At the heart of the exposition offered by this author in this and other publications is an effort to more fully connect modern Saints with the teachings of their founding prophet, Joseph Smith, and thus to those of the ancient prophets. Joseph faithfully and correctly reproduced those ancient teachings, passing them along to a world that was, and still is, largely ignorant of the truths of the gospel and the past.
This work is vital for many reasons, which have been repeatedly cited by this author. But one reason, not often mentioned, is that this work intellectually validates Joseph’s claim as a prophet, called of God to restore the gospel and to right the flawed paradigm of modern mankind. As such, it becomes a second, confirming witness to that of the Spirit.
Testimony first, then knowledge
While any good Saint is quick to point out that we have no need of intellectual substantiation of Joseph’s claims since we have the witness of the Spirit, which is sufficient, it can be argued that seeking intellectual support of that witness is also a worthy quest — especially when it results in further enlightenment regarding things so vital as a comprehension of the language of the prophets, the origins and symbolism of temple practices and temple iconography, symbolism and meaning of the scriptures and a corrected view of ancient history and our modern view of the world around us. Such information cannot help but augment our testimonies, further strengthening them. After all, our scriptures admonish us to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith,” and “if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118; 130:19.)
All knowledge restored?
Lest any care to argue that Joseph had communicated all knowledge needful for the Saints before his premature demise, one need only recall that one entire section of the gold plates, commonly referred to as the “sealed” portion of the Book of Mormon, never saw the light of day, suggesting that there is much more that the Saints could learn.
Additionally, the 9th and 13th Articles of Faith, Joseph’s own position on the subject, argue eloquently against such logic. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God … If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”
Add to that the admonition of the Lord to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118.) Clearly, the Lord indicates that there is much yet to be learned.
The never-ending story
The topic at hand, that has been treated by this author throughout two decades of research and writing books and articles, presents a novel and radical view of the past and the future, a sweeping vista so enormous that it can only be documented in small snapshots. No one is willing to absorb the entire story in one sitting, even if that were possible. Not only that, the reader must be given time to assimilate such far-reaching ideas, which contravene much of orthodox scientific, cultural and religious thought.
Additionally, this is a dynamic field of inquiry. As the Catastrophism movement, begun in the 1950s by Immanuel Velikovsky, grows worldwide, so do the number or researchers delving into these matters. The research is ongoing, as are the revelations it produces. New information is forthcoming on a regular basis, thus bringing new perspectives to bear on one’s gospel study.
Thus, a fragmented, piecemeal approach is the only one possible in such a dynamic field of inquiry, making the process that much more difficult. Yet, given time for elucidation, contemplation and study, those same snippets of information can be readily assembled in the mind’s eye of the investigator or reader to build a wholly new framework upon which to view both ancient history and prophecy — no mean accomplishment.
Correlation of information
The pivotal point for Latter-day Saints, when considering the tenets of Catastrophism, is what Joseph knew and taught with regard to these concepts. If there were no substantiation or corroboration of Joseph’s views in the ideas presented by modern catastrophists like Velikovsky, Talbott, Cardona, Cochrane, et al, then studying their theories would be of no advantage to us. But because there seems to be almost complete agreement between certain teachings of a prophet of God and the research of comparative mythologists, planetary scientists and scholars of all things ancient, it behooves us to investigate those connections fully.
Thankfully, the orientation of these scholars and researchers is such that they see profound value in the written records, cultural traditions and beliefs of the ancients — something Joseph would celebrate. Instead of rejecting them as fanciful, metaphysical accounts — as does modern science and some religion — these ancient records, traditions and beliefs are recognized as a valuable record of the past.
Subjective though those accounts may be, they convey a very different historical message than that commonly taught as fact in all modern educational institutions.
Those points of corroboration and substantiation are admittedly few, but they are of critical importance. A brief review may be in order.
What the prophet taught
The first point of convergence to consider is the Joseph Smith statement that the last great sign of the last days will be “a comet, a planet.” A careful consideration of all the prophet said on that occasion has many implications and ramifications, all treated at one time or another by this author. What is clear from Joseph’s statements is that future cataclysms will be of a nearly identical nature to those from the past. Additionally, it verifies the position that these calamities stem from the irregular motions of orbs in our solar system.
Another, vital connection is the Philo Dibble facsimile, said by Dibble to be a virtual copy of an illustration drawn for him by the prophet himself, supported by the corroborating statements taken from many diaries and journals of early Saints.
The Dibble illustration, showing three planets in close proximity, sharing a common axis of rotation, clearly presents an understanding by the prophet Joseph Smith of the unique polar configuration of planets that existed in antiquity. That is, the dotted lines and the angle they describe are clearly meant to delineate the declination of the axis of rotation to the plane of the ecliptic, meaning that they were ‘stacked’ pole to pole and all rotated around the same axis. This is a vital point, not mentioned by Dibble, yet clearly implied in his facsimile. Since only in this extraordinary arrangement could these three orbs have appeared to hover in the heavens, above the Earth, thus presenting a unique vista that inspired nearly all ancient symbolism and imagery, this facsimile is a pivotal clue to what Joseph Smith knew.
Again, there are many remarkable, salient connections between the concepts illustrated in the Dibble facsimile and the theories of David Talbott, who took Velikovsky’s seminal idea of orbital disarray in our solar system in antiquity and then examined the most ancient records and traditions — what he called the Saturn myths — to discover the existence of a proto-heaven vastly different from that which we know now.
The connections between Joseph’s illustration and Talbott’s polar configuration theory are stunning to an impartial investigator. While not conclusive, the points of correlation are extraordinary.
This illustration of the polar configuration of planets (left to right: Saturn, Venus and Mars) demonstrates the likely reality behind the Dibble illustration when carefully comparing the two. The Earth, not pictured in this frame, would have been some distance away to the right of the picture.
Of course, the iconography and design of modern temples offer still more connections to Talbott’s research. Tellingly, except for extensive commentary in this publication, there is a notable scarcity of information regarding the iconography of the Salt Lake Temple, its meaning and its origins. Researchers who tackle that issue universally lament the lack of data to explain temple symbols. Most simply guess at the meaning, a clear indication of ignorance.
The extraordinary capacity of Talbott’s polar configuration theories, extrapolated from the Saturn myths, to explain the symbolism of both scripture and temple iconography is graphic evidence and powerful testimony of the interpretive value of his theories, especially when contrasted with the interpretive vacuum that exists without them.
Lastly are the dozens of statements by early Saints with corroborating information that they universally attribute to the prophet. Not only are numerous dreams and visions by early Saints made immediately more understandable and reasonable when seen in the light of Catastrophism and the Saturn myths, so are their recollections of concepts taught them by the prophet. LDS scholars can no longer discount statements by several early general authorities as fantasy or invention, as they have done in the past. Moreover, observations by Elder Orson Pratt, for example, a world-renown scientist in his own right, must carry considerable weight with modern Mormons. In truth, were Elder Pratt’s counsel to the Saints heeded to reject Uniformity and embrace Catastrophism, it would revolutionize our view of ancient history, the gospel, the scriptures and prophecy. Not only would it put church members in a position to better understand and accept recent and upcoming scientific revelations regarding ancient history, this planet, the solar system and the universe, but it would, more importantly, prove priceless as a means for giving the Saints a much more comprehensive paradigm for use in understanding the scriptures and the gospel.
Why so little information?
As noted previously, the evidence for Catastrophism and the Saturn traditions in early church literature and the statements of the brethren is admittedly fragmented and incomplete. There may be two reasons why the information, while compelling, is somewhat imprecise.
Assimilation of very new ideas is difficult. It takes time and frequent repetition to make a lasting impression. All early Saints were converts to whom almost everything the prophet taught was new. Certainly, information about ancient history, planets and astronomy was largely foreign to most of them; even if it weren't, they were not accustomed to thinking of these things as part of religion. It was a lot to absorb in a short time. What was thought to be secondary or ancillary quickly fell by the wayside over time.
Moreover, a one-time exposure to a genuinely new concept is bound to be poorly understood, information retention being as fallible as it is. The mind typically retains complicated information only after repeated exposures over time. Any attempt to pass on information gleaned in a transitory manner invariably results in distortion and ambiguity if it is retained at all. Joseph simply ran out of time before he could repeat or re-emphasize these ideas to the brethren in particular and the Saints in general. Hence, nearly all the information connected with Joseph’s view of these concepts comes to us as scraps and bits.
This makes the Dibble facsimile all the more valuable in that it is hard data, not subject to fallible human recollection. It is the vital key to Joseph’s concepts of Earth’s early heavens. It is the lynch pin of the entire thesis that Joseph taught a concept nearly identical to that elucidated by Talbott el al.
Perhaps more to the point is the fact that those that learned these things from the prophet thought them to be sacred, and thus not for repetition near uninitiated ears. Many were told these things within the confines of the temple precincts, so they kept them to themselves or recorded them only in private journals. Dibble, for example, for whom the prophet drew the illustration personally, did not make his facsimile public for almost 50 years.
The most obvious reason why so little was written or said about these concepts was Joseph’s martyrdom. Any plan he might have had to elaborate on these concepts was cut short by his early demise, leaving an incomplete picture of the concepts he undoubtedly intended to amplify and embellish in the written record and to the minds of the Saints. It is most likely that, had he lived, Joseph would have had much more to say on these themes and modern Saints would be more cognizant of them.
Evidence of this view can be found in the fact that temple icons and discussions of planets, stars, moons and their role in ancient and modern calamities came late in Joseph’s career. The Kirtland temple, for example, had none of the iconography of later temples. Early revelations were intended for basic doctrine, instruction and organization of a fledgling church. It was not until the Nauvoo era that discussions of cosmological ideas came forth, once the essential business of organizing a church was more complete. Indeed, one can only speculate that had the prophet been allowed to continue his mission, much of what has been written in these pages would now be part of mainstream Mormonism rather than marginal material.
Drifting with the mainstream
To whatever degree some early Saints may have known and understood the concepts at issue here, the membership in general slowly abandoned them as they integrated into mainstream American culture, which was turning away from Catastrophism throughout the latter half of the 19th century as it adopted the tenets of Uniformity in its emerging scientific and educational institutions. This ongoing process eventually resulted in an orthodox mindset, a paradigm that left most Saints unable to make heads or tails of the evidence from the restoration at issue here, much less see it as an invaluable key to unlock knowledge from the past. An important and invaluable aid to understanding the fullness of the gospel, the past and the future, had been lost.
For these, and several lesser reasons, modern Saints poorly understand these concepts. This is why they are largely ignorant of scriptural symbolism and the meaning of temple iconography when those elements exist in rich abundance in their scriptures and their temples.
In fact, this same ignorance breeds suspicion in the minds of most Saints when confronted with these concepts for the first time. LDS congregations are understandably cautious, loathe to accept any scriptural or gospel exegesis that sounds “unscientific” or “unfamiliar,” no matter how well founded in scripture, evidence, logic and common sense. Most have never been exposed to this information nor taken it upon themselves to read the words, firsthand, of Joseph Smith and other early Saints on the subject. Nor have they heard theses concepts over the pulpit or in Sunday School classes because nearly all LDS scholars and educators, those who write church manuals, avoid these topics. These ideas contradict the present cultural and scientific paradigm that governs all education and research in our world today, so they seldom find their way into official church publications. Hence, contrary to popular LDS belief, modern science and cultural tradition hold tremendous sway over our perception of the gospel, the scriptures and the words of modern prophets, severely limiting our comprehension of them.
Few clues, strong correlation
In summary, in order to see what Joseph knew and taught with regard to these topics, we must depend on a relatively small amount of evidence that seems generally meaningless in the context of our orthodox cultural and scientific paradigm. However, when these same bits of information are reviewed in the context of Catastrophism and the Saturn myths, the evidence becomes compelling. It gives us an invaluable key: We get a glimpse of what Joseph saw; we more completely understand what he knew.
This illustration more realistically shows the relative sizes and distances of the planets in the ancient polar configuration as envisioned by Talbott and suggested by the Dibble facsimile, although this view incorporates considerable parallaxis, making the planets look closer together than they actually were.
This knowledge gives meaning to cultural traditions, beliefs, practices and rituals, the origins of which were lost in hoary antiquity. It brings added meaning to scriptural records, the words of the prophets — all ancient records from whatever source, in fact. It reveals the meaning of temple symbolism, ancient and modern, connecting it with the rich traditions of ancient temples.
Lastly, it gives meaning to obscure teachings of Joseph Smith and those who labored with him then and since. It clearly tells us that Joseph Smith embraced a view of history very much like that of modern Catastrophists. It gives meaning to information he included in scripture and bestowed on his contemporaries that otherwise seems meaningless. It gives us a systematic, uniform method for interpreting the imagery of the prophets and prophecy itself. Such insight is of infinite value to the earnest and sincere Latter-day Saint, further confirming the witness of the Spirit. Indeed, studying and learning more about all these things can only invite additional confirmation from the Spirit.
Curiosities? Or keys?
Hence, these few tantalizing bits of information, once thought to be nothing more than so much flotsam and jetsam of the restoration, turn out to be invaluable keys for every Latter-day Saint who wishes to understand all facets of God’s creation. We should have known: No bit of information that comes by revelation, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is useless knowledge. Rather it is all meant to enlighten us and enrich our understanding. Ironically, the data most disparaged by modern LDS scholars and educators turns out to be invaluable.
We should have known.
© Anthony E. Larson, 2003