Review of Barker, Margaret, and Kevin Christensen. “Seeking the Face of the Lord: Joseph Smith and the First Temple Tradition.”

Barker, Margaret, and Kevin Christensen.  “Seeking the Face of the Lord: Joseph Smith and the First Temple Tradition.”  In Joseph Smith Jr. Reappraisals After Two Centuries, edited by Reid L. Neilson and Terryl L. Givens, 143-88.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. [Israel/Mormon/Theology/First Temple/Solomon/Presence]

This is a two-part essay.  Barker is a Methodist preacher and scholar who has devoted her lifetime career to studying Christianity in the light of the First Temple, its theology, purpose, meaning, and rituals.  She is something of the Hugh Nibley of the Protestant world because over the decades she has mined and mastered a vast array of early source material from Jewish and Christian apocrypha and pseudepigrapha to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and from the Mishnah and Talmud to Philo and Josephus.  Her section of this essay is the longer and better of the two.  She documents that the earliest Jewish and Christian traditions were that the Temple was the place, not only of the presence of the Lord, but the place where the face of the Lord was seen.  Indeed “presence” and “face” are synonymous.  She documents many fascinating changes in the texts of the scriptures and targums by those she calls Deuteronomists who rejected both the notion that God was anthropomorphic and that he could be seen in the Temple.  She further comments on a number of canonical visions, most of which were related to the Temple.  She argues that this was the essence of the purpose of the temple.

Christensen’s part of the essay is less direct and concentrated on the point than Barker’s.  From modern scholarship he argues that there were two types of visions of God, those which he calls numinous, and the mystic.  The first is an encounter with the divine in institutionalized worship; the second is a personal but largely ineffable experience and unity with God.  Christensen argues that Mormonism, unique in religion, blends the two.  Joseph Smith not only had a drive to create a community centered on the temple, but he allowed for the individual to receive revelation and enjoy a mystical experience with God.  All of this, he argues, is consistent with the First Temple tradition.  Moreover, Mormonism also believes in the anthropomorphic nature of God.  One thing I wish he would have add would be to show that not only do Mormons believe that God may be seen and that one of the purposes of the temple is to facilitate this, but also to document that this theoretical belief has and is being fulfilled.

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