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, even the true God.
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 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 works and 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. In so doing, we 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 that it was pagan, that 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.
This illustration is stunning evidence that Joseph believed this. 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 this 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.
© Anthony E. Larson, 2005