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At an address given in 1982, Hugh W. Nibley pointed out that the word telestial means the farthest away or the lowest world. Previous articles discussed Paul’s letter to the Corithians about the three degrees of glory as well as Joseph Smith’s vision of these glories.1 In context of these statements, the following may provide additional insight into the meaning of the word telestial:

The Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial RepresentedI was told that there were supposed to be three talks, and naturally I immediately thought of everything falling into three in the gospel and tradition. In the Old Testament there is the idea of the three degrees, which may rightly be designated as telestial, terrestrial, and celestial. For example, the ancient Gnostics, the early Christians, always talked about the pneumatic, the psychic, and the hylic types of human beings. The pneumatic is the spiritual, the psychic is the mixture of the two (body and spirit), and the hylic are those that are grossly and purely physical. But this actually reflects the early Jewish teachings of the neshamah, which is the highest of the spirit; the ruakh, which is in between; and the nefesh, which is the lower spirit in this world. We are taught in the Kabbalah a great deal about the three Adams. There is the celestial Adam, who was Michael before he came here; the terrestrial Adam, who was in Eden; and the telestial Adam, after he had fallen, who was down low. The Kabbalah also tells about Jacob’s ladder. Joseph Smith taught that it represented the three stages of initiation in the temple, the three degrees of glory, which are designated as telestial, that is, the lowest order; and then astronomical, or dealing with the physical world, which is higher up still; and then finally the world which is beyond. Particularly interesting is the designation in some of the newly discovered apocalyptic writings about the upper or hidden world, the Eden, and the lowest world. The only way you can translate it is to use Joseph Smith’s word, which is telestial (from the Greek telos), which means farthest removed, as distant as you can get, what the Arabs call the aqsa. Joseph Smith coined that word, and he couldn’t have used a better one—the telestial, the farthest away of all the worlds.2

While some may view this statement from a purely mechanistic point of view in relationship to Kolob, it could also be viewed in the context of organization, or, in the words of Joseph Smith, “government”.3


  1. D&C 76: The Poetic Rendition.
  2. Nibley, Hugh W. “Three Degrees of Righteousness from the Old Testament”. Approaching Zion. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989. 308.
  3. Facsimile 2. Book of Abraham. See Explanations 1, 2, and 5.

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In the April 1843 General Conference, Joseph Smith made reference to a planet or comet in relationship to the second coming of Christ. Following his references to the events that must precede this grand event, he reportedly said the following:

. . . then one grand sign of the son of the son of man in heaven. but what will the world do? they will say it is a planet. a comet, &c. consequently the sun [Son] of man will come as the sign of coming of the son of man; is as the light of the morning cometh out of the east.1

James Burgess also recorded Joseph Smith’s statement, albeit differently:

So also is the comeing of the Son of Man. The dawning of the morning makes its appearance in the east and moves along gradualy so also will the comeing of the Son of Man be. it will be small at its first appearance and gradually becomes larger untill every eye shall see it.2

In this second quote, Joseph Smith went on to suggest that Christ’s coming may be characterized by two planetary objects coming into contact with each other. So spectacular would this event be that “every eye shall see it”.

The quotes above are directly related to the Savior’s statement to his disciples while on the mount of Olives.  As part of his response following his statement concerning the destruction of the temple3, the Savior said:

For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.4

Although “. . . in the fourth century, early Christianity was stripped of anything resembling ‘cosmism’”, the Prophet Joseph Smith restored much about this ancient construct.5


  1. “Joseph Smith Diary by Willard Richards, 6 Apr 1843”. The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph. Comp. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook. Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1991. 180; hereafter Words.
  2. “James Burgess Notebook”. Words. 181. See note 1 and 32 of this discourse for further explanation.
  3. See Matthew 24:2-3.
  4. Matthew 24:27-30.
  5. See Cosmology in Early Christianity.

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Giorgio de Santillana was Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). and co-author with Hertha von Dechend of the controversial book Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time (1969). Recently, I picked up a copy of Hugh W. Nibley’s “magnum opus” One Eternal Round and quickly scanned its contents to find any references to de Santillana’s works. I was pleasantly surprised to find numerous citations.

Previously, Dr. Nibley wrote the following:

Hamlets Mill In recent years the early myths have acquired a new status and dignity. A steady accumulation of comparative studies tying this to that and these to those now crams the stacks of our libraries. Spread out before the mind’s eye, their myriad pages interweave into a grandiose texture, a vast shadowy tapestry in which we begin to discern the common backdrop of all history and religion. But the books are still sedulously segregated and widely distributed among the floors and alcoves of the library, and to bring them all together into the one organic whole from which they were taken is a task that will yet tax the capacity of the computer. Meanwhile, we must imagine the pieces of this huge jigsaw puzzle as heaped in separate piles, each representing a special field of study or cultural area, from Iceland to Polynesia. To date no one has taken the trouble to integrate the materials in even one of these hundred-odd piles; and as to taking up the whole lot and relating every pile to every other, so far only a few bold suggestions have come from men of genius like G. Santillana, Cyrus Gordon, or Robert Graves, whose proposals get chilly reception from specialized scholars who can only be alarmed by such boldness and appalled by the work entailed in painting the whole picture. But such study as has been done shows us that the old myths are by no means pure fiction, any more than they are all history. As the Muses told Hesiod, “We know both how to fib and how to tell the truth”; and, as Joseph Smith learned of the Apocrypha, “there are many things contained therein that are true, and there are many things contained therein that are not true” (see D&C 91)—all of which means that we must be very careful in accepting and condemning.1

Born in Rome, Giorgio de Santillana received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Rome and did graduate work in philosophy in Paris and physics at the University of Milan. He was an assistant to Federigo Enriques2 at Rome and was asked to help organise a department for the History of Science.” In the 1930’s, he emigrated from Italy to the United States and joined the faculty at M.I.T in 1941 as Professor of English and History.3 He was the author of numerous works such as:

  • The Crime of Galileo
  • Dialogue on the Great World Systems (ed.)
  • The Renaissance Philosophers – The Age of Adventure
  • The Development of Rationalism and Empiricism
  • The Origins of Scientific Thought

Why was – and is – Hamlet’s Mill controversial? In The New York Review of Books, Sir Edmund Ronald Leach, a British social anthropologist, wrote disparagingly:

. . . the murky confusion generated by reading any random twenty pages of Hamlet’s Mill is strongly reminiscent of Frobenius. Indeed, the whole operation is not much more than a gloss on two early works of that extraordinary author, Die Mathematik der Oceaner (1900) and Das Zeitalter des Sonnengottes (1904).

The theme of Hamlet’s Mill is that once upon a time (when or where is not very clear, but 4000 B.C. somewhere in the Middle East seems to be what the authors have in mind) there was an archaic civilization whose members had a sophisticated theory of the relations between time and astronomy. This theory rested on an understanding of the annual cycle of the constellations of the Zodiac and a recognition of the precession of the equinoxes, knowledge of which had been incorporated into a coherent cosmological schema expressed in the language of myth. Later mythological systems whether recorded in Greece in the fourth century B.C., in Scandinavia in the twelfth century A.D., or North Africa, or Guiana, or Polynesia at the present day, are all truncated remnants of this ancient astrological-astronomical mythology, and close attention to these “relics, fragments and allusions that have survived the steep attrition of the ages” will allow part of the ancient knowledge to be reconstructed.4

In response, Dr. de Santillana wrote concerning this “specialized scholar”:

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  1. Myths and Scriptures”. Old Testament and Related Studies. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1986. 41. This article was originally published in the October 1971 New Era magazine.
  2. An Italian mathematician who is known as  “the first to give a classification of algebraic surfaces in birational geometry.” Wikipedia. 29 May 2010.
  3. Thompson, Garyd D. “Critics and Criticisms of Hamlet’s Mill”. 29 May 2010.
  4. Bedtime Story”. 29 May 2010. The entire review is not available online. A subscription is necessary to read the whole of the book review.

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The following is a story about the Salt Lake Temple foundation stones told by Boyd K. Packer. While the southeast cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple has symbolic significance, in this story Elder Packer relates why the foundation stones had to be replaced and why these stones may have been changed in anticipation of a future cataclysmic event.

It was on the twenty-third anniversary of the organization of the Church, 6 April 1853, that the cornerstone was put in place and the construction officially began.

It would be years before the railroad would cross the Rocky Mountains from the east and the Sierras from the west to meet at a point north of the Great Salt Lake. For years ox teams had been dragging granite stones from the mountains twenty miles to the southeast.

Granite slabs for Salt Lake Temple “‘Good morning, Brother,’ one man was heard to say to a teamster. ‘We missed you at the meetings yesterday afternoon.’ ‘Yes,’ said the driver of the oxen, ‘I did not attend meeting. I did not have clothes fit to go to meeting.’ ‘Well,’ said the speaker, ‘Brother Brigham called for some more men and teams to haul granite blocks for the Temple.’

“The driver, his whip thrown over his oxen, said, ‘Whoa, Haw, Buck, we shall go and get another granite stone from the quarry.’”1

At the quarry President Woodruff had watched men cut out granite stones seventy feet square and split them up into building blocks.2 If there was no mishap, and that would be an exception, the teamster, “too poorly clad to worship,” could return within a week.3

In due time the railroad came south and a spur was run to the quarry and to Temple Square. Then the stones could reach Temple Square in one day. The canal being dug to convey the granite stones to Temple Square would thereafter be used to carry irrigation water.

On Temple Square the stones were shaped into blocks for the walls, for oval windows and treads. For the four circular staircases which rise up through the corner towers, six hundred eighty-eight steps, all of them exactly alike—each of them weighing over 1,700 pounds, each taking weeks to chisel out and polish.

Symbols are chiseled on the granite stones which depict the sun, the stars, the planets, and the earth. To be sure that the stones representing the phases of the moon were accurate, Elder Orson Pratt, a competent astronomer, set up an observatory on temple block. He could open the slats in the roof to study the heavens with a three-inch lens.

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  1. David O. McKay, Salt Lake Temple dedication services, 21 May 1963, pp. 7–8.
  2. Journal of Wilford Woodruff, 4 July 1889, Church Archives.
  3. David O. McKay, Salt Lake Temple dedication services, 21 May 1963, pp. 7–8.

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Brigham Young once commented that when this earth was framed, it was near the throne of our Father in heaven. But when man fell,1 the earth fell into space, and took up its abode in this planetary system. Speaking at the funeral services of Elder Thomas Williams in July 1874, President Young said:

EarthThis earth is our home, it was framed expressly for the habitation of those who are faithful to God, and who prove themselves worthy to inherit the earth when the Lord shall have sanctified, purified and glorified it and brought it back into his presence, from which it fell far into space. Ask the astronomer how far we are from the nearest of those heavenly bodies that are called the fixed stars. Can he count the miles? It would be a task for him to tell us the distance. When the earth was framed and brought into existence and man was placed upon it, it was near the throne of our Father in heaven. And when man fell–though that was designed in the economy, there was nothing about it mysterious or unknown to the Gods, they understood it all, it was all planned–but when man fell, the earth fell into space, and took up its abode in this planetary system, and the sun became our light. When the Lord said–”Let there be light,” there was light, for the earth was brought near the sun that it might reflect upon it so as to give us light by day, and the moon to give us light by night. This is the glory the earth came from, and when it is glorified it will return again unto the presence of the Father, and it will dwell there, and these intelligent beings that I am looking at, if they live worthy of it, will dwell upon this earth.2

Notes and Sources:

  1. In other words, at the time of the fall of Adam and Eve.
  2. Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses. 17:140-146.

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