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


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© 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


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© 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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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.

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