I just got home this morning from yesterday’s Temple Studies Group symposium at the Temple Church in London. In fact, my dear wife picked up from the train station this morning on her way to Church. I can’t complain at all, however, about the trip, as it was so much better than if I had to try to come from the U.S. to get there.
Speaking of coming from the U.S., I was so happy to meet so many fine people who did come from “across the pond” to be there. I had the great pleasure of meeting Gary Anderson, Steve Nielsen, and Professor John Hall of BYU there. It was also wonderful to finally meet Laurence Hemming and Susan Parsons, who, together with Margaret Barker and others, helped to organize the Temple Studies Group. It was also great to see Dr. Richard Wellington again, whom I met at the last meeting here. Richard is the co-author of the wonderfully documented Lehi in the Wilderness with George Potter.
The symposium was, as my title indicates, greatly enlightening. The theme, as I have mentioned previously, was “The Holy Anointing Oil” and the presenters covered that topic wonderfully, detailing traditions of anointing from the rituals of ancient Egypt and the ancient Near East, Solomon’s temple and succeeding Jewish traditions, early Christianity, and modern Christian liturgy.
Margaret Barker’s presentation was first, which seems to be the standard procedure for these meetings — and rightly so as she gave a most interesting and amazing description of the nature and use of the holy anointing oil in the Temple of Jerusalem. The oil was kept in a flask in the Holy of Holies and was used to anoint priests and kings — it was one of the secrets of the High Priesthood. It was meant to represent that heavenly oil that flows from the Tree of Life which is instrumental in the rebirth into eternal life (resurrection) and deification. Although the holy oil was hidden away in the time of King Josiah, it was restored in Christianity. It is where the word Messiah, or Christ, comes from (some traditions still call it chrism), and so is what gives Christians their name (they are “anointed ones”). Dr. Barker’s speech served as a powerful outline and background that gave us the “big picture” essential for our understanding of the following presentations.
The next paper was given by Dr. John F. Hall, Eliza R. Snow Distinguished Professor of Classical Languages and Ancient History at Brigham Young University. It’s hard to describe how good Dr. Hall’s presentation was, and how much it helped answer a great number of questions I’ve had on my mind recently. It really reinforced a lot of what I’ve been studying in my own research recently — but from a different and illuminating perspective. Dr. Hall talked about Egyptian temple rites and the role of anointing in them and how these traditions may have influenced Israelite practices. He gave a very detailed description of some of the different enthronement and temple rituals that we know about from ancient Egyptian inscriptions. The anointing oil, put simply, gave the king or initiate the authority and ability to make the ascent to heaven where he/she would overcome death, following the example of the god Osiris, and be crowned and enthroned on the god’s throne for all eternity. There was so much good material in this presentation and I will be sharing my notes from it (and also Margaret’s and the others’) very soon.
I meant to give only a brief overview of what went on at the conference, but I am still so excited about it that I am having a hard time keeping my descriptions brief. However, since I will be subsequently sharing the notes I took here, I will restrain myself for now. After Drs. Barker and Hall, we heard from:
- Archimandrite Ephrem — on the Holy Oil in the Orthodox Church
- The Rev. Dr Richard Price — on its use in Early Christianity
- Dr Sebastian Brock — on the Syriac tradition
And last but certainly not least was the Rev. Dr Laurence Hemming on the anointing with oil in the Roman Catholic Tradition. I make more especial mention of Dr Hemming as he is one of the co-founders of the Temple Study Group, and excellent scholar, and friend of Frederick Huchel (whom I have mentioned a number of times on this blog). It is interesting to note that Dr Hemming told me of his fondness for Utah — he has a good number of friends there and has spent much time there as well. Dr Hemming gave a very interesting paper on how the anointing oil is used in the Catholic liturgy, which preserves much of the ancient temple tradition. I will, of course, be sharing my notes from his presentation, as well as the others mentioned.
I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend the Temple Studies Symposium once again and am already looking forward to the next one. Unfortunately, there will not be one this coming may, as there was last May, so the next meeting will be in November 2010 and will cover another very important topic: “Vestments: the Garments of Glory.”
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