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MormanityThe Restoration of the Temple: A Concept from Modern Mormonism, and Early Christianity
by Jeff Lindsay
I've previously mentioned Margaret Barker, the Protestant scholar whose exploration of the early days of Judaism has added significant evidence for the authenticity of First Nephi in the Book of Mormon.
The relationships between her findings and LDS religion go beyond the Book of Mormon and also include such concepts as the Melchizedek priesthood, theosis, ancient knowledge of the Messiah as Son of God, and many aspects of the temple.
One detail from her work that I find interesting is the concept of the restoration of the temple as an important aspect of early Christianity. She discusses this on her website in an excerpt from her book, Temple Theology:
One thing has become quite clear: the original gospel message was about the temple, not the corrupted temple of Jesus’ own time, but the original temple which had been destroyed some six hundred years earlier. All that remained were memories, and the hope that one day the true temple and all it represented would be restored.
Jesus was presented as the high priest from the first temple; Melchizedek returned to his people. The restoration of the first temple was the hope of the first Christians, and to set them, their writings and their presentation of Jesus anywhere else than in the temple setting distorts what they were preaching and misrepresents the original gospel.
The Book of Revelation is the key to understanding early Christianity. Because it is steeped in temple imagery, most people find it an opaque and impossible text, but people who thought in this ‘temple’ manner also wrote and read the rest of the New Testament. If we read it in any other way, we are reading our own meaning into the texts and are not connecting with the original teachings of the Church.
• • •
The earliest Christian writings assume a world view and a setting which can only have come from a temple — and not the actual temple of their own time. Since the Book of Revelation describes the heavenly throne and the heavenly court of angels and elders, this must have been a memory of the holy of holies in the older Jerusalem temple, furnished with a great golden throne.
When the Book of Revelation was written, the holy of holies had been empty for centuries… When very similar material was identified in the hymns found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, it became clear that these were temple scenes with angel priests attending the heavenly throne. People were still singing about a temple that had ceased to exist, or rather, had ceased to have a physical existence in Jerusalem.
• • •
Jesus was described and remembered as a great high priest (Heb.4.14), the Melchizedek raised up by the power of an indestructible life (Heb.7.16) who had offered the final atonement sacrifice to fulfil and supersede the temple rites (Heb.9.1-14). Melchizedek’s priesthood was more ancient than Aaron’s, and the Letter to the Hebrews argues that the Melchizedek priesthood is superior to the Aaronic (Heb.7.11-19).
Now Aaron was the brother of Moses, but Melchizedek was priest in Jerusalem in the time of Abraham. Melchizedek represented the older faith. The Jerusalem kings had been priests in the manner of Melchizedek (Ps.110), but there had been no place for an anointed king, a Messiah, in the religion of Moses.
Deuteronomy set strict limits on the role and powers of the king (Deut.17.14-20), but these rules had been elaborated with the wisdom of hindsight, and inserted after the demise of the monarchy. Paul knew where the roots of Christianity lay; he argued that Christianity looked to the faith of Abraham (and by implication Melchizedek), and so was rooted earlier than the Law given to Moses (e.g. Rom.4).
Since the discovery of the Melchizedek text among the Dead Sea Scrolls (11Q13), we can see the significance of this claim that Jesus was Melchizedek. One damaged line of the text seems to describe teachers who have been kept hidden and secret, and the whole text clearly celebrates the return of the divine Melchizedek to rescue his own people from the power of the Evil One.
Melchizedek was expected to appear exactly when Jesus began his public ministry, and the description of the role of Melchizedek is exactly how Jesus is presented in the gospels. Jesus as Melchizedek was formerly thought to be peripheral to the understanding of his ministry, something claimed by the early Christians because it was known that Jesus had no family claim to the priesthood of Aaron.
Jesus as Melchizedek can now be seen as the key to the New Testament, and the implication of this is that Melchizedek’s temple was the world of the first Christians.
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The quest for the temple is also, in a sense, a quest for the underlying or original meaning of some Old Testament texts. One of the curious facts about this investigation is that a high proportion of the relevant Hebrew texts is now either missing from the current Hebrew even though it was known in the pre-Christian Dead Sea Scroll texts, or unreadable in the current Hebrew and has to be reconstructed from the Greek. This cannot be coincidence.
Where Christian writings quote a sequence of scriptural texts — as in Hebrews 1 — we cannot assume that the ideas expressed were a Christian innovation, that the texts were being used out of context in order to dress new ideas decently in scripture…
It is beyond doubt that the faith of the temple became Christianity. Images and practices that most Christians take for granted such as priesthood, the shape of a traditional church building, or the imagery of sacrifice and atonement are all obviously derived from the temple.
By reconstructing the world of the older faith it can be shown that Invocation of the divine Presence, Incarnation, Resurrection, Theosis (the human becoming divine), the Mother of God and the self-offering of the Son of God were also drawn from the temple.
The gospel as it was first preached by Jesus, and as it was developed and lived by the early Church, concerned the restoration of the true temple.
This explains how Christian doctrine was able to develop so quickly; it was the expression of a long established set of beliefs in the light of the life and work of Jesus…
Students of LDS religion may be especially interested in Barker's findings regarding the ancient Melchizedek priesthood. Alma 13 and other passages in the LDS scriptures are finding added support with modern discoveries from ancient texts.
Margaret Barker wrote a fascinating paper on Melchizedek that is excerpted and discussed by Tim Barker at the LDS Studies blog. The blog has a dead link to the original paper, which can now be found at http://www.templestudiesgroup.com/Papers/Melchizedek_Barker.pdf.
The paper is "Who was Melchizedek and who was his God?" presented for the Temple Studies Group in a November 2008 symposium on "Melchizedek in Scripture, Tradition and Liturgy." Here are some of the passages cited on the LDS Studies Blog, with references from the LDS scriptures as added by Tim Barker:
Melchizedek was the centre of important claims about Christianity and its relationship to Judaism, especially to the temple and its priesthood. Priesthood was an important matter for the early Church — something that is often overlooked. The Christians claimed that Jesus was the Melchizedek priest, and in first century CE, this would have entailed a claim to the original temple in Jerusalem. Josephus who was presumably recording contemporary belief, said that Melchizedek was a Canaanite who had built the first temple in Jerusalem and was the first to serve there as a priest (War 6.438). Psalm 110 shows that the Davidic kings in Jerusalem retained the Melchizedek priesthood, which was rooted in the phase of Hebrew history represented by Abraham rather than by Moses. (p. 2)
We can only speculate how the two priesthoods related to each other; that of Aaron and that of Melchizedek. It was clearly a problem, as later developments in the tradition imply. (p. 2) [see D&C 107]
Moses was depicted as one enthroned in the presence of God and named as God and King. (p. 2) [see Moses 1:25]
What both the Jewish and the Enochic traditions are saying is that the Melchizedek priesthood was the priesthood of Enoch and the generation before the flood. The Book of Jubilees claims that many of the prescriptions of the Torah were far older than Moses, and had been given to Noah by his ancestors, the ancient priests (Jub. 7.34-9; 10.13). We cannot just dismiss this as fiction. These are all claims to a more ancient religion than that of Moses, an ancient religion represented in the biblical texts by the figure of Melchizedek. The link to Enoch tradition has to be important, not least because the oldest 'history' of Jerusalem in 1 Enoch has no place for Moses. (pp. 4-5) [see JST Genesis 9:21-25; JST Genesis 14:25-40]
The Hebrew of Psalm 110 is notoriously difficult to translate, especially verse 3, where Yahweh makes someone a Melchizedek priest, but the process and the setting are obscured. The Greek text is a little clearer than the Hebrew: 'In the glory of the holy ones...I have begotten you.' To this translator, and so to the early Christians who used the Greek text, becoming the Melchizedek priest meant being born as the Son of the angels. In temple terms, this implies a ritual in the holy of holies, the place of the angels, in which the human became divine. The holy of holies represented the state of being that was both beyond and before the material creation, and this was where the Melchizedek priest was 'born.' The rest of Psalm 110.3 has become opaque in the Hebrew, and we have to ask why this might have happened. I suggest it was because this verse described the making of the ancient Melchizedek priests who were described as Sons of God. (p. 5) [see D&C 131:5]
In other words, Yahweh was a Son of the Most High, and he was appointed as the Guardian Angel of Jacob. I suggest that the opacities and variants in the Hebrew text here are due to a dispute over the nature of Yahweh: the older texts knew that Yahweh was a Son of the Most High, what Christians would call the Second Person. Psalm 110.3, a key text for Christians, describes the process by which the Davidic king became the Son, the process by which a human became Yahweh. Becoming divine was described as birth, but the Hebrew yldtyk is ambiguous, and is usually rendered in English as ‘your youth’. The Greek translator, and thus too the early Christians, read the letters differently and understood it to mean ‘I have begotten you’, exegénnesá se. The place of this birth is also unclear in the Hebrew: was it ‘in glorious array’, or was it ‘on the holy mountains.’ ...The Greek and Latin, which reflect the Christian understanding of the verse, understood that the birth took place in the glory of the holy ones, that is, amidst the angel host in the holy of holies. (p. 6)
Here in Psalm 110 we have to envisage Yahweh and the human king becoming One, such that Yawheh was present in the king: Immanuel. Sonship meant unity, not separation. 'A priest like Melchizedek' was the transformed human figure, an angel. (p. 6) [see John 17 and Romans 8:17]
The consecrated one was the high priest, consecrated in the holy of holies that represented heaven, and then sent out into the world. [Referring to John 10:36] Using arguments that must have been acceptable to his Jewish critics, Jesus said that the consecrated one was the Son. (p. 6)
The mysterious 'dew' in Psalm 110, apparently part of the birth process, does not appear in either the Greek or the Latin versions. It could have been the anointing oil, which is described elsewhere as 'like dew' (Ps. 133.3). (p. 7)
The Melchizedek verse in Psalm 110, I suggest, became obscure because of its importance for Christian claims about Jesus and about themselves. The Christians were...collectively the restored Melchizedek priesthood: one with Jesus, and their unity with Him was both the sign of their true identity as sons of God (John 1.13; Romans 8.14) and also of Jesus' divine origin. Melchizedek, then, was a priesthood of many people, not of just one individual. (p. 7)
There is much in Barker's work that will be refreshing and intriguing to Latter-day Saints, who should appreciate the yearnings of our early Christian peers for the restoration of ancient temple truths and ancient priesthood authority. In spite of its modern trappings, the core of the LDS temple involves restoration of ancient covenants, teachings, symbols, and practices to bring us into the presence of God.
Related resource: LDSFAQ on the LDS Temple
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