The Early Temples of the Mormons

The Early Temples of the Mormons
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The Early Temples of the Mormons
Author Laurel B. Andrew
Albany: State University of New York Press, 1978

The Early Temples of the Mormons

Reviewer Jon D. Green

Laurel B. Andrew's recently published book, The Early Temples of the Mormons, is a slightly modified and refined version of her earlier doctoral thesis, "The Nineteenth-Century Temple Architecture of the Latter-day Saints", the latter being a scholarly expansion of an even earlier collaborative study with her husband of "The Four Mormon Temples in Utah". Her major thesis, that nineteenth-century Mormon temple architecture uniquely expresses the spiritual and temporal aspirations of a millennial and utopian "Kingdom of God" on earth, has remained consistent throughout the three studies. What is obvious to a Mormon reader in comparing the dissertation to the book is the elimination in the book of some, though not all, anti-Mormon biases, what I would call "Brodyisms" for want of a better term. Her book promises to appeal to an educated and tolerant Mormon audience, although its scholarly tone and technical architectural terminology may make it somewhat inaccessible to the lay reader.

This book is clearly the most exhaustive treatment of Mormon temple architecture to date. Mormons admire their temples primarily as monuments to God. "Their viewpoint is historical, not critical", she claims. Indeed, Mormon writers have maintained an almost exclusively ritualistic rather than stylistic orientation toward their temples. Nibley in "What is a Temple?" and Talmage in The House of the Lord, while drawing illuminating analogies between the earlier Mosaic and Solomonic sanctuaries and temple symbolism, say little about the style of Mormon temple architecture, except to say it is unique, a major point of concurrence with most writers on the subject, including Andrew, who writes simply: "[Mormonism] produced an architectural form unique to itself, the temple, and created a style sufficiently different from other revival styles of the nineteenth-century to be recognizable as pure Mormon." William A. Raynor's The Everlasting Spires also grew from a thesis and contains one fine chapter on the architecture of the Salt Lake Temple, but is of necessity more limited than Andrew's and treats only one of the Utah temples. Andrew also criticizes an "extravagant" statement in Nibley's article: ". . .in establishing their temples the Mormons did not adopt traditional forms: with them the temples and its rites are absolutely pristine. In contrast, the church and temple architecture of the world is an exotic jumble, a bewildering complex of borrowed motifs." This was an unfortunate and easily refutable claim in the work of an otherwise impeccable scholar—his delightful rejoinder: "A lot has been learned since then". Mormon readers may take issue with how she comes to this conclusion, for she maintains that there are both theological (symbolical) and architectural links to Freemasonry, and while this alone may be innocuous enough in light of several studies relating Mormonism to Masonry, it does call into question the divine origin of early temple styles, particularly the Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake temples. [Note: Her objective stance is understandably critical of divine revelation, but her treatment of Joseph Smith's role in the planning of the Nauvoo Temple is unnecessarily skeptical and derogatory.

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