Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review of The Book of Mormon as an Ancient Israelite Temple (Baker)

LeGrand Baker's book The Book of Mormon as an Ancient Israelite Temple utilizes John Lundquist's nineteen points from "The Common Temple Ideology of the Ancient Near East" to illustrate the Book of Mormon as a temple text. This book is not to be mistaken for his co-authored book with Stephen D. Ricks, entitled, Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord? The Psalms in Israel's Temple Worship in the Old Testament and In the Book of Mormon, which has received favorable reviews. This book is limited to just 155 pages (contrasted with Who Shall Ascend... at just under 800 pages). To be perfectly candid about the content of this book, I have to say that it felt contrived. The author's attempt to describe the Book of Mormon under Lundquist's 19 points made for an intriguing proposal, but his methodology came off as too forced in its attempt to make the Book of Mormon fit the pattern on most points. I do believe that the Book of Mormon can serve as an excellent temple text, and I think that Baker had some interesting points throughout the book, but overall, I wouldn't recommend this book. If the book had a good editor, and the thoughts and points of contact were better developed, it could have been a better book, but it felt more like a self-published book that was underdeveloped. Nonetheless, the following thoughts and references seemed worthy of preservation: 

After quoting C. Wilfred Griggs regarding the Greek word for 'cross' being the same as used for the 'tree' of life in the Septuagint,1 Baker writes:
From that, we can understand Nephi and Alma's statements about the fruit of the tree of life and of the waters of life. If the cross is the tree of life, the Savior's body on the cross is as the fruit of the tree, and his blood as the waters of life. It is this symbolism that defines the tree, the fruit, and the waters of life each as "a representation of the love of God." (pg 44)
Regarding light, Baker writes:
In America, when Jesus spoke the Beatitudes, and then delivered the sermon that explained how those commandments were to be accomplished, he was in the Nephite temple, probably sitting on his throne in the Holy of Holies [?], the veil pulled back so the people could see and hear him, and the Menorah standing nearby. As he spoke, the crowning command at the conclusion of the Beatitudes to those who were to be "called the children of God" was this:
14. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the light of this people, A city [Zion] that is set on a hill [sacred mountain] cannot be hid.
15. Behold, do men light a candle and put it under a bushel? Nay, but on a candlestick [the Menorah], and it giveth light to all that are in the house;
16. Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (3 Nephi 12:14-16).
It is not surprising that at the conclusion of the Beatitudes, the Lord instructed those to whom he spoke to become a light "to this people." The command was that they become a Menorah to bless those who enter the Nephite temple ("and it giveth light to all that are in the house"). 
. . . 
The Jews and early Christians prayed standing, with their arms and hands stretched out above them. The principles are immutable and eternal, and represent some facet of the tree of life; receiving light, giving light, and being light are ultimately the same thing. . . . The command at the conclusion of the Beatitudes is that we must be a Menorah to give light to "this people." (pg 53-54)2
After quoting Psalm 25:14, Baker cites Raymond E. Brown, who writes:
We may begin with the Hebrew word "sod" a word which is never translated in the LXX by mysterion....The word has a wide semantic area: confidential talk, a circle of people in council, secrets....When we approach the early biblical uses of "sod" with the idea of "council" or 'assembly' in mind, we find that this meaning particularly fits the passages dealing with the heavenly "sod" in biblical references to the heavenly council of God and his angels....Amos (3:7) announces almost as a proverb that God will surely not do anything until he has revealed his 'sod' to his servants the prophets'... (pg 106)3
Being a "son":
If the Beatitudes are understood as a chiasmus [?], then the high point is the verse that reads
And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God (3 Nephi 12:9). 
"Called" means that they are given a new name, and the new name is "the children of God." It is essentially the same as was given to his people by King Benjamin. Many scholars believe that Psalm 2 was sung at the conclusion of the ancient coronation ceremony when the king was anointed. In the Psalm, he testifies of the Lord's covenant.
7 I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee (Psalm 2:7).
"Son" was the royal new name that signified that the anointed king was an adopted son of God. Thus the king could sit on the throne of the temple as a legitimate heir of God. (pg 108-109)
The symbolism of the coronation of the ancient Israelite king can be lost in the details of the ceremony if the rites are not understood as a single event. The king had been ordained a "priest after the order of Melchizedek" (Psalm 110), Then, during the coronation ceremonies he was washed, clothed in sacred garments, and anointed with a dual ordinance wherein he was adopted, crowned, and given the new name of "son" of God (Psalm 2). He was then enthroned as king of Israel. Thus he was the legitimate "son" and legal heir to the throne. With his anointing he received "a special endowment of the Spirit [which] is clearly associated with the rite" of anointing. Mowinckel further explained,
"His [the king's] divinity depends on the endowment he has received at his election and anointing and on the power flowing to him through the holy rites of the cult, by Yahweh's free will, and depending on the king's loyalty and obedience towards Yahweh's commandments."4
The king's sitting on God's throne was a major symbolic act, an acknowledgment that he was God's legitimate son and heir. Borsch explains,
"In a similar context we should probably put texts relevant to the king's being raised up or lifted up on high, a notion which is to be compared rather than contrasted with that of the God or king ascending the holy mountain to be hailed as king. Mythically they represent much the same idea, and this is apparently why, as noted earlier, the king may be said to sit on God's throne, and why we find several other references which seem to indicate that the king could be thought to have a throne in heaven."5
Now, in his full capacity as king, in the full regalia of royalty, the king delivered a sermon to the people.
There are no examples of this coronation speech in the Bible. However, there are three examples in the Book of Mormon. One is Jacob's teachings at the temple in 2 Nephi. Another is in King Benjamin's story, where the king delivered a sermon on the importance of the Atonement. The third is in 3 Nephi, where the Savior came to the Nephite temple and taught the Beatitudes and a sermon like the Sermon on the Mount.
It is apparent from these examples that the lecture was more than just a reminder of the law, it is also a renewal of the covenants between Jehovah, the king, and the people of Israel. Geo Widengren wrote about that:
"It is the king who plays the central role in this act of covenant making. Not only is it he who convokes the assembly, but it is he also who reads out to it the words of the book of the law, which is the basis of the covenant....Thus the king appears before us here fully exercising his duties as the real High Priest....The covenant is made in the temple...."6
After the king gave his lecture, the people participated in sacrifices and offerings. The next day, the eight day of the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama, was a day of the great feast, representing the hoped-for New Jerusalem and the thousand year reign of peace--and beyond to "eternal prosperity."
That entire coronation sequence is found in Third Nephi. The Father announces Jesus' coming by pronouncing the royal king-name--"this is my Beloved Son." The Savior speaks out of the chaos of the storms and earthquakes to instruct the people to prepare appropriate sacrifices. He comes to his temple, where his earthly throne is located in the Holy of Holies. The people come as though in procession, to touch his hands and feet so  they can testify that he is the resurrected Christ. He delivers a lecture on the sacredness of the laws of his gospel. The people bring some food and it becomes enough for everyone. The next day no one brings any food, but the Savior provides it. This is a day of both spiritual and physical feasting. 
It is apparent that Mormon carefully wrote Third Nephi so we would recognize the Savior's coming to the Nephites as the legitimate enactment of the ancient temple's coronation ceremony--a declaration that Jesus is King. (pg 121-124).

1 C. Wilfred Griggs, "The Tree of Life in Ancient Cultures," Ensign (June 1988), 27
2 Baker quotes President David O. McKay, "Radiation of the Individual," The Instructor (October 1964), 373-374; reprinted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 227
3 Raymond E. Brown, The Semitic Background of the Term "Mystery" in the New Testament (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1968), 2-6
4 Sigmund Mowinckel, Psalms in Israel's Worship, 2 Vols., trans. D. R. ApThomas (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1962), 1:58 
5 Frederick H. Borsch, The Son of Man in Myth and History (London, SCM, 1967), 120
6 Geo Widengren, "King and Covenant," Journal of Semitic Studies 2/1 (January 1957):1-32

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