Saturday, May 22, 2010

Temple Theology

In the year 70 Roman armies entered the city of Jerusalem and destroyed what was most important to the Jews they were conquering, the temple.  When the temple caught fire a cry of horror arose from the city as some threw themselves onto the Roman swords or some into the flames.  Once the Romans had destroyed the temple they had conquered the Jews.

The Jewish world in the time of Christ was very diverse.  There was no single orthodoxy and there was an abundance of scripture and interpretations.  Everybody agreed, however, that the temple was central to their faith.  But not everyone had positive feelings about the temple then standing.  This was the period known as Second Temple Judaism because the temple in Jerusalem was the second temple built.  The Second Temple stood from 516 B.C. to 70 A.D.  The first temple was Solomon's Temple which stood from 960 B.C. to 587 B.C.  The Second Temple was very different from Solomon's Temple.  The Second Temple lacked the Ark of the Covenant, The Urim and Thummim, the Holy Oil, and most importantly, the Shekinah.  The Shekinah was the divine presence of God.  The writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Essenes, were very critical of the Second Temple and looked anxiously for a Restoration.

Margaret Barker, in her book Temple Theology, argues that the temple is critical to understanding the culture in which Jesus spent his ministry.

One thing has become quite clear: the original gospel message was about the temple, not the corrupted temple of Jesus' own time, but the original temple which had been destroyed some six hundred years earlier.

Barker, uses texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian gospels to support her theory that the temple was of major concern to the Jews of Christ's time and to the Jews who we now call the early Christians.  The seemingly cryptic book of Revelations is much better understood when viewed from the understanding of a temple theology.  But it is this temple theology which has been lacking in scholarship.

Before, many apparently non-Jewish elements in the New Testament were theorized to originate from Greek philosophy.  As an example, the phrase 'On earth as it is heaven' was posited to be inspired by the concept of Platonic forms.  This is no longer necessary when the Christian roots of the temple are recognized.  The temple was itself understood to represent the entirety of creation.  The sanctification of the Holy of Holies was simultaneously a sanctification of the earth.

Solomon's temple was completely destroyed and no archeological artifacts remain to study this ancient temple.  Cultural artifacts remain however, in ancient texts and in Christian tradition.  For example, the role of the royal high priest was to carry away the sin and uncleanness of the people so they could be restored to the covenant.  This image is clearly seen in Isaiah 53, which is cited often in the New Testament.  Two temple rituals were performed exclusively by this high priest.  The first was carrying blood into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.  The second was eating the most holy Shewbread on the Sabbath.  Both of these ancient temple ordinances were combined in the Christian Eucharist.

Learning about the importance of the ancient temple to the Israelites certainly gives me a richer appreciation for the temples in the LDS faith.