Thus, the key to understanding most of our cultural and religious traditions lies in remembering the end of the world — the end of the heavens and the earth that “perished” when God “spared not the old world, but saved Noah.” (2 Peter 2:5.)
That is, the world we know today and the heavens we see above us are not those the ancients knew.
This is the profound message that all ancient cultures strove to pass on and the key to the ancient mysteries: The world they knew “perished,” only to be replaced by the heavens and the earth we know today. It stands to reason that if we wish to understand the messages our ancestors labored to preserve for us, we must understand the world they lived in and referred to. Only then can we expect to gain a reasonable understanding of their beliefs, traditions and practices.
This is also important to us because we live in a day and time
... 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.
Nevertheless, we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. (2 Peter 3:10, 13.)
So, if we, too, are destined to experience the “end of the world,” in this dispensation of time followed by the introduction of a new world — one that will duplicate the lost original our ancestors knew in the earliest epoch — we should know what happened the first time the world ended and began again. The importance of this perspective cannot be over emphasized. It is the key to a more profound understanding of the past, present and future.
The first step, then, is to learn how the first heavens and the first earth looked.
For that information we turn to the prophet, Joseph Smith, and to the illustration he made of Earth’s ancient appearance.
Philo Dibble’s facsimile of that document presents a confirmation of Peter’s assertions and a remarkable proposition: The solar system we know today is a recent development. Earth was once part of a grouping of orbs that shared a common axis of rotation, the defining element of the Earth’s condition anciently. This proposition, purportedly offered by none other than Joseph Smith himself, was so unique, so peculiar, that there was nothing in modern experience to explain it.
With only one or two exceptions, Mormon scholars ignored — even avoided — the claims of Dibble and his facsimile. They believed there was no evidence that anything remotely like the configuration of orbs Joseph Smith proposed in his illustration once truly existed. It was simply too unbelievable to accept—until David Talbott’s research into ancient myth and tradition led him to proffer a similar configuration for the ancient solar system.
That Talbott’s reconstruction of the ancient heavens — based on his singular interpretation of tradition and mythology — bears vital similarities to Joseph Smith’s reconstruction leads this author to conclude that Talbott hit upon a primary truth from antiquity that was obviously known to the first prophet of this generation. That his interpretation of ancient tradition, symbolism, ritual and belief — based on his reconstruction — explains nearly all the religious iconography and traditions of mankind — including that of Mormonism — argues eloquently for its validity as well.
The concern that there is no astronomical evidence for this remarkable constellation of planets should be no intellectual hurdle for Latter-day Saints. The evidence for its existence anciently exists in the proper interpretation of the records left behind by all ancient peoples in their religions, traditions, texts, monuments, tombs and temples—including our own, modern temples. The remarkable irony is that modern man has not recognized the evidence for this configuration found in almost every aspect of ancient culture. Joseph Smith apparently recognized it and communicated it to others, like Dibble. Perhaps today’s Saints should suspend their doubts long enough to explore the possibility.
After publishing his original thesis in The Saturn Myth, Talbott went on to refine his thesis. In time he came to believe that the original configuration he proposed was slightly flawed. Instead of envisioning Saturn with a ring or set of rings around it, he saw something more like what Joseph Smith’s illustration implies: three rocky planets, the Earth standing at the “end” or “bottom” of the stack or string.
In turn, these three planets were probably fixed “below” two gaseous giants, Saturn and Jupiter. Talbott’s most recent reconstruction of that group of planets, which he calls the “Polar Configuration,” is composed of these five planets, with the Earth at one end of the grouping.
While Jupiter was the largest of the planets, it was obscured from earthling’s view by Saturn, leaving three visible orbs — again, conforming to Joseph Smith’s idea of three planets. Thus, when ancient earthlings gazed skyward, they saw three nested planets, each sitting within the orb of another, in a fixed position in the northern sky, as depicted below.
Some have expressed concern that this new conception may not adequately answer to some of the symbolism previously attached to the Saturn configuration. This is not true. In fact, it will be seen that this new arrangement not only conforms to all the original symbolism, but it serves to explain many more symbols and metaphors, traditions and beliefs than did the original. For example, the symbolic use of three rings remains intact because the terminator or “edge” of each planet forms a visible ring as well as the essential crescent when properly lit by sunlight, without the need for orbiting rings as are seen around Saturn today to explain ancient imagery.
The original, prototypical Saturn symbol proposed by Talbott becomes only one stage in the evolution of the Saturn epic rather than the dominant feature.
Thus, this revised arrangement of planets is of primary interest to Latter-day Saints who wish to understand the symbolism and metaphor of our own religion, as well as that of all ancient religions. Not only that, it will also allow us to understand the most well rooted cultural and religious traditions as well as the history and the future of this planet. No other concept offers so much enlightenment about the world we live in and the new world yet to come, as you will see. The magnitude of this undertaking, once perceived in its undiminished totality, is truly staggering.
© Anthony E. Larson, 1999