Pan-Templism and Early Christians

There is a strong intellectual current among some popular LDS personalities and bloggers (and a very few non-LDS thinkers) that see the temple not only as the defining element of Mormonism, but also of ancient Judaism, Christianity, and for many, a near universal cultural theme. This tradition imagines a cultural inheritance that is both conscious and unconscious of temple themes, motifs, and rituals. In this recent revival of this theme in Mormon thought, Margaret Barker has emerged as a central influence, not only because of her prolific and provocative theories about ancient Judaism and Christianity, but also because of her non-Mormonism.

It is no secret that I am not a great admirer of Barker’s work. Though her devotees see her as forging a new paradigm, I have suggested that she is simply reviving an older methodology of the “Myth and Ritual School” that was long-ago abandoned as problematic.

While most versions of the recent temple-studies movement in Mormonism have centered on the Jerusalem temple, others have adopted a structuralist or diffusionist model that looks at ritual traditions from cultures as diverse and China and India as confirmation for the truth about temples. While this later approach suffers from some serious problems of comparative religion and comparative anthropology, I’d like to focus on the historical problems of the most dominant LDS narrative of a historical descent of temple traditions in early Christianity.

One of the main problems with this move is that it homogenizes the diversity of perspectives about the temple held by early Christians, reproducing a discourse of orthodoxy and heresy as those who “preserved” the temple and those who “suppressed” it. This narrative begins with a certain thesis about the history of Jewish and Christian views of the temple and then finds the evidence to fit it. Not only does this approach presume a particular view at the outset as the “orthodox” view (which leads to problems in historical method), but also overlooks the variety of authentically Christian perspectives about the Jersulem temple, which can only be described as ambiguous.

My very brief survey revealed four different attitudes about the Jerusalem temple in the New Testament texts.
1) Acceptance: no break in continuity. Paul attends the temple seemingly unproblematically, at the suggestion of the Jerusalem church authorities. The only problem with this view is that the temple is only around for a few decades after Christ’s death, and is already destroyed by the time most of the NT texts are written, including all of the Gospels.

2) Rejection: condemnation of temple, priesthood, sacrifice, etc. Some of Paul’s texts, as well as sayings of Jesus, reject the very principles on which the temple is based, such as ritual purity.

3) Supersession: Jesus fulfilled the temple or the temple pointed to him. Hebrews is the most important text with this view, though some other scattered references may hold this view as well. One important question is whether supersession is seen in oppositional terms, or complimentary terms.

4) Metaphor: the temple becomes a symbol, even if not used. For instance, when Paul says that “your body is a temple,” he transfers the ideology of temples, such as purity and pollution, away from the temple to a different place.

These are merely provisional categories, and I am not totally confident in them as clearly distinct from one another, but I think that they do begin to suggest the multiple ways in which early Christians (to say nothing of ancient Jews) imagined, related to, and constructed the “temple” as a category and a site of meaning-making. The temple is a symbol, and symbols are produced by human beings, not naturally occurring. That means that symbols are variable and produced through sets of practices of interpretation. As historians we must be aware of the multiple interpretations of the temple, and as LDSs constructing our theologies of temples, we should also listen to the multiple voices within our heritage about the discourse of temples.

19 Replies to “Pan-Templism and Early Christians”

  1. Methodological rigor is certainly important, but I think you’re over-reaching a bit. For example, if by “ancient Judaism” you’re talking about Israelites instead of second temple or NT period Judaism, suggesting that the complex of temple-related themes and rituals was not central or defining is quite off. At least, the HB presents it as centrally important. If you want to argue that such a presentation isn’t historically accurate, you ironically move into Barker-esque territory of claiming that editing has fundamentally obscured a “true” view of the theology/history of the period.

    If the older generation of LDS scholars had a tendency towards pan-templism or pan-Mormonism, the younger generation seems to have reacted in an equal-but-opposite way, by refusing to acknowledge any echos, reflexes, typologies or similarities anywhere. I find it overly atomistic.

  2. I think that the obsession with pan-templism is pretty easy to explain. Hugh Nibley was obsessed with pan-templism. LDS thinkers and scholars are still obsessed with High Nibley. Ergo, LDS thinkers and scholars are obsessed with pan-templism. Margaret Barker is Hugh Nibley in a skirt with a cool accent. Hence, the continued obsession with Margaret Barker.

    Now, I am _removing_ my tongue from my cheek.

    The thing people obsessed with pan-templism don’t want to realize is that if you are going to take that track with argumentation and evidence, it cuts both ways. I give as exhibit “A” the Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth website. This guy uses basically the same types of arguments and plays fast and loose with the evidence to show that Jesus never existed and the Christianity is a pagan cult. Of course the pan-templists will scream bloody murder about his use of evidence and this methodology, and they would be correct. The problem is they refuse to point these criticisms back onto themselves.

  3. TT, Very interesting post. Re: category 3, supersession: I’ve read that Hebrews doesn’t actually focus on the temple (or even mention it), but instead on the Tabernacle. On the one hand, this seems to already support your idea of multiple views — not every NT writer sees the Temple as the be-all and end-all. Furthermore, the author of Hebrews doesn’t seem to think his arguments need to even discuss the Temple, even though its corruption and/or destruction would seem to be well-suited as supporting supersession arguments. But on the other hand, how would you see this Temple/Tabernacle distinction as fitting in to your New Testament attitude framework? Is such a distinction a fifth view?

    Also, I wonder how you would fit the Apocalypse into your framework. It perhaps spends more time on the Temple than any other NT text, seems to go far beyond Acceptance, and mixes in some Metaphor. While I think most LDS analysts shy away from this text as perhaps too challenging to fit into preconceived pigeonholes of analysis, Joseph Smith did apparently claim it was one of the plainest books. Can you help place these writings in your analytic construct?

  4. Thanks Ben!

    By ancient Judaism I meant all of the above. However, I don’t think it is particiularly Barker-esque to suggest that there was no uniform view of the temple by ancient Jews from 1000-100 BCE. The question is how you interpret this diversity of views. While she wants to collapse it into a framework of orthodoxy and heresy, where there are clear good-guys and clear bad guys in her narrative, where all the good guys thought the same thing about the temple and its meaning, I am seeking to complicate this picture by eliminated these categories and instead evaluating the different picture that emerges.
    I think you’re characterization of older and younger scholars is probably accurate. Perhaps it is just an issue of taste, but I do think there are real issues that need to be worked out here.

    David Clark,
    I suspect there is some truth to your account of the interest in Barker :). I think your comparison to the pagan cult issue is very interesting. I’d love to see you flesh out that argument in a full post!

    I know that you know a lot about Hebrews, so I’d love to get your insight here. Particularly, I’d like to know why you think Hebrews focuses on the Tabernacle, and what difference you see that making for my typology. For instance, the offices, instruments, rooms, and rituals described in Hebrews applied to the Temple as well, IIRC, so I am not sure if the description of the Tabernacle vs. Temple has some particular significance, but I’d love to here more.
    As for Revelation, it is a curious case. Maybe you or Mogget can weigh on on this. I think I had written something up in a draft of this post on it, but ended up ignoring it because it is so hard to categorize. In my view, much of Rev was written in the post-temple world, I suspect that some of the imagery there is working with a model of supersession, but perhaps it deserves its own category like “apocalyptic supersession,” since metaphor doesn’t quite capture what Rev symbolism is doing. Indeed, the vision of the city of God in Rev 21 is a city without a temple because God’s presence is now immediate. My interest is primarily in attitudes and practices around the physical temple as an institution, but also as symbol or memory and how Christians would have thought about it. Hmm. So, I guess my short is I don’t know. Thoughts?

  5. While I agree with your basic point, I wonder if it doesn’t apply equally to say the modern Church and its views towards the Temple. That is there will always be a diversity of views. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some useful common themes. It’s almost akin to saying, “there is no forest, only trees.” While true in a certain sense, it seems to go too far in attacking general structures.

    The problem with the myth and ritual crowd was that they tended to simply brush aside complexities and see categories as universal rather than general (i.e. true in many cases)

    Now I recognize you see the diversity within our own tradition (and emphasis that in your final sentence). Yet surely we can see a diffusionary connection between many views from say 1845 and 2008.

    I guess my worry can be summarized as “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

  6. David, do you really think LDS thinkers are obsessed with Nibley? I think a case could be made for that in the early 90s, although I think even then apologetics had moved on. I think it’s a much harder case to make now. Even Sunstone has written papers on LDS theology and thinking often embracing a basically scientific world view. One can critique perhaps too much focus on parallels and not enough on differences. But that’s not a particularly an unique Nibley feature. Rather it is just common in scholarship in general. (Humans notice patterns)

    I do admit that if structuralism went overboard on patterns in the 40’s through 60’s that the movement I’ll broadly call Deconsctuctive in the 70’s through 90’s went overboard the other way. It looked for narratives on the margins, especially those that appeared to overturn main patterns or narratives. But I think we can all safely say that this movement was just as extreme as the structuralists and typically about on par with rigor.

    Now I will say that I don’t think this Deconstructive movement had the influence on Mormon thinking that it had in general in the academy. (Despite the cries of postmodern Mormonism – in general the critique made there was about missing assumptions and a de fact assumption of no divine involvement) But still, I think some of the back and forth of the last 10 years has more to do with the primacy of this view in the academy in prior decades. (Even though the academy has thankfully moved on – although it’s not quite clear to me what the latest fad is)

  7. Yes, there is a touch of hyperbole. However as just one example, FARMS is still pumping out the Nibley volumes because they sell. What volume are the up to now? I fully expect to see The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley Vol 35: Marginalia, Doggerel, and Stuff We Found Written on Old Denny’s Napkins. To be followed by The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley Vol 36: Transcript of a Seance between Stephen D. Ricks and the Ghost of Hugh Nibley, Including Replica of Ouija Board Used and Updated Endnotes.

    Yes, more hyperbole. However, the FARMS people are the ones carrying on his tradition and he is still highly respected in that crowd. They also probably make up a big chunk of the pan-templism crowd.

  8. Clark and Nitsav,
    I think we’ve had the structuralism vs. historicism conversation one too many times (though if there is some undiscovered nook we haven’t hashed out yet, I’m game). What I’d like to add to this is a particular problem about the homogenization WITHIN a particular historical moment (as opposed to across time) that this approach seems to engender, namely, the use of a orthodoxy/heresy division between those who have carried on the right traditions and those who oppose/misinterpret/pervert/lack the right traditions.

  9. Secco,

    I think it’s a real stretch to apply Heb. 9:1-10 to the tabernacle but not the temple. The two were largely seen as continuous by Judaism, and the term “sanctuary” is broad enough to encompass both. Moreover, it seems plain enough to me that 9:8 is an allusion to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, even though the term “tabernacle” is used. Only the 70 AD destruction coincides with the new covenant. To interpret this passage as inclusive of the original tabernacle only strikes me as prejudicial.



  10. There seems to be two criticisms in your post, first of Margaret Barker, and second of the idea of the Christian apostasy’s suppression of the temple tradition, with a side criticism of the comparative Temple Theology approach espoused by Nibley and others.

    On the first, there are many of Margaret Barker’s theories that I do not agree with either, but there are quite a few of her insights that have proven remarkably useful, especially coming from a non member, but you are right to caution us to not accept everything she says. I have less to say about the second…. but would like to address your side criticism of the comparative temple approach where I believe that you were overly harsh.

    I agree with your interpretation of symbolism as a language, and I have written extensively about that here: The Language of Symbolism. I also agree that the comparative approach can be problematic. C.S. Lewis was converted to Christianity partly by Tolkien’s comparative approach, while Joseph Campbell seems to have taken the same set of evidence and de-converted himself from Christianity with it. It all depends on why you believe that the ritual similarity that we find all around the world exists. This understanding will colour how you deal with the comparative evidence. What we can’t deny is that the degree to which religious ritual is similar all over the world is remarkable.

    Among the diffusionists there are several approaches:
    *The traditions are man made, and their copying from each other shows that there is no revealed religion.
    *The traditions go back to Adam, and represent “doctrinal debris” and thus show the opposite hypothesis, that there was indeed an original revealed religion from which all these fragments come.

    Among the spontaneous generationists we get:
    *Satan imitates truth
    *Satan teaches lies everywhere (these are the people who think that it is all a big conspiracy, and that everyone but them are worshipping the devil without knowing it)
    *God gives many people as much truth as we are ready for (the opposite view to the one above, this view sees all these similarities as evidence of a loving God teaching people all over the world just as much as they can handle)
    *Similarities in our psychological make-up (Psychologists love this one, even when we are making things up, we all make up the same things because the rituals we invent tell us something about ourselves)
    *Memories from our pre-earth life (sort of a Mormon variation of the above)
    *God speaks to us according to our own language (This one says that revealed religious rituals are similar to the Pagan rituals around it because those Pagan rituals provide the language and vocabulary in which God chooses to reveal his message)

    There may be some truth in most of the above theories, and the truth is most likely a combination of them all, but whatever you believe, there can be no doubt that studying the various temple systems around us can teach us much about the meaning of our own ritual system. Whichever set of theories you hold, there would have to be useful information in the Pagan temple systems that would apply to the Israelite and LDS system. These ideas are also at the heart of the LDS-Masonry debates.

    My own understanding of what was really happening in the Endowment only really took off after I took the “Temples and Texts” class at BYU taught by Dr. Stephen Ricks, a follower of the very school of thought that you seem to be downplaying. I can only say that the experience was life changing for me, and that there is a vast amount of very useful information that can be gained from this sort of comparative approach. We should understand its weaknesses and drawbacks, but I don’t believe that we should downplay the entire school of thought, because there is much of value there if it is appropriately applied.

  11. Chris (Comment#13) — Thanks for your comment. I am certainly not the expert on the many possible differences between the temple and the tabernacle (there are other FPR writers who have far more expertise in this area — and you know who you are, so please chime in if you see fit). But my understanding is that many commentators see many reasons to highlight that Hebrews discusses the tabernacle exclusively and not the temple. Reasons that I’ve heard of include:

    – timelessness of the arguments: the point is not to contrast what is actually happening right then (or recently) in the second temple, but instead to focus on the differences between the old and the new covenant as revealed by the Son

    – the explicit (in Heb 8:5) mention of how the tabernacle’s pattern came directly from Moses, and therefore was the Old, rather than the New, testament. This fits well into the overall theme of contrast between the old way and the (superior) new way

    There are other possibilities, including that the middle Platonic views of the time saw the timeless ideal of the tabernacle as superior to any one physical instantiation (eg the second temple); or the Rabbinic teaching that one of the five ways the second temple differed from the first was the absence of the shekinah, something that could be viewed as a distraction from Hebrews’ main arguments.

    Most commentators I’ve read strongly disagree with your interpretation that there is any allusion to the destruction of the temple in Hebrews. It is hard for most interpreters to believe that given the many arguments that Hebrews marshals to point out the superiority of the new revelation over the old revelation, leaving out the temple destruction — as evidence that God was displeased with the Jews — would be something the writer would have done had the temple actually been destroyed at the time of writing. Josephus saw the temple’s destruction as evidence of God’s disfavor, so it is hardly a difficult argument to make.

    I do agree, though, that we and the original readers naturally think of the temple, and not just the tabernacle, in reading Hebrews. Even though Hebrews assiduously avoids the mention of the temple, and always talks about the tabernacle (or at least the tent), we Mormons easily (and in my view appropriately) quickly see temple language in Hebrews. Indeed, I don’t know if any other religion so literally accepts the idea that Jesus’ sacrifice opens a new and living way through the veil as Hebrews states in Heb 10:19-20.

    As for whether Judaism saw the two as continuous, I have read many statements that suggest that many Jews contemporaneous with Herod’s temple did not see them as continuous, but again I defer to others more knowledgeable about the totality of Judaic thought to weigh in. Thanks again for your comment.

  12. Secco,

    It’s clear that the author of Hebrews focuses on the original tabernacle as described in the Pentateuch, but this is hardly surprising given the penchant for interpreting Mosaic legislation as an allegory of the New Covenant. I don’t think it’s necessary to see a polemic against the Second Temple here.

    But, upon review, I suppose you could be right. And if you are, I don’t think it particularly changes the rather negative implications of the passage for Latter-day Saint pan-templism, do you? To the extent that temples were phony successors to the tabernacle, they aren’t of any use to Saints. And to the extent that they are true successors to it, Hebrews implies that they are abrogated. So either way, it seems there’s a problem here.

    To get back to the OP, TT, I went ahead and check my notes on “temples” and found some references that might be interesting to fit into your schema:

    In the Bible, Matthew 6:28; Luke 12:27; Matthew 26:61; John 4:20-24; Acts 7:48; 2 Chronicles 6:7-10, 18, 20 and 7:11-22; Revelation 21:22.

    And in the church fathers,

    Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 32 – “For indeed the temple, which is called the temple in Jerusalem, He admitted to be His house or court, not as though He needed it, but in order that you, in this view of it, giving yourselves to him, might not worship idols.”

    Epistle of Barnabas, ch. 3 – “For almost after the manner of the Gentiles they worshipped him in the temple. But learn how the Lord speaks, when abolishing it: ‘Who hath meted out heaven with a span, and the earth with His palm? Have not I?'”

    Recognitions of Clement ch. 37 – Jesus is the new temple, he rejected the old one.

    Lactantius bk 4 ch 4 – believers are temple, Christ is priest

  13. Re #2 and 14:

    Not that both of you are saying the same thing, but these thoughts came about from reading your responses. Personally, I think the most fruitful approach is to bracket the question of origin, neither assuming that things are necessarily historically or psychologically related, and investigate the way in which what ever people we are studying constructed a meaningful world. Without presuming that these people are undercover Mormons–preserving some glimpse of truth they gained from an earlier dispensation–we can seek to see the world in their context and then pose meaningful questions about how that might enrich our world-view. We might then, for instance, find Chinese burial rituals interesting, not because the compass and square appears in tombs (a la Nibley), but because they have a more developed means of expressing the grief that occurs when a parent dies (among other things).

  14. Chris and TT, I’m wondering if the difference between temple and tabernacle actually strengthen’s TT’s original point: that there is indeed a marked diversity of thought regarding the temple in NT times. Perhaps the tabernacle was actually more the ideal than the dirty, smelly, and eventually destroyed reality of Herod’s temple. Sort of like we today might find a particular one of our 128 temples unattractive (maybe more than one — we all have our opinions!), while still holding the idea of temple worship in high regard.

    In fact, TT, perhaps this is a wedge you could use to help make your point: no Mormon I’ve heard of today actually likes all 128 temples equally. It certainly seems plausible that equally devout early Christians could have widely differing views of the Jerusalem temple and temples in general.

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