Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Architecture as Theology

I take the scholarship of Margaret Barker with a hefty grain of salt. But the freshness in passages like this is undeniable:
The Mosaic tabernacle, and all the temples later built in Jerusalem, represented the creation, divided by a veil into the visible and invisible worlds.  The holy of holies, with the golden chariot throne, was the invisible world of God and the angels.  It was the state of uncreated light.  The veil, woven from four colours to represent the four elements, thus represented matter screening the glory of God from the material world.  The holy of holies was beyond matter, and therefore beyond time, a hidden place, often called eternity.  The great hall of the temple represented the material world, and was the garden of Eden, paradise, with Adam, the human being, as the high priest.  Rituals in the holy of holies were rituals in eternity, and those who entered the holy of holies passed between heaven and earth.  The priests were angels; the high priest was the Lord.
I often point out to my students that the Bible begins (Babel) and ends (New Jerusalem) with architectural criticism.  Barker reminds us that the Bible is centered on architecture as well.  The Bible's extended architectural descriptions are not sidelines.  They are part of the revelation on Sinai, and are properly theological.  To study architecture is therefore to study theology - something that many (most?) architectural historians and theologians are conditioned to overlook.