An Inquiry Answered

Joe Smith asked God about his standing and so I figured I’d attempt to ask the big man myself.

That night I had a dream. A man I recognized told me I was terrestrial. Not that I was living in such a way that would merit a judgement to that kingdom after this life. But I was terrestrial now, in this moment.

As I have pondered on this dream for the last 3 years, it has caused me to reassess how I understand this world: a place where sinners and the blind mingle with and dwell with devils and (less frequently) visiting Gods.

Pretend Prisons

I have been asked what I mean by ‘word of honor.’ I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls–walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground–there is a possibility that in some way or another I may escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of the circle? No. Never! I’d die first!

– Karl G. Maeser

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People ought to question why they have constructed imaginary walls. Honor isn’t necessarily noble. You can choose to devote yourself to futile causes. Or confine yourself to a phony prison. Brother Maeser claimed to possess this ability.

Let’s play a game:

Let’s say . . . I honor Satan. Am I noble? Is my act of honoring virtuous? Is it a good thing if I become so rigid in my conviction that I cannot change?

I would argue that I am not noble or virtuous or wise. My devotion is misplaced and will damn me.

The only thing worthy of unreserved honor is the Lord.

Anything or anyone else is inadequate.

In my estimation, they are all imaginary walls.

 

A Repose

γνῶσις

As scholars try to reconstruct early Christian thought and practice, they must grapple with the immense diversity. Who was Christ? If we can’t agree on the most public and physical manifestation of God in this world, how can we every hope to understand the “invisible” God?

The Gnostic Christians are probably the best known of the non-orthodox or heretical early sects. Of course, they were extremely diverse as well, disagreeing on the ‘gnosis‘ they possessed. ‘Gnosis‘ is the Greek word for knowledge (γνῶσις). They claimed (in all their various manifestations) that they were the Christians who truly had knowledge.

John 17:3 (NIV) reads “. . . this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Their emphasis on knowledge was not misplaced. To know God was to possess eternal life itself. By the standard set in the scriptures, until we possess eternal life, we are all agnostics (the a– prefix negates, as in a-symmetric). Lacking knowledge. Ignorant. That may not be a feel-good message, but it is an honest one.

Ether 3:19 tells us when Jared’s brother finally saw the Lord “he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.”

Implicit in this statement (if you read it carefully) is that before he knew (before he obtained knowledge, γνῶσις) he had both faith and doubt. He wrestled with the paradoxes of the material world and mortality. In a sense, until this remarkable event, Jared’s brother lived with ἀγνῶσις / ‘a-gnosis’.

It is necessarily one or the other. We often say faith and doubt cannot co-exist. Perhaps we should reconsider that point because

it is knowledge that cannot coexist with doubt.

 

Solomon as Restorer

Margaret Barker has plentifully noted that First Temple era Judaism is a radically different religion than the one present in the New Testament (post-Deuteronomist revision) and even further removed than what we would find in you local 2015 synagogue.

One of the most interesting set of verses Barker frequently references is preserved in Chronicles and involves original temple ritual.

1 Chronicles 29:20-23

And David said to all the congregation, Now bless the LORD your God. And all the congregation blessed the LORD God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and worshipped the LORD, and the king. And they sacrificed sacrifices unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings unto the LORD, on the morrow after that day, even a thousand bullocks, a thousand rams, and a thousand lambs, with their drink offerings, and sacrifices in abundance for all Israel: And did eat and drink before the LORD on that day with great gladness. And they made Solomon the son of David king the second time, and anointed him unto the LORD to be the chief governor, and Zadok to be priest. Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as king instead of David his father, and prospered; and all Israel obeyed him.

Originally the King of Israel, sat on the throne of the Lord in the Holy of Holies and was worshiped as God. Very much like the ancient Egyptian religion, Israel’s king was divine, functioning as both a political and a priestly leader, or a king-priest.

I’ve been toying with the idea that maybe Solomon was a restorer-figure. We give him an overall bad rap, mostly because of having 600+ wives. But let’s take a brief look at some facts:

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– He was visited by the Lord (1 Kings 3:5), who asked him what he desired. This is a remarkably similar scene to when the Lord grants the desires of his disciples and apostles. Solomon desired an “understanding heart to judge [the] people,” which the Lord granted.

– He directed the building of the temple, which was meant to replace the earlier (and portable) tabernacle and renew the forms given to Moses. However, this was not simply an attempt to recreate past instructions given to Moses. David, his father, had received a new and independent revelation from Moses outlining the dimensions and symbols of the temple (1 Chronicles 28:19). David, however, was not permitted to build the temple because he was a man of blood (1 Chronicles 28:3). It is significant that these details were removed from the Deuteronomist account in Kings.

– When the temple was completed and dedicated, the glory and cloud of the Lord rested upon the temple (1 Kings 8).

– As previously noted, Solomon sat in the Holy of Holies and was worshiped and obeyed by the children of Israel as God (1 Chronicles 29:20-23). This aspect of original temple ritual was deleted for the Deuteronomist history, but preserved in Chronicles (the Septuagint title of Chronicles is “Things Left Out,” a fun fact you should know). A careful reader will also discover that the chronology (note the pun) is off between the two accounts, David dying after the temple is dedicated in the Chronicles account, leaving his final blessing upon the congregation at the dedication. Infallibility of the Bible, my ass.

– He was visited by the Lord a second time after the temple was built (1 Kings 9:2), and was granted a covenant. In this same visit, the Lord also accepted and consecrated the temple which he built.

– Solomon had many wives. I have previously proposed that this may be teaching tool we do not appreciate here. As I wrote in that post, I am not fully comfortable with the idea, but believe it’s an idea worth considering. Another aside, I think Solomon had sixty wives, not six hundred (Song of Solomon 6:8). I think the number got blown out of proportion as some sort of Iron-Age chest beating, similar to how Goliath is smaller in the earlier Dead Sea Scrolls version of the Bible.

– I’ll leave Solomon’s sins mostly untouched. His sins of idolatry and worship of Ashtaroth may be rewritten to dissuade later readers from honoring Asherah, the wife of El, of the Cannanite religion. I’m not recommending moving forward with some sort of worship of a mother goddess without a new explicit revelation in our dispensation, just noting we may ascribe evil to Solomon that was not originally present.

– Admittedly a stretch (but this is all speculation after all), one of the Jesus titles of Jesus is the “son of David.”

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I suggest we refrain from judging Solomon. He, under direction of God, founded a new era of Judaism (what scholars refer to as First Temple era). There is a typical outlook in Mormonism to view the whole of Jewish history as lesser and possessing only Aaronic or Levitical priesthood. What if Solomon established a new temple as a king-priest or Melchizedek priest? That temple was accepted by the Lord, though its original rituals and liturgy are masked by redactor and time.

The cloud of glory seen at Sinai returned to Israel at this time. We may not view the Israelites as possessing a “fullness” like us, but can you name a recent LDS temple dedication where the cloud of the Lord appeared? Avoid looking down your nose.

What if we ascribe evil to Solomon, because the reforms of Josiah and the Deuteronomists successfully changed the entire religion? What if Solomon was a restorer of the gospel, the temple, and the priesthood? What if we speak evil of a man who was approved of and obtained a covenant of God?

I pray if this is the case, the Lord forgive us of our ignorance.