Biblical Scholar Presents Lectures at BYU
During the week of 5–9 May, the Institute sponsored a visit by British biblical scholar Margaret Barker to Brigham Young University. Each morning, Barker offered a seminar (usually three hours in length) to a group of invited faculty and guests in which she summarized her research and numerous publications. She also delivered a university forum address during her stay, as well as an evening public lecture in the auditorium of the Harold B. Lee Library.
Barker uses the apocryphal Enoch literature as a window into a distinct tradition of ancient Hebrew religious belief—one that, she believes, goes back to the Judaism of the First (or Solomonic) Temple but has been obscured by the reforms of King Josiah and the so-called Deuteronomists. She argues that much has been lost or suppressed from the text of the Old Testament as we now have it, including, for instance, the understanding that Yahweh, or Jehovah, was a distinct divine being, the son of El, the Father God.
In her seminars and public lectures, Barker, who is a Methodist and a trainer of Methodist preachers, treated a number of themes that were, to put it mildly, very congenial to her Latter-day Saint audience. She contended, for example, that a grasp of the ancient temple is essential to a proper understanding of the New Testament, and she noted the temple’s connection with such matters as the story of creation, the veil (which, on one level at least, represents the flesh of mortality) separating this world from the realm of divine beings, ascension into the heavenly presence of God, and apotheosis (human divinization). She emphasized the significance of such figures as Enoch and Melchizedek, and the significance of the priesthood of Melchizedek, in the older Jewish tradition. Moreover, she devoted one morning of the seminar to a discussion of “the Lost Lady of Israel,” Asherah, or Wisdom, who was once thought to be the consort of Elohim and was symbolized by a tree.1
Participants in the seminar were delighted to receive copies of her richly fascinating latest book, fresh from the press, entitled The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2003). ! —reported by Daniel C. PetersonNotes 1. On this same theme, see Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and His Asherah: A Note on 1 Nephi 11:8–23," in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World: Studies in Honor of John L. Sorenson, ed. Davis Bitton (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998), 191–243; see also an abridged version of that same article, “Nephi and His Asherah,” JBMS 9/2 (2000): 16–25.