The Keys to Prophecy IX: Apollyon, the Destroyer


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© Anthony E. Larson, 2005

The Keys to Prophecy IX:

Apollyon, the Destroyer

Like the histories of all ancient cultures, that of the Hebrews-the Old Testament-tells the very same story of sky-spanning marvels and manifestations that profoundly and directly impacted their culture and beliefs.  Comparing the names of the gods they worshipped supports this conclusion, as we have seen.

Having made that connection, we can now turn to the scriptural record to see how well that knowledge helps our comprehension of symbolism that otherwise seems unfathomable: prophecy.

For example, Baal, a figure we see often in the Old Testament, was the god of the Canaanites, sometimes neighbors and enemies of the Israelites.  From time to time in their history most Israelites worshipped him as well, to the dismay of the prophets.

Apollo was the Greek equivalent of Baal.  In fact, the name is the same, altered only by linguistic preferences.  The Greeks added an antecedent ‘a’ (a-baal), softened the hard ‘b’ sound to a ‘p’ and then added an ‘o’ ending (a-paal-o).

The conclusion: The Greeks worshipped the same sky god as the Canaanites and the apostate Israelites.

Although the Greek’s god Ares is more typically associated by scholars with the Roman war god, Mars, others insist that Apollo (Apollon/Apollyon) was also a Greek equivalent. For that reason, Apollo was virtually adopted intact into the Roman pantheon. So, as we make cross-cultural connections of these gods, we learn that the Old Testament god Baal is the same are the Greek Apollo and the Roman god of war, Mars.

The planets in our solar system, such as Mars, were not arbitrarily assigned the names of mythical gods, as most suppose.  The nine known planets bear the names of Roman gods and goddesses because some of them were the ‘gods’ that once stood near to or passed perilously close to the Earth, illuminating and dominating the ancient heavens as well as occasionally raining destruction on the world’s civilizations.

In fact, Revelation’s Apollyon is usually translated “destroyer,” a fitting description of Apollo’s Roman counterpart, the warrior god Mars.

These connections become particularly useful when we consider the following enigmatic passage from John’s vision.  “And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.”  (Revelation 9:11.)

Earlier in that same chapter, it is a “star” that opens the bottomless pit.  Of course, we’ve learned in earlier installments in this series that the ancients commonly called planets that once hovered near the Earth “stars.”

Can you see where this is leading?  John implied that, this “king,” “angel” or “star”-Apollyon-was the planet Mars.  This is the key.

Thus, we learn many things from John’s carefully worded explanation in these few verses.

Foremost, we learn that this “king,” which is also the “angel of the bottomless pit” and the “star” that fell to the earth, is a planet.  Thus, we must conclude that other references to kings, angels, beasts, stars and creatures in John’s account may be references to planets as well.

This tendency to use common images to describe celestial objects is still practiced today where star constellations are given names like Great Bear, Lion and Archer, and where the greatest star cluster is called the Milky Way.  It’s a cultural tradition from antiquity, employed by John, which we preserve in the present.

It also fits perfectly with Joseph Smith’s teaching that the beasts seen by prophets in heavenly visions are not beasts at all but “images” meant to represent something else.  (For clarification of this, see “Joseph Smith’s Marvelous Key.”)

We can also now see that John drew upon traditions common to all cultures around the Mediterranean to describe the future.  This practice of drawing on the past to describe the future is a common literary device used by the prophets-Nephi and Isaiah, for example-one that John employed throughout his record.

Also implied is the idea that the imagery of the entire vision draws heavily upon the cultural traditions of John’s time, employing the sacred, “mythical” stories of those pagan cultures of the “seven churches which are in Asia” that John addressed to explain the place of Christ in those traditions as well as events of the last days.

Thus, the images or icons embodied in those ancient cultural traditions are the keys to interpreting all the imagery of John’s enigmatic vision, Revelation. And so it is, too, with all the visions of the prophets recorded in scripture. Armed with these keys, which are an understanding of the meaning of that imagery, the most mysterious symbolism of the scriptures becomes easy reading.

In order to properly understand all these mysterious, symbolic references, we must know both what these traditions were and their origins.  We cannot simply guess at their meaning, as most modern expositors of prophecy do.  Such gratuitous speculation is commonplace, though dangerously misleading.

In order to grasp the meaning of prophecy, we must know as much about the past as we do the present.

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The Keys to Prophecy III: The Prophets’ Language


829 words

© 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.

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