that observation? I think these questions are worthy of our/your consideration. Why do you insist that this is a failed approach? There are new ideas that are frequently being brought up and discussed. I don’t know who has “proved” this line of thinking to have failed. It’s easy to dismiss these points by saying that there are differences, coincidences, and the like, but you can’t be so quick to ignore the amazing similarities.

    My main charge has been that the interpretations advanced here 1) distort what is happening in the ancient temple, 2) distort what is happening in the modern temple, and 3) consequently lead to misinterpretations of both. I think that the example that David provides here is a perfect illustration of that.

    First, I would note that the Chronicler is not an objective historian. Writing in such a way to regulate the temple cult and solidify the Davidic covenant (to the complete exclusion of the Mosaic!), It is an anti-prophetic work that seeks to counter the prophetic history-narrative of Kings with a priestly “history.” It is universally dated to a post-exilic period, which means well after the 1st temple was destroyed. With these features in mind, establishing the historicity of any particular claim about the temple made by the Chronicler is extremely difficult. Further, this means that what we do see about the meaning of the temple to the Chronicler is that it is about nationalist, Davidic vindication, not about ritual ascent or imitation of the theophany of Moses, since Moses is ignored by these author’s. So, starting off, I’d say already that the theology of the author’s puts in jeopardy your interpretation. Further, I’d say that the constraints that your interpretation offers by only looking at “similarities” or “core features” that are shared with modern temples also requires you to overlook the political realm for interpreting the ancient temple, which frankly, is the “core” of what the temple is about for the Chronicler, but has nothing to do with our temples.

    Now, on to the specific passages. 1 Chron 9:17-19 gives an account of the priestly families who returned to Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon (9:1-2), who fall into four different categories: Israelites, priests, Levites, and temple servants. It tells where each of these families lived. Verse 17 tells who the “gatekeepers” were. What gates were they keeping? Well, it says that these specific families “were in charge of the gates of the house of the Lord, that is, the house of the tent, as guards. The gatekeepers were on the four sides, east, west, north, and south.” (23-24). So, basically, you have armed guards that stand at the gates to protect the temple against invasion. These are the gates not of the temple itself, btw, but of the surrounding court of the precincts of the temple. That is to say, they stand outside the temple entirely. Then, there is a second regiment of guards who “guard the treasures of the house.” (26).

    So, what do we have here? We have lineage descent of families of Levites who are given the particular temple duty of protecting the temple by force. They are protecting the temple at the outer gates, so that they are not even on the temple grounds, and another inside as a second line of defense to protect the “treasures,” literally the mounds of money inside the temple. Basically, the ancient temple was like the national bank. It is where money was stored and protected.

    So, what is missing from this account? There are not “moral requirements” per se. This is a lineage responsibility. Ritual cleanness may or may not have been required, it doesn’t say. But ritual cleanness had more to do with staying away from menstruating women or dead people than any “moral” categories as we understand them. Further, there is no mention of “passwords” required to get by these guards. They didn’t have a spiritual function at all, but a policing function. FWIW, these are the same temple guards who arrest Jesus. They are police, not angelic sentinels.

    Now, Ps 24 also has no mention of passwords, and doesn’t talk about the guards at all. This is, as I understand it, a part of the “entrance liturgy” to be sung by those coming to worship at the temple. V. 3 is perhaps a question asked by someone outside, and 4-6 are the answers. These are great passages and fascinating insights, but we have no idea how they were used, if at all, or when. We certainly don’t have any evidence that the Chronicler’s account of the temple police were in charge of this, and we have basically no historical accounts whatsoever of there being a question and answer at the gates of the temple, despite the numerous historical accounts of the temple we do have. The questions and answers are not necessarily “secret” in any way. They suggest purity and righteousness as the prerequisites for God’s blessings.

    What is the theology of this particular hymn? 1) God is the creator, and 2) those who are righteous will be blessed by God. There is no covenant. There are no “passwords” or handshakes. There is singing. Further, as I’ve mentioned several times before, there is no notion of the afterlife in this understanding of the temple. Here, God’s salvation is not understood as we think of it, as the condition after we die, but rather God’s success in battle! God is he who fights for Israel, “mighty in battle,” “Lord of hosts,” etc. This has nothing to do with anything that happens in our temple.

    I’m running out of time so let me wrap up. I think I’ve shown how a close reading of these texts gives us better insights about how the ancient temple worked and what we can say with confidence. I think that a close reading reveals that none of the parallels that you said existed: “guards,” “passwords,” or “moral requirements,” really resemble our temples all that closely. We don’t have treasures inside our temples that require armed police. Our “passwords” are entirely different in character. They are secret and we have handshakes. Our “guards” are inside the temple and perform a spiritual function. Lineage is not a guiding idea for who gets to guard and who doesn’t. In fact, most significantly, I’d say that the absence of women performing temple ceremonies at all is a major difference.

    The guiding method that you’re using to identify similarities is that of a “core” or “essence” versus the things that are “secondary.” The problem is that you have not laid out a convincing method for how it is that you determine what is “core” and what is not. It certainly isn’t based on what the author of Chronicles or Psalms takes to be “core.” Rather, that which is “core” is that which appears to match LDS rites, and that which is not core is that which does not match. Do you see the problem here? There is a circularity and unfalsifiability of this method. Only that which matches your own criteria is deemed to be “core,” while anything that doesn’t match is dismissed. That is to say, what is “core” is a not determined by a close reading of the texts in their historical context, but is already pre-established as anything which is “similar” the LDS rites. As I’ve said, and I hope to have shown, a close reading of these texts reveals entirely different values, meanings, political implications, uses, and historical conditions behind them. Similarly, I think that if we read our own rites closely, we find that entirely different things may be going on than the categories you’ve raised. I’ve mentioned a few, such as afterlife and gender, that I think your reading of both ancient and modern rituals completely ignores, but which I take to be pretty much the “core” of what is happening.

    So, now I am out of time. I’d like to develop more what the constructive alternative is. Basically, I think Smallaxe is right that the constructive alternative we are advocating primarily is care, attention to detail, consideration of historical context, etc. I also outlined a constructive method for comparison that I think is more responsible in my post here: http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/04/the-magical-connection-between-mormonism-and-early-christianity/

    Gotta go.

  80. “I guess my point is that it seems to me that David’s approach is — given that set of assumptions — about as good as it gets. ”

    Bruce,
    I think this is correct. My point is that it should then be clearly labeled as devotional history or devotional myth-making (or myth-supporting). It shouldn’t be passed off as historical writing in the traditional academic sense. That is the point I have been trying to make and I think it is the point that TT and smallaxe are trying to make (saying “be careful” means “the evidence presented can’t support the theories proposed; at least, it doesn’t yet”).

  81. Sorry, I missed one thing. Despite the assertion, there is no evidence in Ps. 24 or 1 Chron 9 of a new name being asked for by anyone at the outer gates of the temple precinct, which is also a really important aspect of our temple ceremony but totally absent from the temple as we know it. Maybe there is another text that makes this claim, and we can evaluate that separately to see if it is in any way similar to what we do.

  82. “how do you feel about LDS scholars attempts to find ancient parallels with the Book of Mormon? Do you feel such scholarship is misguided and not worth doing?

    How would you recommend that it is done? (Yes, I know ‘with caution.’ I mean give me a better understanding of methodologically how to do it. By the way, read your post and liked it.)”

    First, find a why to identify where the Book of Mormon happened in time and space so that you know where to look for whatever it is you are looking for.

    Second, come up with a list of characteristics that you would expect to find associated with the societies described in the Book of Mormon.

    Third, see if you can find evidence demonstrating that societies with those characteristics existed in that time and space.

    How not to do it

    First, read the Book of Mormon and wish there was some substantial archaeological evidence for it

    Second, scour the evidence dug up already by other people, looking for parallels, ignoring differences and, especially, ignoring problems of time and space

    Third, present your scavenged evidence as if it all relates to the right time and place when it really comes from all over, ignoring all the contrary evidence because those are all corruptions of the original intent

    Fourth, try to cover the flaws by arguing that the evidence indicates that all the ideas scattered all over disseminate from a theorized Ur-text or people

    (Note: this isn’t what I think David is doing (it might be what Nibley did (a lot) but that’s neither here nor there)).

  83. “3. But there is some level of consistency of “form and function,” BUT we don’t necessarily know what the consistent stuff is. ”

    I would add that we don’t know what “form and function” means. So, we are saying that we believe that the temple ceremony is consistent, but we don’t know what that means or how we can prove it. We know it doesn’t mean taking the exact same form. We know it doesn’t mean serving the exact same function. But we believe something about form and function is preserved. We’ve acknowledged all counter-examples, but we choose to believe that this is correct in the face of those counter-examples because all those counter-examples fail to take into account that the form and function is consistent in some way that we don’t understand and can’t explain.

    Academic, that ain’t. Religious, that is.

  84. “Please give me a scenario where it’s problematic.”

    Bruce,
    We’ve created several generations of people who believe that understanding the scriptures is as simple as opening up the book and reading. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But a bad thing is opening up the book and reading and believing that your initial reading results in the one true interpretation, such that other avenues don’t need to be explored.

    David’s approach (as far as I can understand it from one blog post, which admittedly isn’t very far) is to take the simplist possible understanding (God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow IN EVERYTHING). Therefore, if you read Isaiah and it makes sense to you in one way, then that’s the way to understand it. Context is nice when it agrees with your predetermined understanding, but when it doesn’t, then it isn’t translated correctly. We’re commanded to liken the scriptures to ourselves, therefore if they are hard to understand, they are not worth our time (note the general neglect of the Old Testament in the Church).

    David’s approach, while important to him and hard for him, encourages spiritual laziness in everybody else. If it stops people from finding their own understanding of the scriptures, by forcing them to interpret everything in the light of the present on the present’s terms (or, worse, in the light of the interlocutor’s terms), then it is bad. If it does this by, intentionally or no, playing to what people desperately want to be true (Mormonism obviously being the exact Gospel that Jesus taught, temple ordinances included), then it is tempting people to believe (and to prefer to believe) easy answers, instead of facing hard facts.

    Scripture study should be personally unsettling. It should cause us to ponder who God is, who we are, what the difference is, how that difference can be bridged, why it can be bridged, and so forth. It shouldn’t cause us to, day after day, week after week, pat ourselves on the back because of how clever we are in drawing lines from A to B. We shouldn’t get the impression that we are figuring it all out from the scriptures. We should get the impression that we need to turn to God in our lives.

  85. “I think this is correct. My point is that it should then be clearly labeled as devotional history or devotional myth-making (or myth-supporting). It shouldn’t be passed off as historical writing in the traditional academic sense.”

    I agree with this.

    David, I call upon you to take a clear stance that you are or are not, at this time anyhow, attempting to pass your hypothesis off as historical writings but are rather in an exploratory phase looking for likely candidates for (hopefully) future research in a more rigorous vein.

    Personally, I thought this was quite clear, so that is why this all seems like a massive over reaction to me. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s me that has misunderstood.

    In any case, I hope Dave will make this declaration because if what John is saying is true, then this will make John, SmallAxe, and TT satisfied. And it seems like a pretty harmless declaration.

    Besides, I wish to test whether or not this harmless declaration will really satisfy all of them. (I suspect it will make John happy, at least.)

  86. Finally,
    If to compare yourself and your side to Jesus and Paul and to compare your opponents to Cthulu isn’t an implied righteousness test, I’m really not understanding righteousness tests.

  87. “If to compare yourself and your side to Jesus and Paul and to compare your opponents to Cthulu isn’t an implied righteousness test, I’m really not understanding righteousness tests.”

    I’m assuming my opponents are theists. They say they are. You must be reading them wrong, John. Because I think they’ve been pretty clear they have said they believe in God. Strange you would have thought otherwise.

    And, um, wasn’t my whole point that no one is on the Lovecraftian side? We all accept the existence of some sort of meaning in life?

    But the idea that the world is meaningless is a logical possiblity that has to be considered. It would mean that we are all wrong. It’s a realistic logical possiblity that has to be considered, at least for the sake of discussion.

  88. John in #88,

    You are presenting an interesting counter view about what God intends for us to do with scripture. I like it.

    However, I think you are assuming too much about David. Maybe I’m wrong, but, for example: “David’s approach… is to take the simplist possible understanding (God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow IN EVERYTHING).”

    Hmmm… not sure I came away with that.

    “David’s approach, while important to him and hard for him, encourages spiritual laziness in everybody else.”

    Not sure I buy that either. You’d have to help me with this.

    But I love this part:

    “Scripture study should be personally unsettling. It should cause us to ponder who God is, who we are, what the difference is, how that difference can be bridged, why it can be bridged, and so forth. It shouldn’t cause us to, day after day, week after week, pat ourselves on the back because of how clever we are in drawing lines from A to B. We shouldn’t get the impression that we are figuring it all out from the scriptures. We should get the impression that we need to turn to God in our lives.”

    This raises a bunch of additional questions.

    What is God like? Why does he want us to struggle with the scriptures? What is He trying to accomplish? What is His goal for us? Why not just come out and tell us what he wants us to know?

    If God wants us to avoid David’s approach because it’s spiritually lazy, why do the scriptures often engage in exactly the same approach? (Do you need examples of this? Or are you going to conced that I’m right that there are numerous NT claims about the OT that today would be considered bad scholarship, even from Jesus?)

    You’ve started to articulate a position. I like it. But it’s just a beginning. And I’m not yet convinced your ‘beef’ with David is going to turn out to be valid. I think it might be that you aren’t so different than what he is doing.

  89. “I apologize for misinterpreting, Bruce. It was the madness, the madness…”

    Do you have those dreams too!?!?!?

  90. Bruce,
    I can’t explain why the scriptures do what they do (usually). Nephi, for instance, misinterprets Isaiah all over the place, but he does it in a way that I consider scripture. I’m not particularly concerned by any of that (I hear from NT folk that Paul’s exegesis is equally tangential).

    Luckily, David isn’t claiming to be producing scripture, so I can say its bad exegesis (as far as I can tell from a brief blog post) without feeling like I have to deal with the spiritual implications thereof.

    I suppose that, if I had to, I would say that Nephi and Paul are allowed to engage in bad exegesis because they were inspired to do so. I can’t tell if David gets to do it because of inspiration or not (honestly, I can’t tell if he does it at all, because I’ve only got this blog post).

    I’m happy to say that the rules and methods of historical-critical exegesis are best understood as humans trying hard to understand writings in the context of a particular time and space (that they make up inside their head). So, they really don’t apply to revealed information. I don’t think that David is saying his ideas are revealed. He might be saying that he is looking for evidence to demonstrate revelation. He might be saying that he is taking the revelation for granted (I think this is what he is actually saying) and that he is using it as a guide. I question whether he understands the revelation, based on what I know of the history of the area and of these sorts of endeavors. And I really question the application of historical-critical methods to demonstrate the truth or falsity of revealed doctrine (or, in this case, of an interpretation of revealed doctrine).

  91. Bruce,
    Regarding the laziness thing, I feel like projects like this are essentially the same as a project like Mormon Doctrine. David doesn’t have anything like Elder McConkie’s authority (as I’m sure he would admit), but it feels like an attempt at the one true interpretation. I’m sorta opposed to those attempts on principle (I find them hubristic).

  92. “I’m doing religious work which is not susceptible to the tools of the world” (I’m not sure if you made a similar statement, but others certainly have).”

    “That was my argument.” – Bruce

    Exactly Bruce, and its hard for eo to understand why the doubters in this discussion don’t understand this fact. We are coming from way different assumptions. They demand the assumptions of the world about science, history, and evidence that the believers don’t and if honest with themselves can’t in good conscience start with.

    I really like the following, where I would add Matthew:

    “And let’s admit it, Jesus and Paul were the master Parallel-o-mania-meisters.

    And so what? Does that make them wrong? They may be poor scholars, but great revelation receivers. They might be objectively right about their ancient claims and still have a ridiculous scholarly epistemology. They might be objectively right in their ancient claims and it might be wholly unfalsifiable. And so what?”

    Religion makes claims that intellectuals and those of different faiths from time immemorial won’t accept. As the Scripture state, “My ways are not your ways and your ways not My ways saith the Lord.” My problem is when those within the religion don’t accept those same assumptions then I question if they understand the religion they claim they profess. Nephi demands we “liken the scriptures,” to ourselves, practically begging for parallelisms even if anachronistic by the standards of “scholarship.”

    It might be non-scientific from TT and other’s points of view, but they are absolutely necessary from the faithful point of view. Trying to reframe the ground rules for another game stops progress and enlightenment from taking place. Does science and history always have to be at odds? I don’t believe so, but the starting assumptions will be different. They are by the very nature of their purposes.

  93. This has been a long and productive conversation. I don’t think anyone has lost their cool or been unkind. The few misunderstandings were clarified quickly.

    Let’s summarize a few things.

    1. There seems to be some concern that David is going to try to pass his temple research off as being ‘legitimate history’ instead of ‘early exploration.’

    If this is the full concern, I have no issue with it. I ask David to clarify. This seems like a fairly harmless clarification to me. If all we’re after is a ‘warning label’ like on a cigarette box, let’s slap the warning label on and then move forward. That seems like a totally fair request.

    2. Even after all this discussion, I don’t really understand why this is such a concern to TT, SmallAxe, and John. John has done the best articulating an ‘alternative position’ but I feel like he still has a lot to explain before it will really be comprehensible to me.

    Specifically, there is still the mystery of why Joseph Smith did claim the temple was (in some sense) ancient. We either have to decide he was misguided on that statement or we have to accept it as true. If the first, then there are more logical questions that must be answered. If the second, then it seems to me like looking for ancient parallels is a good place to start working out a more comprehensive theory.

    I agree with TT that if we ‘stop’ at the hypothesis, then it isn’t good scholarship. But I caution TT here. Maybe it’s just a good starting point for some future generation. There is no way to really say ‘we’ve stopped here.’

    That is exactly how I feel about Nibley. As John correctly points out in #86: “it might be what Nibley did (a lot) but that’s neither here nor there”

    But actually, I think it’s relevant. I am *not* impressed with Nibely’s research as ‘proof’, personally, for exactly the reasons you guys have outlined. I feel it ‘proves’ nothing.

    But I like Nibely a lot? Why, well first of all, he has appropriate ‘warning labels’ all over the place. He confesses it’s speculative. He confesses he changes his mind regularly. He confesses he’s biased and explains his biases. (Something many here are loath to do, I point out.)

    Nibley was the ‘warning label’ guy.

    Plus, the man is dead. He never really did get much past the early exploration phase. I gather TT sees this as a failure. I do not. He inspired many that came after him and suggested some interesting possibilities. (Plus some really lame ones. Ammon was playing a sport when he cut off everyone’s arms!? Pleeassse!)

    But it would have been impossible to come up with a specific proposal without first exploring possibilities. I feel it’s unfair for John in #86 to say Nibley’s approach is ‘wrong’ (i.e. ‘how not to do it’) when it was really the best we could have done at the time.

  94. John,

    You said a number of interesting things:

    “Elder McConkie’s authority (as I’m sure he would admit), but it feels like an attempt at the one true interpretation.”

    “I suppose that, if I had to, I would say that Nephi and Paul are allowed to engage in bad exegesis because they were inspired to do so.”

    John, first let me say that I sense you are really trying to communicate an underlying point of view. (I’m not saying SmallAxe and TT aren’t, but it’s far less clear with them.)

    If I might go on a related tangent, I find the question of how and when one is ‘authorized’ to use ‘bad exegesis’ very interesting. Believe it or not, this is one of my top questions about religion — mine specifically, and religion in general.

    I did a study of the NT’s use of the OT and found that modern ‘exegesis’ essentially played no role at all. You seem to have done the same for Nephi and Isaiah. (BTW, use of Isaiah in the NT out of context is atrocious.)

    Interestingly, you drew the conclusion that only an inspired person is allowed to use bad exegesis.

    I know this is going to make you laugh, but my conclusion is (at least tentatively) that God doesn’t believe in modern exegesis.

    It’s not that I think we shouldn’t do modern exegesis. I do it all the time (as far as a non-scholar like myself is able.) But the Protestant ideal of finding the one right meaning of the scriptures has long been lost to me. I no longer see it as a worthwhile religious goal because I can’t reconcile that view to the bible itself. (Though it might have innate scholarly or historical value.)

    This point of view has potentially drastic ways it can affect how I understand the nature of revelation an even what God’s purposes for us are.

    I’m not suggesting you take on my world view here. What I am suggesting is that I will never do a one off. If I accept the idea that God doesn’t care about ‘exegesis’ then this has a rippling effect on everything else.

    I suspect the same is true for deciding that only inspired people can do ‘bad exegesis.’ How much thought have you given to that position? Because it seems to me that it might have way more ripples than my position.

    Given my point of view about ‘exegesis’, I hope you can see why I see David’s approach as, at worst, utterly harmless, and perhaps something far far greater than that.

    It’s not possible to divorce the arguments you guys are making from your worldviews. It’s not. I think that is why you come across confusing to many in the discussion. You aren’t really fully articulating what you mean because each of your statements requires knowledge you haven’t yet had time to share.

    But this, I think, isn’t your fault. That ripple will ripple far. To explain why you are worried about David’s approach you may find you have to explain quite a lot about your beliefs. You may have to explain how you view God’s nature. Or why God put us on earth in the first place. Or what it means for God to ‘restore the gospel.’ Or what ‘the gospel’ is. Or how one is ‘saved.’

    Do you see what I am saying?

    Be patient with those you are disagreeing with here. I, for one, am not trying to make a faithfulness test. (Remember, I’m a universalist.) But I do not accept that it’s possible to have a serious discussion like this without people being willing to stick their neck out, at least a bit, and talk about their beliefs — or at a minimum suggested a set of beliefs that cohere together into a point of view.

  95. Bruce,
    The problem is that people have been doing this for a long time and have been doing this poorly. On the internet and in Seagull book, I’ve seen dozens of books of people with their hare-brained ideas, demonstrating this or that enduring eternal truth about the Gospel as it manifests itself on earth. The Book of Mormon archaeology crowd are, unfortunately, mostly engaged in self-parody. FARMS has been engaged in a decades long attempt to emulate Nibley, without being as smart or as funny. In the meantime, every other ex-Institute Director, ex-Mission President, and ex-Stake President is running their prospectus by Deseret Book and Covenant in the hopes of getting published.

    Again, I turn you to the example of the Skousen book I read and the map of the four rivers leaving Eden (It’s by Cleon’s son, Eric). There’s nothing here to indicate that David’s theories are more substantive or more worthwhile than that map. You’ve got the same starting point (something Joseph Smith said), you’ve got the same loosy-goosy parallels (four rivers from Eden; four major rivers in the Midwest), you’ve got the same lack of falsifiability (How on earth would you prove that these aren’t those rivers? It’s like disproving a teapot in the asteroid belt).

    That, in a nutshell, is the problem with these projects. Which isn’t to say that they shouldn’t be done, but to say that they should be done with extreme caution, very low expectations, and by people who are thoroughly trained in the historical context and who employ appropriate rigor. I don’t have any reason to doubt David’s training (like I would Eric Skousen’s or some random ex-Seminary Teacher’s), but I worry about the rigor (based on a blog post that admittedly glosses over the intricacies for time).

  96. John,

    It really sounds like David issuing a ‘warning’ that this is just preliminary speculation would work for you. You are saying it is worthwhile in it’s own right (I agree) and you aren’t denying he might stubble upon true connections since you do seem to believe that there *should* be some ancient connections — we just don’t know what.

    So I feel like we’ve successfully argued until we’ve agreed. I’m asking David for a better ‘warning label’ now too. What are we disagreeing over at this point? (At least between you and me.)

  97. Bruce,
    Not that it matters to the discussion but I feel like I believe all the basic faith claims of the church (anything in the Articles of Faith or the Temple Recommend questions, for instance).

    I actually believe that historical-critical method does have limited value for faith-based discussion. It sets some limits on the sorts of things we can talk about historically and it sets some limits on how we talk about them. And of course it is a human construction (which isn’t the same as saying God doesn’t believe in it, but I think that’s close enough to work). Part of the problem is that scholars overreach in describing what it is capable of doing. God and his prophets certainly aren’t bound by it, but their believers aren’t bound by proof (at least, not of the empirical or historical sort).

    I think that historical-critical method should be included in the discussion, because, historically speaking, it is the best people can do. Certainly, devotional authors like to employ the trappings of the historical-critical method in order to make their ideas appear more rational and persuasive. Unfortunately, their assertions are often not based on anything other than their own personal authority (Eric Skousen, for instance, appears to rely on his last name, his father’s legacy, a PhD in something or other, and the fact that he cites LDS scripture a lot to establish the truth of his utterly unprovable theories). Should we be limited in our discussion to things that are demonstrably historical? Of course not. But we also shouldn’t kid ourselves about historicity that isn’t there.

  98. @ “Nephi, for instance, misinterprets Isaiah all over the place, but he does it in a way that I consider scripture.”

    Can anyone claiming to be less than a prophet make this kind of statement? Could you be more pompous or feel that you possess the utmost authority on scripture and it interpretation to claim Nephi was wrong? How do you know Nephi “misinterpreted” Isaiah’s scripture? And how can someone “misinterpret” scripture and it still be scripture? If Nephi’s interpretation is scripture, namely because it is inspired by the Hold Ghost, then how can that also be a misinterpretation? All I keep reading in your responses is, “Everybody should follow my not believing because it is a superior way to approach believing.”

    Are the scriptures true or aren’t they? If they are, then they contain principles that will relate to each other, they will support each other, and they will often testify of the same truths in different circumstances and to different people as the spirit witnesses that truth to them. Much like the way Isaiah teaches a truth to Nephi in one way, and it might teach you in a different way. That doesn’t mean it is a misinterpretation and it doesn’t mean that they don’t relate. If they are truth, they relate to each other. Putting something under the heading of scholarship, or devotional should not matter if they both have truth.

  99. Okay, so now the true antagonism and attacks start? Who are you to attack groups like FARMS? It has been led by quality scholars that have worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls team, leaders in Arabic text translation, etc. What are your qualifications that allow you to so easily dismiss this? And why should we dismiss them just because you insist on it?

    I’ve known David’s work for years. We shouldn’t dismiss him so easily, given he’s studying at St Andrews, NOT a paper mill.

    Twenty years ago, William Hamblin set up Morm-Ant, an email list to discuss Mormonism and antiquity. It was a great collaborative tool for the time. Sadly, there was one individual (whose name I will not mention) that used these same tactics back then to stymie discussion. It turned into a shouting match between the individual and another. Bill shut down the list. SAMU-L was then started, but the same problem began as the same individual used the same tactics to stop the discussion in its tracks. As with TT and Smallaxe, he offered no alternatives. We could go no further in discussion. It felt like lawyers were stopping the construction of some oil rig, because someone could not agree on the terminology in the initial contract. We had not choice but to remove the individual from the list, so it also would not end up melting down, or closing down due to frustrations.

    I’m done with this portion of this discussion, because it will go on like this eternally without arriving to any conclusion. Why? Because that seems to be the objective of those who already have rejected all/everything that they disagree with. They are not interested in a real discussion, only to dissemble. I saw it 20 years ago, and it sadly is still a tactic used by some.

  100. This has gotten longer and longer, and I don’t think my time will allow me to keep up. I’ll summarize by saying that I think we agree on many things. I’d also like to say:

    1) I can accept the assumptions that Bruce lays out.

    2) If someone makes a historical claim his or her claim should be subject to analysis by the historian; hence arguing for ancient connections is just that, an argument that must be substantiated and open to analysis.

    3) I think much of the scholarship that searches for parallels is misguided because of the difficulty of proper analysis and a desire to make the material fit the narrative.

    4) I’m skeptical of how worthwhile such ventures are beyond responding to critics who challenge such claims.

  101. “I think that historical-critical method should be included in the discussion, because, historically speaking, it is the best people can do. Should we be limited in our discussion to things that are demonstrably historical? Of course not. But we also shouldn’t kid ourselves about historicity that isn’t there.”

    Agreed.

    James said: “Can anyone claiming to be less than a prophet make this kind of statement? Could you be more pompous or feel that you possess the utmost authority on scripture and it interpretation to claim Nephi was wrong?”

    James, I’m going to defend John on this. If he’s wrong to say this, so am I for my expressed view in #99.

    If John were saying “this is the only way to look at it” your rebuke would be correct. But my perception was that both John and I were sharing personal beliefs so as to communicate better. Nothing more.

    We need to be charitable on personal beliefs if they are held up as personal. I see nothing truly inconsistent with his statement that Nephi uses Isaiah out of context. He probably does. That’s basically a time honored practice of the ancients. They would take a scripture that had one meaning at the time and reapply it into a new spiritual meaning for themselves. Doesn’t that sort of make sense? Don’t we intentionally do that today?

    “Misinterprets” is probably the word you are taking exception to. But given the context, I only understood it as meaning ‘not reading it as was originally intended.’ Within the rest of John’s statements, it would seem that he is NOT claiming Nephi ‘misinterprets’ it in the sense that it was an unauthorized interpretation on Nephi’s part.

  102. SmallAxe,

    Good summary.

    I hope you’ll give David a fair shot on not falling into the trap of #3.

    Also, I think you are overlooking one of the top reasons why I like drawing ancient parallels: plausibility of modern beliefs.

    This proves nothing, of course. But religions *should* be proped up through plausibility arguments.

    I have seen none of you address that point.

  103. James,
    I should restate. Nephi interprets Isaiah in ways that are completely ahistorical and that are contradicted by the text itself. That doesn’t invalidate his interpretation in any way, in my opinion, because he was a prophet, inspired of God, and I don’t feel like he has to adhere to those sorts of limits (as I explained). For better or worse, I feel like his work wouldn’t hold up as an academic paper, but who cares? He wasn’t trying to write an academic paper. David may.

    Also, I believe the scriptures are true. Do with that what you will.

    Rameumptom,
    I’m nobody and you certainly don’t have to dismiss FARMS on my say so. Most of the stuff that FARMS does is laudable, some of the stuff they have done isn’t. I might apologize for saying that they are neither as smart or as funny as Nibley, but I actually believe that, so I won’t. However, they shouldn’t be grouped in the sub-par LDS hermeneutic community and I was wrong to do that.

    Regarding the my potential dissembling, I assure you that I am sincere. Do with that what you will, as well.

  104. But religions *should* be proped up through plausibility arguments. I have seen none of you address that point.

    See point 2: If someone makes a historical claim his or her claim should be subject to analysis by the historian; hence arguing for ancient connections is just that, an argument that must be substantiated and open to analysis.

    Historical arguments are not black or white. Some things are more or less plausible than others.

  105. “See point 2: If someone makes a historical claim his or her claim should be subject to analysis by the historian; hence arguing for ancient connections is just that, an argument that must be substantiated and open to analysis.”

    I agree.

    But I doubt all historical claims are subject to analysis. Just how far can we get on finding the burial place of Abraham? Or proof of the resurrection of Jesus.

    I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t try to subject even these to open historical analysis. I’m just dubious that historical analysis will find anything either way. I think this is a looming problem for much of religious claims vs. historical claims.

    Thus plausibility is often the best we can do.

  106. In response to TT #85:

    See Broyles, Craig C. “Psalms Concerning the Liturgies of Temple Entry.” In The Book of Psalms: Composition and Reception, edited by Peter W. Flint and Patrick D. Miller Jr., 248-87. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2005.

    Broyles argues that at the exchange with the gate guardians in Ps. 24, the name Yahweh or “Yahweh of Hosts” is given as a password and that either this name or “King of Glory” (I haven’t read the article for a while) is meant to be a new name because the guards act like they don’t recognize it.

  107. I just saw Bruce’s invitation in #89 (boy it’s hard to catch up with all of these!):

    “David, I call upon you to take a clear stance that you are or are not, at this time anyhow, attempting to pass your hypothesis off as historical writings but are rather in an exploratory phase looking for likely candidates for (hopefully) future research in a more rigorous vein.”

    Hey, all I was doing is giving my thoughts on Ben’s old post. I have the great pleasure of being in a university program where I study ancient texts and I feel that I find some pretty exciting things in that endeavor. The purpose of my research is not necessarily to find “proof” of Joseph Smith’s claims, but I do find a lot of things that I personally feel are similar to what we believe today in the Church. And to me, that makes sense. Based on my religious beliefs, that is what I should expect to find.

    However, I have never said that I have proved anything. I realize that finding potential evidence does not constitute having “proved” something.

    This is what I said in my post:

    “Searching through these books helps to lend evidence to the idea that the temple ordinances that we know were practiced anciently.”

    Again, this is not my idea, but something that the Church itself (as far as I understand it) claims.

    I also said:
    “I hope that this post has served to at least open up the possibility in your mind that the essential elements of our modern temple ceremonies may have been presented as one organic whole at the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.”

    Again, I think my language was quite tentative here. All I was trying to do is answer Ben’s question based on some things that I have recently been studying. I do not believe that I have proved anything and I do not believe that these things can be proved. If we found a temple in Mesoamerica with the name Nephi on it, that would be some pretty dang awesome evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but it still wouldn’t necessarily prove that it was true. I have merely gathered some evidence that I think would suggest to some that there was something similar to our temple practices going on in Solomon’s Temple. Most of us assume that what was being done in the ancient temple was just sacrifices and that’s about it. I want to suggest that there was more going on and that it can be compared to what we do today. And I think that helps support the claim that the ancient temple rites have been restored in our day — but of course it doesn’t “prove” anything.

    Also, I recognize that the details I put in my post represent only the most basic, preliminary sort of study. Obviously I would have to detail my methods, my sources, and my argument in much greater detail. I was just, as I stated in the OP, giving a very basic overview in order to suggest some possibilities. The post took me an hour or so to write, but I could have gone on for ages. I don’t think that this would have satisfied the naysayers, so I’m glad I didn’t take the time to do that — not for their sake anyways. Of course much further explanation and study would be needed to further develop such a hypothesis.

  108. David,

    Thanks for that ‘warning label’ as requested. :) (Now I can link back to this any time the question comes up again.)

    I had figured that was your intent. Please keep up the good work.

  109. @David 113
    Thanks for that. I prefer that the case be made in our discussion rather than referring to other sources. I see the conclusion that you are working from, but I don’t see any of the logical steps to back it up. But, very quickly, it seems that the concept of “new name,” (again, granting just for the moment that this category is at work here, and not just poetic repetition…) is completely different from ours. This new name is the new name of Yahweh, not us, and it is not uttered in the context of a covenant. And, you didn’t address the other 10 reasons why the parallel doesn’t work.

    I will get back to the other things later, but Bruce, if you wouldn’t mind reigning in Ram and Jettboy, I think we can focus on the real issues instead of frivolous accusations about our faithfulness or our nefarious use of “tactics.” It is your blog and all, but I don’t see them acting in good faith to further the discussion. I can outline more about why I feel like their comments are unacceptable, but I trust it is more or less self-evident.

    Finally, I am not as comfortable as Smallaxe and John as letting this go as just a preliminary hypothesis that can be accepted at that level and then we move on for two reasons. 1) As has been evident here, whether or not David thinks these are just unprovable theories (which is NOT the same as a hypothesis), it is clear that many others do not take them to be so, but rather take them as real accounts of how the temple in antiquity actually was. I am not willing to just say these are hypothesis and then not require them to be tested. 2) We are able to actually test these ideas. We have the texts in front of us to do so. We are all capable of reading and seeing whether, for instance, there is any evidence that the temple police asked a set of questions that people actually answered, or not. That is to say, even if we admit that this is a preliminary hypothesis, I’m not sure it changes the fact that we are able to actually test that hypothesis, which is precisely what we are engaged in doing.

  110. @TT 115

    I disagree with your exegesis of the passage. And I don’t feel that the concept of the new name in the passage is “completely” different from ours. If you look (just humor me on this for a moment) at the passage from, to use Mowinckel’s term, a “cult-functional” approach, in the theoretical festival setting, you have the leader of the procession up to the temple engaging in a dialog with the gatekeepers. If we hypothesize that this leader of the procession is not really Yahweh himself but someone that is now being called Yahweh (or the King of Glory), then we have the name “Yahweh” as a new name for the individual.

    Of course you would be right to say that this is reading too much into the text — I readily admit that it is. However, I think that we would have to accept that this could at least be a possible scenario. How could you prove that it wasn’t? Neither of us were there. I know that I can’t prove anything, especially with such a speculative reading of the text, but I believe that you also cannot say that such a reading is impossible and that the use of the new name in that situation would have been “completely different” from ours. The text doesn’t give us enough information about the life setting to be able to interpret how it was being used.

    And what are the other 10 reasons why the parallel doesn’t work? I must have missed that.

    What evidence do you have that there were no “temple police asking a set of questions that people actually answered.” I think that an educated reading of Ps. 24 certainly provides for such a possibility. Verse 3 is a question and verse 4 is an answer. Both verses 8 and 10 contain a question and a response. Who was asking and who was responding? Well, we can’t really tell from the text. But you have to admit that it is at least plausible that there is an individual/group approaching the gates and there is an individual/group that is responsible for opening the gates, and that the question and answer dialog could be between these two parties.

    You say that we are testing a hypothesis here, and you seem to infer that the hypothesis is failing. I don’t see that. I don’t see anything that you’ve refuted that I haven’t given a good answer to. I gave extensive responses (comment 33) to your initial questions from comment 1, but I didn’t see any response from you. I think that I am making a responsible (albeit very brief and limited here) attempt to interpret these passages. You obviously don’t agree with my approach, but it is not without precedent or support. You have claimed that I am using Myth and Ritual tactics and that everyone knows that they have been largely dismissed by the academy. I recognize this. However, my points here only remotely rely on the research done by the Myth and Ritual school, but depend more on what I feel is dependable scholarship from Mowinckel and others. Mowinckel’s theories have many modern proponents, including John Day, J.J.M. Roberts, John Gray, Patrick D. Miller, and others. While I recognize that speaking of a New Year Festival has gone out of style and been dismissed in many circles, I think that there have been many good recent arguments for the validity of the theory.

    We have different ways of approaching these questions, for sure. But I really don’t see how you can demonstrate that my approach is so erroneous.

  111. David, i will get to 117 soon!

    Bruce,

    David: “I have the great pleasure of being in a university program where I study ancient texts and I feel that I find some pretty exciting things in that endeavor.”

    Bruce, you’ve asked along with others why we cant just say that David is engaged in a quasi-religious activity rooted in matters of faith and should therefor not be held to the higher standard of proof and evidence to which we want to hold him. this statement is exactly i dont think that is a fair position, because even in his qualification of his work, he positions himself as a scholar. And let’s be honest. David is not an amateur hack someplace. He is a trained scholar and tells his audience that his conclusions are the result of his studies. It is for this reasons that i feel that he should be held to the standards of scholarship, and not revelation or prophecy. He is not jEsus or Paul, and should not get to retreat to methods of hermeneutics that do not measure up to the scholarship that he represents. He has presented these ideas at academic coferences, and deserves to be judged by them. Now, we may say that he has not yet finished, or that his training isntthe equivalent of what he would get in a US program that he didn’t have to pay for himself, or other reasons, but i dont think that is fair to him either.

    More to come. I especially want to address the point that “there are parallels and we need to account for them somehow.”. I think that the issue that I’ve been trying to get at is how it is that we come to identify a parallel in the first place. It is not self evident. Now, i fear you may be right that vie been too abstact on this point and it is confusing. I hope to clarify it. Btw, if there are any particular points that you see as pressing for meto address, a let me know. The discussion has gotten to big to get to everything, and I’d appreciate a good summary post of things you’d want me to explain or account for more.

  112. @John C. 100

    I just had to respond to this one!

    You said:
    “The problem is that people have been doing this for a long time and have been doing this poorly. On the internet and in Seagull book, I’ve seen dozens of books of people with their hare-brained ideas, demonstrating this or that enduring eternal truth about the Gospel as it manifests itself on earth. The Book of Mormon archaeology crowd are, unfortunately, mostly engaged in self-parody. FARMS has been engaged in a decades long attempt to emulate Nibley, without being as smart or as funny. In the meantime, every other ex-Institute Director, ex-Mission President, and ex-Stake President is running their prospectus by Deseret Book and Covenant in the hopes of getting published.”

    Surely we can try to distinguish the better attempts from the “hare-brained” ideas here. I think its natural for people to want to come up with theories and try to prove them — some are better than others. Some attempts come from very well-trained scholars and some come from rank amateurs. Let’s give some credit to the attempts that have been made by those who have been trained in scriptural exegesis and have spent many years studying these things out. That doesn’t mean that you have to agree with all their ideas, but don’t lump all such attempts together into one big loony bin.

    “Again, I turn you to the example of the Skousen book I read and the map of the four rivers leaving Eden (It’s by Cleon’s son, Eric). There’s nothing here to indicate that David’s theories are more substantive or more worthwhile than that map. You’ve got the same starting point (something Joseph Smith said), you’ve got the same loosy-goosy parallels (four rivers from Eden; four major rivers in the Midwest), you’ve got the same lack of falsifiability (How on earth would you prove that these aren’t those rivers? It’s like disproving a teapot in the asteroid belt).”

    I don’t think that this analysis is really fair. Of course you are entitled to your opinion, but the subject matter of my post versus Skousen’s book is completely different. Sure his theory has a lack of falsifiability, but I am at least working with ancient texts that are directly related to what I am talking about. It’s not like I’m creating details regarding the temple out of the blue. I’m getting those ideas principally from a reading of the text. If you aren’t reading those texts from the same perspective that I am, yes, you are bound to not reach the same conclusions. But I don’t think you’re justified in saying that my ideas are no more substantive than trying to create a map of Eden and its rivers. Be fair.

    “That, in a nutshell, is the problem with these projects. Which isn’t to say that they shouldn’t be done, but to say that they should be done with extreme caution, very low expectations, and by people who are thoroughly trained in the historical context and who employ appropriate rigor. I don’t have any reason to doubt David’s training (like I would Eric Skousen’s or some random ex-Seminary Teacher’s), but I worry about the rigor (based on a blog post that admittedly glosses over the intricacies for time).”

    First of all, this was a simple post, not a “project.” I will admit that this post wasn’t put together with a whole lot of “rigor”, but a good deal of effort has been put into researching these ideas concerning the ancient temple. You can argue all you want that the ancient temple can’t be compared to the modern temple, but if you want to assert that the points I listed were not part of the ancient temple, then that’s a different story altogether. Then let’s argue them point by point and see what your evidence is that these items could not have plausibly existed.

  113. @TT 117

    First of all, I would be the first to say that I am not a scholar — I am still in training to be one. But you are correct that I should be held and hold myself to an expected standard of scholarly work.

    But tell me, does believing Joseph Smith’s claims to the point that I expect to be able to see evidence of those claims as I engage in scholarly research constitute a betrayal or abandonment of my scholarly training?

    You accuse me of “retreat[ing] to methods of hermeneutics that do not measure up to the scholarship” that I represent. Surely you exaggerate, but I’m willing to forgive this as your evaluation must be based on maybe two or three blog posts that I have written. But just because I choose not to use the same methods that you would use does not mean I’m using bad hermeneutics. The most modern and popular methods are not necessarily the best. As I said in my other comment, there are still scholars who have put up rigorous defenses of Mowinckel and his methods within the past few years. Perhaps you don’t agree with them, but just because TT doesn’t see things eye to eye with a certain scholar doesn’t mean that I have to disagree as well and doesn’t necessarily mean that they are employing bad methods.

    It’s late here and I’ll be going to bed soon, so I probably won’t respond to anything further for a while.

  114. We tout the virtues of inference and induction till the cows come home when we’re dealing with the fossil record. Why can’t we do the same with ancient texts? Obviously there’s an over abundance of ascension “speak” to be found everywhere in the scriptures. Surely this could–possibly denote some sort of mother religion. No?

  115. @TT post #117 and #115.

    TT, first of all, I am not the boss of anyone here. However, I am friends with James and Ram and I have bumped into each other many times. And I do blog on this site. So I’ll take your request to ‘reign them in’ seriously.

    I’ll make you a deal, how about you apologize for (or at least retract) this comment: “Now, we may say that he has not yet finished, or that his training isn’t the equivalent of what he would get in a US program that he didn’t have to pay for himself, or other reasons…”

    And I publicly ask Ram and James to tone it down? Does that sound fair?

    Yes, I saw you went on to say, “but i don’t think that is fair to him either.”

    But if I were in David’s shoes, I’d still feel like this was an intentional slight. Hopefully it wasn’t, but either way, I didn’t really feel comfortable with this comment.

    I think, for the most part, we’ve all been pretty civil. I barbed a few times myself and I already regret them because all of my ‘opponents’ have proven worthy and intelligent.

    James and Ram are definitely hotter headed than I am (not that I’m some vision of coolness) so I see your point that they are quick to assume more than you are saying. But you haven’t been perfect either.

    So guys (James, Ram, TT, myself, everyone), let’s tone it down a bit. Why ruin a perfectly civil discussion like this?

  116. TT, let me address your key point seriously.

    Yes, David’s work should be and apparently (by you and others) will be addressed as if it is scholarship since he’s in training to be a scholar. Even though this is just a blog post, not a scholarly paper, your criticism and feedback is valuable.

    But I do caution you on this. I asked David to do this series of post out of personal interest. So this is not a published paper. It’s not David’s academic work. It’s him writing stuff for a friend because I asked him to because I think its super neat freakin’ cool. That’s it.

    I hope you can see that I do not see things like this as ‘proofs.’ Not by a long shot.

    Maybe you are right that there are people that will take it that way because David happens to be training to be a scholar. But I am not going to back off on wanting to see what David has come up with so far just because some people might get the wrong idea. They will have to be adults and take care of themselves.

    And really, I’m just not worried for them. For one thing, that’s why you’re here, right? I mean part of what happens is that David publishes this stuff on a blog and it gets criticized by you and others. He knows this is going to happen when he does it. And that’s okay.

    I’m a pretty hard core Popperian. Conjecture and Refutation is how we gain knowledge. And frankly, that process does not start with scholarship. Scholarship is where we want to eventually aspire to, but it’s not the beginning.

    Even Popper admited that the start of knowledge is myth! (I’ll get you a quote if you want.)

    The fact is that I personally see very little difference between myth and science. Or rather, they are as different as a baby and an adult. But they are still the same ‘stuff’ to me. They are conjectures that people can then criticize and refute. And those criticisms require responses, which means they refine and get better with time.

    I believe in this. Do you?

    The fact is, for all your efforts to say that David’s hypothesis can’t be ‘falsified’ the fact is that you seem pretty confident you can falsify it. So maybe it can be falsified after all. Let the games commence, I say!

  117. Bruce, I do apologize for the temper. Consider my claws retracted.

    That said, Can we ask that people not only say why they agree/disagree with David on his position or a point he makes, by showing us why?

    As you’ve mentioned, some have noted that David’s position cannot be falsified, but do not give reasons why they make such a claim. It is one thing to be concerned about parallel-o-mania, it is another thing to see any parallels as problematic.

    Perhaps a numbering system, perhaps 1 to 10, so that each point made can be graded by various individuals on how likely/plausible David’s point is? Then we can see how likely it is, among this group anyway, such a point can be considered plausible.

    For example, if ancient sentinels guarding the entrances to each section of the temple, and requiring a password in order to enter therein is considered good evidence, then someone might give it an ‘8’. Someone else may think it isn’t that strong and give it a ‘2’. Such a rating may also assist David in knowing what each of us considers as potentially valuable data.

    I still would like to see TT answer your key question concerning what he would offer as an alternate hypothesis. Just saying ‘no’ makes it difficult to find answers that may be more plausible than what David is offering. As it is, he currently has offered the only theory so far.

  118. “It is one thing to be concerned about parallel-o-mania, it is another thing to see any parallels as problematic.”

    Good point, Ram.

    Also, I love your idea of rating the evidence. Obviously what we subjectively decide to rate the evidence doesn’t really affect how good it is or isn’t. But it would probably help all of us communicate better.

    Even low, medium, high, non-existent, you sold me would probably work well.

  119. By the way, Ram, TT did say the following:

    “Now, i fear you may be right that vie been too abstact on this point and it is confusing. I hope to clarify it. Btw, if there are any particular points that you see as pressing for me to address, a let me know. The discussion has gotten to big to get to everything, and I’d appreciate a good summary post of things you’d want me to explain or account for more.”

    He is probably right that it’s difficult to respond to us at this point. So maybe you and I can get together and write a post sometime or something, as he suggests. Are you open to me email you and we put our heads together on this?

  120. TT,

    Can I also ask you for the reverse?

    This threat go so long that I can’t even find your 10 concerns any more. (It was 10, wasn’t it?)

    Can you either do a summary comment or post (on your site linking here?), or something like that, that lists out your specific concerns with David’s parallels in this particular post.

    Ram and I will try to ask you more specific questions about your position to allow you to clarify your own position.

    Fair?

  121. All, we’ve all acknowledged that this discussion has gotten large, and it is tricky to keep on point. I’m going to attempt to manage that by sticking to the primary conversation I’ve started with David.

    David,
    First, let me say that I’m sorry about how my comment about your education came across. As Bruce noticed, I was actually making this point in order to dismiss it as a reason that we should hold you to a lower standard. I think that you are qualified and capable of the highest standards as a result of your training. You have an education to be proud of. Further, I am not one to compare credentials because I really don’t think they matter. I’ve explicitly ignored Ram’s dismissive comment about our "qualifications" in 105 because I don’t think that the issue is decided by qualifications, but by working out the ideas together. I admit that I have a bad taste in my mouth about some things that I’ve been accused of here by others, and perhaps I worded my defense of you in a way that came off as passive aggressive. For that, I again apologize. I’ve found you, as always, to be a fair, kind, and worthy conversation partner and I hope you’ll forgive any offense.
    Now, I feel that Bruce is trying to defend you by holding to you a lower standard. "It’s not David’s academic work. " (124). Yet, that isn’t exactly true since you are working on this topic for your dissertation, and you’re 1.5 years into now. You introduced yourself on this blog with your credentials. The OP sets the standard of evidentiary, not revelatory, conclusions when you say: "evidence to the idea that the temple ordinances that we know were practiced anciently." Further, you situate your ideas as "The foregoing is based on a great deal of research that I have done and have been putting together for the past while." So, I guess I disagree with Bruce that we should hold these ideas as preliminary, hypothetical beginnings not based on the results of your studies since that is not how you rhetorically frame them, and because you are in the process of completing your second advanced degree in this field.

    That said, I think we’ve had a good start on focusing on a specific test case that you think illustrates your thesis that the "core" of our current practices were also practiced anciently. I have suggested that in this specific case actually proves my argument that the particular interpretive framework you’ve adopted here produces a distortion of both ancient and modern sources. Let’s see if we can advance this particular part of the discussion forward in order to illustrate our respective sides. I just want to note that I’ve let you choose the ground here to make this case, which I see as having given you the advantage in the argument. Hopefully we can begin to arrive at common ground.

    For those just tuning in, the main posts are 73, 85, and 117.

    With references to the question of the "new name" in Ps. 24:

    And I don’t feel that the concept of the new name in the passage is “completely” different from ours. If you look (just humor me on this for a moment) at the passage from, to use Mowinckel’s term, a “cult-functional” approach, in the theoretical festival setting, you have the leader of the procession up to the temple engaging in a dialog with the gatekeepers. If we hypothesize that this leader of the procession is not really Yahweh himself but someone that is now being called Yahweh (or the King of Glory), then we have the name “Yahweh” as a new name for the individual.

    You seem to be arguing that the reference to Yahweh is in the second person, but I don’t see that at all. 24:10 explicitly says that that answer to the question: "Who is the King of glory?" is "Yahweh Sabaoth, HE IS the King of Glory." So, I don’t see at all how you can conlcude that Yahweh is the "new name" of the leader of the procession of the New Year festival. Furthermore, I still think that even in the scenario you lay out, assuming it is correct, the difference between our new name ritual and this is dramatic. First, we receive the new name in the temple, not outside of it. Second, our new name is part of a covenant ritual, where there is no covenant ritual here. Third, if this is a part of "New Year Festival" (where is the evidence for that!), the notion of ritual time is central to the performance, whereas our rituals are not based on a annual calendar. Fourth, the theological context of this dialogue at the gate is about establishing the might of the Lord in Battle, the Lord of Hosts. This militaristic deity is nothing like our temple’s depiction of God. Fifth, at best this is a "new name" for the processional leader, not for each individual as in our case. Sixth, our notion of the new name for an individual is never the name of deity, and frankly I’d be surprised if this were the case in ancient Israelite religion. Seventh, this is an apparently male only event, as opposed to our temple. Eighth, this is not about entering the Holy of Holies, or even the temple itself. It is only about entering the temple precincts. So, as I’ve been saying, to suggest a ‘parallel’ requires the suppression of a ton of really central elements.

    Of course you would be right to say that this is reading too much into the text — I readily admit that it is. However, I think that we would have to accept that this could at least be a possible scenario. How could you prove that it wasn’t?

    You’re are right, I think this is reading too much into the text. What is the basis for seeing at as part of the New Year’s Festival, or part of a procession, or something that only the procession leader would say, or that the dialogue took place by the temple police? You and I both know that there is not one warrant for any of these claims. Sure, it is possible, but it is just as possible to say that this is what the priests had to say each day in their private prayers. Or we could say that it is just as possible that this is an entirely fictional liturgy, and ideal that was never actually practiced (we actually have lots of fictional liturgies in early Christianity, so this is a real possibility). Or we could say that it is just as possible that this was the Paschal entrance ceremony performed by the high priest. The point is that your scenario is no more or less likely than any of these or any other things that our imagination could offer. And that is the reason to reject them as "plausible" because there is nothing to support them. You once said that you rejected the work of other LDS scholars: "The main problem that I have is that they describe details that I don’t see in the source texts. They put several parts of the festival proceedings in the pre-mortal realm that I can’t, at the moment, see as justifiable." (35) This is exactly the standard to which I think your statements should be held. If there is nothing in the text to support it, then it shouldn’t be advanced.

    you also cannot say that such a reading is impossible and that the use of the new name in that situation would have been “completely different” from ours.

    I’m not sure that the burden of proof that I have is to prove "impossibility" because that is frankly an impossible burden of proof. It is possible that aliens were ancient Israelites, no? Instead, I think that the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate possibility, and I think that the standard for doing this is not to make arguments from silence. To say that it is possible that this "new name" ritual was like ours because no one can prove otherwise is an argument from silence. It is also just as likely that it was nothing like ours. Further, we have the text…and, no surprise, there is not a single word in our ritual that appears in Ps 24. I listed all the reasons above, based on what the text actually says, not what it does not say, for how it differs from ours, and questioned whether there is really a "new name" here at all. (I don’t think so).

    And what are the other 10 reasons why the parallel doesn’t work? I must have missed that.


    Yes, I think you did. I argued extensively in 85 about why 1 Chron and Ps 24 do not represent a convincing parallel to our temple practices. So you don’t have to go back to read them, I’ll number them here.

    1. The Chroniclers theology of the temple is Davidic, not Mosaic. This not only challenges your earlier assertion that the temple must be understood as a Mosaic ascension, but is another reason why your method of parallel drawing distorts the ancient sources because it never allows for the political interpretation of the temple. While ours is not political, the ancient temple was deeply so, especially for the Chronicler.
    2. Chronicles is an account of the second temple, not the first, so whatever it says about the first must be taken as suspect, like, for instance, the presence of temple guards.
    3. The guards in Chron serve a policing function to literally guard "treasure," the money inside the temple.
    4. The guards stand outside the temple to protect the four gates of the temple precinct, not inside.
    5. There is no textual evidence in the bible or outside that these figures held any liturgical role at all, especially not one of asking questions to those who entered. They were police, the same police who arrested Jesus.
    6. If these figures had any requirements at all, they were about ritual purity, not moral purity. The so-called more requirements in the Ps not only aren’t present anywhere in Chronicles as a prereq for temple worship, but not even in the Ps. are they really used as a method for exclusion. Instead, ritual purity around the dead and menstruation were much more crucial.
    7. These guards held their position by right of lineage, which we do not.
    8. The "passwords" in the Ps. are not secret, nor are they parts of covenants.
    9. The afterlife is not an aspect of the temple at all either in Chron or in the Ps. Instead, the political realm, either Davidic or militaristic are the core aspects of what the temple meant and what God’s role in blessing Israel was.
    10. There are no handshakes anywhere.
    11. We don’t have monetary treasures in our temples that require guarding.

    I threw in an extra one. I was quickly skimming my 85. I’d say go back and check out my argumentation for the full reading. I’m happy to elaborate, but I think that the differences are much, much starker than you’ve let on, and the "similarities" go away pretty quickly.

    Let me make one more point. Suppose that I was a mason, and suggested that the ancient temple rituals actually matched my own. First, I could use the exact same things that you’ve pointed to. The ancient temple had gatekeepers, passwords must be shared, etc. I could even add a few things into my column as advantages I had over Mormonism, such as Masonic uses of temple instruments, the absence of women in my rituals, and the lack of the afterlife and premortality as part of the ritual. Basically, your standard of "can’t prove it didn’t happen that way" applies equally to Masonic claims as to ours. But, you might say, the ancient temple ceremony was about worshipping God, which the Masonic ceremony isn’t. Here, you would want to emphasize the differences in order to show that the parallels that the Masons are drawing are not really all that strong. I think that we should hold the same standard to ourselves. We need to confront the differences, not dismissing them as not part of the "core" since your interpretation of the "core" is subjective, not one arrived at through reading the ancient sources, but arrived at by means of the parallels to modern temples that you seek.

    I gave extensive responses (comment 33) to your initial questions from comment 1, but I didn’t see any response from you.

    David, I apologize about this if you felt I was ignoring key things. It wasn’t my intent. As I said, I’m trying to edit to keep this from getting out of control. I certainly felt that I was answering in the spirit of what we had been discussing, namely, how it is that comparisons could be made, standards of proof, the staus of JS’s statements, etc. Your comment 33 is indeed a rich comment, and there is much, too much to say, My hope in comment 57, which was largely a response directly to 33 was to treat the main issues. My 57 was already longer than your 33, and getting to every point wasn’t possible. Instead, I suggested that we pick a single test case to work out our ideas. That is what we’ve done, and I hope is more productive than trying to solve priesthood, sealing, etc, etc, all in one post. It is just too much, but if there is something really crucial I missed, let me know.

    While I recognize that speaking of a New Year Festival has gone out of style and been dismissed in many circles, I think that there have been many good recent arguments for the validity of the theory. 


    Can you elaborate on what those reasons are? I am certainly willing to be persuaded, but as you suggested about others before, I find the evidence so flimsy that I don’t see the value in the theory at all. You’re more dedicated to this issue, so maybe you can enlighten us. In order to keep it close to what we’re doing, perhaps you can show why you think the New Years festival is key to Ps 24.

    <i>But tell me, does believing Joseph Smith’s claims to the point that I expect to be able to see evidence of those claims as I engage in scholarly research constitute a betrayal or abandonment of my scholarly training?</i>

    I’m not sure there is a good answer to this, and I’d like to perhaps come back to this to think through it together and possibly revise my position, but I’d like to begin my answer by answer an unqualified "yes." I’m almost surprised that you don’t think so too. You’re "belief" in a particular claim of JS is something which lies outside the realm of the scholarly and is only in the realm of belief. I believe lots of things about JS, God, and the spiritual realm. I don’t, however, "expect to see evidence" of these beliefs in scholarship, because, you know, then they wouldn’t be beliefs, but arguments based on evidence. To me, that is not what faith is, and I don’t think faith requires us to believe things that aren’t true. Now, you seem to think that this belief is one that can be vindicated objectively through "scholarly research." Yet, research which is based on a non-falsifiable "belief" as opposed to one that is truly a testable idea, is not "scholarly." If I set out to prove the universal flood, because a prophet once taught it, and only selectively interpreted the evidence (citing other ancient myths, for example), but refusing to consider the archeological, logical, or other contrary evidence, you would agree that this "research" that sets out of verify a "belief" is not scholarly, right? Now, I think that is why Bruce, John C., and Smallaxe have been trying to get you to admit that this particular approach is not scholarship, but is some kind of mythmaking, or speculating, rather than scholarship, because they see that you have begun from a position of belief rather than a position of scholarly standards. Furthermore, I think that you’re being arbitrary about which of the statements of Joseph Smith that you think have to be taken literally. This is a statement that is not canonized, nor part of any authoritative test for orthodoxy. It is also one one that many here, including Bruce take only in a very qualified way once they admit to the possibility of some modern origins of the temple. So, does admitting the possibility, as Bruce does, that some, even great portions, of our ceremony have strictly modern origins, mean that one doesn’t belief that JS was a prophet? Joseph never admitted to any modern origins, so are we bound to reject any explanation as partially modern as a betrayal of our belief in JS? I certainly don’t think so.

    David, I think we both started out inspired by the same basic idea. I loved this temple research once. Ultimately, I came to not find it intellectually or spiritually satisfying. That didn’t change my belief in JS at all. Sure, I had more more nuanced view about the literalness of some claims, just like I don’t believe in a universal flood, or in the parting of the Red Sea, not just for scientific reasons, but also for textual reasons revolving around the incoherence of these two stories coming from different Pentateuchal sources. Having a qualified belief in the literalness of certain prophetic statements, especially ones that are not binding, is not the end of the world. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that you have lots of qualified statements of belief in other prophetic statements, even those having to do with the temple. Ever read BY on Adam-God and the temple ceremony? You don’t deny BY was a prophet, or lose you faith because you don’t believe it. You just move on.

    I’d like to point to a few paragraphs about why I don’t find this method scholarly in my 85 that I don’t think you addressed. I will just reproduce them here for convenience:

    The guiding method that you’re using to identify similarities is that of a “core” or “essence” versus the things that are “secondary.” The problem is that you have not laid out a convincing method for how it is that you determine what is “core” and what is not. It certainly isn’t based on what the author of Chronicles or Psalms takes to be “core.” Rather, that which is “core” is that which appears to match LDS rites, and that which is not core is that which does not match. Do you see the problem here? There is a circularity and unfalsifiability of this method. Only that which matches your own criteria is deemed to be “core,” while anything that doesn’t match is dismissed. That is to say, what is “core” is a not determined by a close reading of the texts in their historical context, but is already pre-established as anything which is “similar” the LDS rites. As I’ve said, and I hope to have shown, a close reading of these texts reveals entirely different values, meanings, political implications, uses, and historical conditions behind them. Similarly, I think that if we read our own rites closely, we find that entirely different things may be going on than the categories you’ve raised. I’ve mentioned a few, such as afterlife and gender, that I think your reading of both ancient and modern rituals completely ignores, but which I take to be pretty much the “core” of what is happening.

  122. Bruce, it’s a deal. I’m sure with all of us, this thread is taking up time we don’t have. If we can edit it down to the really key points, that would be great.

  123. “Now, I think that is why Bruce, John C., and Smallaxe have been trying to get you to admit that this particular approach is not scholarship, but is some kind of mythmaking, or speculating, rather than scholarship, because they see that you have begun from a position of belief rather than a position of scholarly standards.”

    I’m going to clarify my position. I actually said that in the worst case that it was mythmatking, but that it would still be worthwhile. John C even agreed with me on that. I did not say I believed it was mythmaking, as you apparently read me.

    I think one of the big differences between my view and yours, TT, is that I think the more ridged view of what is or isn’t scholarship that you, John, and SmallAxe have advocated for (based on falsifiability, primarily) can’t survive it’s own test. (See here)

    Popper is the one that suggested the falsifiability test, but Popper has, to some degree been proven wrong in this regard. Though it’s still a useful thing to strive for, it’s not realistic that we can cut things off and say ‘that’s not academic because it’s not falsifiable.’ When we subscribe to that view, we are just fooling ourselves.

    Popper was more correct that knowledge is from conjecture and refutation and he advocated for the importance of non-falsifiable ideas and for the importance of critical discussion.

    In my opinion, critical discussion is a more encompassing (and more correct) description of scholarship than falsifiability. Of course, I prefer both.

  124. TT,

    I tried to fix up your long comment because some of the block quotes were screwed up. I am not sure I got the last one correct. Please verify.

  125. TT,

    I get that you want to use a Marx vs Plato form. But in the comments of the link you also note that you “an endeavor is either 1) a waste of time because the things are differentiate Mormonism and EC are so great that no useful similarities actually exist, and that 2) comparisons made can only be understood by the general LDS readership as engaging in apologetics or trying to tear down LDS belief.”

    So, either it is a waste of time or should only be a strictly apologetic/Platonic event. Well, I hope you do not feel you are wasting time on this discussion then. :)

    Given that the focus of Mormonism is a form of apologetics – we teach 19 yr old missionaries how to teach the apostasy, for example – it seems hard to move beyond that entirely. For every text that David or others present, there will always be someone who considers it sloppy research based on Mormon apologetics.

    IOW, whether the research is considered Marx or Plato based, good or bad, is partially based on the subjectivity of the reader. For example, NHM is found in the Arabian desert. LDS scholars try to use it as physical/material Marx-like evidence of the Book of Mormon. Yet many still call it apologetic slop.

    When it comes to religion, and to history as well, there is no such thing as proof. There is just evidence and interpretation of that evidence.

    When we look at Joseph Smith’s writings, such as the JST, are we considering this as actual translation or more of a pesher/commentary? When Nephi copies Isaiah and then comments, is his interpretation a bad one, or is he doing the ancient Jewish thing by interpreting it in light of his own situation? If a bad one, then how do we explain the Habakkuk Pesher that does the same thing regarding whom they consider to be the Kittim?

    I just don’t think, given how Joseph Smith set up the religion we now enjoy, that we can totally avoid apologist views. And perhaps we shouldn’t either. TT, Perhaps you could give us some actual examples of how you personally would go about fixing the perceived weaknesses in David’s efforts, emphasizing a Marxian vs Platonic methodology?

    I still think a ranking of potential examples/evidences by those considering David’s article would be helpful to David and the rest of us to see where on a scale it ranks in strength/weakness.

  126. Bryce,
    Very quickly, falsifiability is not the only standard of scholarship that I’ve advanced here. I’ve also suggested that the method of comparison that he is using obscures and distorts both ancient and modern temple rituals because it is based on a deliberately selective reading of both, where only “similarities” matter and differences can be dismissed. If I were to give this standard a handy name, I would say that it has something to do with the usefulness a particular approach has in explaining as much of the text/ritual as possible. I think that this approach has very limited explanatory value, while the method that I’m advocating of more careful attention to historical context helps us to see and take seriously all that David’s approach leaves out. Mabye Explanatory Plenitude?

    While I agree that non-falsifability has certain epistemological limits, I don’t think we are anywhere near those limits here, and pointing out that there are limits doesn’t illuminate anything in particular with respect to this case.

  127. Ram 135,
    In that same comment, I go to great length to explain why I don’t believe #1 is the case. I think you’re mistaking the Marx vs. Plato thing. This is about two different modes of doing comparison, either historical materialist atomism or ideal type pattern finding. I think that David is doing the ideal type pattern finding. What I try to make the case for in that post, based on the methods of comparative religion that JZ Smith is advancing, is a method that can acknowledge patters, but make sense of them fully within a historical context. Further, the purpose of this approach is not about finding “proof” to validate matters of faith, but to explain religion, to understand how religious people think and act, and thereby to better understand ourselves.

    If you still don’t feel like I’ve provided a convincing alternative method either theoretically or in actual practice after I have worked extensively on 1 Chron 9 and Ps 24 as an example of what it would mean to take seriously the differences, to historically contextualize things, or my explanation of how I see JS’s revelations working (based on Nate Oman’s reading of the D&C) as an explanation for how Joseph is seen both as a revealer and real historical figure who is not an empty vessel into whom God poured ancient knowledge, then I’m not sure I know what you’re asking for. I feel like I’ve answered your question time and again, and I’m running out of ways to keep answering it because you just keep asking it without ever really addressing the answer. Maybe you can just put things on hold and see if the answer comes out of my continued discussion with David about Ps. 24 and 1 Chron 9.

  128. Now, I think that is why Bruce, John C., and Smallaxe have been trying to get you to admit that this particular approach is not scholarship, but is some kind of mythmaking, or speculating, rather than scholarship, because they see that you have begun from a position of belief rather than a position of scholarly standards.

    My #105 was actually meant to argue that even claims of mythmaking cannot be completely divorced from scholarly analysis.

  129. TT, I’ll try to be patient while watching that discussion. I do agree that any approach on a text should note both similarities and dissimilarities, so that is something David should consider including in these issues.

    I got to a point with reading Nibley that I wanted to read the originals, because he would often reference without quoting, and it’s hard to determine if he kept things in context or not, or how he was interpreting the text. So, I understand your point on discussing all sides of a text in comparing it with modern LDS temple liturgy.

  130. TT,

    For what it is worth, if someone were to ask me “please summarize TT’s theological views of the LDS Church and the nature of God” I’m not sure I could answer the question. So I still sort of agree with Ram on this.

    However, it seems ridiculous that in a discussion about David’s post, you would suddenly bare all and bring up your personal views. But keep in mind that without a real ‘feel’ for where you are coming from, it is hard for me to sometimes see where you are coming from.

    For example, you pointed out that I don’t disagree with you on the temple very possibly having largely modern origins. Fair enough. But I can’t tell if you believe it has *only* modern origins. (I do not believe that.) And I think such a question (if it has only modern origins or not) is pertinent to the discussion.

    Or at a minimum, it sure does help me understand what someone is arguing if I understand what they are arguing for.

    I’m not suggesting that you suddenly explain all your beliefs (that would be impossible, I assume) but just keep in mind that it is indeed difficult to understand a person’s arguments without knowing the motivations of the person.

    But you sort of pushed that back to me to ask better questions. I will take up that challenge in the future.

  131. Smallaxe,

    If you point is that *everything* is subject to critical analysis (I say ‘critical’ rather than ‘scholarly’ though I probably mean the same thing you did) then consider myself agreeing with you.

    There is probably an open question of whether or not we *should* subject everything to critical analysis. But if we are affirming a theistic worldview, then the answer to that question must and has to be ‘yes, everything should be subject to critical analysis because the truth has intrinsic value.’

    Only in a Lovecraftian world would we not want to subject everything to critical analysis.

  132. David,
    I apologize for incidentally lumping you in with every Skousen, Dick, and Harry out there. I certainly think you are more qualified and more trained than most and your comments are convincing me that (although I’m not a big fan of Mowinckel) you seem to be approaching things in a scholarly manner.

    Comment 100 was written in response to Bruce’s question regarding what was problematic with letting you do your thing. The problem isn’t you. The problem is all the people who think they can do what you do (this is the biggest problem that Nibley introduced into the church: coveting of scholarship (that is to say that everyone covets his scholarship)). I often think that the entire world of LDS Hermeneutics and Scriptural Study would be better off if Sidney Sperry (for all his faults) was our guiding light instead of Nibley.

    The reason to bring up Skousen’s book is because people who adhere to his book also believe that falsifiability isn’t a problem. They’ll point to the 4 rivers and say it makes perfect. People will say “you can’t possibly know that is the case” and they’ll respond that “you can’t know it isn’t!” I agree that what you are doing has a bit more substance, but this sort of problem is where following in the footsteps of Mowinckel or Margaret Barker leads you. All those ex-bishops and seminary teachers with their revealed ideas about the second coming and polygamy find inspiration in theories without falsifiability (also in insanity).

    Of course, it is wrong to lay the blame for others behavior at your feet. You can’t help that others will likely take your ideas and run with them in crazy directions. I just hope that if this is all done appropriately, there will be fewer weird theories sold at Seagull Book than otherwise.

    Sorry for being a weird little man. Carry on.

  133. “We tout the virtues of inference and induction till the cows come home when we’re dealing with the fossil record. Why can’t we do the same with ancient texts?”

    Because bones are different than ideas.

  134. I actually believe that myths and faith are somewhat impervious to critical analysis, which is much of their appeal (a point I’ve tried somewhat clumsily to make in this thread several times over). They obviously aren’t entirely impervious (we don’t believe that George Washington cherry tree story anymore; instead we use it as a mythical example of a myth). But, for the true believer, new rationales will always be found for the fervently held belief. Which is just fine, of course.

    Also, I think I said myth-making could be worthwhile, not would be worthwhile.

    Finally, I should add that I essentially agree with TT regarding the the weaknesses of David’s approach. I appreciate him taking the time and effort to actually argue points with David, instead of taking pot-shots at bad LDS hermeneutics by way of analogy. That’s why he gets paid the big bucks.

  135. I have just been going back through the comments and I have noticed that I completely missed some of TT’s major responses to me, including #57, 84, 130, and others.

    I apologize, TT, for inadvertently missing these — I think there were just too many comments for me to get through them all. I apologize for accusing you of not having responded to my arguments. I see that you did provide very thorough (and I’m sure quite time-consuming) responses. I do appreciate your efforts and I am contemplating giving a good response to your main points (I’m sure this is probably not the best use of time for either of us, but I am enjoying the discussion, learning a lot, and your points certainly deserve my attention).

    My general thoughts at the moment are that while you certainly know what you’re talking about and have mastered the methods you prefer to use, I still believe that your approach obscures the big picture. Yes, the approach that I took in this post was overly simplistic — I admit that. However, I still believe that there is evidence for the features of the temple that I outlined. But I believe that most of them will not be understood by simply analyzing the text. A more nuanced understanding of the life setting of the texts is often required.

    For example (and I can’t go into it in depth at the moment), while I think you gave a brilliant explanation of the background of 1 Chron 9 and the function of the gatekeepers there, you have acknowledged that the Chronicler was far removed (by centuries) from the setting of the temple that existed in the early Davidic monarchy.

    You said:
    “Chronicles is an account of the second temple, not the first, so whatever it says about the first must be taken as suspect”

    I would take that further and say that the architects of the Second Temple and its rituals practiced a significantly different form of Judaism than those of the First. I agree that temple practices of the Second Temple should not be used as a model for understanding those of the First. Although the Chronicler apparently used the Deuteronomistic History as a source, and that would have given him/them access to a much earlier time, the DH was still far removed from the early years of the Monarchy and I follow the theory that they had an agenda that included obscuring the earlier theology (and, I would say, most especially temple theology and practice).

    Having said that, I would reverse your argument and assert that if there were gatekeepers functioning in the original setting of Ps 24, I am not convinced that the description you gave of the gatekeepers, based on 1 Chron 9, bears much weight for our consideration of these. On the other hand, I don’t believe that the difference in setting between the two passages negates the possibility that gatekeepers could have functioned in the First Temple. All that we know from Psalm 24 is that there is a petition for the gates to be opened. Okay, well we need to try to imagine what the function of this psalm was and in what setting it was used. I think its reasonable to infer from the text that there was somebody there that is being petitioned to open the gates. We know from 1 Chron. 9 that at some point the temple had gatekeepers, and also Psalm 84:9-10 (which is possibly, but not certainly, closer in date to Psalm 24) mentions the “doorkeeper” position at the temple. I think it is reasonable (although you’re right that I can’t prove it) to work with the possibility that in the original setting of Psalm 24 there could have been gatekeepers involved.

    Just to bring up one other point for now, I would have to disagree that there were no moral requirements to pass through the gates.

    You said (speaking of the 1 Chron 9 gatekeepers):
    “If these figures had any requirements at all, they were about ritual purity, not moral purity. The so-called more requirements in the Ps not only aren’t present anywhere in Chronicles as a prereq for temple worship, but not even in the Ps. are they really used as a method for exclusion. Instead, ritual purity around the dead and menstruation were much more crucial.”

    I think you are violating your own rule that we not compare the First Temple with the Second here by arguing that the “so-called” moral requirements in the Ps are not present in the Chronicles. Again, I’m not really concerned with what it says in Chron because I think there was a very different system operating there. For me, the Psalm is outlining moral requirements (maybe they eliminated that practice in the Second Temple in favor of ritual requirements). Moral requirements are a common feature of ancient temples, and the pilgrims desiring to approach the temple had to know those requirements and declare that they were living them. There were usually ten such requirements (perhaps so that they could be more easily remembered by associating them with the fingers). In Ps 24, we only have three. However, in Psalm 15 (which scholars argue also represents an entrance liturgy, as is quite clear from the text), we perhaps get a more complete listing. The initial questions asked in both psalms “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?” and “O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?” do, in my opinion, seem to be posed to individuals who are desiring to approach the temple. Would you not agree that it is plausible that there could be gatekeepers at the gates that are requiring approaching pilgrims to demonstrate that they are living these moral requirements? I know that I’ve skipped the part where you concede that Ps 24 even has a liturgical setting and that it involves pilgrims journeying to the temple, but we can get back to that later.

    I’ve written more than I planned, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

  136. I did not have time to read through this post and the comments until now, and it leaves me with a few thoughts.

    1)There is nothing wrong with former institute teachers and others who may appear less qualified speculating on the scriptures, and even doing so in book form, even if this means they may write things that other scholars find laughable. We are asked to study the scriptures. This will be an individual process. Sometimes when you study the scriptures, you are so filled with inspiration that you want to share with others. Some of your ideas may be inspired, others may be hackneyed, but it seems to me that this is what God wants us all to do: feast upon the word. My impression of David’s critics here is that they really want all of these idiots to stop writing about things they don’t know enough about because they’re not scholars. This attempt to snuff out discovery goes directly against what the Gospel is all about: our revelation is between us individually and God.

    2)David is sharing some of his thoughts. I applaud him for it. I have had a personal testimony that there is some kind of connection between ancient temples and the mysteries associated with them, and modern-day temples. I know this to be true (in the same sense that I know the Book of Mormon to be true). I don’t know enough about the subject to write a post like David did, but I feel that many things he wrote are true.

    3)Having said all that, I do feel it is important to remember that we shouldn’t base our faith on extraneous interpretations from others. We should have our own faithful experiences and base our faith on that. I have seen too many people base their faith on something (like a particular scholar’s interpretation of a truth claim) and when another scholar comes along and brings out new information, the faith of that person is like a house of cards falling to the ground. I am thinking specifically here of the DNA issue. I’ve known several people who have abandoned the Church for the wrong reasons, many of them citing the DNA issue. I think David would agree that he is simply putting together some of his thoughts and he doesn’t want anybody to base his or her faith on his thoughts alone (this is so obvious that it hardly needs saying, but there it is nonetheless).

  137. At the risk of fanning the flames which have died down:

    My impression of David’s critics here is that they really want all of these idiots to stop writing about things they don’t know enough about because they’re not scholars. This attempt to snuff out discovery goes directly against what the Gospel is all about: our revelation is between us individually and God.

    I (and perhaps we) want people to move carefully in the process of interpretation. When you publish something you make it publicly accessible and if your claims are explicitly not of the private sort, but rooted in things such as texts that are open to a community of interpreters then I think that community can and should judge the kind of interpretation the work presents.

  138. Smallaxe, you are certainly welcome to put forward whatever view you want of whatever anybody writes. To the extent that you are engaging in criticism, good for you. My perception, again, is that you and TT and to a certain extent John C want people to just shut up and stop writing things you don’t agree with. I could be wrong (and please correct me if this is the case), but this is the tenor I see in your comments.

  139. Geoff,
    You have completely misread my comments. While I don’t think much of those things, my point is that they shouldn’t be treated as history (or, at least, objective history). In some cases, they should be treated as the ravings of entertaining lunatics or calculating frauds, but not as history. People can write and sell what they want (and muddy the waters in the process), but it is appropriate to put limits on what is acceptable in academic realms. I didn’t offer a broad call for censorship.

  140. John C, let’s take a look at this comment:

    “The problem is that people have been doing this for a long time and have been doing this poorly. On the internet and in Seagull book, I’ve seen dozens of books of people with their hare-brained ideas, demonstrating this or that enduring eternal truth about the Gospel as it manifests itself on earth. The Book of Mormon archaeology crowd are, unfortunately, mostly engaged in self-parody. FARMS has been engaged in a decades long attempt to emulate Nibley, without being as smart or as funny. In the meantime, every other ex-Institute Director, ex-Mission President, and ex-Stake President is running their prospectus by Deseret Book and Covenant in the hopes of getting published.

    Again, I turn you to the example of the Skousen book I read and the map of the four rivers leaving Eden (It’s by Cleon’s son, Eric). There’s nothing here to indicate that David’s theories are more substantive or more worthwhile than that map. You’ve got the same starting point (something Joseph Smith said), you’ve got the same loosy-goosy parallels (four rivers from Eden; four major rivers in the Midwest), you’ve got the same lack of falsifiability (How on earth would you prove that these aren’t those rivers? It’s like disproving a teapot in the asteroid belt).

    That, in a nutshell, is the problem with these projects. Which isn’t to say that they shouldn’t be done, but to say that they should be done with extreme caution, very low expectations, and by people who are thoroughly trained in the historical context and who employ appropriate rigor. I don’t have any reason to doubt David’s training (like I would Eric Skousen’s or some random ex-Seminary Teacher’s), but I worry about the rigor (based on a blog post that admittedly glosses over the intricacies for time).”

    The way I read this is that the only people who should ever dare to write about the temple or anything complex are scholars with whom you agree. Sorry, I cannot read this any other way. You have basically condemned the majority of the Mormon scholar community (at least the kind of stuff you see in Deseret Book, for example). Now, I have actually read several dozen of those books by former institute teachers, etc, and I agree that some of them are really hare-brained. But some of them have some things to add.

    But my larger point is this: reading the scriptures or studying archeology or the temple is exciting for a lot of people. They get a kick out of it, and they want to share their insights with others. Some of those insights may be hare-brained, others may offer some people who are not as smart or learned as you (and I mean this as a compliment) a way to get started in studying more complex stuff. I think you and many other Bloggernacle commentators make the mistake of assuming that the only worthwhile things written are the most advanced things that you agree with that you have just read. You forget that in terms of Gospel knowledge, you are already at the letter M, but there are a huge number of people who are at the letter A or B. Personally, I am still at an F or G. I agree that I have probably read perhaps a quarter of the stuff you have regarding the Gospel, but let me have my own journey and make my way to the letter M and beyond my own way. You need to have faith in the average person’s ability to read the hare-brained stuff and reject it but to get something out of the FARMS stuff that you may not. We all do not have to follow your personal path to knowledge — we can all take our own path. And if we travel down paths that lead us to read some Skousen or crazy Seagull Book stuff, who cares? Heavenly Father trusts us to learn and make our own way to Truth — can’t you?

  141. I have not followed all of the comments closely, and I certainly lack David’s scholarly training, but I love this quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith:

    “We all admit that the Gospel has ordinances, and if so, had it not always ordinances, and were not its ordinances always the same?” Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 59.

    As one who has a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Restoration, I firmly believe that the ordinances of the temple existed in ancient times. I am grateful to the Prophet Joseph Smith for restoring the blessings of the temple and the ordinances that bind families together for all eternity.

    My testimony of temple ordinances stands independent of scholarly research on the subject. It is a testimony gained through scripture study, fasting, prayer, and temple worship. Regardless of what scholars may write on the subject, I consider these ordinances and sacred buildings to be of God.

  142. I think John’s point is that personal insight should not be touted as actual history; and when it is touted as such it is susceptible to critique as such.

    My hope is that people tread carefully in the act of interpretation. We all have our own paths to travel in our spiritual development, but these paths often intersect with other paths, and at those points we certainly have things to learn from each other. I may not agree with parts of David’s methodology, but I do think I have things to learn from him.

    Say your path takes you into Skousen; your analysis of him is undoubtedly impacted by your interactions with others (say, for instance, your father’s political views). It seems like you’re trying to limit this interaction by excluding those who might disagree with him.

    I don’t necessarily want people to agree with me or shut up, but I also don’t want people to preclude the possibility of coming to some kind of agreement. So I suppose I don’t want people to stop writing things as much as I want them to move carefully in writing, and I most definitely want those who encounter any kind of writing to evaluate it the same way that anything I write is open for evaluation.

  143. David,
    You’re a good guy and a class act. Thanks for engaging in the substantive issues. You’re certainly the kind of guy I’d love to hang out with and I think that at least at the level of your manner, you are a good example for future Mormon scholarship. Thank you.

    To quickly summarize, I’d say that my (10+) critiques of your reading of Ps 24 and 1 Chor 9 fell into three basic categories. 1) Whether or not guards and entrance liturgies actually existed or occurred at the same time; and 2) even if they did, their dissimilarity with LDS rites is so significant that the apparent similarities are greatly diminished, and 3) arguments about the nature of the act of “comparison” and why accounts that consider the differences as well as the similarities provide “explanatory plenitude” versus those that only seek to account for similarities as the basis of comparison. I think that you provide some good responses, that I will address below, on the question of the possibility of the scenario of temple guards perhaps performing an entrance liturgy on specific occasions, answering objection 1, but with the exception of discussing the role of moral requirements for ascent, I think you’ve largely left my 2 and 3 unanswered, points which I think are much more critical than 1, since even if I concede all your arguments on the possibility, I still think that 2 and 3 preclude the type of interpretation of “evidence for the features of the temple,” that you’ve offered of those events.

    On the issue of the possibility that the temple police/gatekeepers held a liturgical role including performing Ps 24 as an entrance liturgy, let’s consider what we’ve agreed on.
    1. The Chronicler is a late source whose descriptions of the First Temple should be taken as suspect.
    2. There is no evidence that temple guards existed in the First Temple.
    3. There is no evidence that the temple guards that we do know existed held any other role than policing.
    3. There is no evidence when, or if, or by whom, or in what context, Ps 24 was performed.

    What we’ve done with these same points is data is entirely different. As I understand it, your claim that there was ritual at the gate performed by the temple police is based on a series of “ifs” where there is no evidence.
    IF there were temple guards at the first temple, and IF they performed a liturgical role of some sort, and IF among those roles it included an entrance ceremony, and IF Ps 24 was performed at all in the context of a ceremony (as opposed to not at all, or privately, or simply in popular song, or any of the other possibilities), then we may conclude that, “it is reasonable (although you’re right that I can’t prove it) to work with the possibility that in the original setting of Psalm 24 there could have been gatekeepers involved.”

    My objection to this reconstruction is that every single one of the pieces of evidence on which it is based is entirely conjectural. Not a single point in that conclusion is based on anything other than an argument from silence. You’re right that in the sense that it is also impossible to disprove, such a scenario is “possible,” but the standards of possibility are so low that basically anything we say falls under that standard. As I’ve said before, it is also possible that aliens were involved in the ancient temple. You can’t disprove it! Or, more realistically, it is also equally possible that no temple guards existed in the first temple, if they did, it is also equally possible that they had only a policing function as they did in the second temple, and that Ps 24 is an imaginary liturgy, or something privately sung, or only performed once and then abandoned, etc. My point is that this level of conjecture is so tenuous that it is simply not acceptable as an argument, because the exact opposite of what you say is also just as possible, if not more so given the absence of any evidence in favor of your claims.

    I mentioned this before, but even if we were to concede this as a possibility in exactly the way you imagine it, the temple police asking questions at the outer temple gate to the leader of the procession on the New Year festival, the differences between this process and our own are so serious as to render the “similarities” extremely minor, if at all, to our ceremony with respect to 1) notions of time, 2) location of the ritual in relation to the temple, 3) notions of afterlife vs. notions of a militaristic concept of salvation from temporal enemies, and 4) the entire content of the questions and answers.

    Last point on this. Ps. 84:10 mentions a “doorkeeper IN the house of my God.” Is this the same thing as the “gatekeepers” of 1 Chron 9? Okay, so I decided to look up this term for gatekeeper (shoer) and see where else it appears. Whatever it is, for Ps 84 it is certainly a lowly station, and may not refer to the actual office in the temple, but rather the position of a porter, since the author is saying he’d rather do that crappy job than live in the “tents of wickedness.” Though the different locations suggest perhaps a different job, on further consideration there are good reasons to think that there was some sort of “guard” in the first temple. (I don’t have time to edit what I said above, but I will concede the possibility that such guards existed, but the rest of the points about them are still conjectures.) Looking up other instances where these guards are mentioned reveals that their responsibilities included gathering money and caring for the temple instruments (2 Kings 12:9; 22:4; 23:4). No mention is ever made of their performing an entrance liturgy, asking for “passwords,” or doing anything more than menial labor.

    Finally, one the issue of “moral requirements” in Ps 24, I’m not suggesting that the category of “morality” is not at work here (assuming that this isn’t an anachronous category for describing those with “pure hearts” and those who do not break their oaths), but rather than this functioned as an “exclusion” for temple worship. That is to say, while in our temples the category of morality is heavily operative as the basis for entrance, it seems to me that the way that these standards are invoked in Ps 24 is not to say that if you have broken an oath or something that you can’t come and worship (indeed, that would prevent anyone from being able to approach the temple for sin offerings and other works at the temple that begin from the supposition that one has sinned and the temple sacrifice will repair that act), but rather that it functions as a statement to identify who “will receive blessing from Yahweh” (24:5). That is, the moral requirements are not about entrance to the temple, but about who will be blessed by entrance to the temple. Entrance to the temple was governed by issues relating to ritual purity (which is not what ours is about), but blessings of the temple were governed by, for lack of a better term, “moral” purity relating to things like fidelity to oaths. Does that distinction make sense?

  144. Geoff,
    Again, that was written in answer to the question “What is problematic with David’s approach”? I think it is best read in answer to that question, rather than as a blanket condemnation of people speaking their mind. Sure, people can say whatever they want. Just as surely I have a right to call their conclusions fraudulent or amateurish. They don’t have to be scholars to be published. They do have to be scholars if they want to be taken seriously as a scholar. Unfortunately, Nibley’s disdain is often the only thing that is communicated to these folks when they read his take on scholarship; they miss how reliant he is on scholars as well. So people think that scholarly disdain is a sign of distinction, rather than an indication that they are off their rocker.

    In any case, I think that you continue to misread me (especially in the third paragraph). People can post or write whatever they want. They should just be clear to say they are posting “Uncle John’s musings on how the Bible should be read” rather than “A Scholarly Introduction to the Old Testament.”

  145. Smallaxe, I am at a loss. How am I supposed to read this?

    “Say your path takes you into Skousen; your analysis of him is undoubtedly impacted by your interactions with others (say, for instance, your father’s political views). It seems like you’re trying to limit this interaction by excluding those who might disagree with him.”

    It seems to me that you are saying that if I read Skousen and agree with him, and I limiting myself because I will disagree with people who disagree with him. In other words, you seem to be implying, I should only read people who agree with you otherwise I am “precluding the possibility of coming to some kinds of agreement.” Can’t I read Skousen and make up to my own mind? How can I know if I agree or disagree with him if I never read him?

    This kind of language appears very Orwellian to me.

  146. Nope. I’m simply saying that if you read Skousen (or anything) “making up your own mind” is never a process done independent of those things that influence you. Hence you should not say “let me find my own path” to those that disagree with Skousen so that you can “make up your own mind”. Instead you should engage what they have to say in disagreeing with Skousen.

  147. Smallaxe, if you are saying everybody should try to get as much information as possible, no problem. It would be nice to have unlimited time to discuss everything you read with all of the people around you and get varying viewpoints. I often use the Bloggernacle to do that, and it’s great. I would hope the same thing applies to things that I might agree with you that you might not. I would encourage you to read, for example, Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” if you have not. Don’t let your perceptions be influenced by the usual people and your usual paradigm. Come and talk to me about it. I might offer you a different take. You see, engagement goes both ways.

  148. I’m not for censorship, either. However, I do see value in being able to rank writer’s scientific writings by how well they follow the scientific method versus myth-making.

    That said, I see a big distinction between something written on a blog and something written in a book. And then there’s distinctions between blogs (some are personal, some scientific), as well as book publishers (I’d be more acceptable of something from Oxford Press than Covenant).

    So, while we should discuss David’s article, should it require as much de rigeur as a published paper or book? Not sure.

    I do agree that there is a lot of garbage “research” being done out there. However, that is true whether we talk about LDS or any other field in general. And sometimes scholars CAN be wrong, as we frequently find in the science and other fields.

  149. TT,

    Thank you for your kind comments. I also have a high opinion of you and do think that we would get along very well in another set of circumstances. I feel that I could learn a lot from you, even if we never fully see eye-to-eye. We’re both rather dead set on arguing our perspectives, but discussions like this, I think, can be very fruitful for both of us.

    If you don’t mind, I’ll take a few days to respond to you now. I’d like to write another full post on this topic and involve some of the points we’ve made here already. Would you mind if I cite some of your comments in that post? That can give us something of a fresh start on this.

    Cheers,
    David

  150. David,

    Maybe I’ve missed it, but I’m puzzled as to exactly how your title fits with your data. By finding a “coherent whole” in the scriptures, do you mean that we expect to find not just bits and pieces of allusions to something that looks like the Temple ordinances as we know them now in the Hebrew Bible, but the whole thing? I’m confused. Especially since the texts you point to are precisely not coherent wholes, but rather bits and pieces.

    Also, what do you do with the fact that they were never revealed as a coherent whole to Joseph Smith, but rather were added to a little at a time, first with washings and anointings, then, as JS became more deeply acquainted with Freemasonry, the endowment was added, etc.?

    Finally, most of the parallels you point to (as well as most people doing the same thing) can be exactly duplicated for other ancient contexts: Greek, Babylonian, etc. Does this not suggest that parallels in themselves are not enough to establish connection?

    Thanks!

  151. Hi JupitersChild,

    It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to interact with you! Thank you for your comment.

    You are correct to say that the title of the post doesn’t really fit the data I end up presenting. First of all, I would stress that I was simply borrowing the title from the original post written by M*Ben. However, if you read the post carefully, you will see that I agree in the beginning that the endowment as a “coherent whole” is NOT to be found in the Scriptures.

    Reiterating Ben’s initial questions and answers:
    “Should we find the Temple ordinances in the Old Testament? If so, should we see them presented as they are today?” His preliminary answers to these two questions were “yes to the first and no to the second.” I agree with M* Ben’s initial conclusions”

    So, right from the beginning, I agreed with the assertion that we were not to expect this to be found all together in the Scriptures. There are most certainly just bits and pieces to be found.

    What I did suggest is that there may be a possibility, if we look at theories like that of the New Year Festival, that a ritual system that resembles our endowment may have taken place anciently. However, I realize that this “ritual system” does not show up as a coherent whole in the Scriptures, unfortunately.

    “Also, what do you do with the fact that they were never revealed as a coherent whole to Joseph Smith” — what am I supposed to do with it? I don’t have any problem with it. Like most things, the temple rituals were revealed “line upon line”… However, I do believe that Joseph understood the overall theology of the temple from a very early stage, perhaps as early as the revelations that make up our Book of Moses (which is arguably a “temple text”). Further details came later.

    Your point regarding the existence of similar rituals in the Greek, Babylonian, and other cultures is a good one. However, I don’t see a serious problem with this. There are many different theories that have been suggested as to why this is the case: diffusion,spontaneous generation, psychological similarities among all humans, etc. However, while many ancient ritual systems are very similar, I think it’s rather difficult to find evidence that the whole system continued intact in some way until it became accessible to Joseph Smith.

  152. David,

    Thanks for the response, and fair enough: I understand better what you mean by coherent, though I do think it is not trivial, and that in this way you and Ben might be on different tracks.

    So if, as you say, “ancient ritual systems are very similar,” what about the evidence is distinctive to you? That is, what does the ancient Israelite record show in terms of Temple service that we would not expect to find in any other context? Is there something about the specific parallels that you see that one would not expect to find in other contexts?

    (And an aside that I don’t want to turn into a threadjack: What does “temple text” mean for you? I’ve never been able to figure that one out, which I sense also from you in that you put the term in quotes. Does it mean a text that arose in Temple circles, that expresses similar themes, that makes direct reference to a temple, etc.?)

  153. Hi JC (do you mind if I call you JC?),

    I agree that Ben and I are on different tracks with our posts, using much different approaches to reach our conclusions. I was simply inspired by the question and subject matter of Ben’s post and decided to use it as a launching pad to share some of my own ideas.

    What about the Israelite context is distinctive to me? Well, I would really have to think about that. I don’t claim to be an expert in the ritual systems of other ANE cultures. I could note the role of the Plan of Salvation (creation, fall, redemption through Messiah, law, covenants, etc.), Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, the involvement of the deity Yahweh, and so forth, that would be peculiar to an Israelite, and then a Judeo-Christian tradition. I guess I’m not sure what you are getting at. Are you suggesting that the modern LDS ritual system is bound to have certain features because those are features common to all ritual systems? That if we find parallels with the ancient Israelite rituals, it is only because such ritual systems are all the same? Can you explain that to me in a little more detail?

    It seems to me that the ritual system found throughout much of the ancient world was eventually abandoned and that it would be with great difficulty that Joseph Smith could have pieced it back together (especially since scholars wouldn’t do so until the next century, as far as I know). Some features of this system (I know I haven’t really defined what the system is) could be seen in the mystery religions that abounded at the beginning of the Common Era, but “orthodox” Christians (and Jews) soon abandoned many of those features in their worship.

    I’ve come to use the term “temple text” through my reading of various authors. I generally take it to mean a text that has a similar structure and function to that of the temple ritual system. I could work up a more precise definition, but here’s one from Jack Welch:

    “[A temple text is]…one that contains the most sacred teachings of the plan of salvation that are not to be shared indiscriminately, and that ordains or otherwise conveys divine powers through ceremonial or symbolic means, together with commandments received by sacred oaths that allow the recipient to stand ritually in the presence of God” (J. Welch, Temple in the Book of Mormon, p. 301).

    Welch identified Ether 1-4, 2 Nephi 6-10, Mosiah 1-6, Alma 12-13, and 3 Nephi 11-18 as “temple texts” in the Book of Mormon, and saw similar themes in the book of Leviticus. My friend Jeff Bradshaw analyzes the Book of Moses as a temple text in his book, “In God’s Image and Likeness” (SLC: Eborn, 2010).

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  158. I have a couple of questions for TT:

    I’m curious, because of your many comments on this post, to know where exactly it is you stand religiously? I noticed many posts of yours to another blog you write on, but instead of investigating to find out I thought it would be better to say hello and get a response from you. It sounds like you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I don’t mean this to be too personal, but since this is the topic, do you attend the temple regularly?
    Also, if you do not agree with LeGrand Baker, Stephen Ricks, Joseph F. McConkie, or whomever you might have different opinions, who would you recommend to read? LeGrand and Stephen have an incredible bibliography at the back of Who Shall Ascend? that invites each reader to study the concepts out for themselves in full detail from Biblical scholars themselves, but I have only seen you ask a lot of questions defining what others believe and how they get there, or inviting others to go to your blog, rather than mentioning some scholars to look into. I’m just curious to see and know who and what it is you read. Thanks!

  159. Hello Colby,
    Thanks for the inquiry. As for your first question about where I stand religiously, I am an active member of the church. Beyond that, I don’t care to answer. I know that you don’t mean anything by it, and are just sincerely interested out of natural curiousity (in my own experience I often want to know more about the biographies of those that I read online), but I have decided not to discuss anything beyond my active members as part of my identity. I choose to do so not out of a desire to hide who I am, or because I think that the answer would help or hurt my credibility with the various people that I dialogue with online. Rather, my problem with the way that many LDS-oriented discussions are conducted is that people too easily fall back on what they think are clear guidelines of who is safe and who isn’t, and therefore they don’t engage in any of the actual thinking about the issues. Notice how quickly in this discussion when I challenged popular readings of scripture I was accused of all sorts of things that have nothing to do with the issue at stake? In my experience, this kind of intellectual laziness is all too common among LDS, so I personally refuse to indulge in it by outlining any of my ‘credentials.’ I want people to think through the actual topic, not decide who is right by means of some spiritual pedigree. And with all respect, “the topic” is not whether or not I attend the temple regularly, and answering affirmatively or negatively sheds absolutely zero light on the actual topic of this thread.

    As for other scholars besides Baker, Ricks, and McConkie with regard to the temple, I think that much of the illuminating work (for LDS readers) remains to be done. The particular paradigm that they follow, first introduced by Nibley, has growth long in the tooth and needs to be updated. It relies on methods of comparison that are, in my view, totally without basis and border on completely arbitrary. In one of the links that I provided many times in this thread, I suggest that the comparative methods of J.Z. Smith are to be preferred over the earlier models offered by the History of Religions and Myth and Ritual schools, which form the methodological basis of much of LDS thinking about the ancient temple. For research on the ancient temple, there are numerous non-Mormon scholars that offer great discussions of its meaning, but I’d keep my eye on a young LDS scholar Cory Crawford too. For insights into the modern temple, I still find Buerger’s _Mysteries of Godliness_ useful. There are also some new works on LDS and Masonry that I haven’t looked at yet, but likely provide some excellent contextualization. But all that said, I think we still have a ways to go before we can properly contextualize and illuminate the modern temple. I personally just don’t think that the kind of comparisons being done to the ancient temple tell us much about either the ancient or the modern.

  160. TT,

    Interesting that you mention Cory Crawford. I remember talking with him specifically about the Baker/Ricks book. He’s obviously a sharp guy. You apparently know him better than I do — does he ever do any blogging (or at least commenting on blogs)? I’d be interested to hear more from him. I’m not aware of any work that he’s done on the ancient temple.

    David

  161. @ TT:
    ” I am an active member of the church. Beyond that, I don’t care to answer. I choose to do so not out of a desire to hide who I am, or because I think that the answer would help or hurt my credibility with the various people that I dialogue with online. Rather, my problem with the way that many LDS-oriented discussions are conducted is that people too easily fall back on what they think are clear guidelines of who is safe and who isn’t, and therefore they don’t engage in any of the actual thinking about the issues.”

    – So in other words TT, you are more concerned about what other people think and are therefore either ashamed of the gospel of Christ and hide your dedication, or you know that you simply call yourself active so you have a shred of a chance that FAITHFUL people might actually listen to you. Which is it TT? Got to be honest, neither option lends credibility to your position. By the way thanks for helping people “think” about the gospel – without you where would us morons be? I appreciate you getting down off your rameumptom long enough to comment.

    I get the impression TT that you are not about “thinking” as much as you are about contradicting. It’s the old college mentality, “I am smart because you are wrong” mentality. I believe gospel scholarship, if you agree with such a term, is best placed in perspective of Ephesians 4:17-21 which reads:

    “17-This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,

    18-Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:

    19-Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

    20-But ye have not so learned Christ;

    21-If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.”

    In other words, we may pick and choose which scholars we like, but the truest and most valuable learning comes from studying the scriptures and seeking the spirit of Christ. When I read your comments TT it seems that you are more interested in a secular understanding and pursuit than how the temple teaches us to be. You said earlier we should follow the standards of reasonable proof when talking about the temple, or texts seeking to explain the temple. What is proof to you? To faithful LDS, proof can come from a variety of delivery systems, but all are confirmed by the spirit. How have you used this proof to feel that Mowinckle, RIcks, and others are wrong? Or have you simply taken the word of Cory Crawford?

  162. I’m not sure I feel comfortable in turning this post into a “TT must prove his Mormon bona fides” discussion. TT’s faith is between him and the Lord.

    It is worth pointing out, however, that M* has a long (more than six years) history of commenters who pretend to be faithful so they can destroy the faith of others. If this is TT’s position, then shame on him. But I am guessing that TT really sees this issue as an academic debate with him taking a side that he considers the most likely and provable.

  163. It is worth pointing out, however, that M* has a long (more than six years) history of commenters who pretend to be faithful so they can destroy the faith of others.

    ORLY? A history lesson would be instructive, I think… If you could provide the posts that contain the comments, it may be instructive to look for patterns there. If you’re not comfortable posting them, an email would suffice…
    Thx.

  164. PC, I lost a lot of the links. The most egregious case took place five years ago when we were trying to have a discussion about “Rough Stone Rolling.” There were several commenters who plotted on another blog (which we subsequently discovered) how to “plant” seemingly innocuous comments and then escalate the discussion toward an anti-Mormon direction. There was a deliberate plot to do this — to pretend to be a believing Latter-day Saint and then ask innocent “questions” that would lead somebody to question things about the Church. Satan’s minions at work.

  165. I personally do not care whether TT is a member or not. My concern is in the dialogue. He seems to insist that certain methodologies are bad, but his only evidence is “go check out this link.” I’m not interested in checking out links. I want a discussion that remains on this page. If his reasoning is so complex that scholars cannot understand it, then perhaps he needs to use Occam’s razor a little more often. Mentioning Cory Crawford is meaningless, unless you give context with the name. Why is his method preferable to other methods mentioned? Skepticism works both directions, TT. You do not have to tell us about yourself, but if engaged in a discussion, you have to at least give reason for your statements. So far, I’ve pretty much only seen a superiority complex that has you thumbing your nose at others. Tossing out certain names and rejecting others without a logical cause does not make a reasonable argument. Nor does it make your tenets any better than anyone else’s here. I do not need to know whether you are LDS or atheist. But I do need to know your reasoning in a debate, otherwise it ends up being like two little kids: “is not!”, “is so!”

    And that is not a real debate. Give me, on this thread, reasonable reasons why I should believe your concerns and your favorite methodologies over others?

  166. David,
    Cory’s dissertation was on the first temple. It should be available on Proquest. As far as I know, he doesn’t blog, but you could access his dissertation. I think he is working on getting it and some other articles published. I can put you in touch if you are interested. Of course, I should have also mentioned you in my list of upcoming LDS scholars, as I believe that you are offering a more competent corrective to some of the parallelomania of previous LDS scholars. We don’t agree on some key points, but I am deeply appreciative of your willingness, ability, and desire to engage in these discussions. I have faith that you are going to produce some good work for us all to consider.

    James and Ram,
    I am just going to say that I don’t respect either of you enough intellectually or spiritually to really engage you. If either of you would show some even minute comprehension of the issues at stake, I might change my mind, but the level of your comments is so low that it really isn’t worth my time anymore. I’ve been engaged in LDS blogging for longer than both of you, probably put together and just don’t have the patience. Maybe that is just me having a “superiority complex,” but when I am facing repeated accusations about my faithfulness (inspite of this being against blog policy) even coming from the permas here, my respect for you all is essentially zero. And answering (again) complaints that I provided links where I have spelled out my argument more fully is beyond a waste of time. If at this point you both still think that after the roughly 30000 words I’ve written on this topic that I haven’t even provided an argument, then neither of you appear to be capable of recognizing an argument when it hits you in the face.

    Geoff B.,
    I appreciate the support here. I often value your judgment and attempts at moderation. I want to assure you that I have not lied one bit about who I am. I just don’t think it has anything to do with anything on this issue. I would offer a personal note about the issue of “commenters who pretend to be faithful members.” In my experience on the blogs, it is often those who think that they are faithful members who are most intent on the destruction of the testimony of others. And, if I may speak personally for a moment, I have found this blog above all others to be the most guilty in this respect. Forgive me for losing my patience a bit here, but some of my buttons have been pushed too many times.

  167. All, I think TT had the right to answer. I would really prefer to close comments on this. Everybody has had his or her say. I really wish we could concentrate on the issues being discussed. David, if you have any concerns as the author of this post, please let me know.

    Peace everybody.

  168. To be clear: I don’t know how to close comments. Sorry. All comments will go into moderation, and will be deleted. But the comment window will still appear. Sorry again.

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