Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

Studies in the Bible and Antiquity


The New Testament records that Jesus's disciples "worshiped" him during several postresurrection theophanies. To understand the disciples' actions on these sacred occasions, it is necessary to understand the rite of proskynesis as observed in ancient Israel (particularly in the Jerusalem temple) and in the surrounding cultures and cults of the ancient Near East. When scripture uses terms rendered "worship," proskynesis (concrete, hierarchical prostrations of an inferior to a superior rather than just abstract veneration) is almost always intended. Literally a "kissing in the presence [of]" a superior being, proskynesis acknowledges the recipient's divinity and the giver's submissive humility. Proskynesis was also a sublime and supreme expression of love. As John foresaw, the God who was "apprehended" in the Jerusalem temple with proskynesis will be acknowledged not as a pseudo-divine Caesar or Herod but as universal Sovereign by the numberless hosts of those he redeems. Proskynesis, then, is a (disciple's) means of actualizing eschatological reality and Jesus's unrivaled position in that reality.