Sunday, January 17, 2016

Coats of Skins

I posted this on Facebook this afternoon and thought I would share it here:

I’ve been reading a fascinating paper this afternoon by Peter Martens, Associate Professor of Theological Studies at St. Louis University, which may provide some insight for things taught in the temple.

According to Peter Martens (see paper below), early church father Origen believed that at least some elements of the opening chapters of Genesis were allegorical in nature and that the coats of skins given to Adam and Eve represented physical or corporeal bodies and that these clothed their naked spirits upon their entrance into the fallen world. In introducing this in his paper Martens begins by discussing how in a few of Origen’s writings he indicates an acceptance of the doctrine of premortality:

“Probably the clearest of these accounts [related to pre-existence] occurs in the second book of the Commentarii in evangelium Ioannis where he [Origen] is discussing the doctrine of pre-existence in connection with the verse, ‘There was a man sent from God, whose name was John’ (Jn 1:6). Origen wants to know from where John was sent, especially since he was already filled with the Holy Spirit while he was still in his mother’s womb (Lk 1:15). In his proposed solution, he reverts to ‘the general theory concerning the soul,’ namely, ‘that it has not been sown with the body but exists before it … and for various reasons is clothed with flesh and blood.’ He argues, with this general theory, that ‘John must have been sent from some other region when he was placed in a body . . . John’s soul, being older than his body and subsisting prior to it.’”

Martens then points out how Origen connects this idea with Adam:

“Here Origen offers an analogy between John and Adam that provocatively hints at his mystical interpretation of the Edenic paradise. When John’s soul was sent from some other world to be embodied in this one, this event mirrored what had earlier transpired when Adam left paradise to work the earth. The parallel drawn between John and Adam strongly suggests that the Edenic paradise was a residence for rational souls prior to their embodiment in this world.”

Now here’s the part about Origen’s belief that the coats of skins represented physical bodies:

“Origen’s interpretation of the ‘garments of skins’ (Gen 3:21) is notoriously difficult to reconstruct. While he does not refer to these garments in the previous passage about John the Baptist, their presence and significance is implied. If, like John, Adam’s soul became embodied as he was cast out of paradise into this world, a reader could reasonably infer that the bestowal of the garments of skins on Adam immediately preceding his dismissal from paradise symbolized the bestowal of a body that allowed this soul to reside in a corporeal world. Elsewhere in his writings we find passages that confirm this suspicion that Origen allegorized the ‘garments of skins’ as bodies.”

Saturday, January 2, 2016

And My Father Dwelt In a Tent

Valley of Lemuel. Artwork by Joseph Brickey
In the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon Nephi records his family's flight from Jerusalem into the wilderness.

According to his record, upon reaching the environs of the Red Sea the group continued their journey for three more days until they came across a suitable place to encamp for a time.

The Book of Mormon terms the place in which they camped a "valley" but it was not the kind of valley that many readers of the Book of Mormon might imagine. In all probability it was what is known in the Near East as a wadi, and what those in the modern English-speaking world might call a canyon or a ravine.

One of the distinguishing features of this stopping place was a river or stream that the Book of Mormon suggests may have been a perennial one - an exceedingly rare phenomenon in the Arabian Peninsula (see 1 Nephi 2:8-9).

Apparently the wadi and its stream were either unnamed at that time or Lehi and his party were unaware of its name because Lehi dubs the wadi as the "Valley of Lemuel" and the stream as the "River of Laman" (1 Nephi 2:8,14). The Valley of Lemuel would become one of the most spiritually significant stopping points on their journey to the promised land.

It was during their sojourn in the Valley of Lemuel that Lehi's sons returned to Jerusalem for the Brass Plates and Ishmael's family. It was also during this time that both Lehi and Nephi had their famous visions of the Tree of Life. Regarding their time in the valley, Nephi recorded a succinct, and much commented upon phrase, which later editors would assign as its own verse. This phrase is found as verse 15 of 1 Nephi chapter 2 in the Book of Mormon:

Bedouin tent, Syrian desert. Wikimedia Commons.
"And my father dwelt in a tent"

This phrase is also found in at least three other passages of the Book of Mormon all of which are found in the portion of the record describing their sojourn in the Valley of Lemuel (1 Ne. 9:1; 1 Ne. 10:16; 1 Ne. 16:6).

Daniel Peterson has pointed out how this phrase conjures up the imagery of das wandernde Gottesvolk ("the wandering of God's people") which may have been Nephi's intent. Indeed, Nephi's phrase places Lehi and Nephi in good company with other prophet-wanderers including Abraham (Genesis 18:1), Jacob (Genesis 25:27) and perhaps most importantly Moses (Exodus 18:7).

A number of articles in Latter-Day Saint publications have pointed out how Nephi's account of his family's flight from Jerusalem parallels the exodus1. An article in the April 1987 issue of the Ensign lists several parallels between the accounts. Below are listed most of the parallels (modified slightly) that are included in the Ensign article:
  1. The Lord's guidance: 1 Ne. 1:6; 1 Ne. 16:16 & Ex. 13:21
  2. Oppressive conditions: 1 Ne. 1:20 & Ex. 1:11-16
  3. The Lord's command to depart: 1 Ne. 2:2 & Ex. 3:7-18
  4. Sacrifice to the Lord after three days' journey: 1 Ne. 2:6-7 & Ex. 3:18; Ex. 15:22; Ex. 20:25
  5. Murmuring against the Lord: 1 Ne. 2:11-12; 1 Ne. 5:2 & Ex. 15:24; Ex. 16:2-3
  6. Dwelling in tents: 1 Ne. 2:15 & Ex. 18:7; Ex. 33:8
  7. Promise of a new land of inheritance: 1 Ne. 2:20 & Ex. 3:17
  8. Victory over enemies: 1 Ne. 4:12 & Ex. 17:8-13
  9. Rebellious desire to return: 1 Ne. 7:6-7 & Ex. 14:12
  10. Divine instruction on a high mountain: 1 Ne. 11:1-14 & Ex. 19:19-31:18
  11. Revelatory devices: 1 Ne. 16:10 & Ex. 7:9-21; Ex. 8:16; Ex. 14:16
  12. Miraculous provision of food: 1 Ne. 17:3-5 & Ex. 16:11-18
  13. Prolonged wandering in the wilderness: 1 Ne. 17:4 & Ex. 16:35; Deut. 8:2
  14. Afflictions in the wilderness: 1 Ne. 17:26; 1 Ne. 18:8-23 & Ex. 14:21-22, 29; Ex. 15:19
  15. Two sons born in the wilderness: 1 Ne. 18:7 & Ex. 18:3-4
  16. The Lord's providential wind: 1 Ne. 18:8 & Ex. 14:21
  17. Wicked revelry: 1 Ne. 18:9 & Ex. 32:18-19
  18. Threat of divine retribution: 1 Ne. 18:20 & Ex. 32:10
  19. Inheritance of promised land: 1 Ne. 18:23-25 & Josh. 11:23
Indeed, even the very region in which the Valley of Lemuel was located may provide a link between Lehi's family and Moses.

"Departure of the Israelites", by David Roberts, 1829
As a young man, Moses killed an Egyptian whom he saw abusing one of his fellow Israelites. In fear for his safety, he fled Egypt and went to the land of Midian where he was taken in by Jethro's family and where he married one of Jethro's daughters, Zipporah (Exodus 2:15-21). Moses' flight from Egypt may have prefigured Israel's flight, for once they left they may have crossed the Sinai Peninsula and found refuge in Midian like Moses. Therefore, there exists a significant probability that Mt. Sinai was located in Midian rather than the traditionally accepted locale of the southern Sinai peninsula.

Eminent Harvard professor and Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Frank Moore Cross said as much in an interview with Hershel Shanks, editor of Bible Review, in the August 1992 issue:

The ancient land of Midian lies in the northwest corner of
modern-day Saudi Arabia.
FMC: The notion that the 'mountain of God' called Sinai and Horeb was located in what we now call the Sinai Peninsula has no older tradition supporting it than Byzantine times. It is one of the many holy places created for pilgrims in the Byzantine period.

HS: So you would place Sinai in what is today Saudi Arabia?

FMC: ... Yes, in the northwestern corner of Saudi Arabia, ancient Midian.

The importance of the Israelites' stay at Mount Sinai cannot be overstated. It was at Mount Sinai where the Israelites, with Moses at their head, experienced many of their most spectacular miracles while in the wilderness. It was upon the mount where Moses conversed with the Lord for forty days and where he received the law (Ex. 24:18). It was at the mount where the plans for the tabernacle were revealed to Moses and where it was constructed (Ex. 25-30). There are more chapters in Exodus devoted to the Israelite's stay at Sinai than any other period of their wanderings.

Interestingly, the best candidate for the Valley of Lemuel also sits in the ancient land of Midian where Mount Sinai may have been located. In May 1995 LDS scholar George Potter was exploring Midian, which lies in modern-day Saudi Arabia, when he came across a wadi, called Tayyib al Ism that seemed a likely candidate for the Valley of Lemuel. Potter wrote about his discovery in a Journal of Book of Mormon studies article entitled "A New Candidate in Arabia for the 'Valley of Lemuel'". In the article Potter notes that Tayyib al Ism shares key characteristics with the Valley of Lemuel, as mentioned in the Book of Mormon, including:
  1. Both contain a perennial river or stream   (1 Ne. 2:6, 8-9).
  2. Both streams are located within a "valley" or wadi (1 Ne. 2:6).
  3. Both streams empty into the Red Sea       (1 Ne. 2:8).
  4. Both are located within a three-day walk or camel ride of the northeast tip of the Red Sea (1 Ne. 2:5-6).
  5. Both are located within a "wilderness" or an area that is generally devoid of people (1 Ne. 2:6).
Therefore, the most significant stopping place in Nephi's journey also may have been the most significant stopping place for the Israelites during their wanderings. A fact evidently not lost on Nephi. 

Additionally, both Nephi and Moses appear to have had similar visionary experiences while in this land. Both were "caught up into an exceedingly high mountain" (Moses 1:1; 1 Ne. 11:1) and Nephi began acquiring relics sacred to the Nephites and which may have been placed in a Nephite version of the Ark of Covenant while in Midian similar to how Moses began acquiring the sacred relics for the Israelite ark while in Midian.

Window in the Saint Denis Basilica (Chapel St. Peregrine). 
The Ark of the Covenant. Abbot Suger, 12th century.
Don Bradley, in a fascinating presentation delivered at the 2012 FairMormon Conference entitled "Piercing the Veil: Temple Worship in the Lost 116 Pages", suggested that perhaps some of the relics that were passed from generation to generation among the righteous Nephites and which ended up in the stone box found by Joseph Smith may have been deposited into a Nephite ark and were analogous to the relics found in the Israelite ark. Interestingly, as Bradley points out in his article, Martin Harris referred to the stone box found by Joseph Smith as an "ark". According to the Bible the Israelite ark contained the stone tablets of the law (Ex. 25:16), the pot of manna (Ex. 16:33) and Aaron's budding rod (Heb. 9:4). Perhaps the Nephite relics paralleled the Israelite relics in the following ways, according to Don Bradley:

The Tablets of the Law: The Lord instructs Moses in Exodus 25:16 to place the stone tablets of the law, which the Lord would shortly give him, into the ark of the covenant. Bradley suggests that perhaps the gold plates may have served as an analog to Moses' stone tablets. While this seems a reasonable suggestion, I believe the brass plates were the more likely analog for the following reasons:
  1. According to Joseph Smith's sister, Catherine, the brass plates were indeed included in the stone box on the hill near the Smith home (source).
  2. Like the tablets of the law, the brass plates also contained the law (1 Ne. 4:16), whereas the gold plates did not.
  3. The gold plates were a work in progress and would not reach their completed form until after the destruction of the Nephite civilization (WM 1:1).
  4. Like Moses's stone tablets the brass plates may have been a possession of Moses, as suggested by Dann Hone. If this were the case, then the brass plates would have provided the Nephites with a concrete link to Moses and his authority.
Aaron's Rod & the Pot of Manna: Bradley, in his presentation, suggests that these two objects from the Israelite ark together could have found their analog in the Liahona found by Lehi outside the door of his tent, while in the Valley of Lemuel (1 Ne. 16:6,10). Bradley points out that the language used to describe the discovery of the Liahona was similar to that used in the Bible to describe the discovery of the manna:
  • The manna: 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.” 
  • The Liahona: 1 Nephi 16:10: “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”
Also, as Bradley points out, the Liahona was used by Lehi's family to find sustenance (1 Ne. 16:30-31) and therefore would be a fitting substitute for the manna. In addition, the Liahona was a revelatory device, as was Aaron's rod, as Bradley points out, and thusly would have been a fitting substitute:

Aaron’s rod had been an instrument for divining God’s will. To settle dispute [sic] over who had right to serve in the priestly role in the Tabernacle, each of the twelve tribes placed a rod before the Ark. Aaron’s rod then budded, demonstrating that it was his family that had been chosen for these duties.

In addition to the items listed above, the Israelite temple contained other relics that seemed to have been vital to temple worship and which seem to have been paralleled by items found by Joseph Smith in the stone box containing the gold plates.

Israelite high priest
Urim & Thummim and Breastplate: In Moses' day the Aaronic high priest wore vestments that included a kind of breastplate. The breastplate contained a pouch in which the Urim and Thummim were kept "upon Aaron's heart" (Ex. 28:30; Lev. 8:6-8). The Urim and Thummim were evidently some kind of revelatory device and the Bible depicts individuals using them to ascertain God's will. (Num. 27:21).

The breastplate and Urim and Thummim found by Joseph Smith (JH 1:35) were described in similar terms to the Israelite implements by Joseph's brother William, and therefore may have been included in the Nephite priestly vestments:

A pocket was prepared in the breastplate on the left side, immediately over the heart. When not in use the Urim and Thummim was placed in this pocket, the rod being of just the right length to allow it to be so deposited. This instrument could, however, be detached from the breastplate and his brother said Joseph often wore it detached when away from home, but always used it in connection with the breastplate when receiving official communications, and usually so when translating as it permitted him to have both hands free to hold the plates. (J. W. Peterson in The Rod of Iron I:3 (February 1924), 7.)

Furthermore, like the Israelite Urim & Thummim, the Nephite "interpreters", as the Book of Mormon calls them, are unambiguously portrayed as revelatory devices (Mosiah 8:13).

Bradley, in his presentation, brings up yet another interesting idea which applies to the Nephite Urim & Thummim. Bradley points out that the tablets of the law were especially sacred as they had been touched by the finger of the Lord and were, as he points out, "literal touchstones with Deity" and "an embodiment of his presence". It's possible that the Nephite Urim & Thummim filled a similar role.

The Nephite Urim & Thummim did not originate with Nephi and his family, rather, they came into Nephite hands several centuries after the opening of the book. The Nephite interpreters were given by the Lord to the brother of Jared and presumably were two of the sixteen stones touched by God to make them shine to provide light for their vessels (Ether 3; D&C 17:1). Therefore, like the Mosaic tablets of the law, these two stones, touchstones, had been literally touched by Deity and served as an embodiment of his presence.

Michelangelo, David and Goliath,
Sistine Chapel, Rome.
Sword of Goliath: Bradley next turns his attention to another Israelite relic kept, at least for a time, within the confines of the tabernacle. Following his estrangement from Saul, David fled to Nob, just north of Jerusalem, and sought support from the priests who were the caretakers of Moses' tabernacle. The priests provided David with the showbread from the sanctuary and gave him Goliath's sword which was being kept with the ephod (1 Sam. 21:9). This sword, as pointed out by Brett Holbrook, became a potent symbol of kingly authority, and Nephi (of whom later Nephite kings took his name) used it as such (Jacob 1:9-11).

Among the items found by Joseph Smith with the gold plates was Laban's sword (D&C 17:1). Nephi obtained the sword after finding Laban drunk in the streets of Jerusalem and took it after killing Laban and putting on his armor (1 Ne. 4). While sojourning in the Valley of Lemuel Lehi had commanded his sons to return to Jerusalem to retrieve the brass plates. Laban, the custodian of the plates, refused to hand them over and attempted to have Nephi and his brothers killed (1 Ne. 3:13; 1 Ne. 3:25). In telling this story Nephi uses language similar to that used in the account of David and ties himself to that story. Laban is portrayed as Goliath with Nephi filling the role of David as pointed out by Holbrook:

All of the thematic parallels exist in the same order in both narratives (Nephi/Laban & David/Goliath). First, we have the introduction of the antagonist, who is described in terms of his feats of strength and who inspires fear. Then the protagonist responds, claiming that there is no need to fear—the God who has historically acted on the protagonist’s behalf will again act to destroy this threat, not only to save the protagonist, but also to ensure that God is recognized in the future. Next the antagonist and protagonist meet, and the text announces to us that the antagonist is delivered into the hands of the protagonist by God. Finally, the antagonist is reduced to a helpless state, and the protagonist takes his enemy’s sword, pulls it from its sheath, decapitates the antagonist, and then gathers his foe’s armor as his own.

In conclusion, from all the evidence it seems clear that Nephi saw his family as a new Israel, and himself as a new Moses, being led by God into the wilderness to establish a new nation and to build a new temple. Nephi's sojourn in the Valley of Lemuel was of inestimable importance and the events that occurred both in the valley and while his family stayed there defined this small community. Nephi was cognizant of this and several decades later as he proceeded to record these events he constructed his record in such as way as to communicate his understanding of his new community.

See for example: Szink, Terrence L. "Nephi and the Exodus" in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City: DeseretBook and F.A.R.M.S., 1991); “Research and Perspectives: Nephi and the Exodus,” Ensign, April 1987, 64–65;

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Page from Codex Vaticanus; end of 2 Thes and beginning of Heb
This morning in my ward Sunday school class we covered briefly the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is one of my personal favorite books of scripture and it is impossible to do the book justice in one single Sunday school class. Commenting on its remarkable character Luke Timothy Johnson wrote the following:

"Hebrews is one of the most beautifully written, powerfully argued, and theologically profound writings in the New Testament. Its anonymous author summons readers to a vision of reality and a commitment of faith that is at once distinctive, attractive, and disturbing." (1)

As Johnson mentions, the author of the book is anonymous, although it has traditionally been attributed to Paul. Latter-Day Saints tend to adhere to this tradition despite the evidence to the contrary including the fact that in Paul tends to identify himself as the author in his writings and that the quality of the Greek in the letter is "by far the best Koine to be found among New Testament writings" (Johnson 8) unlike Paul's writings.

There are a couple points I would like to share that have shaped the way I understand the book. I simply don't have the time or inclination to fully develop all the ideas found in the book here in my blog but it is a rich and rewarding study and offers a wealth of insights into ancient and modern temple rituals. What follows are a few broad principles that can be applied to one's study of this important text.

The temple is a central theme to the book of Hebrews and as M. Catherine Thomas points out Hebrews: "might be divided into two main ideas: the promise of the temple and the price exacted to obtain the promise" (479)

The Promise

"Departure of the Israelites", by David Roberts, 1829 
The promise of the temple, according to the book of Hebrews, is to enter into the Lord's rest. The word "rest" is found ten times in the book and is mentioned in relation to the Israelites at the time of Moses. Hebrews teaches that God intended for the nation of Israel, after its deliverance from Egypt, to enter into his rest but that they failed to do so because of their rebelliousness (see Hebrews 3:8-11).

From the context, it would be natural to assume that the "rest" being referred to is Israel's entry into Canaan which the first generation of Israelites out of Egypt, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, did not participate in. While this certainly may be one meaning of the term there are indications that there is at least one other possible interpretation as well. 

Chapter 4 explains that the invitation to enter God's rest is still open: "the promise of entering his rest is still open" (NRSV Hebrews 4:1) and that "it remains open for some to enter it ... for if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day ... Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs" (NRSV Hebrews 4:6-9).

So, if "rest" as it is used in Hebrews does not refer to Israel's entry into the promised land what are we to understand by the term as it is used in Hebrews? The author provides a hint in Hebrews 4:4 where he says the following: "For he [God] spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works."

This verse connects the term firmly to the temple as explained by John Walton in his book The Lost World of Genesis One: "Deity rests in a temple, and only in a temple. This is what temples were built for. We might even say that this is what a temple is - a place for divine rest" (72). Therefore, as the Harper Collins Study Bible puts it: "that rest was obviously not the land of Canaan but a heavenly reality" (2255).

The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 84:19-24) teaches more plainly what exactly God's rest is:

"And this greater priesthood [the Melchizedek] administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God,

"Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.

"And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;

"For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.

"Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;

"But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory."

Therefore, God's rest is entering into God's resting place, beholding his face and a fullness of his glory.
Layout of Solomon's Temple - click for larger image.

What or where is God's resting place?

As indicated above, ancient Israel conceived of God as resting in his temple. The Israelite temple was a scale model of the cosmos with the areas outside the veil representing the created world. The area behind the veil, known as the Holy of Holies (Hebrew idiom simply meaning the most holy place), was God's resting place with the Ark of the Covenant representing his throne.

In ancient Israel, the only person to enter the Holy of Holies was the Aaronic high priest who did so only once a year on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). The Yom Kippur ritual consisted of the high priest entering the Holy of Holies and sprinkling the blood of the sacrificial victim on the ark. The author of Hebrews draws upon this imagery by representing Jesus Christ as the great archetypal high priest (after the order of Melchizedek, instead of Aaron - see Hebrews 5:10) who entered God's presence and made it possible for his followers to do the same. He does this in Hebrews 4:14-15:

"Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities ; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (KJV)

And in Hebrews 6:20, that we have a "forerunner [who] is for us entered [the Holy of Holies], even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec."(KJV)

The author, then makes this remarkable appeal:

"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (KJV Hebrews 4:16).

It is important to understand that the author is referring to the temple in verse 16. He is admonishing his readers/listeners to enter through the veil and proceed to the ark which is God's throne just as the high priest did on Yom Kippur. Furthermore, the blood that Christ carried into the Holy of Holies was his own:

"But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent [or tabernacle] (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption" (NRSV Hebrews 8:11-12).

And again, because Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, has entered in through the veil we all have the opportunity to do the same:

"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest [the Holy of Holies] by the blood of Jesus,

"By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh" (KJV Hebrews 10:19-20).

Rembrandt - Moses with the Ten Commandments
While the nation of Israel as a whole failed to realize that blessing, Moses himself did have the opportunity to experience it when God "spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain, And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence" (Moses 1:1-2).

Andrew Ehat, in commenting on this account from the book of Moses points out that Moses enjoyed this experience while he was still mortal, and that the temple endowment is a ritualized representation of entering into God's rest:

"As Moses' case demonstrates, the actual endowment is not a mere representation but is the reality of coming into a heavenly presence and of being instructed in the things of eternity. In temples, we have a staged representation of the step-by-step ascent into the presence of the Eternal while we are yet alive. It is never suggested that we have died when we participate in these blessings. ... The book of Moses is what the Lord permitted him to write of his endowment experience." (53-54).

Again, it is important to understand that it is God's intention for his followers to enter into his rest while yet in mortality.

Thomas points out that the author of Hebrews utilizes several terms for describing the realization of the promise including: "obtaining a good report (11:39), entering into the Lord's rest (4:3, 10), going on to perfection (6:1), entering into the holiest (10:19), being made a high priest forever (7:17), knowing the Lord (8:11; D&C 84:98), pleasing God (Hebrews 11:5), obtaining a witness of being righteous (11:4), and having the law written in the heart (8:10; 10:16; Jeremiah 31:31-34)" (480).

The Price

According to Hebrews, there is a price required for all of those who seek to obtain the promise of the temple. We read in Hebrews 2:10 that Jesus became perfect through the things that he suffered:

"It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation [Jesus] perfect through sufferings" (NRSV).

Before proceeding any further, it's important to understand what is meant by the term "perfect" as it is used in the New Testament. Jack Welch taught that the original Greek word from which "perfect" is translated in the New Testament is teleios (58). Welch also explained that the word has a specific meaning as it was used by the New Testament writers:

"Generally in the Epistle to the Hebrews, its usage follows a 'special use' from Hellenistic Judaism, where the word teleioō means 'to put someone in the position in which he can come, or stand, before God.' Thus, in its ritual connotations, this word refers to preparing a person to be presented to come before God 'in priestly action' or 'to qualify for the cultus'" (58-59).

We learn then, that Jesus placed himself in the position in which he could stand before God through his suffering. Hebrews teaches that we, in imitation of Christ, must also suffer trials and tribulations, in conjunction with faith in Christ's sacrifice, in order to purify us and place us in a position in which we can stand in God's presence.

Joseph Smith's revision of Hebrews 11:40 discusses those who have suffered for the sake of the Gospel and says that: "God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect". In the next chapter the author of Hebrews speaks further concerning the part suffering plays in the sanctification of those who follow Jesus Christ when he admonishes his hearers:

"My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" (Hebrews 12:5-7).

Reading these words may instill some with fear - fear of suffering or fear of being overcome by suffering. There are two thoughts, however, that must be kept in mind:

The first is that suffering is an inevitable part of mortality. There is no way to escape it. We can either suffer for a purpose or suffer pointlessly.

The third is that the suffering that comes in pursuit of holiness is tempered by the influence of God in our lives. Here is the promise:

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

"For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (KJV Matthew 11:28-30, emphasis added).

Works Cited

Attridge, Harold W., "The Letter to the Hebrews." Harper Collins Study Bible, The. Ed. Wayne
          Meeks et al. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. Print.

Ehat, Andrew F., Temples of the Ancient World. Ed. Donald Parry. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book
          & Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1994. 48-62. Print.

Johnson, Luke Timothy, Hebrews: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Thomas, M. Catherine, Temples of the Ancient World. Ed. Donald Parry. Salt Lake City: Deseret
          Book & Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1994. 479-491. Print.

Walton, John, The Lost World of Genesis One. Downer's Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009. Print.

Welch, John W., The Sermon At The Temple and The Sermon On The Mount. Salt Lake City:
          Deseret Book & Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1990. Print.

Monday, July 20, 2015


"Give us Barabbas!", from The Bible and its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons, 1910. Courtesy Wikipedia.
Chapter 27 of Matthew's gospel records the account of Pilate's release of an apparently well known prisoner named Barabbas. This event involves Pilate giving the assembled people the choice to release either Barabbas or Jesus and the people choose Barabbas. 

In reading the scriptures it must be kept in mind that the primary objective of the authors is not to simply record the events of history as they happened. Rather, their object is to promote their own particular viewpoint or ideas. The different gospel writers arranged the chronology and emphasized or deemphasized certain aspects of the events they wrote about in order to achieve their purposes.

The author of Matthew evidently wrote his gospel in such a way as to demonstrate how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Pentateuch, especially Deuteronomy 18:18 wherein God promises to send his people a new prophet like unto Moses. 

It is helpful to examine the account in Matthew 27 in light of this knowledge as we attempt to discern why Matthew chose to include it in his gospel. It's possible that Matthew's inclusion of the Barabbas episode is intended as an allusion to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) to illustrate how this most sacred of Jewish holy days pointed to the eventual ministry and mission of Jesus.

Leviticus chapter 16 describes the required rituals that are to be performed in observing Yom Kippur, central among them is the designation of the well known scapegoat. Perhaps less well known is that along with the scapegoat another goat was chosen as part of the ritual. Leviticus 16 describes the key elements of the ritual: 
The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt, 1854. Courtesy Wikipedia
  1. Two goats were to be chosen and presented at the door of the tabernacle (verse 7).
  2. Aaron, the high priest, was to cast lots for the goats to designate one "for Yahweh" (aka Jehovah) and one "for Azazel" (verse 8).
  3. The goat for Yahweh was to be sacrificed as a sin offering and its blood was to be taken into the holy of holies and sprinkled on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat (verses 9,15-16).
  4. Aaron was then to lay his hands on the head of the goat for Azazel and confess over it all the sins, iniquities and transgressions of the people of Israel and then was to be banished into the wilderness (verses 21-22).
According to the Mishnah (Yoma 4:2) at the time of Jesus the scapegoat was to have a "thread of crimson wool" tied to its head prior to being sent away. Likewise a similar thread was to be placed on the neck of the sacrificial goat before being slaughtered. We will return to this point shortly.

Regarding the account of the prisoner release its interesting to note that early manuscript evidence indicates that Barabbas and Jesus may have shared the same name. The Anchor Bible Dictionary notes the following regarding the name of Barabbas (ABD, Barabbas [person]):

"An interesting variant occurs in Matt 27:16–17, where he is called 'Jesus Barabbas.' While extant manuscript evidence is weak, Origen implies that most manuscripts in his day (ca. A.D. 240) included the full name. Many scholars today accept the full name in Matthew as original and suggest that it was probably omitted by later scribes because of the repugnance of having Jesus Christ’s name being shared by Barabbas (TCGNT 67–8). It is not improbable for Barabbas to have the very common name Jesus. Matthew’s text reads more dramatically with two holders of the same name: 'Which Jesus do you want; the son of Abba, or the self-styled Messiah' (cf. Albright and Mann Matthew AB, 343–4). There is some evidence that the full name 'Jesus Barabbas' also originally appeared in Mark’s gospel (Mann Mark AB, 637)."

Wilkins, M. J. (1992). Barabbas (Person). In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 1, p. 607). New York: Doubleday.

Therefore, based on this information about the observance of Yom Kippur and the detail of Barabbas' name it appears as though, as Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra points out in his book entitled The Impact of Yom Kippur on Early Christianity, the writer of Matthew may have been alluding to Yom Kippur motifs:

"...Matthew underscores the contrast between the two homonymous men (both called Jesus) and the choice between two similar entities. The people choose between Jesus A and Jesus B, who are very similar in name but extremely different in character. This description agrees with the halakhic ruling regarding the two goats on Yom Kippur. On the one hand the Mishnah demands similarity in look and value, on the other hand the ritual destinations of the two goats are totally different. While one goat is slaughtered and its blood brought into the holy of holies, the other goat is sent from the sanctuary into the desert." (169)

 It is also interesting to note that Matthew (in Matthew 27:28) has Jesus' Roman tormentors placing a scarlet robe on him perhaps suggestive of the scarlet thread which was placed on the neck of the sacrificial Yom Kippur goat.

It is also possible that the scarlet robe was instead suggestive of the scarlet thread placed on the head of the scapegoat and that the involvement of the assembled masses in the choice between the two men inverted the Yom Kippur ritual in which God chose between the two goats through the casting of lots. Ben Ezra says the following regarding this idea:

"The people usurp the role of God on Yom Kippur in choosing between the two goats, Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Barabbas, who is released in their midst (and consequently pollutes them), and hence as the sacrificial goat, the wrong goat, Jesus of Nazareth, whose blood spilled at the wrong place, also pollutes them. Matthew mocks the temple ritual, and the people disregard the atonement in Jesus." (170-1)

In conclusion, it seems reasonable to suppose that Matthew did indeed intend an allusion to the rituals of Yom Kippur in his account of the prisoner release found in chapter 27 of his gospel and seems to support the words of Amulek found in Alma 34:14 where he says:

"And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal."