Brown, et al, eds., “Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of the Expound Symposium 14 May 2011” (reviewed by Julie J. Nichols)


Title: Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of the Expound Symposium 14 May 2011
Author: Matthew S. Brown, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Stephen D. Ricks, and John S. Thompson, eds.
Publisher: The Interpreter Foundation/Eborn Books
Genre: Essay collection
Year of Publication: 2014
Number of Pages: 293
Binding: hardcover
ISBN13: 978-1-890-71852-7
Price: $24.95

Reviewed by Julie J. Nichols for the Association for Mormon Letters

When I was first endowed, I found that for me, official church publications about the background and meaning of the ceremonies enacted in the temple were evasive and unhelpful, full of reverence but almost completely without substantial information that would help me understand what I was doing when I attended the House of the Lord. For years I looked for—and, to be honest, actually found—clues and indicators about the phrases, symbols, gestures, and promises I encountered there, in many eclectic places, from the Skousen “white temple book,” clandestinely circulated and even findable online for a time (no longer, though), to books about Freemasonry, *Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview,* Hugh Nibley, ad nauseam. I had to put pieces of the puzzle together, go back to the temple to verify my own hypotheses about the meaning of this or that structural or symbolic element, and keep at it, bit by bit.

Now, wonderfully, we’re seeing more and more meaty publications that provide scholarly and spiritually edifying information about the meaning of the various elements of the temple. Even Deseret Book is offering more solid material; but we also have access to such publications as Martin J. Palmer’s *The Temple Concept* (Interpreter 2015), *Temple Theology* (and other related works discussing the ancient understanding of temple worship) by Margaret Barker, and many other volumes indicating that, as the Interpreter Foundation puts it,

“The ancient Hebrews did not believe that the temple concept originated in the time of Moses. Rather, they taught that temple rituals and doctrines originated with Adam and were handed down among the biblical patriarchs. This is precisely what the Prophet Joseph Smith tried to teach the world during the 1800s, that the gospel of Jesus Christ is eternal and has been on the earth since the beginning…” (from )

What exactly is the Interpreter Foundation? According to its website, it’s an independent nonprofit entity not owned or controlled by the Church but having the goal “to increase understanding of scripture through careful scholarly investigation and analysis of the insights provided by a wide range of ancillary disciplines…. We hope to illuminate, by study and faith, the eternal spiritual message of the scriptures—that Jesus is the Christ” (adapted from ).

*Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of the Expound Symposium 14 May 2011,* the book under review here, is “the [first] volume of the Temple on Mount Zion series published by the Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books. The purpose of the series is to increase understanding and appreciation of temple rituals and doctrines, and to encourage participation in the redeeming work of family history and temple worship….” (from That first (and, I believe, only) Expound symposium was conceived and arranged by Matthew S. Brown, a Latter-day Saint author and historian whose emphasis was “on the history and doctrine of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young” (from the dust jacket), whose name is among the editors of this collection, and who died, tragically, on Oct 5, 2011, at just 47 years of age, only a few months after his Symposium came to fruition.

A second book in this series is entitled *Temple Insights – Proceedings of the Interpreter Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference – The Temple on Mount Zion Series 2 – September 2012 Hardcover (2014).* It would seem that colleagues and friends carried Brown’s work forward. In any event, be warned: neither volume is for the first-time templegoer who simply wonders what awaits her or him. The eleven papers/chapters/essays/presentations contained in *Ancient Temple Worship* are scholarly, specific, and narrowly but brightly illuminating regarding the deep heritage temple-goers access when they do work there for themselves or for the dead.

A survey of some of the titles and their authors will make my point: “Understanding Ritual Hand Gestures of the Ancient World,” by David Calabro, a recent Ph.D. in ancient Near Eastern studies; “The Sacred Embrace and the Sacred Handclasp in Ancient Mediterranean Religions,” by Stephen D. Ricks, long-time professor of Hebrew and cognate learning at BYU; “Ascending Into the Hill of the Lord: What the Psalms Can Tell Us About the Rituals of the First Temple,” by David J. Larsen, whose Ph.D. dissertation at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland was entitled “The Royal Psalms in the Dead Sea Scrolls”; “Temples All the Way Down: Some Notes on the Mi’Raj of Muhammad,” by Daniel C. Peterson, professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU; and “Nephite Daykeepers: Ritual Specialists in Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon,” by Mark Alan Wright, assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU.

Granted, the authors seem to be mostly local, but the citations are plentiful, the scholarship convincing, and the themes impressive. Without speaking directly of delicate topics, every single article connects ancient practices, texts, and archaeological artifacts to aspects of the LDS ceremony recognizable to any templegoer.

As an example, the first of the essays in the collection, Brown’s own “Cube, Gate, and Measuring Tools: A Biblical Pattern” (1-26) argues that the geometry—the structure—of the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle of the Old Testament corresponds to the geometry of the vision in Revelation, that that geometry is assured in both texts by means of sacred measuring tools, and that certain standards are required of anyone intending to pass through the portal into the Holy of Holies, or into the presence of God, the Creator, who uses those same measuring tools to bring the world to order out of chaos. Passages from the Psalms, Job, Luke 13, and certain early Church writers are compared with the relevant passages from Exodus 25-26 and Revelation 21-22 to support the thesis that “the covenant people of the Old and New Testaments were interconnected”—and, without explicitly saying, so too the covenant people of this dispensation. Images from ancient art work provide further evidence. Brown provides an appendix of relevant passages and eight pages of notes. The templegoer who has wondered what it means to stand at the veil and enter into the presence of the Lord will be enlightened by this paper. For long-time attenders seeking wisdom beyond a vague overview of desirable blessings awaiting those who do temple work, this kind of focused scholarly information can be expansive and rewarding.

My one complaint about *Ancient Temple Worship* is that there is no foreword or preface providing background for the Symposium itself, guiding principles behind the editing of the collection, acknowledgment of the limitations of the Symposium or plans to address them in further conferences, or critical contexts to any of the essays. No website for the Symposium can be found—I assume, as I have said, that Brown’s death collapsed the plans for further symposia into the FairMormon and Interpreter Foundation entities, so that the difficulty in finding a website is justifiable and correctable by looking at and

For the time being, however, add this well-produced, noteworthy volume to the growing number of resources available to help explain, clarify, and make in many other ways more meaningful the sometimes-enigmatic, ever-complex, sacred and historically-rich experience of the temple.

One Thought on “Brown, et al, eds., “Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of the Expound Symposium 14 May 2011” (reviewed by Julie J. Nichols)

  1. Dear Julie–

    Thank you for taking the time to review “Ancient Temple Worship” and to make mention of “Temple Insights.” Your readers may want to know that the proceedings of the 2014 Temple on Mount Zion Conference (third in the series) will appear in the fourth quarter of this year, and that the next conference in this series will take place in Fall 2016, and every two years thereafter. One minor correction: Palmer’s book, “The Temple Concept” was published by Eborn Books, not The Interpreter Foundation.

    Readers may also want to know that i have been asked by Covenant to finish Matt Brown’s final, unfinished book “The Throne of God,” and I hope I will have the time to complete that work, along with the third book in my “Temple Themes” series (Temple Themes in the Keys and Symbols of the Priesthood), in 2016.

    With appreciation,
    Jeff Bradshaw
    Vice President, The Interpreter Foundation

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