of the fascinating things about the Book of Mormon is the intricate way
in which ancient and restored temple concepts play a role in the
text. Recent scholarship has helped bring out some of these treasures
that help us better appreciate the text and its ancient Semitic
have previously discussed Dave Butler’s insights into Lehi’s
vision as a
model of a temple gone dark,
taken over by apostate priests who mock those seeking to enter into
the presence of the Lord.
vision has a large field which he curiously describes as being like
“a world” (1 Nephi 8:20). Butler proposes that this is a
Hebrew word play, with the Hebrew word for world, olam, being
very much like the Hebrew world for the first zone of the Hebrew
temple, the courtyard, or the ulam.
the courtyard, the next part of the temple is the hekal, which means
“great building,” perfectly paralleled in Lehi’s
vision with the “great and spacious building” that is
inhabited by the elite — another excellent word play.
elite mockers include those wearing “fine” robes, with
the word “fine” being used in the Old Testament to refer
to priestly clothing only, not profane clothing. The hekal of
the Jewish temple has been taken over by the elite apostate priests
and leaders of Lehi’s day. It is a temple gone dark.
righteous must endure the mocking and overcome the deceptions of the
apostate priests and other forces of darkness and destruction in
order to reach the tree of life, symbolizing the love of God and
perhaps His presence in the holy of holies.
scholarship has also shown how much the principles of temple worship
in early Jewish religion were changed after the Exile, with major
changes already beginning with the reforms of King Josiah shortly
before the Book of Mormon begins. The scholarship of Margaret Barker
in this area has been a source of fascination for LDS readers.
excellent review by Kevin Christensen helps us show how precisely the
Book of Mormon captures the tensions and controversies in Lehi’s
day, and shows the strong presence of religious paradigms predating
with The Older Testament in 1987, Margaret Barker proposes a
new reconstruction of religious life and practice in Jerusalem before
the exile. Barker is a revisionist biblical scholar from England. As
a revisionist, her views stand apart from the mainstream, though her
books have been garnering more and more attention.
claims that a "fundamental misreading of the Old Testament"
has been "forced upon us by those who transmitted the text,"
meaning those who initiated Josiah's reform and their exilic and
postexilic heirs, the group that even conventional scholarship
identifies as the Deuteronomists — a school of authors or
redactors of the biblical books from Deuteronomy through 2 Kings.
according to Barker, the Deuteronomists have superimposed upon the
biblical history — in particular, Deuteronomy through 2 Kings —
their own particular theological emphasis both in their selection of
material to be preserved and in the theological emphasis and
interpretation of the history they tell.
directs our attention to "the conflicts of the sixth century BC
when the traditions of the monarchy were divided as an inheritance
amongst several heirs."
makes her work of particular interest to Latter-day Saints is the
picture she constructs of First Temple theology and practice based on
"the accidents of archaeological discovery and the evidence of
pre-Christian texts preserved and transmitted only by Christian
hands." That is, based on a wide reading of newly discovered
texts and a rereading of familiar texts, she constructs a picture of
the religion of preexilic Jerusalem that is strikingly different from
the conventional view.
and Nephi offer us another look at the same time and place. How do
the pictures compare?
model centers on the temple, the monarchy, and the wisdom tradition,
all of which were intertwined in the preexilic era but were
transformed by reforms initiated by Josiah (2 Kings 22–23), and
changes continued during the exile by the Deuteronomic school in
response to the destruction of the temple and monarchy in 587 BC.
comparison, the Book of Mormon begins in "the commencement of
the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah," Nephi's
father Lehi "having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days,"
when "there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that
they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed"
(1 Nephi 1:4).
young Lehi was a contemporary of Josiah, in whose reign the book of
the law was rediscovered during a renovation of the temple dated at
621 BC (see 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34). The clear Deuteronomic
influence in the Book of Mormon plausibly follows from Lehi's
experience of Josiah's ten-year reforms and whatever version of their
texts Nephi obtained from the plates of Laban.
matter which proposed date we take for Lehi's departure from
Jerusalem, most of Lehi's mature life in that city would have been
after Josiah's death and, hence, during the period when his reform
death of Josiah destabilized everything; the power of Egypt did the
rest. The king was quickly replaced. The landed nobility was rendered
powerless by high taxes. The administration was changed, even if this
happened slowly, as we see from the very different groups of people
mentioned in the brief accounts of the book of Jeremiah for the
period of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah.
among the priests, things changed. The groups that had collaborated
in a happy period were soon back at their old rivalries. The single
movement was dead; the many parties at court returned.
Book of Mormon stands in clear contrast with the efforts of these
reformers. After reaching the New World, Nephi soon sets about
constructing a temple, accepts de facto kingship, consecrates
high priests, and demonstrates in his writings elaborate ties to
known and surmised wisdom traditions, all stemming from the
claiming roots in Jerusalem at that specific time, Nephi and Lehi
give us a look at the other side of the "formidable barrier"
that the exile represents. Barker makes her new reconstruction in
light of her wide-ranging review of primary sources, including new
information from "the accidents of archaeological discovery and
the evidence of pre-Christian texts preserved and transmitted only
by Christian hands."
does her view compare with what we see among Lehi and his
this study, I show that Lehi's first visions provide a direct
connection to Barker's reconstruction of the beliefs and practices of
preexilic Israel. I explore in greater detail Barker's reconstruction
of the First Temple, the monarchy, and the lost wisdom traditions.
each of these three themes, I show parallels to the Book of Mormon
and then give some concluding observations. Because the parallels
occur in radically different settings, without collusion, and because
both differ dramatically from the common views, each can provide
checks and potential illumination for the other.
order to be significant, any parallels that we find should appear as
part of a woven fabric rather than as isolated instances. Any
differences should have valid explanations in terms of reasonable
historical factors and the nature of available sources.
there is no truth to either account, we should expect the views to
have little or nothing in common. If one is accurate and the other
false, we should also expect their accounts to have little or nothing
in common. If both are accurate, they ought to demonstrate elaborate
convergence, which indeed they do.
full article and related articles should be essential reading for
Latter-day Saints wishing to understand the Book of Mormon more
thoroughly. Margaret Barker’s contributions to understanding
biblical history are genuinely worthy of much reflection. Her work is
one of many things that make the Book of Mormon more interesting and
more plausible as we learn more.
scholarship in the past century has revealed more of relevance to
themes relevant to the temple in the Book of Mormon, such as the
pattern of ancient covenants in the Middle East or the “covenant
formulary,” a pattern that we find in King Benjamin’s
speech at the Nephite temple, and that we find in the restored LDS
recommend Sinai and Zion
by Jewish scholar Jon Levenson as an introduction to the ancient
covenant pattern and to many other interesting aspects of the ancient
how could the Nephites dare to make their own temple in the New
World? How could they without the Ark of the Covenant and its sacred,
authoritative relics that added to the sanctity of the holy of holies
and made it a place fitting for the presence of the Lord?
was it even possible for the Nephites to observe the Mosaic
rituals without the Levitical priesthood, the Aaronite high priest,
and the Ark of the Covenant? And given that our temple worship today
isn’t about animal sacrifice, what, if anything, does their
temple worship have to do with ours?
then points out that the Nephite kings were, at least initially, the
de facto high priests in the Book of Mormon, at the top of the
priesthood hierarchy. In part of this discussion, he mentions some
sacred relics in the possession of the kings:
addition to the king’s position at the top of the Nephite
priesthood structure, we find evidence of his status as high priest
in his using the same or a similar instrument to the one used by the
biblical high priest to inquire of God’s will for His people.
the ancient Israelites this instrument was the stones of Urim and
Thummim, kept in the pocket of a breastplate. The equivalent Nephite
instrument, which also attaches to a breastplate, is called in the
Book of Mormon “the interpreters” and in revelation to
Joseph Smith “the Urim and Thummim.”
this Nephite equivalent to the Jerusalem high priest’s most
important relic was the possession of the Nephite kings.
Mosiah the Second used it to interpret the twenty-four Jaredite
plates, as his grandfather Mosiah the First evidently had to
interpret the Jaredite stone record.
would place the interpreters in the hands of the Nephite kings even
while the prophetic record “the small plates” was still
being through Jacob’s line, suggesting that the Nephite high
priestly relics and role belonged, not to the prophets, but to the
discussing Nephi’s role as king and legitimate high priest, he
addresses the “glaring” issue of Nephite temple worship
without the Ark of the Covenant. Incidentally, as discussed by
Margaret Barker and Kevin Christensen, the Ark of the Covenant was
removed during the Deuteronomist reforms as the concept of the
presence of God in the holy of holies was replaced with an
incorporeal voice that merely issued the law.
for pre-exilic Jews maintaining the early version of their religion,
the relics of the Ark of the Covenant would have been vital for the
sanctity of a true temple. Bradley continues:
go from the “who” now to the “how” of Nephite
temple worship. Nephi wrote that he had built a temple like that of
Solomon. This statement has drawn guffaws from critics, who note the
enormous scale and grandeur of Solomon’s temple.
it isn’t the scale and grandeur of Solomon’s temple that
made it a model for Nephi’s. 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.
modeling of Nephite worship on early Israelite worship in Jerusalem
has been explored by Kevin Christensen. Christensen describes key
features of Jerusalem worship from the days of Lehi’s youth,
before the heavy-handed Josian reform, and then observes that Nephite
religion contained all of these, “with the understandable
exception of the specific temple artifacts kept in the holy of
holies, the ark of the covenant … and the cherubim.”
while the Nephites’ omission of the Ark of the Covenant from
their temple is, as he says, understandable, it is also glaring. The
Jerusalem temple was, in one sense, a house for the Ark of the
Covenant. The temple was structured in layers of sacredness, or
degrees of glory, if you will, around the Ark, with the chamber that
contained the Ark being the holiest place of all, the Holy of Holies.
Ark, bearing as it did the stone tablets God touched with His finger
on Sinai during the Exodus, provided Israel an embodiment of His
presence. The Ark also served as an altar, upon which the Aaronite
high priest was required to sprinkle sacrificial blood during the
all-important Day of Atonement.
could the Nephites keep the Law of Moses without access to the Ark of
the Covenant? And with what, if not the miraculous relics of the
Exodus, including their literal touchstones with Deity, would
sufficiently sanctify their Holy of Holies to make it an appropriate
dwelling place for God?
in the case of replacing the Aaronite high priest, they would have to
introduce their own fitting substitute. Whether the Nephite
temple was like Solomon’s on its exterior was irrelevant.
Whether it was like Solomon’s here, at its heart, the Holy of
Holies, was vital.
presumably something remarkable, would have to sit in the Ark’s
what did the Nephites have that could stand in for the sacred relics
of the Exodus kept in Solomon’s temple? They had their own
sacred relics, including those of their exodus to the new Promised
Land, relics handed down through the line of kings and then that of
prophets and ultimately recovered by Joseph Smith on the Hill
the stone box — which Martin Harris reportedly called an “ark”
— Joseph found a set of Nephite sacred treasures that
paralleled the relics associated with the Ark and its custodian, the
relevant relics associated with the Ark and the High Priest were as
follows: in the Ark were the stone tablets God had touched during the
Exodus, and according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, also Aaron’s
rod that budded and a pot of manna. And we’ve already discussed
the High Priest’s Urim and Thummim and breastplate, which
attached to a garment referred to as the ephod.
“ark” contained the plates, the breastplate and
interpreters, the Liahona, and the sword of Laban. The most obvious
identification, which we’ve already made, is that of
breastplate with breastplate, and interpreters with Urim and Thummim.
Only slightly less obvious is the parallel of scriptural stone
tablets with scriptural golden plates — or, golden tablets.
goes on to equate the rod of Aaron, a symbol of authority, with the
sword of Laban, which was akin to the sword of Goliath. Both were
used by young men to slay powerful foes and become a symbol of
kingship. Both were kept as sacred relics reminding others of God’s
power and of the authority of a kingly line (Goliath’s sword
was kept with the breastplate in the tabernacle, until David needed
it again and took it. See 1 Samuel 21:9.)
what of the pot of manna? This is what I found most interesting.
Recall the description of the discovery of manna in Exodus 16:13-15:
“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 one to another, It is manna, for they wist
not what it was.”
manna, a symbol of the Lord’s mercy in which he provided
sustenance for the Jews in their exodus from captivity to the
promised land, was found in the morning as they traveled in
the wilderness, and is described as a small round thing that
lay on the ground. Any guesses as to what sacred relic among the
Nephites might be a fitting substitute for the pot of manna?
it was in the morning in the wilderness when Lehi, while leading his
family on their own exodus to a new promised land, discovers a
strange round thing lying on the ground that gives them guidance
regarding where to go, and where to find food.
like the Jews finding manna who didn’t know what it was, Lehi
was also astonished and puzzled: “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”
(1 Nephi 16:10).
Liahona serves as a remarkably fitting parallel to the pot of manna,
a symbol of the Lord’s mercy and deliverance. And like manna,
it wasn’t a gift to be taken for granted, but could quit
functioning as a result of rebellion.
all of the sacred relics in the Ark of the Covenant have a fitting
parallel among the sacred relics preserved among the Nephites and
kept in the charge of their high priests/kings. Bradly then states:
cache of Nephite sacred treasures was more than sufficient, and at
least equal in spiritual power to those in the Ark of the Covenant.
Including as it did the interpreters, which had been touched by God
and served as a medium of communication with Him, it made an ideal
point of contact between God and man to rest at the center of the
Nephite Holy of Holies.
is one of many subtle and fascinating aspects of the temple in the
Book of Mormon. I especially like the connection between the manna
and the Liahona, and the abundance of pre-exilic temple and wisdom
themes in the Book of Mormon.
Book of Mormon, as usual, is far “smarter” than Joseph
Smith, meaning that its ancient influences and themes are far more
sophisticated and rich than Joseph or anyone in his day could have
contrived. There is much more one can say on this topic, such as the
themes we find when Christ ministers to the Nephites and Lamanites at
the temple in Bountiful.
here are some further resources related to the discussion above:
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.