Review of D. John Butler, Plain and Precious Things and The Goodness and the Mysteries

D. John Butler, Plain and Precious Things: The Temple Religion of the Book of Mormon’s Visionary Men (self-published, 2012).

Idem., The Goodness and the Mysteries: On the Path of the Book of Mormon’s Visionary Men (self-published, 2012).

D. John Butler has written two books in which he elaborates on what he calls the “temple religion” of scriptural figures such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Lehi, and Nephi, whom he refers to as “visionary men” following the description of Lehi in 1 Nephi 2:11; 5:2-4. 

The first book, Plain and Precious Things, lays out Butler’s “Visionary Men Paradigm,” in which he identifies a presumed religiopolitical party (e.g., Isaiah, Lehi, etc.) that defied the corrupt Jerusalem “establishment” of their time (following Margaret Barker’s ideas on the religious reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah).  In the New World, Nephi strives to preserve the “plain and precious things” that had been removed from the faith by the “Jews at Jerusalem.”

Butler proceeds to lay out his view of what the religion of this party entailed, focusing on two major temple ordinances: the “Worship of the Shalems” and the Day of Atonement rituals.  He coins the first term, deriving it from the Hebrew for “peace-offering,” and uses it to describe a temple ceremony in which the “shalems” (his term for “initiates”) enter the temple, pass through its three rooms, are dressed and fed a sacred meal, and ultimately enjoy a vision of the Tree of Life and/or the Lord on his throne in the Holy of Holies.  Butler sees Lehi’s dream in 1 Nephi 8 as a literary representation of this ritual sequence, and argues that the same ordinance is behind scriptural pericopes such as the Sermon on the Mount (following the work of John Welch), the feast with the Lord in Exodus 24, the Last Supper in Luke 22,  Melchizedek’s meal of bread and wine in Genesis 14, Psalm 23, and others.

He goes on to describe the Day of Atonement rituals as outlined in Leviticus, Numbers and Tractate Yoma of the Mishnah and argues that 1 Nephi 11-14 is structured following the pattern of those rituals.  Nephi sees in vision the glorious coming of the Lord from his temple, the division and judgment of the people, and the redemption of the righteous.

Armed with the paradigm that he has constructed based on these two ordinances, Butler is able to point out parallels within numerous scriptural passages in the Old and New Testaments and also the Book of Mormon, arguing that the temple rituals of the visionary men permeate much more of the scriptural record than we have previously perceived.

Butler’s second book, The Goodness and the Mysteries, is a follow-up volume that extends the search for evidence of the “visionary men paradigm” and its ordinances throughout the ancient scriptures (for an unexplained reason, he does not include the books of Moses and Abraham from the Pearl of Great Price).  In this book, the author extends his understanding of what the Worship of the Shalems temple ceremony entailed, mining scriptural passages such as John 1, the Transfiguration, Helaman 5, the Book of Ether, and Isaiah for details.  He focuses on such details as the involvement of Moses, Elias, and Melchizedek (or priests representing them) in each of the three rooms of the temple, the presentation of a Creation drama, a struggle through darkness or the valley of Death/Nimrod, and the important role of the sacred feminine in the rituals.

Throughout the two books, the author acknowledges that he is not writing for a scholarly audience, but for the average reader. However, some of the terms and concepts he employs, including the various labels he invents, may counteract this end to some degree.  Furthermore, the author largely refrains from citing other sources in footnotes or endnotes, opting to include only a brief list of related readings (mainly Wikipedia articles), which detracts from his credibility.  Finally, after the author has pieced together his paradigm from the diverse scriptural sources, he then begins to find numerous parallels throughout Scripture that fit his pattern; this leads to what may be seen by some as a certain amount of stretching or exaggeration of the evidence to fit his predetermined paradigm.

Having said this, most readers will see in Butler’s work a number of exciting insights regarding the temple and how temple themes can be found throughout the ancient records.  He is able to successfully demonstrate that the essential key words and images that he identifies as part of the temple ordinances can be found in proximity to each other in a surprising number of passages.  It is hard to tell whether this imagery was as consistently part of the ancient temple ritual system as Butler asserts, or part of a more general religious paradigm at play, but Butler makes an impassioned case that is, in many instances, quite convincing.

–David J. Larsen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *