5. Temple Changes
CES Letter, Page 108
While, as Joseph Smith taught, the “order of the house of God” must remain unchanged, it is obvious that temple teachings, covenants, and ordinances — like all divine communication — must be adapted, as they always have been, to different times, cultures, and practical circumstances.
Since the time of Joseph Smith, necessary alterations of the ordinances and the terminology that describes them have been directed by the same authority that first restored them in our day.
Conditional self-cursing was a standard part of covenant-making throughout the ancient Near East. For example, such penalties are implied by the grammar of oaths in Akkadian where the oath is introduced by the protasis, “If I do not … [then].” Ziegler examines the biblical use of variations of the oath formula: “So may God do to me and more…” (1 Samuel 3:17, 14:44, 20:13, 25:22; 2 Samuel 3:9, 3:35, 19:14; 1 Kings 2:23, 19:2, 20:10; 2 Kings 6:31; Ruth 1:17). He notes that “the allusive nature of this phrase ‘may suggest that this oath formula was accompanied by an act, speech, or gesture that suggested the manner of punishment in case of violation of this oath" (Y. Ziegler, So Shall, pp. 62-63):
An oath made by God Himself, accompanying investiture with the royal priesthood in Israel, is attested by Psalm 110:4. Here the Lord confirms His intent by “an oath which he will never revoke. It appoints the king to be God’s priest forever” (J. H. Eaton, Psalms Commentary, p. 385, commenting on Psalm 110:4). This same concept is invoked in the book of Hebrews (6:13-20, 7:15-28) and in the explanation of the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood given in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 84:32-48. See J. M. Bradshaw, Temple Themes in the Oath, pp. 60-62).
With respect to the concept of a sacred embrace, the Prophet described a vision of the resurrection that included a handclasp and an embrace (Joseph Smith Diary by Willard Richards, 16 April 1843, in J. Smith, Jr., Words, pp. 195–196, spelling and punctuation modernized, emphasis added): “So plain was the vision. I actually saw men, before they had ascended from the tomb, as though they were getting up slowly. They took each other by the hand, and it was, ‘My father and my son, my mother and my daughter, my brother and my sister.’ When the voice calls for the dead to arise, suppose I am laid by the side of my father, what would be the first joy of my heart? Where is my father, my mother, my sister? They are by my side. I embrace them, and they me.”
Joseph Smith’s words about the gesture of embrace in the resurrection recall similar symbolism in the stories of Elijah and Elisha, who each employed a similar ritual gesture as they raised a dead child back to life (1 Kings 17:21–22; 2 Kings 4:34–35). The more detailed account of Elisha reads as follows (2 Kings 4:34–35): “And he [Elisha] went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm.”
Seeing anticipatory symbolism in this story, the Seder Eliyahu Rabbah specifically adds that the Messiah will be the very “Son of the Widow” whom Elijah raised from the dead (see G. Kittel et al., Dictionary, 9:527, cited in J. E. Seaich, Freemasonry). The threefold repetition of the act in the story of Elijah points to a ritual context, perhaps corresponding to a similar Mesopotamian procedure where the healer superimposed his body over that of the patient, head to head, hand to hand, foot to foot (see A. Berlin et al., Jewish, p. 713 n. 21).
Temple symbolism is obvious in the story of Jacob. Speaking of Jacob’s dream of the heavenly ladder in Genesis 28, Elder Marion G. Romney said: “Jacob realized that the covenants he made with the Lord were the rungs on the ladder that he himself would have to climb in order to obtain the promised blessings — blessings that would entitle him to enter heaven and associate with the Lord” (M. G. Romney, Temples, pp. 239–240). Thus, in what may be a deliberate play on similar teachings in Freemasonry, the Prophet Joseph Smith correlated the “three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder” with “the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms” (J. Smith, Jr., Teachings, 21 May 1843, p. 305). Later Jacob wrestled (or embraced, as this may also be understood (see M. L. Bowen, And There Wrestled)) an angel who, after a series of questions and answers in a place that Jacob named Peniel (Hebrew “face of God”), gave him a new name (Genesis 32:24–30).