Review of Gaskill, Alonzo L., “Clothed in Holy Garments: The Apparel of the Temple Officiants of Ancient Israel”

Gaskill, Alonzo L.  “Clothed in Holy Garments: The Apparel of the Temple Officiants of Ancient Israel.”  In Ascending the Mountain of the Lord: Temple, Praise, and Worship in the Old Testament, edited by David R. Seely, Jeffrey R. Chadwick, and Matthew J. Grey, 85-104.  The 42d Annual Brigham Young University Sidney B. Sperry Symposium.  Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2013.

In this discussion of the symbolism of the priestly clothing Gaskill goes one step further in his ongoing study of biblical and particularly temple symbolism and its application within Mormonism.  In this paper he takes what he calls a homiletical approach–in other words he is giving Latter-day Saints a sermon as opposed to presenting a scholarly paper.  In footnote 3 he explains his purpose:  “What this paper seeks to do is to report the Christocentric reading of these things by various interpreters and to suggest the implications of those readings for practicing Christians today.” (p. 99)  Again, in footnote 12 he says, “Moreover, this homily will occasionally analyze symbols from a Latter-day Saint perspective, showing possible meanings hidden in the garments that provide one with a greater understanding of the specific work of this last dispensation.” (p. 100)   I suggest that the careful reader will find a bit more than “occasionally” his analysis is from a Latter-day Saint perspective.  Surprisingly, and for me somewhat tellingly, in footnote 13 he speaks further of this style:  “…our homiletic approach will imitate the allegorical methodology found in the New Testament in the early church fathers.”  His example of the church fathers is Augustine of whom he observes approvingly, “Augustine states that everything in the Old Testament speaks of Christ, but only to those who have the ears to hear it.”  (p. 100, emphasis in original.  He also quotes Augustine favorably in his book Sacred Symbols, p. 113.) I say “surprisingly” because many modern scholars feel that Augustine took his belief that everything in the Old Testament speaks of Christ too far in his allegorical interpretations.  I have a similar concern about Gaskill’s approach in this article.

As he says in the conclusion, “What we have offered above is but a homily–an application of ancient Jewish symbols seen through [Latter-day Saint] Christian lenses.” (p. 97)  “But lest we assume we have looked ‘beyond the mark,’” he goes on to justify his Augustinian allegorical approach on the basis of verses commonly known that suggest all things testify of Christ such as 2 Ne. 11:4, Jacob 7:11, and Moses 6:63.  I can point to numerous examples where Gaskill applies an allegorical Christocentric meaning primarily from an LDS point of view to many aspects of the High Priest’s clothing that cannot be justified on the basis of any direct scriptural authority, modern priesthood authority, or even on the basis of ancient noncanonical writings.  Rather, he allegorically applies his own understanding of gospel principles and ideas about Christ that seem to be logical explanations of the symbolism of the High Priest’s garments.

Here are two examples among many that could be cited.  On page 95 he speaks of the Urim and Thummim in the Ephod, “Since the Urim and Thummim within the pouch was a revelator device, its placement in the squared pouch can suggest Christ’s desire to reveal himself to all of God’s children.  It potentially implies that Christ’s word will eventually fill the earth.” Again, this view dominates his discussion of the blue ribbon that connects the crown to the miter of the High Priest. He explains that commentators suggest the head denotes authority and controls the body.  Gaskill adds that Christ does the same for the Church. Then he says allegorically, “Additionally, the blue ribbon attaching the holy crown to the mitre can point to the reality that Christ’s mind is that of the Father.  He knows the Father’s will, and all that he says and does is an attempt to bring that will to pass.” (p. 97)

This is all quite harmless as Gaskill interprets the symbols to urge faith and obedience upon the Saints.  He told us that is what he is going to do.  However, in reading his analysis Latter-day Saints would be wise not to become dogmatic and take his interpretations as “gospel”, but to follow the counsel of Sidney Greidanus, whom Gaskill quotes in footnote 13 to the effect that we should “be watchful that we do not force the text and make it say things it does not say.”  Gaskill’s homily and allegorical Christocentric LDS interpretation is one thing; the intended scriptural meaning of these symbols may possibly be another thing altogether.

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