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Insights of a Religious Scholar

Temples of the Old Testament

Kelsey Berteaux - September 05, 2013

At the crossroads of secular and spiritual are a curious people: religious scholars. But these peculiar people who make a profession of scripture study have a lot to teach about the gospel.

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“There is something thrilling about seeing something in the scriptures and spending hours on exploring that idea,” says BYU Professor of Ancient Scripture Kerry Muhlestein. He, like other gospel scholars, has made a living out of studying the scriptures. What’s the “other” best thing about his job? “Trying to help others understand what you learned.” 

In that spirit, the annual Sperry Symposium acts as a forum for religious scholars to share their work. Of the conference, Muhlestein shares, “The Sperry Symposium allows people who really want to understand the scriptures better to get together and discuss them. Scholars will bring something they have spent a lot of time researching and share it with people who want to learn. There is an exciting feeling associated with all of us working together to accomplish something that means so much to us. It really creates a Zion-like feeling. Nothing is more fun than that!”

For this year’s symposium on worship and temples in the Old Testament, Muhlestein authored an article entitled, “Darkness, Light, and the Lord: Elements of Israelite Theophanies.” It explores the relationship between darkness, light, and “glory” in scriptural accounts of the Lord revealing himself to man. 

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The symposium itself is to be held at BYU on October 26th and is free and open to the public. Until then, here are a few tantalizing insights from other Sperry Symposium scholars like Professor Muhlestein:

- Joseph Smith, in his Bible translation, adjusted the text of Psalms to address problems current to his day and to hint at future challenges for the Saints.

- Modern temple service shares more with the Biblical tradition of Psalms than meets the eye: the ancient purpose of psalms was to help worshippers return to divine presence and converse with God. Sound familiar? 

- Temple clothing worn in ancient times, such as the linen coat, girdle, and robe, also carried specific symbolism, helping worshippers to “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). 

- A careful reading of First Book of Samuel demonstrates the importance of temple covenants: the contrast between Eli and Hannah shows the difference between someone who is physically near the temple but doesn’t take advantage of it, and someone makes the temple a refuge. 

- Easter isn’t just for the New Testament; the stories of Triumphal Entry, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Resurrection all contain Old Testament symbolism and insight, as Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, fulfilled the Mosaic Law.  

Scholar Muhlestein himself also offers his insight about personal scripture study: “Slow down and really search the scriptures. Believe that with effort, thought, time, and inspiration you can really come to understand the scriptures. There is so much waiting there for anyone who will take the time, but often we just hurry through, feeling like our current level of understanding is probably as far as we will get.” Don’t get caught in this way of thinking, he advises. Instead, “we should always bring every ability we have to the table when we study the scriptures.” 

For more in-depth discussion on these and other incredible gospel insights and research, look for this year’s Sperry Symposium publication, Ascending the Mountain of the Lord: Temple, Praise, and Worship in the Old Testament, available Monday, September 9th. 

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