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.



Alma Allred said...

I think you neglected to mention one of the most astounding facets of Barker's findings: That God is a procreating God and that the angels and humans are his literal children. Her conclusion that the religion of the patriarchs worshipped Javeh as the Son of the Highest is just too good to neglect.

When I first began reading her books, I thought she was a closet Mormon; but as I read further, I realized that she didn't have anything with which to measure the validity of competing theologies, so she gives equal weight to everything. If she were to approach it from a perspective that some of what's found in ancient sources might be invalid, she'd then need to find a way to sift out the chaff from the kernels of truth.

In her 2005 lecture at the Library of Congress, she noted her surprise that the Book of Mormon taught that the fruit of the tree of life was white--an element she claims wasn't discovered until many years after the Book of Mormon's publication.

The parallels are fascinating and provide a milieu for certain elements of the Book of Mormon--such as why Lehi's life was in danger. The Josian Reforms led to the execution of hundreds of priests who offered sacrifices at places other than the temple; and one of Lehi's first acts in the wilderness was to offer sacrifice on an altar. That would have been fatal in Jerusalem.

BHodges said...

As Alma mentioned, Barker seems to be somewhat of a Universalist in her findings. While it should be recognized that all that glitters is not gold she provides a valuable service to Mormons, almost additionally so because she isn't a Mormon, rather than in spite of it.

David Waltz said...

Hello Alma and Life,

Great comments. I would just like to add that Barker is quite brilliant and a delight to read. It is refreshing from my perspective to find Latter-day Saints who can appreciate her writings while recognizing the need to “sift”.

In addition to my intense interest in Mormonism, I also have been studying the Bahai in depth for about a decade now. A bit later in my Barker series, I will point out some very interesting parallels between some important elements of Barker’s theology with those in the Bahai teachings.

And just briefly, I find some deep, common ground between much of Barker’s theology and the basic theology of the Sophia Perennialists.

Grace and peace,


BHodges said...

I taught a Bahai woman on my mission in Wisconsin. She was bright, interesting, and interested, though not in converting. She assented to Joseph Smith being a prophet (I have met several Bahai who have done so). Does the Bahai faith have any interest or teachings regarding ordinances or ritual to your knowledge?

Bot said...

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is often accused by Evangelical pastors of not believing in Christ and, therefore, not being a Christian religion. This article helps to clarify such misconceptions by examining early Christianity's comprehension of baptism, the Godhead, the deity of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) adheres more closely to First Century Christianity and the New Testament than any other denomination. Harper’s Bible Dictionary entry on the Trinity says “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.”

Perhaps the reason the pastors denigrate the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is to protect their flock (and their livelihood). It is encouraging that Paul Weyrich, Wayne Grudem and Bob Jones III, (along with Jay Sekulow and Mark DeMoss) have rejected bigotry and now support Mitt Romney on the basis that he is the most moral candidate with the best qualifications.

David Waltz said...

Hello again Life,

You asked the following:

>>Does the Bahai faith have any interest or teachings regarding ordinances or ritual to your knowledge?>>

Me: I think it would depend on how one describes “ritual”. Baha’u’llah’s book, The Kitab-i-Aqdas is THE text which spells out the “laws and ordinances” for Bahai’s. I would say that some of the proscribed practices in the book can be termed “ritual”.

For an interesting review of book on Babi and Bahai ritual go HERE .

And if you have the interest, go to this WEBSITE and type “ritual’ in the search engine.

Grace and peace,


BHodges said...

Thanks for the additional sources.

Anonymous said...

David recounts those beliefs of Barker which in his opinion might be particularly interesting to Latter Day Saints as follows:

>>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 corrupted, and many important "other" Scriptures have either been suppressed or lost.<<

Regarding the third observation, on deification, I would be surprised if the doctrine that is expressed in the offertory of the Tridentine Mass, "that through the mystery of this water and wine, we may be made partakers of His divinity, who has deigned to become partaker of our humanity, Jesus Christ...", was clearly revealed or even implicitly foreshadowed so early as you say Barker suggests. But I would listen to that.

Regarding the other three dubious observations, it seems difficult to me to see that Christ and His Apostles could have understood distinctions between so-called first temple and second temple doctrines which would be uncomplimentary to each other. I have heard she calls herself a Methodist. As a daughter of Charles Wesley, Barker does consult the New Testament writers for their views as he would have, right?

Also, there seems little evidence to show that Christ and His Apostles were concerned about lost and corrupted Scriptures. Our Lord repeats the words of Abraham to Dives as follows: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead." (Luke 16:31) Did Jesus have problems with Deuteronomy? If not, neither do I.

If the Old Testament canon is unreliable before Barker's analysis, does her approach permit confidence in the New Testament, or for Mormons, the Book of Mormon? If the LDS position is bolstered by the idea that the Scriptures they have included in their canon are corrupted, that is fine with me.

I do not speak now about Mormons in particular, but non-Catholics who can't leave parts of the Catholic faith alone in general.
It is not surprising for one who believes that the Catholic Church has faithfully handed down and preserved the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, to learn that those who accuse the Catholic Church of Apostasy do not accept our deposit of revelation. If they did, they would believe as we do. What choice do they have but to say that important inspired teachings have been corrupted or lost? Or that false Scriptures have been added (Protestants)? That message is a tired, soul-destroying, never-ending refrain against the faith that renounces novelty, whose fruits number saints and martyrs going on twenty centuries.

The corruption isn't found in so-called lost teachings, but in the vain efforts of those who trick people into following a novel, short-lived, here today, gone tomorrow religion.

From the first century, when have "Barkerites" ever accepted the Catholic canon, let alone consulted historically how the Apostolic churches interpreted the same canon from the beginning? Never. They have to find a way to complain about why we won't admit gnostics from Marcion to Barker into the ranks of those who held to Apostolic Tradition.

To remain non-Catholic the one who wants to believe something else will convince himself of two prerequisites. First is that the "truth-seeker" need not examine the 73 books of the Catholic Church in the light of the practices and teachings of the Apostolic churches. Secondly he shouldn't permit himself an unbiased examination of the 2,000 year history of the Catholic Church. I have a hunch that anyone who agrees with Barker's observations as cited above has already succeeded in accomplishing those prerequisites.


BHodges said...

Rory: Your post belies an unfamiliarity or at least a disregard of the way the Biblical canon was brought about.

BHodges said...

Additionally, I noticed you left "Tradition" out of the Catholic mix, without which the Catholic position really can't get along.

Anonymous said...

Hi Life on a Plate. You are correct about the Catholic insistence upon Tradition.

I don't think I left "Tradition out of the Catholic mix". I understood myself to be referring to Tradition when I used the following terms and expressions:

1) "faithfully handed down and preserved the teachings of Christ and the Apostles"

2) "our deposit of revelation"

3) "consulted historically how the Apostolic churches interpreted the same canon from the beginning"

4) "Apostolic Tradition"

5) "the 73 books of the Catholic Church in the light of the practices and teachings of the Apostolic churches"


BHodges said...

Now see how that concept might apply to the Latter-day Saints and we might be on to something. ;)

Anonymous said...

And again, Life on a Plate. You said to me: "Your post belies an unfamiliarity or at least a disregard of the way the Biblical canon was brought about."

Okay, that might be fair to a point. How do you think Jesus and His Apostles believed about the canon? Did they encouraged the faithful to have doubts about whether the Church would compile the inspired record according to God's will? I tend to think I am in good company in my alleged unfamiliarity/disregard about the canon. I suppose the New Testament and particularly the Gospels "belies an unfamiliarity or at least a disregard of the way the Biblical canon was brought about."


PS: You have to at least give me credit for spelling it with one "n", not "cannon". Heh.

ez said...

Margarat Barker was friends with my grandpa religious scholar Eugene Seaich and endorses his work Ancient texts and mormonism The Great mystery,d.aWw

ez said...