Saturday, December 29, 2012

Great and Spacious Buildings

Professor Barry Kemp of Cambridge is an Egyptian archaeologist whose published views are usually thought provoking. In one of his books he wrote:

“’Great culture’, which in times becomes tourist culture, was not the spontaneous creation of the common man. It is no accident that we meet its manifestations in large religious buildings, in palaces, mansions, and castles. Great culture, which requires patronage and the direction of labour, originates in courts. The wealth, size, splendour, craft standards, and intellectual novelties are part of the instruments of the rule. When well established, a great tradition may have an influence which is felt throughout society. But to reach this stage it has to expand at the expense of other traditions. It has to colonize the minds of the nation.”[1]

Such a statement makes the thoughtful reader of the Book of Mormon wonder if great and spacious buildings (1 Nephi 8:26, 31, 33; 11:35-36; 12:18) really equate with great culture. Interestingly, this quote is at the beginning of a chapter in which Professor Kemp shows how many of the Egyptian temples did not start out as great and spacious buildings.

Ancient Egypt produced great and spacious buildings, beautiful artwork, and an intriguingly picturesque script. By contrast, ancient Israel produced utilitarian buildings, crude artwork, and a scratchy script. But ancient Israel also produced the Bible, a work whose literary history has far outlasted anything any ancient Egyptian ever wrote. The ancient Maya too produced great and spacious buildings, beautiful artwork, and an intriguingly picturesque script. The Nephites, on the other hand, may not have had much of these things but they produced the Book of Mormon.

The three mentions of a lavish building project from the Book of Mormon are undertaken by king Noah who “built many elegant and spacious buildings” (Mosiah 11:8-13) and Riplakish who “did build many spacious buildings” (Ether 10:5-6) and Morianton who was rich “both in buildings, and in gold and silver” (Ether 10:12). All of these kings are depicted as wicked. From a Book of Mormon point of view great and spacious buildings are not signs of righteousness.

[1] Barry J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization (London: Routledge, 1989), 64.