Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Circumscribing the Apocalypse: Reading, Writing, and Sealing

Posted by joespencer on December 18, 2007

It is time for a last post on Revelation, and I’ll dedicate it to what seems to me to be the most important–and most prevalent–theme in the entire Apocalypse: writing. Really, this means that I’ll be tracing two themes through the book: writing and Adam-ondi-Ahman. In the end, I think any “uniquely Mormon” reading of the Book of Revelation has to come to this in the end: it must give itself to this double theme in Revelation, to the place of writing in the text and how that weaves into the Apocalypse the role and purpose of the sort-of-future event that is Adam-ondi-Ahman.

Let me begin by summarizing just briefly what I understand by Adam-ondi-Ahman, since there has been far too little said of it in one sense, and far too much said of it in another sense, by Latter-day Saints. The event that goes by this name is, it must be understood from the very beginning, inherently double: it refers to an event that happened almost a millennium after Adam and Eve left Eden, and it refers to an event that is still to come and that is connected in curious ways with the second advent of the Savior. The first Adam-ondi-Ahman event referred to can be approached best through D&C 107:53-57, which I’ve discussed a bit already in one my earlier Revelation posts: Adam, just before his death, called his posterity into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman to a meeting during which Christ appeared and bestowed on Adam all authority over his posterity; Adam then stood up in the midst of the singing/praising throngs and “predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation,” all of which was written down by the scribe, Enoch. The second Adam-ondi-Ahman event referred to is clearest in some of Joseph’s discourses (most notably in the “Before 8 August 1839” discourse, which can be read on my feast user page): Adam will come again, delivering the saints from the world and in order to prepare them for the coming of the Savior; the books will be opened, and another book will be opened, and the living and dead will be sorted out as the Savior appears; this time, Adam will gives his stewardship back over to Christ but retain his standing as head of the human family; and then it is on to Zion. The connection between the two events is manifold: the throngs of posterity gathered around Adam; the themes of kingship; stewardship goes from Christ to Adam and then from Adam to Christ; the book is written and sealed up and then is opened and read; etc.

That is a really, really basic sketch (allow me to recommend my two seminary lectures that dance all around this subject, trying to get all the details on the table without ever quite getting as coherent as I would have liked to: see here and here respectively), but it will suffice for now. At least this much ought to be clear from the above description: there seems to me to be no way around the necessity of reading Revelation 20:12-15 as referring to the Adam-ondi-Ahman event that is still to come. So let me begin there…

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. – Rev 20:12

You will discover in this quotation that the books were opened; and another book was opened, which was the book of life; but the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works; consequently, the books spoken of must be the books which contained the record of their works, and refer to the records which are kept on the earth. And the book which was the book of life is the record which is kept in heaven . . . . – D&C 128:7

The one book, as opposed to the several books, that is opened is the book of life, the book in which the living are recorded, in which the remnant is written for life. There is simply too much to say about what that book is, so I’ll just provide a brief (really brief, contrary, perhaps, to appearances) bibliography: Moses 6-7; Abraham 1-5 (including the facsimiles); Exodus 24, 32-34; scattered references in the former prophets (Hugh Pyper has a nice commentary on these five scattered references in The New Literary Criticism and the Hebrew Bible); Isaiah 4, 6-12, 29; Ezekiel 1-3; Daniel 7, 10-12; Micah 1-5; Malachi 1-4; 1 Corinthians 15; Revelation 1-22; 1 and 2 Nephi; Jacob; Alma 36; 3 Nephi 23; Ether 3-4; D&C 2, 7-9, 21, 27-29, 42, 76, 77, 84, 85, 88, 93, 104, 109, 110, 113, 121-123, 124, 127-128, 130, 132, and everything in Ehat and Cook’s Words of Joseph Smith. Because of the linking up of Adam-ondi-Ahman events (and for a dozen other reasons I haven’t the space or time to work through here), I’m more and more convinced that that book of life is the same book written up by Enoch and sealed (taken to heaven) during the first Adam-ondi-Ahman experience. This would fit, I think, with the details of D&C 77:6, where the book of life is described as containing the Lord’s take on the “seven thousand years” of the world’s continuance or temporal existence, precisely the words that Adam spoke during the first event. In a word: I think the book of life or heavenly book throughout the scriptures is the Enochic record of Adam’s prophecy during the ancient Adam-ondi-Ahman event; and I think it is precisely that book that will be opened at the final judgment scene to be witnessed at the as yet future Adam-ondi-Ahman event.

What this means for interpretation of the Apocalypse is that, as I’ve argued more eliptically before, chapters 4-11 are a description of nothing other than the as yet future Adam-ondi-Ahman event: Adam, the Ancient of Days, is seated on the throne, and then the Lamb/Christ approaches him and receives the book from his hand, sealed with seven seals. Christ proceeds, having received the stewardship back from Adam, to break the seals and to reveal to those gathered there all the mysteries and will of God. This is exactly what Joseph says will happen at Adam-ondi-Ahman in D&C 121: “A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest. All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ. And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars—All the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times—According to that which was ordained in the midst of teh Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest . . . .”

Hence, it seems to me that Revelation 4-11 is a kind of reflection back on history from its endpoint, from the end perspective of Adam-ondi-Ahman, while Revelation 12-22 thinks, typologically, about what it will take to get there from the present fallen state of things. John, of course, is prepared for all of this through the first few chapters of the book, which are completely saturated with the themes of writing: he hears from the Alpha and the Omega, is told to write what he sees, to send letters to the seven churches, to write about writing in stones and names written onto people and onto pillars of the temple, etc. As soon as all of this is over, he is summoned to Adam-ondi-Ahman, sees the book opened and read. When all of this is brought more or less to an end, John hears the seven thunders (chapter 10) and is about to write but is told to seal it up, and then receives a book from the angel who announces the end. He eats the book, and then turns to Elijah and Moses in his vision, who are the two prophets of the book and priesthood of writing par excellence. And on and on.

Hardly a definitive reading… rather let me call it a key to reading, a clue, in fact the event that is necessary to draw all the pieces of this mess together. I really, really, really think that the key to reading Revelation is that simple: it must be done with an eye to Adam-ondi-Ahman, with an eye to what happened and is going to happen there, and to what the book of life/books of the dead will be doing there. There is, I hope it is clear, far, far more to think about here. But maybe the past week has helped?

What a work…

3 Responses to “Circumscribing the Apocalypse: Reading, Writing, and Sealing”

  1. Robert C. said

    Joe, very fascinating of course—I can’t wait for you to write a book about all of this (though I’ll be trying to think this through “on my own” in the meantime…).

    In one of your seminary lessons you talked about this “priesthood of writing” that you mention here, specifically in light of a particular scriptural passage, but I can’t remember which passage (unfortunately, I’m usually out-and-about when I listen to these lessons so I can’t take notes or annotate for future reference like I would if I were reading…). Do you happen to remember the passage? Can you cite some specific passages regarding this “priesthood of writing,” or should I just start working through your brief bibliography? ;)

  2. robf said

    Robert, we talked about a priesthood of writing as something implicit in Moses 6:7. I think we first talked about thison the wiki. Another scripture that contributed to the early thinking on this was D&C 128, but Joe (especially) and others have continued to talk and develop these ideas here on the blog.

  3. Joe Spencer said

    Rob’s nailed it: Moses 6:7 is the primary text of interest, though D&C 128:8-9 is just as clear on the point. Of course, as the search page to which Rob links suggests, this is something of an obsession with me… so you’ll find strains of it in just about everything I write…

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