Moses 5:4 tells us that Adam and Eve offered prayer after they left the Garden of Eden:
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.
In answer to their petitions, Adam and Eve heard the Lord’s voice calling them back from their place of exile on the fallen earth. Later, He gave them additional instruction and commandments in order to set their feet back on the way toward the Garden of Eden which is, of course, the path that terminates in “the way of the Tree of Life.” In a passage from the Midrash Tehillim, the Hebrew term teshuvah, which denotes “return” but scripturally means “repentance” or “conversion,” is used to describe the way back to the Garden, signifying “the movement that brings every thing and every being back to its supernal origin,” the “return to the celestial abode.” The spiritual movement of turning away from the sinful world and back toward humankind’s heavenly origins is mirrored in the layout of ordinance rooms in some modern temples. (Note that some modern temples have only one or two ordinance rooms, where a given room might represent multiple stages in our return, but only one stage at a time.)
In this essay, I will explore sources that purport to give details about ancient forms of prayer rooted in the experiences of Adam and Eve. Notable features of such prayers include uplifted hands, introductions spoken in an unknown language, repetition, and the veiling of the face by women.
The practice of prayer with uplifted hands is frequently mentioned in ancient sources. Indeed, some texts specifically assert that its exercise goes back to the very beginning (e.g., “Adam was then offering on the altar, and had begun to pray, with his hands spread unto God”). Even today, this gesture is widely recognized as a sign of distress, a call for help, and a demonstration of peaceful intent. Not surprisingly, Christians have also long connected the tradition with the posture of crucifixion. This classical orans (= Latin “praying”) position was practiced by priests in temples throughout the ancient world, and was formerly used in Latter-day Saint sacrament prayers. Notably, in the art of the catacombs, the orans posture was specifically associated with prayer offered by or in behalf of deceased souls.
The Psalmist wrote: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.” John Tvedtnes explains:
The message of the Psalm is clear: In order to enter into the temple (the “hill of the Lord,” called “the mountain of the Lord’s house” in Isaiah 2:2), one must have clean hands and a pure heart. In other words, both acts (represented by the hands) and thoughts (represented by the heart) must reflect righteousness, along with the lips that utter the prayer.
Parry sees in Psalm 24 a possible reference to ancient prayer circles, noting that “prayer with upraised arms was an essential feature of holy petitions put up to God in the temple of Solomon.” “Clean hands” can also be thought of as a symbol of the justificatory remission of sins while a “pure heart” can be considered as the result of the process of sanctification.
The one whose “palms are innocent, and whose heart is pure” will have the “privilege of appearing before God in his temple,” that he “may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” The symbolism relates to sacrifice “after the order of the Melchizedek Priesthood”—not the Levitical offering of animal sacrifice but an ongoing dedication of one’s own life in a spirit of consecration. Elder Neal A. Maxwell explained that “real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!”
Prayer Introductions Spoken in an Unknown Language
William Clayton recorded Joseph Smith’s teaching that the “first word Adam spoke” was “a word of supplication.” Accounts purporting to reproduce the words of that prayer have long puzzled interpreters. For example, Nibley cites The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, which says that Adam and Eve “stood with upstretched hands calling upon the Lord, as ‘Adam began to pray in a language which is unintelligible to us.’” The apocryphal Gospel of Bartholomew 2:13 gives a post-resurrection account of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the apostles praying with outspread hands. Her prayer likewise begins with words that M. R. James reports as being “hopelessly corrupted,” and that Edgar Hennecke simply omits. While James justifies abandoning any attempt at decipherment in his conclusion that “the matter is not of importance,” Hugh Nibley correctly explains that her “speaking in an unknown language” is actually “the usual code introducing [such a] prayer.”
Repetition is another hallmark of solemn prayer. For example, at the dedication of the Kirtland temple the Prophet prayed following the pattern of “Adam’s prayer” with threefold repetition: “O hear, O hear, O hear us, O Lord! …that we may mingle our voices with those bright, shining seraphs around thy throne.” Similarly, Abraham, having “rebuilt the altar of Adam” at the command of an angel, is reported as having repeatedly raised his voice to God, saying: “El, El, El, El, Iaoel… Accept my prayer.” Abraham’s prayer was also in imitation of Adam. The threefold repetition in some versions of the story might be seen as reflecting the tradition that it was not until the third day when Adam’s urgent and persistent request for additional knowledge from the Lord was at last answered with instruction by an angel. This angel is said to have borne a book that “teaches [those who are wise and God-fearing] how to call upon the angels and make them appear before men, and answer all their questions.” Likewise, the Prophet Joseph Smith was anxious to teach the Saints the manner by which they could “pray and have [their] prayers answered.”
The Veiling of the Face by Women
This illustration, from the catacomb of Priscilla (late second through fourth century), shows a Christian woman in the attitude of prayer, with uplifted hands and wearing a veil. The ritual practice of the veiling of the face by women, as discussed in the writings of the Apostle Paul, raises complex and controversial issues, and has led to many points of misunderstanding that can only be touched on briefly here. While I will cite several Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint scholars on specific points of agreement, they would not necessarily reach the conclusions I outline below. In fact, I myself regard these conclusions as tentative and warranting much further study before they can be wholeheartedly accepted. I am intrigued, however, by the possibility that Paul’s words on the veiling of the face by women might be relevant to the context of temple teachings.
As a general illustration of how Paul is sometimes misunderstood, the brilliant classicist Sarah Ruden cites George Bernard Shaw, whose analysis of Paul’s writings ends with the assertion that he was “the eternal enemy of Woman.” However, Ruden concludes otherwise, stating that “Shaw’s view of Paul as an oppressor could hardly be more wrong” and that, in particular, his instructions to women to veil themselves during prayer was “aimed toward an outrageous equality” that ran completely counter to the cultural and religious traditions of his time. Also arguing for the distinctiveness of Paul’s teachings on the wearing of the veil, Latter-day Saint scholar Lynne H. Wilson writes that “while the Pharisaic tradition confined, the Greco-Roman segregated, and the ancient Assyrian labeled,” the Christian ritual practice, instead, “empowered.”
To understand why this is so, the basic function of veils in temple contexts should be recalled: to hide the glory of what they enclose from individuals who are as yet unfit to behold the splendor within. For example, drawing an analogy between the radiant brightness of God and the unapproachable light of the Holy of Holies, on the one hand, and the celestial firmament and the veil of the temple, on the other hand, rabbinical commentators explained that the wicked are not worthy to enjoy the light of God’s presence, therefore it was hidden away to be enjoyed later by the righteous in the Messianic Age. Certain exceptions, however, could be made in the case of prophets and other righteous individuals who, because of their purity and faithfulness, were permitted to go beyond the heavenly veil and speak with God face to face.
The First Epistle of John reminds us that the essential quality that enables one to see God is to resemble Him not only in image but also in likeness and purity. Part of that likeness is, as Alan Segal observed:
the spiritual glow, radiance, or splendor, the special resemblance of Adam to God before the Fall, which is imparted only to those who, like Moses, have been called into the presence of God. Paul implies that converted Christians have also received this glow from the presence of God. … “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another.”
In his discussion of this topic, Paul cites the example of Moses, whose “face shone while he talked with [God].” Because the children of Israel could not bear to see God’s glory even in its reflected form, Moses “put a vail on his face” while addressing them. However, returning to the presence of God, “he took the vail off.” Beale and Carson observe: “If the Corinthians were already familiar with Exodus 34:33-34 and had heard Paul express something similar to 2 Corinthians 3:13-18, then one could easily see how some might deduce that the women also should act like Moses and remove the veil when entering into God’s presence, since Paul indicates we should ‘all’ approach God with ‘unveiled faces.’” Thus, it becomes understandable why Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, might have found it necessary to explain “why women should continue to wear veils even when in the presence of the Lord” as they engaged in sacred prayer.
Both the content and language of Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians 11 seem to echo what Latter-day Saint readers will recognize as temple themes. For example, in introducing his remarks about the veiling of women, Paul admonishes his readers to “keep the ordinances [paradosis], as I delivered them to you.” Wilson notes: “The Septuagint (LXX) used paradosis to describe the ritual teachings that Moses handed down orally.” Though it cannot be concluded with certainty that Paul is referring to a temple context for the form of prayer he describes, the Prophet Joseph Smith affirmed that: “Pauln… knew … all the ordinances, and blessings were in the Church.” Referring to Paul’s discussion of Moses’ glorification in 2 Corinthians 3 (discussed above), Christopher Morray-Jones concludes that it must have been derived, at least in part, from the Jewish mystic traditions involving:
the transformation of the visionary who beholds God’s Glory into an angelic or supra-angelic likeness of that divine Image. This transformation is typically described in terms of robing, crowning, anointing, enthronement, and/or reception of (or clothing with) the divine Name. … The sources associate this transformation with participation in the celestial liturgy, through the medium of ecstatic praise.
Discussions of the Jewish quorum of prayer, or minyan, emphasize that when it is “formed in the proper manner below [it] unifies the heavenly realm above.”
Paul’s teachings on the veiling of women during prayer can be only briefly summarized here. As a starting point, it is important to recognize that the hinge point of his arguments in favor of this practice revolve around the relationship of man and woman to God and to each other. Taking 1 Corinthians 11:11 as a key to the interpretation of the entire passage, Kevin Barney comments: “Paul assumes that this whole theme is to be taken in the context of marriage being the normal state for man and woman, that together they form a divine unit.”
Though his eventual conclusion points to the oneness of man and woman “in the Lord,” in the course of his argument, Paul describes their relationship in the form of prayer he describes as intriguingly asymmetric, using “details from Genesis 2 to explain why the man cannot be understood as the glory of the woman, while the woman can be understood as the glory of the man.” There seems to be no question here of the woman being presented as a second-class participant in the ordinances or, for that matter, in eternal life, as some have erroneously concluded. Rather, by way of analogy to the divine radiance of Moses in Exodus 34:33-34, the veil might be understood not only as a woman’s sign of authority, necessary for her own exaltation, but also as a witness of womanhood’s glory, a glory that must eventually be shared with man if he is to attain completeness in God’s sight.
Given the understanding from modern revelation about the order of temple blessings, the pattern of prayer outlined here seems to teach that the sequence of derivation portrayed in the creation account, whereby man is first created and then woman is taken from man, is to be repeated in the culminating steps of the Atonement: Man must first become one with God; only then can He and Woman be made one through the sealing power. Seen in this light, the two parts of Paul’s argument, namely the difference in prayer prescriptions for man and woman presented in 1 Corinthians 11:4-10 and the mutual interdependence and absolute equality in standing before the Lord portrayed in vv. 11-12, “do not present a contradiction, but are presented in parallel form to represent the duality of the sexes, a duality only ultimately resolved through exaltation.” In the meantime, the veil does not hinder—and may even enhance—the moment of woman’s personal communion with God. As Cyril of Jerusalem taught: “But when thine eyes are veiled, thine ears are not hindered from receiving the means of salvation.” Though some differences in the form of Pauline prayer are apparently required for men and women, the blessings ultimately intended are the same for both.
How, then, might the process of perfection of the man and the woman be represented concretely in the veiling of the woman’s face? Through prayer, “with unveiled face,” the man, “beholding the glory of the Lord” could be understood as “being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another,” having “received his image in our countenances.” From this perspective, only when the transformation is complete, after he has become “like” God and seen Him “as he is,” could the glory of the woman, with unveiled face and “power on her head,” be revealed to the man in the presence of God. On the other hand, if a woman were to pray uncovered, prematurely unveiling her face to the unready man standing before the Divine, it would bring “dishonour” upon him, just as it would have brought shame upon an Israelite temple priest to proceed beyond the temple veil while still unprepared. Summarizing her view of Paul’s argument, Wilson writes:
Without the woman, man cannot achieve his glory. Through the spousal relationship, a woman and a man become a whole entity. Woman was created so that a glorious union could potentially be formed. … In this sense, a woman allows a man to achieve his glory.
John Tvedtnes has written that “prayer opens the veil to allow one to enjoy the presence of God.” Similarly, prayer might be understood as a preparation for the enjoyment of eternal companionship between a man and woman who are fit for the fulness of covenant love.
In this light, it is easy to see why marriage between such a woman and man is the perfect similitude of the eventual union of Christ with His Church. As “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” only when “a glorious church” is ready to enjoy the fulness of His presence, so the glory of a woman is to be shared with a man in its fulness only when he himself has been made glorious, after demonstrating his faithfulness in every respect to his covenant to keep the final law of consecration — including having loved his wife “even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Scott Hahn writes:
That which is veiled is holy, to be unveiled only in covenant love. What the Apocalypse [i.e., the book of Revelation] “unveils” is history’s final consummation, the marriage of Christ to His bride, the Church. She is “the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Like the Holy of Holies, Christ’s bride is four-square and resplendent with pure gold.
By “unveiling” the Church, our priestly Bridegroom reveals the gift of His love to His bride—the New Jerusalem—in the “glory and beauty” of the Spirit. And what else? The New Creation—“a new heaven and a new earth.”
This essay is adapted from Jeffrey M. Bradshaw. Temple Themes in the Book of Moses. 2014 update ed. Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Publishing, 2014. English: https://archive.org/details/150904TempleThemesInTheBookOfMoses2014UpdatedEditionSReading ; Spanish: http://www.templethemes.net/books/171219-SPA-TempleThemesInTheBookOfMoses.pdf, pp. 185–192.
Notes on Figures
Figure 1. © by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Figure 2. Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tissot_Solomon_Dedicates_the_ Temple_at_Jerusalem.jpg.
Figure 3. Public Domain, http://restoredapologetics.blogspot.com/2010/02/11.html. From the Catacomb of Priscilla, Via Salaria, Rome, Italy..
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Wilson, Lynne Hilton. "Unveiling veils of authority for women in Paul." Presented at the BYU Studies Fiftieth Anniversary Symposium, Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, March 12-13, 2010.
From the point of view of religious history, the lifting of the hands… is an expressive gesture of prayer to the “gods above” [see R. H. Wilkinson, Art, pp. 28-29 for a discussion of the gesture in Egyptian worship] … General anthropology has… shown us that among all peoples, the offering and showing of the open palms, which therefore cannot hold weapons or anything dangerous, is a sign of peaceful intent… Thus open hands uplifted are a universal gesture of peace, confidence, and petition; in contrast, a clenched fist means threat and challenge to battle. In the Old Testament, lifting the hands to God (e.g., Exodus 9:29, 33: Psalm 28:2, 63:5, 88:10), or toward the Temple (e.g., 1 Kings 8:38) was a universal custom. This Jewish gesture of prayer was apparently adopted by Christians for private as well as communal prayer. Tertullian refers to it (see Tertullian, Prayer, 14, p. 685): The Jews, because of their feelings of guilt, do not dare to lift their hands to Christ. “But we not only lift them, but even extend them, imitating the Lord’s passion, as we also confess Christ in prayer.” The oldest depiction of the crucifixion of Christ (still very muted, because otherwise so scandalous to Romans), on the wooden portals of Santa Sabina on the Aventine in Rome (6th c.) shows the crucified Lord with slightly bent arms and open, nailed hands, but without an express depiction of the cross—almost as if he were standing in front of the framework of a house. This is precisely the form of the orans posture as Tertullian pictures it: In the Christians who are praying in this way, the Father also sees the dying son on the cross. Naturally, this interpretation of the orans posture is secondary and allegorizing, but it is still interesting and revealing.
Numerous biblical figures, for instance, depicted in the catacombs — Noah, Abraham, Isaac, the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace, Daniel in the lions’ den—are pictured asking the Lord to deliver the soul of the person on whose tombs they are depicted as He once delivered the particular personage represented. But besides these biblical Orans figures there exist in the catacombs many ideal figures (153 in all) in the ancient attitude of prayer, which, according to Wilpert, are to be regarded as symbols of the deceased’s soul in heaven, praying for its friends on earth. This symbolic meaning accounts for the fact that the great majority of the figures are female, even when depicted on the tombs of men. One of the most convincing proofs that the Orans was regarded as a symbol of the soul is an ancient lead medal in the Vatican Museum showing the martyr, St. Lawrence, under torture, while his soul, in the form of a female Orans, is just leaving the body.
Every person who lives in this world radiates light, which affects and influences every other person in the world. Our choices in life determine what we really are. The radiance of the light that emanates from our countenance is determined by the choices we make, and is a powerful force in human relationships. And every person is the recipient of that radiation. The Savior was conscious of that reality; and to a degree so are we.
Whenever Jesus came into the presence of an individual He was conscious of a light emanating from that person’s soul, and which was mirrored in his countenance. He knew the behavior and conduct, and the choices a person had made because that behavior and those choices were reflected by the radiating light in one’s countenance. My dear brothers and sisters, we must make nobler choices. We must not encourage vile thoughts or low aspirations. We shall radiate them if we do. Every moment of life we are affecting, to a degree, the life of every other person with whom we may come in contact, and who comes within the sphere of our influence.
Every person is affecting every other person who lives. We cannot for one moment escape this emanation, this radiation of light that emanates from our countenance. Life is a constant state of radiation and absorption of light. To exist is to radiate light; to exist is to be the recipient of light. And we choose the qualities we permit to be radiated by the light within us, determined by our behavior, and by the choices we make. (BYU Devotional, 1947).
Although Jewish and Christian accounts of heavenly ascent often limit access to holy places to men, Rowland notes that Paul’s epistles were addressed to women as well, and sees:
… the transfer of cultic imagery to a community which was inclusive [as] a reminder that ritual impurity does not seem to have been a disqualification from access to the nascent Pauline Christian communities and their communion with the heavenly world (though later we know that menstruation could be a bar on women being baptized). … There is no sense of disqualification here… This may also explain the enigmatic reference to the angels in 1 Corinthians 11:10. There are several passages from apocalyptic texts where humans are refused admission into the presence of God by angels. According to Paul, all those sanctified (1 Corinthians 6:11), women (and children?) as well as men, can expect to understand the mystery through the indwelling Spirit which enables the believer to probe the profound things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10). This meant becoming part of the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19). In such circumstances, women who might find themselves otherwise disqualified needed some kind of [sign of authority or power] to indicate their right to be in the divine presence (1 Corinthians 11:10), much as those who accompanied the Lamb had the name of God on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1). Such [a sign of authority or power] equipped women to be part of the assembly which, like the Qumran community, shared the lot of the angels in light (Colossians 1:12f.; cf: 1QH 11:20f.; 1QS 19:6ff.). (C. Rowland, Things, pp. 144-145).
Note that early Christians, when they gathered to “lift up [their] hearts to heaven,” were reminded that God Himself (with the angels and mortals) would be an “onlooker” to their proceedings (J. Cooper et al., Testament, 1:23, p. 71).
It is significant that face veiling of women, not generally practiced in ancient Egypt, is mentionedby the Greek writer Plutarch (whose contemporary Hellenic society may not have engaged in veiling, but whose culture historically did) in his Isis and Osiris: “In Sais the image of Athena, whoich one also sees as Isis, contains the following inscription: ‘I am the cosmos, the past, present, and future, no mortal has yet lifted my veil’” (Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 9). “Throughout the ancient world,” observes Hugh Nibley, “the veil of the temple is the barrier between ourselves and both the hidden mysteries of the temple and the boundless expanses of cosmic space beyond. An example of the former is ‘the veil of Isis,’ which no man has lifted” (H. W. Nibley, Sacred, pp. 376-377).