Abstract: The prophet Joseph Smith was paced through a life steeped in ritual and symbolism. Notable things Joseph did or experienced under angelic guidance may be seen as ritual procedures that may require careful consideration to discern their meaning, what they symbolize, their purpose, and their importance to the restoration of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Failure to recognize the function of ritual has resulted in much misunderstanding and criticism of Joseph. Many of his early actions and procedures were closely related to the ancient temple. They amount to an anticipation and witness of the temple and its coming restoration through him. This will be illustrated in several ways, including the manner in which Joseph received and translated the plates of the Book of Mormon, a witness of Jesus Christ.
As with many prophets of old, some of the details of sacred events in Joseph Smith’s life can be viewed as richly symbolic.1 Pondering some of these elements may enhance our appreciation of his calling and ministry. Failure to consider and more fully appreciate the function of symbolic and ritual procedures as guided by revelation and the angels has caused much criticism and lack of understanding about Joseph, his [Page 52]motivation, and purposes. An underappreciated aspect of the gospel restoration is that he received revelation or direction related to the ancient temple at an early time in his prophetic calling. Some of the sacred or symbolic events in his life involve temple-related motifs that may be seen as anticipating the restoration of the temple concept and underscore its great importance.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also has passed through symbolic happenings that may be seen as a recapitulation of important events in ancient sacred history.2 Such were experienced by both Joseph Smith and the Church. Prominent for the Church is the occurrence of the visions and revelations received by many at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in Ohio, where the “saints regarded their experiences as a continuation of the pentecostal experience recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.”3 Another compelling example is the westward gathering under Brigham Young, with the establishment of the Tabernacle, the temple, and other counterparts reminiscent of the ancient gathering of Israel.4 These can be recognized as part of a pattern.
This paper reviews experiences in the life of Joseph Smith that helped to prepare him to reveal temple functions and rituals, many of which mirror the lives of ancient prophets — especially Moses. Those parallel experiences provide a witness to the godhood of Jesus Christ and the sacred nature of Joseph’s work and calling. Further, understanding these matters can make a contribution to answering the question of whether Joseph Smith got his temple ritual by revelation or from his environment. Many of the symbolic and ritual matters in Joseph’s life have been discussed in scholarly writings. These are cited throughout [Page 53]this paper, which is concerned with bringing multiple elements together to create a more holistic view and understanding. The study also affords the opportunity to consider neglected details, and the insights that result.
Joseph’s actions represented and provided reminders and anticipations of other sacred events in the past and the future. Many of the events that can be seen now as richly symbolic or part of ancient paradigms would not have been apparent to Joseph or those around him at the time, and often were events imposed upon him rather than results of his choice. Some, such as the account of his First Vision, or receipt of the gold plates of the Book of Mormon, brought danger and trouble to his life. However, a watchful God assured that early events were helpful learning experiences for him, and preparatory for later revelations.
Illumination Followed by Temptation
The element of temptation is illustrative as a foundational preparatory element of Joseph’s early life and prophetic calling. It meets us very strongly in his own histories and in the angel Moroni’s instruction as recorded in the published letters of Oliver Cowdery discussed below. Some years ago, while reading Wilhelm Bousset’s noted study of Christ, Kyrios Christos, I was struck with his comment on the Savior’s temptation. Citing similar “schemata” in the lives of other prophets, he said that the New Testament relates “the prehistory of the hero before his public appearance according to a definite schema; the hour of illumination is followed by the hour of temptation.”5 He considers that such an illumination occurred with Christ at His baptism, when the heavens were opened unto Him, God the Father’s voice was heard, and the Holy Ghost descended upon Him (Matthew 3:14–17, Mark 1:9–12, Luke 3:21–22). This was followed with temptation by the Devil in the “wilderness” and on “an exceeding high mountain,” in apparent imitation of how prophets have received true revelation from God on mountain heights (Matthew 4:1–11, Luke 4:1–13). Here “He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:22, Hebrews 4:15). This was in preparation for His descent and victorious life as teacher and redeemer. Another important example is the temptation of Moses by Satan that followed illumination (Moses 1:1–23). It is evident that this basic pattern — illumination followed by temptation — was also a significant element in the life of Joseph Smith.
[Page 54]Following the illumination of Joseph’s marvelous First Vision when the heavenly Father and Son appeared, he confesses that he “was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God” (Joseph Smith — History 1:28). When the angel Moroni instructed him, Joseph said he “added a caution to me, telling me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family) to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich” (Joseph Smith — History 1:46).6 In his earliest written history (1832), Joseph said that after the First Vision he “fell into transgressions and sinned in many things which brought a wound upon my soul and there were many things which transpired that cannot be written and my Fathers family have suffered many persecutions and afflictions.”7 Joseph recounted that he had been tempted, and that Moroni had explained to him that he was “left unto temptation that thou mightest be made acquainted with the power of the adversary[,] therefore repent and call on the Lord.”8 This last point from Moroni — that the process of temptation may be instructive and preparatory — is also given emphasis by that angel as related in Oliver Cowdery’s published letters. Oliver summarized this concept, as it applied to Joseph Smith:
You see the great wisdom in God in leading him thus far, that his mind might begin to be more matured, and thereby be able to judge correctly, the spirits. … God knowing all things from the beginning, began thus to instruct his servant. And in this it is plainly to be seen that the adversary of truth is not sufficient to overthrow the work of God. … In this, then, I discover wisdom in the dealings of the Lord: it was impossible for any man to translate the Book of Mormon by the gift of God, and endure the afflictions, and temptations, and devices of Satan, without being overthrown, unless he had been previously benefitted with a certain round of experience: and had our brother obtained the record … not knowing how [Page 55]to detect the works of darkness, he might have been deprived of the blessing of sending forth the word of truth to this generation. Therefore, God knowing that Satan would thus lead his mind astray, began at that early hour, that when the full time should arrive, he might have a servant prepared to fulfill his purpose.9
Symbolic Aspects of the Book of Mormon “Coming Forth”
Joseph Smith’s recovery of the buried Book of Mormon on glorious golden plates is wonderfully symbolic — with a Christian perspective. As I have discussed in another paper, it is even a type of Christ, for the coming forth of the plates in brilliance from a rock box that was its hillside tomb at Cumorah, can be interpreted as a type and similitude of the Lord’s resurrection in glory from a rocky hillside tomb.10 The Book of Mormon title page says it was to “come forth,” a term that may be inspired by 2 Nephi 27:10, which speaks of the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon that will “come forth.” Shortly before the passage in 2 Nephi 27:13 that motivated the Three Witnesses to implore Joseph for the opportunity to see the plates, Nephi used the same phrase earlier to describe how the Book of Mormon, after being hidden for so long, would “come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb,” 1 Nephi 13:35 (see also “came forth” in vv. 38 and 39), and how Nephite records would “come forth in their purity” (1 Nephi 14:26). Earlier still in the translation process came Mormon 8 about the future role of the Book of Mormon, which would “come forth” (v. 34) among the Gentiles. Christ also used “come forth” four times in prophesying of the future Book of Mormon that was to come forth from the Gentiles to descendants of the Lehites (3 Nephi 21: 3–6), with the Book of Mormon also “coming forth” to the House of Israel in 3 Nephi 29:4. See related occurrences in Mormon 5:12 and 9:13. This widespread usage of “come forth” in [Page 56]prophecies about the emergence of the Book of Mormon, particularly in 2 Nephi 27, may well have influenced the choice of “come forth” on the Title Page, just as 2 Nephi 27 and other passages encountered near the end of the translation of the Book of Mormon appear to have influenced the verbiage in the Testimony of the Three Witnesses.11 But the phrase “come forth” also refers to resurrection in both the New Testament and latter-day scriptures (John 5:28–29, 11:43–44; Mosiah 26: 24–25; Alma 40:4, 21; Doctrine and Covenants 76:64–65; Moses 7:55–57).
Like Christ at His resurrection, the Book of Mormon has eleven official witnesses called of God to testify of the reality of the sacred plates and what may be considered the “resurrection” of the Book. It was a book “to speak as if it were from the dead” (2 Nephi 27:13; cf. Mormon 8:22– 26, Moroni 10:27). Like the Savior, the Book of Mormon had heavenly origins, was rejected of men, was entombed and resurrected, and each apparently returned to heaven with angelic association (Acts 1:11, Joseph Smith — History 1:60). Even as the Lord shall return again, it appears that the Book of Mormon plates are to be restored (2 Nephi 27:11, Doctrine and Covenants 101:32–34, 121:27–28). It is a “heavenly book,” as further discussed below, with teachings from heaven preserved on plates by the Book of Mormon people.
In her discussion of how Joseph Smith and the Church experienced the recapitulation of ancient sacred events, historian Jan Shipps sees the coming forth of the Book of Mormon as the beginning of a recapitulation process by which people coming to America would have the sacred teachings and history of those who came before them. She likens it to “the priests’ discovery in the recesses of the temple of a book said to have been written by Moses [that] told the people in King Josiah’s reign about those who came to Israel before them.”12 Generally considered to be the book of Deuteronomy, the writings were basic to support Josiah’s claimed reform, and in order to lend credence to his claim were doubtless averred as consistent with an ancient sacred order. Josiah claiming that it [Page 57]came from within the walls of the temple is tantamount to saying that it came from a cosmic sacred mountain, for studies of ancient temples have shown that they were considered to be artificial mountains in imitation of and representing those where prophets received revelation — “the mountain of the Lord’s house” (Isaiah 2:2).13 In this sense the volume from the temple would be like the two tablets of stone and the law given to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 31:18). Temples can be understood as “the architectural embodiment of the cosmic mountain.”14 “Cosmic” means that it pertained to both heaven and earth — “in earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
N. T. Wright, well known Protestant scholar, has discussed the wide relevance of the cosmic mountain and temple relationship:
Many have seen the parallel between the Holy of Holies (as a focus of the Tabernacle) and the Sabbath (as a focus of time), the day which the creator ‘blessed’ and ‘made holy’. Sabbath is to time, it seems, what the Holy of Holies is to place. All this makes sense within wider ancient culture, where temples were regularly understood as meeting-points between heaven and earth. Temples were often seen as symbolic mountains, perhaps reflecting ancient beliefs (as with Olympus in Greece, or indeed Sinai) that the mountain-top, swathed in cloud, would be the likely divine dwelling place. Thus Mount Zion, the location of YHWH’s Temple, is spoken of as a high mountain despite being only a small hill, overshadowed by an immediate neighbor. If you didn’t have a mountain, you could substitute pyramids or ziggurats. Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babel, and Jacob’s Ladder all fit here in different ways.15
The Book of Mormon came forth from the Hill Cumorah and provided pure writings from the past to support a gospel restoration and [Page 58]the establishment of a righteous order. The event shows Joseph Smith’s latter-day participation in the primordial sacred pattern of receiving revelation at a sacred cosmic mountain. This may be discerned when comparing the experience of Joseph Smith with Moses in his encounter with the divine on the mount. There, Moses received tablets containing an engraved written law by which the people were to be ordered and governed (Exodus 31:18, Deuteronomy 5). To Joseph Smith the engraved plates of the Book of Mormon provided writings with a similar purpose, and even included the Ten Commandments as revealed to Moses.16 That they were engraved is significant for both Moses and Joseph Smith because it conveys a sense of permanence or the eternal.
The stone box on a sacred hill as the place from which the Book of Mormon came forth may be associated with even more symbolism than the theme of resurrection. Don Bradley has also pointed out the rich symbolism related to ancient Israel’s ark of the covenant that is found in the Book of Mormon’s association with the stone box. Not only did the stone box hold sacred relics from the Nephites in addition to the gold plates (a breastplate and the interpreters) that were analogous to those held in the ark, but the box was also a repository for sacred scripture, as was the ark (Deuteronomy 31: 23–26).17 The Book of Mormon coming forth from a sacred ark hidden on a cosmic mountain resembles the book of the law, once stored in the ark, being found in the cosmic mountain of the temple by the priest Hilkiah (2 Kings 22: 8–13). The interpreters taken from the Nephite “ark” were a particularly important symbol of divine authority and seership that linked Joseph to ancient prophets and sacred ritual.
[Page 59]Heavenly Ascent and Ritual Ascent
The concepts of the heavenly ascent and its counterpart in ritual ascent are instructive in the consideration of Joseph Smith’s actions and the scriptures which were received through him.18
The heavenly ascent refers to revelatory experiences such as those of ancient prophets who experienced tours or visions of the heavens. These experiences generally include a witness of the heavenly temple or court, where blessings were received from above, and are often accompanied by angelic guidance and instruction.19 In contrast, the ritual ascent is related to the temple experience.20 Temple rituals “dramatically depict a figurative journey into the presence of God, [while] the heavenly ascent literature contains stories of exceptional individuals who experienced actual encounters with Deity within the heavenly temple — the ‘completion or fulfillment’ of the ‘types and images’ found in earthly ordinances.”21
In considering Joseph’s life, work and heavenly commission, the ascent concept and historical events related to it meet us throughout. Here we will consider a few of many possible examples, with the hope that this topic will be amplified by future scholarship.
Heavenly ascents are recounted in what are known as apocalyptic writings, forming a common thread with respect to the calling and authority of the prophets, and the heavenly origin of their teachings and testimony. The ascent experience was not well understood by scholars of religion at the time of Joseph Smith. Since then, however, many informative apocalyptic accounts of the ascent of prominent prophets of [Page 60]the ancient past have been discovered and studied.22 Especially significant are those regarding Enoch, Abraham, Moses and Isaiah. Insights from such writings serve to help understand many biblical passages and likewise the ascent to heaven matters that pertain to Joseph Smith.
The Book of Mormon offers much on heavenly ascent. Hugh Nibley, seeing that it begins with an apocalyptic account, comments that it “opens with the most perfect model of an ascension. … We find the righteous man [Lehi] in a doomed and wicked world supplicating God, carried aloft in an ascension in which ‘he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne’ (1 Nephi 1:8); he returns to earth and begins to teach the people.”23 That he was “carried aloft” in his vision is an important consideration, for Lehi observed that God’s “throne is high in the heavens” (1 Nephi 1:14). His son Nephi had a similar revelation when “caught away in the Spirit of the Lord … into an exceedingly high mountain” (1 Nephi 11:1). Compare the ascension of the brother of Jared, who “went forth unto the mount” with its “exceeding height” (Ether 3:1, 4:1). Moses also was “caught up into an exceedingly high mountain” to receive revelation.24
In a parallel to Moses, Joseph Smith received the golden plates at a place which he described as “not far from the top” of a “hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood” (Joseph Smith — History 1:51). Although Cumorah is a substantial hill, it is, of course, nowhere near the height of Sinai. But there was nothing like Sinai in the area where Joseph lived. He emphasizes a contrast with other elevated points: Cumorah was seen “to rise to a height considerably above any of those surrounding in any direction.”25 Making the comparison of the greater height, Joseph shows that he deems this fact to be of significance. Oliver Cowdery also saw the need to stress this relationship: “I think I [Page 61]am justified in saying that this is the highest hill for some distance.”26 An analogy is Christ giving the Sermon on the Mount, seen by the early Christians as a parallel to Moses teaching from the much greater elevation of Sinai, in spite of the small height of the gentle hill near the shore of Lake Galilee that is commonly believed to be the site of that sermon.27 Elevated sacred sites in the Book of Mormon likewise need not be gargantuan, including the mount where the brother of Jared had his encounter with the Lord (Ether 3), the mount near the place Bountiful where Nephi often went to commune with the Lord (1 Nephi 18:3), the tower from which King Benjamin spoke (Mosiah 2), the tower in his garden where Nephi2 prayed (Helaman 7:10–14), the hill Shim where Nephite records were stored (Mormon 1:3), the counterfeit sacred tower of the Zoramites known as the Rameumpton (Alma 31: 8–21), or the hill Cumorah to which Mormon transferred all the Nephite records except those that he turned over to Moroni (Mormon 6:6).
Citations to things to or from on high are significant because they allude to heaven, such as when the early Jaredites were “taught from on high” (Ether 6:17), or when being “endowed with power from on high” occurs through temple ritual (Doctrine and Covenants 105:11; cf. Hebrews 1:3, 2 Nephi 4:24, Doctrine and Covenants 20:8). These are symbolic ritual counterparts to actual ascent that nevertheless provide similar or related instruction and blessings, and can give rise to confirming spiritual experiences. References to what was revealed on mountains, or with heaven open, or to elevated places such as the upper room site of the Last Supper, bear relationship to the heavenly ascent (Mark 14:15, Luke 22:12; cf. Acts 1:13).28 Their sacred use makes them temple-like places. Such terms of elevation reflect what scholars have considered a vertical typology in the scriptures, which concept recognizes “that a temple was an earthly replica of the heavenly divine abode.”29
[Page 62]With experiences of heavenly ascent, it is not always possible to distinguish what type of ascent it is — actual, visionary, ritual, or a combination of these. Even the Apostle Paul, who was “caught up to the third heaven,” said “whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell” (2 Corinthians 12:2–3). The prophet Joseph Smith expressed the same when the “heavens were opened” in connection with the administration of the ritual endowment at the Kirtland Temple: “I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, whether in the body or out I cannot tell” (Doctrine and Covenants 137:1).
When Lehi had his ascent experience, the scripture says that “being overcome with the spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God” (1 Nephi 1:8). One concourse or assembly surrounding could have been a large gathering, but to have groups too numerous to be counted, it would have been very grand indeed. As part of his experience, Lehi may have been shown a visionary “flashback” to an important occasion — perhaps to when Christ was called to be the great Creator and Redeemer.30 The vision was informative and part of a great blessing and calling for Lehi. The Lord also came down and appeared to him, and he greatly rejoiced because of the things he had seen … which the Lord had shown unto him” (1 Nephi 1:11, 15). The entire chapter shows Lehi’s participation in the purposes of the heavenly Divine Council — the source of his instruction and prophetic authority.31 John W. Welch has carefully studied and outlined the chapter, finding “that by this experience, which compares closely with the so-called council visions of Old Testament prophets, Lehi became a prophet.”32 The vision of God on his throne surrounded by the angels, referred to by scholars as a throne theophany, is an important aspect of the prophetic calling.33 That he had received a commission is evident from how he “went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare [Page 63]unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard” (1 Nephi 1:18). The Lord then appeared and “said unto him: Blessed art thou Lehi, … thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee” (1 Nephi 2:1).
Lehi’s ascent experience assists in better understanding similar events in the life of Joseph Smith. The probability should be considered that Joseph Smith’s First Vision of the Father and the Son was a Divine Council vision that included a heavenly ascent or similitude.34 After receiving a vision of God and His glory at an elevated place, Moses was “left unto himself” and “fell unto the earth” losing “his natural strength” (Moses 1:9–10). Similarly, after Joseph’s comparable vision in glory, he said, “When I came to myself again [in the Grove], I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven” and “I had no strength” (Joseph Smith — History 1:20). The account of Lehi is similar: “he saw and heard much,” and “cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen,” and what he witnessed in his ascent vision is summarized (1 Nephi 1:6–8).
In comparing Joseph’s accounts of the First Vision, it is informative that he recalled “my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages,” and that “I saw many angels in this vision.”35 This appears like a Throne Theophany, where, like Lehi, he “saw and heard much.” Anciently, “It was considered the mark of a true prophet that he had seen and heard the proceedings of God’s divine council.”36 [Page 64]Joseph had a vision of the Father and Son on several occasions, and some of his associates did also — or participated with him to some extent.37 On the third floor of the Kirtland Temple he met with other leaders: “The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, … also the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son” (Doctrine and Covenants 137:1–3). With Sidney Rigdon, he received the great vision of the Degrees of Glory in which
The glory of the Lord shone round about. And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness; And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever. (Doctrine and Covenants 76:19–21)
It is noteworthy that this vision of the divine council occurred in the upper room of the historic Johnson Farmhouse in Hiram, Ohio, where many revelations had been received. Several persons were present to see and hear Smith and Rigdon while in their vision, and as the two commented to each other about what they were witnessing. An observer recalled that he “saw the glory and felt the power, but did not see the vision,” for “Joseph sat firmly and calmly all the time in the midst of a magnificent glory.”38 This example shows that a heavenly ascent can sometimes be an inspired vision received while the recipient remains stationery, while the vision is yet completely effective in its the divine purpose.
Joseph Smith, Moses, and the Exodus Typology
It would be difficult to place too much emphasis on the importance of parallels in the experiences of Joseph Smith and Moses, of which the ascent is a most significant. The Book of Mormon contains an ancient prophecy from Joseph in Egypt, that a seer would come in his posterity that would be “like unto Moses” (2 Nephi 3:9; see also Moses 1:41, [Page 65]Doctrine and Covenants 28:2–3). The text is clear that Joseph Smith would be that seer. It is a prophecy in form similar to one given later by Moses himself, when he declared that “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet … like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken,” interpreted in the New Testament as Moses referring to the Savior Jesus Christ — an understanding verified also in the Book of Mormon by the Lord when He appeared to the Nephites.39 It follows that the reverse is also true, that Moses can be seen as a type “in the similitude” of Christ.40
Evident here is the importance of Joseph Smith’s responsibility in matters of both the Old and New Testaments as they each relate to the latter-day dispensation. Moses appeared to both the Savior and Joseph Smith in ascent and cosmic mountain settings when keys of authority were being conferred — the Savior at the Mount of Transfiguration, and Joseph Smith at the Kirtland Temple, where, from Moses, he received the keys for the latter-day gathering of Israel (Matthew 16:13–19, 17:1–9; Doctrine and Covenants 110:11). Like ancient temples, the Kirtland Temple was symbolic sacred space and the building can be seen as representing the cosmic mountain of heavenly ascent. It is well documented that at that temple many visions were experienced and power and authority received directly from the Lord Jesus Christ, Moses, and other heavenly beings.41
Noted throughout this paper are experiences of Joseph Smith that show he was “like unto Moses.” Doubtless many more will be recognized. This directs attention to the significance of what scholars have been studying as the “Exodus typology” or “Exodus pattern” recognized in the Bible, and recently studied as important in the Book of Mormon.42 [Page 66]The pattern is also worthy to receive recognition and consideration as it applies to Joseph Smith and the results of his revelations and leadership.43
Exodus typology can sometimes be seen in later biblical leaders and events.44 In an overview, Prof. David Daube, while giving many examples, writes:
To this day the narrative of the exodus inspires those who recount the disasters and salvations of Israel, ancient or modern, secular or spiritual. … As is well known, this habit of looking on the exodus as a prototype, as a mould in which other stories of rescue from ruin may be cast, goes back to the Bible itself. The account of Joshua’s crossing of the Jordan is full of elements designed to recall the crossing of the red sea under Moses. In the second century B.C. Ben-Sira prays for a repetition of “signs and wonders” — he means final redemption, thought of in terms of the exodus. Exactly that has come to pass, according to Acts,45 through Jesus — a second Moses, leading forth his people a second time.46
Ben-Sira represents the Second Temple era — the temple still existing at the time of Christ. While reinterpreting Exodus, it was still seen as following a precedent. Other New Testament studies have shown many reminders and allusions, and fulfillment through occurrences similar to those in the Mosaic period.47 The great fulfillment is in Christ, His teachings, law and covenant, and redemption. Recognizing Him [Page 67]as the ruler “Son of Man” as prophesied in Daniel 7:13–14, the gospel of Matthew is especially known for depicting Jesus and many New Testament events as similar to those of Moses and his time.48
The Book of Mormon teaches typology and has considerable examples of it.49 It solemnly declares that it provides “the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him” (2 Nephi 11:4). Accordingly, the book itself may be seen as a type of Christ, following the pattern of His history — including death, burial and resurrection.50 Prominent prophetic leaders in the Book of Mormon were recognized as repeating, with divine authority, many things recounted in Exodus and the Pentateuch. These relationships were seen as evidence of the authority they possessed, and are clearly expressed in the Book of Mormon.51
Joseph Smith’s reception of the keys of the gathering of Israel, directly from Moses, heralds his participation in the Exodus typology. Parallels to Moses are shown in such themes as the gathering of scattered Israel, the identification of the true God, revelation of God’s law and procedures, and reestablishment of the temple with covenants. The prediction of a prophet to come “like unto Moses” has
a dual fulfillment; it embraces both Christ’s first and second comings. It binds together the testimony of all the ancient holy [Page 68]prophets from Moses, who first gathered Israel to the covenant of salvation, to the latter-day prophet Joseph Smith, who was destined to stand at the head of the final great gathering to Christ. It seals the Old Testament to the New Testament and the testimony of the Old World to that of the New World.52
The Exodus pattern continued with the Church in the West under Brigham Young. In many ways it continues today, notably in continuing revelation, the latter-day gathering of Israel, the establishment and authoritative operation of temples with covenants, and anticipation of future gathering unto the Millennium — all with the restored fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.53
Ascent and Temple in the New Testament
There is growing recognition that the ancient temple and the concepts and practices related to it were of great significance to the Early Christians.54 This realization is supported by the extensive work of Margaret Barker. Her studies describe a “Temple Theology” which considers Christianity as having brought a restoration of the theology of the First Temple — Solomon’s Temple.55 That was, of course, the temple [Page 69]that came in fulfillment of what Moses began — an aspect of the Exodus typology. Barker explains that “the world of the temple was the world of the first Christians, and they expressed their faith in terms drawn almost exclusively from the temple.”56 Because of this, it is necessary to appreciate the importance of the ancient heavenly ascent concept in the New Testament, especially as it relates to the temple. This is essential to better understand the meaning of Joseph Smith’s experience as he recovered and translated the Book of Mormon. While many apocalyptic writings on the ascent concern Old Testament prophets, such accounts were preserved by early Christians or Jews, and the concept is pertinent in the New Testament as well. There, the book of Revelation, or Revelation of John, is an apocalyptic book, with heavenly ascent and revelation at the throne of God. Prominent is the heavenly book concept where, like Lehi in the Book of Mormon, the prophet is informed by having been given a book to read as part of the ascent experience.57
Most profound is the actual ascension of Christ to heaven after the Resurrection.58 Also notable is the Old Testament visionary concept of Jacob’s ladder, “a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12). This ladder of heavenly ascent is found also in the New Testament, where Jesus is its fulfillment and personification: “Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man” (John 1:51).59 Such references to the open heaven are of importance (for example, Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:8–11, Luke 3:21, Acts 7:56, Revelation 19:11, Ezekiel 1:1); as are the sacred events and revelations on mountain sites that represent the heavenly temple or court above. [Page 70]These would include the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36, 2 Peter 1:16–18) and of particular interest as related to ascent — the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7).
In a perceptive study of the Sermon on the Mount, John W. Welch has summarized the evidence for the first Christians seeing Moses as a type of Christ and the Sermon a revelation delivered from a sacred mount in parallel with that of Moses on Mount Sinai.60 His study also provides a remarkable and detailed analysis of the Sermon, showing its very close relationship to the themes of the ancient temple. Significantly, Welch finds that “temple themes provide an ultimate unity to the Sermon on the Mount by allowing readers to see it as an ascent text. More than ethical wisdom literature, … this text begins by placing its hearers in a lowly state and then, step by step, guides them to its climax at the end, entering the presence of God.”61
The Two Powers and the “Visions of Heaven”
Oliver Cowdery published an informative letter about Joseph Smith’s learning and experience while obtaining the Book of Mormon plates on Hill Cumorah’s heights.62 He presumably received details from Joseph and had his approval to publish them. Oliver describes Joseph’s first revelation from the angel Moroni as the prophet “having been rapt in the visions of heaven during the night, and also seeing and hearing in open day.”63 This shows his understanding that Joseph’s visionary experience was more extensive than only the nighttime visit of the angel from on high. Indeed, it was the beginning of Moroni’s instruction that continued the next day as he served as the angelic guide for Joseph’s heavenly ascent at Cumorah. Note that Oliver uses the term “visions of heaven” in connection with the angelic visitation in the upper room at Joseph’s home. This term is one that Joseph Smith used in regard to the First Vision and other open heaven- or ascent-related experiences. Following him, others of his associates used the term also, sometimes giving accounts of encounters and visions that exposed both the godly [Page 71]and the contrasting evil powers. This gave them more understanding of the opposition arrayed against them.
An example would be the occurrence that Joseph said was “the first miracle which was done in the Church” after its organization. This was his casting out of the Devil that had possessed Newel Knight, followed by Knight’s levitation to the top of the room in apparent similitude of a heavenly ascent. Joseph reported that Knight said he felt “a most pleasing sensation resting on me, and immediately the visions of heaven were opened to my view.”64 In that vision he “beheld the Lord Jesus Christ seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and had it made plain to his understanding, that the time would come when he would be admitted into his presence, to enjoy his society for ever and ever.”65 It appears to have been a visionary experience, not an actual ascent to heaven.
Another striking experience is that of Wilford Woodruff in the Kirtland Temple in 1837. He explained that he went there with two other brethren “for the purpose of worshiping God. We entered one of the stands within the veils & fell upon our knees & Satan appeared also but not to worship God but to deprive us of the privilege. Satan strove against us with great power … He at one time drove me from my stand while I was striving with my brethren to enter into the visions of heaven.” After earnest prayer “Satan departed. … The power of God rested upon us and … great things were shown unto us.”66
The Kirtland Temple was the scene of many visions, including Joseph Smith’s vision of the Celestial Kingdom in Doctrine and Covenants 137, and of the Lord Jesus Christ declaring His acceptance of the Temple, and ancient prophets, such as Moses conferring keys of authority in Doctrine and Covenants 110. Many others received visions there, as when Joseph brought together the High Councilors of Kirtland who were anointed. He recalled that “The visions of heaven were opened to them also. Some of them saw the face of the Savior, and others were administered to by holy angels … for we all communed with the heavenly host.”67
[Page 72]On Joseph’s ascent of the Hill Cumorah, he said it was to “where the messenger had told me the plates were deposited; and owing to the distinctness of the vision which I had had concerning it, I knew the place the instant I had arrived there.”68 This verifies that the angel Moroni had shown him a vision as part of his instruction. Oliver adds that “two invisible powers were operating on his mind during his walk from his residence to Cumorah, … the one urging the certainty of wealth and ease in this life, had so powerfully wrought upon him, that the great object so carefully and impressively named by the angel, had entirely gone from his recollection, … which occasioned a failure to obtain, at that time, the record.”69 Moroni, the angelic guide, appeared and explained to Joseph that he could not obtain it then, “Because you have not kept the commandments of the Lord.”70 The angel sought Joseph’s repentance because he was being tempted to seek for worldly riches rather than accomplish the purposes of God. Here again is illumination followed by temptation. Oliver Cowdery recounts that then and there on the Hill Joseph sought forgiveness as he looked to the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer and was blessed with another marvelous vision:
As he prayed darkness began to disperse from his mind and his soul lit up as it was the evening before, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit; and again did the Lord manifest his condescension and mercy: the heavens were opened and the glory of the Lord shone round about him and rested upon him. While he thus stood gazing and admiring, the angel said, “Look!” and as he thus spake he beheld the prince of darkness, surrounded by his innumerable train of associates. All this passed before him, and the heavenly messenger said, “All this is shown, the good and the evil, the holy and impure, the glory of God and the power of darkness, that you may know hereafter the two powers and never be influenced or overcome by that wicked one.”71
This vision reveals another similarity between experiences of Joseph Smith and Moses. Cowdery could be recognizing here the likeness to Moses when he used the term “glory of the Lord,” which is used in [Page 73]Exodus 24:16–17 in describing the Lord giving revelation to Moses at Mount Sinai. The concept also appears in the Book of Moses, where “the glory of God was upon Moses” after being “caught up into an exceedingly high mountain” (Moses 1:1–2) and “the glory of the Lord was upon Moses, so that Moses stood in the presence of God” (Moses 1:31). The term is commonly used when the presence of the Lord is evident (for example, Exodus 16:10–11, Leviticus 9:4–6, Numbers 14:10, 2 Nephi 1:15; cf. Doctrine and Covenants 76:20, Joseph Smith — History 1:17).
Both Moses and Joseph had revelation upon a cosmic mount where the two powers were both impressively manifested and contrasted. For Moses, this contrast is found in Moses 1:1–16. Joseph also experienced this contrast in his First Vision. He said he was then “seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, … power from an actual being from the unseen world,” an “enemy” that held him bound until the appearance of the Father and Son in their “brightness and glory” (Joseph Smith — History 1:15–17). Such visions helped prepare him for the great opposition he faced after he received the Book of Mormon plates. They provided him a rich understanding of the opposing forces in what can be called the “Doctrine of the Two Ways”: “From its opening pages to the end, the Bible describes a bifurcated world in which God bids, commands, and teaches the people he has created to follow him in the way of righteousness, and in which the devil leads people into wickedness.”72 This teaching is also found prominently in the Book of Mormon.73 There it is held that “it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11).
Joseph’s first attempt to get the plates occurred September 22, 1823.74 He said the angel informed him that
The time for bringing them forth had not yet arrived, neither would it, until four years from that time; but he told me that I should come to that place precisely in one year, … and that he would there meet with me, and that I should continue to do so until the time should come for obtaining the plates. Accordingly,… I went at the end of each year, and at each time [Page 74]I found the same messenger there, and received instruction and intelligence from him at each of our interviews, respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days (Joseph Smith — History 1:53–54).
These few words nevertheless summarize a revelatory experience of wide scope and importance. The repetitive nature of Moroni’s appearances, both in his first visits, and in making yearly instructional visits at the richly symbolic time of the autumnal equinox,75 suggests a ritual procedure with symbolic significance. Joseph’s climb to meet the angel at the elevated site where the plates were buried can surely be understood as a ritual heavenly ascent. It was an ascent that culminated in the actual visit of an angel at a place made sacred by his presence and the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thereby a meeting at the ritual equivalent to the court of heaven above. It is clearly reminiscent of what the ancient High Priest did in making an annual visit to the temple to seek revelation in the sacred space of the Holy of Holies where the revealed and engraved law was kept. Since the temple is “an architectural cosmic mountain, entrance into the holy of holies [by the High Priest] symbolizes ascent to the summit of God’s holy mountain.”76 Joseph’s experience foreshadowed his receipt and use of the same priesthood authority and was part of his preparation for that service and responsibility.
The annual meetings would have been important for Joseph Smith’s understanding and development. There is an example of the detailed type of instruction Moroni could give in the description of his first meetings with Joseph. The yearly visits probably were likewise detailed, and doubtless included the receipt of visions for his instruction as occurred in the angel’s first visits. Thus, Oliver Cowdery observed in reference to these meetings:
When God manifests to his servants those things that are to come, or those which have been, he does it by unfolding them by the power of that Spirit which comprehends all things, always; and so much may be shown and made perfectly plain [Page 75]to the understanding in a short time, that to the world, who are occupied all their life to learn a little, look at the relation of it, and are disposed to call it false. You will understand then, by this, that while those glorious things were being rehearsed, the vision was also opened, so that our brother was permitted to see and understand much more full and perfect than I am able to communicate in writing … [which is] but a shadow, compared to an open vision of seeing, hearing and realizing eternal things.77
Joseph Smith explained that “could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.”78 His received instructions and visions may include those things which were intended to be taught to others, and other things which were indescribable or that he must keep to himself for his own awareness. The Apostle Paul tells of a man, “How that he was caught up to paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:2–4). In the Book of Mormon, Nephi said that in a mountain ascent vision, under angelic direction, “mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them” (2 Nephi 4:24–25; cf. 3 Nephi 17:17, 19:32–34). In light of such comments, Joseph probably received much reserved instruction and visions that he did not attempt to include in his written history, and understandings he was not allowed to share with others until a later time. This may explain why, in describing what he learned from the Lord in his First Vision, Joseph said, “many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time” (Joseph Smith — History 1:20). Elsewhere he said, “I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.”79
Following the four years of preparation, Joseph Smith recalled that it was “after having received many visits from the angels of God unfolding the majesty, and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days, on the morning of 22nd of September A. D. 1827, the angel of the Lord [Page 76]delivered the records into my hands.”80 Historian Alexander Baugh has emphasized that “these visits occurred before he obtained the plates in September 1827 and thus took place concurrently with his years of instruction by Moroni at Cumorah.”81 He quotes from close associates of Joseph Smith who stated that he had many angels come to teach him during this period, including leading prophets from dispensations past.82
The Ritual Significance of September 22, 1827
Scholars have discussed the importance of the date when Joseph Smith received the plates of the Book of Mormon. “Moroni’s annual visits occurred generally around the time of the Israelite harvest festival season. … In 1827, when Moroni finally delivered the plates to Joseph (Joseph Smith — History 1:59), his timing on September 22 coincided exactly with Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Feast of Trumpets.”83 This feast was the beginning of the ancient Israelite autumn festival season as set forth in the 23rd chapter of Leviticus.84 It was followed each season by the feast “Day of Atonement” (Yom Kippur), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) … together called the High Holy Days. These ritual Feasts are richly symbolic, and most meaningful in regard to the coming forth and purposes of the Book of Mormon and the latter-day fulfillment of prophecy.85 They provided a cosmic ritual procedure that “connects the temporal terrestrial times of temple performances with [Page 77]the eternal celestial cycles, that all may be done on earth as it is in the heavens.”86
When the angel Moroni first appeared to Joseph Smith, “he quoted from the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, saying that it was about to be fulfilled” (Joseph Smith — History 1:40). That passage contained a prophecy of the latter-days when God “shall set up an ensign for the nations, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:12).”87 From the early days of the Church it has been well recognized that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was an ensign or sacred sign — a herald of the gathering of Israel.88 Joseph, of course, was soon given authority of the keys of the gathering from Moses in the Kirtland Temple (Doctrine and Covenants 110:11), and it is yet a very important purpose of the Church.
The feasts of the High Holy Days were significant in the New Testament when important events in the life of Christ occurred during such festivals.89 Also, “The three fall feasts portray events to be associated with His second coming.”90 The Book of Mormon has much to say about the feasts, notably as discussed in King Benjamin’s speech to a people who were living under the law of Moses and observed that law.91 In regard [Page 78]to Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon in the latter days, the feasts in sequence may be seen as having the effect of prophesying of events he and the Church were to experience. Many of these are a repetition of Old Testament events, as well as those in Early Christianity. Here again, Joseph is a prophet like Moses in what he taught and established from on high.
The Feast of Trumpets represented many sacred considerations. The Trumpet sound was a call for Israel to remember origins and covenants from the time when the trumpet sounded to call Moses to receive revelation in his ascent at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:19–20). It was a call to repentance and renewal of covenants, and signified the revelation of the correct law after it had been lost in the Exile. The restoration under Joseph Smith is similar. This festival celebrated the autumn agricultural harvest, and also looked to the great final harvest and gathering of souls in preparation for the Messianic age and the Judgment. The trumpet, harvest and gathering themes appeared in many of Joseph Smith’s early revelations (Doctrine and Covenants 4:4, 12:3, 14:3–4, 29:4, 30:9, 33:2–7, 101:64–65).
The Day of Atonement followed and represented a time when repentance would bring forgiveness and reconciliation with God. It was memorable of the ancient temple and of the High Priest annually on this festival day when he entered the Holy of Holies to seek the presence of God. Jewish “Worshippers on Yom Kippur believe they spiritually enter the Holy of Holies, symbolic of entering God’s presence, and that this sacred time permits them their ‘highest and deepest communion with God.’”92
The Feast of Tabernacles represented a time of great fulfillment when God was richly blessing His gathered covenant people, and the many benefits and ritual functions of a temple were available. The tabernacles were the booths or tents of the gathering people who faced and surrounded the Tabernacle prepared by Moses as God directed.93 It was called the “Tabernacle of the congregation,” a tent that served [Page 79]as a temporary or provisional temple that was nonetheless effective as such.94 In this case it was portable as needed then, but doubtless in their wanderings the Israelites looked to the time when they would be settled and have a more permanent building. When Solomon’s temple was dedicated, this feast was a prominent feature, and trumpets and singers were heard “praising and thanking the Lord” (1 Kings 8:1–3; 2 Chronicles 5:2–6, 13). Most important is the trumpet call and the harvest gathering of Israel and the Church, with the return of the temple and its covenant blessings. This is symbolized in the statue of an angel sounding the trump on many Latter-day Saint temples — like the call to repentance by that angel foreseen by John to restore the everlasting gospel and warn of the coming Judgment (Revelation 14:6–7).
A Sign and Witness in the Heavens
Another event, which occurred on September 22, 1827, provides striking evidence of the significance of the date when Joseph Smith received the plates. It was a vision in the heavens seen in Mendon, New York, by several persons who lived near each other and who were later prominent converts to the Church after the Book of Mormon was translated and published. The vision was reported by Heber C. Kimball:
I had retired to bed, when John P. Greene, who was living within a hundred steps of my house, came … calling upon me to come out and behold the scenery in the heavens. I woke up and called my wife and Sister Fanny Young (sister to Brigham Young), who was living with us, and we went out-of-doors. … We looked to the eastern horizon, and beheld a white smoke arise toward the heavens; as it ascended it formed itself into a belt, and made a noise like the sound of a mighty wind, and continued southwest, forming a regular bow dipping in the western horizon. … It grew wide enough to contain twelve men abreast. In this bow an army moved, commencing from the east and marching to the west; they continued marching until they reached the western horizon. … The most profound order existed … every man stepped at the same time; I could hear the steps. When the front rank reached the western horizon a battle ensued, as we could [Page 80]distinctly hear the report of arms and the rush. No man could judge of my feelings when I beheld that army of men, as plainly as ever I saw armies of men in the flesh. … This scenery we gazed upon for hours, until it began to disappear. After I became acquainted with Mormonism, I learned that this took place the same evening that Joseph Smith received the records of the Book of Mormon from the angel Moroni, who held those records in his possession. … The next night similar scenery was beheld in the west by the neighbors, representing armies of men who were engaged in battle.95
Brigham Young also saw the vision, although he was some 45 miles away at his home near Fort Byron. He recalled: “The night the plates were found, there was a great light in the East and it went to the West and it was very bright although there was no moon at the time. I gazed at it in company with my wife. The light was perfectly clear and remained several hours. It formed into men as if there were great armies in the West; and I then saw in the northwest armies of men come up. … It was a very remarkable occurrence.”96 “John Young, Sen., and John P. Greene’s wife, Rhoda, were also witnesses,” and Young declared, “it’s one of the signs of the coming of the Son of Man.”97 Orson F. Whitney, later to be called as an Apostle, gave his interpretation when he published Kimball’s account of the vision: “The heavens were bestirring themselves. The invisible world was up in arms. Truth and Error were taking the field. The latter-day conflict had begun. The signs of the coming of the Son of Man were showing themselves in the heavens.”98 He saw it as a “wonderful foreshadowing, truly, of the warfare to be waged between the powers of good and evil, from the time Truth sprang from earth and Righteousness looked down from heaven upon the boy Joseph, predestined to bring to light the buried records of the past.”99
[Page 81]Triumph Over Ritual Folk Magic
As portended by the heavenly vision, the conflict between good and evil was underway for Joseph Smith as it became known that he had the plates. He related that “no sooner was it known that I had them, than the most strenuous exertions were used to get them from me. Every stratagem that could be invented was resorted to for that purpose” (Joseph Smith — History, 1:60). He added that “persecution … became so intolerable that I was under the necessity of leaving Manchester, and going with my wife to Susquehanna county, in the state of Pennsylvania.” This would place them near his wife Emma’s parents. In his poverty, Joseph was helped by Martin Harris to make the move (Joseph Smith — History, 1:61).100
Much of the opposition that Joseph faced, which forced him to move to a new location, was from those who knew him when he and his family were involved in what has been termed “folk magic” or “folk ritual,” which was very prevalent at the time.101 It was considered normal by many people at that period.102 Joseph was known even then for his gift [Page 82]of seership and the use of seer stones.103 This resulted in his participation with those who attempted to find and unearth buried treasure by ritual and spiritual procedures, sometimes considered “magical.” Many persons were engaged in this practice.104 They were often called “money diggers,” especially by those who ridiculed them. Some who had associated with Joseph caused him serious trouble as they sought to find and obtain the plates. They claimed they had as much right to them as Joseph did.105 Their determination shows they had a strong belief that Joseph could have the plates, and that it was possible to obtain buried treasure by their ritual and spiritual practices. To illustrate, Mother Lucy Smith recalled a significant occurrence when “ten or twelve men were clubbed together, with one Willard Chase, a Methodist class leader at their head; and what was still most ridiculous, they had sent sixty or seventy miles for a certain conjuror to come and divine the place where the plates were secreted, by magic art.”106
Four years of instruction and receipt of the plates marked a crucial time for Joseph, as he had to learn to use his spiritual gifts only for the [Page 83]purposes of God. Earlier, his father, in a court setting, is reported to have testified of Joseph’s
wonderful triumph as a seer. He described very many instances of his finding hidden and stolen goods. He swore that both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures, … that his constant prayer to his Heavenly Father was to manifest his will concerning this marvelous power.107
Martin Harris recalled that “Joseph said the angel told him he must quit the company of the money-diggers. That there were wicked men among them. He must have no more to do with them.”108 His was a challenging and difficult transition from a time of temptation, and a great achievement in his life.109
The opposition arrayed against Joseph Smith at this juncture was from persons involved in treasure seeking. It became a contest between good and evil, the results of which were better exposed by the results of the ritual, manifesting which side had the greater power and godliness (cf. Doctrine and Covenants 84:20). These encounters can be seen as a ritual contest, with Joseph bringing forth the greater treasure in the Book of Mormon. It also provides a basis better to compare Joseph’s encounter and contest with that experienced by other prophets anciently, and even identifies another important way Joseph Smith was like Moses. In the case of Moses, he won his contest with the Priests of Pharoah with their counterfeit authority, “beating them at their own game,” so to speak. Elijah, Peter, and Christ triumphed in similar contests — Christ overcoming the greatest ritual contest of all in the crucifixion and resurrection.110
[Page 84]Martin Harris was important in assisting Joseph to move to Pennsylvania. Harris was an “honorable New York farmer,” much respected in his community.111 When he learned that Joseph had the plates, he earnestly sought to learn about them, inquired much of the Smith family, and made it a matter of prayer. He said that God “showed me that it was his work … by the still small voice spoken in the soul. Then I was satisfied that it was the Lord’s work, and I was under covenant to bring it forth.”112 Joseph Smith recalled: “we moved to Susquehanna by the assistance of a man by the name of Martin Harris who became convinced of the visions and gave me fifty Dollars to bear my expenses.”113 Joseph then recorded a matter of great importance, that Martin “because of his faith and this righteous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and showed unto him his marvelous work which he was about to do.” 114 This explains his strong motivation, and reveals the close guidance of the Lord in arranging the translation of the Book of Mormon.115 The history continues: Martin then came immediately to Susquehanna and said that the Lord showed him he must go to Eastern cities and show to the learned the characters from the plates.116 What he showed them is now referred to as the “Anthon Transcript,” after Prof. Charles Anthon of Columbia College in New York, who has left his account of meeting with Martin Harris, as discussed below. After his journey, Martin returned to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to serve as a scribe to assist Joseph in the translation.
[Page 85]Ritual and Temple Aspects of the Book of Mormon Translation
Since the plates of the Book of Mormon became available and ready for translation by ritual procedures, it is important to recognize how this continued during the translation. These arrangements help establish that what was done was carried out under divine and angelic direction.117 At the time he began the translation, Joseph Smith was in great poverty, yet under strict warning by the angel not to use the golden plates for gain, nor to show them to unauthorized persons (Joseph Smith — History 1:42–46; cf. Mormon 8:14–16). He had to use what was at hand at the very small house where he stayed. It was reported that in the early period of the translation, Joseph had a blanket or curtain hanging between him and his scribe, “apparently used at an early point to shield the scribe from a view of the plates, spectacles, or breastplate.”118 These restrictions are reminiscent of those anciently that limited access to the resurrected Christ — restricted to witnesses authorized by the Lord. They are in accord with the concept of seeing the Book of Mormon as a type of Christ.119
Martin Harris served as scribe during an early time of the translation. It is notable how the term was used anciently in literature among the Jews, where “there is clearly some significant factor inherent in the standing of ‘scribes’ that marks so many of them out as suitable recipients of direct divine revelation.”120 Clearly, at important times in his life, Martin Harris was so inspired, and at the time he was scribe he was soon to be one of the official witnesses who were shown the plates by the angel and by the voice of the Lord commanded to bear record of it. Their testimony is printed in editions of the Book of Mormon. Over his lifetime, Martin Harris was many times an informed witness for the Book of Mormon.121 Virtually all that is known about the setting and arrangement for the translation while he was scribe has come from [Page 86]him. Interestingly, it is in accounts from critical persons with whom he discussed it that his description has been preserved.122 While they gave a negative interpretation, their accounts are in basic agreement, and these persons unintentionally provide a basis for recognizing the reality of an important revelatory activity at the translation.123
Rev. John A. Clark, a minister in Palmyra, New York who had interviewed Harris about his experience, claimed that “Smith concealed behind the blanket, pretended to look through his spectacles, or transparent stones, and would then write down or repeat what he saw, which, when repeated aloud, was written down by Harris, who sat on the other side of the suspended blanket.”124 This was his negative interpretation and gratuitous assertion to have it appear that in having the blanket, Joseph was deceiving his scribe in what he claimed to have and do. This Clark said, despite what must have been a fervent witness by Harris after the divine revelations he had received.125 Apparently Harris witnessed to people wherever he went. Clark said that what Harris communicated to him he also did “subsequently to scores of people in the village.”126 This may account for the description in the Palmyra Reflector, where the editor, in a series of articles, mocked Joseph Smith [Page 87]and his work. In one derisive article it was said that “Harris declares, that when he acted as amanuensis,127 and wrote the translation, as Smith dictated, such was his fear of the Divine displeasure that a screen (sheet) was suspended between the prophet and himself.”128 This description, in a critical newspaper, is the first mention of how the two men were separated during translation.129
There is a very different way to interpret the arrangement with the blanket or curtain that is enlightening and meaningful in the circumstances. It is clear that God placed his approval on this modest house and arrangement by conducting there a most important, extensive, and sacred activity. To begin the translation with Harris, in his humble situation Joseph could have arranged the space in an intentional pattern to shield the sacred from unauthorized view, but also to provide a veil, a curtain which was the most essential symbol of the temple.130 The temple veil separated “the inner sanctuary or Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies,” and where “inner surfaces are said to have been gilded,” to represent “heaven on earth.”131 With Joseph, the golden plates and other relics provided symbols of celestial light and glory at the heavenly place of God’s throne, for gold often represented heavenly things. The basic symbolism of the temple veil and setting is clear: “Those who passed through the curtain passed from earth to heaven or from heaven to earth.”132
In another report of how Harris described the setting, Prof. Anthon, who was visited by Harris in New York, gave some detail not included in Rev. Clark’s summary. It appears in an 1834 letter to the editor of Mormonism Unvailed — in what may have been the first “anti-Mormon” book. Anthon recalled:
[Page 88]This young man was placed behind a curtain, in the garret of a farm house, and, being thus concealed from view, put on the spectacles occasionally, or rather looked through one of the glasses, deciphered the characters in the book, and, having committed some of them to paper, handed copies from behind the curtain, to those who stood on the outside.133
At the time of meeting with Anthon, only a page of characters had been copied by Joseph. Later the translation was written down by Harris on the other side of the veil. That the translation activity between Joseph Smith and Martin Harris took place in the garret is an important consideration, which I will explain later in this paper. A garret is defined in Webster’s dictionary at the time as “That part of a house which is on the upper floor, immediately under the roof.”134 A later resident in the small house described it thus:
The Joseph Smith home was built of lumber having two rooms downstairs. … When entering the house, one came into a hallway and there a stairway led up to an attic or loft. The east end of this loft was boarded off into a room with a window looking toward the east. I was told that Joseph Smith did a lot of writing in this room.135
Even in the great simplicity of Joseph’s arrangement, the vertical typology is notable. As well as the veil, the ladder of heavenly ascent, the upper room and the eastward orientation all may be seen as symbolic of the temple.
[Page 89]Joseph Smith’s Provisional Veil and its Ritual Significance
There is impressive evidence that Joseph Smith meant to represent the temple veil in the placement of a curtain between him and his scribe. In addition to the recollections reviewed above, it is indicated by the remarkable number of symbolic features and associations in the arrangement — altogether specialized and most appropriate to his prophetic calling and purposes.136 Likely it was done in continuation of the angelic direction he had been receiving. It shows an intense recognition of basic matters related to the temple at an early time in Joseph’s history. How long he had this arrangement is not known, but it appears to have been primarily at the time Martin Harris was scribe. Probably to proceed in a more convenient way, Joseph conducted the translation somewhat differently when Oliver Cowdery became scribe, but he may well have retained the veil at the room to keep temple similarity in the setting. He did do this in later functions described below. With Harris, if even for a brief time, it was a symbol that helped witness the sacred nature of the translation effort and the divine approval of it. In one act it provided a symbolic reminder of sacred events in the past, showed the inspired purpose of what was proceeding at the time, and was an anticipation of things to come concerning the temple.137 It appears to have been a rite or ordinance for the prophet to perform, marking his authority and calling to do the work. Important considerations would include:
- The designation and creation of sacred space.138 The translation of the Book of Mormon was a most sacred activity, and “it isn’t the temple which makes their rites [Page 90]sacred; it is the rites that make the temple sacred.”139 Joseph Smith’s designation of sacred space provided a sanctuary, a holy place of refuge and safety where sacred procedures could be done.
- The concept of the “Upper Room.” A term for sacred space where such activity occurred, as at the Last Supper. It was used then and elsewhere by the Early Christians as in the day of Pentecost, and also in Latter-day Saint temples and other sacred places. It may apply here. Usage reflects elevation and the vertical typology.
- A ritual heavenly ascent. The Psalms offer insight on the practice of heavenly ascent in biblical times.140 They refer to a complex of very great importance: “LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?” and “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?”141 In relation to questions such as these, the significance of the basic symbol of the temple veil, as noted above, should receive great appreciation: “Those who passed through the curtain passed from earth to heaven or from heaven to earth.”142 Mortals can aspire to heavenly ascent, and temples provide inspiration, preparation and a ceremonial anticipation.
- Similarities to the Holy of Holies. There was much in both Joseph Smith’s arrangement and his sacred activity that created sacred space like the Holy of Holies. In many respects, there was a recurrence of some of the type of actions done and experienced in the ancient Holy of Holies. The high priest was permitted to enter and to seek the presence of the Lord and to receive revelation for his people.148 Of Martin Harris it was reported: “He says he wrote a considerable part of the book, as Smith dictated, and at one time the presence of the Lord was so great, that a screen was hung up between him and the Prophet.”149 Joseph Smith had received with the plates and still possessed them during the translation, [Page 92]important objects associated with the ancient high priest. These included the Urim and Thummim and breastplate (Joseph Smith — History 1:35). At this stage in Joseph’s prophetic calling, he functioned in significant respects like that high priest in a Holy of Holies. Joseph behind the veil betokened the return of divine authority. Nearby, at the hands of heavenly authorities, he was ordained to have the priesthood on a permanent basis (Joseph Smith — History 1:68–72).
- A representative Ark of the Covenant. In his holy space beyond the veil, Joseph Smith had the golden plates of the Book of Mormon and other sacred and memorial relics. They were in a wooden chest he obtained to receive the items from the ancient Nephites that were buried at Cumorah.150 I infer that his attitude and that of Martin Harris toward this chest and its contents show that they regarded it as a sacred counterpart to the wooden chest of the biblical Ark of the Covenant.151 A symbol of access to God’s presence and revelation, it was not so ornate or covered with gold, but it did have the golden plates and other items helpful to Joseph at the time. Notably, a most prominent thing about the original Ark is that it contained the law and engraved Decalogue, the Ten Commandments essential to the Covenant. The engraved golden plates also contained the Decalogue,152 and other parts of the law of Moses had by the Nephites.153 Emphasis on the law marks the plates and the Book of Mormon as a witness of the Covenant being established by the Lord in the new dispensation. “In its unparalleled focus on the Messianic message of the Savior of the world, the Book of Mormon is [Page 93]rightly referred to as God’s ‘new covenant’ with the house of Israel.”154 It underscores the very Christian nature of what Joseph Smith was called to do, and how relationships with the ancient dispensation are interpreted.155
- Reception and reading of a Heavenly Book. In the first chapter of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi experiences an ascent to the heavenly realm. He is given a book to read, like prophets in apocalyptic accounts, receiving information and teachings needed to enlighten the people when returning to them.156 Of very important interest for the Book of Mormon is the motif of the “Heavenly Book,” such as Lehi was given to read in connection with his ascent. “The heavenly book motif … appears throughout the Judeo-Christian scriptures, but it truly comes into its own in apocalypses, where it is ubiquitous.”157 In his classic study of this concept, the Swedish scholar Widengren found that “few religious ideas in the Ancient Near East have played a more important role than the notion of the Heavenly Tablets, or the Heavenly Book, … the oft-recurring thought that the Heavenly Book is handed over at the ascension in an interview with a heavenly being.”158 Joseph Smith received such from the angel Moroni in his ritual heavenly ascent at Cumorah. While translating, he had an experience similar to that of other prophets as he [Page 94]read from the Book of Mormon while in the ritual equivalent of the heavenly realm. The writings assist him on the other side of the veil as he descends from heaven to earth to teach his followers. That he obtained and possessed writing and teachings from above helps provide evidence of his divine authority and doctrinal truth. Widengren commented that the Heavenly Book is “the external sign of initiation into the heavenly secrets.”159
- The Descent and “Incarnation” of the Lord and the Book. In my essay that describes how the Book of Mormon typifies Christ by passing through similar and symbolic events, I discussed how the descent and incarnation of the Lord can be considered as having a counterpart in the Book.160 When the translated words went from one side of the veil to the other, from a ritual viewpoint the Book descended from heaven to earth. John’s gospel says that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Following their impression of John’s statement, at times Christians have deemed the Bible to be an incarnation, or an embodiment of the teachings from above in a form compatible on earth.161 This is an interesting and plausible analogy. Some early Christian writers considered Christ as text.162 Being closely associated with the Heavenly Book, the Lord can be seen as the personification of it, possessing and expressing the wisdom and teachings from above. As with biblical scriptures, the Book of Mormon, as a Heavenly Book, may [Page 95]be regarded as descended to an “incarnation” parallel to that of the Lord.
- Protection of the sacred. Joseph Smith first saw the golden plates where they had been deposited, buried at Cumorah. He tried to take them, but was forbidden by the angel.163 “On attempting to take possession of the record a shock was produced upon his system, by an invisible power, which deprived him … of his natural strength.”164 The angel then began a four-year revelatory teaching procedure to prepare him to be able and worthy to receive the plates and the relics with them. The Book of Mormon contained a warning for the latter-day translator, which stressed that the sacred objects should only be shown as authorized by the Lord.165 When Joseph received the plates, he was given this charge from the angel: “I should be responsible for them; that if I should let them go carelessly, or through any neglect of mine, I should be cut off; but that if I would use all my endeavors to preserve them, until he, the messenger, should call for them, they should be protected.”166
- Evidence of intense spirituality. Placement of the provisional veil not only looked forward to temple blessings, but also was a witness of spirituality being experienced during the inaugural period of the restoration. This continued when Oliver Cowdery became scribe after Harris. As cited above, as with Harris, the Lord had appeared to him to call him to assist Joseph. The important priesthood restoration occurred to him and Joseph at the hands of heavenly beings, and he served as scribe during the greater part of the translation. Because they became unwelcome in Harmony, Pennsylvania, they desired to move. They sought assistance from David Whitmer, an interested friend of Oliver. He came and helped, and arranged for them to use an upstairs room in the Whitmer family home in Fayette, New York. He assisted in many ways while they were there,171 and was soon to be baptized at that home. There the translation of the Book of Mormon was completed and the Church was organized. Experiences at the Whitmer home show that they were in a room designated as sacred space, as was the one in Harmony. Joseph referred to it as a “chamber” where [Page 97]“the voice of God” was heard.172 David Whitmer recalled the reverence: “Each time before resuming the work all present would kneel in prayer and invoke the Divine blessing on the proceeding.”173 David’s mother, Mary Musselman Whitmer, was shown the plates by the angel Moroni to assure her that what was being done in her home was true and sacred.174 Many things occurred there that show continuation of the very spiritual nature of the work.
The ascent experience of Moses at the Cosmic Mountain of Sinai was followed by his establishment of a Tabernacle, as directed by the Lord (Exodus 25:1–9).143 It functioned as a [Page 91]“portable Sinai” and “the means by which a continued avenue of communication with God could be maintained.”144 Joseph Smith could maintain such also, for with him the heavens were open145 and an “open canon” of revelation had begun.
The Tabernacle contained a Holy of Holies, and during Israel’s travels offered the functions and blessings of a temple, looking to the time when a more permanent temple would be available. In another way he was “like unto Moses”: Joseph Smith also had an arrangement that was a temple forerunner. It provided a tabernacle-like function and a portable or remote Cumorah — his Cosmic Mountain of heavenly ascent where revelation was received.146 Entrance into the sacred space of the Holy of Holies was the ritual equivalent of such an ascent.147
Joseph’s protective actions that limited access or view show that he recognized the gravity and seriousness of the matter. He would have been aware that in the strictness of Old Testament times, access to the Tabernacle or to the Ark of the Covenant without permission was punishable by death.167 The angel had said to him that when he received the plates, “I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed.”168 As scribe, Martin Harris was also sensitive to this. Of the translation Interpreters or Urim and Thummim, he said, “We had a command to let no man look into them, except by the command of God, lest he should ‘look aught and perish,’” adding that the “plates were kept from the sight [Page 96]of the world, and no one, save Oliver Cowdery, myself, Joseph Smith, Jr., and David Whitmer, ever saw them.”169 Together with Joseph, these became official witnesses who testified that they were shown the plates by the angel, and heard the voice of the Lord commanding them to bear record of the truth of the translation and the work.170
Translation at the Whitmer Home
Some arrangements for the conduct of the translation differed at the new location.175 There was not a curtain between Joseph Smith and scribe. According to an interview with David Whitmer, “In order to give privacy to the proceeding, a blanket, which served as a portière,176 was stretched across the family living room to shelter the translators and the plates from the eyes of any who might call at the house while the work was in progress. This … was the only use made of the blanket, and it was not for the purpose of concealing the plates or the translator from the eyes of the amanuensis.”177 Nevertheless, in the very small house, it could still be considered as having a temple-like veil function which limited access, observation, or interruption of the sacred activity in the upper room. Some close persons were allowed. David Whitmer’s sister Elizabeth, wife of Oliver Cowdery the scribe, described the translation procedure there:
I cheerfully certify that I was familiar with the manner of Joseph Smith’s translating the Book of Mormon. He translated the most of it at my Father’s house. And I often sat by and saw and heard them translate and write for hours together. Joseph [Page 98]never had a curtain drawn between him and his scribe while he was translating. He would place the director in his hat, and then place his [face in his] hat, so as to exclude the light, and then [read] to his scribe the words as they appeared before him.178
It is important to note that “Elizabeth asserts that the translation at the Whitmer home was performed using the translation instrument in the hat, thus eliminating any need for a curtain to shield the Nephite interpreters and the plates from view.”179 Joseph may not even be reading directly from the plates at this time, but received the translation through his seer stone with his face covered. This supports the belief that he was not reading from a manuscript, but receiving revelation. Further, Elizabeth’s mention that there was no curtain between him and scribe applies to the time of her observation: “The fact that Elizabeth felt the need to make such a statement at all strongly implies that there was still a story in circulation among the Latter-day Saints that a curtain was used in the translation process.”180 It is not a denial of the veil between Joseph and Martin Harris earlier.
Oliver B. Huntington recorded in his journal his conversation with Sarah Conrad who was a young housekeeper who lived and worked in the Whitmer home. She was there
when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were translating the Book of Mormon in the upper room of the house, and she, only a girl, saw them come down from the translating room several times when they looked so exceedingly white and strange that she inquired of Mrs. Whitmer the cause of their unusual appearance, but Mr. Whitmer was unwilling to tell the hired girl, the true cause as it was a sacred holy event connected with a holy sacred work which was opposed and persecuted by nearly every one who heard of it. The girl felt so strangely at seeing so strange and unusual appearance, she finally told Mrs. Whitmer that she would not stay with her until she knew the cause of the strange looks of these men. Sister Whitmer then told her what the men were doing in the room above and that the power of God was so great in the [Page 99]room that they could hardly endure it; at times angels were in the room in their glory which nearly consumed them.181
Sarah Conrad soon joined the Church and remained faithful; “She would eventually marry in the church, come west with the Saints, and die in Provo, Utah at the age of 92.”182 Very significant is her account of seeing Joseph and Oliver with shining faces as they came down from the symbolic equivalent of the cosmic mount. It lends credence to her report that it is known that many others saw Joseph’s “radiance of countenance” at times when he was inspired.183 It is another evidence of the intense spirituality of the translation effort, and also another way Joseph was like Moses, whose face was shining as he came down from his ascent to Mount Sinai.184 It provides a reminder that the Savior’s “face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light,” as on the Mount of Transfiguration.185
The Symbol of the Garret and Temple Relatedness
It cannot be determined whether the term garret is a description chosen by Martin Harris or by Prof. Anthon, who interviewed him. Anthon used it in his report about the place of translation described to him by Harris. Nevertheless, it is striking how not only its principal meaning, which allows it to be seen as an upper room, but also an additional connotation applies to Joseph Smith. At the time, Webster defined garreteer as “an inhabitant of a garret; a poor author.”186 Compare Collins English Dictionary: “[A] person who lives in a garret, especially a penniless writer.” Joseph was a garreteer indeed, for he began the translation at a time of great poverty in his life.187 Virtually destitute at times when he [Page 100]produced the translated Book of Mormon, he had to go to great lengths to demonstrate his desire for true riches — the riches of eternity.
It is impressive that the introduction of the term garret brings to mind other associations that point to an important aspect of the temple. The word derives from the concept of a watchtower and is related to garrison, which in turn reflects ideas of safety, defending, guarding and protecting.188 Margaret Barker has noted that the ancient temple Holy of Holies “was often described in the same way as a tower or a watchtower.”189 Hugh Nibley has written of the temple that “in this world it must serve as a fortress, a ‘safe house,’ sheltered place or marshaling area — note the buttresses and battlements190 and the garden walls of all our older temples. The security is guaranteed by God himself, who will both decide and execute whatever smiting and fighting needs to be done.”191
A study of the symbolism that can be seen on the exterior of the Salt Lake temple provides a witness of what Nibley affirmed.192 This is summarized in a section of that study entitled Symbolism of Guardedness:
Many symbols relating to the temple, both physical and functional, communicate that the teachings and rituals of the temple are guarded and exclusive. The very architecture and physical orientation of the temple express this aspect. For example, narrow doorways and solid granite walls up to sixteen feet thick crowned with battlements and crenellated [Page 101]towers193 … manifest protectiveness toward the sacred functions that take place within the building.194
Because of persecution and dangers, Joseph Smith moved from Palmyra to Harmony and later to the Whitmer home, and to the sacred space in which he worked at each place. It provided him the inspiration, guardedness and protection of the temple while he translated the Book of Mormon.
Answers in Joseph Smith’s Ritual Procedures
This review of ritual matters in Joseph Smith’s prophetic life can contribute to answering current questions and ongoing critical accusations, such as
|Ritual or Symbolic Purpose
|Blanket or curtain placed to deceive scribes.
|Creation of sacred holy space with a veil. Provisional Holy of Holies restoration.
|Association with folk magic practices.
|Prophet’s triumph over a ritual contest: similar to Moses, Elijah, Peter and Christ.
|One of many visionaries in the time period.
|Joseph’s were more complete, ongoing, and consistent with ancient ascent patterns.
|Temple rites were copied from Freemasonry.
|Early Christian beliefs, covenants restored.
As pertaining to the final item on the above list, a contribution is evident if findings from the study are considered in the question of whether Joseph received his temple rites by revelation or from his environment. Manifestly, a prophet’s mission could include a determination of what is sound in the environment and what is not. Some have thought that he received and conceived much of his temple teachings from Freemasonry. On this, an associate of Joseph quoted him as saying, “He told me Freemasonry, as at present, was the apostate [temple] endowments, as sectarian religion was the apostate religion.”195 His comparison shows that Joseph saw much good and well-meaning in Freemasonry, but also serious error and incompleteness, especially as related to sacred matters that would require revelation to correct.
[Page 102]Recently published is an extensive study entitled “Method Infinite,” whose intent is to show influence on Joseph Smith from Freemasonry.196 Some of it is germane to the themes of this paper, for it includes discussion of allegorical Masonic ritual of heavenly ascent, which has some similarities to the temple endowment ceremony taught by Joseph Smith.197 A very comprehensive study by Jeffrey Bradshaw appeared about the same time, showing in detail evidence of the great predominance of inspiration and revelation in the teachings and temple rites of Joseph Smith. Bradshaw summarized as follows:
With some important exceptions, the relationship of Masonic rites to temple ordinances is mostly a comparison of contrasts. Freemasonry is not a religion and Masonic rites differ from temple ordinances in that they are not claimed to be essential for salvation, there is no requirement for priesthood authority, they differ in the general sequence of ritual events, they neither promise nor require joint exaltation of men and women, and they cannot be performed by proxy.198
Decades earlier, historian Michael Quinn made a similar comment on ascent that well bears reiteration: “Freemasonry did not teach that its ceremonies were necessary to ascend to God or to attain the blessings of heaven. Nor did Freemasons teach that non-Masons were deprived of heavenly blessings for lack of receiving such ceremonies.”199 Joseph Smith claimed divine authority for his teachings and rituals, and the necessity to participate in them to obtain the blessings. His ritual provided heavenly ordained covenants that required obedience for exaltation. When introducing the newly-revealed temple ordinance of proxy baptism for the dead, he stressed the necessity of “obtaining the powers of the Holy Priesthood. For him to whom these keys are given [Page 103]there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living.”200
In considering the origin of his temple teachings, it is helpful to see from this review that Joseph had a special prophetic calling from the beginning. He received much heavenly guidance, which continued through all of the many procedures he experienced. These included actions that anticipated the coming temple, even at an early time in his life. He received the power of priesthood authority and frequent revelation. He was called and taught by angels at every turn, and enjoyed the presence of the Lord. Much was verified by witnesses who shared such experiences with him. All of this supports the belief that his temple ritual was from on high.
From his youth, Joseph Smith was given an extensive preparation to serve as the prophet and leader of the latter-day dispensation of the gospel and Church. Many of these preparatory experiences were ritual in nature. The special circumstances in which he was placed showed a stark contrast between the good and evil powers, and the need for revelation and restoration of the truth. It was a time of great disagreement in religious and spiritual matters, in which Joseph was troubled by a “strife of words and a contest about opinions” (Joseph Smith — History 1:6). The First Vision was a response to his concern, with the appearance of the Father and Christ the Son giving him a powerful reassurance of their reality and care. He was also shown the evil opposition that he would face. Joseph’s vision came when some others were reporting visions of God, but his were of greater scope, with continuation from God and the angels through all his life. Moreover, “Joseph went beyond them all and produced a culture and society that the visionaries around him could not even imagine.”201
The great importance of temples and temple ritual enjoyed prominence. Where situations were such that covenant-makers were denied a full temple, the Lord allowed a tabernacle or other temporary place to be recognized as temple-like and equally sacred for the purpose.202 [Page 104]This is true of the small upper rooms where Joseph translated the Book of Mormon and revealed other sacred truths and rituals, including his first teaching of the temple endowment ceremony when that was introduced before the completion of the Nauvoo temple. In summary of that event, “On May 4, 1842, Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, and Willard Richards found the upper room of Joseph’s store transformed. On the wall was a newly painted mural. Small trees and plants stood nearby, suggesting a garden setting. Another part of the room was sectioned off with a rug hung up like a curtain.”203
Temple symbolism was apparent in the vertical typology, the reminder of the Garden of Eden which scholarship has shown was a model for the ancient temple,204 and the curtain or veil. Notably, “The Lord had revealed to Joseph Smith that such sacred ordinances must be performed in an upper room, and the Assembly Room in the red brick store was the only such place in Nauvoo at the time where a congregation could assemble in privacy.”205 Brigham Young recalled that Joseph “hung the veil” and “divided up the room the best that he could” to be like a temple, saying that “we have done the best we could [Page 105]under the circumstances in which we are placed.”206 After directing the arrangements, Joseph “dedicated the upper story of his brick store before he attended to the ordinances.”207
As pertaining to the placement of a curtain between Joseph and his scribe, some may think the concept of a provisional veil or Holy of Holies is an extravagant interpretation of what Joseph did and symbolized. But it must be remembered that this occurrence was at the birth and modest beginnings of something of uppermost importance that would grow to be of great consequence: “out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (Doctrine and Covenants 63:33).208 Joseph, of course, received many revelations on important matters other than ascent and temples emphasized in this paper. While it was not the intent to imply that all of the prophet’s visions or revelations were predicated on figurative or ritual ascent, most of those associated with the temple restoration were. The temple provides a ceremonial ascent to the celestial presence of God.
There was simplicity in Joseph Smith’s translation arrangements, yet they represented profound religious matters. The process involved an anticipatory procedure that amounted to a prophecy of what was to come when temples were established. What may be gleaned from the available sources is a mere glimpse of what occurred — but what a marvelous glimpse it is, with many insights and associations. For example, the birth of the Book of Mormon bears comparison with circumstances at the birth of Christ. Each came in fulfillment of earlier messianic prophecy of Isaiah,209 and each was anticipated by angelic announcement.210 Each occurred in very humble circumstances, with descent from heaven and incarnation, miraculous elements, and angelic presence at the birth. Each came with strong recognition and representation, as by symbolic veil and otherwise, of cosmic earth/heaven relationships: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). It [Page 106]is yet another way the revealed Book of Mormon may be recognized as a typification of Christ.
Overall, in this paper, there is a strong witness of the godhood of Jesus Christ. This is evident in Mosaic times, with the early Christians, and among the Latter-day Saints. When Joseph set up a provisional temple veil, it is a veil which in the New Testament may be seen as representing the “flesh” of Jesus, an aspect of its extensive symbolism. It shows that through Him we are to “enter the holy place” (Hebrews 10:19– 20). While in form Joseph’s usage appears like an Old Testament activity in the Holy of Holies, it is nonetheless intensely Christian — all the more in translating the Book of Mormon, which testifies of Christ throughout. In the Book of Mormon, the resurrected Jesus declares that He was the God of Israel anciently, saying, when He appeared to the Nephites, “Behold, I am he that gave the law, and I am he that covenanted with my people Israel” (3 Nephi 15:5). Joseph Smith’s contribution makes it possible to enter into such temple covenants with the Lord today, in the “dispensation of the fullness of times,” to “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him” (Ephesians 1:10).211
[Author’s Note: I appreciate assistance with this paper from my son John P. Mitton.]