Scripture symbolism is tough. So is LDS Temple symbolism. Paul Toscano has a book, “The Serpent & the Dove” that explains temple symbolism. That may surprise you, because he is infamous for his excommunication as part of the September Six. We’ll touch on that briefly, but, we’ll talk about the nature of scripture and temple symbolism.

Paul:  For a long time, but I was reading on the internet lots of people who just hated the temple ceremony. I realized as I was reading their complaints about the temple ceremony that they simply don’t understand the symbolic nature of the ritual. They see it as something apart from Christianity. So, I wrote “The Serpent & the Dove” because I’ve always believed & believe now that it’s a Christian sacrament, that it was intended to be a Christian sacrament.

Now, I’m kind of a Mormon-Christian-Agnostic. That is, I can tell you what I think the texts mean, & I can tell you what I think the endowment means. I’m not here to tell you whether or not it’s true in the metaphysical sense, but as a literary man, because I got my bachelor’s & master’s degree in English literature & then I went to law school, so I’ve had to learn to do close reading, either of legal materials or back in school as literature.

Scripture Symbolism

Paul:  Because I use the symbology of Christ as  the feathered serpent, the serpent on the pole…

GT:  Okay.

Paul:  …in Moses, and I take it further. I think that really the symbol of Christ is the serpent. In the Garden of Eden, the devil shows up using the Christ symbol, as a deceptive mechanism.  In the Judeo-Christian literature, the devil is always trying to masquerade as an angel of light or Christ or something he’s not, in order to deceive. But the serpent is really Christ’s symbol in my view, because it sloughs its skin, which is the resurrection symbol. It also is death, both life and death. And the resurrection is symbolized in the sloughing of the skin, which the snake does. But it, also, because it has fangs and is poisonous, it brings death. It is the God that punishes us with death for our sakes, he says. And then it’s God who brings about the redemption from death. And so, I see that is an apt symbol. And I think others see it as a symbol of the serpent.

The dove I see as the female aspect of Christ, which is the Holy Ghost. And the dove was always a symbol of the Mother Goddess, and the dove flying over his baptism saying, “This is My beloved Son.” I know we attribute that to the Father. But I suspect not. I suspect that it was the mother. And I suspect that the Holy Ghost, I think it’s Margaret Barker, who’s a scholar who people at the Maxwell Institute love because she does Old Testament studies and shows that one of the things that early Hebrews did worship, not only male but a female aspect of divinity. And I think Daniel Peterson is the one who has tied that worship to Asherah.

So I use the symbol of the Christ Jesus and Christ Sophia, as I call her or Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Because I think that’s what the temple is trying to tell us through symbology is that this is the mystery of godliness. Part of the restoration was meant to reveal to the Latter-day Saints. Now we’ve moved a million miles away from that. And in the church manuals in the church correlation department has moved away from that. But that is still, even when they’ve taken things out of the temple, it’s still there. And it’s certainly in the Book of Mormon. And it’s in the Book of Abraham.

And I understand the historical problems with these scriptures. But that’s true for all scriptures, and all religions. You can’t prove them scientifically. You can’t prove them archaeologically. You can’t prove them historically. They’re not meant to create certainty. Because if that’s the last thing we need is more certainty in the minds of powerful people, so they can impose their certainty on others. That is not what we need.

So these are visionary texts. And the purpose of these texts is to promote a vision of the Godhead, and of our relationship to God in the universe, and nature and each other. And it’s more in the nature of [myth.] Myth is not about a false story myth. It’s about telling us deep things about our assumptions, our aspirations, our expectations, our predispositions, and the expectations that God has for us. It’s dialogical. You read a book of history, you close the book and say, “Oh, yeah. Lincoln was shot of Ford theater. It’s over.” But you read a myth and you have to engage with the myth constantly. You have to. It speaks to you. And it speaks to you again, as you get older. It speaks to you as your knowledge grows. As the island of your knowledge grows, the more it borders on the sea of the unknown. So, the less you think, and the more questions you have. And the myth informs our questioning. And that’s why I think the sacred texts of Mormonism are, in fact, sacred texts. If you look up them in scientific treatises or historical absolutes, then of course, you’re going to have a crisis, because that’s not what they are. But if you see them as visionary texts, then they do make sense.

In a recent interview with Pentecostal theologian Dr. Christopher Thomas, he said the Book of Mormon is quite trinitarian. Paul Toscano disputes that assertion. Paul tells why he thinks the Book of Mormon isn’t Trinitarian.

Paul:  I talked about the atonement. And I said, the Book of Mormon teaches that Jesus is a supreme being. And that he’s both the Father in heaven, and when he comes to earth, he’s the son, and he’s the creator. And then he’s the Redeemer.

GT:  Which sounds very Trinitarian.

Paul:  It’s not Trinitarian. Because a Trinitarian-ism is that there’s one God. But He appears. It sounds Trinitarian. But it has to do with the way the Greek fathers [translated.] It sounds the way the Greek fathers formulated it in the Nicene Creed. And I can’t remember all the Greek terms they use now because my memory isn’t what it used to be. But it has to do with one in substance. But they have this word that they use.[1]

GT:  Homo-uzious.

Paul:  Homo-uzious. Yes, that’s it. That’s it. And that’s not what we believe

GT:  Versus homoi-uzious, right?

Paul:  Yeah.

GT:  There’s the one “i” [that’s different between the two words.]

Paul:  Yeah. These differences people fought over. And it seems like it’s Trinitarianism. But it is not. It is because of the emphasis on embodiment. I think the Book of Mormon shows us that Christ was God, before time, before the creation, before space and time was created, when there was only God and there was no differentiation. It’s very difficult for us to even conceive of this because we can’t.

GT:  Before you get into there, can you tell us the difference between homo-uzious and homoi-uzious?

Paul:  No, I’m not. No.

GT:  Oh.

Paul:  I’m not going to step into that.

GT:  Well, let me. I’ll try my stab at it then.

Paul:  You go ahead, because I suppose you know more about it.

GT:  I believe, homo-uzious is “of the same substance.” And homoi-uzious is “of like substance.” I think that’s the subtle difference.[2]

Book of Mormon Isn’t Trinitarian

Paul:  Yes. I’m saying that what the Book of Mormon says is, it’s the same person. And this person is a personage who exists differently after the creation, then God existed before the creation. Now, I know this sounds like Trinitarianism, but it’s very different. And what I want to do is, I’m going to actually, in order to make this point clear… oh dear. I’ve got notes on my phone. But I want to say this point. I believe that the purpose of the Mormon restoration was to reveal that Christ was the Supreme Being, not that he has a Heavenly Father that is superior to him. That’s what the Church teaches now. There is Heavenly Father and Jesus, the Holy Spirit.

GT:  Right.

Paul:  I believe that’s completely wrong. That was formulated probably officially in the time of Joseph F. Smith. He came out with a statement on Christ almost like a proclamation. You will probably recall that there was a settled view of Christ. But it establishes that there’s God the Father. He has a body of flesh and bones, and his son also is in his express image. They’re trying to derive it from the First Vision. It’s a misreading of the First Vision.

GT:  And the first Article of Faith.

Paul:  And the first Article of Faith which is wrong. Because it goes contrary to what the Book of Mormon teaches. The Book of Mormon does not teach the Christ has a superior father. I don’t know where that comes from. You probably do. I know it’s there somewhere. But I believe it’s a misreading.

[1] The discussion of these two words is the source of the phrase, “watch every iota,” because iota is the Greek letter for “i”, the only difference between the two words.

[2] Paul later clarified in an email on June 22, 2022.  “The Book of Mormon is neither Trinitarian nor Modalist. It presents the Father and the Son as the same person, but at different stages of progression. Mosiah 15 presents the infinite singular God in Mosiah 15:1, who then progresses by being conceived as the Father by the power of God (Mosiah 15:3), which occurs in the instant this uncreated God conceives the creation (for God is not Father until the creation is fathered). This same person then further progresses to become the Son and savior of the creation (Mosiah 15:2), which occurs in the instant the Son is conceived as a mortal in the womb of Mary. In the Resurrection the Son becomes the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, by creating the mansions of heaven, the spaces for the redeemed to progress to be joint heirs in the godhead or pleroma with the uncreated God to share divine power as lesser divinities created by the atonement. These ideas rely upon integrated interpretive readings of Mosiah 15 and 2 Nephi 2:11-30.”

Paul not only has a different view than orthodox Christianity, but a different view than orthodox Mormonism too! 

The scriptures concerning God the Father and Jesus Christ are quite confusing. Even protestant explanations of the trinity are confusing. Paul Toscano notes the Book of Mormon shows Christ’s role reversal.

Christ’s Role Reversal

Paul:  First because I’m [God is] responsible for creating a world where bad things can happen. Second of all, because I want to show you that I love you more than I love my divinity and myself. Finally, because I don’t want the atonement to rest on a filicide. [killing one’s son or daughter.] I don’t want murder to be the route of redemption. It’s got to be a genuine sacrifice. It’s no sacrifice to sacrifice somebody else. They said it was his son. Yes. But why send your son? I wouldn’t. Would anybody who loved their son, not give their life?

Paul:  And that’s exactly what Abinadi is saying. It’s God, the Father loves us so much that he comes into the world, incarnates as a son, is himself to be the one who does the atonement. How does he achieve this atonement if it’s not by the old-fashioned kind of sacrifice? It’s by role reversals. It’s by Christ comes to earth. And he has a lot of a female attributes that are ascribed Him: His compassion, his concern for other people, a lot of the things that he says. But ultimately, symbolically, he’s pierced. He bleeds to bring forth a new creation, which is very feminine symbol. Meanwhile, his female counterpart, who is the Holy Spirit penetrates our hearts to eliminate us, which is a very male concept. So, Jesus who embraces and bleeds, and the Holy Spirit who penetrates and illuminates and instructs, and sometimes reproves, betimes with sharpness takes on a male role. These are role reversals that are taking place. And the other major role reversal is the Adam-God role reversal…

GT:  Ok, thank you.

Paul:  …where Christ and the Holy Spirit descend to work with us on Earth. But Michael, who is like unto God, becomes the, I don’t know, the temporary Heavenly Father, because he’s Adam, the father of the human race. He’s the person. He’s the archangel in charge, so to speak, that Christ subordinates himself to his own son. He elevates his son Michael into the Godhead. And he makes himself, because he becomes human, God becomes a member of the human race. His father is Adam. And that breaks the tyranny of patriarchy.

Paul:  God refuses given to be the Father forever and ever. He elevates us into the God he wants to achieve this equality. That’s why St. Paul says he makes himself lower than the angels. Because if he presides forever and ever… See, Orson Hyde once published a chart where God had a father, and that God had a father, and that God–and I can’t think of anything more horrible. When Jesus says you have to be born again, he says, “You have to be born again” into a chain of command. I don’t want to be born again into a chain. Nobody does. That’s not what the promise is. Joint heirship is not to be born into a chain of command. So, God lowers himself, so that we can be raised and then become equal with him. So, in a sense, the father of everything, created a father for himself to break the bonds of the tyranny of patriarchy. And that’s why the holy priesthood after the order of the Son, it’s not called the holy priesthood after the order of the Father God. It’s called the holy priesthood after the order of the Son of God.

GT:  You’re talking about the Melchizedek priesthood.

Paul:  The Melchizedek priesthood. Melchizedek is the nickname. I don’t know why Russell Nelson has problems with nicknames when the nickname was right about 107th section for the Melchizedek Priesthood invented by God so you don’t say too often the name of the Supreme Being. But anyway, you see what I’m saying here. It’s a role reversal that’s taking place. Now I understand that what I’m saying sounds terribly baroque. It’s like, I’m revealing to you a Bach fugue when the church is usually listening to Lawrence Welk polkas. So, they’re not going to get this and I don’t expect people to listen to this interview and believe what I’m saying. But I believe that’s what our texts are telling us. Whether it’s true or not in the literal sense, but this is the meaning of the Scripture.

Paul:  Patriarchy, matriarchy, need to die. Equality needs to rise. Males and females need to be seen not as the sole way that gender and sex is expressed but they need to be seen as the polarities, between which the creation can happen, just like the peak and trough of a wave. You can’t separate them. If you’re going to have wave energy, you’re going to have peaks and troughs. And they’re not meant to fight. They’re complementary opposites, like my hands: left and right hands; like my brain, which is has two lobes to it I hope. And the interaction between the left and right lobe is what creates mental processes. And if you interrupt that, it blocks mental processes. So role-reversals are a way of recognizing a manifestation of Lehi’s statement that there must needs to be an opposition in all things. Role reversals are that opposition when the male acts out the female, and the female acts out the male; when the Father becomes the Son, and the son becomes the father; when the woman penetrates, and the male enfolds. These are all mechanisms, and they are the root of the Atonement, not the sacrifice of somebody else’s stuff.

What do you think of Paul’s explanation?