Jeff Lindsay is one of the more reasonable LDS apologists in the bloggernacle. He makes no bones about his stance, but he isn’t as much of a nutter as my favourite Kool-Aid drinker, Michael R. Ash. He recently put out a presentation that claimed to share his spectacular breakthrough in understanding that the Mormon temple ceremony is, in fact, a restoration of ancient rituals. However, the presentation suffers from lack of true specifics, and an unwillingness to go beyond vague connections and cherry-picking information — a hallmark of the style of amateur LDS archaeologists and historians looking to prove their faith through hard science. In the end, they always come up empty-handed, the way B.H. Roberts said they would a century ago. This is probably why the LDS hierarchy steers clear of encouraging scientific inquiry into LDS claims, leaving explanations for the historical settings of Mormon scripture up to popular culture and pseudoscience.
Lindsay explains: “Two books from non-LDS scholars did more to strengthen my appreciation of the LDS temple than anything I had encountered so far.” The titles are Sinai & Zion – An Entry into the Jewish Bible by Jon D. Levenson and The Sacred and the Profane – The Nature of Religion by Mircea Eliade, both of which are highly respected works on ancient religion. However, precisely how these books influenced Lindsay goes unmentioned, despite the fact that the video is over twenty minutes long.
Lindsay claims that the ancient Jewish temple built by Solomon and modern-day temples operated by the LDS church are one and the same, providing a space and time set apart from the secular world. This is a fairly superficial link, as throughout history there have been mosques, churches, temples, and shrines that serve exactly the same purpose. But with no further explanation, Lindsay concludes, “The LDS temple concept suddenly made a great deal of sense when viewed as a restoration of ancient concepts.” What those concepts are must remain as mysterious as the LDS ceremony itself, it seems.
Lindsay makes a comparison between research performed by George Mendenhall on Ancient Near Eastern treaties and the format of temple covenants. He lists six steps:
- Parties are identified
- Review of the past relationship between parties
- Terms of treaty
- Treaty is set in writing or some method of being able to be referenced
- Benefits and penalties listed if the treaty is kept or broken
This sounds like the elements of any agreement throughout history. In fact, it sounds just like a modern legal agreement. Such a vague list of standard information necessary to form any kind of covenant agreement is hardly helpful proof that Joseph Smith wasn’t a master plagiariser. Saying that because ancient Near Eastern legal agreements and the LDS temple covenants share certain basic similarities is evidence of their historicity is like saying that because I have feet and Emperor Charlemagne had feet, I must be descended from Charlemagne. General similarities are not proof of descent.
Cherry-picking has been a big part of LDS attempts to historically verify the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, and the temple ceremony. There are vaguely pyramid(ish) structures in Mesoamerica? They have those in Egypt too. Brilliant! They must be the same culture! Mayans used a glyphic writing system? So did the Egyptians. Brilliant! It’s proof that the Book of Mormon is true! Even when I was faithful, I’d get uncomfortable with the pseudoscientific, oversimplified approach taken by amateur archaeologists in my ward. But as soon as I said, “well, it’s a bit more complex than that” I’d be silenced with accusations of faithlessness. The same thing has happened here, except I’m not longer worried about being accused of faithlessness. I no longer consider it a crime to be honest about my scepticism.
Apologists frequently fall prey to their own good intentions. Lindsay may have had some mind-blowing epiphany that presents a really strong case for the temple ceremony as a restoration, not a fabrication, but since he isn’t allowed to discuss the ceremony in detail, the presentation comes across as a pretty flimsy argument. Lindsay saw the connections he wished to see, which is easy enough to do as Joseph Smith was deliberately setting out to create a neo-Jewish society when he founded Mormonism.
The Jewish temple was not a place where people came to make covenants with god. It was the ritual home of Yahweh. There was no drama, women weren’t even allowed in, and most Jewish men couldn’t get beyond the inner courtyard. It was a place you went to fulfil ritual obligations to Yahweh so that he wouldn’t get angry with you and allow you to be destroyed by some competing tribe. The ancient Jews of Solomon’s day didn’t even believe they had immortal souls, and they did not believe in Heaven. How can the LDS temple be a restoration of the ancient Jewish temple when it’s allegedly the gateway to the afterlife, and the Jewish temple was simply a luxury apartment for Yahweh?
Overall, if you believe in Mormonism, you’ll nod your head and find Lindsay’s presentation worthy of bringing up in Sunday School so your classmates can know how studious you are. But if you don’t, you’ll just find it another vague, bland defence of the faith. In the end, it’s all opinion. The only factual error in the presentation occurred when Lindsay said that Mormons take an oath in the temple to follow Christ. Given the dearth of specific claims, this was one of the few I could actually address. There is nothing in the LDS temple ceremony about Christ. The word “Christ” appears nowhere in the script, nor does “Jesus.” Incidentally, neither does the word “love.”
LDS temple symbols aren’t that rich. They’re fairly simplistic and sophomoric. Adam represents LDS males. Eve represents LDS females. Elohim is God and Jehovah is Jesus. Satan is Satan, and Peter, James, and John represent the leadership of the LDS church. Gender roles are assigned and everyone promises to do what the leadership says. Apart from the silly handshakes and chanting whilst waving arms around (which I feel are simply for theatric flair), it’s all pretty transparent.
So what’s my point? Being a religious apologist is largely a waste of time. It’s only effective at preaching to the choir and attempting to use pseudoscience to prove what is ultimately an opinion is unhelpful. Faith by nature is defined by its lack of external proof. Those who constantly quest for a prop to hold up their faith simply strike me as someone who is suppressing a deep down suspicion of what I already know: that it’s probably just a load of nonsense.