Thursday, January 1, 2009

Why does Moroni point east?

One of the most recognizable symbols of the LDS Church is the placement of the angel Moroni atop our modern temples. Interestingly enough, eight temples are not crowned with the statue: St. George, Logan, Manti, Laie Hawaii, Cardston, Mesa, Hamilton New Zealand, and Oakland.

Most Moroni statues adorning our temples point due east, however, the Seattle, Nauvoo, and Taipei Taiwan temples all have statues facing west. This is likely due to the orientation of their respective lots and/or the placement of their spires. While there is obviously no Church standard for Moroni’s easterly pointing direction, the symbolism is quite rich.

Members of the Church will frequently explain to their non-member friends, or in Church classes, that Moroni is often pointed east in reference to Christ who is to return from the east. The scriptural background stems partly from Matthew 24:27:

For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Joseph Smith provided us with a more correct version wherein he replaced “lightning” with “light of the morning” (see Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:26). Lightning out of the east is meteorologically incorrect in the Holy Land, as lightning typically originates in the west, as with all storm clouds and precipitation from the Mediterranean. Without any training in Near Eastern weather patterns, Joseph correctly amended the KJV to reflect that as the sun comes from the east, so will the Savior at his second coming.

But this is not the only symbolism which can be inferred from Moroni’s eastward orientation. Moroni may also point east to symbolically reflect certain events surrounding Earth’s first temple, Eden.

Eden represented God’s presence, a holy place where He could dwell, quite similar to its modern temple equivalent. “[T]he Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden,” (Gen. 2:8) where he originally placed man. “[I]n the midst of the garden”, indicating a sacred center, he also placed the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life (Gen. 2:9). Thus, there was a garden placed in the eastern part of God’s presence, or Eden, wherein man and the two trees were situated. Although a frequent visitor, there is no indication that God resided in Eden's Garden permanently.

[As a side note, it is interesting that “a river went out of Eden to water the garden” (Gen. 2:10). God provides the living water that gives life, vitality, and meaning to eternal life, or the tree of life.]

After partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were driven to the east out of the Garden of Eden:

So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24) (emphasis added)

Accordingly, so that Adam and Eve could not westerly return to the Garden and partake of the tree of life and forever live in their sins, God placed “cherubim” (Moses 4:31, the correct plural) and a flaming sword at the east gate, or entrance (compare Alma 12:21). The east side of the Garden is seemingly the place of sacred entry, as it is with many modern and ancient holy sanctuaries.

It was “the way” [Hebrew = derek, meaning “a pathway”] of the tree of life that the cherubic host and flaming sword were to guard. Evidently, “the way” connected to a sacred roadway that approached the Garden on its east side. Could the cherubim represent the “angels who stand as sentinels” to whom we must give the proper “key words, [] signs and tokens” to be able to “walk to the presence of the Father” (Discourses of Brigham Young, pg. 416)?

Later, Adam and Eve went to a certain spot, likely on the east side of the Garden where the gate was located, to pray and worship:

And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence” (Moses 5:4).

Although they were unable to see God, being shut out from his presence, Adam and Eve could speak with the Lord through the veil as he remained in “the way” toward the Garden. Interestingly, Cain and his family settled “east of Eden” in an apparent attempt to also remain close to the gate leading into the Garden (Gen. 4:16).

In an obvious representation of the Garden temple, Moses was commanded to emblazon cherubim on the “curtains” (i.e., veil) of the tabernacle in the wilderness (Ex. 26:1), wherein the curtains were to guard the way to the Holy of Holies (i.e., God’s presence). Why don’t we have cherubim on the veils of the temples today? Because the veil was rent upon Christ’s victory over death (Matt. 27:51), thus removing all obstacles for us to be redeemed from the Fall. Now that all obstacles are removed, we are to “hav[e] boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, . . . through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Heb. 10:19-20).

So, why does Moroni point east, then? In my opinion, it is because we, as types for Adam and Eve, are cast out from God’s presence to the east. Moroni sits atop the edifice that represents God’s presence and declares unto us symbolically residing in the east the everlasting gospel and invites us all to return westward, from whence we came (Rev. 14:6-7). With trumpet in hand, Moroni announces to us that "the way" is now freely open for us to attain eternal life, and he invites us to worship God. Where can we better worship our Heavenly Father than in his presence, the temple?

17 comments:

linda said...

Hmm, that's interesting.
Did you hear the story of the steeple at the St. George Temple? Apparently, the original plans called for a "smallish" steeple that Brigham Young didn't like. He asked them to make it bigger. The architects decided it couldn't be done and went ahead with the plans as is. Brother Brigham wasn't very happy with the appearance upon completion. Around 2 weeks after Pres. Young died there was a huge thunder storm in St. George and a lightning bolt struck the steeple and blew it apart. Being faithful servants =), when they re-built the steeple it was exactly how Pres. Young wanted it in the first place. In the visitor center at the temple they have one copy of a picture with the smaller steeple and they will tell you the story if you ask about it. I think Brigham Young is awesome.

Hey, if you are running out of ideas for posts, you should re-post some of the older ones for us new readers! I am working on a post based on your "Gifts of the Spirit" post.

Nate said...

Interesting/good post Jeremy. I always hated the "direction of Christ's return" explanation (but I never gave it any thought), because he will clearly come from the west to people that are east of his location. For that matter, if you're at the north pole, it will be from the south.

Linda, you can scroll to the bottom of the page and click "older posts" and it will bring up a new set--all the way back to the beginning.

Nate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nate said...

oooohhh, that made me think of something...if we ever put a temple on the north pole (for the elves of course), where will we orient Moroni?

-sorry, couldn't resist posting that thought. Hopefully the next comment will put the discussion back on track.

Jeremy said...

Linda, I recall hearing that interesting story about Brigham Young. He seemed to be one of the most outspoken of our prophets.

Interesting thought, Nate. I can always count on you to bring in "little people" material. Where is your WOW post?

As for new posts, I do have ideas, but some of them I hesitate to write down since most are speculation. In any event, I mostly do these so that I can refer back to them at a later date when I am called to talk on something similar. It's kind of like logging cool things to talk about for talking assignments or gospel doctrine classes.

Thanks for reading, guys.

Nate said...

I also wonder if east can be symbolic of 'right'. Being on the right hand of God seems like a good place to be. East is always right on a map.

I wonder if the cardinal directions have always been represented the same on a map.

Brian Duffin said...

I attend a Moroni deprived temple, so I can say for certain that direction does not matter in Mesa. :)

Anthony E. Larson said...

If the "grand sign" of the Second Coming is to be a "planet, comet," as Joseph Smith said, then it will appear to come out of the East, due to Earth's rotation, just as do all celestial bodies: Sun, Moon, planets and stars. This is critical, since all the icons on the Nauvoo and Salt Lake Temples are astral icons: suns, moons, planets and stars. The first temples in the modern era were all oriented to the East for that same reason, as Nibley pointed out.

The Savior will appear to us as he did to the Nephites. There was no orientation to his descent other than from above. But astral bodies all arise from the East in Earth's present orientation and rotation. That's what the Matthew passage is about.

The use of "eastward" is a mistranslation. The original word was "orient." To us it means the same thing. That's why the translators substituted "eastward" for "orient." But, to the ancients, who saw the most sacred direction as north, the word meant just that ... northward. Everything of significance comes from the north in ancient cultures. The easterly "orientation" is a later assignment.

Also, you're wrong about cherubim lacking in modern temples. In the Salt Lake Temple they stand on either side of the scalloped shell behind the statue of Aphrodite, who stands over the veil in the Celestial Room. They're not the same cherubim as those in Moses' temple or in Solomon's temple for that matter. But, they are there, and symbolically they represent the same thing: guardians set to protect the holy place, the Center.

Jeremy said...

Anthony, thank-you for your comments. I wasn't aware of any mistranslations of the word "east" or "eastward" in the Genesis account, since the JST and Moses account contain the same wording.

I have, although, seen the cherubim located in the SLC temple. Thank-you for pointing that out here. However, cherubim have been generally removed as a veil ornamentation on our modern temples, in my opinion, since they are no longer needed to guard the tree of life from Adam & Eve(us). Once Christ effectuated the Atonement, he opened the holiest unto all of us.

Thanks for stopping by.

Bookslinger said...

I remember President Hinckley saying that the Salt Lake Temple, and it's Moroni face East, and the Nauvoo Temple and it's Moroni face West.

He said Nauvoo is "Joseph's temple" and Salt Lake is "Brigham's temple" and that they face each other.

Kind of makes sense.

If I remember correctly, the Moroni statue atop the San Antonio temple faces North away from the city of San Antonio, which lies to the South of the temple.

If you're ever in San Antonio, go see the temple at night and look over the city of San Antonio. The temple neighborhood is on a hill, which hill is the highest spot overlooking the city. The temple is not on the tip-top of the hill, but still it's awesome.

Jeremy said...

Bookslinger, I also remember Pres. Hinckley's comments. I believe he also said that the two temples served as "bookends." Interesting comments.

I'm actually quite close to San Antonio, so I'll have to take you up on that next time we visit.

Thanks for commenting.

Hans said...

I'm closer to San Antonio than Jeremy (as of now) so we will need to check it out. It gives us a good reason for a day trip from Austin.

Juan Reta said...

Thank you very much, very good article
Translated to spanish:http://mormontranslator.blogspot.com/

Jeremy said...

Gracias, Juan, y puedes visitarnos cuando quieras.

Alison Moore Smith said...

Just found your blog. Great reading!

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