Guest post- Ugaritic and the LDS temple

This is a guest post from The Monk, of Mormon Monastery, a repository of sorts for temple-related bibliography and a LDS Temple FAQ/essays.

I have a favorite passage from Ugaritic literature. (Nitsav has written briefly on Ugaritic before. See that post if you need a primer.) I’m just geeky enough that I’d like a nice alphabetic cuneiform scroll* of it framed on my wall. Though everyone has heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, few know the Ugaritic texts which are ironically far more important for understanding the Old Testament.

Below is my translation and brief commentary regarding this passage, which comes from the Ba’lu** epic, one of the lengthier texts from Ugarit. It consists of a message from Ba’lu, in highly repetitive poetic parallelism. I tried to arrange it to bring this out, but the formatting keeps disappearing.

“I have a message to declare to you,

a matter to repeat to you.

Word of wood, and

whispering of stone,

conversation of the heavens with the earth,

of the Deep with the stars.

I understand lightning which the heavens do not know,

a matter men do not know,

nor the earthly multitudes understand.

But I will reveal it to you in the midst of my mountain,

divine Zaphon,

in the holy place,

in my own personal mountain,

the pleasant place,

the hill of my victory.”

I really like the imagery, feelings, and ideas it evokes which I have about the LDS temple and ordinances. (Caveat lector- there is no relationship between this and the LDS temple ordinances other than the shared typological connections. Don’t go overboard here. Also, this is more of a touchy-feely “I like this and here’s why” than a scholarly analysis and presentation of a thesis. It may be loose enough or too carelessly written that some FPR posters may quibble with some of my thoughts, but that’s ok.) It feels to me, I don’t know… Mystical. Deep. Inviting. Sometimes it seems that we try to normalize the LDS temple so much that we lose that sense of mystical awe, of mystery and reverence in the presence of God.

Here are three memes or types it specifically invokes for me.

1) One is invited to a temple, a place or means of accessing revelation and hidden knowledge of God not to be found elsewhere.

2) There is cosmic/cosmological scope. The passage connects this hidden knowledge, in some way, with both the earthly (wood, stone, earth) and unearthly (the heavens, the stars, the mythical salt-water Deep from which earth was created in the Enuma Elish and Genesis 1 account). In the LDS temple, we take our bearings on existence and creation by being presented an account of the creation of the heavens and earth, stars, etc. In the LDS temple, that provides background for covenant-making. Ugaritic texts, to my knowledge, do not contain an explicit creation account (though some scholars have seen such in the battle between Baal and Yam elsewhere in this text.)

3) The temple, the dwelling place of divinity, is the divine mountain. (This typology is shared all over the place.)  In this case, Zaphon is its name, which appears in Isaiah 14:13 “You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of assembly on the heights of Zaphon;”

* To my knowledge, Ugaritic was written primarily on clay tablets, not scrolls, but I can’t very well mount a clay tablet on my wall, can I? What would the wife say?

**The name/title Ba’lu appears in the KJV as Baal. A doubled vowel in a KJV name generally indicates that there was a stoppage of air between those two vowels, but many of our pronounciations come from the Greek translation of the OT, which lacked a glottal stop, but heard the two different vowels. Baal shouldn’t be pronounced like “bale” but as two syllables, like bah (humbug!)-all. Ditto for Boaz, Naaman, Beer-sheva, etc.

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  • Kevin Barney

    Cool passage, Monk.