I understand that Elder James E. Talmage, under the direction of the leaders of the Church was asked to compile a series of lectures about the life of Jesus Christ into a book. And that he did this work in the Salt Lake Temple, on the fourth floor. I have been told that he actually lived in the temple for the duration of time that it took him to complete this work, is this true?
There is a lot of interesting information available about the publication of Jesus The Christ, and what Elder Talmage had to do to complete it. My main source for my answer comes from the publisher’s preface to the book itself as published in the 1983 edition of the work. I’ll try to be brief, but here are some of the more interesting bits I learned.
1. The book was, as you said, to be based on a series of lectures that then Professor Talmage had been giving at the new Latter-day Saints University campus, in Barrett Hall on Sunday evenings in 1905. The First Presidency requested that they be written in a book, but by so doing they put Professor Talmage in a tough spot. His own journal entry on the matter sums up his predicament;
“Compliance with the request will require much time as not half the lectures have been delivered, and not a line of them written, except as class notes.”
2. He also had responsibilities as a professor at the University of Utah, as well as several other standing writing assignments from the Church demanding much of his time. Some of the works included The Story of Mormonism, 1907; The Great Apostasy, 1909; The House of the Lord, 1912, and The Philosophical Basis of Mormonism, 1914. None of these books are a light read either.
3. To top it off, he was ordained a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles on December 8, 1911. So work on Jesus The Christ had no room in his schedule at all for some time.
All of these points relate to your question, I assure you. Finally, the request was issued again from the First Presidency on September 14, 1914. In explanation of the difficulties he yet faced in completing the work, he declared this in his journal;
Experiences demonstrated that neither in my comfortable office nor in the convenient study room at home can I be free from visits and telephone calls. In consequence of this condition, and in view of the importance of the work, I have been directed to occupy a room in the [Salt Lake] Temple where I will be free from interruption. I began the work in the Temple today [September 14, 1914] and hope that I shall be able to devote necessary time thereto.
The room Elder Talmage used to prepare the initial text was the council room of the Twelve Apostles on the fourth floor of the Salt Lake Temple, and the entire manuscript was written in that room, in longhand, or word for word. The room known as the Talmage Room on the fifth floor was not given to him for use until June 30, 1916, at which time the book itself was in its third printing. The reason for this was that he yet required isolation for the editing and revising of the text. However, again quoting from his own words;
Today, [June 30, 1916] I entered into use of a room in the Temple, which I am to occupy as occasion may require in my studies and writing. At the time I began the writing of the book “Jesus The Christ”, I was given the use of a desk in the Council room of the Twelve. That room, however, opens directly from a passageway in common use, and practically all parties permitted to inspect the Temple are brought into the room in question. In the interest of securing for me greater privacy and freedom from interruptions, the Presidency invited me to use the room now placed at my disposal. This is the room immediately back of the stand in the large assembly room on the fifth floor. It has been carpeted and furnished in the manner at once attractive and convenient. I greatly appreciate the facilities thus placed within my reach.
Elder Talmage went on to state that he spent many long days working on the book, sometimes extending into the late hours of the night. I cannot find a record of him actually living within the temple during the writing of Jesus The Christ. I have little doubt, however, that were he to have been asked at the time if he lived at the temple, He would have likely agreed to the sentiment of feeling as though he did.
Thank you for a wonderful question, and may God be with you always.