Abstract: LDS temple tradition provides the strongest argument for the claim that Mormonism is the only true religion. Though we do not see it as such, our temple tradition has the virtue of providing physical evidence, empirically verifiable, that the church is a restoration of the ancient order, held sacred by all ancient cultures. Its existence in Mormon sacred tradition is long established, irrefutable fact, and its links to the past are becoming more verifiable every day, due to remarkable new research into ancient history, cosmology, comparative mythology and plasma physics. As such, it is the sole element in Mormonism that comes the closest to verifiable, demonstrable proof of Joseph Smith’s claims to divine revelation.
Revelation is the cornerstone of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its founder, Joseph Smith, claimed to be a latter-day prophet of God. This claim of divine guidance thrust him into the 19th century limelight and continues today to energize the religion he founded, as well as providing fodder for attacks against it.
Our religion, popularly called Mormonism, purports to be a restoration, through the ministry of angelic and divine visitors to men, of the original church founded by Jesus Christ during his ministry. It is said to be the modern equivalent of that ‘primitive’ church, which was governed by apostles and prophets after Christ’s death and resurrection.
As verification of these bold claims, most Mormons point to internal ‘evidence.’ Some point to the Book of Mormon as evidence of Joseph Smith’s gift of translation via divine revelation. Some point to the restoration of the authentic priesthood by ministering angels at the inception of this dispensation. Still others point to the same organization in the modern church as that which existed in the primitive church, established by Christ himself.
For Mormons, our belief in these things comes from a personal verification by the Holy Spirit. We call it a “testimony.” We believe that all who seek it are entitled to this revelatory confirmation. It is, in our view, a more certain test than mere knowledge.
Nevertheless, in an effort to provide ‘evidence’ to support those claims to outsiders and to ourselves, many of us look for confirmation of our beliefs beyond that of a personal witness. We seek for corroboration, or as some would put it “proof,” in disciplines outside the church, in the scholarly and scientific world.
Hence, we see the interest among many Saints in the geography of the Book of Mormon, for example. Attempting to locate the present physical location of pre-Colombian Book of Mormon sites—external evidence—is a way of substantiating the claims that the book makes. Others among us look for documentary evidence that would support the church’s claims for the Egyptian papyri, which Joseph Smith also claimed to translate.
But anything approaching empirical truth is hard to come by when dealing with things metaphysical. These claims still rest almost wholly upon personal revelation. There is no empirical test for their validity. Belief cannot be verified with test tubes or telescopes. Things of the spirit that come via revelation simply do not lend themselves to physical investigation or empiricism.
It is at this point where our evidentiary efforts hit a dead end. It seems we are meant to accept these things on the strength of our faith, born of the personal witness we each acquire via revelation through our own diligent inquiry of God, rather than to any outside evidence.
Do not despair, however.
Ironically, there is an element, unique to Mormonism, which we overlook in our rush to assert to the world our authenticity as the one true church.
That overlooked element is the incorporation in our religion of temple use and practices, something other Christian denominations consider “pagan” and of little value. In fact, they see our use of temples as worthy of nothing except derision, ridicule and scorn. Yet it is in our temple tradition—in its purpose, its iconography and its ritual—that we find the best evidence for the validity of our claims.
How so, you ask? Let’s examine the potential for validation in this fascinating feature, exclusive to Mormonism.
From the outset, no other Christian denomination—from Catholicism to Protestantism, including the more recent Adventist and Millennialist movements—saw the need or value of a temple. Mormonism was and is still entirely unique to Christianity in that regard. To sectarians and religionists, Christianity had no need for a temple. In their eyes, temples—unlike chapels, synagogues and mosques—were solely a feature of pagan religions, certainly not a proper feature of Christ’s true church, established in the meridian of time.
In contrast, Joseph Smith established our temple tradition in Mormonism nearly 200 years ago, saying it was vital to the true religion. This point of departure is critical. Either he was right about temples and the rest of Christianity was wrong, or he was completely misguided and the orthodox view was the correct one.
Our temple use has changed little since then. Because the rites and rituals practiced within those sanctified walls are perceived to be sacrosanct, they’ve been kept inviolate, perfectly preserved word for word in their original state. While certain elements within our rites may have been eliminated, as some historians maintain, the basic rites themselves retain their original form. It cannot be argued, therefore, that discoveries of ancient beliefs and practices in recent times have influenced our temple rituals. They have not been significantly altered or added upon since their inception nearly two centuries ago.
Thus, it can be properly claimed that our temple tradition, as still practiced today, came solely through revelation to Joseph Smith, just as every other aspect of our religion, and not through modern discovery.
And mainstream Christianity is perfectly happy to allow that claim to stand, thinking it to their advantage. In their minds, our use of temples and our belief in odd doctrine gives them leverage to demonstrate to the world that Mormonism is a fraud, a “cult” rife with “pagan” practices perpetrated on foolish and gullible people by Joseph Smith and perpetuated up to the present day by designing men with questionable motives.
In order for Latter-day Saints to comprehend the full value of their temple tradition as a certain claim to divine revelation, they must first see temples for what they truly are: instructive institutions dedicated to rehearsing the past as well as the commonly acknowledged concept that they are sites for making sacred covenants. That is, most see LDS temple tradition as things revealed—hallowed knowledge and ritual having no connection to anything temporal or historical. But, nothing could be further from the truth.
It is this author’s claim that our temple rituals, what we call an endowment, find their origin in the same source as the sacred rites and rituals of all antique cultures: the ancient heavens—whether the ancient ritual takes the form of a dance around a bonfire by Native Americans, ceremonies in an Egyptian temple or pyramid, sacrificial rites on a Mayan pyramid, Inca rituals at Machu Picchu, strange Druidic or Celtic rituals in a henge, mysterious rites in a Hopi kiva, worship in a Buddhist or Hindu temple, ceremonies in a Hebrew, Babylonian, Greek or Roman temple or any other sacred practice in all reverenced precincts the world over.
Furthermore, our temple endowment rehearses the primary elements of all prophetic visions, what this author calls the “One Story.” That story tells of the ascension into heaven of the prophet or holy man via a stairway, path, road, ladder or mountain, which is based in cosmological imagery as well. As he progresses, the holy man encounters various “guardians” or “angels” to whom he must give certain secret signs and words in order to pass. Ultimately, the visionary reaches the celestial realms, where he sees God, the City of God or the Throne of God, elements that also have their origins in cosmological events. Thus, beginning to end, our temple endowment is a symbolic rehearsal of ancient cosmological events, the only exceptions being the sacred covenants or promises made in the endowment.
And there is much more. Antique temple ceremonies included rites of washing, anointing, coronation, resurrection and marriage, among many others—all elements also found in LDS temple rites.
In fact, upon close inspection, nearly every element of LDS temple ritual can be found in one form or another in ancient temple practices. As Dr. Hugh Nibley amply demonstrated with his many books, whole volumes could be dedicated to these similarities. (Detailed comparative analysis of cosmological events to ancient beliefs, traditions and practices and their relationship to LDS theology, scriptural interpretation and temple tradition is offered elsewhere in this author’s presentations. It will not be cited here and now. So voluminous, all encompassing and sweeping are these concepts that this forum is woefully inadequate for their proper delineation. Readers are encouraged to search out the information this author has provided, based in remarkable new research into ancient history, cosmology, comparative mythology, archeoastronomy, geology, archeology, anthropology and plasma physics, that has already been provided in his books, papers and occasional lectures, as well as forthcoming material to be made public as time and means permit.)
The vital element that Nibley failed to explore, and other LDS scholars presently fail to see, is the absolute connection between the temple traditions of all mankind and events in Earth’s ancient skies. When scholars do venture to connect temple practices to cosmology, their interpretation is restricted to explaining those traditions, rites and rituals in terms of the heavens we see overhead today, when in reality they actually relate to the “old heavens and the old earth,” as the ancients and modern revelation assert, of the Patriarchal Age, before and immediately after Noah’s Flood.
Such misplaced and misguided analysis on the part of modern LDS scholars leads to pronounced distortions of the scriptural, cultural and traditional record, leaving us with confusion and contradictions that cannot be reconciled, though many have attempted to do so.
In contrast, those contradictions and confusions vanish when looking at the evidence with this new, cosmological paradigm. Not only that, it throws open the door to discovery of the scriptures, prophetic and temple symbolism and metaphor in a way that anyone can understand. No advanced degrees are necessary—a development that every Latter-day Saint should applaud and embrace for their own edification, enlightenment and satisfaction.
Once those fabulous and magnificent sky pageants that played out in Earth’s heavens in the millennium from Adam to Abraham are properly understood, then the origin and meaning of temple rituals and tradition of all past cultures, as well as our own temple tradition, becomes crystal clear. It becomes obvious that ancient traditions and practices recall and celebrate astral elements unseen in modern skies.
When we acknowledge the astounding fact that LDS temple tradition reflects that same, ancient cosmological tradition, in all its principle elements and meanings, through rituals, furnishings and iconography, we discover that our temples are full of information from the past, powerful evidence that Joseph Smith tapped into the only source capable of relaying that information to him nearly two centuries ago: divine revelation. It therefore comes closer to providing proof of Mormonism’s claims than any other element of our religion.
It cannot be claimed that any of this knowledge was available anywhere else in the world. Least of all was it available to a young man living on the American frontier in the 19th century, since it is only now beginning to come to the fore as the result of research done by a few, avant guard scholars, researchers and scientists. Only now, with the formidable body of information coming to light in the last half century of research and discovery, can we begin to see the relevance of LDS temple tradition to the common roots of all ancient worship in past cosmological events.
That is not to say that cosmology is all there is to Mormonism or to its temple tradition. Not by any means. The same revelatory power that gave us a proper cosmological, temple tradition unique in modern Christianity also provided insights into the teachings of Jesus Christ that were either missing from the scriptural record or had been lost through apostasy. That is, the accuracy of our temple tradition lends great credibility to the rest of Mormonism’s claims. To put it another way, the conformity of the LDS temple tradition to its ancient counterparts comes closer to providing proof to the world of Mormonism’s validity than anything else we Latter-day Saints have to offer.
Joseph Smith’s was truly a dispensation of truth lost to the world until a prophet of God once more restored it in these latter days.