Abraham’s Temple Drama

This is one of the fine articles by the late Hugh W. Nibley. It deals insightfully with The Pearl of Great Price. It is excerpted here. To read the full article, click on www.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=21&chapid=8

The Pearl of Great Price is rightly named. It contains enormous value in a very small scope. Also, it has long been lying with “purest ray serene” in the dark caves of the ocean, or in a shabby back lot where the merchant discovered it (see Matthew 13:45—46). Like no other book, it contains in its sixty-five pages the answers to the ultimate questions of philosophy, religion, and science. Even more wonderful, it fills those enormous gaps in our records of the past for which science must give an accounting. What was going on during all those lost millennia that the Egyptologist Jan Assmann calls “the great forgetting”?1 We should know, and this book is good enough to tell us.

The Pearl of Great Price is a book of dispensations. Both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young said we do not know how many dispensations there have been, but the classic number in most ancient records is seven. A dispensation is a time when the heavens are open and truth is dispensed or handed out to men. It happened with Adam, Enoch, and Noah “before Abraham was,” and after Abraham with Moses, Christ, and Joseph Smith. Each one of these contributed his own story to this small handbook. Abraham’s story is the only apocryphon written in the first person—an oddity not overlooked in the Pearl of Great Price. The key passages to all of these books appear at length in our wonderful Pearl of Great Price. Notice that Abraham is squarely in the middle; all things seem to zero in on him. He has been called the most pivotal and strategic man in the course of world history. In his position he binds all things together and gives meaning and purpose to everything that happened. The whole world was rent by strife and rancor, and Abraham was like a man who sews together a badly rent garment. It was said that “charity . . . was asleep [in the world], and [Abraham] roused it.”2 He joined man to God when he and his wife won souls to God. “Were it not for men like Abraham,” said the Lord, “I would not have bothered to create heaven and earth, sun and moon.”3 Converting them was as if he had created them anew. He was the perfect one who brought man nearer to God. He entered into the covenant the world is based on, as if the world were firmly established for his sake, as if he were the Messiah come to establish the kingdom of God on earth. “My name was not known among My creatures, and thou hast made it known among them,” said God to Abraham. “I will regard thee as if thou wast associated with Me in the creation of the world.”4 “As many as receive this Gospel,” said the Lord, “shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed” (Abraham 2:10). “God said to Abraham: As I put Adam and then Noah in charge of all my creatures, I now put you in charge of them, and order you to give my blessing to them.”5

Before we get any further we must see the rest of the picture, for this superman is simply Everyman. What office did he hold? We know of none. What miracles did he perform? What dazzling appearances? He lived in the heroic age, a time of great migrations, of epic literature, but we read of no mighty combats, blow-by-blow, or challenges boasting heroic genealogy. His ten trials were Everyman’s trials. He was in trouble in business. The grass, water, and grazing rights on which he depended were often withheld from him. He never drove a hard bargain (the first rule of success according to Mr. Marriott), not even with the king of Sodom, or the generous Ephron the Hittite, who would have given him the burial cave for nothing. He yielded to Lot’s greedy cattlemen and gracefully withdrew. We never hear of him punishing anyone, though when the time came to get back his nephew’s property, he struck the marauding chieftains with brilliant strategy and knockout force. He forbade his children to marry into alien races, but they promptly went ahead and did so.

He seemed to be generous to the point of lacking common sense. He first sent out his servant Eliezer to look for lost wanderers, but he found none. Then Abraham on his one hundredth birthday, old and very sick, went out alone on the hottest day of the year because he thought he might find some wanderer lost in the desert. He found no one, but when he got home three men dropped in to visit him;6 “Lord of the Universe,” he cried, recognizing one of them, “is it the order of the Cosmos that I sit while you remain standing?”7 The scene, as the archaeologist Andr Parrot, the discoverer of Mari, a city of Abraham, remarks, “is as magnificent as it is strange.”8

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