The Keys to Prophecy VII: A New Heaven, a New Earth


721 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2005

The Keys to Prophecy VII:

A New Heaven, a New Earth

Our culture knows nothing of the incredible changes wrought in the heavens anciently.  This is so because of our ‘scientific’ view that there have been no significant changes in the solar system’s arrangement during recorded history.

But the scriptures and the prophets are insistent, in spite of our ‘scientific’ beliefs:  The heavens have repeatedly changed throughout ancient history.  This is a primary message the ancients and the prophets sought to convey to us across the millennia.

The result: Our modern ignorance of the true past blinds us to the unanimous declarations of our distant ancestors.

The concept of sweeping changes in the sky and the earth are found everywhere in the scriptures.  For example, in the Doctrine & Covenants we read: “And the end shall come, and the heaven and the earth shall be consumed and pass away, and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth.

“For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fullness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea.” (D&C 29:23, 24.)

Also, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. (Revelation 21:1.)

Perhaps the apostle Peter said it best when he spoke of the Deluge, explaining that it was the defining event that changed the ‘old heavens’ into the sky we see today.  “For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water.  Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:  But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”  (2 Peter 3:5-7.)

Then, he went on to further explain that a similar change was in store for us in the last days.  “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”  (Ibid. 3:10.)

We read the same sort of language in the texts of all ancient cultures, where we find the pervasive, ever-present fear that something terrible that happened in the past would repeat itself in the future.  Indeed, all ancient cultures relate that there have been dramatic changes in the heavens, calling the epochs in between “ages” or “suns.”  The Greek philosopher Hesiod associates these ages with various metals, as does Daniel in his Old Testament vision of the statue with a head of gold, a torso of silver, belly and thighs of brass and legs of iron.

These fearsome changes were universally attributed to stars or planets in the form of gods, goddesses, beasts or serpents.  Surely, then, Joseph Smith was correct to call these images of the ancients “stars” and “planets,” as we have seen.

Even our language retains this key.  The words for world-changing cataclysms are catastrophe (cat-astro-phe) and disaster (dis-aster).  Both bear the same ‘astr’ root as the goddess-stars of antiquity: Aster, Astarte, Ashtoreth or Hathor.  In fact, one interpretation of the word “disaster” is literally “from the star.”

This the ancients feared above all: destruction from the stars that changed everything.

No wonder they were fiercely dedicated sky watchers, including prophets like Abraham, preoccupied with the motions of planets and stars.  No wonder they endlessly adorned their texts, temples and tombs with symbols and metaphors of star gods, goddesses and beasts derived from the appearance of those planets.

But because our culture and science turn a blind eye to these declarations, Latter-day Saints frequently fail to appreciate the many statements by Joseph Smith that echo the beliefs of the ancients: Planets and stars are the origins of almost all scriptural and prophetic imagery.

 Stars and planets on the Salt Lake Temple reflect an ancient, customary obsession with the heavens.  On the west wall buttresses, near the bottom of the photo are Sun Stones.  In the middle are the stars of the constellation Ursa Major, the Big Dipper.  Immediately above those is a repeated pattern of circles within a ring, called Saturn Stones by Brigham Young.

That’s why those images dominate the exterior of LDS temples, just as they did their ancient counterparts.  Our temples reflect both realities, the past and the present heavens.

The prophets, both ancient and modern, understood this key.  So should we.

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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.

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