The Relationship Between Rosh Hashanah and Mormon Temples
Earlier last week, Jews around the world completed a three-day celebration know commonly as “Rosh Hashanah”. In Hebrew, it means literally “head of the year”, as it is the New Year festival established by Israel’s God in Leviticus (specifically 23: 23–32). The phrase used in the Old Testament to describe this occasion is most often translated as “The Feast of the Trumpets”. It falls on the first day of the 7th month in the Jewish calendar, called Tishrei.
On the same day that the Feast of the Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah began in 2015, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — sometimes known as the LDS or Mormon Church — rededicated the Mexico City Temple which had been closed for a major renovation and interior upgrade. It is their largest temple outside of the United States. The Church now has 148 temples worldwide, a dozen in some phase of construction, more than a dozen announced, and 5 undergoing renovation similar to Mexico City.
One prominent feature on almost every LDS Temple is a gold leaf statue of an angel sounding a trumpet, usually gracing the top of a temple’s highest spire. Here we see such a statue on the Indianapolis Indiana Temple, which just went into operation last month:
As you might already guess, the link between these two seemingly unrelated events might have something to do with the trumpet the angel is sounding. Well, yes, but there is much more to it than that. So what exactly is the relationship between this prominent Mormon symbol and the Jewish Feast of Trumpets?
Moroni’s Visit to Joseph Smith
To understand the connection, one needs to first understand some very quick and basic Mormon history. In 1820 when Joseph Smith was a young 14 year-old boy, he said that in answer to prayer one morning regarding which religion he should join, he was visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ in a grove of trees outside their family farm. After that experience, he was left to his own for several years. Even in his youth, he suffered severe persecutions for the continued affirmation that he had in fact seen a vision. In recounting this period of his life years later, he also freely admitted that he was subject to the weaknesses of youth, stating that he felt he “was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God…” (Joseph Smith - History, 1:28). After having received such an experience and then being met with several years of quiet from the heavens, one could see how Joseph might have begun to question his standing with the Almighty.
And so a few years later in 1823, Joseph said “ I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him… While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.” (JS-H 1:29–30)
This personage identified himself to Joseph as Moroni, the individual portrayed in gold leaf atop Mormon temples. No, they aren’t solid gold. My wife happens to have a cousin who is married to the son of the sculpture responsible for about two-thirds of the statues. He gave a presentation once detailing the process, and some experiences he’s had in doing so. Very fascinating, but I digress.
Joseph later went on to state that angel Moroni told him many things about the last days, and what would eventually be the last time God would call for the righteous to be gathered in. He also showed him in vision a repository where certain records and other spiritually significant items were buried in a nearby hill. The records were inscribed on golden plates and written in a reformed type of Egyptian script. (The other items in the repository will likely be discussed in a future article, as they hold a powerful parallel to ancient Israel and it’s spiritual power.) Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe those golden plates were latter translated into the Book of Mormon.
Joseph was told that the time for obtaining the plates was not yet: he needed significant heavenly tutelage. He was to go to the hill which he had been shown every year on that exact same day for the next 4 years, and then the plates would be given to him. Thus, on September 22, 1827, he went to the hill and there met Moroni, who gave him further instructions and turned over care of the plates.
The full account can be read here.
Some have pointed out that Moroni’s first September 22nd visit does not correspond with the Feast of the Trumpets. They are correct. In 1823, the first day of Tishrei was on September 6th. But 4 years later, the day Joseph was given the plates, September 22nd was the first day of Tishrei, and the beginning of Rosh Hashanah — The Feast of the Trumpets.
The Angel’s Message, and it’s relation to the Feast of Trumpets
Rosh Hashana, like other Jewish festivals, follows a lunar calendar, but it also symbolically coincides with the last harvest of the year. For ancient Israel, this usually meant harvesting the grape vineyards, orchards of olives and apples, the last honeybee skeps (hence the popular apple and honey tradition for some Jews during the celebration) and the late season pomegranates.
It is not hard to see the symbolism for Israel during the Feast of Trumpets, or the significance that it was the beginning of the last time Israel would harvest their crops that year. It anticipated the final harvest of souls by God at some future date. For Mormons — who believe they too are a part of covenant Israel — Moroni’s final visit fulfills that anticipated event: the beginning of the last time God would gather the righteous out of the world.
Fire & The Family of Ephraim
Well known to Jews is the instruction that the feast be accompanied by “an offering made by fire” (Leviticus 23:25). What was this to represent to the Jews? What lesson was to be learned from it?
When Mormons and other Christians think of fire in a spiritual sense, we might think of burning or purifying, specifically in the context of when God returns to earth.
When Moroni came to visit the young Joseph Smith, one of the first things he did was to paraphrase a section from the Old Testament book of Malachi: “For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” (Compare to the 4th Chapter of Malachi)
In other words, Mormons might clearly see in the ancient “offering made by fire” symbolism of getting their lives and families in order so that they might be made an acceptable offering to God in preparation for Christ’s second coming.
Additionally, some Jews read from Zechariah 9 as part of Rosh Hashanah: “And the Lord God shall blow the trumpet,”(verse 9) which accompanies pronouncements that Ephraim’s family would help raise up God’s covenant people (verse 13) and that those of Israel’s blood would again become His flock (verse 16). According to genealogies put forth in the Book of Mormon, Moroni was a descendant of Lehi, who was a descendant of Manasseh, Ephraim’s brother. However, all of Lehi’s sons married the daughters of an Israelite named Ishmael who journeyed with them. His genealogy was in a portion of the Book of Mormon that was lost and never re-translated, but according to Joseph Smith, it stated that Ishmael was a descendant of Ephraim. Thus Moroni was a descendant of Ephraim, and could be seen as the fulfillment of those verses.
Suffice it to say, the parallels between the ancient promises and prophecies that ancient Israel commemorated during this festival, the scriptures Moroni quoted to Joseph, the symbolism of the date he appeared, and the intent of his visit, combine in such a way to go far beyond mere coincidence.
I see most external symbolism on LDS Temples — symbolism that is readily observed by anyone — as an invitation. It is an invitation to learn about what we have, and to see if it is something you too might want.
Describing the Salt Lake Temple, Gordon B. Hinckley, a former President of the LDS church, said this:
“Atop the ball is a bronze figure gilded with gold. The figure represents Moroni — prophet, writer, and compiler of the Book of Mormon. The figure represents the angel spoken of by John the Revelator when he declared with prophetic vision:
‘And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,
Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.’ (Rev. 14:6–7.)”
At the very same time that Joseph Smith claimed he was receiving an ancient record from an ancient Ephraimite, quoting ancient prophecies about harvesting souls in the last days, fire, and families…Jews around the world were gathering as families, reading about offerings made by fire and gathering in the last harvest, all in anticipation of a redeeming work carried out by the tribe of Ephraim on behalf of the rest of the House of Israel.
Jews and Mormons had more in common this last week than many may realize. The link between Rosh Hashanah — The Feast of Trumpets — and Moroni is just one of many fascinating aspects of Mormonism.