Why Did Moroni Use Temple Imagery While Telling the Brother of Jared Story?
Brother of Jared Sees the Finger of the Lord by Robert T. Barrett
November 23, 2016
KnoWhy #237
Brother of Jared Sees the Finger of the Lord by Robert T. Barrett
“Wherefore, having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus; and he did minister unto him.”

Ether 3:20

The Know

The account of the brother of Jared seeing the finger, and then the spirit body, of the premortal Jesus Christ, is well known to readers of the Book of Mormon. What may sometimes go unnoticed is the extensive use of temple imagery throughout this visionary account in Ether 3. Moroni described the event in language that recalls the revelatory experiences of other prophets, such as Moses and Isaiah, and also that of the high priests who officiated in the ancient Israelite temple. This language indicates that Moroni likely viewed the brother of Jared’s experience as parallel to the temple worship that would be performed among the Israelites and Nephites.

Several elements of the brother of Jared’s visionary experience resemble descriptions of the work of ancient prophets and priests, especially in the context of the ancient Israelite temple. The brother of Jared, for example, had 16 shining stones, comparable to the 16 precious stones the high priest wore on his priestly vestments. He was able to pass through, or see within, the veil, as did the high priest in the temple rituals. He saw the Lord, as did ancient prophets, priests, and kings (see table for further details and examples).

Ether 3 Ancient Temple Image
“exceeding height” of mount Shelem (v. 1)
  • Temple was metaphorically “the mountain of the Lord’s house” (Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1)1
  • “Shelem” may have reference to the peace offering and priestly atoning sacrifices2
“sixteen small stones” (v. 1)
  • High priest wore 16 stones on his priestly vestments (Exodus 28)3
“did carry [the stones] in his hands upon the top of the mount” (v. 1)
  • High priest carried incense into the temple in a censer shaped like a hand (Leviticus 16:12–13; Numbers 16:46)4
  • And with these thou shalt clothe Aaron, thy brother, and his sons with him and shalt anoint them and fill their hands and sanctify them that they may be my priests” (Exodus 28:41, Jubilee Bible 2000, emphasis added)
  • Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand” (Isaiah 6:6)
“encompassed about by the floods” (v. 2)
Concern over fallen nature (v. 2)
  • Sacrifices, high priest entering temple symbolized redemption from fall6
  • Interior of temple reflects the Garden of Eden7
Saw the Lord’s finger (v. 6)
Fell down before the Lord (v. 6)
Was struck with fear; feared being smitten (vv. 6, 8)
Saw the Lord (v. 13)
“Could not be kept from beholding within the veil” (vv. 19–20)
Shown God’s work of Creation (vv. 15, 18, 25–26)
  • Moses shown the Creation (Moses 1:27–3:25)
  • Abraham shown the Creation (Abraham 3–5)
  • Depiction of the Creation may have been a part of ancient Israelite temple worship10
Given “two stones” that would “magnify to the eyes of men” his writings (vv. 23–24, 28)
  • Priests were to carry the two stones of the Urim and Thummim in their priestly vestments (Exodus 28:30)
  • Many priests, also prophets and kings, used the Urim and Thummim11

 

The Why

The Finger of God by Brian C. Hailes

Many points stand in common between what ancient Israelite high priests did in temples—and similarly, what prophets did on high mountains—and the account of what happened to the brother of Jared found in Ether 3. Why would Moroni describe this event in words that are so reminiscent of ancient temple ceremonies and rituals?

There are, generally speaking, many parallels between the various temple/visionary accounts of this type throughout the scriptures. Individuals blessed to participate in a temple/mountain visionary experience are often taken through the same processes and shown similar things.

Regarding the relationship between these types of texts and the temple endowment, Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated:

According to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the crucial holy endowment was administered to Moses “on the mountaintop.” President Joseph Fielding Smith expressed the belief that Peter, James, and John also received the holy endowment on a mountain, the Mount of Transfiguration. Nephi, too, was caught up to an exceedingly high mountain (see 1 Nephi 11:1) and was instructed not to write or speak of some of the things he experienced there (see 1 Nephi 14:25).12

Brother of Jared by Emily Pugmire

Similarly, former BYU professor of religious education M. Catherine Thomas has insightfully suggested that “the brother of Jared received his endowment on the top of mount Shelem.”13 It is possible that Moroni understood this to be the case, based on his awareness of similar mountain-top or temple experiences of prophets like Nephi in 1 Nephi 11 and of the people at the temple of Bountiful in 3 Nephi 11, and that he deliberately emphasized the concepts that would lead readers to recognize parallels between the brother of Jared’s experience and the rites and ordinances of the temple.

Indeed, the Lord himself told the brother of Jared that these things would come forth in the Lord’s “own due time” (Ether 3:24, 27). This points to a time when a fullness of eternal truths regarding the gospel of Jesus Christ, the house of the Lord, and the ordinances of salvation and exaltation would be restored and revealed again to mankind.

Further Reading

M. Catherine Thomas, “The Brother of Jared at the Veil,” in Temples in the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism, ed. Donald W. Parry (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994), 388–398.

Kent P. Jackson, “’Never Have I Showed Myself unto Man’: A Suggestion for Understanding Ether 3:15a,” BYU Studies 30, no. 3 (1990): 71–76.