Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment of an extended version of a presentation at the 2013 Interpreter Symposium on Science and Mormonism: Cosmos, Earth, and Man at the Utah Valley Convention Center, Provo, Utah. To see the previous associated articles, click here.

Jeff and David Larsen have just completed a detailed scriptural commentary on the stories of Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel. See www.templethemes.net for more details.

Lesson Four: There Is a Deep Relationship Between Genesis 1-11 and the Liturgy and Layout of Temples


The Latter-day Saints have four basic Creation stories. In contrast to versions of the Creation story that emphasize the planning process of the heavenly council or the work involved in setting the physical processes in motion, the companion accounts in Genesis and the book of Moses provide a structure and a vocabulary that seem deliberately designed to highlight temple themes.

Louis Ginzberg’s reconstruction of ancient Jewish sources is consistent with this overall idea,[1] as well as with the proposal that Genesis 1 may have been used as part of Israelite temple liturgy:[2]

God told the angels: On the first day of creation, I shall make the heavens and stretch them out; so will Israel raise up the tabernacle as the dwelling place of my Glory.[3] On the second day I shall put a division between the terrestrial waters and the heavenly waters, so will [my servant Moses] hang up a veil in the tabernacle to divide the Holy Place and the Most Holy.[4] On the third day I shall make the earth to put forth grass and herbs; so will he, in obedience to my commands, prepare shewbread before me.[5] On the fourth day I shall make the luminaries;[6] so he will stretch out a golden candlestick [menorah] before me.[7] On the fifth day I shall create the birds; so he will fashion the cherubim with outstretched wings.[8] On the sixth day I shall create man; so will Israel set aside a man from the sons of Aaron as high priest for my service.[9]

Carrying this idea forward to a later epoch, Exodus 40:33 describes how Moses completed the Tabernacle. The Hebrew text exactly parallels the account of how God finished Creation.[10] Genesis Rabbah comments: “It is as if, on that day [i.e., the day the Tabernacle was raised in the wilderness], I actually created the world.”[11]


A number of scholars have found parallels in the layout of the Garden of Eden and that of Israelite sanctuaries.[12] For example, Brother Donald W. Parry describes the correspondence between Israelite temple ritual and Adam and Eve’s journey through the Garden of Eden as follows:[13]

Anciently, once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Adam’s eastward expulsion from the Garden was reversed when the high priest traveled west past the consuming fire of sacrifice and the purifying water of the laver, through the veil woven with images of cherubim. Thus, he returned to the original point of creation, where he poured out the atoning blood of the sacrifice, reestablishing the covenant relationship with God.

In modern temples, the posterity of Adam and Eve likewise trace the footsteps of their first parents both away from Eden and also in their subsequent journey of return and reunion.[14]


Also recalling the parallels between the layout of the Garden of Eden and Israelite Houses of God, Gary Anderson points out that “the vestments of the priest matched exactly those particular areas of the Temple to which he had access Each time the high priest moved from one gradient of holiness to another, he had to remove one set of clothes and put on another to mark the change”:[15]

(a) Outside the Tabernacle priests wear ordinary clothes. (b) When on duty in the Tabernacle, they wear four pieces of clothing whose material and quality of workmanship match that of the fabrics found on the outer walls of the courtyard.[16] (c) The High Priest wears those four pieces plus four additional onesthese added garments match the fabric of the Holy Chamber where he must go daily to tend the incense altar.

In Eden a similar set of vestments is found, again each set suited to its particular space. (a) Adam and Eve were, at creation, vested like priests and granted access to most of Eden. (b) Had they been found worthy, an even more glorious set of garments would have been theirs (and according to St. Ephrem, they would have entered even holier ground). (c) But having [transgressed], they were stripped of their angelic garments and put on mortal flesh. Thus, when their feet met ordinary earth the realm of the animals their constitution had become “fleshly,” or mortal.[17]

According to Brock, the imagery of clothing in the story of Adam and Eve is “a means of linking together in a dynamic fashion the whole of salvation history; it is a means of indicating the interrelatedness between every stage in this continuing working out of divine Providence,” including “the place of each individual Christian’s [ordinances] within the divine economy as a whole.”[18]


Not only the Garden of Eden, but also Noah’s Ark seems to have been “designed as a temple,”[19] specifically a prefiguration of the Tabernacle, as argued so well in a recent book by Michael Morales.[20] In fact, a few ancient accounts go so far in promoting the motif of the temple as to describe the Ark not as a floating watercraft but rather as a stationary, land-based place of protection,[21] where Noah and “many other people” from his generation “hid in a bright cloud” of glory.[22]

The Ark’s three decks suggest both the three divisions of the Tabernacle and the threefold layout of the Garden of Eden.[23] Indeed, each of the decks of Noah’s Ark was exactly “the same height as the Tabernacle and three times the area of the Tabernacle court.”[24] Note that Noah’s Ark is shaped, not as a typical boat, but with a flat bottom like a box or coffer.

  The ratio of the width to the height of both Noah’s Ark and the Ark of the Covenant is 3:5.[25]


The story of Enoch is also fraught with temple themes.[26] Enoch is shown here with upraised hands in the traditional attitude of prayer. The right hand of God emerges from the cloud to grasp the right wrist of Enoch and lift him to heaven. Having mastered the law of consecration, which is “the consummation of the laws of obedience and sacrifice, the threshold of the celestial kingdom, [and] the last and hardest requirement made of men in this life,”[27] Enoch’s whole city is taken to the bosom of God, the heavenly temple.


A few chapters later we encounter the Tower of Babel, which can be seen as a sort of anti-temple wherein the Babylonians attempt to “make a name” for themselves.[28]

What has all this got to do with the topic of today’s Symposium? In short, I would suggest that the kind of knowledge that will help us best understand the first chapters of Genesis and the book of Moses is not scientific or historic knowledge, but rather knowledge of ancient and modern temples. Without a firm grasp on the architecture, teachings, and ordinances of the temple, we will miss the gist of the primeval history. True, we may “race along with the seductively captivating narratives,” feeling that we are “largely grasping what is going on, even if some exotic or minor details are not immediately apparent.”[29] However, this mode of reading scripture an approach that focuses on an interpretation of the stories only as presentations of historical characters and events misses the point. Alex Shalom Kohav explains that although the authors of scripture “must have actually experienced the meaning of the sacred world,'” their writings are “not exactly in a manner of a scientific-ethnographic description and report”[30] but rather are composed representationally [31] “as foundations for collective practices and identity.”[32] The characters and events of the stories of Adam, Eve, Noah, Enoch, and the Tower of Babel are “incorporated into the sacred world”[33] of rites and ordinances and must be understood accordingly. On the other hand, Kohav argues, insight into the meaning of these stories “is obscured by the recontexualization of the tradition in a [merely] historical’ [or scientific’] account.”[34]

Does abandoning the primacy of the historical and scientific world in the interpretation of these scriptures mean that we are left with only fantasy in its place? Not according to Elder Douglas L. Callister, who said: “When you enter the temple, you leave the world of make-believe.”[35]


[1] L. Ginzberg, Legends, 1:51. See also W. P. Brown, Seven Pillars, pp. 40-41; P. J. Kearney, Creation; C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, Cosmology of P, pp. 10-11. According to Walton, “the courtyard represented the cosmic spheres outside of the organized cosmos (sea and pillars). The antechamber held the representations of lights and food. The veil separated the heavens and earth the place of God’s presence from the place of human habitation” (J. H. Walton, Lost World, p. 82).

[1]Note that in this conception of creation the focus is not on the origins of the raw materials used to make the universe, but rather their fashioning into a structure providing a useful purpose. The key insight, according to Walton, is that: “people in the ancient world believed that something existed not by virtue of its material proportion, but by virtue of its having a function in an ordered system Consequently, something could be manufactured physically but still not exist’ if it has not become functional . The ancient world viewed the cosmos more like a company or kingdom” that comes into existence at the moment it is organized, not when the people who participate it were created materially (ibid., pp. 26, 35; cf. J. Smith, Jr., Teachings, 5 January 1841, p. 181, Abraham 4:1).

[1]Walton continues:

[1]It has long been observed that in the contexts of bara’ [the Hebrew term translated “create”] no materials for the creative act are ever mentioned, and an investigation of all the passages mentioned above substantiate that claim. How interesting it is that these scholars then draw the conclusion that bara’ implies creation out of nothing (ex nihilo). One can see with a moment of thought that such a conclusion assumes that “create” is a material activity. To expand their reasoning for clarity’s sake here: Since “create” is a material activity (assumed on their part), and since the contexts never mention the materials used (as demonstrated by the evidence), then the material object must have been brought into existence without using other materials (i.e., out of nothing). But one can see that the whole line of reasoning only works if one can assume that bara’ is a material activity. In contrast, if, as the analysis of objects presented above suggests, bara’ is a functional activity, it would be ludicrous to expect that materials are being used in the activity. In other words, the absence of reference to materials, rather than suggesting material creation out of nothing, is better explained as indication that bara’ is not a material activity but a functional one (J. H. Walton, Lost World, pp. 43-44).

[1]In summary, the evidence from the Old Testament as well as from the ancient Near East suggests that both defined the pre-creation state in similar terms and as featuring an absence of functions rather than an absence of material. Such information supports the idea that their concept of existence was linked to functionality and that creation was an activity of bringing functionality to a nonfunctional condition rather than bringing material substance to a situation in which matter was absent. The evidence of matter (the waters of the deep in Genesis 1:2) in the precreation state then supports this view” (ibid., p. 53).

[2] E.g., M. Weinfeld, Sabbath, pp. 508-510; S. D. Ricks, Liturgy; P. J. Kearney, Creation; J. Morrow, Creation.

[3] Exodus 40:17-19.

[4] Exodus 40:20-21.

[5] Exodus 12:8, 25:30

[6] For a discussion how the notion of “priestly time” is reflected in the story of the creation of the luminaries, see M. S. Smith, Priestly Vision, pp. 93-94, 97-98. If we take a functional view of Creation, then the luminaries are among the functionaries (J. H. Walton, Lost World, pp. 63-66).

[7] Exodus 25:31-40, 37:17-24.

[8] Exodus 25:18-22, 37:6-9.

[9] See Exodus 40:12-15.See also M. S. Smith, Priestly Vision, pp. 98-102. “Through Genesis 1 we come to understand that God has given us a privileged role in the functioning of His cosmic temple. He has tailored the world to our needs, not to His (for He has no needs). It is His place, but it is designed for us and we are in relationship with Him” (J. H. Walton, Lost World, p. 149). See Fletcher-Louis for the idea that certain individuals (e.g., the high priest, as possessor of the “glory of Adam”) were even “deemed worthy of worship because they were God’s Image, his living idols” (C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, Jewish Roots, p. 128; cf. S. Bunta, Likeness). Cf. John 14:6-13.

[10] Moses 3:1. See J. D. Levenson, Temple and World, p. 287; A. C. Leder, Coherence, p. 267; J. Morrow, Creation. Levenson also cites Blenkinsopp’s thesis of a triadic structure in the priestly concept of world history that described the “creation of the world,” the “construction of the sanctuary,” and “the establishment of the sanctuary in the land and the distribution of the land among the tribes” in similar, and sometimes identical language. Thus, as Polen reminds us, “the purpose of the Exodus from Egypt is not so that the Israelites could enter the Promised Land, as many other biblical passages have it. Rather it is theocentric: so that God might abide with Israel This limns a narrative arc whose apogee is reached not in the entry into Canaan at the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Joshua, but in the dedication day of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 9-10) when God’s Glory manifest Presence makes an eruptive appearance to the people (Leviticus 9:23-24)” (N. Polen, Leviticus, p. 216).

[10]In another correspondence, Smith notes a variation on the first Hebrew word of Genesis (bere’shit) and the description used in Ezekiel 45:18 for the first month of a priestly offering (bari’shon): “Thus said the Lord: In the beginning (month) on the first (day) of the month, you shall take a bull of the herd without blemish, and you shall cleanse the sanctuary.’ What makes this verse particularly relevant for our discussion of bere’shit is that ri’shon occurs in close proxmity to ‘ehad, which contextually designates (day) one’ that is the first day’ of the month. This combination of in the beginning’ (bari’shon) with with (day) one’ (yom ‘ehad) is reminiscent of in beginning of’ (bere’shit) in Genesis 1:1 and day one’ (yom ‘ehad) in Genesis 1:5″ (M. S. Smith, Priestly Vision, p. 47).

[10]Hahn notes the same correspondences to the creation of the cosmos in the building of Solomon’s Temple (S. W. Hahn, Christ, Kingdom, pp. 176-177; cf. J. Morrow, Creation; J. D. Levenson, Temple and World, pp. 283-284; C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, Glory, pp. 62-65; M. Weinfeld, Sabbath, pp. 506, 508):

[10]As creation takes seven days, the Temple takes seven years to build (1 Kings 6:38). It is dedicated during the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles (1 Kings 8:2), and Solomon’s solemn dedication speech is built on seven petitions (1 Kings 8:31-53). As God capped creation by “resting” on the seventh day, the Temple is built by a “man of rest” (1 Chronicles 22:9) to be a “house of rest” for the Ark, the presence of the Lord (1 Chronicles 28:2; 2 Chronicles 6:41; Psalm 132:8, 13-14; Isaiah 66:1).

[10]When the Temple is consecrated, the furnishings of the older Tabernacle are brought inside it. (R. E. Friedman suggests the entire Tabernacle was brought inside). This represents the fact that all the Tabernacle was, the Temple has become. Just as the construction of the Tabernacle of the Sinai covenant had once recapitulated creation, now the Temple of the Davidic covenant recapitulated the same. The Temple is a microcosm of creation, the creation a macro-temple.

[11] J. Neusner, Genesis Rabbah 1, 3:9, p. 35.

[12] E.g., G. K. Beale, Temple, pp. 66-80; G. J. Wenham, Sanctuary Symbolism; J. M. Lundquist, Reality; D. W. Parry, Garden; J. A. Parry et al., Temple in Heaven; T. Stordalen, Echoes, pp. 112-116, 308-309; R. N. Holzapfel et al., Father’s House, pp. 17-19; J. Morrow, Creation. The imagery of the Garden of Eden as a prototype sanctuary is not incompatible with views that relate the symbolism of the Creation of the cosmos to the temple, as discussed above (see, e.g., M. S. Smith, Priestly Vision; J. H. Walton, Lost World; J. H. Walton, Genesis, pp. 10-31; W. P. Brown, Seven Pillars, pp. 33-77; J. D. Levenson, Temple and World). See also J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image 1, pp. 146-149.

[13] D. W. Parry, Garden, p. 135.

[14] Cf. John 16:28;

[15] G. A. Anderson, Perfection, p. 122.

[16] Exodus 28.

[17] G. A. Anderson, Perfection, p. 123.

[18] Brock in Ephrem the Syrian, Paradise, pp. 66-67. For more detail on the theme of changes of clothing in the story of Adam and Eve, see J. M. Bradshaw, Moses Temple Themes, pp. 149-156.

[19] C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, Glory, p. 41. See also Wyatt’s discussion of the arks of Noah and Moses, the Ark of the Covenant, and the story of Utnapishtim in Gilgamesh (N. Wyatt, Water, pp. 214-216).

[20] L. M. Morales, Tabernacle Pre-Figured.

[21] See, e.g., Jason Silverman’s discussion of the Zoroastrian story of Yima who, after a warning from the god Ahura Mazda, built a four-sided Vara (“enclosure”) for protection of humans, cattle, dogs, fires, and plants from bad winters and subsequent spring flooding: “The inhabitants of the Vara are those who are ritually pure” and the term vara normally denotes “an area enclosed for reasons of ritual purity [T]he Vara of Yima has three sections, just as the sacred ritual precinct has three grooves that mark it off from the outside world” (J. M. Silverman, It’s a Craft, p. 207). Silverman goes on to discuss the how the “paradise” of Yima relates to the Persian notion of a walled garden domain, and shows how the Vara “functions as a condensation of Zoroastrian eschatological hope it is a microcosm of the world as it will be sans Angra Mainyu’s influence” (ibid., p. 210). In this sense, it can be compared with the Jewish idea of a New Jerusalem (ibid., pp. 211-220).

[22] M. Meyer, Secret Book of John, 29:135-136, p. 130:

[22]It did not happen the way that Moses said, “They hid in an ark” (Genesis 7:7).

Rather they hid in a particular place, not only Noah but also many other people from the unshakable generation.They entered that place and hid in a bright cloud. Noah knew about his supremacy [alternatively, “he (Noah) recognized his authority” (F. Wisse, Apocryphon of John, 29:12, p. 121); or “Noah was aware of his divine calling” (H. W. Nibley, Enoch, p. 268)]. With him was the enlightened one who had enlightened them since the first ruler had brought darkness upon the whole earth.

[23] J. M. Bradshaw, Moses Temple Themes, pp. 77-87. Cf. Ephrem the Syrian, Paradise, p. 53; A. S.-M. Ri, Caverne Syriaque, p. 208. See the discussion in E. A. Harper, You Shall Make, p. 50 of readings of Genesis 6:16 in the Targums and the Septuagint, and for a description of parallels in 1 Kings 6:6 and Ezekiel 41:7.

[24]J. D. G. Dunn et al., Commentary, p. 44. In other words, the dimensions of the Tabernacle courtyard have “the same width [as the Ark] but one-third the length and height” (Ronald Hendel in H. W. Attridge et al., HarperCollins Study Bible, p. 14 n. 6:14-16).

[25] See Genesis 6:15 and Exodus 25:10.

[26] For more on temple themes in the story of Enoch, see J. M. Bradshaw, LDS Book of Enoch

[27] H. W. Nibley, Foundation, p. 168.

[28] See Genesis 11:4. For more on temple themes in the story of the Tower of Babel, see J. M. Bradshaw et al., God’s Image 2, pp. 390-396.

[29] A. S. Kohav, Sd Hypothesis, p. 48.

[30] Ibid., p. 48.

[31] While not intending to affirm the validity of all the specific results of Kohav’s dissertation research, we note his interesting hypothesis that the compilers of the Hexateuch deliberately coded their primary message in a way that would be deliberately misunderstood by readers unfamiliar with their methods and intentions relating to the preservation of the “First Temple priestly initiation tradition” (ibid., back cover):

[31]The thesis foregrounds a “second-channel” esoteric narrative from within the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua [that was] a successful if drastic priestly means of preserving the secrecy and ultimate survival of their respective esoteric and initiatory doctrines and methods.

[31]Kohav concludes that purpose of the First Temple initiation tradition described in the Hexateuch was to facilitate a direct encounter with yhwh (see, e.g., the summary of the conclusions of Kohav’s study in (ibid., p. 274). In a similar but not identical vein derived from his study of the “mysteries” of the First Temple, William J. Hamblin concluded: “The fundamental purpose of the Israelite Temple was not to offer sacrifice; it was to bring Israel back into the presence of God” (W. J. Hamblin, Mysteries of Solomon’s Temple). See also M. Barker, Restoring.

[32] R. S. Hendel, Cultural Memory, p. 28.

[33] D. E. Callender, Adam, p. 211.

[34] Ibid. p. 212. For a related view, see J. H. Sailhamer, Meaning pp. 100-148. J. David Pleins criticizes what he calls “loose literalism” for the way it allows the historical and the archaeological to push aside the value of what the scripture actually says (J. D. Pleins, When, p. 18):

[34]The trouble with loose literalism is that what tend to capture our attention is the clever explanation rather than the story itself. We quickly move on from the Flood story to the seemingly more interesting archaeological problems that stand back of the Bible.

[34]We catch Ryan and Pitman falling into this trap in a section of [their book on Noah’s Flood] that extols the virtue and power of ancient myth:

[34]For a myth to survive unscathed from repeated recitation, it needs a powerful story . Oral tradition tells such stories. But so does the decipherment by the natural scientist who works from a text recorded in layers of mud, sand, and gravel from the bottom of lakes and seas using all the tools and principles of physics, chemistry, and biology. The scientific plot can then be given richer detail and new themes from the supporting contributions of the archaeologist, the linguist, and the geneticist.

[34]Figures such as Noah and the Mesopotamian survivor of the Flood, Utnapishtim, are thus relegated to the supporting cast in a grander scientific drama that has as its dramatis personae scores of dislocated village dwellers put on the move by a Neolithic conflagration.

[35] From notes of a talk given by Sister Sheri L. Dew, speaking at a broadcast for the Southeast US Area YSA conference, 9-11 August 2013. She reported this comment as having been made at a meeting of young people at the Bountiful Temple, where Elder Callister was then serving as a temple president.


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