The Ancient Order of Things

Essays on the Mormon Temple

Book Notice

The Ancient Order of Things: Essays on the Mormon Temple, edited by Christian Larsen (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2019)

The Ancient Order of Things: Essays on the Mormon Temple presents a variety of academic discussions on different aspects of temples. In the introduction, the collection’s editor, Christian Larsen, explains that the essays focus on historical perspectives of significant and “unique facets” (x) of temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The essays cover themes such as histories of ordinances, the role of temples beyond mainstream LDS tradition, and the position of temples within wider cultural contexts.

Devery S. Anderson’s “The Anointed Quorum, 1842–45,” traces the beginnings of the temple rites and rituals to early prayer meetings of anointed men and women in Nauvoo, examining the Anointed Quorum’s changing members, practices, and primarily spiritual purposes. In the essay “‘Not to Be Ritten’: The Mormon Temple Rite as Oral Canon,” Kathleen Flake shows how the uniquely oral nature of the core temple canon augments the ritual’s ability within the growing Church to maintain a cultural and theological cohesion while allowing for adaptability to changing times. Ryan G. Tobler’s essay on “Mormon Sacramentalism, Mortality, and Baptism for the Dead” gives a detailed account of the history of proxy baptism, noting the power of its answers to prevalent questions of death and the role of the Saints in the work of saving others.

In “‘The Upper Room’: The Nature and Development of Latter-day Saint Temple Work, 1846–55,” Richard E. Bennet gives long-due attention to the temple work done during the exodus from Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley, detailing how the Saints kept alive the traditions of baptisms for the dead, endowments, and marriage and adoption sealings outside of formal temples during this transitionary decade. Taking a different look at baptism for the dead, Tonya S. Reiter, in “Black Saviors on Mount Zion,” focuses on the early history of Black members’ roles in the ordinance despite their not being allowed to participate in other temple rites, using specific examples from the lives of Jane Manning James and others. In the essay “Come, Let Us Go Up to the Mountain of the Lord,” Brian H. Stuy recreates the Salt Lake Temple dedication experience of April 6–23, 1893, and corresponding priesthood leadership meetings of April 19–20, 1893, through the journal accounts of various participants, presenting the occasions as a spiritual epoch for both individuals and the Church.

Examining “A Contest for ‘Sacred Space,’” R. Jean Addams presents a thorough history of the cultural, doctrinal, and legal dealings between two different “Expressions of the Restoration,” the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Community of Christ) over the holdings of the original temple lot in Independence, Missouri. Craft Mackay and Lachlan Mackay detail the Kirtland Temple’s “Time of Transition,” the forty-two years between the LDS exodus to Nauvoo in 1838 and the RLDS Church’s securing of the title in 1880, years that were marked by different Mormon and other groups using the temple for various purposes. Continuing the theme of temples in other Restoration denominations, Melvin C. Johnson, in “‘So We Build a Good Little Temple to Worship In’: Mormonism on the Pedernales—Texas, 1847–51,” examines the Lyman Wight colony’s building of “the first functional, active Mormon temple west of the Mississippi” (216), describing the religious rites done both inside and outside of the log edifice as compared to ordinances in the Utah LDS traditions of the time.

Tracing the evolution of one specific aspect of LDS temple ceremony, John-Charles Duffy’s “‘To Cover Your Nakedness’: The Body, Sacred Secrecy, and Institutional Power in the Initiatory” looks at the history of the decline of nudity in the initiatory in light of LDS doctrines of the body and sacredness.

With different essays in the collection seeming to be aimed at different audiences—from those with personal and academic experience with LDS temples to those unfamiliar with basic LDS customs—there is plenty to learn for all types of readers who understand the scope of the book not as an introduction to temples but as deep dives into more niche topics. The essays range in scope from objective histories to subjective analyses, and readers can pick and choose readings that best suit their interests and scholarship. As a whole, this volume underscores the essential doctrinal and cultural roles of temples to the LDS tradition in past, present, and future days.

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About the author(s)

Brooke James is an editorial intern for BYU Studies.