By Hollie Ogden Wells
Lehi and his family lived knee-deep in the Old Testament world before coming across the ocean to the promised land. The tabernacle and the permanent structures that followed it were a prominent part of the religiosity of covenant Israel. I wanted to catch a glimpse of what the temple might have meant to the ancient American people who originated from such a temple-centered place.
I started this with a simple word search in gospel library. The Book of Mormon contains the word temple 32 times (33 if you count chapter headings). I broke down these references into a few categories and their associated frequencies, and have tried to extract some meaning from their contexts.
1 reference is an Isaiah prophecy about the latter-day temples. Isaiah’s language is “mountain of the Lord’s House,” but it says “temple” in the chapter heading. Isaiah tends to poetically decorate most words anyways. To some degree, any Book of Mormon writer was aware of the latter-day temples as they addressed their messages to a latter-day people
2 are references to temples as an Old Testament-style place of worship. In Alma 23:2, the Nephites are given protection on their religious right to go to the temple, inferring that it was a place of regular worship. I have always been curious about how the average Israelite/Nephite who wasn’t a priest or levite would have interacted with the temple, but it seems to have been a regular visiting place by both peoples.
3 times we are taught that God and His Spirit do not dwell in unholy temples. This is a fiery invitation to repent, cleanse the inner vessel, and make sure our homes are temple-like places where the Spirit of the Lord can dwell freely.
5 references describe the temple as a distinctive building, part of a standard Nephite community. They use the temple as a geographical reference point or landmark. The average Nephite cityscape included the fine workmanship of a place of worship.
6 of the references are comments on the fine workmanship and building of temples, 5 of these are Nephi’s and are the first mention of a temple in the Book, the first temple in the promised land. Just as we do today, the ancient American people valued these holy houses and gave their best in an effort to celestialize a little bit of our telestial world.
16 times the Book of Mormon refers to the temple as a place to gather, learn, and preach. The temple is referred to in this way almost as much as the other references combined. To the Nephites, the temple was a place to hear the word of God. Some of our most beloved Book of Mormon stories paint the temple this way. Nephites flocked with their tents towards the temple when King Benjamin preached his last sermon. Alma and Amulek and other Book of Mormon missionaries could often be found preaching in or near the temple. Jesus Christ Himself healed, ministered, taught, and blessed at the temple in His postmortal ministry.
What can we learn from the Book of Mormon people? How can I make the temple more of a place of learning and hearing the word of God? Next month I will be exploring these questions!