Thursday, October 24, 2013

Temple Conference 2013

On Wednesday, October 23, 2013, an all-day conference was held in the Eccles Event Center on the Utah State University campus. Co-sponsored by the Academy for Temple Studies and the Utah State University Department of History Religious Studies Program, the morning presenters included the renowned Margaret Barker and William G. Dever. In the afternoon we got to hear from LDS egyptologist John S. Thompson and LDS female scholars Alyson Von Feldt and Valerie Hudson. The conference theme was "The Lady of the Temple: Examining the Divine Feminine in the Judeo-Christian Tradition." The conference was largely about two books: Margaret Barker, The Mother of the Lord, volume 1: The Lady in the Temple, London: Bloomsbury, 2012 and William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005. Barker's work has been reviewed for an LDS audience here and Dever's here.

Barker described her background: "I was classically trained at Cambridge, U.K. During the nappy (diaper) washing years I read the Septuagint." Females in the audience were noticeably impressed when Dever, trained as a Biblical archaeologist at Harvard, gallantly said, "I call my wife my Lady."

I attended the conference with V. Garth Norman who is keenly interested in the subject because one of the two divine figures attending the tree of life on Izapa Stela 5 is female. We took notes of motifs, images and symbols associated with the divine lady in near Eastern texts, artifacts & iconography so we could compare them with what Garth has found on the Izapa monuments. Norman is convinced Izapa was a Nephite (and Lamanite) temple center. If that is true, one would reasonably expect to find similar motifs, images and symbols on Stela 5 and the other Izapa stelae.

My notes on motifs, images & symbols associated with the Lady of the Temple.
Barker 49 motifs in alphabetic order: altar, angels, animals, ark of the covenant, army, baptism by water, being hidden which could also mean remote or eternal, bovine with horns & hooves, bread, bride, cherubim, childbirth, cloud, crown, dragon, earthquake, fire, fish, garments, hail, healing, holy of holies, incense, Jerusalem, lightning, lioness, Melchizedek, moon, pools of water, rod of iron, shields, stars, storm, sun, sunrise, table, the Holy Spirit, the number 12, throne, thunder, tower, tree, virgin, water, wilderness, wine, winged sun, wings, wisdom. Barker's sources were ancient Judeo-Christian texts.

Dever 13 additional motifs in alphabetic order: anthropomorphic trees, courtyards, death, doves, four horned altars, gates, goats, life, lions, olive oil, Pleiades, sustenance, winged lion. Dever's sources came from Levantine archaeology.

Thompson 12 additional motifs in alphabetic order: ascent, cleanliness or purity, east, guide, horizon, journey to the netherworld, lamp, light, path, sunset, tree branches, west. Thompson's sources came from Egyptian archaeology.

Book of Mormon passages referencing these same motifs, images & symbols, although some are in dissimilar contexts compared with their Near Eastern counterparts:
Most of these motifs, images and symbols appear multiple times in the Book of Mormon text. We only reference a single typical passage for each to demonstrate they were extant in the Nephite scribal world. Daniel C. Peterson explored the possibility of a Nephite female goddess in his article "Nephi and His Asherah: A Note on 1 Nephi 11:8-23" which was published in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World: Essays in Honor of John L. Sorenson, Davis Bitton editor, Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998. Alyson von Feldt found evidence of the Wisdom (generally regarded as a divine female based on passages such as Proverbs 8:22-30) literature tradition in the Book of Mormon. See her article "His Secret is with the Righteous: Instructional Wisdom in the Book of Mormon." Barker & Dever both mentioned the likelihood (based on ancient Semitic literary sources) that the Holy Ghost of the Christian trinity is female.

For more on Book of Mormon - Temple relationships, see the blog article "Sermon at the Temple."