While the capacity of Catastrophism, the Saturn myths and the Polar Configuration to consistently and fully explain the most enigmatic scriptural symbolism and temple iconography argues eloquently for their validity, another verification can be found in the documented teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the subjective statements and observations of the Saints who recorded their impressions of his teachings.
It is in those revealing statements that we see how similar Joseph’s views were to those who champion these unconventional views of ancient cosmology in our day and age. Indeed, as it is with the scriptures and temple iconography, these statements by a prophet can be fully appreciated only from the perspective of Catastrophism, the Saturn myths and the history of the Polar Configuration. This provides yet another level of confirmation or substantiation of this author’s assertions that Joseph would have embraced the work of those iconoclastic scholars who pursue these ideas.
There are dozens of accounts, preserved by both the prophet and his close confidants, which point us in the same direction. Ironically, most orthodox LDS scholars choose not to explore the implications of such statements. In fact, they tend to avoid them like the plague. Hence, search as one might, explanations of these views of early Mormons cannot be found in current church manuals, recent conference talks or in learned dissertations. This is probably so because those researchers lack the frame of reference to understand such symbolism and imagery. They have been indoctrinated in the tenets of Uniformity, which blinds them to concepts beyond their training. When, on rare occasion, they do turn to such accounts, they discount them as implausible, fanciful or of dubious merit, rather than address them with the gravity and sobriety that they deserve.
As we have seen, the most convincing evidence that Joseph Smith understood the concept of the Polar Configuration is in the Dibble illustration, which has been thoroughly documented and examined elsewhere. That information leaves little room for doubt that Joseph thoroughly understood the crucial role that the ancient co-linear planetary alignment played in stimulating religious symbolism worldwide, as well as in the scriptures. That is, that unique alignment of planets alone can explain the imagery and iconography of the past, as modern researchers assert. While Dibble’s facsimile is anecdotal, since the prophet himself did not document it, it nevertheless comes from a reliable source. From the time of his conversion in 1829 in Kirtland, Ohio, until his death in Springville, Utah, in 1895, Dibble was a devout and faithful Latter-day Saint. During his lifetime, Dibble was a bodyguard to Joseph Smith, as well as a close friend and confidant.
The next most revealing teaching of the prophet was his address to the Saints who gathered on the floor of the Nauvoo Temple for a General Conference in 1843. His comments at that time regarding the second coming have been thoroughly documented in Volume 5 of the History of the Church. In that talk, Joseph unequivocally designated a planet or comet as the primary heavenly sign of the last days; it contains the best evidence of Joseph’s belief that an errant or rogue orb will play a profound part in those future events. Moreover, that same belief, by inference, colored his perspective of prophecy and its meaning.
The rest of the evidence for Joseph Smith sharing these views is anecdotal, and therefore more questionable and subject to criticism. Nevertheless, it conforms with the views cited in evidence and noted above to such a high degree that it serves as corroboration, though it should be considered with care. Much of this supportive evidence from early diaries and journals of Latter-day Saints can be found in volumes one and three of The Prophecy Trilogy, so it will not be repeated here.
The first of two accounts we will examine comes from Orson F. Whitney, who served as an Apostle from 1906 until his death in 1931. He is remembered in church history for a haunting and poignant vision, which he called a dream, of the Savior’s agony in Gethsemane. But it is his explanation of the biblical Tower of Babel event to which we turn herein that reveals Joseph Smith’s concept of ancient conditions.
Bishop Whitney, as he preferred to be called, is an excellent source since his career as a newspaper and magazine editor as well as an assistant church historian taught him the virtue of disciplined accuracy. Of course, his calling to the Council of the Twelve Apostles puts his comments beyond reproach for any good Latter-day Saint.
The Babel planet
Among his collected discourses is a remarkable allusion to Joseph Smith’s belief that Zion once hovered above the Earth. Of course, things that linger in Earth’s heavens are commonly called planets and moons.
Elder Whitney wrote:
It has been taught that it was the object of the people who built the Tower of Babel to reach heaven, to attain to one of the starry planets, one of the heavenly bodies. This sounds, indeed, like a fairy tale ... that they could actually reach the sun, moon, or one of the stars, simply by piling brick upon brick and stone upon stone. But the Prophet Joseph Smith, whose mission it was to shed light upon the darkness of this generation, is said to have declared that it was not their intention to reach heaven, but to reach Zion, which was then suspended in mid-air, between heaven and earth, or at such a height as to render the project feasible. This certainly is more reasonable.” Collected Discourses, Vol.1, p. 359.)Such a statement by a general authority must be taken seriously. In fact, when considered in light of Dibble’s illustration and Talbott’s Polar Configuration thesis, it makes perfect sense. If the Dibble drawing represents Joseph’s belief regarding the positioning of planets with respect to the Earth anciently, then he would have naturally envisioned that the Tower of Babel was constructed to reach observable orbs in close proximity. As a result, the ancients would have perceived the project as feasible.
Using the gospel taught by the prophet as a yardstick, the novel view of Earth’s ancient past proposed by Talbott et al becomes logical and understandable, no matter how science may view it. The common axis of rotation depicted by Joseph Smith in the Dibble illustration means that the fundamental tenet of Talbott’s thesis is certainly correct: Saturn and its companion planets appeared to hover in a fixed position in the heavens above Earth’s northern horizon due to that unique alignment.
As Elder Whitney noted learning from the prophet, the Babylonians were not trying to reach some distant planet, moon, sun or star, which all appear to steadily, unceasingly traverse the arch of the heavens. They knew that reaching one of those moving, distant bodies was futile. On the other hand, a planet or cluster of planets that remained fixed in the heavens presented an entirely different prospect: It appeared close enough to be reachable and was fixed to one point in the sky. This is the implication of Elder Whitney’s observation when taken together with the Dibble drawing and Talbott’s thesis.
Thus, disparate pieces of evidence come together to further corroborate and substantiate the premise that Joseph Smith believed that the Earth was once part of a congregation of planets.
An interesting evening with the prophet
There is one more anecdotal account that sheds still more light on this confluence of ideas. Taken from a book by Robert W. Smith called, Scriptural and Secular Prophecies Pertaining to The Last Days, this account attributes some remarkable statements to the prophet, Joseph Smith. It purports to be an interview with Homer M. Brown, a past Patriarch of the Granite, Utah, Stake and grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Brown, the principles in the story.
In that interview, Patriarch Brown explains that the setting for his grandparents’ story is their home in Nauvoo before the prophet was martyred and the Saints were forced to move West. According to the account, one evening Joseph Smith came to his grandparents’ door seeking refuge, saying, “Brother Brown, can you keep me overnight? The mobs are after me.” He was granted asylum and offered a meal, which he accepted.
In the gospel discussion that followed, Bro. Brown inquired of the prophet as to the whereabouts of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Joseph Smith’s response was to take them outside. “Come to the door and I will show you,” he said. “Come on, Sister Brown, I want you both to see.”
According to the account, the reason Joseph took them out into the starlit night was to find Polaris, the North Star.
“Brother Brown, can you show me the Polar Star?”One is compelled to ask why the Prophet insisted that the Browns not only locate the North Star but that they do so using the “Dipper,” the constellation Ursa Major, to find it? What made stargazing so important in the Prophet’s mind that he would risk exposure in the midst of his flight from the mob by going out-of-doors with the Browns — even if only momentarily? Obviously, he must have felt it was a vital point to make in his attempt to answer Brother Brown’s question. But, what made it so important?
“Yes, sir,” responded Brother Brown, pointing to the North Star. “There it is.”
“Yes, I know,” said the Prophet, “but which one? There are a lot of stars there.”
“Can you see the points of the Dipper?” asked Brother Brown.
The Prophet answered, “Yes.”
“Well,” he said, pointing up to the largest star, “trace the pointers. That is the North Star.”
“You are correct,” the Prophet answered. (Scriptural and Secular Prophecies Pertaining to The Last Days, pp. 89, 90.)
Curiously, the answer to those questions is never provided. While the prophet went on to reveal many vital and crucial concepts on that occasion, according to the account as we have it, the concept of locating the North Star is never revisited. Patriarch Brown never explained why Joseph sought to make that point.
However, a clue to why may be found in a place we might never expect to look — high up on the west wall of the Salt Lake Temple.
Many visitors to Temple Square over the years have gazed up at the temple and wondered, no doubt, why the stars of the constellation Ursa Major, the Bear or the Big Dipper are etched there in stone. Certainly, those icons were not placed on that sacred edifice by chance or whimsy.
A moment of deliberation reveals that those mute temple stones echo the concept that Joseph Smith tried to teach to the Browns on that evening in Nauvoo. They involve the same celestial bodies, Polaris and Ursa Major, and are an iconic representation of that same concept he tried to impress upon the Browns.
The presence of that illustration on the Salt Lake Temple allows us to infer that the Browns’ account is accurate and that Joseph must have taught the same concepts to others. We can also infer that, without a doubt, it was Joseph Smith who passed on the relevance and meaning of these astronomical elements to Brigham Young, Truman O. Angel and Orson Pratt, those responsible for the iconography of the Salt Lake Temple. Certainly Pres. Young, the prophet who oversaw the construction of the Salt Lake Temple, felt they were important enough to include them in the iconography of that sacred edifice.
With these two correlations in evidence — the Brown account and the temple icons — we are still left with the same question. Why were these stars important to a Prophet of God? What significance do they have to the Prophet’s teaching of the restored gospel?
To answer those questions, we must turn to the Dibble illustration, for it is in an analysis of that drawing that the answers can be found.
The logical reason for locating and focusing on the pole star is represented in this illustration. If two or three planets were ‘stacked’ one proximate to another along a common axis of rotation, where the poles of each were in alignment with one another, the inhabitants of the ‘bottom’ planet in the stack would see the other planets in only one place in their sky: at the same place Polaris sets today in ours. Thus, the exercise of locating Polaris in the heavens today is the only way of knowing where this ancient configuration of planets stood. Polaris, then, represents the polar axis drawn through the three orbs in the Dibble illustration.
Thus, in the Dibble illustration we have the explanation of the Brown account and the Salt Lake Temple icons. We find a convergence of these concepts taught by the prophet only in the arrangement illustrated in the above picture. These three bits of evidence serve to more fully explain one another, at the same time demonstrating what the prophet’s thinking was on this concept.
The correlation between these three accounts is not coincidental, invented or forced. The rational conclusion is that the prophet’s fixation on the pole star in the Browns’ account, its duplication on the west wall of the Salt Lake Temple and its representation in the Dibble drawing constitutes compelling evidence of his belief that is intriguing and eye-opening.
Further, it serves to confirm that a prophet of God held similar views of Earth’s ancient history to those of Dave Talbott, the primary proponent of the Saturn myths and the Polar Configuration of planets in modern times. Three planets did stand, anciently, in the place where Polaris stands today.
The Polar Configuration
At a distance, the grouping looked much like this illustration. Left to right, the orbs, as Talbott proposes them are Saturn, Venus, Mars and Earth.
From the perspective of earthbound observers, the grouping would have looked as they do in the next panel.
Note that from the alignment of the planets in this illustration, the three orbs appeared to hover above Earth’s north pole — precisely the alignment referred to in the present discussion.
Perhaps it should not be surprising that most Mormon scholars have been critical of this assessment as well as the Whitney account, the Brown account and the Dibble illustration. They see them as too fantastic to believe, if considered only as isolated, unrelated items, which have little or no scientific substantiation. Their worldview does not take into account the temple symbols, nor do they know anything of Talbott’s research.
That modern LDS scholars do not give much credence to the Dibble illustration or the Brown account is an indication of their ignorance. The connection with temple symbolism is unmistakable and the commonalities are undeniable to all but the most calloused observer.
Only one set of conditions in Earth’s ancient heavens can provide a context for all this evidence: Talbott’s Polar Configuration. Only a group of planets aligned on a common axis of rotation with the Earth could provide a context for understanding the intersection of these ideas. The temple icons, the Dibble illustration and the Brown account therefore form a tripartite confirmation that this was Joseph’s belief.
More confirmation from temple icons
But there is more to the account that further confirms the relevance of the Browns’ story while also expanding our view of the Prophet’s understanding. According to the Brown account, Joseph went on to point out another star in the sky that night.
“Now, do you discern a little twinkler to the right and below the Pole Star, which we would judge to be about the distance of 20 feet from here?” asked Joseph.Taken at face value, this part of the account seems to have little meaning. The distance of “20 feet from here” and direction the prophet cited between the “little twinkler” and the pole star is entirely subjective. Only if we could see where he gestured as he spoke could we know what star was indicated. Due to the vagueness of the account, we cannot.
“Yes, sir,” said Brother Brown.
The prophet then asked, “Sister Brown, do you see that star also?”
“Yes sir,” was her answer. (Ibid., p. 90.)
However, there is a relationship between Polaris and another prominent star in our present skies, as suggested by Talbott, that may help us identify what star the prophet pointed out to the Browns. That planet is Saturn, the most prominent planet in myth and legend.
Evidence that Joseph may have been pointing to Saturn, along with Polaris and Ursa Major, on the occasion of his visit with the Browns can also be found in Salt Lake Temple iconography. The original architectural renderings (see south elevation below) of the Salt Lake Temple, where an icon of a planet with a ring around it can be seen near the top of the buttresses along the south wall, above the Sunstones, show that Saturn held a prominent place in the designers’ hierarchy of symbols for the temple.
Though these icons were not used in the final building, it is well documented in Mormon history that the designers specifically designated these as Saturnstones.
Thus, while it is not evidenced in the laconic account of the Browns, it is reasonable to conclude, based on obscure temple symbolism, that Joseph sought to point out the planet Saturn on that occasion.
Still more prophetic insights
Having established the validity of the Browns’ account while noting its deficiencies, we can proceed to the additional information that it brings to our understanding of the Prophet’s views. Patriarch Brown continued with his grandparents’ account.
After re-entering the house, the Prophet said, “Brother Brown, I noticed when I came in that you were reading the Doctrine and Covenants. Will you kindly get it?”The most striking thing about these comments is that the prophet was talking about planetary catastrophism, something most Mormon scholars are unwilling to acknowledge and part of the reason why the Brown story is disparaged in scholastic circles within the church. Yet, these comments are consistent with Joseph’s observation that the “grand sign” of the last days will be a “comet, a planet,” (History of the Church, Vol. 5, p. 337.) lending additional credibility to Patriarch Brown’s account.
He did so. The Prophet turned to Section 133 and read, commencing at the 26th verse and throughout to the 34th verse. He said, after reading the 31st verse, “Now, let me ask you what would cause the everlasting hills to tremble with more violence than the coming together of the two planets?
“Now,” he said, “scientists will tell you that it is not scientific, that two planets coming together would be disastrous to both. But, when two planets or other objects are traveling in the same direction and one of them with a little greater velocity than the other, it would not be disastrous because the one traveling faster would over take the other. Now, what would cause the mountains of ice to melt quicker than the heat caused by the friction of the two planets coming together?”
And then he asked the question, “Did you ever see a meteor falling that was not red hot? So, that would cause the mountain of ice to melt.” (Ibid.,pp. 89, 90.)
Unmistakably, the Prophet attributed future events and conditions predicted for the last days in Section 133 to a near-collision of planets. By inference, that was the primary mechanism of change in the past as well. If we are to take our lead from Joseph Smith, then we, too, must see those events, past and future, from that same perspective.
Worlds in collision
Joseph took great care to point out to the Browns that scientists in their day would not share his scenario of one planet overtaking another. Ironically, over a hundred years later, in 1950, when Velikovsky proposed a similar scenario for the Exodus events, scientists and scholars universally condemned him. Little had changed in that time.
Sadly, little has changed in this regard today, over 160 years later. Mormons who presently accept the prophet’s view of planetary catastrophe also face ridicule and derision — as often as not from their peers in the church as well as from sectarian and secular sources.
Electromagnetic effects were clearly not part of the prophet’s paradigm since they were not known by science in his day. Nevertheless, he recognized that an overtaking of one planet by another would involve some mechanism that would produce heat, which he attributed to “friction of the two planets coming together.” While there would be no actual contact of the two orbs, which he accurately deduced, the interaction of the electrically charged plasma boundaries would, in effect, collide, deflecting the two planets from any collision while producing prodigious amounts of heat.
The same electromagnetic properties of the two planets that prevents an out-and-out collision would also serve to lock the two into an orbital embrace, one with another, if, as the prophet asserted, one gradually overtook the other. Such is the nature of electromagnetic fields in space. The simultaneous attraction/repulsion power of their respective electromagnetic fields, which is vastly stronger than the force of gravity, would cause them to “join,” in effect, either temporarily or permanently.
A new polar configuration
This is clearly the scenario the prophet envisioned in his discussion with the Browns, one that would see a reestablishment of the same celestial manifestations as those seen anciently in the Polar Configuration proposed by Talbott. Hence, the remainder of the story told by Patriarch Brown of his grandparents reflects elements already familiar to those who have embraced the concept of the polar grouping and the great pillar, river, mountain or highway that seemed to connect it to the Earth.
Thus, the meaning of the prophet’s final observations to the Browns is clear.
“And relative to the great highway which should be cast up when the planet returns to its place in the great northern waters, it will form a highway and waters will recede and roll back.”Once again, a prophet of God has a keen understanding of the forces at work in such an event. In such a ‘joining,’ two natural forces would combine to “recede and roll back” the oceans of the Earth to the poles. As Joseph noted with his bucket-swinging analogy, Earth’s rotation might slow, thus diminishing the centrifugal force that currently pushes the oceans toward the equator, allowing a more even distribution of ocean water around the globe, the net effect of which would be to lower water levels at the equator while raising them at the poles. Additionally, the gravitational tug of the neighboring body located above Earth’s north pole would create a permanent tide at both poles, thus serving to further move water to the poles. This is the sum and substance of Joseph’s final comment to the Browns, one that modern catastrophists readily acknowledge as a recognized consequence of planets locked together in a common polar alignment.
He continued, “Now, as to their coming back from the northern waters, they will return from the north because their planet will return to the place from whence it was taken.
“Relative to the waters rolling back to the north, if you take a vessel of water and swing it rapidly around your head, you won’t spill any. But if you stop the motion gradually, it will begin to pour out.
“Now,” he said, “Brother Brown, at the present time this earth is rotating very rapidly. When this planet returns it will make the Earth that much heavier, and it will then revolve slower. That will account for the waters receding from the Earth for a great while, but it has now turned and is proceeding rapidly eastward.” (Ibid., p. 91.)
A thorny, ‘tribal’ issue
One other issue must be dealt with before closing this investigation of the Prophet’s beliefs. When Joseph Smith spoke of “they” in this account, he was speaking of the Ten Lost Tribes. Indeed, the reader should know that it was in the context of understanding the fate of those missing tribes that the entire Brown story was told.
The question of the Lost Tribes has plagued the church from the Nauvoo period forward. This is likely so because Joseph taught this concept to many Nauvoo-era Saints, as will be documented further on. Acrimonious debate among church members regarding the fate of those tribes of Israel caused the brethren to suppress the entire issue by labeling it a “mystery,” and counseling the Saints to avoid such discussions. It is not the objective of this author to violate that prohibition or incite anew a debate as to the whereabouts of those vanished tribes. Each Saint must decide this issue for himself or herself.
The vital point one would hope to make in all this is that Joseph Smith clearly believed in the two primary tenets of this author’s thesis regarding ancient history: Planetary catastrophes were the agents of ancient supernatural events and conditions recorded in the scriptures, which are also predicted for the last days; equally important is the concept that Earth was once part of a extraordinary grouping of planets that now move on independent orbits within the solar system.
More collision accounts from the prophet
Many other early accounts from those who personally knew Joseph Smith repeat the theme of planetary catastrophism in the context of the Lost Tribes question. Herewith are three additional such recollections for the reader to contemplate — one from the Patriarch Brown account we have just reviewed and the other two from personal journals.
Brother Brown, will you give us some light and explanation of the 5th verse on page 396 of the Hymn Book which speaks of the Ten Tribes of Israel, or the part of this earth which formed another planet, according to the hymn of (written by) Eliza R. Snow.Such seemingly extravagant and speculative accounts, attributed to Joseph Smith by early church members and general authorities, have been discounted and all but forgotten in recent years by church members. They are never mentioned in church manuals, quoted in conference talks or discussed in any way. This is probably so because such statements contradict our present cultural views, given us by modern science, of the past history of our solar system and Earth’s career in it.
“Yes, sir. I think I can answer your question. Sister Eliza R. Snow, in visiting my grandparents was asked by my grandmother, ‘Eliza, where did you get your ideas about the Ten Lost Tribes being taken away as you explain it in your wonderful hymn?’
“She answered as follows, ‘Why, my husband (Joseph Smith) told me about it.’” (Ibid., p. 88.)
Thurs., Mar. 10 (1881) … at night paid Sister Eliza R. Snow a short visit and had some conversation with her on the dividing of the earth. She told me that she heard the prophet say that when the ten tribes were taken away the Lord cut the Earth in two, Joseph Striking his left hand in the center with the edge of his right to illustrate the idea and that they (the 10 tribes) were on an orb or planet by themselves and when they return with the portion of this earth that was taken away with them, the coming together of these two bodies or orbs would cause a shock and make the ‘Earth reel to and fro like a drunken man.’ She also stated that he said the Earth was now ninety times smaller now than when first created or organized. (Journal of Charles Walker, p. 38.)
The winter following (1840), I attended a public meeting held in Vincent Knight’s house at which the Prophet Joseph Smith gave the following instruction: ‘When this world was first made it was a tremendous big thing. The Lord concluded it was too big. We read in the Scriptures that in the days of Peleg the earth was divided, so the Lord divided the earth. When the ten tribes of the children of Israel went into the north country he divided it again, so the earth has been divided and subdivided. We also read in the Scriptures that the earth shall reel to and fro like a drunken man. What shall cause this earth to reel to and fro like a drunken man? We read that the stars shall fall to the earth like a fig falling from a fig tree.
When these stars return to the place where they were taken from, it will cause the earth to reel to and fro. Not that the planets will come squarely against each other, in such case both planets would be broken to pieces. But in there rolling motion they will come together where they were taken from which will cause the earth to reel to and fro. (Journal of Samuel Holister Rogers, p. 8.)
Curiously, only with the alternate perspective that Velikovsky, Talbott, et al bring to the equation do these statements attributed to Joseph Smith take on renewed meaning. Indeed, the views of those unconventional scholars serve as added corroboration for Joseph’s many, otherwise seemingly nonsensical, statements recorded by early Mormons.
For those of us who sincerely believe that Joseph was a visionary and seer, this knowledge allows us to better appreciate the depth of his marvelous contribution to our understanding of the gospel, the scriptures, the past and the future.
Now we can comprehend them as he understood and taught them.
© Anthony E. Larson, 2004