There is an interesting post at The T&T Clark Blog with a transcription of an address that BYU’s John Welch gave on March 5th in London at a conference about Margaret Barker’s latest book, Temple Themes in Christian Worship, and her scholarly work on temple subjects in ancient Christianity and Judaism. FARMS lists Welch as serving on the executive committee of the Biblical Law Section of the SBL, but in this review he also mentions that he has been selected as one of the organizers of a new section on Temple Studies in the SBL. I am not very familiar with the SBL, but this sounds like a fantastic leap forward in temple studies among biblical scholars.
Some highlights from this address are:
Jesus’s world was a world in which temples were pervasive, dominant, identity-forming and community-shaping institutions. We haven’t understood well enough that temples were of the essence in all ancient religions, but a recent burst of books about temple studies shows that people are finally seeing this more clearly. . . .
Certainly Peter spoke of the church as a nation of priests, and early Christians saw themselves in terms of that temple-centric world, and even envied the temple. Margaret builds on solid ground in highlighting the Liturgy of James, in which “all Christians gave thanks that they could enter the holy of holies, ‘being counted worthy to enter . . . within the veil’” and cast themselves before God’s goodness (226). . . .
In historical Jesus studies, more attention now needs to be given to Jesus and the Temple, for it dominated every landscape in Jerusalem in Jesus’s day. Whenever we see Jesus in Jerusalem, we see him in or in the vicinity of the Temple. Too rarely have we noticed how many of his teachings, conversations, and actions are reported in a temple setting. By my count, some 12% of the words in all 4 gospels are set in the Temple or its confines. After Margaret’s work, everything in the New Testament needs to be reconsidered in terms of temple themes. . . .
As a Latter-day Saint, I have a deep love for and interest in the Temple, a place that Jesus loved, wept over, and revered as his Father’s house. Striving to be saints or holy ones, Latter-day Saints have built temples in many countries around the world. They offer working examples of Christian temples in operation. Their practices tap into much of the earliest temple strata of Christianity. In LDS temples, the faithful are given a new name, a white robe, washed and anointed, instructed through a ritual drama of God the Father’s plan of salvation, and prayers are offered for the healing of the sick and the afflicted. . . .
By reconnecting the ordinary Christian’s worship with its sustaining temple roots, Margaret takes biblical studies out of the sterile confines of arcane academic arenas (where biblical studies usually languish) and reveals what difference these purposefully obscure, guardedly veiled, and now long-forgotten mysteries can make today in breathing new life into the minds and hearts of faithful sons and daughters of God. Imagine actually enriching every Christian’s baptismal experience with the twelve powerful steps of initiation found in the Testament of Levi, reflecting temple traditions older than the Temple of Herod. . . .
While Margaret is appropriately cautious about such matters (105), it is abundantly clear that some things that were perfectly plain and precious in early Christianity have gone missing. . . .
I thought that was interesting that Welch mentioned the Testament of Levi that I just recently wrote about. He also gives interesting commentary on Barker’s temple connections to the Sermon on the Mount, which Welch has written about before. Take a look at the address.