Guarding the Temple: Our Procession to a Better Understanding; a Response to David L.

David L., who recently joined M*, and I have been having a really wonderful conversation about methodologies of interpretation and comparison. My response got too long, and so I thought it would be better to put up as a full post of its own. At issue, I believe, is how LDS should understand themselves and their relationship to the ancient world, David and I representing two different approaches that are currently wrestling for primacy in LDS scholarship more generally. Let me summarize the main outline of the methodogical issues at stake.

The Methodologies

A. David has described the methodology that he employs in reading scripture as “conjectural/speculative” based on meeting a threshold of “possibility.” He does not argue that his interpretations are correct, only that they are possible.

B. With respect to comparison, David’s personal belief is that the temple ordinances that we have today were practiced in antiquity, at least in “essence” or in their “core features.” What drives his research is to find points of comparability between ancient Israelite practices and 20th c. Mormon temple rituals.

C. In place of these methods that David offers, I submitted in their stead two different standards that would govern interpretation.

1. With respect to “possibility,” I suggested that this standard of evidence is way too low. Lots of things are “possible,” (including aliens being the source of the ancient temple) and by this standard, the interpretations that he offers are as equally possible as not. First, I suggested that the claims that we make about the ancient temple should be falsifiable. This doesn’t mean that we cannot offer hypotheses that cannot be fully proven, only that such hypotheses must be tethered to some degree of reality so that they may be tested.

2. I suggested that the method for analyzing both the ancient and modern temple should offer “explanatory plenitude.” That is, the descriptions that develop of the ancient temple that are driven by David’s interest in comparison to the modern temple should be weighed against the descriptions that I offer of both the ancient and modern temple. I argued that since David’s method avoids serious analysis of the points of difference that it could not achieve explanatory plentitude. I argue that the attempt to look only for comparisons inevitably distorts both modern temple rituals and the ancient temple practices. I have suggested that close readings of both practices should be evaluated independently in order to allow for a more clear picture of what the practices actually were, what ideologies and theologies (deliberately in the plural) are connected to the practices by different groups, and what historical, political, and cultural factors were at play in both the production and consumption of these practices. Such an approach brackets and even eschews questions of “origins” or attempts to find a historically transmitted link, and instead focuses on meaning and contextualization as the driving forces in analysis. As far as I am aware, David’s methodological response to this the same as above, that his interpretations should be judged by the low standard of ‘possibility,’ and explanatory plenitude of the texts and evidence we do have is not a goal, only that of seeing what is similar to modern temples.

The Test Case

As the discussion developed, I invited David to select one particular issue that he felt strongly that there was a connection between ancient and modern temple practices that we could further investigate. We would adopt his choice as a test case for the competing methodologies. David settled on this claim:

Temple gates and guardians: the procession would have to pass through a series of temple gates in order to reach the temple building itself. The gates would have been guarded by priests (1 Chron. 9:17-19) who required certain moral qualifications and passwords in order for the procession to pass through (see Psalm 24). It has been suggested that one of these passwords may have been associated with the name of the Lord and that this was a “new name” given to the candidate. These guardians of the gates likely represented the angels who guard the gates of the various heavens leading to the highest heaven.

Here, he offers severals points of evidence on the interpretation of Ps 24: 1) there were a series of temple gates; 2) the guards stationed at these gates were priests; 3) these guards asked for a) moral qualifications and b) passwords as requirements to enter the gate; 4) one of the passwords was a “new name;” and 5) the guards were understood to symbolize angels who guarded the various levels of heaven.

While I had only minor quibbles with 1 and 2, I most strongly objected to 3, 4, and 5 as not supportable readings from the text. Further, I added things that this interpretation left out because it was only interested in seeing the similarities to Mormon temples. What is really happening here is that there are two different issues: first, the status, identity, and function, and symbolism of the “guards,” and second, the function, performance of, theology behind, and historicity of the “entrance ritual” in Ps. 24. David was connecting up the “guards” at the temple with a liturgical performance of Ps 24. I made separate arguments about how to best understand the guards and the liturgy of Ps 24.

The Guards
There are a few possible sources about the “guards,” some from the Deuteronomic historian of 1 and 2 Kings (2 Kings 12:9; 22:4; 23:4; 25:18); and some from the rival historian of 1 Chronicles (1 Chron. 9:17-19) written in the second temple period. (Ps 84:10 is a disputed reference, and is in any case dropped by David, so I will drop it too).

While David’s original nterpretation sees the guards primarily in a liturgical role, symbolizing angelic figures (even though none of the texts from this period we have make either of those claims), he later offers this explanation of their function:

I am willing to concede that we don’t know exactly what their role was.  I don’t think that it is much of a stretch to assert that these gatekeepers likely had a role in the entrance liturgy presented in Psalm 24. …I think it’s fair to assume that the speaker(s)… could have been the gatekeepers… I don’t think we need to dismiss the idea that the gatekeepers participated here, especially since there may have been a view that Yahweh himself was the ultimate/final gatekeeper. In Psalm 24, in particular, I believe that the most logical assumption is that the gatekeepers are involved, especially in 8a and 10a, and if we concede this, then I would also assert that the gatekeepers are also involved in the exchange in vv. 3-5, where the qualifications for entry are being established.

We will get to Ps. 24 later, but the key point here is on the role of the guards. Again, using the standard of evidence of “possibility” that a) the temple guards participated in the liturgy of Ps 24 (even though no text, not Ps, Kings, Chron, or Lev makes anything close to this claim), David then builds the case from this assumption that b) the next “most logical assumption” is that they were involved in both of the different dialogues in Ps 24. Further, David suggests another assertion that “may have been,” namely c) that Yahweh himself is understood to be a temple guard. Now, David will readily admit that there is not a scrap of evidence for a, b, or c. Instead, he relies on conjecture and speculation to suggest the possibility of all three. So, while David here abandons the view that these figures were understood by anyone to represent angels (he returns to this point later), he maintains that they held a liturgical role and now, instead of angels, they represent Yahweh.

Does this interpretation meet the standards of falsifiability or explanatory plenitude? No. As I’ve said, David will readily admit that this is only a “possibility,” but a possibility doesn’t demonstrate anything, as I have argued above. The threshold is so low that nearly anything can pass it. With respect to explanatory plenitude, I submit that if all that one knew about the temple guards were what David told that person, they wouldn’t know anything at all about what the texts actually say about them. Instead, I offered the following explanation about the identity and function of the temple guards based on what the texts actually say about them.

1. The guards serve a policing function to guard “treasure,” literally the mounds of money inside the temple. Basically, the ancient temple was like the national bank. It is where money was stored and protected.
2. These guards stood outside the temple to protect the four gates of the temple precinct, not inside even in the courtyard, let alone anywhere actually near the interior of the temple.

3. Other responsibilities included gathering money and moving temple instruments when asked.
4.There is no evidence from any of the relevant descriptions of these figures that they held any liturgical role at all, especially not one of asking questions to those who entered.

5. These guards were a subset of the priestly class and held their position by right of lineage. Their status as priests derives not from any presumed liturgical performance, but from the fact that priests were in charge of all aspects of the temple, from janitorial, security, banking and money management, and all sorts of non-liturgical duties.

While not one of the descriptions that David offers of the temple police can actually be found in the ancient literature, all of the descriptions that I provide are rooted in the reading of the texts, which makes them a) falsifiable through evaluating what the texts say about them and b) result in explanatory plentitude. I would note that when a full description is provided of the temple police, they look a lot less like veil workers (or even the temple recommend card checkers) than David’s description would lead you to believe.

The Entrance Liturgy
David has suggested, and I have mostly agreed, that Ps. 24 represents an “entrance liturgy,” perhaps performed during a processional entry into the temple. The text consists of two separate dialogical exchanges.
Ps. 24 (NRSV)

Of David. A Psalm.
1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
   the world, and those who live in it; 
2 for he has founded it on the seas,
   and established it on the rivers.

3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
   And who shall stand in his holy place? 
4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
   who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
   and do not swear deceitfully. 
5 They will receive blessing from the Lord,
   and vindication from the God of their salvation. 
6 Such is the company of those who seek him,
   who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
          Selah

7 Lift up your heads, O gates!
   and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
   that the King of glory may come in. 
8 Who is the King of glory?
   The Lord, strong and mighty,
   the Lord, mighty in battle. 
9 Lift up your heads, O gates!
   and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
   that the King of glory may come in. 
10 Who is this King of glory?
   The Lord of hosts,
   he is the King of glory.
          Selah

I am going to have to summarize David’s arguments here, but in addition to arguing that the temple guards for some reason moved from security to liturgical duties, he also offers at least 8 claims that I will address, hopefully getting to at least all of the really crucial pieces. At the outset, I will say that we do share some similar ideas about this text, but my main objections will be how far David is willing to push. These assertions not only lead into the realm of non-falsifiability, but also result in a misreading of what the texts actually do say.

1. Ps 24 may have been performed at the Feast of the Tabernacles (Sukkot) annually because at the dedication to the temple under Solomon that occurred during this feast, there was a procession bringing the ark to the temple. There were possibly “subsequent reenactments” of this event, not only at Sukkot, but also at the other festivals.

As noted in the OP, we have a series of these “entrance liturgies,” all of them different from each other, though sharing some common features. Unfortunately, none of them give us any idea about who performed them, when they were performed, or even whether they were performed at all. We have lots of examples of “imaginary liturgies” from the ancient world, and it is just as possible that not one of these liturgies was ever actually performed, let alone annually, as it was that they were performed in any of the elaborate scenarios that David suggests. Now, I admit that there are aspects of David’s interpretation that do have some credibility to them, but David pushes them so far as to strain that, hanging a mountain off a thread, so to speak. The fact is that none of the descriptions that we do have of these Feasts describe such a procession, nor such a liturgy. When were these liturgies performed then, or were they at all? Your guess is as good as David’s, literally.

Further, I’d say that there has been no connection at all made to the significance of Sukkot in interpreting this procession. If we were using explanatory plenitude rather than ancient-modern parallel’s we’d have to consider the ideology, theology, and political significance of Sukkot in the context of our analysis.

2. This procession was led by the king/priest, accompanying Yahweh (represented by the ark) to the temple.

The idea that the ark was carried in this procession is something that I’d like to address specifically. Not only is the idea that the king leading this procession totally without warrant, but the notion that the ark was paraded around once a year has no basis whatsoever in any text. The Psalms are great, and tell us about what some people, at least at some point, might have thought about the temple. But being able to derive actual historical practices, let alone any that would have spanned any significant time during the tumultuous and contentious period of the first temple when different kings were using the temple in completely different ways, is nigh impossible to do. Imagine for a moment that you found an LDS hymnal 1000 years from now, and from it attempted to reconstruct what an LDS sacrament meeting was like. You could come up with all sorts of ideas about processionals that reenacted JS’s martyrdom or the trek west annually along with the annual Christmas hymns. We could list the moral requirements for entering the chapel. We could conclude that Mother in Heaven was actually worshipped. But without a secondary piece of evidence to anchor any of these conjectures, we’d be lost. But what if we had other texts that gave some more clues about our sacrament services than the hymnal? In fact with the secondary pieces of evidence that we do have about the ancient festivals and processions don’t include any of the details David is providing. These conjectures may pass some minimal level of “possibility,” but hardly constitute anything reliable on which to draw historical conclusions.

3. The Q&A in Ps. 24:3-6 was performed before beginning the procession, i.e., not at the gates, or that this occurred at the “outer gates” in which case “I think it’s fair to assume that the speaker(s) in verses 5…could have been the gatekeepers [ie, temple guards].” The second Q&A in Ps. 24:7-10 would have occurred later in the procession and was performed at the gates themselves, or perhaps some otherwise unknown set of “inner gates” also by the temple guards.

As far as I am aware, there is no evidence for multiple sets of “gates” other than those surrounding the outer precinct of the temple grounds for the first temple, and even what we know about those is pretty conjectural. There is no such description in any of the architectural accounts of the temple, and (though I might be wrong on this) I don’t think even Ezekiel’s imaginary temple describes a series of interior gates. If you are right that this first Q&A represents the earlier point of some liturgy along these lines, they can’t both happen at the gates.

4. Ps. 24:4 constitutes the “moral requirements to enter the temple.”

First, I want to deal with the phrase that you continually invoke here, which is to “enter the temple.” Worshippers at the temple in Jerusalem did not “enter the temple.” The temple was not something you went into, but something that you stood outside of. Now, I know you know this, but I think that your imprecision on this point in your language points to exactly the problem that I have suggested when your primary goal is to draw parallels to our modern temples. In our temples, being “inside” is how you worship. This notion of sacred space as an interior space is central to our notion of temple, but completely different from ancient temples, which were more exterior monuments than interior spaces. Yet, your repeated description of ancient worshipers as “entering the temple” completely obscures that fact, and misleads readers who don’t know any better.

On the specific point, I think that there is some confusion about my argument concern morals here. And, I think that it may be cleared up by the other word that you’ve used to describe the text’s statement that those with a “pure heart” and who keep oaths may “ascend,” namely, “qualification.” I think that the difference between a qualification and a requirement is that one may be aspirational while the other is juridical. That is to say, I don’t think that the suggestion that only those with “pure hearts” may ascend functioned as a test for who could worship at the temple, but more of a goal outlining who would be blessed by their ascent. To be more clear, there was no bishop’s interview, no one checking your recommend as you went to worship. This was an interior, internal standard that functioned in practice (again, assuming this was ever practiced) as an affirmation of what one should be like, rather than a test about what one must be like in order to participate in this particular ritual.

Let’s also be clear that this standard, even if we grant that it was used in a Sukkot procession, is also limited to that time. There is no evidence that non-high holy days one would have been compelled to the same standard in order to worship at the temple. Instead, ritual cleanness was required, which is why I think the moral standard functioned not as a basis for exclusion.

5. “Entering the temple involved the revelation of moral requirements in the form of covenants from God”

Again, you’ve got the “entering the temple” misnomer. Otherwise, this is an interesting suggestion. While this is based on your reading of Ps 15, not Ps 24, it is interesting for how the Ps. may be understood. I still think that we are completely in the dark about when, how, why, or whether these were performed though.

6. “the seven levels of heaven described in the late Rabbinic and Mystical Jewish texts are likely based on the seven levels of holiness of the ancient temple”

First, the rabbinic and mystical texts tell us about what the rabbis and mystics thought, not about what was happening in the first temple period. These texts tell us about their authors’ views of the temple, not their ancestors. Second, there is not only no evidence that these symbolic understandings of the temple were known popularly or shared by the priests running the temple, there is no evidence that anyone had even thought of them. They represent a kind of allegorical thinking and symbol making that is characteristic of those living without the temple, not those living with it. Third, the “seven levels of holiness” are features of the second temple, not the first, so Ps 24 certainly never knew about them and they were not a part of the liturgy, if it was ever performed.

7. “In the later texts, there would be angelic guards at the gates of each of the celestial levels requiring passwords. I think it is reasonable to argue, based on the above, that the same structure may have existed in the ancient temple, the source of inspiration for these texts.”

While the case may or may not be made from the selection of texts that you provide to make the claim that SOME “later texts” imagine angelic guards represented in the temple, there is simply no warrant for your claim that it is “reasonable” to project these 2nd. c BCE – 5th c. CE interpretations of the temple back into the first temple four centuries earlier than the earliest reference to any such belief. Further, you have provided no primary source references to back up any of these assertions even about later beliefs about the temple. I don’t deny that some existed, but you mesh all together DSS and Rabbinical texts, along with other apocalyptic texts, as if they all represent a single, coherent view of 1) temples, 2) angels, 3) the structure of the heavens, and 4) ritual/liturgy. You’re right that these assertions need to be demonstrated, and that it is too much for you (and me!) at this point to track them down. You’ve registered your assertions about what analysis of these texts might yield, and I want to register my objection that there is no single, coherent picture of the temple, angels, heavens, or liturgy that can be culled from these wildly diverse ancient texts. Finally, on the basis of Ps 24 alone, there is no reason to think that the interlocutors are angels, or represent angels, or frankly, that they even believed in angels at this time.

8. “It is possible that name(s) for God (including a “new name”) were given as passwords to get through the gates. “

This is simply asserted at the end, without really adding to the discussion we already had about this. I argued then that there is zero evidence in Ps 24 for a “new name.” While the name “Yahweh” is given in the Ps., calling it a “password” is a stretch since the name of God isn’t exactly a secret.

_____
Finally, one might get the impression from this description that Ps 24 is essentially about moral requirements and call-and-response “passwords” (even though they aren’t secret) as qualifications to enter into the temple grounds (not in the temple). This description certainly meets the low threshold of “possibility,” and in some regards may even exceed it in that Ps. 24 at some point during the First Temple was at least once performed on an unknown occasion by a procession of unknown people to the temple, sung by unknown interlocutors. What about explanatory plenitude? Is anything left out in this description that David offers? Most certainly, yes. For instance, I have suggested that the central theological point of Ps. 24:7-10 is to describe Yahweh as the warrior God of Israel doing battle with her enemies. Acknowledging such a view is critical to revealing the broader ideology of the temple in antiquity, namely that it is a political institution that centralizes authority in the hands of a particular ruling class that was based on a hereditary caste system and monarchy. The temple was a symbol of the kingdom and God’s protection of it, and its place in the land was not an abstract piece of sacred space, but rather rooted the nation of Israel as a religious, and consequently political entity. David completely ignores a political and economic function of the ancient temple by seeing it solely as a symbolic ascent. Further, the political differences for how the temple was invoked by different factions in different time periods is not addressed at all in David’s reading simply because he has decided that the temple is primarily symbolic of the heavens, which reflects our own modern understandings of temples rather than how ancient Israelites might have understood them.

Concluding Remarks
I think that David provides some interesting readings, some of which I even agree with in paired down, qualified form. Some of my objections I am even so-so about, and I’d certainly be willing to reconsider some of the minor points in light of more evidence. However, I think that the interpretations which he provides are methodologically insufficiently grounded, and ultimately misleading. By only requiring that his own theories meet the most minimum standard of “possibility,” David is untethered from the text at all and free to connect dots that aren’t really there.

Further, the interpretations that he provides are actually misleading because they continually ignore the plentitude of evidence that we do have in favor of the evidence we don’t have.

  • Clark

    Without getting to the particulars of the temple parallels I think my own methodology is midway between the two of you. Rather than possibility I look for plausibility. Similar, but I think the standard of evidence is higher for plausibility to possibility. Second I recognize my own woeful knowledge. I try to find the range of plausible readings in order to then compare and contrast to see which is most plausible and frankly, at times, to perhaps see if I get any spiritual insight as I muse on them. Although honestly I find those sorts of questions much less interesting now than I did in my 20′s which undoubtedly means I don’t care quite enough to have that musement.

    To me I think some parallels are pretty plausible for having strong connections between the modern and ancient temples. That’s not to deny the important differences yet even the differences upon closer connection may be explained in different ways. (Think of the mirrored rooms and marriage in the Gospel of Philip: yes it has a gnostic/Platonic context and must be read in that way – but why those particular metaphors and why to that particular community?) I don’t claim those are the only plausible ways to read it. And such readings presuppose certain paradigms that might be wrong and that not all share.

  • Clark

    BTW – my own first choice for temple parallels is actually the quasi-Merkabah opening few chapters of Revelation which I think uses interspersion to list a procession most Mormons would see as the endowment. But then I think the endowment itself is more closely related to merkabah texts than some might. (Both directly from a theological perspective and indirectly threw the place of merkabah indirectly on masonic and hermetic traditions as well as various kingship rituals that indirectly affect masonry)

  • http://latterdaysnark.blogspot.com/ David B

    I think i’m mostly on your side in this discussion, but i have to question your insistence on “falsifiability”. It seems that that’s way too high of a standard for analysis of a text everyone agrees that nobody knows precisely what it means.

    (That was a convoluted sentence, i know, but i can’t come up with a more elegant phrasing.)

    On refresh: I think Clark’s idea of “plausibility” is interesting, but i don’t know where precisely one would draw the lines between the three (possibility~plausibility~falsifiability) approaches. Maybe it’s time to re-read Popper…

  • Clark

    I use falsification loosely. Mainly just as a broad sense of what would lead you to disbelieve a theory. When people have strongly held theories and can’t come up with a way to determine if they are wrong I tend to suspect they aren’t really looking for dialog. I’m not pushing the Popper line. (I think Popper’s model of science false simply because one can always come up with alternative explanations – Kuhn was right to note this with the Copernican revolution)

    The reason I say plausibility is just that I think one has to have evidence that it’s somewhat likely not just possible. I agree it’s a blurry continuum though. To me that’s a feature not a bug though.

  • Clark

    Oh, whoops. I thought you were talking to me about “falsification” but it was TT and not me who said that. I actually agree with TT on that point though, although as I said I think falsification in practice is much more open than Popper would have. I think it important to think through how we could discern what would lead us to disbelieve our models though.

  • DB

    Why would anyone expect modern temple ordinances to be comparable to ancient ones? The ordinances performed in the ancient Tabernacle and in the ancient Jewish temples were Levitical ordinances. The ordinances performed in modern temples are Melchizedek ordinances. As far as we know, the general Jewish population did not have the priesthood, only the Levites had it and they only had the Levitical priesthood. The Melchizedek, or higher, priesthood was not had generally among the Jews so why would anyone expect Melchizedek temple ordinances to have been practiced at all in the ancient temples? Especially, why would any Mormon expect to find evidence of them? Who would have performed them? Who would have participated in them?

    I would expect them to have been performed anciently, and more generally in the New Testament period, but not generally in the Old Testament period and especially not in the temples which were used for Levitical ordinances for the general population.

  • Clark

    DB, I can’t speak for anyone else. However I agree a strong possibility is that we wouldn’t find anything like the ceremony in OT times. There are two counter positions though that are fairly persuasive. The first is that the endowment arises out of that cultural milieu. That is it uses symbols and meanings out of that general era. So, for instance, if we analyze the endowment as a kingship coronation we ought expect it to correspond to that ANE pattern. The other position is that even if Israel did only have the AP there was for a period the MP. (The McConkie position was that it was around in a general form until Elijah) Thus that would be there and there might be cultural remnants of that knowledge. However I clearly think it completely valid to not expect of find blatant ceremonies.

  • smb

    TT, I’m very sympathetic to the impulse to be rigorous on these topics. My main worry is the effect it might have on the really gorgeous mythopoiesis of Mormonism’s particular flavor of the prisca theologica. I rather like it when I observe it in early Mormonism, and that makes me give it the benefit of the doubt when I see it in modern Mormonism.

    And I just like the word mythopoiesis–I don’t mean it in a derogatory or belittling way. I think the word can be used respectfully of the inspired work of a prophet–sometimes that inspiration comes in a creative but not methodologically rigorous encounter with texts or traditions.

    It’s also worth bearing in mind that Joseph Smith and others openly cited the Hebrew (and Christian) Bible in describing the early temple cultus. How does that affect these types of analyses?

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    For some reason, last night I felt that I should clarify that I really am impressed with David and I hope that my full-court press on him indicates my respect for him above all else. Not only do I think that David works hard to back up his claims, and shows willingness to moderate his ideas when pressed, but David has shown again and again over the years that he is a true gentleman. A gentleman and a scholar. I want to thank David for being such a great sport in these conversations. I’ve been disagreeing for years now with David, and he has always shown himself to be willing to defend his ideas in a rational way. The same cannot be said for everyone, and I greatly admire David’s character in this regard.

    DavidB and Clark,
    I think that the distinctions between plausibility and falsifiability are not all that much. That is, I don’t see plausibility as a middle ground between possibility and falsifiability, but rather that falsifiability is the precondition for plausibility. Now, at some point I am going to offer the feminist critique of the standard of “plausibility” in biblical studies as a way to complicate everything I’ve said up until now (it’s partly why I’ve avoided the term plausibility thus far). I’m even going to attempt to show how the feminist critique of plausibility standards can really help a project like David’s, but it ultimately requires a more sophisticated hermeneutic on his part. Hopefully I will be able to get to it soon.

    smb,
    I hear you, and to be honest I value aspects of it to. My problem is that David positions himself publicly as a scholar, and articulates his arguments as the product of his studies. For this reason, I think that he should be judged by those same standards, not by the standard of a religion-maker. Again, as I’ve indicated before, I think that there are some ways that David’s larger project is possible both within the context of scholarship, as well as offering some “mythopoiesis,” but it needs to begin from clearly spelled out hermeneutical grounds that are different from the ones he is currently adopting.

    I also think that your observation here and other times before that JS is acting as an interpreter of the ancient traditions is pretty much exactly the place that we need to start in order to make a version of David’s project acceptable.

  • Jack

    Thought it may be difficult to nail down specific parallels in terms of ritual and liturgy, I think there are some striking parallels in terms of structure and design. The layout and divisions found in ancient temples bespeak a cosmic view that is similar to ours today. And the placement of artifacts within said layout displays an array of metaphorical pointers that match-up very well with the modern endowment — especially in terms of its progression through specific laws and covenants.

    These, while not the ordinances themselves (that which can only be performed by animate beings), are the space in which the ordinances occurred. And as such, they project a form that reflects the intent of said ordinances — much like an ancient fossil which preserves the general form of the creature though the flesh has long since decayed.

  • smb

    TT, I think most “quantum philosophy” is addlepated hashish mumbling, but I think there is something to the insight that the act of observation changes the entity being observed. The funky, fun mythopoiesis of Mormon exegetical activities, particularly of the prisca theologia traditions, just aren’t the same when they are pushed into a more scholarly mold. I don’t necessarily turn to the school you associate with David (I apologize that I don’t know David and don’t know best how to term this tradition other than the Mormon prisca theologia) for my own private edification, but I like the ways it continues to manifest some of the impulses of earliest Mormonism.

    I had a whole essay about resetting the discussion of Mormon prisca theologia in terms of Smith’s pretty clear textual awareness of antecedent traditions, but then it started to feel like a fight with the M.p.t., and I decided that I would write about these issues in very specific contexts where they matter rather than as a general argument.

    So to not be as obscure as I generally am, take the question of guards at the temple. I see in those guards elements of fraternal initiation, but I also see images of OT restriction of movement through sacred space or various “Gnostic” traditions about fraternal wisdom or enlightenment. I also see the worries of 19th-century Americans about who is trustworthy and who is not, about the fraternity of angels and humans that the Gospel made possible. Do I see ancient Hebrew precedent in Mormon temple liturgy? Yes. Do I see myriad other precedents? Yes. Do I endorse these as scholarly claims about the provenance of ritual forms? No. Do I love the sense that embracing this “cloud of meanings” in temple liturgy permits me to feel myself kindred with peoples as diverse as ancient Near Easterners, 17th-century Brits, 19th-century frontierspeople, and David? Yes. Do I believe that some people feel stronger, more connected to God, better able to make the sacrifices associated with Mormon membership as a result of the non-academic practice of the Mormon prisca theologia? Yes. Do I like and admire TT? Yes, as always. Is catechism my preferred literary form? No.

  • http://www.heavenlyascents.com David Larsen

    TT,

    Thank you for this thorough response. I’m sorry it has taken so long for me to respond. With my new semester starting this week, I have been extremely busy with preparations. While I can’t give as thorough a response as I would like to (and I think we’ve both stated our positions quite well already), I just wanted to leave a few parting words on the discussion of this topic (since the post was mine to begin with).

    It is obvious that we are working with very different perspectives and epistemological approaches. In my view, I am presenting evidence based on various textual sources. Although I use the words “probably” and “possibly” more than I should, I don’t see myself as simply “requiring that [my] own theories meet the most minimum standard of ‘possibility.’” I believe that absolute certainty regarding historical events and practices is impossible.
    I believe that I have provided evidence and that my evidence comes largely from the texts themselves, although they may not be the texts that you would prefer to look at. I have specifically avoided citing evidence from the surrounding cultures of the time that performed very similar rites at their festivals, as this is not the most reliable approach. I have attempted to demonstrate that there are a number of texts that have a shared context and thus provide further background information.

    I would add (not that you directly suggested this, but perhaps implied) that I am not simply trying to import my understanding of modern LDS doctrine onto the ancient setting — although I suggested, and believe, that LDS practice can be positively compared with ancient ritual, I think I made it clear that this was not my objective in this last post. It is not my objective to push some ultra-conservative, traditional LDS framework on the biblical texts. I would note that I didn’t invent the material I am presenting based on some Mormon hermeneutical agenda, but am citing and re-using ideas that have been formulated and debated in circles far removed from any LDS influence. The theory of the Ark Procession has been around for nearly a hundred years and is still positively employed by scholars today. I wouldn’t have come up with the “divine name as password idea” on my own if I hadn’t read the Broyles article. Perhaps you don’t agree with the methodologies used to come up with these theories, but I happen to believe that some of them are quite sound, if properly and carefully applied.

    You state that I would agree that I don’t have one scrap of evidence to back up some of my arguments. Well, not entirely. I wonder what you would consider to be evidence? Your standard seems to be to only admit what details you can glean from your own reading of a limited range of texts. You apparently consider the biblical histories to be the standard by which we should judge ancient temple practice, even when these are known to have been written centuries after the fact by individuals who likely held a much different theological view than their more ancient predecessors (I, on the other hand, have espoused the view that we should be looking at texts that are arguably from the First Temple period, including the Psalms, Isaiah, etc.). You take me to task for considering late texts, although the texts that I use for my comparison are demonstrably more similar to temple-related texts that actually come from the First Temple period than what we read about in the biblical histories.

    The admittedly late texts that I referred to — the Hekhalot or Merkabah Mysticism literature, seem to represent the tradition found in texts that can, with some surety, be placed in the period of the First Temple. Take, for example, the vision of Isaiah in Isa. 6. Would you argue against this being a First Temple text? It is quite obvious from the text that the setting of Isaiah’s vision is the temple. And what happened to Isaiah in this temple setting? He saw the Lord sitting upon his throne. What were the pilgrims supposed to do when they went up to Jerusalem for the festivals? “Appear before the Lord.” What did this mean? I think we arguably have a description of “appearing before the Lord” in Isaiah 6. Ezekiel, a temple priest, has a similar experience, and seeing the face of the Lord is a goal discussed in the Psalms, but these details are missing from the later biblical descriptions of the temple cult. However, we find the ancient temple theme of “seeing the face of the Lord” pop up in many extra-biblical sources. I think there is significant evidence that the theology of the First Temple was marginalized, and thus almost disappears in the biblical histories, while it is preserved in numerous extra-biblical sources, from quite early on (some of the later biblical prophetic texts, Book of Enoch, Dead Sea Scrolls) and continued into Christian and some of the more mystical Jewish writings. We can see a significantly conservative strain of temple-related themes, including talk of angels, ascending to heaven, appearing before the throne of God, etc., that arguably extends back to very ancient times, but that is virtually erased by the Deuteronomistic and later Priestly works. In my view, considering only a limited range of late biblical texts as evidence for what went on in the First Temple results in one’s perspective being severely limited. I think we need to avoid our view of the First Temple being tainted by Second Temple spectacles (if this is, in any way, possible). The Second Temple did not have the same purpose or function as the First Temple — we can see that by comparing First Temple texts to Second Temple descriptions of the temple. I believe that I am being conscientious and careful in my reasoning, and that the more varied, but also more relevant, texts that I choose to use give me the benefit of being able to see “the big picture” as I search for evidence. If the texts you would use are late and admittedly unreliable, where do you suggest we go to look for insight into what went on in that First Temple?

    I don’t have time, unfortunately, to address all the points that you make in your post, and this response has necessarily been a very quick attempt to throw some ideas together. Again, it is obvious that we are looking at these issues from very different perspectives. You seem to hold the view that the best way to understand ancient religious practices is by reading the canonical texts — in my view, those texts can’t necessarily give us a reliable picture of what earlier religious practice was. While my methods may not be the same as yours, I don’t think it reasonable to say that there is “not a scrap of evidence” for these ideas. Furthermore, I don’t see “explanatory plenitude” as my aim with this post — the aim was to present one side of the picture, so that you could debate it using the opposing view. If I were doing a scholarly exposition of the topic, I would be sure to present both sides of the argument.
    I appreciate you taking the time to engage me on this issue and hope to continue to have constructive discussions like this in the future.

  • http://www.heavenlyascents.com David Larsen

    And thank you, TT, for your gracious comments (#9, which I just now noticed). I appreciate what I’ve been able to learn from this interaction with you and hope to be able to contribute positively to the overall discussion of these issues.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    David,
    Thank you for your remarks here. I think we’ve more or less come to the end of this topic, having laid out our arguments as well as we can. By no means am I saying that we should not talk about these things any more, and feel free to respond to any points that you want to further clarify.
    I just wanted to add one more note on how we read later texts differently, which I think you rightly point out. Rather than seeing later texts as preserving an earlier, First Temple, tradition or theology, I think that we should see later texts that draw on these themes as interpreting earlier texts. I think that this approach allows us to see both the similarities and differences between earlier and later texts and traditions, and to consider the particular historical conditions that frame and constrain how earlier texts are being interpreted and what is at stake in later uses of them. I’d say that the same approach should be used for LDS temple practices, seeing them as interpretations of earlier materials. This allows us to see, rightfully, the similarities that exist between the ancient and modern, some of which you point to, but also to account for the particular historical conditions and intervening contexts that shape how the modern interprets the ancient.

    In any case, I think we’ve clearly laid out our methods, and I appreciate the corrective you’ve offered in your comment here, and the readings that result from them. Feel free to add anything else you see as necessary. But, if this is the end, I thank you for a thrilling discussion!

  • Clark

    My problem is that David positions himself publicly as a scholar, and articulates his arguments as the product of his studies. For this reason, I think that he should be judged by those same standards, not by the standard of a religion-maker.

    TT, wouldn’t you agree though that theology can be done in a scholarly way but is a fundamentally different hermeneutic project than history? Do you think it might simply be better to call what David does theology of a sort?

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Clark,
    Whether David would categorize himself in this way is the real question. I don’t know the answer. For me, I would say that while I think that theology is a separate discipline with separate rules, I don’t think that it exists independent from history. To the extent that it uses history, it should do so responsibly, and in this way theology can still be judged by the standards of history. Further, I would say that what is at stake here are the theological implications that flow from two different views of history, so David and I are really up to the same thing theologically, but are viewing history differently.

  • Clark

    I fully agree TT, but I think theology affects how one interprets the data. That is theology will constrict the range of possibilities and sometimes make particular possibilities more probable than others simply because of the theological implications.

    I can’t speak for whether David is doing this of course. But I think that feedback dramatically affects how we view the history.


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