The Keys to Prophecy XI: Prophecy and the Restored Gospel


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© Anthony E. Larson, 2005

The Keys to Prophecy XI:
Prophecy and the Restored Gospel

This series has identified several keys to prophecy in the restored gospel.

When we let our scriptures speak for themselves, without imposing our own ‘modern,’ ‘scientific’ preconceptions upon them, an entirely different picture of the past emerges than the one we’ve been taught.

It was in Earth’s ancient heavens-the Creator’s most spectacular canvas-that all ancient imagery originated.  It is there we must look for the source of all the symbols used by the ancients to depict their gods.

Thus we see that the imagery of the scriptures as well is reflected in the religious, astral icons of the past.  The symbolic icons give meaning to the scriptural imagery, and the scriptural imagery gives meaning to the symbolic icons, as is the case with the Egyptian facsimiles and the Book of Abraham.  They complement and illuminate one another.

With that revised picture, ancient texts become accurate, eyewitness records of marvelous astronomical manifestations that we can only remotely comprehend.  The images carved on the walls of ancient tombs, temples and monuments come alive with meaning.

With this improved perspective, explanations of prophecy, offered by Joseph Smith and all the prophets, turn from metaphorical niceties to accurate, detailed descriptions.

The only way that planets or stars could so profoundly influence peoples of the ancient world-an influence sufficiently strong to give rise to the religious traditions and symbolism of their cultures-is if those orbs were manifestly closer than they are today.  Unlike the mere pinpoints of light we see in our night sky, they must have stood in overwhelming proximity, dominating the ancient sky watchers’ view, giving rise to the primary symbolic themes of those past cultures.

If we allow the traditions, symbols and rituals of the past to speak for themselves, that is the message they convey.

Thus we see that the stories from ancient cultures the world over of astral gods and goddesses who performed marvelous feats and engaged in heaven-spanning battle may have been based in the appearance and movements of these same planets in a near-Earth environment-a concept flatly denied by modern science and rejected by orthodox Christianity, yet supported by Joseph Smith’s observations.

The reason all these images are an enigma to us can be found in relatively recent history when our culture swerved away from their use and adopted a ‘rational’ view of ancient history, as is taught in educational institutions everywhere in the world today.  Cultural, religious traditions that once taught of recent, dramatic changes in the heavens-accounts held sacred by our ancestors-became myths and fairy tales.

We divorced ourselves from our cultural roots.  We cut ourselves off from the message the ancients struggled to convey, the one they assumed would be universally understood: They had seen “marvelous wonders” in the heavens.

The odd thing is that we don’t understand that.  In fact, we believe just the opposite: the heavens have always appeared as they do now.  That flawed, myopic belief prevents us from seeing what the ancients sought mightily to convey.

Also, this is why the imagery of prophecy and mythology are remarkably similar.  They derive from the same source: our early cultural and religious tradition from which we divorced ourselves in the Age of Enlightenment.  It is for this reason that the Bible was rejected by the emerging cult of science and scholasticism.  We really threw the baby out with the bath water!

The oddity in all this is that the guardians of religious traditions fell victims to the same thinking.  They rejected that same imagery, saying it had nothing to do with the proper practice of Christianity.  That left us without the touchstone we need to interpret the imagery of prophecy throughout the scriptures, until Joseph Smith restored that knowledge.

To unravel the mystery that is prophecy, you must first learn the symbolism of antiquity and the cosmological images from which it sprang – prodigious, heaven-spanning displays of awe-inspiring plasma phenomena generated in a neighboring conjunction of planets that produced a monumental sound and light show seen the world over.  This dramatic celestial phantasmagoria dominated Earth’s skies in the earliest epoch of history and indelibly impressed itself on the mind and spirit of all early cultures.

Dibble Illustration

According to Philo Dibble, Joseph Smith’s bodyguard, this is the Prophet’s illustration of the planetary arrangement that existed in Earth’s ancient heavens.  This “stacked” arrangement in common, polar alignment caused them to appear stationary in the heavens.  The Prophet even included the apparent “connections” between planets caused by the plasma phenomenon, as depicted in the adjoining artist’s conception.

These astral events gave rise to the cryptic icons that adorn the walls of ancient monuments, temples and tombs — virtual snapshots, in many cases, of things seen in those ancient skies.  Appropriately, they also decorate modern temples-a testament in stone to the restoration of truth.

The metaphorical language of the prophets also arose from those events.  The rhetorical counterparts of those enigmatic symbols fill the revelations of both ancient and modern prophets.  They are the keys to most scriptural symbolism.

Knowing this makes prophecy plain and easy to understand, as Joseph Smith said.  It also touches on every point of doctrine in the restored gospel revealed through him in these latter days.

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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


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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 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.

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