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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- “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.