LDS Culture · LDS Doctrine · Old Testament

Episode 94: Day of Atonement Symbolism in LDS Discourse with Shon Hopkin

Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year in Judaism. The themes of this day are atonement and repentance, which are essential themes of the Restoration as well. Although the ancient Israelites who first celebrated this festival are far removed in time and space, do the symbolic acts of the priest in the tabernacle carry over to LDS understandings, doctrines, and ordinances? Dr. Shon Hopkin believes they do and studying them can enhance our worship and understanding of the gospel.

But how can we know we are interpreting symbols correctly? Symbols, by their very nature, can be interpreted in multiple ways. A member of the Jewish faith may interpret biblical symbolism differently than a Christian, which doesn’t mean that one understanding is correct and the other is not. All religions build upon the imagery of others. As Christians use this foundation and reinterpret the meanings, the symbolism is made new and alive in other religious traditions.

The Christian understanding of the important messages contained in the Jewish Yom Kippur imagery developed slowly over the centuries. Eventually, the church leader was not just a father or bishop but was called a priest and then a high priest. The place where the eucharist was stored and prepared was in the holiest location in the church, which was seen as similar to a Holy of Holies.

Still, today in Eastern Orthodox churches, a screen or an iconostasis is placed between worshipers and the priest. The priest will go behind that screen and prepare the emblems of Eucharist or communion — sacrament for Latter-day Saints. Incense is lit in front of that screen that symbolizes and reminds of the altar of incense from the Israelite temple. The priest then will bring out the emblems still covered with a cloth. Only the priest or high priest has the authority to remove that cloth and offer these symbols of God in an atoning kind of a setting to the people.

Ritual worship can be powerful. As physical beings, it publicly pronounces, and it cements, in a way, inner commitments. Through ritual, we are using our whole bodies to worship, not just our minds. To do so, we want to use our physical bodies to focus on the spirit and focus on the soul. Imagery works powerfully to do just this.

Latter-day Saints are not known for their formal rituals outside the temple, but if one looks closely, the Yom Kippur imagery can be found in the Book of Mormon, Sunday worship, the bestowal or ordinances, and LDS temple ceremonies. In this episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast, Laura Harris Hales interviews biblical scholar Shon Hopkin about Day of Atonement imagery in Latter-day Saint teachings.

About Our Guest:  Shon D. Hopkin is an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU. He has published and presented papers on the Jewish concept of premortal life and the Jewish longing for Zion, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Psalm 22, ordinance and ritual in the law of Moses and in the book of Isaiah, and the connections between Jewish and LDS beliefs and viewpoints. Shon is the editor of Abinadi: He Came Among Them in Disguise, a new release from the BYU Religious Studies Center.

 Episode 94 Transcript

LDS Perspectives Podcast

Episode 94: Day of Atonement Symbolism in LDS Ritual with Shon Hopkin

(Released September 19, 2018)   This is not a verbatim transcript. Some grammar and wording has been modified for clarity.   Laura Harris Hales: This is Laura Harris Hales, and I’m here today with Shon Hopkin to talk about the Day of Atonement. Shon D. Hopkin is an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU. He has published and presented papers on the Jewish concept of a premortal life and the Jewish longing for Zion, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Psalm 22, ordinance and ritual in the law of Moses and in the book of Isaiah, and the connections between Jewish and LDS beliefs and viewpoints. Shon is the editor of Abinadi: He Came Among Them in Disguise, a release from the BYU religious study center. But today we will be discussing an address he gave at the second Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference, “The Temple on Mount Zion,” held October 25, 2014, titled “Representing the Divine Ascent: The Day of Atonement in Christian and Nephite Scripture and Practice.”   Laura Harris Hales: We know that other Jewish holidays have ties to Christian themes. According to the Synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, Jesus himself — use the imagery of the Passover to introduce the sacrament and tie the symbols to the atonement. How do we know that imagery was perpetuated in early Christianity?   Shon Hopkin: The Passover is the one that, as you said, is most clearly connected. The Day of Atonement connections to Christian sacraments, or what we would call ordinances as Latter-day Saints, is less clear, but we’ll talk about it. First, the Passover is clearly important to early Christians because you end up in their recorded texts, that become the New Testament texts that we use today, they persist, and it’s very important to them that those connections are made. In Matthew 26, Jesus says, “This is my blood, this is the blood of my covenant, which is poured out from any forgiveness of sins.” This is during the Passover season that Jesus is recorded doing this. And so, it is very important to early Christians to see the connections from what they consider the old to the new. There are these ancient foundations, and Jesus is not abrogating them or doing away with them. He is fulfilling them, and there’s something new and alive in this Christian ordinance of the sacrament. Paul does it too in 1 Corinthians. He says, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us keep the festival, not with the old bread, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and of truth.” These connections are really important to them as I think they continue to be to Christians today.   Laura Harris Hales: You argued that other mosaic practices contained foundational symbols for Judaism and symbolic imagery for Christianity. I think sometimes this bugs Jews when we say, “Oh, that’s —”   Shon Hopkin: Yes.   Laura Harris Hales: — “a foreshadowing or something.”   Shon Hopkin: Sure.   Laura Harris Hales: Because, well, you can appropriate that, but that’s not how we see it. How can we know we are interpreting symbols correctly?   Shon Hopkin:  I think if we’re going to play fair with members of other religious traditions, it is helpful for us to understand that we are building upon a foundation provided by others. That foundation is there and can be used by Christians, and reinterpreted, and made new and alive in their own religious traditions. We should recognize that Jews themselves might interpret these things differently. Symbols by their very nature, can be interpreted in multiple ways. For Christians to see these pointing towards Jesus Christ is fair. Sometimes we use it aggressively to say to our Jewish friends, “Oh, look. You’re missing the point.” And they say, “No. These have a point for us, and it’s very powerful. You’re using them differently than we use them, and (as you say) appropriating our symbols.” Every new religious community takes symbolism from previous religious communities and builds upon it. Religious symbols are built on this foundation, but they are made new and alive as they are reinterpreted and reused. I think to understand that we’re doing that helps. And then to not do it in a condemnatory or aggressive way that says, “Here’s the only correct way of interpreting these symbols.”   Laura Harris Hales: I like that you made that differentiation. You gave the disclaimer that there is not just one interpretation. Just because we interpret it this way doesn’t mean that is the absolute interpretation that was meant when it was revealed.   Shon Hopkin: I’ve been in interfaith settings where I was with other Christians who took a very aggressive stance and said, for example, in connection with this particular essay, “Any Jewish interpretation is going to be passé, and old, and inappropriate.” I hope Latter-day Saints don’t feel that way. I can learn so much from expanding my understanding of what symbols can mean, rather than shutting it down and closing it off. I want to know everything that my Jewish friends have to say about how they interpret these symbols and let that inform the way I read these symbols. In that way, it becomes richer to me.   Laura Harris Hales: Your paper covers the symbolism in the Day of Atonement, specifically. Perhaps you can start by describing what the Day of Atonement was in scripture and in practice.   Shon Hopkin: “In practice” can be a little bit tricky, so I’m going to stick mostly to “in scripture.” The ancient practice was thousands of years ago, and there’s lots of debate. Well, did the practice look just like what’s recorded now in the Bible or was there some movement before we got what we see today in Leviticus 17, for example? The texts detail the most holy day of the year, Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement is the central point of the high holy days for ancient Israelites and still for Jews today. The festival season starts with Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and then builds to the Day of Atonement, Sukkot, and the Feast of Tabernacles is after that. Right in the middle of these celebrations is the Day of Atonement. When there was first a tabernacle, and then the temple, this is the only day on which the entire tabernacle precincts were used all the way into the Holy of Holies. You see no other religious ritual in which the high priest or anyone else, for that matter, is able to enter into the Holy of Holies. This is the day of days, so to speak, and it would include a significant series of rituals. The high priest had to be properly purified with washings and dressed appropriately. He would be dressed all in white — less ostentatious on this day than on other days — very simple white. First, there would be sacrifices for the high priest, then there would be sacrifices for the tabernacle, or temple, and for the community. And those are the ones we usually focus on.   Shon Hopkin: You have two goats that play roles in the Day of Atonement drama. The first goat is sacrificed, and the high priest makes what would be considered a risky journey into the presence of God, and on this one day the name of God in these rituals has been pronounced ten times most believe. This is the only time anciently that the name of God could be pronounced and only in the mouth of the high priest, so doing so gives power to the act.   Having done everything else correctly, as he approaches the veil. He prays before the veil with the blood of the goat held in a vessel in his hand and makes this treacherous movement past the veil into the powerful and awe-inspiring presence of God. He sprinkles the blood appropriately there on the Ark of the Covenant and comes back out of the Holy of Holies and the presence of God back into the presence of the people. As he’s doing this, according to the texts, and some of these are written later, the community is gathered around the temple — most importantly the priest, but the entire community — praying and pleading with God to forgive their sins. Praying for the sins of Israel to be wiped away and that the tabernacle will be cleansed and made holy. The tabernacle has been stained by the sins of the people, and now can be cleansed and made holy. The high priest comes out and takes the scapegoat that has already been designated. There’s been a red thread tied on it to designate it as the scapegoat. The high priest lays his hands on this scapegoat known as Azazel, which is designated a representative of the community. The sins of the community are ritually placed on the scapegoat, and that scapegoat is driven out into the wilderness — excommunicated, so to speak, from the community — and the sins of the people are driven out with that scapegoat. Later on, to make sure the scapegoat doesn’t wander back in, they actually take it to a cliff, at least the text says, and they drop it off a cliff. Sort of sad. My daughter would not like that part of their ritual. This is done to make sure that the scapegoat doesn’t wander back into the community with the sins of the people. That would be disastrous, of course. It is a very, very important ritual and holy day.   Laura Harris Hales: I asked a Jewish friend about the Day of Atonement, and she said, “Blood everywhere.” What you have described is pretty bloody.   Shon Hopkin: Yes, yes. Passover would have been even more so because every family brings their own sheep. You would have had lots and lots of death. But that is also true on these other sacrificial days, and the Day of Atonement was no exception. Lots of sacrifice is going on. I’ve only detailed the two most important ones, but there is lots of death going on that day with the idea that that sacrifice allows God to bless the community.   Laura Harris Hales: Did they celebrate the Day of Atonement differently in the Second Temple period?   Shon Hopkin: Well, so that’s where it’s tricky to know. So many of our texts are written down even after the Second Temple period. We could suggest possibilities of what it was like in the First Temple period, but they would be just that. Some people feel pretty strongly about the topic. They know all of this was different, but usually that’s more a matter of us wanting to see something that’s there. There might have been some shift in the ritual over time. What I’ve just described to you I’ve pulled not only from the Bible but also from later texts like the Mishnah. These are later texts that are describing an earlier period. And they’re not perfect, but they’re the best we’ve got.   Laura Harris Hales: Most of the Bible was written in the Second Temple period, so it would have been oral tradition that was passed down.   Shon Hopkin: Absolutely.   Laura Harris Hales: It would have been hard to distinguish between what wass new and what was old.   Shon Hopkin: And that’s even more so the case thousands of years later.   Laura Harris Hales: The Jewish people had their own symbolism tied to the Day of Atonement. What was it?   Shon Hopkin: One of the important things for modern Christians and Latter-day Saints to understand is that the tabernacle and then the temple were set up to imitate a return into the Garden of Eden. This is the idea that Adam and Eve and all humankind have been cast out of the Garden of Eden, out of the presence of God, out of the paradisiacal state and are living in this fallen world. God has even placed cherubim, these angelic guardians, to protect the presence of God. And the idea isn’t, “You can’t return into my presence.” The idea is rather, “You need to prepare appropriately before you return into my presence.” As the high priest proceeds from east to west towards the Holy of Holies, he is carefully, appropriately, boldly seeking to return, like Adam and Eve returning, representing all of the congregation of Israel, or we might say representing all of us if you’re taking a modern perspective, back into the presence of God. When you move past the veil, you’ve now passed those cherubim stitched on the vale. And they were actually stitched on the vale. They are guarding the way as if saying, “Do not enter in unless you are truly ready to come in.” This is high drama for ancient Israelites. We have someone representing all of us that is going to enter into the presence of God. That’s going back into the Garden of Eden. There is a medieval legend that grows up the Israelites would actually tie a rope around the leg of the high priest before he would pass through the vale. The idea there is that if you are going into God’s presence, and you’re not prepared, you’re a goner. You’re going to be done for. If somebody dies in there, what are we going to do? I’m not going in there. Pull him out. And they’d use that rope to pull him back out. This is considered the high-risk, but very powerful, journey. The high priest represents all of Israel and their ability, through him, to enter back into the presence of God. This can only happen if their sins have been atoned for through sacrificial rituals.   Laura Harris Hales: It’s really interesting, Shon, that it’s so tied to Adam and Eve when many scholars believe that Adam and Eve are a Second Temple creation.   Shon Hopkin: Sure. There’s two ways of coming at that. Right? I think most Latter-day Saints believe that Adam and Eve were real people. I think there are some Latter-day Saints who see Adam and Eve as a representation of the fall in all of us. That’s an appropriate way of coming at it as well. But you could either say Jews took Adam and Eve as a real person and this story is real, or you might say that these legends grew up and were written down in the Bible to describe why they do their rituals the way they do.         The chicken-or-the-egg question is a little tricky for biblical scholars, and they don’t always try to distinguish which happens first. One just assumes this was the understanding. Therefore, they’re acting out the way they understand their relationship with God. Even the story of Adam and Eve is designed to ritually help us understand our relationship with God and what’s going on in that relationship, whether you take Adam and Eve as real people or a representation of humankind.   Laura Harris Hales: When you were talking about the forgiving of sins, I immediately thought of the atonement because I am a Christian. Where does the New Testament tie Jesus’s atoning offering with the blood of the Day of Atonement sacrifice?   Shon Hopkin: We’ve already mentioned that the Passover is the one where it’s most overtly done in the New Testament. The Day of Atonement is not as overt or clear in the Gospels, but it does become very clear and purposeful in the Epistle to the Hebrews. In that epistle, the author describes Jesus’s movement back into the presence of God, and represents Jesus as the Great High Priest whose sacrifice unlike the high priest and unlike the Day of Atonement offering, which had to be done over and over, year after year, and one time did not suffice, is efficacious one time because he is God descended amongst men. He atoned one time for our sins and then undertook the way back into the presence of God. Hebrews uses very clearly symbolism from the tabernacle or the temple — a table of shewbread, the menorah, the altar of incense and the veil — to symbolize Jesus’s ascent back into God’s presence. Now that Jesus has shown us the way as Christians, the way is open for all of us. This is the way some people interpret the rending of the veil at Jesus’s death. That Jesus, his sacrifice as the Great High Priest, is opening the way now for all to undertake this journey because He has shown the way and allowed all to take that journey through Him.   Laura Harris Hales: And, of course, people of the Jewish faith wouldn’t like that interpretation very much.   Shon Hopkin: Right. Paul and later Christians interpret the symbolism of the Day of Atonement that way. The Book of Mormon does that as well, and Latter-day Saints typically follow that understanding, taking this all as one great composite, and as do most Christians.   Laura Harris Hales: Some may assume that the New Testament is our only lens into what earlier Christians did, but we also have writings from early Christian fathers. How did they write about Day of Atonement imagery?   Shon Hopkin: These early church fathers really loved the symbolism available to them because of this great holy day, the Day of Atonement. They talked a lot about the sacrificial scapegoat. As Christianity progresses, they begin to use the language of the tabernacle or of the temple. The only time in which that language is fully employed is on the Day of Atonement when the high priest actually enters into the Holy of Holies. They begin to use the terminology for their buildings and church offices. And so, the church leader is not just a father or a bishop, he’s a priest and then a high priest. And the place where the sacrament is stored and prepared is going to be in the holiest location in the church and is seen as similar to a Holy of Holies. You can still see today in Eastern Orthodox churches, a screen or an iconostasis that is placed between worshipers and the priest. The priest will go behind, and there’s even incense lit in front of that screen that symbolizes and reminds of the altar of incense, and the priest will go behind that screen and prepare the emblems of eucharist or communion — sacrament for Latter-day Saints. Then he will bring out the emblems still covered with a cloth. Only the priest or high priest has authority to remove that cloth and offer these symbols of God in an atoning kind of a setting to the people. Understandings develop over the centuries as Christians build upon this Old Testament or Hebrew Bible imagery. One other example of using this symbolism is the naming of the place where Christ traditionally died as a Holy of Holies over and over again. On pilgrimage, people would go there almost like they were trying to enter into the Holy of Holies and would feel like they had had a divine encounter in doing so. The Day of Atonement continued to be very important for Christians.   Laura Harris Hales: You mentioned how the practices of the Day of Atonement are mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Can you elaborate?   Shon Hopkin: Sure. The first thing that should be said and acknowledged is that in the Book of Mormon one finds the word atonement much more frequently than in the New Testament. And that makes sense. The atonement, which is kippur in Hebrew, means to smear or to cover. With that smearing action, the sacrificial blood atones for sin or even covers over the man, expiating or wiping away of the sinful nature. You could even point to the priestly robes that cover our fallen, or naked, or sinful state and allow us to stand in the presence of God. All of that imagery is really connected to the Old Testament sacrificial system. You get that less in the New Testament. They just don’t discuss it in quite those terms in the New Testament. Also, some of the words that could have been translated as atonement were not done so, but there are words that clearly do translate that way. The Book of Mormon people are an Old Testament people living out these prophesied and already understood Christian understandings and ideals, and they’re still using the sacrificial system. They make those connections much more organically, much more clearly, much more overtly in the Book of Mormon. And so that word atonement is very important. The second thing, though, is a proposal that I’ve made. As I was reading, and Joe Spencer in some of his work on Book of Mormon has also suggested, that 2 Nephi 31 through 33 is this Holy of Holies moment in Nephi’s writings. The way I understand it is that the text is using imagery from the temple he has built. His people, although not Levites, would have used that temple and understood what that temple was like. They would have also had the biblical text to help them understand. Nephi is using imagery from the temple much like the divine ascent on the Day of Atonement when he teaches the doctrine of Christ. I’m not trying to say that the doctrine of Christ is the same thing as the Day of Atonement but rather that Nephi is using divine ascent/Day of Atonement imagery to teach these very important Christian concepts of the doctrine of Christ.   Laura Harris Hales: You made an interesting point. You noted that the Book of Mormon uses the word atonement far more frequently than the New Testament and more in line with Old Testament usage, especially in the Torah. Can you speak to that?   Shon Hopkin: The sacrificial system was very real to the Nephites. The Nephites had understood clear prophecies of a future Christ, and so they were in a position to both be practicing the sacrificial system and to be thinking overtly, and clearly, and pointedly of an Atoning One who would come. Those connections are much more real to them. They don’t slowly develop over time but rather through prophecy, and vision, and that kind of thing is in advance of Jesus actually coming. You see in the New Testament a gradual understanding of those things. You can see a development in Nephite thought as well, but it starts 600 years before Jesus is ever going to come. And so, you get this beautiful conflation of what Christians would see as Old Testament and New Testament doctrine.   This feels like the Latter-day Saint view of the Bible. These all join together and should be understood as one organic whole. It helps Latter-day Saints really see the connection between Jesus and ancient Israelite practices maybe more clearly than some other Christians do.   Laura Harris Hales: This is a good segue into talking about intertextuality. Talk to us about how the book of Hebrews relates to or potentially influenced the language of the Book of Mormon.   Shon Hopkin: I would, from my perspective, see that Nephi through prophecy is doing things that are going to be somewhat similar, but certainly not exactly the same as, to what the Epistle to the Hebrews is going to do many hundreds of years later. Nephi already understands the temple and its application to the doctrine of Christ in ways that will be presented in somewhat different ways in the Epistle to the Hebrews hundreds of years from then. Then, I would add another piece, and that is in the translation of the Book of Mormon. There are textual clues that clearly do tie to the Epistle to the Hebrews. Nephi’s original language wouldn’t have tied to the Epistle of Hebrews, but the English translation does. And what that allows for me as a scholar to do is to say, “Well, I’m not crazy in making these connections or reading the text this way because the words already point to reading it in a similar way to what the Epistle to the Hebrews is presenting.” Some of those textual clues include this very clear use of the way — that Jesus has shown the way. That’s something that Epistle to the Hebrews does very pointedly. And then this phrase doctrine of Christ. There are only three or four places in the New Testament that it is used, and one of the only places is in Hebrews 6, talking about how Jesus made this divine assent into the presence of God. That was actually the first cue I had that something is going on here with what Nephi is doing where he’s not just talking about the doctrine of Christ. He’s using imagery from the temple or the tabernacle to talk about the doctrine of Christ. Those textual cues pointing to the New Testament helped me. I, personally, don’t have a good way of understanding all of the ways that the Book of Mormon and the New Testament sometimes intertwine. But in this case, I could see very easily that Nephi is teaching those concepts. And then in the translation process, that intertwining is made overt.   Laura Harris Hales: Nephi talks about things that we also read about in Hebrews. How does he do that?   Shon Hopkin: He’s going to say, “Now, I’m going to teach you the doctrine of Christ.” And in Hebrew 6, doctrine of Christ is connected to repentance and baptism, and what Latter-day Saints would call the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. What we understand as Articles of Faith 4. That’s also what Nephi is going to teach. I would propose that he’s envisioning. He’s using the temple as a model as he’s teaching that and he uses language that clues us into that. He’s going to begin with faith, of course. And faith is that which brings us to repentance. And that second step, the altar of sacrifice, is this repentant sacrificial state where we leave behind the old, and we begin the new. We start a new way of life. But that is symbolically concluded, of course, by baptism. This way leads through — and if you progress through the tabernacle or the temple, the next thing you come to after the altar of sacrifice is the laver of water. And I’m not trying to indicate that baptism was performed there. I’m indicating Nephi is using that water symbolism to talk about this way Jesus was baptized and now you must be baptized. Once you’ve been baptized now you’re through that straight and narrow gate. Now, you’re in the way. And if you can picture it, now you’re inside that temple edifice. The first things you see when you enter into that temple edifice are the menorah or menorahs, depending on how the temple was done that Nephi built, and they are lighting up the rooms. You’ve got the table of shewbread, you’ve got the altar of incense at the end of that room, and you’ve got the angels stitched on the veil that are guarding the way into the presence of God. Nephi and 2 Nephi 32 start bringing up these interesting words and this interesting language that makes you think, “Where did this come from?” He says, “Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost. Wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Chris for the words of Christ will tell you all things what you should do.” He’s having us move forward in the temple, and there’s the table of shewbread, and he’s saying, “Feast upon the words of Christ, and they will tell you what you should do.” And then he says, “The Holy Ghost,” and there’s the menorah lighting up the room, “Will show you what you should do.” And as you move forward, you stand there before the veil at the altar of incense. And he says, “If you do these things, then you can speak with the tongue of angels.” And there are those guardian angels stitched on the veil. You cannot move forward because they are guarding the way. And he says, “If you don’t understand what I’m saying to you, you have to pray.” And that’s what the altar of incense typically represents — the symbolic prayers ascending up into heaven. That was the place where the priest would pray before the veil every day and then especially on the Day of Atonement. And he says, “You’ve got to pray.” Ask, seek, knock, he says in 2 Nephi 32. And then he says, “That’s all you’ve got.” And he’s walked us through it all. He’s given us faith, repentance, and baptism. Then, you’re inside the house. You’re a part of this community, this covenant community with the Holy Ghost and table of shewbread, feasting upon the words of Christ, praying, and then speaking the tongue of angels.   Shon Hopkin: Listen to what he says there towards the end of 2 Nephi 32. He says, “There will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh. When he shall manifest himself unto you the things which he shall say unto you, shall ye observe to do.” Nephi is giving us the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, as we know them, the doctrine of Christ, to encourage us. Just like the Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus has done it. You can do it. You can return past the veil into the presence of God. He even actually says how sacred what he is teaching is that we can see God face-to-face. He mourns at the foolishness of mankind and says, “They will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as words can be.” He’s saying, “Listen to me. And if you don’t understand what I’m saying, pray so that you can understand you can return into the presence of God and the doctrine of Christ. The path is the way that will bring you back into God’s presence. Do it, believe it, and travel it so that you can return to God’s presence.”   Laura Harris Hales: It sounds like LDS theology incorporates Day of Atonement imagery as well. What kind of connections have you found?   Shon Hopkin: And again, I have to be careful here because symbols are multivalent. Right? This is just one way of understanding our ordinances and our symbols, but I think it’s a helpful way. I actually have to add one more Book of Mormon thing because I think it also helps as we talk now about Latter-day Saint ordinances and religious practice. The Brother of Jared is an interesting case study. This event is historically before the temple exists, but Mahonri uses this account and veil language as well to talk about his encounter with diety. After the Brother of Jared’s recounts his story of entering into the presence of God, he says, “As soon as you have enough faith you too can pierce the veil of unbelief and stand in the presence of God.” He understands what he’s doing with the story very clearly. And in that story, the Brother of Jared is also in a sense before a veil. He’s on a high mountain, so we would understand it as a temple kind of a setting, and he’s got a problem that he’s brought there before the Lord, and he’s asking the Lord to light these stones, and he prays this beautiful prayer. And if you think of him praying before the veil of the temple with this powerful prayer of faith, and all of a sudden, a hand pierces the veil. A hand peeks through the veil. God’s finger peeks through the veil, and the Brother of Jared looks at God’s finger and says, “Whoa. God has a finger. Therefore, God must have a body. God has a hand. Therefore, God must have a body. God’s willing to show me his hand. Therefore, maybe God will be willing to show me his whole body.” And that sparks his faith in such a way that with faith and boldness, he steps through the veil, so to speak, and enters into the presence of God and see’s God face-to-face. It’s not fair to call it Day of Atonement imagery because it happens before the Day of Atonement has ever been instituted, but to see this as an overarching theme both in the Book of Mormon and in the Bible, I think, is really important.   Shon Hopkin: And now I’ll talk about some Latter-day Saint ordinance practices. If we start with the sacrament, there are all kinds of symbolisms that can build on Day of Atonement imagery. The sacrament tablecloth covers the presence of God. It is covering those emblems that represent God’s presence. There are priests there. And if you think of the Day of Atonement now in Latter-day Saint practice, these priests are pronouncing the holy name of God, and the veil then is removed through sacred priesthood ordinance or ritual. You can tell it’s sacred because there is someone designated to guard the way and make sure it’s done appropriately. The bishop is up there. He’s the cherubim. The bishop is saying, “Whoa, whoa. This is important. This is a big deal. We are seeking to enter the presence of God. It’s got to be done correctly.” Right? If that priest gets the prayer wrong, there’s no magic in the order of those words it’s just we’ve got to do our best to do it the right way because we’re trying to enter into the presence of God. And so, we’ll say, “Oh, say the prayer again,” and the prayer is said again.” In this very sacred moment, the veil is pulled back and the presence of God, the community, the congregation, seeks to enter into the presence of God altogether and become one with the God that they worship. There is very beautiful and powerful symbolism there.      Remember, I had mentioned that it’s high-risk, and in medieval legend, they’d even tie a rope to the leg. Well, you get that kind of language in the Book of Mormon. If you eat and drink unworthily you’re eating and drinking damnation to your soul. This is a big deal. Don’t just run past those cherubim. You prepare and then you humbly but boldly seek to enter into the presence of God. So that’s the sacrament. We could also talk about other ordinances as well.   Laura Harris Hales: How about baptism and confirmation?   Shon Hopkin: You actually see similar understandings in the ordinance of baptism and confirmation, which in the time of Joseph Smith were understood as one ordinance or as two interconnected ordinances. You need them both for it to be complete. Is there a veil in baptism that we have to pass through in a high-risk journey away to proceed into the presence of God? There is. The water acts as that veil. Are there cherubim that guard the way into the presence of God saying, “Make sure you’ve prepared appropriately?” I would actually mention a couple of different kinds of guardian angels that make sure that we are taking this seriously. One is the interview process before you get baptized: Are you repentant? Do you have faith in these things? Are you doing this with real intent? But then, even at that ordinance, you have two priesthood holders standing beside the veil of the baptismal water, and if it’s not done correctly they do it again. It’s not that there’s any particular magic, so to speak, in making sure of every little thing is submersed. It’s just that this is sacred, and we’re doing our very best to do it the way that God has asked us to do it, so we want to do it carefully.   Laura Harris Hales: Oh, yeah. And there’s nothing wrong with ritual being a part of the way we worship.   Shon Hopkin: As physical beings, it publicly pronounces, and it cements, in a way, these inner commitments that we’ve made. We’re using our whole bodies to worship — not just our minds, but our minds and our bodies to worship. To do so, we want to use those physical bodies to focus the spirit and focus the soul. These rituals are very powerful. The person who is baptized goes into the water, passes through that veil of the water, and comes up on the other side now within the doors of the covenant community, so to speak, right? And the very next thing that happens after that’s been done appropriately is that hands — you might even picture those hands coming through the veil, right? — are laid upon the head of the person who’s been baptized, and that person enters into the presence of God. The gift of the presence of God, the Holy Ghost, is given as for their constant companionship.  And so, you’ve seen the same process of seeking to enter into the presence of God. You’ve seen the cherubim. You’ve seen the veil. You’ve seen the presence of God, and we even have the same element of high-risk. Latter-day Saints believe that until you’ve received the gift of the Holy Ghost, you can’t actually commit the unpardonable sin. You can’t reject the gift that you don’t have yet. Accepting the gift is risky. It’s powerful, but risky, just like entering into the presence of God has always been.   Laura Harris Hales: That’s great. Though it isn’t a big part of your article, you did mention that the Day of Atonement imagery fits into Latter-day Saint temple worship as well. Is there anything you’d like to add about that?   Shon Hopkin: There are some simple connections that can be seen. The first is very noticeable. The moment you walk through those temple doors, there they sit again. There are those cherubim saying, “Hey. This is a big deal. We’re not trying to keep you out. We actually want you to come in, but we want you to come in prepared to do so.” And that means covenant preparedness. It’s not just the two priesthood brethren checking those temple recommends and making sure you prepared appropriately. There is for most a dual process of interview with the bishop and the stake president before you ever try to enter, “Why are you doing this? Are you taking this seriously? Is this with real intent? Do you have a broken heart and a contrite spirit? Okay. Now, it’s time to walk through those temple doors.” One of our most sacred ordinances, not the most sacred, maybe, but one of our most sacred ordinances, is the endowment. I think this is actually the most exciting part of the ceremony where Latter-day Saints build upon Day of Atonement imagery. Because what do you have? You’ve got Adam and Eve leaving God’s presence and representing all of us just like the high priest did, taking this very important, even risky, even treacherous, you might say, journey through the fallen world, making covenants, and seeking to prepare to return into the presence of God. You can tell Brigham Young understood it this way, that we are trying to reenter into the presence of God, and it’s a big deal, and we’ve got to pass by those cherubim, those angels. Listen to what he said, “Your endowment is to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father.” There’s that journey. That divine ascent. “Passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words.” Or as Nephi would put it, being able to speak the tongue of angels. You can communicate appropriately there at that veil (speaking of the Old Testament veil there) as you seek to enter into the presence of God. And now we’ve prepared appropriately. We have prayed. We have made covenants. We have renewed our commitment to the name of God, even uttered that powerful name, and we move humbly, boldly, faithfully into the presence of God and are reunited with him. We reenact this belief over, and over, and over again as Latter-day Saints. To me, it’s beautiful because God, our loving father, but also the all-powerful Supreme of the Universe is saying, “You can return, but you have to take this seriously. This is not casual, but come in. Come in.” And I believe that one day we will open our eyes, and look, and it will be God standing in front of us.   Laura Harris Hales: We’ve talked about how we have atonement imagery in our scriptures, but some of us have also seen it in our church history. We didn’t talk about when the Day of Atonement is. Where does that fall in the season of festivals for the ancient Israelites?   Shon Hopkin: It’s at the middle point, the focal point, of the High Holy Days with Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, which celebrates the giving of the law or the word of God from Sinai, which celebrates that, and then you have the Day of Atonement,  the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot. It’s at the most sacred part of the year for ancient Israelites and still for Jews today.   Laura Harris Hales: And it varies, but it’s usually September?   Shon Hopkin: Yes. Between September and October. This is the lunar calendar, as you say. It’ll change dates depending on what year it is. Let me tell you then, and this is what you’re alluding to, that the receipt of the Book of Mormon happened on September 21st/22nd of 1827. That was actually on the Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah, in which trumpets are blown. This commemorates Moses descending with stone tablets from Mount Sinai. How beautiful is it to see Joseph coming down off the Hill Cumorah with the golden plates. Now, it’s actually even a little bit more fun than that because of this lunar calendar and the shifting of dates. If you go back four years, you have a different Jewish festival that is being commemorated in 1823 when Moroni first appears to Joseph Smith. It’s not Rosh Hashanah. It’s the Feast of Tabernacles, which is a harvest festival. So, you’ve got that which has been planted in the ground, has now sprung forth, and is going to be harvested, right? You’ve got great Book of Mormon symbolism there that commemorates being saved from wandering in the wilderness. This is the beginning. You’ve been wandering in the wilderness as Latter-day Saints would term this the dark and dreary world, right? And now it’s during a harvest festival that you’re being brought back in to the promised land. We find lots of fun symbolism as you’ve suggested here with some of these dates. Let me just add one more thing that I think will be helpful for Latter-day Saints. This circles back to Day of Atonement imagery. One of the things that I like to do is to connect the Brother of Jared to sacrament ordinances. Every time I take the sacrament as a Latter-day Saint I think of that veil, the sacrament cloth, like the veil of the temple, and I’m seeking humbly to enter into the presence of God. This is a big deal for me. It enhances my worship. It also helps when I’m saying personal prayers. Through Christ, the Great High Priest, the veil of the temple has been rent. That doesn’t mean temples don’t exist anymore. We still need to seek to enter God’s presence appropriately. Think about what we do every time we pray. We seek to enter into the presence of God through faith in Christ, and we use that sacred name Jesus Christ. Through His power, He has prepared the way so that all of us, even every day as we kneel beside our bed, can seek to pierce the veil through faith. And for me, those things are very real. God lives. He’s there looking at me as I pray, even though I can’t see Him. The powerful, atoning name of Jesus Christ can give me access into His presence, and I envision myself as truly there because of my faith in Christ. And then again, I hope that one day I open my eyes, and I’m standing there.   Laura Harris Hales: Thank you so much, Shon, for sharing your scholarship with us. You’re off to an adventure for a year in Jerusalem.   Shon Hopkin: Pretty excited about that, yes.   Laura Harris Hales: We will catch up with you in a year and visit with you again, okay?   Shon Hopkin: Wonderful.
 

Disclaimer: LDS Perspectives Podcast is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The opinions expressed on this episode represent the views of the guests and the podcaster alone, and LDS Perspectives Podcast and its parent organization may or may not agree with them. While the ideas presented may vary from traditional understandings or teachings, they in no way reflect criticism of LDS Church leaders, policies, or practices.

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