The Gospel Doctrine lesson #17 manual objective is “To encourage class members to follow the counsel of Church leaders, particularly those whom the Lord has called as prophets, seers, and revelators.”
To highlight the possible continuities between Solomon’s Temple and the New World temples, particularly the centrality of the divine feminine, Wisdom.
At a Symposium held in honor of Joseph Smith at the Library of Congress in 2004, the eminent scholar of temple theology, Margaret Barker, discusses the centrality of Christ and of His Priesthood to Solomon’s—“the priests of the Most High after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the Only Begotten Son.”1 She also describes the central—and long-since obscured—role of Wisdom in that Temple. Wisdom’s symbol was the Menorah—a stylized, golden almond tree with a candlestick in the center and three branches on either side. Wisdom—the Feminine Divine, or The Mother in Heaven—has several names, perhaps the most prevalent of which are Asherah and El Shaddai (God with breasts) and her dominant symbol is a tree—specifically the Tree of Life.2
During the reign of King Josiah there arose a contestation between the Temple Priesthood and a group called the Deuteronomists with whom Josiah sided. Barker suggests that a plausible reason for why Lehi was under constant threat of his life and, therefore, forced to flee Jerusalem was because he was a member of the Temple Priesthood—the Melchizedek Priesthood, the higher priesthood of the Temple of Solomon. In addition, “hostility to Wisdom was a hallmark of the Deuteronomists, and due to their influence, the Mother and her tree have been almost forgotten—but not in the Book of Mormon.”3 Given such a premise behind Lehi’s flight, it is not surprising that temples and temple worship play a significant role in the Book of Mormon narrative. We learn in second Nephi 5:16 that “I, Nephi, did build a temple and I did construct it after the manner of the Temple of Solomon.” While it is unlikely that the sacred artifacts such as the ark, the manna and the budding rod (branch) of Aaron also removed by King Josiah were replicated, it is likely that the sacred oil, the cherubim and the Menorah were. So important is it that his readership understand the significance of the construction of the first Nephite Temple that Nephi repeats it in the same verse: “the manner of construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine.” It is, therefore, not surprising that upon the arrival of Ammon and his companions, King Limhi immediately sends “a proclamation among all his people that they might gather themselves to the temple.”4 What is significant, however, is that Limhi blames the current lamentable situation of his citizens on the fact that they “will not seek Wisdom, neither do they desire that she should rule over them” (capitalization and emphasis mine).5 It is not unreasonable, therefore, to infer from Limhi’s words that the place accorded in Solomon’s Temple to Christ, His Priesthood and His Mother (Wisdom, Asherah—the Tree of Life) would also have been central to the New World Temples.
In Nephi’s vision of the Tree of Life in first Nephi 11, the scripture upon which Barker bases her remarks, Nephi describes the tree as stunningly beautiful: “the beauty of which was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.”6 The vision immediately following reveals Mary, the mortal mother of the Messiah, carrying the Christ child in her arms.7 Referencing Proverbs 3:18 and identical descriptions of the Tree of Life in 1 Enoch 32:5 as well as in a text discovered among the Nag Hammadi scrolls in 1945, Barker exclaims: “Imagine my surprise when I read…the account of the vision of the tree whose white fruit made one happy, and…that the Virgin in Nazareth was the mother of the Son of God after the manner of the flesh…This is the Heavenly Mother represented by the tree of life, and then Mary and her Son on earth. This revelation to Joseph Smith was the ancient Wisdom symbolism, intact, and almost certainly as it was known in 600 BCE.”8
Given that Lesson 17 focuses on a prolonged discussion of the golden plates found by Limhi’s people, their rescue, and a method for translating the plates, it is easy to miss elements from these sections that are central to the Book of Mormon narrative—particularly the presence of Solomon-like temples in the lands of Zarahemla, Nephi and the city Bountiful. In addition to Limhi’s words invoking Wisdom as ruler, or guide, it is also helpful to remember that at the beginning of the Restoration, we are likewise reminded of the sacred connection between the search for wisdom and eternal life: “Seek…for Wisdom, and behold the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you…Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich” (capitalization mine).9 This injunction is repeated word for word in D&C 11.10 That Wisdom is associated with eternal life is echoed in the Book of Proverbs where Wisdom is the name of the deity with whom “the Lord founded the earth.”11 Before the world was, She was. “Long life is in her right hand;/in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of [eternal] life.”12
3Barker, Margaret “Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion,” The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, edited by John W. Welch (Brigham Young University Press, 2006), 76.
61 Nephi 11:8
71 Nephi 11:13, 19-20
10Doctrine and Covenants 6:7; 11:7
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Life By Design, Alyson Von Feldt
Years ago when I was a new mother, I was studying the topic of revelation. I was in D&C 76 and I followed a cross reference which took me to the book of Proverbs and I read the first dozen or so chapters as if for the first time. When I came to Proverbs 8:22-31, I read about a woman named Wisdom speaking in that poem and had a significant spiritual experience. One of the most profound of my entire life. I felt like the top of my head was opened up and light and understanding poured into it. I read in this poem about a heavenly woman named Wisdom who was present at creation and I could not believe that I had never noticed her there before nor had anyone ever called her to my attention at church or in my religion classes. It just seemed to me plain as day that a divine woman was telling her story in that poem. I remember standing up in astonishment because I always wondered why the scriptures never mention a heavenly woman of any sort. Not an angel who is a woman, not a heavenly mother, not a single noble and great female intelligence performing a heavenly role. Of course there are many great strong, mortal women in the scriptures, but here was what appeared to be a heavenly woman speaking in her own voice, plain as day.
Reflections on the Divine, Fiona Givens
I feel empowered by my female eternal identity. This is influenced heavily by our belief in a Heavenly Mother. That resonates with me. Really, can one have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Son without a Heavenly Mother?
Other Related Women’s Voices
A Champion of Youth, Vaughn J. Featherstone
Women are endowed with special traits and attributes that come trailing down through eternity from a divine mother. Young women have special God-given feelings about charity, love, and obedience…Theirs is a sacred, God-given role, and the traits they received from heavenly mother are equally as important as those given to the young men.