Mosiah 5:7-15 — LeGrand Baker — royal coronation
[Note: This paper was written before Stephen Ricks and I wrote Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord. This paper is a good summary of the coronation, but the book is devoted to the entire Feast of Tabernacles temple drama—both in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon.]
King Benjamin and the royal coronation in the ancient Israelite New Year’s festival.
When I read the scriptures for this week, I just shook my head in wonderment. Here was that part of the ancient Israelite New year’s festival which some non-LDS scholars suspect may have been there, but which has been lost or deleted from the biblical record. That fact makes this passage of the Book of Mormon one of the most significant in the study of the ancient Israelite religion. From biblical and other ancient Near Eastern sources, we know that at the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles the king was coronated, but some scholars have suggested his coronation was a symbolic act by which all the congregation were also made sacral kings and priests, queens and priestesses in the kingdom. There is no hard evidence for that, only suggestions here and there in the Psalms and elsewhere. But here in these Book of Mormon verses is the evidence to show that is exactly what is going on.
During the past few weeks, we have been talking about the ancient Israelite New Year festival, Feast of Tabernacles, and coronation ceremony, but there often has not been time to pay much attention to giving scholarly sources for what we are saying. Next week I would like to discuss this week’s scriptures in which the entire congregation participate in the coronation process, but this week I would just like to give you a bunch of information about what non-Mormon scholars say about the king’s coronation during the ancient Israelite New Year festival. I’ll also provide lots of footnotes , so you’ll know where the stuff is coming from. (Italics in the quotes are in the original.)
For clarification, two words need to be defined the way these scholars use them. One of those words is “cult.” It means religious ceremonies, dramatic presentations, and ordinances, and covenants. Using the word in this way makes our detractors correct when they refer to our temple worship as “cultic,” but it also makes the Baptist’s baptism ceremony just as “cultic” as ours is. So when you read the word “cult” in the following quotes, think: ancient temple related ceremonies, dramatic presentation, covenants, and ordinances.
“Myth” is another word whose present-day popular meaning is different from the way it is used by scholars. Our popular culture reads “myth” as meaning a story which is untrue. Scholars use the word very differently. Myth is a truth told by a story. That means the myth is truth because the principles described by story true, even though its details may or may not be fictionalized.
The “cosmic myth” is the story of the cosmology of the universe, including accounts of the Council in Heaven, the war in heaven, the creation of the earth, and the first humans in this new world, and the origins and meanings of good and evil. The first scholar to point out that the same cosmic myth was in virtually every ancient culture was Giorgio De. Santillana, in his book Hamlet’s Mill: an Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time (paperback ed.: Boston, Godine, 1997). De Santillana showed that there is a universal myth which was believed by almost all ancient people. Its details were told differently, but its two major themes were always the same. Those major themes were: First, cosmology – the creation story, and the story of the gods’ relationship with the universe, the earth, and with the first and present humans. The second theme is the story of the primal Man – the first man – the hero/king. It is the story of one who leaves his original home, goes to a new land, struggles with the forces of evil, then returns home triumphant. De Santillana shows that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a perfect literary example of this universal myth. So is the story of Osiris in Egypt. So is the Genesis creation and Garden of Eden story. So, by the way, is First Nephi, the book of Ether, and the broad sweep of the entire Book of Mormon.
In the simplest of LDS terms, then, the “cosmic myth” is a literary or theatrical depiction of the plan of salvation: it either tells the story of the plan from the point of view of the Saviour himself, or from the point of view of the members of the Council in Heaven (as does the book of Abraham, for example), or from the point of view of every single individual. So when you read the word “myth” in the following quotes, think “temple drama” and you will be pretty close to understanding what the scholar is trying to say – but you will understand more than the scholars understand because you know things which they cannot know.
The modern father of the scholarship of the ancient Israelite temple worship is a personal hero of mine. His name was Sigmund Mowinckel. In his monumental book, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship (translated by D. R. Ap-Thomas: 2 vols, Nashville, Abingdon, 1979, pages 168-169) he notes:
:Of whether the temple rites of Jerusalem included recitations of such poetic and epic festal myths, and what may have been their form and place in the ritual, we know nothing directly. That the laws in the Pentateuch say nothing about it is of no consequence; for neither do they mention the singing of psalms. But analogies from Babylonia and Egypt, as well as all the allusions in the psalms to the festal myths, make it likely that such epic features would have a part in the festal rituals….This applies, for instance, to the creation tales in Gen. 1 and 2 and to the saga about the Exodus in Ex. 1-15. In the form known to us now, they are meant to be part of a saga, not a festal myth or legend. But they are derived from earlier form evidently connected with the festal cult. [that word only means that there were ordinances performed during the religious ceremonies.]
The creation drama seems to have been a part of the cultic worship of all ancient peoples. It was the story that gave their lives meaning and a sense of place. It was about how the gods brought order (cosmos) from chaos and how the gods will ultimately succeed in bring order into the chaos which is individual human life and universal society. [ Mowinckel, Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 1: 146-147.]
Soon after the drama began, it portrayed a war in heaven which resulted in the expulsion of those gods whose purpose is not the betterment of man. These rebellious ones, were cast out of heaven and to the earth where they became “the protector deities of the heathen empires, and those who lured men into sin. [Mowinckel, Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 1: 394.]
After that, there followed an act which depicted the organization of matter, the creation of the earth with its plant and animal inhabitants. Creation is salvation from Chaos. Thus the creation of the earth, of mankind, of the nation of Israel, of the temple, and the life experiences of each individual, are all acts of salvation.
For Israel the acceptance of this mythical for them at that time meant a richer, more concrete understanding of the idea of creation in all its implications, a widening of their understanding of Yahweh’s [Jehovah’s] power and glory. It is significant that we meet it precisely in those prophets who clearly grasp faith in the one true God and make Yahweh’s dominion absolute by combining the idea of creation with the idea of Yahweh as Lord of history. [Sigmund Mowinckel, translated by Reidar B. Bjornard, The Old Testament as Word of God (New York, Abingdon Press, 1959), 104.]
This actualization of the fact of salvation is repeated as often as necessary. There are certain climaxes in life, crisis when such a renewal is specially needed; and the important transitions, birth, maturity, death, spring, autumn, mid-summer, mid-winter, seed-time, and so on….[The recitation of the entire story took place once each fall during the New year festival.] The fact that the cult is a repetition and a renewed creation leads to the view that the salvation which takes place is a repetition of a first salvation which took place in the dawn of time….Creation is salvation. [Mowinckel, Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 1: 146- 147. vol. 1: 18-19. ]
In ancient Israel, the New Year came in the fall (October-November) after the harvest and before the rainy season. Not long ago, at Beck’s request I sent you an outline of the events of that festival. Briefly, those events were these:
New Year Day.
time of repentance.
Day of Atonement when the entire nation was ceremonially cleansed in preparation for participation in the events which would follow. [For a discussion of the sacrifices offered on each day of the New Year festival see the book of Leviticus and Alfred Edersheim, The Temple, Its Ministry and Services (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1994).]
Preparations of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Days 15-20 (days 1-6 of the Feast of Tabernacles):
During that time a drama was presented which depicted the Council; war in Heaven; creation of earth; Garden of Eden story; Adam and Eve; Covenants of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David; Battle with earthly evil during which Jerusalem and the temple destroyed, and the young king was killed; Jehovah [Yahweh] asserts his Kingship over Israel, comes to their rescue with storm and earthquake, and defeats their enemies; Jehovah himself descends into the underworld to save the king from death and hell.
Day 21 (Day 7 of Feast of Tabernacles):
Jehovah (represented by the Ark of the Covenant) and the king whom he has saved, come out of the underworld and rejoin their people. They all move in procession around the city, measuring and re-defining it as sacred space; now the city is a new Jerusalem and its temple a heavenly temple; during the procession the king is ceremonially washed. After circling the city, the procession of the congregation entered the gates of the city and approached the temple. The doors of the temple were opened, the doors to the Holy Place were opened, and the veil before the Holy of Holies was pulled back. This did not profane the Holy of Holies, it extend its sacred space to include everyone in the congregation.
The king’s coronation ceremony took place in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The king was clothed in sacred garments and anointed with sweet smelling olive oil. His anointing was a dual ordinance, making him both adopted son and anointed king. Then, as legitimate heir, he sat upon his Fathers’ throne in the temple and delivered a lecture on the Law which is drawn from the book of Deuteronomy.
All this had already happened in our King Benjamin story before we begin to get any details. I presume Mormon thought we would be familiar with the story, so there was no reason to give any details until he got to the part where the changes occurred. Mormon picks up the story when the angel comes and changes the usual patter. Instead of the lecture from Deuteronomy which everyone is familiar with because it is a part of the ceremony, the king, who has been visited by an angel, is going to tell the people what the angel told him. That’s why his sitting on the throne won’t do. Normally, the people already know in advance what he is going to say because they know the ceremony as well as he does. This time his words will be new, they will actually have to hear what he says in order to participate, and so he has to have a tower built, and he has to have the words published so everyone can learn the new version of the lecture. (They do memorize it. You recall Ammon recites it when he goes back to the land of Nephi.)
The story of King Benjamin’s presiding over his son’s appointment as the new king was important, but not unusual. For example, during the Assyrian New Year festival, the heir apparent took the role of the king in the drama while his father, the old king, took the priestly role of the god.
The divinization from nativity is further confirmed by the enthronement of the crown prince in th bit riduti and the coronation of the king. The former comprises the consultation of the gods, the summoning of the mobles, the proclamation, swearing of oaths, paying of homage, and concluding banquets….Above all he [the crown prince] can therefore, as often actually occurred, officiate instead of the king at the New Year Festival. The definitive divinization takes place with the coronation and enthronement of the king….Especially worth observing are the facts that the king himself officiates as high priest in the ceremony….The ceremonial is indeed preserved only from Assyrian times but can with certainty be antedated. The ritual also includes a more or less symbolical withdrawing from the office. [Ivan Engnell, Studies in Divine Kingship in the Ancient Near East, (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1967), 17.]
Whether King Benjamin had himself played the part of the king, or whether his son had, is an important detail, but either way, it does not change the mythological story. When the king is anointed in the NEW Jerusalem, in the NEW Temple, he is a NEW king in a New and Holy Kingdom of God. It symbolizes the beginning of the thousand years of peace, and also the resurrection and eternal peace.
So, at the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles, after the king was anointed as the NEW king, he sat on the throne of his Fathers (Adam and God) in the Holy of Holies. The throne in the temple was the throne of God, and the king had just been adopted as the the legitimate heir – the son of God. But the throne was also the throne of the first king, who was also the first son of God – that is, of Adam. For the new king to be a legitimate king, he must be the son of God (as was Adam) and also the legitimate heir of the first earthly king, Adam. One of the purposes of the drama of the New Year festival was to show that the king was a legitimate heir to the ancient priesthood and kingship of Adam. That is, he becomes the Adam to the present generation, or at least Adam’s representative. [See Frederick H. Borsch, The Son of Man in Myth and History (London, SCM Press Ltd., 1967), p. 152]
In ancient Israel, Adam and Eve were not the world’s first sinners as they became in the theology of medieval and modern Christianity. Rather they were considered to be mankind’s first royalty: the king and priest, queen and priestess to all of their descendants. Mowinckel explains,
There Adam is definitely a divine being, who came into existence before creation, as a cosmogonic principle (macrocosm), as the Primordial Soul, as the original type of the godly, righteous fulfiller of the Law. [Sigmund Mowinckel, He that Cometh (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), 426.]
Representing Adam, the king was anointed twice. The first time was when he was anointed to become king; the second was when he was anointed as king. Weisman describes “two biblical patterns in the employment of the anointing for different purposes.” He likens the early nominating anointings of Saul and David as king-designate to a “betrothal,” and their later anointings as kings as the marriage itself. [Ze’eb Weisman, “Anointing as a Motif in the Making of the Charismatic King,” in Biblica (57 no 3:378-398)]. During the New Year festival, the anointing to become king probably happened during the first two or three days of the drama of the Feast of Tabernacles. The final anointing as king happened on the seventh day of the Feast in the Holy of Holies of the Temple.
The Bible records the anointings of six Israelite kings: Saul: 1 Samuel 10:1, David: 2 Samuel 5:3, Solomon: 1 Kings 1:39, Jehu: 2 Kings 9:6, Josh: 2 Kings 11:12, Jehoahaz: 2 Kings 23:30. Absalom was also anointed to be king: 2 Samuel 19:11. [For a discussion of the king’s anointing, see: Donald W. Parry, “Ritual Anointing with Olive Oil in Ancient Israelite Religion,” in Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch, eds., The Allegory of the Olive Tree (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S, 1994), 266-271, 281-283. For a discussion of the olive tree as the Tree of Life and of the tree and its oil as symbols of kingship see, Stephen D. Ricks, “Olive Culture in the Second Temple Era and Early Rabbinic Period,” in Ibid., 460-476.]
The anointed king is a “son of Man” – the son of thee Man, Adam – the king is an Adam. He is also, by virtue of his anointing, a son of God, but he was not a god in the sense that the Mesopotamian and Egyptian kings were gods. [ See: Sigmund Mowinckel, He that Cometh (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), 34; Ivan Engnell, Studies in Divine Kingship in the Ancient Near East, (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1967, 12-15, 17-18; Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1948), 299-301.]
The main theme of the festival drama is Jehovah’s dealings with mankind. To demonstrate that, the drama of the New Year festival has focused on two main characters – but both characters are really the same person. The story was about Adam and his legal heirs, specifically the person of the king, and throughout the play the king has had the lead part and played all the lead character. Therefore, in the drama of the Feast of Tabernacles, the king’s personal history is the cosmic myth. On the stage, he played himself in the Council, then played Adam in the Garden. Then Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, then he plays himself as a young, inexperienced king. The part of himself as the young king is the most difficult.
He loses his immortality, suffers under the sentence of God and is left to wonder homeless on the earth until death. Yet at the resurrection the Messiah will come to awaken Adam first.” [Frederick H. Borsch, The Son of Man in Myth and History, SCM Press Ltd., London, 1967, p. 169.]
Finally, at the conclusion of the drama, the king still plays the role of himself, who has been rescued from death by Jehovah. He leads the procession around the city to redefine it as sacred space, leads the congregation into the temple, and there, as himself, he is dressed and anointed son and king. Thus, still playing himself at his own coronation he emerges as the triumphant hero of the whole symbolic production.
During this cultlic dramatic production, as the king goes through this whole panorama of his existence, the entire story was acted out. The first acts are probably performed on the side of a hill near the city, where the whole congregation could watch and participate.
All of that is in the background of our King Benjamin story. It is apparent that almost all of that has already happened before Mormon introduces us to what he considers the most relevant part of the experience. He picks up on that part of the ceremony when the old king told his heir apparent that the next day he would be proclaimed king. So the stage was set for an important, but otherwise traditional day of the festival. Then things got changed, and that’s where Mormon brings us into the story. The angel appeared to King Benjamin and told him things which he was instructed to tell the people. So the next day turned out not to be as traditional as they expected. King Benjamin had a different lecture to deliver, and the people needed to be able to hear his words in order to respond correctly.
Mowinckel reminds us,
Through the acts and words of the festal cult, laid down in fixed, sacred ritual, the reality which is to be created…is portrayed (‘acted’) in visual and audible form. The actualization takes place through the representation….. “The representation may be either, more or less realistic, or, more or less symbolic–more often the latter, i.e. The rites stand for something; they symbolize and represent that for which they stand. “Their inner meaning is that the powers of death are overcome by the powers of life, by the Life-giver himself, by Yahweh, the living and life-giving God. Thus they symbolize a struggle…. “Hence the festival cult invariably has a more or less dramatic character; it is a sacred drama, representing the salvation which takes place. This dramatic character tallies with the fact that the cult is a mutual act on the part of God and of the congregation, with address and answer, action and reaction.” [Mowinckel, Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 1: 19]
Bentzen tells how, during the drama, the king not only played the part of Adam, but at his coronation is as though he were Adam. This was necessary to the legitimization of the office of the king, for as Adam was the first king, so the new king must be an Adam. Bentzen writes,
The king, then, is Primeval Man. The first man of Genesis 1:26-28 is described as the first ruler of the world. In the first Creation Story, the ‘gospel’ of the New Year, we hear the blessing spoken by God at the enthronement of the first Royal Couple of the world. Man is to ‘rule’ over all living creatures. Man and Woman, like the Babylonian kings, are ‘images of God’, i.e. the Royal Couple is Divine, as in the famous apostrophe to the king in the oracle for the Royal wedding (Psalm 45:7). The same idea is developed in Psalm 8, in the description of the ‘Son of Man’, who is ‘little lower than God’, ‘nearly a God’. This ‘Son of Man’, according to the evident dependence of the psalm on the ideas behind the first chapter of Genesis, is the First Man and the First King…. The enthronement of the king in Primeval Time is also described in the second psalm….” [Aage Bentzen, King and Messiah (London, Lutterworth Press, 1955), 117-18.]