Why is a creation account part of the Temple ordinances? (Under construction)
Each time we attend an Endowment session, we experience a ritual re-creation of the world, order and organization brought out of chaos. Why is a creation account included as part of the Endowment? What role does it play? Why is it important that we see it every time?
In the absence of clear revelation, we don’t know for certain. Below are only some suggestions and thoughts that seem possible to me. At the very least, they have enhanced my appreciation for the inclusion of a creation account in the Endowment.
By means of ritual and narrative, the temple teaches the atonement, that we may re-enter God’s presence through the savior, “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.” (2 Nephi 31:19) From a narrative perspective, our ritual becoming-one-with-the-Father, the literal at-one-ment of being “encircled… in the arms of his love” (2 Ne 1:15) [link to Hugh Nibley's atonement ensign article], and symbolic entrance into God’s presence is the climax, the end of the movie, the last page of the book. What must also be explained is why we need an atonement and how we have arrived where we are, namely, on Earth in a sinful state and separated from God, and how we got separated in the first place. The Creation and Fall represent Act I and Act II, in other words, the plot set-up. We can’t return unless we’ve left, and we can’t ascend unless we’ve fallen. Thus, the Creation is both a narrative and theological necessity and set-up for the Fall.
2) Historical Prologue and Covenant Making
As noted in What is a Covenant?, before setting forth the requirements, blessings, and cursings, the covenant pattern in the Old Testament typically included what scholars refer to as a Historical Prologue. This was a recitation of some of the good things the suzerain (king) had done for or on behalf of the vassals (subjects, lesser kings) to remind them of both the goodness and authority of the suzerain. Thus, prior to Adam and Eve making covenants (which we also make, see #3 below), seeing the creation reminds us that God (the suzerain/king) created a beautiful world for us (vassals/subjects) to inhabit, animals and plants to provide sustenance and aesthetic beauty, and human companionship.
3) Covenant Re-Making
Jewish celebrations of Passover commemorate God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, a foundational and deeply symbolic event which becomes an important part of the Historical Prologue in the Sinai covenant of Exodus. During the ritual/symbolic recreation of the Exodus story, or Haggadah, at Passover, each participant is told to consider himself or herself as part of the original Exodus from Egypt. “Each [person] is obligated to consider himself as if he came out of Egypt.” [Footnote to Levenson]
In Joshua 24, Joshua renews the Sinai covenant as well. He speaks to the Israelites with him as if they had actually been present in the deliverance from Egypt, although they were not.
Similarly, Deu 5:2-3 reiterates the Sinai covenant of Exodus 20-24. The emphatic language there makes clear that these later recipients were to view themselves as if they had actually been present at the original covenant making, as if they were original recipients of the covenant. “Yahweh, our God, made a covenant with US at Horeb; It was not with our ancestors that Yahweh made this covenant, but with us, US, these people today, all of us here.” (My translation.) Levenson, Sinai and Zion, 80-81.
The application I see with regards to the Temple is that in the Endowment, God offers us the covenants and associated blessings originally offered to Adam and Eve. As such, each of us considers ourself as if we were Adam or Eve, and the events of creation and fall (as well as covenant) are symbolically re-enacted. We symbolically participate in the Adam-and-Eve experience, namely the creation, fall, and covenant as if we ourselves had really been there.
Substituting “Adam and Eve” for “Israel,” “What your ancestors saw is what you saw. God’s rescue of them implicates you, obliges you, for you, by hearing this story and responding affirmatively, become [Adam and Eve], and it was [Adam and Eve] that he rescued.” Levenson, 38.
4) Priests and Creation
Many scholars believe that the creation account in Genesis chapters 1-2:4 was edited or even written by Israelite priests. Further, it appears that parts of the creation account were recited during certain sacrifices in the temple (and recall that sacrifice was associated with themes of covenant and atonement.) “The laymen are given the responsibility of reading sections of the Genesis creation account while the priests and Levites perform the sacrifices.” (Ricks, 122-123.) Given this priestly interest in creation, and that one way to characterize our Temple ordinances is as a priestly initation, it’s not surprising to find creation playing a role there.
Ricks, Stephen D. “Liturgy and Cosmogony: The Ritual Use of Creation accounts in the Ancient Near East.” In Temples of the Ancient World, edited by Donald W. Parry, 118-125. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1994. Cf. Eliade, Myth of the Eternal Return.
5) Circular Time
A minority of scholars have suggested that Israel practiced a New Year’s festival, ritual recreation of universe. New start. Sacred time and sacred space. Jewish Study Bible on Biblical religion.