“Esoteric,” then, in its original biblical meaning, refers to the teachings and practices done within the Temple. This concept helps us understand that in the Israelite world view there were public, exoteric rites and teachings performed in the outer court of the Temple in view of all the people, including Gentiles. There were also esoteric rites and teachings performed within the temple building and restricted to the priests or even to the High Priest alone.
In the book of Revelation, John’s esoteric vision describes events and decisions undertaken within the celestial temple (Revelation 1:12-13, 4:1-11, 11:1-4, 21:1-22:5). The book was not meant to be read by general readers, but was an esoteric text meant to be read aloud to the spiritually advanced (Revelation 1:3).
Likewise, when Christ says, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:10, Matthew 13:11), he is describing esoteric teachings that formed an important part of earliest Christianity. The fact that such teachings today seem commonplace and are read by all in the Bible should not disguise their esoteric origins.
For more information on these ideas, see a video presentation at: https://vimeo.com/69503981.
Daniel C. Peterson, professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU, is editor-in-chief of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. William Hamblin is a professor of history at BYU. Their views do not necessarily represent those of BYU.
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