The Keys to Prophecy V: Stars and Planets

758 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2005

 The Keys to Prophecy V:

Stars and Planets

Up to this point in our examination of the many clues to the extravagant images of prophecy, we have learned that we need not look to mystical texts or veiled mysteries for our answers.  Nor have we found that the answers lie in interpreting prophetic imagery with modern eyes.

Instead, we have found the answers in a more mundane source, in the scriptures and in ancient history-evidence that has been hiding in plain sight all along.

We discovered that the dragons, man-beasts, women, kings, angels, stars and other extravagant images encountered in the scriptures are but descriptive word pictures of the images that the ancients worshipped, the same icons seen in ancient temples, tombs and monuments.  We have seen that the imagery of prophecy and mythology spring from the same, ancient source, hence their similarities.

The next step is a bit larger leap of logic, but a crucial one: What do those images represent?

Looking at the Egyptian gods, we often see large circular icons on their heads, what scholars call “sun disks.”  The juxtaposition of the disks and the gods is extremely meaningful.

A common Egyptian theme, Ra (Re) is pictured seated in a bark or ship with a disk above his head.  This same scene can be seen on Facsimile No. 2, Figure 3, in the Book of Abraham.

Scholars explain that the ancients were sun worshippers, so those disks must represent the sun.  However, Joseph Smith contradicted that assumption when he gave us another key, and it has been before our very eyes for generations now.

Those disks and creatures, as Joseph repeatedly asserts in his explanations of the Pearl of Great Price facsimiles, represented planets and stars, not the sun.  The only exception is in Figure 5 in Facsimile No. 2, first called by Joseph a “governing planet.”  He then adds the comment that the Egyptians called it the Sun, which is true of the late, corrupted Egyptian traditions his papyrus represented.  But according to the earliest beliefs, her name designates this cow goddess as a star.

The cow depicted in Figure 5 was called Hathor, as we have seen.  Along with her equivalents in other cultures-Astarte, Aster and Ishtar-her name bore the root ‘s-t-r’ sound of our word ‘star’ (the ‘s’ and ‘t’ were pronounced with the ‘th’ sound in Hathor.) 

Keep in mind that the ancients’ designated all celestial objects as stars.  The word ‘planet’ (derived from the Greek ‘planeta,’ meaning ‘wanderer’) is a recent invention, thanks to the telescope that allows us to differentiate between stars and planets. 

Hence, Joseph Smith’s designation of a ‘s-t-r’ goddess as a planet is symbolically consistent and extremely meaningful.  He thus implies that the stars they worshipped were actually planets, the very thing the juxtaposed disks suggest.

Putting both the creature and the disk together-common practice in early Egyptian religious art-was symbolically accurate and a proper way to emphasize that they both represented the same thing, a planet or star.  In fact, this was a functional way to label the figures, since most people were illiterate.  Instead of text that read “star,” those pagan gods often carried or wore a symbol that bespoke their astral origin.

Some of the more elaborately rendered disk images, painted and rendered in relief, look to be nearly virtual snapshots of planets, a few complete with a sun-lit crescent.

Joseph Smith’s explanation of disk images such as these was that they represented planets, which is what all such Egyptian disk images resemble.

Let’s look closely at how emphatic Joseph Smith was in his explanations of these disks and creatures.

Kolob is said by Abraham to be “the greatest” of the stars (Kokaubeam), but it is represented in Facsimile No. 2, Figure 1 by a figure Egyptologists identify as Amon-Re or Khnum, the creator-god, thus implying that the god was an astral body.

The baboons on either side have what scholars call “moon disks,” presumably because of the crescent beneath the disk, placed over their heads in the traditional Egyptian manner.  But these disks do not represent the moon any more than others represent the sun.  Joseph insists that they are stars in his explanation of Figure 5.

What becomes clear is that the objects the early Egyptians called stars would be called planets in our time.  What we see in the disk illustrations are not stars, but planets.  Additionally, only planets have sun-lit crescents, as depicted in ancient art, not stars.

Joseph Smith understood.  He did not confuse the issue, as do modern scholars.  Indeed, one can suggest that what looks like confusion at first blush was no mix-up at all.  By freely substituting the two terms, Joseph honored the ancient tradition.  He acknowledged the ancients’ reality that some of today’s stars, now mere pinpoints of light, were actually great, nearby planets in antiquity, which dominated Earth’s heavens and were worshipped by their ancestors as gods.

Indeed, this hypothesis fits much better with Abraham’s vision of the ancient heavens and Joseph Smith’s explanations of the facsimile images than any current view.



The Keys to Prophecy IV: Of Beasts and Men

753 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2005

The Keys to Prophecy IV:

Of Beasts and Men

Ancient monuments, temples, tombs and sacred texts are replete with strange, mysterious symbols and creatures.  By comparing those symbols to the verbal imagery of prophecy, we learn that they gave rise to even more bizarre language.

In order to understand the symbolism of the scriptures, we must allow ancient images to illuminate the texts, beliefs and traditions of the past, while permitting the texts, beliefs and traditions to illuminate the images.  This is one key to understanding the strange language used by the prophets.

A comparison will allow us to see how one gave rise to the other.

Take the vision of John, for example, in Revelation.  He described seeing four distinct creatures.

“And … in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.  And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.  (Revelation 4:6, 7.)

Ezekiel, too, saw four creatures in a similar setting.  “As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.”  (Ezekiel 1:10.)

The lists of creatures are identical, save that Ezekiel named an ox where John listed a calf.  This is understandable given that the two prophets were separated in time by about 600 years, allowing for a slight ‘shift’ in cultural symbolism.

Of course, the universal mistake made by Bible scholars of all epochs is to assign some fantastic meaning to these symbolic creatures-especially in John’s vision because he says these creatures surround the throne of God in heaven.  In truth, the two prophets are probably describing something far more mundane, but quite remarkable, as we shall see momentarily.

Most revealing is the fact that these four creatures are not unique to the Israelite religious tradition.  They figure prominently in the religions of neighboring cultures-the Egyptian, for example, where we meet them face-to-face in funerary art.  They are called “canopic figures.”  Curiously, human figures with the heads of beasts dominate Egyptian art.  They are one of the most obvious features of their religious iconography.

Named after Canopus, an area in the Nile delta region, these jars were funerary furniture used to house various organs of the deceased during internment rites.  The four creatures were said to be the sons of Horus.

The Egyptians employed the heads of a baboon and a jackal rather than the Israelite ox (calf) and lion.  This variation is typical from culture to culture and across time, just as the names of the same gods varied.  But there is no mistaking that the four creatures seen in prophetic vision also adorned the burial art of Egyptians for hundreds of years.

Ezekiel is more specific in his description of the four.  “Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures.  And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.”  (Ezekiel 1:5.)

So, these four looked like men with the heads of beasts.

Anthropomorphic creatures-animals with the body and limbs of humans-figure prominently in Egyptian religious art.  Curiously, this is the same thing the prophets describe seeing in their visions.  Ezekiel described them as “living creatures” with “the likeness of a man,” which is exactly what we see here.

Israelite tradition prohibited the use of such symbolic masks, thanks to the Ten Commandments, so these did not exist in the Israelite culture.  Nevertheless, these four creatures figured prominently in their traditions, as we’ve seen in the visions of John and Ezekiel.

More interesting still is the fact that these same four are also found in the Pearl of Great Price.  Two of the facsimiles copied from the Joseph Smith papyri show these same four canopic figures, described as four “idolatrous gods.”

Significantly, most of the images for which Joseph provides explanations turn out to be planets and stars, suggesting that these four also represent celestial objects.  This, as it turns out, is a key that will be explored in a subsequent installment in this series.

As we have seen previously, the Israelites often strayed into pagan beliefs and practices.  It should hardly be surprising that these four ‘gods’ of their neighbors should show up in the system of symbols Israelites held sacred.

What is not generally acknowledged is that the language of prophecy also draws on these well-known images from antiquity.

While this explains the imagery of only a few passages of scriptural prophecy, Revelation and Ezekiel are among the most mysterious.  This comparison clearly points out the mechanism of describing sacred images in narrative form: prophetic imagery is drawn from ancient images or idols. 

This takes some of the mystery out of prophetic imagery.



The Keys to Prophecy III: The Prophets’ Language

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© Anthony E. Larson, 2004

 The Keys to Prophecy III:

The Prophets’ Language

 The bizarre and mystifying images employed by the prophets-by all ancient cultures, in fact-are derived from one common source: the heavens of antiquity.

We have only to look at Hebrew history to determine this, though it is universally true of ancient cultures.

Israel strayed into the same practices as their neighbors, though their prophets strove mightily to curb that idolatry.  “And they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.”  (2 Kings 17:16, italics added.)

King Josiah attempted to “put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.”  (ibid. 23:5, italics added.)

Pay particular attention to the fact that planets are listed, along with the sun and the moon, among the things designated as the “host of heaven.”  Note that calves were intrinsic symbols employed in their worship and the implication long recognized by scholars that Baal was an astral deity.

In fact, it was the worship of astral images that the Lord, speaking through Moses, condemned “… lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them ….”  (Deuteronomy 4:19.)

So, the Israelites worshipped the stars and the planets in identical fashion to their neighbors the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Egyptians.  Scholars who study antiquity have long asserted this.

Joseph Smith, too, emphasized that the Egyptians’ gods represented planets and stars when he produced his explanations of the Egyptian papyri he obtained.

It is no great leap of logic, therefore, to assume that the language of the prophets, immersed in Israelite culture, reflected that astral worship-reverence for the stars, moon, sun and planets-even though they condemned the practices associated with it.

So it is that when we turn to the scriptures, we see an abundance of such imagery in prophetic declarations-especially those concerning the last days.  Tellingly, the same imagery can be found in other biblical pronouncements, illuminating their origins for us.

Let’s look at just one example.

“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.”  (Revelation 12:1.)

This ‘woman,’ described by John, is the same ‘woman’ worshipped by the idolatrous Israelites, their Queen of Heaven.

“But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem ….”  (Jeremiah 44:17.)

Sumerians also called their sky goddess, Inanna, the “Queen of Heaven.”  She was the Babylonians’ Ishtar, the Assyrians’ Astarte and the Egyptians’ Hathor (Athyr),
Isis, or Sekhmet.

Illustrations of the Egyptian goddess Hathor always depict her either as a cow with what is called a “sun disk” between her horns or as a queen wearing a disk and horns on her head.

Of particular importance is that the very names of this goddess, Astarte, Ishtar and Athyr (the ‘s’ is aspirated), have the same root as our word ‘star,’ betraying their astral origin.  They were all ‘star’ goddesses.

More familiar names for the same star goddess would include the Greek Aphrodite, Athena, and Artemis, or the Latin Venus, Minerva, and Diana.

As we learned in the previous installment in this series, Joseph Smith indicated that such symbols are representations.  “When the prophets speak of seeing beasts [a woman in this case] in their visions, they mean that they saw the images, they being types to represent certain things.”  (History of the Church, p. 343.)

In the case of the Egyptian papyri, Joseph explained that those images that did not represent some spiritual concept such as God or the priesthood, instead represented stars and planets.

This is key.  Like most Egyptian icons, the woman represents a star or a planet.  Of course, in the ancient mind, both words can apply to the same image in the sky.  But the archetype, the original image for these goddesses, was a planet.



“It has always been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and always shall be, to conduct all meetings.”

Note: This post is meant for what4anarchy, but I thought to share it with others who may have interest.

Background information

Recently what4anarchy and I were talking and I happened to mention to him that one day, as I was researching Joseph Smith’s visit to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1839, in conjunction with research on possible daguerreotypists present in that city at that time, I Ixquicked a search term and came across the following document written by Stephen J. Fleming:

Discord in the City of Brotherly Love: The Story of Early Mormonism in Philadelphia

(Btw, the above PDF document is taken from this web site.)

what4anarchy asked me to send the document to him but I opted instead to just post it on this blog.

Who presides/conducts? The elders of the church or the bishopric?

The title of this post is taken from D&C 46: 2. I’ve always been fascinated by the phrase “elders of my church” or “elders of the church.” Currently, it is the members of the bishopric that conduct all meetings they are present at (unless a higher authority is attending.) I suppose “the elders of the church” can refer to them, but not every scriptural reference seems to imply the bishopric. For example, from the law of the church (D&C 42), it is written:

And the elders of the church, two or more, shall be called, and shall pray for and lay their hands upon them in my name; and if they die they shall die unto me, and if they live they shall live unto me. (D&C 42: 44)

For most people, this is interpreted as any member of the elder’s quorum. No one believes that this only refers to the bishopric, yet in the same revelation, we read the following:

And if any man or woman shall commit adultery, he or she shall be tried before two elders of the church, or more, and every word shall be established against him or her by two witnesses of the church, and not of the enemy; but if there are more than two witnesses it is better. (D&C 42: 80)

Here, probably most would think that the phrase “elders of the church” applies only to the bishopric or the stake presidency/high council, not to just two members of the elder’s quorum. Yet, two verses later, the Lord makes it plain that the “two elders of the church” before which the trial takes place does not include the bishop:

And if it can be, it is necessary that the bishop be present also. (D&C 42: 82)

Enter Fleming’s Article

Now, the document I linked to above, about the Philadelphia church, is interesting for several reasons:

The law of common consent had more power back then

According to the article, Benjamin Winchester, a LDS missionary, started proselyting in Philadelphia in the summer of 1839, after preaching in New Jersey. He finally was able to baptize several people and when Joseph Smith, Jr. visited in the winter of 1839-40, he established a branch of the church there, with Brother Winchester as the presiding elder. “Presiding elders,” states Fleming, “are what are called branch presidents today, and in the early days of the church, they were usually chosen by the branch.Emphasis mine. (See scenario #5 in the article, Power of the Law of Common Consent, to understand why I find this so remarkable.)

Brother Winchester, apparently, was quite the proponent of Mormonism. He wrote to church headquarters for help with the missionary work prior to the arrival of Joseph Smith, debated publicly with a Presbyterian preacher, baptized, edited and wrote most of the Gospel Reflector, a Mormon periodical started to present a different picture of Mormonism than what was being published in the newspapers of the area. It is understandable that when the Philadelphia Branch was organized by Joseph Smith in December of 1839, Brother Winchester became the presiding elder.

Six men leading: a bishopric and a branch presidency

When the Philadelphia branch had financial trouble, they decided to call a financial committee, but Hyrum Smith, who was visiting, directed them to call a bishopric, instead. He taught them to call a branch presidency for spiritual affairs and a bishopric for temporal affairs, which they did, naming Bro. Winchester as presiding elder, with Bros. Whipple and Wharton as his two counselors and Bro. Syfritt as bishop with Bros. Price and Nicholson as his two counselors.

Can you imagine the elder’s quorum presidency of a ward or branch being the actual leaders of the congregation, with the bishopric being subordinate to the presiding elders and being responsible chiefly for the Aaronic priesthood and finances, as it was designed to function? No? Well, apparently the bishopric back then couldn’t either, because once a bishop and a presiding elder found themselves in the same branch, a power struggle ensued!

The Aaronic priesthood did home teaching, and not once a month

Fleming then states:

The branch also appointed the priests, teachers and deacons of the branch to “visit each member of the Church to inquire as to their faith and standing.” At a conference in December of 1840, the Aaronic Priesthood reported that “all the Saints (with but few exceptions) are diligently striving to keep the commandments of God, and their faith in the work of the Lord in the Last Days, is unshaken.”

And then there was all the discord…

Problems soon arose, though, between Bro. Winchester and a traveling elder named Almon Babbitt, which was resolved by the two with forgiveness and reconciliation. However, a junior apostle, John E. Page, who visited the branch 1841 for an extended period of time, began to make trouble for Bro. Winchester and exert influence over the branch, especially when Winchester was gone on a mission to Salem, Massachusetts during the summer. In September of that same year, Elder Babbitt wrote to church headquarters, essentially suggesting that Winchester ought to be released, as he wasn’t doing a good enough job and potential converts had stated they wouldn’t be baptized while Winchester presided.

That October, Bro. Winchester wrote a letter to church headquarters, refuting what Babbitt had written and also traveled to Nauvoo to set the record straight. Joseph Smith attended the meeting and felt Bro. Winchester had a contentious spirit and reproved him. Then, in January of 1842, the Twelve “suspended” Bro. Winchester until he made “satisfaction” for disobeying the First Presidency. Elder Page wrote another letter to church HQ, saying that Bro. Winchester was his enemy. That winter, Bro. Winchester traveled back to Philadelphia.

Now, here is where it gets even more interesting…

Apparently, the branch became divided, with the lesser portion siding with Elder Page (the apostle) and the majority siding with Bro. Winchester (the presiding elder.) Those that were with Winchester leased another building in which to attend church. The northern branch (the lesser part of the people) chose William Wharton (former counselor of the branch presidency) to be their new presiding elder, while the southern branch (the majority) kept Bro. Winchester as presiding elder.

According to Fleming, though, the real controversy was between the bishopric and the presiding elder (Winchester.) Bishop Jacob Syfritt, his first counselor James Nicholson, and his mother Eliza Nicholson all had a bone to pick with Winchester. A special conference was called in April of 1842 to mend the strife between the northern and southern branches and to investigate the causes of it. Winchester brought charges against both Syfritt and Nicholson and the conference determined that they were true. Both men were rendered “satisfaction.” Then the conference investigated Bro. Winchester. He defended himself, putting the blame of the problems squarely on the shoulders of both Almon Babbitt and Elder John E. Page. The conference ended up exonerating Bro. Winchester of any wrongdoing.

The conference also placed the entire branch in the southern location and firmly into the hands of Bro. Winchester. It also wrote a letter to Hyrum Smith, explaining the proceedings so that he would understand what the voice of the people had decided, and printed the minutes of the meeting. Apparently, the pesky bishopric was also dissolved at this time.

The northern branch struck back by writing to Joseph Smith, with petition signatures, requesting that they separate from the southern branch and become a genuine separate branch of the church, with Bro. Wharton as the presiding elder, meeting in the original location. The Twelve apostles granted their request in May of 1842 and also disapproved of the southern conference. They also “silenced” Winchester from preaching until he made satisfaction for disobeying the First Presidency while at Nauvoo.

No more spoilers

Now, I won’t spoil the rest of the story, only to say that it is very engaging. It is almost on the same level as daytime soap operas, except that the people mentioned in the article were real and as many were holders of the priesthood of God, their actions might be considered even more shocking. I, personally, found it a fascinating read.

But more than that, I think it may be a good read for our times. The time period covered by Fleming, 1839 to after the martyrdom of the Prophet and Hyrum, was one of a lot of change, and not everyone responded to those changes in the same way. Not everyone understood or knew who was supposed to be in charge, meaning who was supposed to be the leaders. Not all the doctrine or new revelations given were received with gladness. Although we modern LDS are not currently faced with the rapid changes these earlier saints were exposed to, that is not to say that things will remain the same as always. It may be beneficial to review the responses of these early saints and leaders and put ourselves in their places, to prepare ourselves, at least mentally, for the things which are prophesied to come to pass in our day and age, prior to the Lord’s second coming.

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