Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sacred Objects in Israelite and Nephite Temple Worship

Occasionally, an essay, book, or presentation hits you in a way that substantially changes your perspective on a given topic. Don Bradley's presentation at the 2012 FAIR Conference provided a very interesting take on the topic of temple worship in the Book of Mormon. His talk was entitled, "Piercing the Veil: Temple Worship in the Lost 116 Pages." This post serves as a snapshot of his presentation in identifying the corollaries between Nephite sacred objects and Israelite temple objects, although I would refer the reader to the full talk where these concepts are more fully developed.

The Book of Mormon clearly identifies the existence of temples in Nephite territories (2 Nephi 5:16; Mosiah 2:1-7; Helaman 10:8; Alma 10:2; Alma 16:13; 3 Nephi 11:1), but the text provides minimal description of their functionality. Brother Bradley prefaces his discussion of Nephite temple objects by asking "what do we know about their temple worship, how it worked and what was it for?" The following Nephite/Israelite parallels provides some potential answers to these interesting questions.

High Priest

Since Mosaic law required Levites to serve in the temple, and Aaron's lineage were specifically consecrated as High Priests, it would seem that Nephite temple worship was paradoxical since the Lehites were of Joseph's lineage through Manasseh (and the Mulekites through Judah). Accordingly, a valid substitute was necessary to fulfill this singular role, and somebody who held priesthood that superseded the Levitical priesthood would be the only appropriately valid substitute.
In the Book of Mormon, priests are consecrated by the kings (Nephi, Benjamin, Mosiah II, Zeniff, Noah, etc.).  The exception to this pattern, however, is Alma the Elder, whose authority derived from the king (Noah), and subsequently from Mosiah II (Mosiah 26:8). Brother Bradley states, "Whereas Alma's authority was derivative, Mosiah's was intrinsic. He was the high priest." While the king consecrated priests, it was the king himself who was actually the high priest, and these kings held the "high priesthood of the holy order of God." This is first made clear when Nephi, as king, bestows this priesthood and authority upon Jacob to be a priest (2 Nephi 6:2).1 This same order finds precedent with Melchizedek who was both king and high priest (Alma 13:18; Hebrews 7). Interestingly, Book of Mormon kings also had use of the Urim and Thummim, a responsibility specifically reserved for the Levite high priest (Exodus 28:30; Deuteronomy 33:8). The Nephites referred to them as "interpreters," but a revelation to Joseph Smith confirmed that these instruments were actually the Urim and Thummim (D&C 17:1; JS-H 1:fn*). Mosiah II interpreted the twenty-four gold plates of the Jaredites with them, just as Mosiah I used them to interpret Coriantumr's stone previously. Bradley observes that while the prophetic "small plates" were held by Jacob's priestly line, the Urim and Thummim belonged to the kings.

Ark of the Covenant

"Nephi wanted his temple to be like Solomon's, not in size, but in functionality. To perform the rituals prescribed by the Law of Moses his people would need a temple parallel to Solomon's in rooms and relics." In Israel, the Ark contained the stone tablets touched by God with His finger, which, "provided Israel [with] an embodiment of His presence." It also contained Aaron's rod that budded and a pot of manna (Hebrews 9:4). The Ark also served as an altar whereon the High Priest sprinkled blood on the Day of Atonement.

Just as the Levitical High Priest needed a valid substitute, so the Ark of the Covenant needed qualified substitution in order to be valid as well. The Nephite parallel objects, according to Bradley, came in the stone box that Joseph Smith unearthed; this same stone box was actually referred to as an "ark" by Martin Harris.2 The Urim and Thummim have already been discussed, and the "scriptural stone tablets" find parallel in the scriptural golden plates. Brother Bradley draws an interesting connection between the liahona with the pot of manna and Aaron's budding rod. In general terms, these objects are "parallel as memorials of God's mercy to the children of Israel in their Exodus and God's mercy to Lehi's family in their exodus." The pot of manna memorialized the sustenance God provided to the children of Israel:
In the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing....And when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, it is manna, for they wist not what it was (Exodus 16:13-15).
The Nephite parallel is partially provided in the appearance of the liahona:
And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go in the wilderness (1 Nephi 16:10).
The parallels do not end with the similarities in these verses. Nephi makes it clear that the liahona provided them with direction in crossing the ocean, but more importantly, it also pointed them towards the "more fertile parts of the wilderness" (1 Nephi 16:16), and it specifically guided him in finding food (vs. 30-31), the same as manna was provided as food for the Israelites. In terms of paralleling Aaron's rod, which had been "an instrument for divining God's will" (see Numbers 17:6-9), the liahona clearly provided the Lord's will to the Lehites through providing specific instructions to them and directing them as they travelled in the wilderness and elsewhere (1 Nephi 16:26-29).

The next parallel that Brother Bradley mentions is Laban's sword, which wouldn't necessarily seem to have a direct connection to the ark, but in 1 Samuel 21:9 we learn that Goliath's sword, as obtained by David, was "wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod." It was in conjunction with the ephod that the high priest wore the urim and thummim (Exodus 28:6-12), and it was with Ahimelech the priest that David obtained the sword after eating of the hallowed bread, "for there was no bread there but the showbread" (1 Samuel 21:6). The showbread was one of the few items to adorn the Holy of Holies with the ark (Exodus 25). Bradley also calls attention to an article by Ben McGuire regarding the literary allusion between Nephi/Laban and David/Goliath, pointing out that in at least three instances Nephi adopts language from the story of David killing Goliath.3

Writing on the Wall

Somewhat tangential to the sacred objects, Brother Bradley points out the parallel between Aminadi, mentioned in Alma 11 [Alma 10:2-3] (and most likely included in the lost 116 pages), and Daniel. Both prophets saw writing on the wall and interpreted the writing (see also Daniel 5). Aminadi, however, interpreted this writing upon the temple wall, which was written by the finger of God.

Temple Worship in Mosiah (Lost 116 Pages)

The last portion of Bradley's presentation dealt with information that was likely in the missing 116 pages, but were recounted third-hand and many years removed. In 1870, Fayette Lapham recounted his 1830 visit with Joseph Smith, Sr. and the interview that he had with him regarding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. From this interview it is clear that Lapham remembered quite a bit from their interview, although he introduced elements that contradicted most other accounts, but also provided unique insights. Bradley prefaces this quotation by drawing our attention to the curious fact that the interpreters, or urim and thummim, show up in the Book of Mormon without introduction. When Zeniff and his men find the twenty-four Jaredite plates, Mosiah II already has the interpreters. The possibility of their introduction may have been in the lost 116 pages as recounted in this temple-themed narration provided by Lapham:4
After sailing a long time, they came to land, went on shore, and thence they traveled through boundless forests, until, at length, they came to a country where there were a great many lakes; which country had once been settled by a very large race of men, who were very rich, having a great deal of money. From some unknown cause, this nation had become extinct....When they, the Jews, first beheld this country, they sent out spies to see what manner of country it was, who reported that the country appeared to have been settled by a very large race of men, and had been, to all appearances, a very rich agricultural and manufacturing nation. They also found something of which they did not know the use, but when they went into the tabernacle, a voice said, "What have you got in your hand, there?" They replied that they did not know, but had come to inquire; when the voice said, "Put it on your face, and put your face in a skin, and you will see what it is." They did so, and could see everything of the past, present, and future; and it was the same spectacles that Joseph found with the gold plates.5
Bradley highlights several clauses that provide meaningful temple information from Lapham's account. First, there is mention of a tabernacle, which may have been used when they were "in between temples," referring to the arrival prior to the building of Nephi's temple (2 Nephi 5:16) or during Mosiah's exodus from the land of Nephi to Zarahemla. The interpreters were taken into the temple where the Lord's voice was heard, "presumably from behind the veil covering the Holy of Holies where the Lord's presence was understood to dwell." The Lord asks, "What is in your hand?" which is very similar to the question posed to Moses during his theophany at the burning bush (Exodus 4:2). The reply was that they "did not know, but had come to inquire." Bradley points out that these temples weren't just for sacrifice, "but about the revelation of higher knowledge and learning how to come into the presence of God, accessing knowledge from Him and becoming like Him."

In relation to the Lord's instruction to put the interpreters "on your face, and put your face in a skin," we also find instructions in the Pentateuch to cover the tabernacle with animal skins (badger skins). Bradley compares the covering of the face with an animal skin to Moses' veil worn when he came down from Sinai, "so that others won't encounter the glory that's reflected from him." Lapham also commented that the liahona no longer provided direction after these events, which Bradley notes is likely due to the usage of the interpreters from that point forward. 

From this conference talk we can see that there is potentially so much more to Nephite temple worship that can be gleaned from this information and the brother of Jared's experience in figuratively passing through the veil. It may be too easy to take for granted the nature and functionality of Nephite temple worship, but temple themes have more implicit prevalence than one might first suspect in the surface layer of the text.

For further discussion of this topic, see here.

1 For some profoundly interesting information on Jacob as the high priest and the Day of Atonement, see William Hamblin, "Jacob's Sermon (2 Nephi 6-10) and the Day of Atonement," also see David Bokovoy, "Holiness to the Lord: Biblical Temple Imagery in the Sermons of Jacob the Priest," in "The Temple on Mount Zion" Conference, Interpreter Foundation (Sept 22, 2012), Provo, UT 
2 Martin Harris is reported to have said that Joseph, "...had two transparent stones, that came in the ark, where the bible was deposited..." in Tyler Parsons, Mormon Fanaticism Exposed: A Compendium of the Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith's Golden Bible (Boston: Tyler Parsons, 1841), 36 (see 36-51)
3 Ben McGuire, "Nephi and Goliath: A Case Study of Literary Allusion in the Book of Mormon," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 18/1 (2009): 16-31
4 Don Bradley's presentation takes for granted that his audience is already familiar with the notion that the lost 116 pages contained the Book of Lehi as well as the first two chapters of the Book of Mosiah, which are no longer extant, and that our current Chapter 1 in the Book of Mosiah was originally Chapter III; see Royal Skousen, "History of the Critical Text Project of the Book of Mormon," in Uncovering the Original Text of the Book of Mormon: History and Findings of the Critical Text Project [published in lieu of Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11/2 (2002), ed. M. Gerald Bradford and Alison V.P. Coutts (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2002), 20-21
5 Fayette Lapham, "The Mormons: Interview with the Father of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, Forty Years Ago. His Account of the Finding of the Sacred Plates," The Historical Magazine 8/5 (May 1870): 308-309

1 comment:

  1. I have been highly intrigued by your blog posts, thank you for sharing your knowledge you have accumulated thus far!

    -Bo Stevens