Three Thoughts

  1. On a recent day at the temple, I decided to specifically look for all the references to symbolism in the endowment, both the implicit ones and the explicit (“Hey, you! This is symbolic!”) ones. There were at least a few of each, and it’s likely that I missed some. In particular I was struck by the use of words like “represents.” This really warrants more focus in future visits.
  2. In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (Matthew 5:39-41), this also applies to our relationship with God himself. When we’re asked to tithe, we should voluntarily covenant to consecrate the other 90%. When we’re assigned to serve for an hour, we should do more; we should “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will” (D&C 58:27) as we seek to “waste and wear out our lives” (D&C 123:13). When we’re called on to suffer and sacrifice, we should offer up the rest of all we have and are in life to the Father, anyway.
  3. Steve Reed of the excellent One Climbs blog recently posted a long analysis of Jacob 2:30, suggesting that our traditional reading of it as a hypothetical apologia for polygamy is wrong. It’s a very long post, but represents some of the most careful, detailed close reading of scripture I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if he’s correctly figured out Jacob’s intent or not, but he makes a compelling case. After his exegesis, we might read Jacob 2:30 like this: “The Lord says, In order to be spiritually converted to me, people must accept me as their leader; or else they’ll find themselves making these mistakes and be cursed.” Great stuff, Steve–consider submitting it to the Interpreter!

Jacob’s Temple Sermon

Last Sunday in Gospel Doctrine, we discussed Jacob chapters 1-3 in the Book of Mormon.  I noticed that Jacob says that his sermon in chapters 2-3 was given “in the temple” (1:17).  I looked through the sermon to see if perhaps that setting influenced the content of his message.  Jackpot.

Consider just the broadest outline of the address.  Jacob begins his sermon by telling the people that he was fulfilling his duty as a servant of the Lord (the “all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth,” he takes pains to note from the start, in 2:4) by bringing them an authorized message (2:2-11, especially verse 11).

The first major doctrinal topic that Jacob broaches, in 2:12-22, is the necessity of giving up our worldly gain and selfish desires for the good of others and the work of the Church.  Look at some of the Topical Guide subjects listed in those verses: almsgiving, generosity, welfare, worldliness, good works.  Jacob ties these themes of sacrifice in to a general command to obey the commandments (2:21), and, being the Book of Mormon, warns against pride.

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Two Things Joseph Smith Got Right About the Book of Abraham Facsimiles

I’ve been studying up on the Book of Abraham a bit lately, and as fascinating as all the scholarly, arcane parallels are, it’s even more exciting to see that some of Joseph Smith’s explanations of these symbols are easy to confirm in accessible pop culture. 

While critics have often had to come up with convoluted theories as to how Joseph got so many plausible details into the Book of Mormon, his equally startling “guesses” in the Book of Abraham are usually ignored…maybe because they are even more shocking.  How could Joseph have known what any of these old Egyptian hieroglyphics meant?  He didn’t know ancient Egyptian–hardly anybody in the world did!  The Rosetta Stone itself had barely been translated around the time that Joseph first started producing the Book of Abraham. 

And yet, what should have been wild shots in the dark hold up remarkably well nearly two centuries later, when the basics of Egyptian are so widely available, that a major hotel here in Las Vegas, the Luxor, makes them into a cute and easily recognizable theme. 

In Facsimile 1, there’s a weird creature shown near the bottom. 

The text defines it as “the idolatrous god of Pharaoh.”  Look closely–it’s a crocodile in the waters of the Nile.  So, did the Egyptians of Abraham’s time really identify Pharoah with a crocodile-god? 

They sure did.  His name is Sobek, Continue reading

Evil in the Temple

The last few times I’ve been to the temple, I’ve noticed how the endowment addresses the nature of evil: frankly, honestly, directly, in an unflinchingly sober manner that leaves no doubt that we must face this enemy head on. 

I remember seeing something anti-Mormon once that criticized the temple endowment for its references to evil, but in the overall context, I’m grateful for it.  One way to interpret the message of this aspect of the temple might be this: “Yes, there is a lot of suffering and misery in life.  A path of righteous discipleship will not shield you from that–in fact, it will make you more aware of it and will put you more directly in conflict with it.” 

It’s ironic that active Mormons are often stereotyped and mocked for living inside some kind of super-sterile, Pollyana-ish bubble, for I can think of nothing in the world so brutally clear about the pervasive presence of evil in the world–and our imminent danger from it–as the endowment.  Unlike the schlocky nihilism of Hollywood, though, the temple does not revel in bleakness on this point.  Just as the temple repeatedly stresses that we must each constantly strive to resist the darkness pressing in on us from all directions, it likewise very clearly teaches us the way to be delivered from that darkness.  Such a lesson may be the primary mission of the temple. 

Not only does the temple address evil “in an unflinchingly sober manner that leaves no doubt that we must face this enemy head on,” it reassures us that we are not alone in this contest.  In fact, we are not to engage evil on our own terms at all.  In order to victoriously resist life’s varieties of vicissitude, we are to sublimate our will to Christ’s and follow Him in all things, letting His power over evil save us.  That, too, is a major lesson of the temple:

“Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the servants of Satan that do uphold his work.”  Doctrine and Covenants 10:5

Where Are You At In the Endowment?

Even in the fairly brief hour and a half in typically takes, the LDS temple endowment frequently, both explicitly and implicitly, directs participants to identify themselves with–even to integrate themselves into–the narrative of the ceremony. 

As the endowment takes the form of a chronological story–a fully realized dramatization of the plan of salvation–I’ve often tried to benefit from it by pondering where I am at in that story.  Certainly none of us is at the very beginning, nor are we at the very end.  Mortality, by its very nature, lies in the middle. 

So, if the endowment tells the story of each of our individual lives and that story is in a recognizable order, then where in that story do we find ourselves in our lives today? 

Trying to pinpoint a specific, exact moment for this correlation is surely impossible–and probably counterproductive, anyway–but I find that having such a mindset fosters useful self-analysis.  Which aspects of the ceremony–certain covenants given, laws explained, standards taught, characteristics exemplified, degrees of light and truth attained, etc.–could we each say we’ve practiced faithfully, are working diligently on, or have yet to seriously attempt? 

Ultimately, such a course of meditation would lead us to this single, crucial query: How effectively are we following Christ, serving Him and letting His atoning sacrifice be active in our lives? 

The areas where I “see” myself most strongly in the endowment change almost every time I go to the temple, and I hope that means I’m making progress.  It’s good to have a clear vision of the final goal, though!

Aaron’s Vestments, The Armor Of God, And The Modern Temple

One day in the temple this summer, I wondered if there might be any useful correlation between the clothing associated with the modern LDS endowment and Paul’s “armor of God.”   The concurrence between modern temple clothing and the vestments worn by Aaron in the Old Testament are obvious and commonly referenced in LDS literature on the subject (including Boyd K. Packer’s The Holy Temple), but I’ve never heard anyone mention the armor of God in connection with the temple. 

I looked up some scriptures and made the chart below.  My notes don’t seem to suggest any useful relationship–only three things had any kind of real parallel–but it was still interesting to research.  My private copy of these notes includes a final column for modern temple clothing items, which wouldn’t be appropriate to include here.  Endowed Latter-day Saints might enjoy trying to fill in that last part themselves, though.

Exodus 28 Item Description Order of wearing in Exodus 29:5-6 Ephesians 6 Item
28:4,13-30 Breastplate (including wreathen chains and Urim and Thummim) Goes above the ephod and girdle (v 28) 4 6:14 Breastplate of righteousness
28:4,6-7,31-35 Ephod Covers the loins 3 6:14 Loins girt with truth
28:4 Robe   2    
28:4,39,40 Broidered coat   1    
28:4,39,40 Mitre Worn on the head 6 6:17 Helmet of salvation
28:4,8-12,39,40 Curious girdle   5    
28:42 Linen breeches “to cover their nakedness”      
        6:15 Feet shod with gospel of peace
        6:16 Shield of faith
        6:17 Sword of the spirit

Endowment Anniversary

5369_lasvegasnv_stLast week I let the first anniversary of this blog pass without notice.  I’ll not let a far worthier milestone also go ignored: today marks ten years since my endowment

I’ve loved studying the endowment in the intervening decade, repeatedly revisiting the endowment itself and spiritually reverent texts about it that I’ve read both before and after my own endowment, my favorite being Hugh Nibley’s “What Is A Temple?” 

Sometimes we go through dry periods where nothing significantly new comes up–no major new relationship, or life event achieved, or song heard or movie seen…or religious height experienced–and we might despair that no such new vistas will be on the horizon at all.  I once felt that way about my gospel study, and was thus doubly surprised when I came across John Welch’s “The Sermon at the Temple and The Sermon on the Mount.”  Where many other scholars have only seen in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount a random collection of ethical sayings, Welch sees 48 specific points, in order, correlating it with the LDS Endowment.  It was an earth-shattering observation, and has profoundly improved my temple worship ever since.

Though I’ve been blessed with my share of insights and impressions in the temple, the most powerful experience that comes to memory is the most generic: Continue reading