Urim & Thummim or Interpreters, as described by Joseph Smith and others. Steve Reed, OneClimbs.com.

The Urim & Thummim or Interpreters, as described by Joseph Smith and others. (Steve Reed, OneClimbs.com)

One of the most interesting presentations, at least to me, at this year’s 2012 FAIR Conference in Sandy, UT, was Don Bradley’s “Piercing the Veil: Temple Worship in the Lost 116 Pages,” for obvious reasons; it dealt with the temple. I have not been acquainted with Don Bradley’s work before, so this was an excellent introduction.

Bradley is working on a Master’s thesis at Utah State University, and the focus of his study is the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, and he is also planning to publish in a book on the subject, which is sure to be a fascinating read. I have since learned a bit more about Don Bradley, who has a unique history in and out of the Church. The Salt Lake Tribune published an article yesterday interviewing Bradley, and his experience with the Church. Of his unique gifts Don’s mentor at Utah State, Philip Barlow, said, “Intellectually, Don is uncommonly brilliant… In a roomful of Ph.D.s, he’d be among the smartest and most well-read. His writing and the thinking behind it are superlative.”

Bradley’s presentation at FAIR focused on what we might learn about the temple, and temple worship, among the Nephites, particularly from those insights gleaned from details uncovered in the lost 116 pages. Great stuff, which we’ll summarize a bit here.  

It has long been a criticism of the Book of Mormon containing a “fullness of the everlasting gospel” yet seemingly containing little of the temple in its pages. In actuality, there is a lot of the temple within the Book of Mormon, if one is willing and able to look for it. Many scholars have shown over the years the many facets of the temple that are revealed in the Book of Mormon, not the least of which is John Welch’s treatment in Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple & Sermon on the Mount, and further in The Sermon on the Mount in the Light of the Temple. Many others could be mentioned, and here is a short bibliography provided by Robert F. Smith. Don Bradley’s work here adds to this growing corpus.

Bradley launches into his discussion by asking a few questions which he answers later in the presentation, questions such as who was the high priest in Nephite temple worship? How was the divine presence embodied in the Nephite temple? And why did the Nephites have temples; what was the temple for?  The first two questions he answers with evidence from the current text of the Book of Mormon as we have it, and which I’ll direct you to the text of his presentation to read more about (which is fascinating in its own right).  Suffice it to say that the Nephites did have a high priest who could officiate in the temple, and the divine presence was likely embodied in specific Nephite relics they had in their possession, similar to that of the Ark of the Covenant which held the same purpose in the temple at Jerusalem.

It is the last question that particularly drew my attention – why did the Nephite have temples; what were they for (beyond fulfilling the Law of Moses)?  Evidence to answer this question might be found in details uncovered from the Book of Lehi which we do not have in our possession today, but may be gleaned from other sources.  As Bradley notes, “given that our temple worship today isn’t about animal sacrifice, what, if anything, does their temple worship have to do with ours?”

First example

A first example given of something we might learn about the why of Nephite temples is given in the brief acknowledgement of an incident which happened in the temple with Aminadi. This name is not a well known name from the Book of Mormon because it appears only three times in the book, all three found in two adjoining verses in Alma 10:2–3.  Aminadi is noted here as having a prominent place in the genealogy of Amulek, along with Nephi, Lehi, Manasseh, and Joseph of Egypt.  He is also noted doing something quite remarkable in the Nephite temple, but which is glossed over.  The fact that we do not have more information in the Book of Mormon regarding Aminadi and this incident is indicative to Bradley that perhaps Mormon, in his abridgment, had already introduced Aminadi and the incident earlier in the text, an incident which likely occurred during the time period covered by the lost 116 pages, and which Mormon have included more fully there.

One thing that we might learn from this, however, as Bradley points out, is that Aminadi’s experience in the temple parallels that of Joseph and Daniel, who also interpreted divine manifestations, particularly that of Daniel 5. Bradley notes that the temple seems to have been “a place for the revelation of higher truths that could only be understood through wisdom given by God’s Spirit.”

Second example

A second example comes from an interview conducted by a man named Fayette Lapham with Joseph Smith Sr. in early 1830.  This was only a couple years after the loss of the 116 translated pages, so it was still fresh on the minds of Joseph and those close to him, including his father Joseph Smith Sr. It was also before the official publication of the Book of Mormon. It is likely that Joseph the Prophet told those closest to him about the contents of the lost 116 pages, as he was translating, and which may have been recounted by Joseph Smith Sr. in this interview.

An account of the interview was published some years later in 1870 by Lapham in The Historical Magazine, and recounts some interesting details not found in our present Book of Mormon, but perhaps may have been contained in the lost 116 pages. Surely not all of the account can be taken at face value, published so long after the fact, but Bradley notes that there is enough “inside information about the finding of the plates to verify that the interview occurred.”

In the interview Joseph Smith Sr. recounts the story of the Book of Mormon, namely what we know from the first few chapters, of Lehi and his family’s departure from Jerusalem and travel through the wilderness, except that it also includes some other details not found in our current edition, which highlights the “Exodus typology” of the story. One of these details is that Lehi was instructed to “erect a tabernacle, wherein they could go and inquire whenever they became bewildered or at a loss what to do,” which Bradley notes shows that they were in-between temples. A related detail is the finding of the Jaredite interpreters which is not found in our current edition either. During their travels in the New World they came upon an object that they did not know how to use. So someone took it into the tabernacle so he could inquire about it.  Of this Bradley notes particularly:

He brings this object into the tabernacle and immediately the voice of the Lord asks him a question, presumably from behind the veil covering the Holy of Holies where the Lord’s presence was understood to dwell. And the voice asks him, “What is that in your hand?” And Lapham says the man responded that “he did not know but that he had come to inquire” – those are Lapham’s exact words.

This is a fascinating detail lost in our current Book of Mormon, perhaps being a part of the lost 116 pages. The text from the Lapham account reads in full:

They also found something of which they did not know the use, but when they went into the tabernacle, a voice said, “What have you got in your hand, there?” They replied that they did not know, but had come to inquire1

Furthermore, Bradley says:

The story is loaded with biblical freight. The question – “What is that in your hand?” – is actually in Exodus 4, where Moses is at the burning bush on Sinai, when he’s first called as a prophet, and the thing in his hand is his staff. This is his experience of first entering the presence of God.

The Lapham account continues:

…when the voice said, “Put it on your face, and put your face in a skin, and you will see what it is.” They did so, and could see everything of the past, present, and future; and it was the same spectacles that Joseph found with the gold plates.

Of this Bradley also takes note:

So the Lord tells the man to take this object and put it on his face, and then to cover his face with animal skins. And when he does, he’s able to see anything supernaturally, it’s the interpreters…

The veiling of his face is related to Moses coming down from Sinai after the giving of the Ten Commandments, and his face is glowing from the presence of God. And so he veils his face so that the others won’t encounter that glory that’s reflected from him.

The animal skins, particularly badger skins, are explicitly said in the books of Moses to be needed to handle some of the sacred objects. When the temple relics were transported they were to be wrapped in badger skins. One of the veils of the temple was actually to be made from badger skins.

Bradley concludes:

This same theme of receiving the interpreters and talking with the Lord through the veil is present in both the story of the Brother of Jared and the story recounted to Fayette Lapham by Joseph Smith, Sr. Talking to the Lord through the veil, having these questions and this dialogue, by which the characters in question are tested, ultimately taking on the attribute of divine sight and entering the presence of the Lord…  These aren’t about sacrifice, but about the revelation of higher knowledge and learning how to come into the presence of God, accessing knowledge from Him and becoming like Him.

These are some fascinating details that we have previously not been aware of, details that figure into what would come many years later in the Nauvoo-era temple endowment in 1842.2 Many people have considered much of what we know of the temple ordinances, particularly the endowment, revealed through Joseph Smith to have been quite a late development, indeed, in the few months prior to the first full endowment being given in 1842. But details such as this require us to reconsider just what Joseph may have known, even in the very earliest moments of the Restoration as he begun translating the Book of Lehi. Bradley also notes this:

The lost 116 pages are actually the earliest scripture of the Restoration. The rest of the Book of Mormon was translated after the lost pages. And the first revelation that we have, recorded from Joseph Smith, Jr., is Doctrine and Covenants 3, given in response to the loss of the 116 pages. So we’re missing the earliest scripture of the Restoration, but when we look and see some of the clues to what was in it, it is already anticipating things that some people, including previously myself, considered to be a later development in Nauvoo-era Mormonism and thus not present in the Book of Mormon. And yet what we see from the clues is that “Nauvoo Mormonism,” “temple Mormonism,” is original and literal Mormonism – it’s the very faith propounded by Mormon in his book, beginning with its lost opening, the Book of Lehi.

Earliest Reference to Nauvoo-Era Temple Endowment?

  1. Fayette Lapham, “The Mormons,” The Historical Magazine (NYC: American News. Co., 1870), Vol. VIII, No. 5, http://www.olivercowdery.com/smithhome/1870s/Laph1870.htm#may
  2. Similar details in the Book of Mormon have been discussed in the recently published article by David Bokovoy, “‘Thou Knowest That I Believe’: Invoking The Spirit of the Lord as Council Witness in 1 Nephi 11″, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 1 (2012), 1-23, http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/thou-knowest-that-i-believe/.

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