Monday, November 19, 2007

Mormonism and Margaret Barker - Part 1

Before I get to the ‘meat’ of my post, I feel a bit of a need for a brief introduction. I have been deeply interested in Mormonism since 1987. It was in 1987 that two young missionaries from Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter LDS Church) dropped by my home one day and left me a copy of the Book of Mormon, challenging me to read it; which I did, but doing so to find ‘errors’, for I had been raised (as a Jehovah's Witness) to believe that the LDS Church was false (I have now read the BoM 6 times cover-to-cover, and each subsequent reading starts with considerably different presuppositions). Interestingly enough, I had already planned a business trip to Salt Lake City, but after the missionaries visit, thought it wise to drop by a local Christian bookstore, and see if they had anything on Mormonism that I could read on my flight. I picked up a small book titled, Mormon Claims Answered, by Marvin W. Cowan (I now believe this work to be unscholarly, anti-Mormon drivel—one of hundreds!), and finished the book before I landed in SLC. During my trip I decided to pay a visit to Temple Square (my first), but on my way there I noticed a large Deseret bookstore across the street. Given my passion for books, I went there first and ended up purchasing enough books to fill an entire suitcase! Thus began my studies into Mormonism and the LDS Church—1,700 plus LDS books later, the study continues…

Now to the ‘meat’ of this post: Margaret Barker; Barker is a Cambridge (UK) trained OT scholar, and former President of the Society for Old Testament Study. She has written extensively on what is now termed “Temple Theology” (see her WEBSITE for details). Mormon scholars began to take notice of Barker’s writings in the early 1990’s. For instance, Bill Hamblin made the following comments concerning his first reading her book The Great Angel:

As I began reading through the book on the flight home, I would come across passages that made me stop and ask, “Could Barker be a Mormon?” Reading further I would conclude she probably wasn’t. But a few pages later I would again be forced to wonder, “Well, maybe she really is a Mormon.” Every Latter-day Saint I've talked to about Barker's research has had a similar reaction. (Full context HERE.)

In addition to Bill Hamblin, Barker’s research has been utilized by such Mormon writers as Daniel Peterson, Kerry Shirts, David Bokovoy, Barry Bickmore, Alyson Von Feldt, and especially Kevin Christensen (whom a good friend of mine affectionately terms a “Barkerite”). She presented a forum address at BYU back in May, 2003, and another at “The World’s of Joseph Smith – A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress” in May 2005. (See this WEBSITE for both talks, and numerous published articles.)

I have read all but one of her books, all of her published articles that are available online, and listened to and read both addresses—though I would not say I am an “expert/scholar” of Barker, I believe I am informed enough (IMO) to make some important observations on why many Mormons have ‘fallen-in-love’ with much of her research:

First observation – Barker teaches that Israel’s “First Temple” religion was not monotheistic.

Second observation - Barker teaches that Israel’s “First Temple” religion believed in, taught, and worshipped a Mother Goddess.

Third - Barker teaches that Israel’s “First Temple” religion believed in and taught the doctrine of deification.

Fourth observation – Barker teaches that much of the Bible has experienced significant corruption, and many important "other" Scriptures have either been suppressed or lost.

Anyone who is even remotely familiar with LDS theology will immediately recognize why the above observations hold great interest for Mormons.

However, I believe that each of above observations have only superficial relevance to the Mormon faith, for certain aspects concerning each observation presents more negatives than positives for the LDS position. And further, it seems that other key ingredients of Barker’s theology are virtually ignored, due to their explicit antithesis to the Mormon faith.


Though Barker clearly asserts that the “First Temple religion” was not monotheistic, the type of worship she believes was being exercised by the monarchy, priests, and lay people has little common ground with the who and how LDS folk exercise their worship. According to Barker, “First Temple” Israelites worshipped Israel’s earthly king as an incarnation of Yahweh[1], practiced cultic child sacrifice[2], and invoked the Mother Goddess in cultic worship[3].

Another key aspect of Barker’s assessments concerning “First Temple” theology involve certain hierarchical dimensions that are clearly found in early Christian Gnostic writings—writings which are copiously cited in most (all?) of her works on “Temple Theology”. Barker is convinced that that early Christian Gnostics owe much of their teachings to “First Temple” theology, and even states that the earliest (and as such) Christian theology was much more “Gnostic” than “orthodox”.

IMO, much of her reassessment of monotheism is due to her Gnostic theology—a theology that has little common ground with ‘traditional’ Mormon theology.

The following quotes provide solid support for my assessment that a number of Barker's interpretations contain Gnostic tendencies:

The unity within the holy of holies meant that all the angels were derived from the One. The lesser were each a part of the greater and the greater were part of the even greater. Collectively they were the Fullness of God, because all the angels were aspects of God. (Temple Theology – An Introduction, p.25.)

Thus all are one, just as seconds are parts of a minute, and minutes parts of an hour.

This important concept illuminates John 17…The perfect unity is the sign of divinity and proof of Jesus’ origin. He has come from the One, he is part of the One, and he makes his disciples One. (Temple Theology – An Introduction, p.26.)

The most ancient understanding of the LORD was as a manifold divinity with both male and female natures, but nevertheless one 'The LORD our God is One LORD’ (Deut. 6.4). (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 40.)

A text found at Nag Hammadi, of uncertain date but of great interest, links the angel beings to aspects of time, suggesting that the angels are all ‘contained’ within each other and ultimately within God, just as small units of time are each parts of a greater unit and thus of the all-inclusive Time itself.

Time came to be as a type of the first begetter, his son. This year came to be as a type of the Saviour, the 12 months came to be as a type of the 12 powers, the 360 days of the year came to be a type of the 360 powers who were revealed by the Saviour. In relation to the angels who came out of these, who are without number, the hours and the moments of the days came to be as a type. (CG III.3, Letter of Eugnostos 84)

The God of Israel took two forms, male and female, the high priest was the human manifestation of both. Hence Jesus was described as Christ, ‘the Power of God and the Wisdom of God’ (1 Cor. 1:24). (The Great High Priest, p. 94.)

Thus angel beings, when they come into the material world, are received as fragments of something greater, just as seconds and minutes are fragments of Time. Beyond and encompassing them all is the Antecedent of Time, one possible translation offered for the more familiar title the Ancient of Days. In terms of angel beings, this all encompassing One was the Fullness (the pleroma), and was equated with the sate of Light, Day One, the holy of holies. (The Great High Priest, p. 109.)


[1] “In the cult of the first temple, the king was anointed and became the Firstborn Son…The LORD was Israel’s second God, the one who was present with the people in human form, originally as the Davidic king and later as the high priest…In the first temple, the king had become the LORD at his coronation and the people worshipped him. (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pp. 35, 37.) [See also The Great High Priest, pp. 61, 62, 189, 190, 217, 218.]

[2] Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, p. 527; The Great High Priest, pp. 148, 149.

[3] “Wisdom, The Queen of Heaven”, The Great High Priest, pp. 229-261; “Wisdom”, Temple Theology – An Introduction, pp. 75-93.