The Expanding Gospel – Notes from Temple and Cosmos

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I am reading Temple and Cosmos, which is Volume 12 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley. The book is a collection of essays that focus on the temple work being performed in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There are numerous insights into temple work and I have been highlighting many passages. Because of the number of highlights and notes I have, I will be splitting the notes by individual essay. I believe this will help the notes stand on their own, as each essay is self-contained.

Temple and Cosmos consist of the following essays (links are to my notes):

  • The Meaning of the Temple
  • Return to the Temple
  • Sacred Vestments
  • The Circle and the Square
  • The Expanding Gospel
  • Rediscovery of the Apocrypha and the Book of Mormon
  • Apocryphal Writings and Teachings of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • The Terrible Questions
  • One Eternal Round: The Hermetic Vision
  • Do Religion and History Conflict?
  • Genesis of the Written Word
  • Science Fiction and the Gospel
  • The Best Possible Test
  • Some Notes on Cultural Diversity in the Universal Church
  • From the Earth upon Which Thou Standest
  • Foreword to Eugene England’s Book

All of these notes are direct quotes from the book. 

The Expanding Gospel

The antiquity of the material contained in the so-called Shabako Stone of the British Museum has been fully demonstrated and is today not seriously questioned (fig. 43). The only puzzle to scholars has been how anything so completely thoughtout and sophisticated could turn up in what may well be the oldest known religious text in existence. There is nothing “primitive” in this dramatic presentation which was to mark the founding of the First Dynasty of Egypt. It is divided into two parts — historical and theological — the former explaining how the kingdom came to be established and organized after its peculiar fashion, and the latter how and why the world itself was created. The beholder of the drama, which was enacted by the priests with the king taking the leading role, is never allowed to forget that what is ritually done on earth is but the faithful reflection of what was once done in heaven.

The great Babylonian creation text, the Enuma Elish, begins and ends with the great assembly in heaven. “As once above,” it starts out, “when the heavens had not yet received their name and the earth below was not known, . . . the Creator, he of vast intelligence, omniscience, omnipotence,” presided over “a great assembly among his brethren the gods.”

The newly discovered Jewish and Christian apocrypha have so much to say about the council in heaven and the plan laid down at the foundation of the world that every student should be aware of the very great antiquity and wide ramifications of the idea.

The Mandaean version is interesting because it calls the Creator Ptah-il, combining the archaic Egyptian and Semitic names, and, while giving the familiar account of the great council, adds the important detail that three messengers were sent down to supervise the world and to instruct Adam, these three being glorious angels who were later to live upon the earth as ordinary mortals and prophets.The early Christian apocrypha are especially concerned with the opposition to the plan, which was also initiated at the foundation of the world. The combat between the powers of light and darkness enjoys a very conspicuous place in ritual, being one of the essential episodes of the worldwide creation drama of ancient times. In the scroll entitled The War between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness, we have ample illustration of the ritual and doctrinal concern of the Jews for this motif, and the quotation just cited from that work shows that the embattled hosts on earth were but a local version of the war in heaven.

The name Mephistopheles, “der stets das Böse will, und stets das Gute schafft,” denotes the ultimate frustration of the Evil One, who with the worst intent in the world, can only contribute to the exaltation of man by providing the opposition necessary for testing him in the time of probation upon the earth.

In the early Christian apocrypha, Satan’s rebellion in heaven begins not with a refusal to worship God, but with his refusal to bow down to Adam. “I have no need to worship Adam,” he says in one early writing, “I will not worship an inferior and younger being. I am his senior in the Creation; before he was made I was already made. It is rather his duty to worship me! When the angels who were under me heard this, they refused to worship him also,” and so the revolt was on.

The main idea of “the plan which God laid down . . . in the presence of the First Angels for an eternal universal law,” according to the Clementine Recognitions, is that “there shall be two kingdoms placed upon the earth to stay there until judgment day, . . . and when the world was prepared for man it was so devised that . . . he would be free to exercise his own will, to turn to good things if he wanted them, or if not to turn to bad things.” In the Dead Sea Scrolls and the earliest Christian writings this is expressly designated as “the ancient Law of Liberty.”

Today scholars are being forced into a compromise. A recent study of Christ’s forty-day ministry concludes: “What happened after our Lord’s resurrection was that He moved constantly back and forth between these two ‘spaces’ or worlds — the seen and the unseen. There is another world than this. It is not at some remote point in outer space. It exists side by side with this; . . . it is the world of the spirit, and this is the world of matter.” Here a rather surprising concession to literalism is made only to be promptly withdrawn as the “other world” turns out to be only the immaterial “spirit” world after all, in spite of all the pains to which the Lord went as he “moved continually back and forth” between the two worlds to make perfectly clear that he was not a spirit.

A valuable commentary on this theme is supplied in the newly discovered Gospel of Philip: “Truth did not come into the world naked, but she came clothed in types and images. One cannot receive the truth in any other way.”

Marriage, for example, has a different form in the next world to what it has here; but only by entering it here will one be allowed to enter it there: “If anyone does not receive it while he is in this world, he will not receive it in the other place.” So it is with all the ordinances: he who has not mastered “the places” here “will not be able to be master of that place.” “The mysteries of the truth are revealed as types and images” here, while “the veil conceals how God really governs the physical creation.”

The rending of the veil is not the abolition but the revelation of what is behind it, “in order that we might enter into the truth of it. . . . We enter in our weakness through despised symbols,” but enter we must, for who does not “receive the light” through these ordinances” will not receive it in the other place,” while he who does receive it “cannot be held back, and will be beyond the reach of all his enemies even in this world. And when the time comes for him to go out of this world he has already received the truth in the images.”

If one makes a sketch of a mountain, what is it? A few lines on a piece of paper. But there is a solid reality behind this poor composition; even if the tattered scrap is picked up later in a street in Tokyo or a gutter in Madrid, it still attests to the artist’s experience of the mountain as a reality. If the sketch should be copied by others who have never seen the original mountain, it still bears witness to its reality. So it is with the apocryphal writings: most of them are pretty poor stuff, and all of them are copies of copies. But when we compare them we cannot escape the impression that they have a real model behind them, more faithfully represented in some than in others.

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