The temple is the primal central holy place dedicated to the worship of God and the perfecting of his covenant people. In the temple his faithful may enter into covenants with the Lord and call upon his holy name after the manner that he has ordained and in the pure and pristine manner restored and set apart from the world. The temple is built so as to represent the organizing principles of the universe. It is the school where mortals learn about these things. The temple is a model, a presentation in figurative terms, of the pattern and journey of life on earth. It is a stable model, which makes its comparison with other forms and traditions, including the more ancient ones, valid and instructive.
THE COSMIC PLAN.
From earliest times,
temples have been built as scale models of the universe. The first known
mention of the Latin word templum is by Varro (116-27 B.C.), for whom it designated a building
specially designed for interpreting signs in the heavens-a sort of observatory
where one gets one's bearings on the universe. The root tem- in Greek and Latin
denotes a "cutting," or intersection of two lines at right angles and
hence the place where the four regions of the world come together, ancient
temples being carefully oriented to express "the idea of pre-established
harmony between a celestial and a terrestrial image" (Jeremias,
cited in CWHN 4:358). According to Varro, there are
three temples: one in heaven, one on earth, and one beneath the earth (De
Lingua Latina 7.8). In the universal temple concept,
these three are identical, one being built exactly over the other, with the
earth temple in the middle of everything, representing "the Pole of the
heavens, around which all heavenly motions revolve, the knot that ties earth
and heaven together, the seat of universal dominion" (Jeremias,
cited in CWHN 4:358). Here the four cardinal directions meet, and here the
three worlds make contact. Whether in the
The essentials of Solomon's temple were not of pagan origin
but a point of contact with the other world, presenting "rich cosmic
symbolism which was largely lost in later Israelite and Jewish tradition"
(Albright, cited in CWHN 4:361). The twelve oxen (1 Kgs.
-26) represent the circle of the
year, and the three stages of the great altar represent the three worlds.
According to the Talmud, the temple at
Its nature as a cosmic center is vividly recalled in many
passages of the Old Testament and in medieval representations of the city of
THE PLACE OF CONTACT.
As the ritual center of the universe, the temple was anciently viewed as the one point on earth at which men and women could establish contact with higher spheres. The earliest temples were not, as once supposed, permanent dwelling places of divinity but were places at which humans at specific times attempted to make contact with the powers above. The temple was a building "which the gods transversed to pass from their celestial habitation to their earthly residence…. The ziggurat is thus nothing but a support for the edifice on top of it, and the stairway that leads between the upper and lower worlds"; it resembled a mountain, for "the mountain itself was originally a place of contact between this and the upper world" (Parrot, cited in CWHN 4:360).
Investigation of the oldest temples represented on prehistoric seals concludes that these structures were also "gigantic altars," built both to attract the attention of the powers above (the burnt offering being a sort of smoke signal) and to provide "the stairways which the God, in answer to prayers, used in order to descend to the earth,…bringing a renewal of life in all its forms" (Amiet, cited in CWHN 4:360). From the first, it would seem, towers and steps for altars were built in the hope of establishing contact with heaven (Gen. 11:4).
At the same time, the temple is the place of meeting with the lower world and the one point at which passage between the two is possible. In the earliest Christian records, the gates and the keys are closely connected with the temple. Some scholars have noted that the keys of Peter (Matt. ) can only be the keys of the temple, and many studies have demonstrated the identity of tomb, temple, and palace as the place where the powers of the other world are exercised for the eternal benefit of the human race (cf. CWHN 4:361). The gates of hell do not prevail against the one who holds these keys, however much the church on earth may suffer. Invariably temple rites are those of the ancestors, and the chief characters are the first parents of the race (see, for example, Huth, cited in CWHN 4:361, n. 37).
THE RITUAL DRAMA.
The pristine and
original temple rites are dramatic repetitions of the events that marked the
beginning of the world. This creation drama was not a simple one, for an
indispensable part of the story is the ritual death and resurrection of the
king, who represents the founder and first parent of the race, and his ultimate
triumph over death as priest and king, followed by some form of hieros gamos, or ritual marriage,
for the purpose of begetting the race. This now familiar "year-drama"
is widely attested-in the Memphite theology of
The temple drama is essentially a problem play, featuring a central combat, which may take various mimetic forms-games, races, sham battles, mummings, dances, or plays. The hero is temporarily beaten by the powers of darkness and overcome by death, but calling from the depths upon God, "he rises again and puts the false king, the false Messiah, to death" (Weinsinck, cited in CWHN 4:363). This resurrection motif is essential to these rites, whose purpose is ultimate victory over death. These rites are repeated annually because the problem of evil and death persists for the human race.
The individuals who toiled as pilgrims to reach the waters of life that flowed from the temple were not passive spectators. They came to obtain knowledge and regeneration, the personal attainment of eternal life and glory. This goal the individual attempted to achieve through purification (washing), initiation, and rejuvenation, which symbolize death, rebirth, and resurrection.
In Solomon's temple, a large bronze font was used for ritual
washings, and in the
LOSS OF THE
The understanding of the temple and its ancient rites was eventually corrupted and lost for several reasons.
Both Jews and Christians suffered greatly at the hands of their enemies because of the secrecy of their rites, which they steadfastly refused to discuss or divulge because of their sanctity. This caused misunderstanding and opened the door to unbridled fraud: Gnostic sects claimed to have the lost rites and ordinances of the apostles and Patriarchs of old. Splinter groups and factions arose. A common cause of schism, among both Jews and Christians, was the claim of a particular group that it alone still possessed the mysteries of God.
The rites became the object of various schools of interpretation. Indeed, mythology is largely an attempt to explain the origin and meaning of rituals that people no longer understand. For example, the Talmud tells of a pious Jew who left Jerusalem in disgust wondering, "What answer will the Israelites give to Elijah when he comes?" since the scholars did not agree on the rites of the temple (Pesahim 70b; on the role of Elijah, see A. Wiener, The Prophet Elijah in the Development of Judaism [London, 1978], pp. 68-69).
Ritual elements were widely copied and usurped. The early Christian fathers claimed that pagan counterparts had been stolen from older legitimate sources, and virtually every major mythology tells of a great usurper who rules the world.
Comparative studies have discovered a common pattern in all ancient religions and have traced processes of diffusion that spread ideas throughout the world. The task of reconstructing the original prototype from the scattered fragments has been a long and laborious one, and it is far from complete, but an unmistakable pattern emerges (CWHN 4:367).
Reconstructions of great gatherings of people at imposing ceremonial complexes for rites dedicated to the renewal of life on earth are surprisingly uniform. First, there is tangible evidence, the scenery and properties of the drama: megaliths; artificial giant mounds or pyramids amounting to artificial mountains; stone and ditch alignments of mathematical sophistication correlating time and space; passage graves and great tholoi, or domed tombs; sacred roads; remains of booths, grandstands, processional ways, and gates-these still survive in awesome combination, with all their cosmic symbolism.
Second is the less tangible evidence of customs, legends, folk festivals, and ancient writings, which together conjure up memories of dramatic and choral celebrations of the Creation, culminating in the great Creation Hymn; ritual contests between life and death, good and evil, and light and darkness, followed by the triumphant coronation of the king to rule for the new age, the progenitor of the race by a sacred marriage; covenants; initiations (including washing and clothing); sacrifices and scapegoats to rid the people of a year of guilt and pollution; and various types of divination and oracular consultation for the new life cycle.
surrounding the temple were not essential to its form and function, but were
the inevitable products of its existence. The words "hotel,"
"hospital," and "Templar" go back
to those charitable organizations that took care of sick and weary pilgrims
traveling to the holy places. Banking functions arose at the temple, since
pilgrims brought offerings and needed to exchange their money for animals to be
sacrificed, and thus the word "money" comes from the
Actors, poets, singers, dancers, and athletes were also part of temple life, the competitive element (the agonal) being essential to the struggle with evil and providing the most popular and exciting aspects of the festivals. The temple's main drama, the actio, was played by priestly temple actors and royalty. Creation was celebrated with a creation hymn, or poema-the word "poem" meaning "creation"-sung by a chorus that, as the Greek word shows, formed a circle and danced as they sang (CWHN 4:380).
The temple was also the center of learning, beginning with
the heavenly instructions received there. It was the Museon,
or home of the Muses, representing every branch of study: astronomy,
mathematics, architecture, and fine arts. People would travel from shrine to
shrine exchanging wisdom with the wise, as Abraham did in
The temple rites acknowledged the rule of God on earth through his agent and offspring, the king, who represented both the first man and every man as he sat in judgment, making the temple the ultimate seat and sanction of law and government. People met at the holy place for contracts and covenants and to settle disputes.
All this indicates that the temple is the source, and not a
derivative, of the civilizing process. If there is no temple, there is no true
Many secular institutions today occupy structures faithfully copied from ancient temples. The temple economy has been perverted along with the rest: feasts of joy and abundance became orgies; sacred rites of marriage were perverted; teachers of wisdom became haughty and self-righteous, demonstrating that anything can be corrupted in this world, and as Aristotle notes, the better the original, the more vicious the corrupted version.
THE RESTORATION AND THE
temples fully embody the uncorrupted functions and meanings of the temple. Did
the Prophet Joseph Smith reinvent all this by reassembling the
fragments-Jewish, Orthodox, Masonic, Gnostic, Hindu, Egyptian, and so forth? In
fact, few of the fragments were available in his day, and those poor fragments
do not come together of themselves to make a whole. Latter-day Saints see in
the completeness and perfection of Joseph Smith's teachings regarding the
temple a sure indication of divine revelation. This is also seen in the design
The actual work done within the temple exemplifies the temple idea, with thousands of men and women serving with no ulterior motive. Here time and space come together; barriers vanish between this world and the next, between past, present, and future. Solemn prayers are offered in the name of Jesus Christ to the Almighty. What is bound here is bound beyond, and only here can the gates be opened to release the dead who are awaiting the saving ordinances. Here the whole human family meets in a common enterprise; the records of the race are assembled as far back in time as research has taken them, for a work performed by the present generation to assure that they and their kindred dead shall spend the eternities together in the future. Here, for the first time in many centuries, one may behold a genuine temple, functioning as a temple in the fullest and purest sense of the word.
Nibley, Hugh W. "Christian Envy of the
Nibley, Hugh W. "What Is a
Nibley, Hugh W. "The
Nibley, Hugh W. Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri.
Packer, Boyd K. The
Talmage, James E. The House of the Lord.
For a lengthy bibliography on temples, see Donald W. Parry,
Stephen D. Ricks, and John W. Welch,
HUGH W. NIBLEY