Since all communication — including revelation — is corrupted to one degree or another by the interpretation placed upon it by the recipient, it was assumed that the visions of early Saints would necessarily have been closer to the original concepts taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith; they would not have been adulterated by modern misconceptions of prophecy that have been introduced over time. (See “Children of the Light” for an explanation as to why the interpretation of recent revelation might be tainted by sectarian notions.)
Thus, every attempt was made in The Prophecy Trilogy to include visions of the last days given to early Saints (Charles D. Evans and President John Taylor). This was done to demonstrate the remarkable harmony and integrity between the concepts presented in The Prophecy Trilogy and the scenes presented in those early visions. Former LDS exegetes of prophecy had been unable to make any sense of these visions, so they ignored them. Yet, with the point of view presented by this author, the true value and merit of these visions can now be appreciated. Hence, they were included in the trilogy.
Like the Charles D. Evans vision, the following vision was recorded in The Contributor, the official church publication at the end of the 19th century and forerunner to the Improvement Era and today’s Ensign. As such, its credibility is greater than those dreams or visions recorded in journals and diaries of other Latter-day Saints since the general authorities themselves chose this material for The Contributor. Note that the author is not named, leading some to speculate that he may have been a general authority, if not the president of the church himself, who reported this vision. Commentary will follow.
The Dream of the Plagues
The present times seem to be more than usually prolific of prophetic dreams among the Latter-day Saints. In nearly every settlement the people have been warned of events soon to occur; and visions of the future glory of the Kingdom of God upon this earth have passed like a panorama before many of those who love God and obey His commandments.
Some two or three years ago, I had retired for the night, when suddenly a glorious messenger appeared at my bedside and awoke me from my slumber. The light of his presence filled the room, so that objects were discerned as clearly as at noonday.
He handed me a book, saying, “Look, and see what is coming to pass.” I took the book in my hands and, sitting up in bed, examined it carefully and read its contents. In size this book was about seven by ten inches, opening like a copybook and bound in beautiful cover, on the front of which was stamped in gold letters its title, which was The Book of the Plagues. The leaves were printed only on the front side of each, and were composed of the very finest quality of pure white linen, instead of paper. The typography throughout was in the finest style of the printer’s art. Each page was composed of a picture printed in colors as natural as art can copy nature, which occupied the upper half of the space, below which was the printed description of the scene represented.
On the first page was a picture of a feast in progress, with the long table set upon a beautiful lawn, over which were interspersed clumps of fine shrubs and towering trees. In the background through the foliage, could be discerned a stately suburban villa, adorned with all the ornaments of modern architecture. The landscape presented the appearance of midsummer. The sky, and indeed the whole atmosphere, appeared of a peculiar sickly brassy hue, similar to that which may be observed when the sun is wholly eclipsed, and the disc is just beginning again to give its light. Throughout the atmosphere small white specks were represented, similar to a scattering fall of minute snowflakes in winter. About the table a part of richly dressed ladies and gentlemen were seated in the act of partaking of the rich repast with which the table was laden. The minute specks falling from above were dropping into the food apparently unheeded by all, for a sudden destruction had come upon them. Many were falling backward in the agonies of a fearful death; others drooping upon the table, and others pausing with their hand still holding the untasted food, their countenances betraying a fearful astonishment at the peculiar and unlooked for condition of their companions. Death was in the atmosphere; the judgments of God had come upon them as silently and swiftly as upon the proud Sennacharib and his host of Assyrians.
In one corner of this picture was a small circular vignette, showing the front of the store of a dealer in pork. The wide sidewalk was covered by an awning supported on posts at the outer edge, and on this walk were shown barrels of pork, long strings of sausages, fresh slaughtered hogs, piles of smoked bacon and headcheese; and along the edge of the walk, next to the store, beneath the front windows, leaned a number of large hams and pieces of side meat, reaching across the whole front, except a small space at the doorway. There were twelve of these pieces, and on each piece was painted a large letter, in order to make as a whole the word ABOMINATIONS.
Below this scene was the description: A Feast among the Gentiles, commencement of the Plague. And in smaller type below [was] a note saying that the particles of poison, though represented in the picture, are so small as to be invisible to the naked eye.
On the next page was another picture. It was a street scene in a large city. In the foreground were the residences of wealthy city merchants. The character of the buildings gradually changed; along the view and in the distance were shown the great buildings of trade and commerce in the heart of a large metropolis. On the sidewalks throughout the long vista, the busy, throbbing rushing crowd had been cut down like grass before the mower.
Again it was a midsummer scene. The same atoms of poison were falling through the air, but their work was done; the same sickly brazen atmosphere that seemed thick with foul odors laid upon the earth, in which no breeze stirred a leaf of the foliage. Upon the balconies of the richly decorated residences, across the thresholds of the open doorways, along the walks and upon the crossings, lay the men, women and children, who a few days before were enjoying all the pleasures of life. Further on, the dead were everywhere. Houses of business that had been thronged with customers stood with open doorways, frowning upon streets covered with the dead. Across the thresholds of the banks lay the guardians of wealth, but no thieves were there to take the unlocked treasures within. The costly merchandise of a thousand owners laid untouched upon the counters and shelves. In the noonday glare of the sickly sun, not a soul was shown alive; not one had been left to bury the dead—all had been stricken or had fled from the death-dealing plague and the doomed city. Along midway upon the street, a hungry drove of those horrible ugly slaughterhouse dogs, (which may be seen in the pens attached to the filthy slaughtering places in the outskirts of many cities), was tearing and devouring the dead and feasting upon the bodies of rich and poor alike with none to molest them.
Below this picture was the description: Progress of the Plague among the Gentiles. A street scene in a large city. Nearly fifty of these pictures I carefully observed, wherein the fearful effects of this and other plagues were almost as vividly portrayed as if I had actually seen them.
The last scene in the book was descriptive of the same plague as the first. A beautiful park-like, grassy prairie was surrounded by elm and cottonwood trees, the area embraced being about eighty rods across. In the center of this enclosure was a large cone-shaped tent of a bright purple color, about thirty feet in height by twenty in diameter at the base. Midway in height in this tent was a floor dividing the inside into two stories. Near this tent was another, a round wall tent, about thirty feet in diameter, and nearly as high as the first. This was clean and white. Leaving a space of about a hundred yards from these central tents were hundreds of small rectangular wall tents in rows, reaching as far as the surrounding trees, each tent clean and white, and appearing to be of a size suited to the wants of an ordinary family. Not a human being, animal, bird or vehicle was in sight. Not a breath of air appeared to be stirring. The same atmosphere as in the previous pictures, with the atoms of poison, was represented, and the same time and season of the year.
Below this picture was the description: “A camp of the Saints who have gathered together and are living under the daily revelations of God, and are thus preserved from the plague.” I understood from this that each family was in its tent during the hours of the day that the poison falls, and thus were preserved from breathing the deathly particles.
Handing the book to the messenger, who all this time had remained by my side, he vanished from my view as suddenly as he had appeared. I awoke my wife, who was soundly sleeping, and commenced to relate to her what I had just beheld. After telling her the description of the two pictures at the beginning of the book, and commencing on the third, this third picture and all up to the last was suddenly taken from my memory, so that I have never been able to recall them; but still I remember that they were scenes about the plagues and judgments.
In the revelation given to the Prophet Joseph, among the many plagues and judgments portrayed, that given in the Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. xxix:17-20, has always seemed to me to fully coincide with what has been related in the account of that dream. But whether that plague or another is meant, it does not matter. Plagues will come and the wicked must suffer; but the Saints will be preserved by the very principle for which the wicked persecute them, which is present revelation from the Almighty. (The Contributor, 5:411.)
In many respects, this vision matches certain primary elements of Bro. Evans’ and John Taylor’s visions. Each wrote of a similarly poisoned atmosphere that brought certain death. The three corroborate one another and the thesis of this author regarding a future, planet-wide plague, caused by extra-terrestrial contamination of air and water, making them poisonous to living things. It is further evidence that the central thesis of And The Earth Shall Reel To And Fro regarding the Great Plague of the last days is valid. Furthermore, it is very significant that the sole source for the accounts of this future plague is the membership of the church. The scriptures make only passing reference to this plague, while latter-day revelation, given to general authorities and priesthood holders alike, exhibits a much fuller and technically accurate picture of this catastrophic plague. Once again, modern revelation, when coupled with the catastrophist view, is capable of amplifying our understanding of future events.
The first paragraph paints a very interesting picture of a church that anticipates the onset of the last days at any time. Mormonism was, in its infancy, very much a Millennialist or Adventist religion. Central to the restoration was the idea that the mission of the church was to prepare for the imminent return of the Savior. For example, the scriptural quotations of Moroni to Joseph Smith deal almost exclusively with prophecies of the last days. (See Joseph Smith—History 1:36-41.)
The author of this vision notes that there were “nearly fifty of these pictures . . . .” Yet, he only remembers the first two and the last. (One can only lament that he was not allowed to remember the rest!) The first picture is said to represent the beginning of the plague, and the second to document the progress of the plague. It is logical to surmise that the last scene in the book represents the final stage of the plague. Taken all together, the book was as close to the animator’s art as a 19th century work could be—almost a motion picture! The author notes that it was all so “vividly portrayed” that it was “as if I had actually seen them.”
Apparently, each scene was meant to depict a virtual reality. The scenes were accurate in their representation of the plague’s effects on mankind, but the settings were rather idealized and therefore somewhat symbolic. The vignette of the pork store was certainly a symbolic representation, having nothing to do with reality. It is an allusion to the Mosaic Law’s prohibition on pork, which was seen as a foul pollution. A shop trafficking exclusively in pork would certainly be seen as an abomination in a kosher neighborhood! The 12 large hams with letters that spelled out ABOMINATIONS may be a metaphor for a wicked 12 tribes. It also relates to the scriptural phrase “desolation of abominations” that is often applied to the catastrophic destructions of the last days since such destructions have historically been the means by which God swept wickedness or abominations from the planet. Obviously, the destruction of something as horrific as a pork shop could be construed as a symbolic “desolation of abominations.”
Assuming that most of the vision is self-explanatory in light of this author’s thesis, it is the last scene depicting the final stage of the plague to which we turn our attention.
The situation, as described, has many subtle implications. That they were living in tents implies two things: Their permanent dwellings were uninhabitable and they were in the process of migrating to a new location. This conforms with the traditional belief among early Mormons who had migrated to the Salt Lake Valley that the day would come when they would return to Jackson County, Missouri, the site designated by Joseph Smith for the building of the New Jerusalem. It confirms the idea of a modern exodus, seen to occur in the last days, under very similar conditions to those experienced by the Israelites under Moses’ direction. The mention of an assembly and temple-like pair of tents in the center of the encampment further reinforces this analogy.
The size of the encampment is also a notable detail. Given the size of the encampment enclosure, “about eighty rods across,” the number of tents in that defined area would be astoundingly small, given the size of the church today. It seems to indicate that although the membership of the church today numbers in the millions, only a tiny fraction of those Saints will survive to reclaim Jackson County. This, of course, is consistent with the nature and extent of the plague witnessed in this vision and also conforms to the traditional view of the original Exodus wherein it is said that 49 out of 50 Israelites perished.
Given the modest level of interest in these ideas among Latter-day Saints, it seems logical to assume that very few of us will be prepared to cope with the Great Plague and the other profoundly devastating and destructive events of the last days. Those of us who have been given a glimpse of the reality and the nature of these plagues and destructions should consider ourselves fortunate because that forewarning will allow us to better prepare ourselves for them and to better cope with them when they do happen. Such revelations as this, seen through the focused lens of catastrophism, provide us with life-saving information.
© Anthony E. Larson, 1999