A Temple Gone Dark: An Important New Slant on the Themes of Nephi's Vision and Lehi's Dream
by Jeff Lindsay
Lehi's famous dream and Nephi's expanded version of the vision just became
more meaningful, thanks to the insights offered by D. John Butler in his ebook,
Plain and Precious Things: The Temple Religion of the Book of Mormon's
Visionary Men, available at Smashwords or Amazon for a pittance. In this
short book written in a relatively light conversational style, Butler surprises the
reader with a wealth of research about ancient Jewish temple concepts and the
Day of Atonement ritual, giving a surprising new twist to the visions in First
The book suggests that Jewish temple concepts are woven more deeply into
The Book of Mormon than we have previously realized. In the most significant
section, he presents a credible and intriguing case that Nephi is using Jewish
imagery to describe a temple gone dark, representing the apostasy of the
religious establishment of his day.
He begins by explaining how the ancient Jewish temple had three sections.
First is the ulam, often translated as "porch," a room that may be roofless or
very tall. Then comes the hekal, the main middle room. That word literally
means "building" or "great building." A high, lofting building. And the comes
the debir, the holy of holies, representing the presence and power of the Lord.
Recall how Lehi begins his travel in a "dark and dreary wilderness" that joins a
"large and spacious field, as if it had been a world" (1 Nephi 8:20). When I last
read that verse a few months ago, I remember feeling jarred by the phrase "a
world." It just seemed odd and out of place. But Butler's framework makes
wonderful sense of it. The Hebrew word ulam for the first part of the temple is
very close, almost identical in sound, to olam, the word that means "world."
In Butler's view, there is a Hebrew play on words linking the great and
spacious field, "a world," to the Temple's ulam. It's one of many clues that we
are on a temple trip -- but not the happy place of light and joy we normally
associate with the temple. In Lehi's dream, it's a temple gone dark. It is dark
and dreary, filled with wicked priests representing the corrupt religions
establishment of his day.
After the ulam comes the hekal, the "great building." Recall Lehi's words of
what he saw after the field/world/ulam:
a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high
above the earth. And it was filled with people, both old and young, both
male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and
they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards
those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit. (1Nephi 8:26-27)
The word "fine" is used repeatedly in the Old Testament to describe the clothing
of the priests in the temple, not secular clothing. The people with the fine
clothing in the great and spacious building include the priests of the temple in
a sinister hekal, part of Lehi's dark temple experience.
Butler also compares the fumes of incense that are part of the hekal with the
mists of darkness that lead people astray. The waters of life that are part of
many temple scenarios in ancient literature are replaced with filthy waters that
lead people astray.
Only those who resist the corrupt religious establishment of his day and the
temptations and pressures of the adversary, clinging to the word of God (the
iron rod) can make it past the dark ulam and sinister hekal and arrive safely to
debir and the tree of life, rich in temple imagery also.
Butler argues that The Book of Mormon preserves a "loser's eye view" of the
religious controversies of 6th century B.C. Jerusalem. Nephi records in
visionary form the two temple rites at the heart of the religion of his father, in 1
Nephi 8 and 1 Nephi 11-14. Understanding those vision-ordinances, according
to Butler, gives us a key to understanding the rest of The Book of Mormon, and
seeing that the entire book, from start to finish, is about the temple and the
people who worshipped inside it.
While I struggle with a few parts of his presentation, I am intrigued and have
found several outstanding nuggets so far in his work.
Butler's contribution reminds us that The Book of Mormon is more fascinating
and more thoroughly ancient and Semitic that we may have realized. What a
treasure that book is, filled with surprises and insights still being uncovered by
those who dig.
Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his
LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on
the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton,
Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra.
He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.
He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent
Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.
Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering
Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).
Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US
patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications.
Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.